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May 2008

Bearded Pigs Mailing List

I just sent out my last pre-MLA Bearded Pigs email.  If you didn't get it, and would like to be on the list, let me know.  You'll get three or four emails from me between November & April and that's it.  We try not to be obnoxious.

Chicago Hyatt, "Crystal C", Sunday, May 18th, 8:00 to 11:00.  Cash Bar.  We'll just be messing around.  Stop by if you're in the neighborhood.

T Scott
for
The Bearded Pigs


Blogging MLA in Chicago

The Local Arrangements Committee is advertising for "Official MLA Conference Bloggers."  Selected bloggers "will receive wireless Internet access for the duration of the Annual Conference AND MLA will acknowledge your contribution to the membership on the MLA Conference pages. All Official Conference Blogs will be listed on the Blog Roll at the MLA Conference Wiki."   There's an application form, and a panel of judges will make the selections.  (I don't know who is on the panel, although I suppose I could find out.)  And I certainly hope that someone will blog the Bearded Pigs gig on Sunday night!

It's an experiment.  One of the things that makes me grateful that I ended up in medical libraries is that the notion of experimentation seems to come more easily to us than to our colleagues in academic or public libraries, particularly in regard to IT.  When I first entered librarianship in 1983, I realized fairly quickly that medical libraries were ten to fifteen years ahead of general academic libraries in their adoption of new technologies (quite unevenly distributed, of course, as the future always is).  And there was a very clear reason for that -- the Medical Library Assistance Act, inspired by Dr. Michael DeBakey, and muscled through Congress by Senator Lister Hill, namesake of my library, (with the overt and covert assistance of many others) was passed in 1965, leading to the establishment of the Regional Medical Library program and a tremendous infusion of money and technical expertise and experimentation to libraries throughout the country.  By the time I came into the profession, it was fifteen years since NLM had launched the world's first publicly available online bibliographic database, had provided funding for one of the first integrated library systems, and had sown the seeds for the developing field of medical informatics.  One of my projects as an NLM Associate in 1984 was to write (under the guidance of the inestimable Gale Dutcher) the initial users' manual for DOCLINE, an issue-based online ILL routing system that was many years in advance of anything available to libraries outside of the health sciences community.  It was simply assumed that a savvy medical librarian was technically astute and making use of the latest information technology available.

Which explains, of course, my impatience with those of my 2.0 colleagues who sometimes sound as if they think the innovative use of information technology was only discovered by librarians in 2004.   But I should be more generous.  I'd thought that by the end of the nineties, the general academic library world had caught up -- certainly there have been many pockets of innovation and excellence among ARL and ACRL libraries.  But when I read the blogs of my impatient young colleagues I have to think that maybe there still is a gap.  I sometimes feel that I'm already living in the library world they're struggling so hard to create.

No matter.  Along with signing up bloggers for the MLA Conference, I wish we'd arrange for Cindiann to come and take photos.   Last night I was browsing her stunning portraits of some of the cool kids at this week's Computers in Libraries Conference in DC.  Fabulous photos.  They give a great sense of the personalities and energy and delight that these folks have in what they're doing.  Sure, I may get impatient sometimes with their impatience, but I defy anyone to look at those faces and read what they write and follow what they're doing in their libraries and not believe that the future of librarianship is very bright indeed.


A Not Very Social Guy In A Manically Social World

The thing is, I'm just not a very social guy.   Decades ago, I used to describe myself as antisocial.  Then, the psychologist that I went to during the months when I was trying to decide whether or not to end my first marriage told me that I wasn't really antisocial, I just didn't have a high need for other people.  Whatever.  It does sound nicer that way.

The fact remains that throughout my life I've been quite satisfied to have a very small circle of intimate friends, along with a somewhat wider circle of people that I'm happy to hang out with.  But I have a high need for solitude.  It was a singular moment when, early in my relationship with Lynn, I said, enthusiastically, "Being with you is almost as good as being by myself!"  One might have thought that such an odd statement would have been the end of the relationship, and I cringed when I heard the words come out of my mouth, but it turned out that she felt the same way.  Thus the basis for an extremely satisfying marriage.

