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February 2008
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A passion for small stages

It's good to have a passion.  It's good for the soul to have a focus for something that you believe has some essential purpose in the world, and to feel that you have a unique role to play in bringing something wonderful about.

It's good for Birmingham that Keith's passion is finding ways to connect singer/songwriters with audiences that love them already or that might not otherwise find out about them.

We went to a few shows at the Moonlight Music Cafe, when he was still running that in Vestavia.  It was one of the best spaces to hear music that I've ever been in (and I have been in a lot of music rooms), and each show that we saw was superb.  We were saddened, but not, I'm sorry to say, surprised, when he finally closed.  Even on the nights when he packed the house (the superb Radney Foster acoustic show, for example) Lynn and I would drive home wondering how the hell he could possibly make ends meet.

Closing Moonlight didn't slow Keith down.  He took his passion and, with a core group of similarly minded maniacs, turned it into organizing the Small Stages series of house concerts.  We were finally able to get to our first last night -- Robinella w/ Jay Clark at the Matt Jones Gallery.  I'd seen Robinella last June at City Stages and was enchanted.  We've been listening to a couple of her CDs since, and I wanted Lynn to have a chance to see her live. 

There were about 200 of us gathered in the lush space that Matt Jones and his crew have put together.  It's a beautifully lit space, with a stage in one corner, and paintings all over the walls.  The Small Stages shows are BYOB&C, so by the time we got there the room was about half full of folding chairs with people milling about and opening their wine bottles or bottles of beer (I brought Laphroig, myself) and visiting with old friends or meeting new ones.  The atmosphere was utterly unlike even the nicest commercial venue -- more of a party with a shared feeling that this was something special and out of the ordinary.   The age range was pretty wide -- once we'd settled into our chairs I found myself talking to a delightful woman on my left who appeared to be in her early eighties and had found out about the concert when she'd been to the gallery sometime before to buy a painting for a friend.  To Lynn's right were a trio of 20-something women looking chic and sharing a bottle of sauvignon blanc.

I didn't know anything about Jay Clark, who opened, but I've got a couple of his CDs now, and I'll be listening to 'em later today.  In between songs he kept up a self-deprecating patter that had the woman next to me laughing out loud (my favorite line:  mentioning that he and his wife both had their PhD's, "I can't speak for her, but I am definitely educated beyond my level of intelligence").  His songs, most of them rooted in his experiences of life in the hills of eastern Tennessee, ranged from protests at misguided visions of progress to late-night mourning on the death of a friend to pledges to his wife to continue to try to be a better man.  Warm and funny with some serious songs but never taking himself too seriously.  I'd've been happy enough if he'd been the headliner, and I'll make sure that I get a chance to see him again.

But he took a break and after fifteen minutes or so, up came Robinella (playing a really pretty cutaway Gibson acoustic) and her band -- drummer and upright bass.  No ceremony to it -- looked to me like she just didn't feel like waiting anymore, brought her guys up and started to sing.  Keith rushed up quick to introduce her, and she just laughed.

But then, Robinella laughs a lot and made sure the audience did too, carrying on in between songs with improvised riffs about what it might be like in heaven on those days when you just felt like taking the day off ("I think I'll put off praisin' the Lord today and just stay in bed"), that had her bandmates just about dropping to the floor. 

Her voice is heavenly, soaring over her guitar and over the band, effortlessly.  Her delight in singing is apparent, whether it's her own marvelous songs or the covers that she does, ranging from some Merle Haggard tunes (no doubt that Hag would love the way she sings his songs) to a sweet rendition of "Georgia" to close the concert.  She brought Jay up (they're old friends) to do a few songs and their voices together are exceptional.  I was particularly impressed with their rendition of Frizell's "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma" where they not only traded verses, but traded the lead & harmony parts.  Beautiful stuff.  It was over all too soon.

Still, it was after 10:00 by the time we walked out to our car, bubbling about what a wonderful evening it was, how much we liked the atmosphere, and bringing your own stuff (much cheaper than paying by the drink at a bar!) and getting to talk to some old friends and meet a few new people.  And to walk away with some new CDs and some fine new tunes dancing away in the back of my head.

It's good to have a passion.  Thanks, Keith.

As Families Change...

I call them "the four generations of women who run my life."  And in the last few weeks, we've been able to spend a good bit of time together.  When I told Lynn a year ago that I was going to have to be in Chicago on Josie's birthday for the MLA Board meeting she said, "We'll come up and we can celebrate there!"  Then, a few months before we went she said, "Y'know, your mother's birthday is that Sunday.  Why don't we see if she wants to come down and join us for a couple of days?"  And so we spent several days together in Chicago last month.

Long before Lynn suggested asking Mum to come down to Chicago, we'd arranged to have her come down here last weekend for her winter visit.  So while there's usually a gap of six months or more between times that we see each other, this time it was just three weeks.

