Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things
(to think about, library-wise)

Tons of ideas, inspirations and news pop up every week, too many to write about but good enough to tell others about. Now that Google has deleted the "share" function of Google Reader (which I used to share these interesting tidbits, in the "Keeping Current" sidebar widget), they're all running around in my head (and staying open in dozens of Firefox tabs :-)

Instead, I'm just going to throw out the links with a few comments. If these questions go around in your head too, let me know what you're thinking!

About Information Literacy

"Technology should be taught with inconsequential content . That way, when there's important content, the technology will be transparent."
?? This makes so much sense, but it's contrary what we've been doing, which is to teach about databases, efficient searching, etc., when students have a pressing "need to know" (the research has been assigned and they have a chosen topic) so the skills are immediately relevant. When there are limited opportunities to work with students on their research skills, should I focus on low-stakes-relevant-later or high-stakes-relevant-now presentation times? Should there be a short-term class in Information Literacy skills that's not tied to course content and assignments?

Why Kids Can't Search (Clive Thompson op-ed on
Because they've never been taught to search well, they just figure it out on their own. Where can schools find time in the day to teach content AND skills, especially if they don't overlap?

About eBooks

Renting Out the Library (on Digital Public Library of America blog)
A different model of acquiring digital content for library loaning, based on the old Blockbuster model -- instead of paying for digital media up front for a set price, pay a royalty for each loan. Publishers then benefit from increased circulations, instead of griping about lost revenues.

This Deal is Getting Worse All the Time (at Library Renewal)
Why I'm uneasy about providing ebooks through another third-party vendor. They control who, when and what, instead of this library) and the terms can change at any time.
But -- (an aside musing) -- why are libraries, this one included, ok with providing periodical content to patrons through an annually renewable subscription with a third-party vendor? All our databases, ProQuest, SIRS, CQ Researcher, JSTOR, are provided through this model. Are we just used to it? Are books intrinsically different to journal articles?

Douglas County [Colorado] Public Library system has created its own ebook collection and loaning system completely independent of OverDrive, 3M or other middle-man distributor, using Adobe Content Server software. I would love to be able to set up a consortium like this for school libraries statewide. We buy the ebooks, we protect the files from piracy, we loan them out to our students. Why not?

About Other Stuff

This book is on the suggested reading list at It's a huge collection of exercises, techniques and strategies for developing creative thinking -- because the author believes that creative thinking CAN be developed. If you're really good at thinking inside all the corners of your box (like me), but find it harder to look outside of it, check this book out.

Libraries as Places of Idea Creation (not just Idea Storage & Retrieval)
"Throughout history libraries have been highly effective as what we might call idea storehouses. Universities and schools have been highly effective as idea communicators. But, particularly at a time when many are questioning the relevance of libraries (thinking in terms of the ‘storehouse’ model), might we develop libraries further as idea factories? The place you go to generate ideas in the first place?"

Libraries as Hackerspaces (an NPR Weekend Edition story)
"We see the library as not being in the book business, but being in the learning business and the exploration business and the expand-your-mind business," he says. "We feel this is really in that spirit, that we provide a resource to the community that individuals would not be able to have access to on their own." If you have a woodshop and a 3D printer, but nobody's using your resources to discover and use information, are you still a library? Where is the line between being a place of information/idea creation, and being a computer lab, or Kinko's?

World Book Night (Sydney got an notice through Sherman Alexie's email list)
50,00 people distributing 20 books each, all on one night (April 23, 2012), to promote reading. Wonder if we could organize a student group to distribute one of these titles? Where would be a good place, with non- or light readers, where we could distribute 20 copies? So many great titles (the library has all but one or two), which would we choose?

Junior High Book Club
This is exciting, and from the brain of the fabulous Greg Changnon. In January, he and I will kick off a reading club for the voracious 7th & 8th grade readers. The first selection is likely to be Cherie Priest's Boneshaker (go, steampunk!)

Move Over, Edward, Things Are Really Really Bad Here.
"Dystopia is the New Paranormal" - dystopian YA novels jumping to the big screen soon, and may get a new readership with all the publicity. Some moms and I were amused by a certain (adorable) group of girls' passion for the "I'm inexplicably in love with a tormented fallen angel boy who thinks I'm hot but who won't hurt me" genre. Yes, "paranormal romance" is an actual category on But the fallen angels haven't followed the vampires all the way to Hollywood yet, and may be forever stalled by the bow-wielding Katniss and friends.