So now I live in the world of social networking and ubiquitous connectivity.  I carry a cell phone with me all the time but probably don't use it more than two or three times a week.  It would never occur to me to call someone up just to chat.

I'm thinking about this these days because there has been a dramatic flurry of Facebook activity among medical librarians.  I signed on to Facebook a couple of years ago and for the longest time it was pretty dormant.  Things started picking up a bit last fall, but in recent weeks I've been getting almost daily friend requests.  Fortunately, most of them actually are friends, or at the very least, professional acquaintances.   If I know the person, I'll accept the request, but then I don't quite know what to do with it.  I've signed on to a couple of groups, but I rarely check them.  I haven't played with any of the toys.

Same thing with Linkedin -- I set up a profile quite awhile ago but it has only been in the last couple of months that I've been getting more than weekly requests to be added to somebody's network.  As with Facebook, if I actually know the person, I'll add them.  But then what?

When Lynn and I tell people that we don't watch any television other the The Daily Show, the assumption is always that we are tv snobs and someone will often tell us about some wonderful show that we just have to see.  We have to explain that no, we understand completely, but there is so much on tv that we're sure we'd like that if we started watching, it'd suck up all of our time and we don't have enough time as it is!  It may be that I'm afraid of Facebook in the same way.

But now I'm starting to feel guilty.   I think I ought to do more, that I owe it to the people who've bothered to try to connect with me.  For the typical convivial person who is energized by their relationships with other people, this wouldn't even be an issue.  But for a loner like me, it's a bit of a struggle.   If I start spending time hanging out with my friends in the social networks, what will I not be doing?  What's the tradeoff?  It's not as if I'm sitting around the house in the evening wondering what to do with my time.

I'll try to do more.  The irony is, I really believe in the importance and the utility of these networks.  I'm adamant that librarians, in particular, need to be at the forefront of understanding how all of the communication tools work and how they are affecting the ways that we learn and communicate and manage information.  I know that for many people they provide wonderful opportunities for personal and professional growth and pleasure that they may never have found in the pre-digital world.

I'm just not sure what they mean for me.


Better Living Through Chemistry

Nearly every healthcare worker we've run into over the last six months has expressed surprise and even amazement that we're not on some sort of maintenance drugs.   Sometimes they congratulate us, sometimes they ask two or three times to be sure that we're understanding the question.  This is unnerving.  I didn't realize things had gotten this bad.

By coincidence, Lynn and I went in for physicals on the same day last November (we were both overdue).  In this world of medical specializations, that meant that even though all of the initial findings were very positive (uncannily so, by the way -- Lynn's and my numbers for all of the various things they check the blood for are almost identical), there were some follow-up visits and tests that were advised.  As concern over adverse drug interactions has risen, the clinics have become more obsessive about trying to make sure that they have a complete list of all of the medications that are being taken.  I've seen the same form numerous times now.  I keep writing "none" and signing my name.  The nurses keep looking at me suspiciously.

My final visit was to the gastroenterology/endoscopy clinic yesterday for "a double".  I'd been there a decade ago to have my esophagus scoped.  For a year or so I'd been having increasing problems with heartburn (or "GERD" as it's been christened).  My father died from cancer of the esophagus, and I knew that he'd had frequent heartburn, so although there isn't any conclusive link between the two, when I'd gone to my regular doctor for a physical back then, we'd agreed that I should have the GI guy take a look, just to check it out.

And indeed, he found some scarring at the lower end of the esophagus.  When we were done, he recommended a two-week course of prilosec followed by twice a day pepcid -- forever.  I was a little surprised and said, "Do I need to make any lifestyle changes?"  I'd been sure that at the very least he was going to recommend that I stay away from certain foods.  "Nope," he said.  "The pepcid will take care of it."  And he wrote me a prescription (these were the days before pepcid had an over-the-counter version).

He was right.  I dutifully took my two tablets a day and the heartburn disappeared.  I signed up for refills by mail so I didn't have to bother stopping at the pharmacy every couple of months.  The healthcare system did everything possible to make it easy and efficient.

