Throwback Post: June 2006 – Lost in Digitization


From 2006 through 2011, I wrote a blog for North Suburban Library System, the now-defunct consortium which included the library I worked for. I wrote about books, authors, libraries in general and my own, and topics relevant to that period of time. Looking back over the posts is nostalgic. It’s like a time capsule.

Re-reading what I wrote reminds me of the urgency serious readers felt upon the upsurge in eBooks, the fear bound books would give way to digital. J.K. Rowling was still publishing books in the Harry Potter series, and I was still a librarian.

Some of these are a bit rough, hopefully not as well-written as I’d produce today, considering it’s been a decade and I’d like to think I’ve grown as a writer. Still, I wanted to keep a selection and thought what better way than transplanting them here.

The first of these I’ve left as is, no edits.




Ever thought about how the age of the blog will impact the future of arts and letters? Specifically, what will become of the collected letters and diaries of today’s great authors once they’re gone, considering so many of them are using online forums to blog their thoughts?

Imagine if such great diarists as Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf had lived in the age of the internet. How different would their collected letters and diaries be?

Pepys constructed a rather elaborate code in the writing of his diaries, a fact that indicates he knew people would puzzle over them. He probably snickered all the way to the grave, knowing how people would scratch their heads over his diaries. It worked for a long time, too, and the literary detectives were baffled a good long time. Pepys died in 1703 and the first edition of his diaries wasn’t published until 1825.

The fact of the matter is, the cheeky thing had actually tucked a key for his shorthand into some books shelved above the actual diaries themselves. Still, it took years for scholars to locate it and then puzzle out his volumes and volumes of handwritten diaries.

If Pepys were writing today would he just make up a blog pseudonym for himself (a blogonym?) and hide behind that, instead of his elaborate system of shorthand? Instead of scratching out his diary on sheets of vellum, employing his trusty quill pen, he’d type them out on his laptop.

Decidedly unromantic, if you ask me.

Virginia Woolf left behind a wealth of letters, diaries and manuscripts. If she hadn’t handwritten them we wouldn’t know about her penchant for violet ink, nor would we see her scratchings out, her little doodles along the margins, etc. If she’d typed them on her computer all we’d have to analyze would be her choice of font, use of bold and italics, and how often she failed to scan for homonym typos. Spell check would take care of all her endearing mispellings (and she did have a few of those), and all would be uniform and sanitized.

Imagine if, after she’d typed out her now famous suicide note to husband Leonard and best friend Vita Sackville-West, there’d been a delivery error. How ironic to get a Fatal Error message while sending your suicide note, eh?

What, then, will the future of the collected writings of authors be like? Instead of tracking down handwritten documents we’ll have to send in the Geek Squad to tap into their hard drives, as well as the hard drives of those with whom they corresponded. The search will be on for their Blackberries, their cell phone records and even their iPods. Handwritten documents? What are those?

While it is rather satisfying to read the blogs of today’s writers, it still gives one pause thinking what this will mean for the future. It’s a mixed blessing. We hear more from them during their lifetimes, and they’re definitely far more accessible, but once they’re gone what we’ll have left will be far less personal.

I guess we’ll have to reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of progress, but personally I think a lot of the charm will be lost in the process.



And so she disappears for two months, then returns with a photo that looks mighty ominous…

No connection. I just liked it.

I got a job. A job a job a job! At last, after eight months’ spent sending out resumes to dozens and dozens of potential employers. All those interviews. What a nightmare. But I’m a librarian again, an Adult Services Librarian (don’t get any ideas) working at a wee library in a town that was an actual town before the suburbs came barreling through, incorporating it into the greater Chicago Metro Area. I live in just such a town, now I work in another.


And it’s wonderful… Great people, lots of encouragement to be creative. ENCOURAGEMENT. That’s a great thing.

Still reading, reviewing only for myself and soon for my library. Nothing’s slowed down, though. I’ve simply replaced activities: no longer spending my days revising my resume to fit each job and working too many little jobs that paid too little for too many people. And it is nice, let me tell you. Nice.

Because I have a job!




A neurotic librarian moment. Please indulge me.

