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March 2005
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May 2005

A Great American Songwriter

Every once in awhile when I play out, somebody will ask me to do more of my own songs.  I always tell them I'm not interested in writing songs when there are so many other great songs out there to sing.  We live in a time when we are blessed with so many magnificent songwriters.  That Zevon is one of the best is unquestioned, but if anybody needed convincing, Enjoy Every Sandwich ought to do the trick.

Much of rock music is based on specific riffs; much of what is most memorable are specific performances.  Having spent thirty-five years working my way through other people's songs, trying to get past the original performance and figure out a way to make the song my own, I've come across many, many cases where the song, much as I've loved it, falls apart when you try to take it out of its original arrangement and range.  It may be a great track -- but it turns out it's not really a great song.

Zevon wrote great songs, and on Enjoy Every Sandwich, his friends and admirers give them great performances.  Springsteen slows down "My Ride's Here" and caresses every word & phrase, filling it with the poignancy of leaving that is a distinctly different twist from Zevon's own sardonic version.  And when Jorge Calderon, his longtime musical partner and producer, closes the album with "Keep Me In Your Heart", he turns it from the wistfulness of Zevon's own personal plea to his loved ones  to a promise back to him from all of those who cared about  him that he will not be forgotten.  These songs will go on.

Twitchy Librarian Bloggers

Oh lord, they're at it again.  Why are so many librarian bloggers so thin-skinned?  Why go so ballistic when their precious passion is questioned?  You'd think someone was insulting their brand new puppy.

Cronin is foolishly dismissive, unnecessarily insulting, and, at least in his quick dismissal of Wikipedia, flat wrong (although I hasten to add that I'm not convinced that Wikipedia represents a tremendous advance -- I do think it's an intriguing possibility that should be given lots of room to roam).

But when Cronin points out the narcissism and banality of many blogs and says, "...some blogs are highly professional, informative and readable, but most are not," it seems to me he's just stating an obvious fact.   And while I wouldn't have applied the adjective "hapless," I think its a very fair question to wonder why so many people have taken to blogging, and who they think they're speaking to.  I know I wonder about that myself every time I sit down to compose an entry. 

But to the partisans, to those who have pledged their allegiance to the salvation of the world through blogging, any criticism or questioning amounts to heresy.  Time to break out the tar & feathers.  I suppose they don't notice that they're just throwing ammunition to the critics. 

One other thing -- while the fussings of the Cronins and Gormans are scarcely worth bothering with (time will dispense with them), and the rantings of the easily offended bloggers are simply annoying, I am troubled by the sentiments represented by one of the commenters to Steven Cohen's post.   Chris dismisses Cronin's article by saying that his opinion is "still only as valid as an opinion as anyone else's".  This is a dangerous notion.   My opinion on managing academic medical libraries is much more valid than that of a Barnes & Noble clerk.  Keith Richards' views on playing blues guitar matter a lot more than mine.  Karl Rove is (like it or not) the go-to guy for figuring out how to manipulate the current Washington political machine, and Quentin Tarantino has more valid opinions about 21st century cinema than just about anybody.  Blogging injects a very useful and important element of egalitarianism into the public discourse, but let's not get carried away into shoddy and silly thinking.  Sure, everybody has an equal right to express their opinion; that doesn't mean that every opinion is equally worthy of being heard.

Scholar's Week

It wasn't the most responsive group that we've had, so I wasn't able to get much discussion going.  Some groups are like that.  You need only a couple of students who really want to engage with the speaker to get the rest going, and this time there wasn't one.  The few questions that came up were too respectful and tentative.

Fourteen med students, a mix of 3rd & 4th years, making their way through their spring Scholar's Week elective.  Martha had tipped me off to their passivity, so I wasn't too surprised, although it's not as much fun as a more rambunctious group.  But they were generally attentive.  The first two days, Martha & Lee worked with them on developing their searching skills (this is the part of the course where the comments are generally some variation of, "I had no idea there was this much to learn!  I wish we would've gotten this sooner!")

I think of my session as an interlude in the arc of the week, a bit of background context:  Where does the literature actually come from?  Who owns it?  How does that affect access to it?  What does it mean to you and the choices that you make now and throughout your career?  I give them a basic primer on copyright, some discussion of the general economics of scholarly publishing, and then spend the last bit of the session on whatever the "hot topic" is -- yesterday, of course, it's open access and the NIH policy.

