26.8.14

Public Libraries Still Matter in the Age of Amazon

Poets House in Battery Park City (Manhattan)
is a good model for how libraries should look and feel.
News flash: libraries have been offering e-books for free long before Amazon started doling out an e-book subscription service. With Amazon’s recent Kindle Unlimited service, readers can access thousands of books for free. The catch? It’s ten dollars a month. But libraries have been offering a similar service for free to patrons for years. Why not more press on libraries? To answer some questions about libraries, free books, and bridging the digital divide, I teamed up with New York University Reference Librarian Ray Pun to discuss how libraries are helping to mind the digital gap. The result is this commentary.
Use It Or Lose It
There's a saying that goes "use it or lose it." It’s an apt reason to keep your brain active, because, you know, you’ll lose it. The analogy applies to why we use libraries and how they’re helping to not only bridge the digital divide but adding more fodder to the trough. If you don’t use books — well — I don’t even want to think about what it would be like to lose it.
Libraries Matter
I have a hunch that people think that since there’s the Internet then libraries don’t matter. It’s just a hunch, but it’s hidden in the comments I get on being a librarian: “You need a degree to do that?” Yes, librarians need a degree to do “that.” Putting aside my rancor for such questions, I think it tells us a little bit about the current cultural zeitgeist and where we’re going.
There's a misconception that if I can Google it then it must be free. While the open Internet is indeed a treasure trove of knowledge, it's also a depository of useless junk. Librarians keep the door open between the open Internet and its mass chaos of information and the stuff that’s behind closed doors.
To give an idea of what I am talking about, take a look at the Internet Public Library. It’s a deceptively simple website, but it does something different that Google does not do. Behind the HTML code and links are a team of librarians who are constantly updating links to provide access to good information. So, if you need to get reputable and accurate sources you could Google it, but knowing that a team of information specialists curate and cull the “good stuff” makes the Internet Public Library, a unique place.
Knowledge Deserves To Be Free
We tend to think of libraries as brick and mortar buildings that house books, and while this is true, the concept of “the library” is less about locking knowledge up in a safe deposit box, and more about the free dissemination of ideas. The word free is cheap, and I do not mean to suggest that “free” equates with “worthless.”
Libraries are free in the sense that they keep us as a community free from all the nasty stuff that comes from not being free. What would it look like to live in the tyranny of a library-less world? I’d say it would be rather gloomy. And not too pretty.
We might think, “I already own an iPad, and my house has enough books, so why should I bother about using the library?” The logic that stipulates freedom with “I already have that” is the logic that one day could threaten the very concept libraries embody — equal access to knowledge. I use knowledge in the broadest sense of the term. Knowledge cannot be confined by a book, iPad, or even Google’s vast search engine. Yet -- not everyone owns an iPad. And while according to an April 2014 Pew Research study, 87% of adults have access to the Internet, it isn’t 100%. Some libraries have started to mend the gap by lending out tablets such as iPads to people, library users, and complete strangers with library cards! Other institutions such as the New York Public Library are experimenting with a new service: lending portable MiFi Hotspot devices to underserved youth and communities by allowing them to have Internet access outside of the library hours.
Knowledge is bound up with community. Knowledge is supposed to be shareable, and the access we enjoy through our libraries is only as free as we struggle for its freedom. That’s why libraries, even though they are strapped with mounting operational costs and the threat of being cut off from state, local, and federal funding, continue to innovate, to continue to bridge the digital divide. For example, the simple innovation of providing MiFi devices to users who cannot access library services during opening hours closes the gap a little bit. Or loaning out iPads and laptops to users who otherwise cannot afford these gateways to knowledge.
Support Libraries
Support your public library, starting today and in numerous ways: whether it is with monetary or book donations, paying off your library fines or writing to your state and local assembly person about why your library is important to you and your community. You need to stand up for your library because you are standing up for your community. When you keep visiting your libraries, it brings up their “public services metrics” or in layman’s terms, the “headcount” reader goes up, which translates into more resources libraries can roll out for public use. Keeping the building filled with people who use it is good for the library. They can then report to their constituents about the increases of public users in their libraries on a quarterly basis.
I'll End With A Story
It reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me that I thought reflects what libraries do. When he was a teenager, he lived in a small town in South Louisiana with a local municipal public library. He went to the library in the Summer to find a book he wanted to read. He told me, “I don’t remember who told me about the book, but it was called Birdy by William Wharton.” The library did not have it nor did any of the local branches, so the librarian looked at him with a smile on her face and said, “Let’s do an interlibrary loan.” He told me that he didn’t know what an interlibrary loan was, but it sounded neat. “She had me fill out a form — and mind you; this was before the Internet was all the rage,” he said. “In a few weeks, the book arrived from the State Library, and I was able to read the book. I had no idea such a small miracle was possible.” For him, it was like Christmas in July; he’s now a writer and teaches philosophy. Now that ninety percent of all libraries in the U.S. loan out e-books, interlibrary loan looks like an antiquated version of lending, but most libraries still have it and it’s the most thanked-for feature of public libraries by patrons.
Librarians intrinsically know the value of libraries. We just don’t talk about it enough. Let’s spread the word. A call to action: use it and don’t lose it — for the present and future lovers of knowledge out there. Including me. And you. All of us. You can still subscribe to Kindle Unlimited if you want, but check out the library too.
By Greig Roselli (with Ray Pun)

N.B.: The above article is a reprint from the same LinkedIn Pulse article.
Image Source: Poets House

8.8.14

"Back to School": When You’ve Been Out Of School (For Awhile)

Talking to an adult learner on the N train today, she told me she likes to see the young kids squirm in their seats when she gets to interpret Shakespearean sonnets. "I have a whole different outlook on love than them. It's not the same." My N train companion is not alone being older than her colleagues. One out of three students in this year’s Freshman class will most likely be over twenty-five years of age.
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1. Diving in 

More adult learners are going back to school. What’s the number one motivation? Desire to learn. As the baby boomers retire, more are fueled with renewed cognitive interest or are tired of doing the same thing time again. It's like Camus imagining Sisyphus pushing that damn rock: you got to think of something new for the descent. 