Two years later, for completely unrelated reasons, I started exercising regularly and paying more attention to portion control in what I was eating & drinking.  Over several months I lost twenty pounds.  I started experimenting with skipping the pepcid, just to see what would happen, and after a few weeks, I quit using it altogether.  Since then, I have occasional heartburn (half a dozen times a year) when I overdo, and I take an alka-seltzer and go back to sleep.

Same doctor yesterday.  He asked me how I was doing and I explained that I wasn't having any more trouble with the heartburn and hadn't been for eight years, and that this was just a cautionary check to see how the esophagus looked.  When the test was over he said everything looked fine.  "But you should probably still take a pepcid or a zantac every night before bed."  He smiled at me and left the room before I could gather my wits enough (I was still groggy from the anesthesia) to ask why.  I think I will respectfully ignore his advice.

As it happens, I'd just read an excellent review of Melody Peterson's new book, Our Daily Meds which has the engaging surtitle, How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs.   For anyone who follows what's been happening with big Pharma over the past decade or two, there aren't any huge surprises here, but it is a story that needs to be told repeatedly, because the general public is not getting it at all. 

In some ways, the conflicted attitudes that our society holds toward drugs mirrors that of our incoherent attitudes toward sex.  We express tremendous outrage at athletes who use "performance-enhancing drugs", have hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens in prison for relatively minor illegal drug offenses, and allow the pharmaceutical companies to talk us into spending billions of dollars on maintenance drugs that may be of dubious benefit.  In what fashion does it make sense that's it's fine for me to take two pepcid a day for the rest of my life rather than exercise and lose twenty pounds, while putting professional athletes in the stocks for taking substances that are designed to help them build muscle mass?  It must make sense to somebody, but I confess that it makes little sense to me.

At any rate, having now spent thousands of dollars on our various tests & procedures over the past six months, Lynn and I can now be declared to be in excellent health.  What a disappointment for big pharma.



Collecting

If ever there was an argument to be made for a museum being a living, breathing, growing work of art in itself, it's the current show at the Phillips Collection.   Thursdays they have extended hours, so I stopped in after my PNAS meeting.

The Phillips Collects: Degas to Diebenkorn is a selection of new works added to the collection over the past decade.  It includes significant pieces by artists that have been well represented in the past, such as Degas, Avery, Calder, and Klee, as well as many pieces by artists entering the collection for the first time -- photographs by Ansel Adams and Walker Evans being particularly noteworthy.  I was especially pleased to see the selection of Christenberry photographs, sculptures and drawings -- I've become very fond of Christenberry, who was born in Tuscaloosa and whose work is deeply rooted in the terrain and modern history of Alabama. 

The show effectively makes the case that the spirit that led Duncan Phillips to start his museum with a marvelously eclectic approach to collecting is alive and well in the current leadership.  One gets the impression that every single piece brings with it a joy and delight in the appreciation of the work.  No matter how serious or tumultuous the emotions that the piece itself may draw forth, its presence in the collection comes about because it is loved and the people who are in a position to do so are determined to share it with the world.

The eclecticism is one of the hallmarks of the Phillips.  MoMA, in New York, has suffered nearly half a century of identity crisis, trying to figure out what its purpose is as a museum of "modern art" when the era so defined is now decades in the past.  They continue to have spectacular collections and wonderful shows, but they carry the heavy weight of being MoMA, so there is a ponderousness and solemnity that is simply absent at the Phillips.  One goes to MoMA to be edified; one goes to the Phillips to feel more alive.

I rarely use the audioguides that are so popular in museums now.  I really don't want someone chattering in my ear, telling me what I'm supposed to be seeing.  Whether it's work by someone I'm familiar with, or work that is completely new to me, I'd just as soon trust my own experience of it.  If I want to find out more about it, I'll do that later.  But I was intrigued by the way the Phillips handled it -- instead of handing out audioguides (or renting them for five or ten bucks), several of the pieces had a note for "cell phone guides".  Call this number, and then punch in the number of the piece and you get a recording about it -- sometimes by Jay Gates, the director of the museum, sometimes by the collector who donated the piece, sometimes by the artist (Susan Rothenberg, for example, whose 60-second description of how some works lead to other works was absolutely delightful).   I only listened to a couple but it seemed to me a marvelously innovative and unobtrusive way to deal with the issue.

