Library Tourism: The San Francisco Main Branch

Air freshener

I’ve escaped my parental bonds for a moment, thanks to my husband, so I have a few minutes to tell you about my recent trip to the SF Public library. The big one downtown. The one I visited a long time ago and left, convinced that public librarianship in a large city belonged to the realm of the nostril-less.

San Francisco has a Big Beautiful Library, located in the Civic Center across the street from City Hall. The building is full of glass and marble and echo-y ceilings, in the grandest tradition of main library excess. As a young library tourist, I had visited this landmark eager to see Library Done Right, and learn what can be made when budget constraints are erased and the architects are released from their fetters. Unfortunately, I had failed to consult with a resident when planning the walk there, and found myself entangled in The Tenderloin, SF’s most unpleasant neighborhood. I dodged madmen in wheelchairs and puddles of vomit for a few blocks, and arrived safe but shaken. Which is not to say that the special Tenderloin atmosphere ended when I went inside.

Due to its location, the SF Library Main branch has struggled with strange bedfellows. City Hall, the Opera, the Symphony, and a few lesser monuments surround the building, but the clientele and the smell remind you that the Tenderloin ends only a block away. Nine years ago, this meant the entire bottom two floors were permeated with Eau Du Armpit, and the best reading chairs were occupied by scruffy men with newspapers over their heads. This may have influenced my decision, upon moving to the city, to avoid the downtown branch entirely.

However! When Adorable Daughter and I visited the library two weeks ago (after some discreet nursing in the car) we encountered a cleaned-up building, with a less lived-in look. We visited the small soulless cafe downstairs, wrestled with the wireless (mommy has an iphone MMORPG problem), and found a nice browsing collection staffed by two friendly and incredibly overqualified librarians. The homeless problem seems to have abated somewhat, and I noticed security guards everywhere.

One of the things that prompted me to give it another try was an excellent article in the Chronicle announcing “the country’s first full-time psychiatric social worker stationed in a public library”. A quick google search reveals this to be a much-press-released, and apparently effective tactic on the part of SFPL to combat the library’s struggle with homeless patrons.  It might have been a coincidence, I’m just a single data point, but there did seem to be an improvement since my last visit.

If you want a reason to be grateful for your current job (assuming you aren’t an SF Public librarian), you might enjoy reading the many Yelp reviewers who have shared their encounters with some of the library’s pants-eschewing patrons. If you want to save thirty bucks on a newly-released hardback, you might enjoy the Main Branch’s science fiction collection.

The San Francisco Library Main Branch: Four stars. Would visit again.

Books for busy mums and other humans

Reading has been a challenge lately, due to new baby and the delirium that accompanies around-the-clock breastfeeding. On the other hand, it has taken me three months to be able to comfortably leave the house, so I’ve had quite a bit of downtime.

My favorite book that I’ve read lately is, appropriately, about raising happy infants. Superbaby, by Dr. Jenn Berman was a gift from my mom the librarian, and has been a great help. It is a compendium of research and useful information from a variety of sources. So rather than an exhaustive study of, say, the positive effects of using ASL as baby sign, it dedicates a nicely summarized chapter and moves along. For the attention deprived among us, it is a quick way to wade through a pile of information.

When I was pregnant, I read about 500 Terry Pratchett books. I was emotionally wrung-out, and they provided just the right balance of humor and comfortingly happy endings to keep me going. If you haven’t read any of the Discworld novels, I often recommend Small Gods, or Guards, Guards!, but you can start anywhere. If it were possible, I and almost everyone I know would like to give Terry Pratchett a hug for being such a nifty writer.

Connie Willis. I’ve been working my way through everything she has ever written, novels, short stories, novellas, introductions and interviews. I don’t usually obsess this much over reading an author’s full catalog, but Connie Willis shares many of the same qualities that make me enjoy Terry Pratchett, in addition to a fantastic grasp of European history and a charming tendency to always turn the Most Frustrating character into the means of Everything Working Out in the End.