Enjoy your December holiday, and maybe your neighbors' holidays too! One can never have too many holidays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Steampunk? It's an increasingly popular fiction genre with many variations, and it's even a fashion/lifestyle in certain mod circles. Here's an elegant definition from steampunk author Cherie Priest:
An aesthetic movement based around the science fiction of a future that never happened.
Wikipedia's definition is less elegant, but more descriptive:
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian-era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc.
Whereas typical dystopian YA lit takes place in our future world after cataclysmic war, natural disaster or society gone wrong (The Hunger Games, the Uglies quartet, The Forest of Hands and Teeth), steampunk is often set in a "what if" kind of historical past -- as in, "what if Queen Victoria had been assassinated and Prince Albert became king?" or "what if the British had sent troops to support the South in the Civil War?" The feature that makes steampunk unique is that much of the speculation centers on the odd, but plausible, technologies developed in these alternate timelines: steam-driven motorcycles, genetically-altered creatures, monster-creating viruses, realization of Babbage's "difference engine" (computer) by the turn of the 20th century. The unexpected speculative details laid over a framework of a familiar historical structure keeps readers' minds working to construct the unique steampunk world created by each author.

Looking for something new and different? Need something novel for holiday giving? Below are some of the steampunk novels in the Paideia Library that challenge the imagination and set readers on their own journeys of "what if?"

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan - As World War I breaks out between the clockwork & iron Mechanicals of the Austria-Hungarian forces, and the Darwinist British, who fly and fight with genetically engineered creatures, Deryn masquerades as a boy to achieve her dream of becoming an aeronaut. Behemoth and Goliath complete the trilogy.

Cherie Priest's Boneshaker & Dreadnought - Sixteen years after the Boneshaker incident of 1863, which destroyed downtown Seattle and released a zombie-making gas, the machine inventor's widow has to cross the safety wall into the City in pursuit of their son, who's determined to discover his father's true story. Meanwhile, 20 years into the Civil War, nurse Mercy Lynch travels cross country via dirigible, steamship and rail to see her injured father on the West Coast, but she'll have to survive Union intrigue, Confederate opposition, and a zombified Mexican army if she's to make it to Tacoma on the steam-engine Dreadnought alive.

The Girl with the Steel Corset by Kady Cross. Ever think you'd imagine a Victorian-era cross between X-Men: Origins and a Harlequin Romance?? Me either, but amazingly enough, it works. Fired from her position as lady's maid, Finley joins handsome heir Griffin King and his band of other strangely gifted teens to investigate a series of crimes committed by clockwork automatons.

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. Investigating a series of attacks on young women during the early years of King Albert's reign, famed explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and peculiar poet Algernon Charles Swinburne discover that their London of steam-driven technology and eugenically created animals should never have existed at all. The Burton & Swinburne trilogy also includes The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.

Soulless, and the rest of Gail Carriger's tongue-in-cheek Parasol Protectorate series. A total guilty pleasure, this series is breathless (sometimes steamy) Victorian romance mixed with mystery, supernatural creatures and paranormal London steampunk technology. To her family's utter dismay, society-born Alexia Tarabotti is too strong-minded to attract suitors, too "Italian" for beauty, and has no soul to boot. Soulless 'preternaturals' have the singular ability to neutralize supernatural powers, which comes in handy when Alexia attracts the murderous attention of a rogue vampire, and the romantic attention of the unpolished, powerful and magnetic werewolf, Lord Conall Maccon.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials trilogy) by Philip Pullman. Yep, The Golden Compass qualifies as steampunk. Think about it -- alternate worlds/history, odd but plausible technology, realistic settings and matter-of-fact techno-magic (the alethiometer? scientific explanation of the soul? experimental theology?). Lyra Belacqua's quest to rescue her friend Roger from soul-destroying experiments in the Far North is still captivating, and is the beginning of a trilogy that explores the nature of love, humanity, madness, original sin and Heaven itself.

I've just noticed in making this list that steampunk has a generous share of spunky, strong women. Maybe that goes along with the alternate history thing, for it certainly turns around the stereotype of 19th century womanhood.

On my list to read over the December break is Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding, one of School Library Journal's "Best Books of 2011." Airships, bounty hunters, sky pirates and an armored golem -- sounds like fun!

This list is only scratching the surface; there's more YA steampunk in the Paideia Library (listed below) and much, much more targeted for the adult reading market.

Are you into steampunk? What have you read that you'd recommend for our junior high and high school collection?


Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
ed. by Kelly Link & Gavin Grant

Kenneth Oppel's Matt Cruse airship trilogy - Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve

Fever Crumb and sequels by Philip Reeve

Scarlet Traces, a graphic novel by Ian Edginton

This post on The Book Smuggler blog reviews several more titles. At the bottom you'll find links to blog posts and articles for further reading, and links to websites for exploring Steampunk-as-lifestyle. Membership in the Victorian Steampunk Society, anyone?