Forgive me for this librarian nervous breakdown moment, but I'm getting a little annoyed by the debate of book vs. ebook. Does that issue bug me? Heck, yeah! But all that's idle chatter next to the really big problem: information storage and retrieval.

Most of the arguments against electronic books center on the loss of physical books themselves, but that's only a small part of the story (pun semi-intended). The long-term problem is once existing technology is replaced by something "better," what happens to everything stored using the previous technology? Where will all these electronic books – and all the other media, like newspapers, digital photographs, public documents, materials already archived using different technology – go once their storage method is rendered extinct by the NEXT BIG THING?

This is what keeps archivists/curators/defenders of information up at night. The book vs. the ebook? Sure, that's upsetting. But consider all the information we have today and how it's stored. Who will be doing all the necessary updating to keep that information as formats change? As years pass more information will be accumulated. It will be impossible to keep up with it, to store the previous batch before the next one rolls in. Then what happens?

In the past, if you wanted to write a biography about, say, Teddy Roosevelt, you would delve into books and other paper sources. While really old paper documents have their own issues – crumbling due to age, etc. – nevertheless they're ideally archived together in one uniform format. They can also be photographed, either on film or digitally. Or both, to be doubly sure.

On the other hand, if you were – years from now – to write a biography of Barack Obama, books would still be a primary source, but the real meat of your information is going to be electronic. Instead of his letters, you'd need to have access to his email and other electronic documents. But someone has to weed through those, pull out what's security-sensitive and leave what would be considered interesting. But who? And what if that person decides to ditch things like, "Let's meet for lunch at McDonald's on Tuesday," or anything else that seems unimportant. What if some of that turns out to be more important than they thought, but now they've pressed a button and it's gone forever?

Then again, what if they keep everything? Where will this everything be stored for everyone, for the purpose of archiving lives that would previously have been documented on paper?

See the problem? What happens to our collective history if we have no way of saving it - in a usable format - for the future?

Boggling, isn't it?

So, while I agree it's frustrating Amazon's electronic book sales have surpassed those of conventional books by far, what I find even more troubling is how all the electronic information we have now will be usable in the future. Like you didn't have enough to keep you up at night, right?

You will still have to pry my paper and glue books out of my cold, dead hands. And I won't stop buying books, and admiring how they look on my shelves (as opposed to the charm of my Sony Reader, which should never be underestimated).  But the seduction of downloading books instantly, paying less than the cover price of a book to have it right away…  Agony, for this librarian. I never thought I'd be torn over this, but I am. And I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit that. Still, honesty, policy, etc.

Consider this a simplistic introduction to what we're in for in the future. Books vs. ebooks has gotten the attention of the masses, but be advised this isn't all we have to worry about. For a full list of other things I recommend worrying about, see me. I can empty any glass you can fill.

But do me a favor and keep today's issue in mind, because it will have an impact on all future generations. And if you can find a solution, make sure you cut me in. I would like to be really, really wealthy. I think I'd make a good rich person. A very good rich person.



Alice’s Book Group, the Spine Crackers (that one cracks me up)(literally)

The first Friday of every month is Alice’s book group meeting day at the library. Alice is one of our kindly children’s librarians, and the book group she runs has been in existence for longer that she’s actually worked at the library. I don’t know who ran it before her, but I do know these ladies (the core group of them, at least) have been meeting somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years now. TWENTY YEARS! Imagine getting together every, single Friday for 20 years to talk about books. Barring the occasional vacation or illness, this is exactly what these ladies have been doing. I find that more than a little inspiring, considering I haven’t been doing anything for 20 years straight.

Any group that’s met for that long is bound to have weathered some bad experiences along with the good. This group has seen the death of one member, and right now another member is enduring chemo for a particularly insidious form of bone cancer. Yet, they’ve managed to maintain these monthly meetings, sharing the good and the bad, supporting each other through it all.

I joined the group shortly after I started working at the library, so I’ve been attending meetings for just over a year now. That makes me very much a newbie, though now that I’ve completed the secret initiation rite I’m fully vested. I can’t reveal the secrets of the rite, but I can say it involves a live goat, a monolith, and the chanting of an ancient phrase. (Okay, it doesn’t. It requires I actually show up now and then, but that sounded a lot more boring than the goat, the stone, and the phrase.)