If you haven’t read any Connie Willis, I suggest starting with the short story Firewatch, then her novel Doomsday Book. Next, skip over and read the classic Jerome K. Jerome story Three Men in a Boat: to Say Nothing of the Dog. Once you’ve done this, grab Willis’ To Say Nothing of The Dog, a wonderful homage to both Jerome and Dorothy Sayers.

Oops. Happy Daughter is waking up. That’s all for now. Website improvements will continue at their current plodding pace. Thanks for reading!

Hey, Library of Congress. Cut that shit out.

Oh hello Library of Congress. I didn’t see you there. Nice running into you like this!

glassesbuttonYou know, I’ve always admired your electronic resources and open-minded collections policies. My undergraduate university and career have both profited from your generous grantmaking, and your reading room sure is fun to visit when I’m in town!

Being a big organization sucks, doesn’t it? You do your best but, well, you can’t keep track of everything. Sometimes you just end up with people in charge of the Congressional Research Service, who for whatever reason, act like complete dumbfucks.

Revolutionary LibrarianYou must be very embarrassed. I mean, rescinding a job offer because you thought the candidate’s upcoming gender reassignment was…what? Icky?

You had better be fucking embarrassed. The federal court recently fined you $500,000 for your treatment of former Army Special Forces Commander Diane Schroer, who, I suspect, has better things to do than get jerked around by library staff.

I mean, career damage and humiliation aside, it seems like an anti-terrorism analyst’s time might be better spent out of court FIGHTING TERRORISM. A subject you DC dwellers seem to get pretty excited about under normal circumstances.
What’s going on here Library of Congress? Couldn’t think of anything better to do with 500 grand? I wonder how many smaller libraries out there could say the same.

So tell me, is it really easier to house decision makers capable of grossly immoral and illegal actions than it is to cull employees who show these traits? Are Library jobs really so stable that a hiring manager feels comfortable acting on overt prejudice?

And who is this legacy codger you’ve been harboring anyway? A political appointee from the 1880s?  Are there really adults in this world who have never met a transwoman and are ALL AFLUTTER by the idea?

If so, perhaps it might help to read a book or two on the subject. You might enjoy this one from your own extensive archives:

An examination of discrimination against transgender Americans in the workplace: hearing before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives.

Anyway Library of Congress, It’s a brand new administration and I’m sure you’ve learned your lesson. I expect your excellent reference staff will happily direct anyone who has experienced this kind of hiring discrimination to the ACLU.

Librarian Revolution

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Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment… I wouldn’t mess with them. I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group.

— Michael Moore, after outraged librarians saved his book

To celebrate our profession’s revolutionary approach toward freedom of expression,
I have created a new product line* at the Librarian Avengers store, featuring the Revolutionary Librarian. She’s a deadpan librarian, wielding the Flaming Stamp of justice. You can get her on a coffee cup, shirt, or on some glossy cards to send to your nettlesome patrons. Yes, those are knitting needles in her hair.

*As usual, all proceeds go toward the Erica family “mortgage and random charities” fund

Wikipedia entry on a Second Life location

I took a stab at writing a Wikipedia stub on one of my favorite Second Life locations, Caledon, the steampunk/Victorian sim. I’m a Wikipedia n00b, and my stub got flagged for deletion (rightly) due to a lack of notable references.

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Any of you SL-lovin’ librarians out there wanna take a crack at improving it?

Link to deletion discussion

Notability guidelines

Link to Caledon Stub (fictional places???)

Rearranging the books, playlists

I can’t sort out my head properly, so I’m sorting my books. Plover the cat and I are drinking red wine and water, respectively, and pacing the apartment listening to Motown.

I’m rearranging my books.

I’ve you’ve read Nick Hornsby’s book High Fidelity or seen the movie, you might remember Rob rearranging his record collection. Today is sort of that, but without the breakup.

When I have something big on my mind, usually related to self-definition, I become more interested in music and stories.

The music I listen to becomes Important. The books on my shelves become Me. I download. I read. I sort. I fuss and swap and graze over my books, looking for the right system. And through this, somehow, I describe myself to myself. Whatever is going on in my head benefits from the organization I’m doing with my hands.

I externalize this stuff because it’s easier than neurosurgery and cheaper than therapy.

Behold my books. They are arranged by priority, then color.