What I want them to do most of all is think about this stuff, and that is distressingly hard to do.  They have been so conditioned to absorbing stuff and spitting it back.   So I keep tweaking the writing assignment.  This time it's 500 words asking them where they stand on the open access issues and what arguments they'd use to support their point of view.  I'm afraid that my own biases were too apparent yesterday, although I tried to present the full range of opinions, so I'm pretty sure what I'm going to get.  I hope they surprise me.

Driving Home

I almost took out the camera to get a picture of the public library in De Funiak Springs.  I came up the other fork from Niceville, and as I drove through the town I saw a sign pointing to the left that said "historic district".  I turned that way, and after several blocks, came to a pretty little lake, where a small, white, clapboard building stood, with a modest sign out front saying, "Public Library, established 1886."   Turns out to be the oldest continuously operating public library in Florida.  Warms my heart.

The drive was pretty easy.  The thunderstorms that I thought I would have to negotiate did not materialize, although I ran into a few scattered spots of rain.  I dawdled and detoured enough that it took me five hours to finally get home, but I didn't mind.  Even after a decade I am astonished at how beautiful the south can be in the spring.  Despite the rampant development that is tearing up so much of the best (Destin was particularly wretched), there are still vast areas  that are pretty much untouched and gorgeous.   

Why We Meet

The tropical rain pounding against the window wakes me up about four in the morning.  It'll be tedious driving home through this, but it's okay.  I love watching the rain come in off the Gulf, and I don't need to be in any hurry coming home.   

Elizabeth Aversa, director of the SLIS program at UA, was on the agenda yesterday.  Late-breaking schedule conflicts prevented her from coming down to Destin, which actually worked out fine, since one of the main things that she wanted to talk about was the new online degree program, and this provided an opportunity for her to do her talk for us remotely.  There was a bit of  technical confusion (naturally) getting set up, but then she did her PowerPoint and chatted online and over the phone, and the presentation was every bit as effective as if she'd been here in person. 

Some years ago, when remote conferencing technology was just starting to become a reality, there was a lot of chatter about how we wouldn't need to travel to have meetings anymore.  This has obviously not happened.  What is happening, very slowly, is that we're shifting what we do when we meet in person.  It's another example of the fact that new technologies never replace old technologies -- they create new niches and shift the way that we do things.

We're still in that transition period.  The NAAL retreat continues to be important for the participating libraries, not because of the business that gets done during the formal meeting, but because of relationships that form.  The most important work that I did down here didn't happen in the meeting room -- it happened last evening, sitting in the lounge, visiting with the directors of small college libraries from around the state, swapping stories, telling tales, and speculating about the future of libraries. 

I doubt it'll happen in my generation, but I can imagine a time when the annual conference for a professional organization will have a very different agenda from what's typical now.  The papers and posters and committee reports will all be online.  There'll be just a few dynamic speakers who know how to work a large room, and there'll be lots of open time built into the schedule for people to get together and talk informally.  That's what we really go to the meeting for anyway.  But we still feel that we need  to have the elaborate "content-rich" program to justify the thing.

I would not come to this meeting every year if it was just the program.  But the conversation and connections are worth a four hour drive in the rain.

Road Rules

I thought, at first, that I'd just grab a burger somewhere along the drive.  It was ten-thirty, and I was expecting a five hour trip to Destin.  But once I turned onto Hwy 331 in Montgomery, I started to relax and enjoy the beautiful day.  It's been several years since I've been able to take one of my long driving trips, and I won't get another chance until the summer of '06.  And I remembered my driving rules -- avoid the interstate at all cost; never eat in a chain restaurant; and when you see a sign pointing in a different direction that looks interesting, go there.  That, plus the fact that I had a copy of the Oxford American's Southern Foods issue in the car with me made the thought of a fast food burger seem pretty sacriligeous.

There were a couple of interesting barbecue joints in Luverne, but since I was headed to the Gulf, I decided to hold out for seafood.   I ended up at Pompano Joe's, down the beach road from my hotel.  I know there was a time when a beachside seafood shack didn't have seating for 200, t-shirts for sale at the door, and half a dozen TVs in the bar, but those days are over.   At least, they are on the redneck riviera (oh, sorry -- they call it the "emerald coast" now).  But it was suitably rustic, and I had a little table right next to the brightly painted windows that looked out over the beach.    It was windy, but the sky was clear and brilliantly blue.  The sand looked almost silver and the water was ribbons of white and half a dozen hues of blue.

I was slightly disappointed to see that the oysters were Ameripure, but I'd been craving oysters for the last couple of hours so I went ahead.   This was the third or fourth time I've had them, and maybe it's my imagination, but they just don't taste quite as good as I'd expect oysters down here to taste.  Ever so slightly mushy, and a little too mild.  I think maybe I'll stay away from them in the future.   The fried shrimp sandwich, on the other hand, was quite good.  Small shrimp, breaded & fried and heaped on a soft hamburger bun.  Impossible to pick up and eat, so I went at it with knife and fork.