I don't really do collecting myself.  I believe that I have everything that Jim Harrison has published, and everything by Seamus Heaney.  I've got most of Coltrane and Jarrett and Charles Lloyd.  But I don't need every edition and every new compilation.  All of the artwork that we have scattered around the house we have because we fell in love with certain things,  so that the juxtaposition of  the Whistler etchings with the drawings of the relatively unknown Wisconsin painter Joann Kindt simply delights.

I lack the collector's temperament.  Some years ago, I was at a conference reception at a small museum and upon entering the reception, everyone was asked to fill out a name tag describing what they collected.  I guess the assumption was that being librarians we all must have a collection of something.  I was stumped for a bit, and then I wrote down, "Museums".

So today, since I'm taking a vacation day, I'm going to spend time with my collection -- I'll check out the new Kogod Courtyard at NMAA, and stop in to see the Whistlers at the Freer.   The spectacular exhibit of Japanese paintings that I saw last December has one more week at the Sackler, so I want to take another stroll through that, and then I'll continue up the mall to the National Museum of the American Indian and then walk through the National Gallery.

By that point, I'll be as full of emotion and wonder as I can handle, so I'll do what I always do after a museum day in DC, and stop at the Old Ebbitt Grill for oysters.  I'll sit at the bar, thinking about what I've seen, knowing that once again I've been changed a little, and I'll be grateful to live in a place and a time where there is magic all around me.


Matters of Taste

It's always a dilemma when I come to DC -- where do I want to eat on that first evening?  I've been coming here a couple of times a year since I moved away back in '87, so I have lots of favorites that I like to go back to, but it's also become such a restaurant town that there's always new places that sound extremely inviting.  So what to do?

This morning I see that a previous occupant of my hotel room has helpfully checked a number of establishments off in the Official Visitor's Guide -- Hooter's in Chinatown, Haagen-Dazs downtown, Brickskeller Down Home Saloon, Gifford's Ice Cream & Candy Co., Haagen-Dazs again (in Penn Quarter, this time), and Ben's Chili Bowl.  Somehow, I don't foresee myself crossing paths with him (the first choice inclines me to believe that it's a "he").

Of course, I could have gone into any of the billion sites that now enable people to comment on their experiences at local restaurants.  Zagat's, for example, would have told me that Al Tiramisu has "great food and atmosphere" with "attentive service", while simultaneously being "overrated" with "food that is completely bland" and a menu that is "average".  From "yelp" I would've found out that Bistrot du Coin (another of my favorites, and the place I finally ended up) has "mediocre food," "very good French country cooking," "top-notch mussels," "colorful and fun waitstaff," and "incredibly rude waiters."  Sigh.  The wisdom of the crowds, I guess.

All of those opinions are valid, I hasten to add.  They're just not particularly useful, because everybody is going to a restaurant for different reasons, everyone's experiences and expectations are different, and without knowing more of that background, I have no way of knowing how their experiences might inform my own.  What an experienced professional restaurant critic does is attempt to provide context and background and consistency in their opinions.  You may not agree with them all the time, but they'll give you a baseline against which you can measure your own tastes and interests.

I'm here in DC to participate in a Library Advisory panel for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this afternoon.  There are ten people in the group -- nine librarians and a consultant -- from quite a variety of settings.  In preparation for the meeting, we've received a series of questions gathered under four topical headings:  Trends in Use and Accessibility of Scholarly Content, Transitioning from Print Subscriptions to Online Site Licenses, Copyright Ownership and Open Access, and Usage-Based Pricing/Collaborative Consortia Based Pricing.  The questions are the kind that you'd expect to hear from a reasonably progressive scholarly publisher and accurately reflect the kinds of struggles publishers are engaged in these days as they try to plot their future.

It's not likely, of course, that we'll be able to give them consensus opinions, any more than the diners at any local restaurant are going to agree on the menu's hits and misses.  But the conversation will no doubt be lively and I am as eager to hear the differing views of my colleagues as I presume that the PNAS folks are.  I do hope, though, that we can provide enough context and background for our opinions for them to be useful.