It can get a little hectic -- me with four strong-willed women between the ages of 3 and 79.  What is astonishing, I suppose, is how really well we all manage to get along, given the horror stories that one hears about what goes on in some families.  But Lynn and Marian never went through the period of estrangement that bedevils some mother/daughter relationships and as Marian grew into adulthood they became close and respectful friends and colleagues.  It's been similar with my mother and me.  And Lynn and my mom have never fallen into the competitive jealousy that is a hallmark of so many daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationships (it was, alas, the defining feature of my first wife's relationship to my mom).  We all dote on Josie, so she thinks we're just wonderful.  I don't mean to suggest that there aren't occasional tensions and sparks.  But we work through those and generally have a fine time.

As far as Josie's concerned, this is what family is all about.  It's always driven me a little nuts that some conservative elements place such a focus on "the family" as being mother, father and 2.2 kids all living in the same house, when so many of the families that fit that configuration are poisonous.  Marian's parents split up when she was three, but they were a constant and positive presence in her life, even though they lived in different houses (as Lynn was wont to say, "Ed may have been a lousy husband, but he was a wonderful father").  By the time I came on the scene, just as Marian was getting into high school, it was very clear that she was living in a much more supportive family atmosphere (despite being from a "broken home") than many of her classmates whose parents lived in the same house.

Josie's nuclear family is her and Mommy, me and Lynn, and she goes back and forth between our two homes quite naturally.   Her extended family includes Queenie & Bispo (who will be up from Gulf Shores to visit in another month), as well as GigiBunny (as she calls my mom), none of whom are actual blood relatives.  Which, as it turns out, doesn't matter in the least bit.

She's at the age now where the interrelationships are very intriguing and we had fun trying to explain to her that GigiBunny was my Mommy, and that I had been little like her once.  You could tell she was trying to figure out if we were serious or were playing a game with her.

And she looks at the families that her friends are in and compares those situations to her own. She and Marian were driving home the other day and Josie was thinking about a boy a little older than her that she has a crush on.  "Kai has a mommy and a daddy," she said.  Marian replied, "That's right.  And what do you have?"

Josie chirped, "I've got a Mommy and a Nonni and a Nonai and a Bispo and a Queenie and....  I've got lots of 'em!"

There's nothing broken about Josie's home.

Implementing the NIH Public Access Policy

I've been having casual conversations for over a year with our VP for Research about what we'd need to do when the NIH policy eventually became mandatory.  (Despite the fact that neither of us are big fans of the policy -- him much less so than me -- we both considered it inevitable that this would be the case.  And I should emphasize again that opposition to the policy is not equivalent to opposition to open access).  One of the great advantages of being at this institution is that the key leaders on the research side are very savvy about what is happening in scholarly publishing.  I cringe a bit every time I hear librarians talking about the need to get out there and educate the faculty -- no doubt there are many who are ignorant about the changes afoot (perhaps even as many as there are librarians ignorant of the economics), but in all of our institutions there are many individuals who've been deeply involved with publishing for years and to think that one needs to "educate" them can be a serious political misstep.  We may not always agree with their conclusions, but that doesn't mean they don't have a clear understanding of the facts and the issues.

At any rate, when the time came, it was fairly easy to bring a small group together to talk through the implications and start to set up some processes.  So on Monday a joint letter from the two of us went out to all the faculty here laying out the basics.  Rhetorically, the approach that we're taking is to try to make it clear that this is a federal requirement, not one more thing that our Grants Office has cooked up to make the lives of PIs more difficult, and that the Research office and the library will be working together to provide information and support to help investigators comply. 

We'll be training a few people in our content management area to do the 3rd-party deposit for those who prefer to have us handle that, but we'll also do training and hand-holding for investigators so they understand how to use the NIHMS themselves.  I've done a cursory search and it looks like we average around 600 NIH-supported articles a year.  I don't know how many of those are in the journals that automatically take care of the deposit, but it doesn't appear from this that the workload is going to be overwhelming.   If the NIH estimate of 10 minutes per article is accurate, even if we were doing the deposit for everything it'd only be about two hours a week or so. 

I think much of what we'll be doing is simply answering questions, keeping track of journal policies, helping people deal with the copyright issues, etc.  We'll work with the research folks to set up a system for monitoring compliance.   It all seems like a logical extension of many of the other things that we do and, of course, there's a significant political benefit on campus for us in being able to step in proactively and help the research office deal with what is, on the day-to-day level, one more federally-imposed headache that they now have to cope with.

On the AAHSL discussion list, people have been sharing what they're doing at their institutions.  It ranges widely and it is clear that different institutions have been at very different stages of readiness for this.    There's been some good information coming out from SPARC  & ARL on the rights issues involved, but still very little from anywhere (that I've seen, at least) about the practical aspects of setting up systems to do 3rd party deposit, oversee compliance, and help investigators cope with the PMCID issues.  Despite my ambivalence about the policy itself, it really is a golden opportunity for librarians to engage in some new issues and show another way in which they can add value.  I'm having fun with it.