Late last year someone at the library decided all the book groups needed to have catchy names, so that the public could differentiate them more easily. Why this suddenly became a problem after 20 years I don’t know, but who am I to question? Alice’s group became “The Spine Crackers,” which is particularly funny when you consider the group’s primarily made up of sweet elderly ladies. “Spine Crackers” has such a violent sound to it, though of course I get the spine reference here. Still, I can’t help getting a mental image of the Spine Crackers all sporting black leather, studded collars and brass knuckles, vigilantly defending their turf and their honor in the pursuit of reading enlightenment.  The most violent thing I’ve seen them carrying so far are knitting needles, but I still wouldn’t dare cross a group called the Spine Crackers. I know what’s good for me. And so does the goat.

TigerinthegrassThis Friday is our February meeting day. The book we read this time around was Harriet Doerr’s The Tiger in the Grass. This is a book of short stories, mostly reminiscent of Doerr’s life from the perspective of 80+ years of life experience. As such, it’s a really relevant book for this group, considering the average age is probably around 70. Actually, I think it’s relevant to anyone with the foresight to realize it’s important to listen to the wisdom of someone who’s older than you, who’s been just about everywhere there is to be in life. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that it’s wise to sometimes just shut up and listen.

Harriet Doerr didn’t start writing until her 70s. She published her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, at the age of 74. The book went on to win the National Book Award for a first work of fiction. Not bad for a woman who’d put her education on hold when she married, returning to her studies and earning her degree after a 55 year hiatus. Not bad for anyone, really, to win such a prestigious award for a first book. It’s just that much more inspiring knowing the circumstances of her life, and the strength of character it took to get back to what she’d started a lifetime ago.

I’m looking forward to this month’s meeting to hear the reaction to Doerr’s book. I imagine they’ll feel a lot of sympathy with the themes. The wisdom of Harriet Doerr won’t be lost on this group, nor will the beautiful writing style of the stories. Plus, there’ll be coffee and baked goods. If all else fails, nothing softens a Spine Cracker like good conversation and refreshments. That’s another life lesson I’ve learned, and it continues to serve me pretty well, too.


Stranger, in Dubious Company

WOW! Do I ever  have exciting work-related news to tell, but I can’t tell just yet. Not until the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. Not ’til the cows have come home and the barn door is closed   But it won’t be long. No, it won’t be long… Oh, but if it doesn’t transpire!

Let’s not think about that. It’s almost a sealed deal, and when it is I shall let you know…

In the meantime, I’ll tell you about my exciting adventures at work yesterday. My “Friday Film Festival” film discussion group started! Yes, it did, it really, really did. The film I kicked off with is a French Canadian film that translates as Strangers in Good Company. There’s no real “star” in the cast, or at least if there is I didn’t recognize her, but whoever these women were they were wonderful.

Strangersingoodcompany_1 The basic plot is this, eight women (average age 71) are riding in a bus in the Canadian countryside. The bus breaks down and the women are stranded, miles away from anything resembling civilization. They find an abandoned house they use as a shelter, and make-shift a temporary home for themselves. In the course of the next few days they must find food in order to survive. It’s then they learn what strengths they each have, and how they complement each other.

While they’re marooned they share things about their lives they may never have otherwise. They talk about their joys and sorrows, their fears and the sources of their individual strengths. They laugh and cry, they dance and sing, and overall they bond into a strong unit. By the time they’re rescued there’s a reluctance to leave, because they know what they shared during those few days was something deeper than they’d experienced in a very long time.

So, in short, the film was lovely.  It reminded me of The Enchanted April, as well as Ladies in Lavender. To complete the experience, and welcome my new film group, I bought a nice assortment of cheeses and crackers, wonderful chocolate chip cookies and the coffee was fresh and plentiful. The only problem was, no one came… Okay, ONE person came, and she enjoyed the film, but I felt a bit silly sitting there, just the two of us, in a room set up for at least a dozen.

When the film was over she asked me, “What was the name of that movie, again?” I told her, then said, “Maybe more will come next month.” The ONE person laughed lightly, put on her jacket and walked out the door. Not in mean way, but more in a way that said, “Well, that would be nice, but…..”