Lightning Strikes Twice

"Wouldn't it be great if we could just rent a house for a weekend somewhere, set up all of the equipment and just play for a couple of days?  Work on those little details -- like starting and stopping songs all at the same time!"

That was me, in the fall of '06, talking with the rest of the band after playing a couple of sets for the joint chapter meeting in Atlanta.  As usual, we'd played with no more than fifteen minutes or so of rehearsal in the afternoon -- just enough to trade a couple of chords and settle on the first three or four songs that we might do.  Then we played our three hours and it was done and we weren't going to get another chance to get together until Durham and then Philadelphia the following May.  I was fantasizing about the luxury of having as much time as we wanted.

The man that we would later christen Memphis Slim was drinking whiskey with us.  He piped up, "Y'know, Sue and I've got that big house outside of Memphis.  The kids are grown and gone.  You'd be more than welcome to come by."  And damned if we weren't able to make it happen the following March.  We had a fantastic time and when Sunday came and we headed off in our separate directions, we agreed that it had been a once in a lifetime experience.  The odds of our ever again being able to arrange everyone's schedules to settle on one weekend were very definitely against us.

But in December we started talking again -- do you think....?  And wonder of wonders... On Thursday, the Bearded Pigs again gathered in Memphis -- BtheA flying in from London, Mister Tomcat from Boston, Duke, Russell & Cogman on the same flight from North Carolina.  SG drove down from Michigan with his car loaded up with amplifiers, and Tambourine Grrl and I drove up in a van loaded with guitars and the PA.  We picked up Duke at the Memphis Drum Shop and by 8:00 that evening we had everything set up in Slim's living room and were wailing away.

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of making music with a lot of different people, but there is a chemistry to this particular band of lunatics that I've rarely encountered.  It was evident in that very first set with BtheA, Duke & Russell back in Dallas that there was something special going on.  Back then, it was me doing my regular list, with the others settling in behind to find their places.  Now, it's really a band, with a dynamic and energy and intensity that is more than what each of us brings individually.  We let it carry us away and amazing things can happen.

It was, perhaps, most evident on Saturday evening, during the party (Slim invited the neighborhood to stop by), when we broke into the Doors' Roadhouse Blues.  Our general rule of thumb has been that if one person knows a particular song, we can usually make it work -- the person who knows it takes the lead and the rest of us find our places to fill in.  But none of us had ever played Roadhouse Blues before.  Slim had been playing the Doors' album earlier in the day, though, so the song was in the air.  SG picked up the bass line, and Russell found the chords to go with it.  Duke had the rhythm cold.  And before we knew it, we were off and running.  I could remember a few of the words, and I just made up the rest.  (Maybe I'll try to find a copy of the actual lyrics before we play it in Chicago).

I think that a large part of what makes it work so well is that we take a lot of risks.  We've all been in bands that couldn't get themselves out of the basement or out of the garage to play for people because they were too intent on "getting it right".  And we've all seen bands that were so over-rehearsed that, while the music was technically impeccable, the performance was, well, boring.  (We saw a couple of those during our fieldtrip to Bourbon Beale St. on Friday, in fact).  With our raggedy troupe, we know there's going to be mistakes and trainwrecks, so we don't have to worry about that part.  And the further we stretch and push ourselves, the better it gets.  I suppose there's a life metaphor in there somewhere.

I sometimes think that our annual performance at the MLA meeting could be billed as a CE course on work/life balance (always a popular topic).  There was a time, during my first marriage, when I went thirteen years without playing in front of people, and for the last five or six of those years, I rarely picked up the guitar at all.  I came to believe that making music had just been something that I'd done in college, and that I'd set aside when I put away the things of a child.  Then I picked up Ranger Dave's guitar at that fateful Venice Christmas party in '91 and music came back into my life.  Since then, it's been a matter of remembering not to get in my own way.  Making music is an even more important part of all that I am than it was when I was still forming myself as a teenager.  I remember, not long after that marriage broke up, saying to a loved one, "I'm trying to learn how to be a complete human being."  I'm still learning, and the music is a big part of it.