2. Fitting in

Part of going back to school is a brain thing. Older students report feeling out of place among younger students and find it hard to adjust to new educational attitudes that may differ from what they remember from previous schools. It’ll be different for sure, but fitting in is part of the cognitive process of starting something new.


Rodney Dangerfield in his first economics class.
Video Courtesy: ZaTbone

There are challenges to returning to the classroom, but if Rodney Dangerfield could do it, so can you. 

3. Finding your way
Anyone can go to university if they have a passion. In fact, having a passion makes more sense for those who have already straddled careers and family, because they have had more time to think about what they want. One indicator of success is just that: focus and knowing what you want, having goals, joined with life experience.


4. Revitalizing options

Who says you can have only one career? Billie Letts, of Where The Heart Is fame, wrote her first novel when she was in her 50s. Older and older, it doesn’t mean sapping innovation and creativity. Older people are seeking a second, third, and even fourth career choices. It’s a glimpse into the future. It’s where we’re going, so don’t let ageism creep into the hallowed halls. The younger set now vie for the honor roll with a silver-haired genius. 

5. Being an outlier
We’re living longer. The adult brain is still spry. Voices from across the age spectrum offer different takes on life. You might be older than your professor, and your age has made you an outlier. But outlier status means you give a fresh perspective in the classroom. You’re changing the bell curve. Like Shakespeare meditating on love (or the lady on the N train), learning something new at the apex of life is not letting go of that “ever-fixed mark” that "looks on tempests and is never shaken."

26.7.14

A Lagniappe Of Dumplings At Xi'an's Famous Foods

Have you ever been to Xi'an's Famous Foods in the East Village (or their other locations)? It's stupid good.
A trio of my friends decided to eat dumplings on Saint Mark's. Xi'an's Famous Foods serves up a delicious spinach dumpling in a sour soup; it's fast, savory, and filling food. I was craving a heap of deliciousness,  and I had a tenner in my pocket. I was freelancing at the time  money was tight.
Spinach dumplings at Xi'an's Famous Foods
The eatery is small, and hungry weekenders (it was a Saturday afternoon) fill the space. Two thin, attractive men seated already had gotten up to leave. I offered to dispose of their plates since I was already adjacent to the trash bins.

"Hey," I said, noticing the blonde hadn't eaten the remaining four dumplings that sat green and plump on his plate. "Are you going to eat that? I'll eat it." 

The guy, nonplussed, said "sure," and he and his companion, both wearing crisp white shirts and chinos departed the restaurant.


I ordered a second round of dumplings, and one of my friends suggested we walk down Saint Mark's and ask people dining on the sidewalk to give us their food.


Yeah, we didn't do that, but the lagniappe of dumplings and a carbonated apple fizz soda was my delight for a day in the East Village.

25.7.14

Photograph: "A World Within A World"

From Instagram: This is what happens when you zoom your camera into the recesses of weird nooks and crannies of a building.

"A World Within A World": A photograph taken in the Fordham neighborhood (The Bronx, New York City)

20.7.14

Photographs: Walking Underneath the Hell Gate Bridge in Randall's Island Park

Setting: A Randall's island soccer field with the Hell Gate Bridge cutting through like a beeline. Where's that crack train from Albany? Walking underneath the trestle, the trains above me carry all Amtrak trains on their way to upstate New York, Boston, and all points north. I took these photographs with my friend @trolson14. And I sing "Under the Bridge" by @chilipeppers. P.S. We saw a Blue Winged wasp (with the scientific name #scoliadubia) and a wall covered with U.F.O. graffiti. I call it "Dripping Wet U.F.O". P.S.S. To get to the island, we walked across the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (a.k.a. The Triborough Bridge. Caveat: Walking this bridge is not for the faint of heart. @nyc_dot.
Greig walks under the Hell Gate Bridge (Randall's Island)

Troy walks across the wet grass of a soccer field 
(with a fabulous, atmospheric view of the Hell Gate Bridge)

A wasp

Tri-Borough Bridge

"Dripping Wet U.F.O."

6.7.14

Movie Review: Le Petit Amour (Kung-Fu Master!)


Jane Birkin and Mathieu Demy in Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Master!), Dir. Agnès Varda (1988)
I recently saw Le Petit Amour (Kung-Fu Master!) (1988), directed by Agnès Varda, on Mubi. I am familiar with her most famous work, Jacquot de Nantes, and her exquisite short documentary films.
The movie tells the story of Mary-Jane, a recently divorced older woman (Jane Birkin) who unwittingly falls in love with her daughter's (Charlotte Gainsbourg) younger teenage classmate, Julien (Mathieu Demy). In real life, Demy is Varda's son, and Gainsbourg is Birkin's daughter. Birkin conceived the story, and Varda wrote it (also it is quite the cinematic family-affair, considering the real-life relationships among Varda, Demy, and the Birkin clan).
The plot concerns a taboo subject of intergenerational love, but I thought the film was redeemed (and Roger Ebert agrees) by its ability to capture feelings without the use of overwrought words, or a display of gratuitous sex. While the story is fantasy-driven, it touches upon the feeling of passionate love and how it can come upon you when you least expect it.