Ah, alas and alack. I can only hope that I build it, they will come. Eventually.

Bluestalking Reader: The Folksy, Home-spun Side

I didn’t realize I had so much home-grown in me before. I saw traces of it pop up occasionally, most notably when I’m able to flawlessly imitate the southern accent (no, don’t ask me to do it, inspiration must strike me first). The fact is, I’m starting to gravitate a little toward Appalachia. Not literally or anything, but in the sense I’ve recently booked two programs here at my library based or inspired at least partly by things Appalachian, awakening me to the fact I must have some sort of latent interest in this subject.

Who knew?

For those outside the U.S., you may not fully realize what Appalachia means. To people inside, you may not actually, either, to be fair. Generally, when  you mention Appalachia one pictures the garden variety of hillbilly, people with bad (or no) teeth swinging off porches built on houses that sit precariously on the sides of wooded hills. Generally these people are connected with home-brewed alcohol, and the picture’s completed when you add a whole-grain “still” to the mix.

If you’ve been in the Smoky Moutains area you’ll have seen the cabins/shacks I’m talking about, but even if you haven’t I’ll bet it’s not hard to picture huge, overall-clad families sitting on shaky, wooden porches blowing into empty jugs to make music. While that’s really neat and all, I also think we shouldn’t get too blinded by the stereotype. And I don’t just say that because my paternal family line filtered through Appalachia, specifically the Carolinas. I may not be quite as personally fired up to stress the need to balance otherwise, but even without that I’d like to think the culture would still interest me.

Okay, possibly.unitedstatesofappalachia

I’ve recently  booked author Jeff Biggers to come speak at our library. Jeff wrote a book titled United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America. The man has a string of credentials about as long as my arm, but what probably sealed the deal was the fact he’s been an NPR (National Public Radio) commentator. The quality coming out of NPR is just huge, so there’s no doubt in my mind Mr. Biggers will be a stellar speaker.

On his website there’s information on the book he’s coming here to talk about specifically, In the Sierra Madre (Mexico’s Copper Canyon). While here he’ll talk about travel writing, as well, and other matters he knows an awful lot about. While this is pretty far away from the subject of Appalachia, his other book lands him squarely in that realm.
The other Appalachian-related/inspired program I booked will happen in May. This one centers on the music of that region and will feature video accompaniment and clog dancing.

Yes, clog dancing. In the Chicago suburbs. Won’t you be sorry you missed

We’ll be a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ that day, at least as much as one does so in a library setting. And, if you’re wondering, I will bring my camera. so keep on the lookout.

Edgar Award Winning Author Theresa Schwegel

I haven’t mentioned lately that I have a really great (day) job for a book lover. I think it’s time to rectify that.

I had the pleasure of hosting Edgar Award-winning author Theresa Schwegel at the library last evening. Theresa came for a reading, book signing and Q & A. She’s making a lot of local appearances at the moment, while on a book tour promoting her second book Probable Cause. We were absolutely thrilled she was able to stop by the library while she’s in the area.

Probable Cause was reviewed in the New York Times this past weekend, if you’d like to take a look at that. It’s been getting huge attention all over the place. If Theresa keeps up at this rate she’ll be a household name in no time! Here in her hometown we couldn’t be more proud of her.




Theresa grew up in Algonquin, Illinois, graduating from the local high school in 1993. Her first novel, Officer Down, won the Edgar Award for a first mystery novel.
Theresa’s genre is crime fiction, and from her track record so far I think we can safely say she has that one pretty well mastered. Winning an Edgar Award right out of the starting gate is just about the most auspicious start anyone could hope for in the mystery genre.

If you’d like to know more about Theresa, or see her appearance/book signing schedule, check out her website.

Now that I have signed copies of both her books I’m going to get down to business and read them. I’ll report back, you can be sure of that. From what I’ve heard from other readers these are very much “put life on hold” books. Once I’ve started I have a feeling I’ll be glued to them, so I’ll have to clear the schedule and turn off the phone before I start!

Congratulations to Theresa on all her success, and we’ll look forward to more opportunities to be proud of her in the future. To say her career is promising is an understatement. As far as success goes, she’s already there.