It's been a long time since Miss Lynn first introduced me to the joys of simple gulf food in a dive looking out over the water.   Pompano Joe's wasn't one of the great such experiences, but it'll do.

Bringing Up Baby

Josephine was squalling and fussing some when she was at the house while we were getting ready to go.  But she settled down on the drive and when Marian brought her into Fox Valley she was brightly awake and being adorable.  What a fuss everyone makes over her!

We were at a corner table and Marian set Josie, in her cradle, on the floor between the table and the wall, where she'd be out of the way.    It certainly seemed to suit her.    She seems to like it when there's a lot of commotion.  Maybe it's all the adoration cascading her way.

It was her second visit.  Lynn said, "You know, by her tenth birthday, we should be about celebrating her 100th meal here."   That's the plan.   Marian was eight when her Dad started bringing her to Fox Valley.  Josie made her first visit at six weeks.  The restaurant is the thread that will tie Josie to the grandfather that she won't get to know.   I think Ed brought Marian about once a week.  We're not going to be able to manage that -- but we are shooting for once a month.  Which, as we realized last night, makes the evening of Bruce's arrival in Birmingham in a few weeks the perfect time to come again.   

We most definitely do not do this for sentimental reasons.  When Mikey came by we asked him what he particularly liked this evening.  (Always a tough question for a chef -- his dishes are his babies -- how could he prefer one over another?!)  "But if it was me," he finally said. "If it was me, I'd probably have the pompano with the soft-shell crab -- only because we don't have it that often."  That was one of the items on my short list, so the decision was made.  And it was, of course, magnificent.

Before It All Disappears

It's the elegance of the idea behind LOCKSS that I love.  It's designed to enable all libraries, of whatever size, to continue, in the digital age,  to play their traditional role in preserving collections.  I was somewhat startled to hear Vicky say that our mutual friend had observed that medical libraries weren't that interested in the preservation problem because we were just going to rely on NLM and PubMed Central.  That's not an inaccurate perception, although I think the actual situation is somewhat more nuanced.  (Of course, that's just me -- I think everything is more nuanced).

Unlike the  ARL institutions, few medical libraries have ever considered the long-term preservation issue to be a high priority.  Our focus is on working collections, developing better services, and the nature of our disciplines places a very high premium on the most current information.  Certainly hospital libraries don't consider preservation to be part of their role, and that's the case for many of the AAHSL libraries as well.  (It was the case for us when I was at St. Louis.) 

Nonetheless, a significant number of us do feel that long-term preservation is part of our mission.   I think of it every time that I glance at the copy of volume 1, issue 1 of the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery (1812) that I keep on my bookshelf, and certainly whenever I spend time up in the Reynolds.

But in the mix of budget negotiations, and service re-engineering, and open access agitation, and role expansion and redefinition, I doubt that many of my colleagues have preservation of collections high on the daily worry list.  This is not to say it's not a concern -- the high attendance at the post-conference symposium at last year's MLA meeting is evidence of that -- but the general perception is that preservation requires substantial investments and opportunity costs, and few of us are willing to channel major resources in that direction.

LOCKSS may be a way around that.  I'll see if I can generate some interest.

The Catholic Church Is Not A Democracy

As a lapsed Catholic ("former" doesn't quite cut it -- it isn't something you ever completely get away from) who escaped in his early teens, I've always had a great sympathy for those American Catholics who have argued for reform, even though I've believed that they suffered from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Church.  The elevation of Benedict XVI confirms me in that belief.

The notion of "reform" comes from that deeply felt American idea of the fluidity of institutions, of constituencies using their influence to mold and shape their direction, believing that such institutions are malleable and, while they should hold to certain basic principles, should also evolve over time to meet the changing needs of those constituencies.  Many American Catholics have long wanted a more liberal church, a church with more flexibility, a church that was less authoritarian and strictly hierarchical.

They miss the point.  Cardinal Ratzinger made it very clear in his last homily before the conclave.  It is the essence of the Catholic Church to be authoritarian.  The pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and it is the responsibility of the faithful to obey.  That the conclave chose to elevate the one Cardinal who, more than any other, is identified as "defender of the faith" makes it clear that the Church will continue to stay the course.   The pope, according to one writer in yesterday's New York Times, is willing to accept a smaller church, if it can be kept more ideologically pure.  He will almost certainly get that.