Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Heard it at the 2009 Gudalajara Book Fair

I had just left the Larousse stand, immersed in nostalgia at seeing the red dictionary I remember from high school. I had memorized many of the Latin phrases in the “pink section” and wrote them on the back of my general biology exam. I got an “F” and the teacher called me in to say that if I could learn those words I could pass my next exam.

¿Para qué sirven los libros? The questioning voice was loud enough I could hear it clearly over the echoes of those from the hundreds who had opted to spend a Sunday afternoon book browsing. When I turned around to see who could utter such an aberration at a book festival, I caught a glimpse of the young boy. He was probably not much older than 12 or 13 and for a moment I felt transported hundreds of miles away when I filed a similar complaint: ¿para qué sirve la doctrina?

My many quejas were in vain. I had to stay after Mass for Sunday school. But the Spanish cognate gives a much better sense of what it all was, indoctrination. My brother, five years older than I, responded to my protest: para ir al cielo.
al paraíso. I was hungry and could care less about paradise, but my mother had already decided for me. One hour of doctrina… and at 12 (going on 13, I always corrected everyone) I had no say in the matter.

Perhaps I stared at the boy with such intensity that his mother held out her arm to protect him from my penetrating gaze while he questioned out loud again,
¿para qué sirven los libros? I wanted to reassure him: para ir al paraíso ….son el paraíso. I wanted to tell him that books had saved my life those endless summers when the never ending smell of onions permeated my soul and my sole refuge were the words of Steinbeck and Hemingway (which I encountered first in Spanish at the local public library). Later those of Lorca and Machado gave solace to the scorching days after toiling in the onion and cotton fields. Their lulling metaphors gave me the fortitude and comfort lacking in that Church indoctrination.

¡Para eso sirven los libros!

Photo (c) Juan Boites, EL UNIVERSAL, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Using RSS for Collection Development

This first appeared in the October 2009 issue of SALALM newsletter, as part of the web 2.0 column. Please contact alison.hicks @ colorado.edu for more information.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: RSS is the most useful tool in the web 2.0 world. If you only have time to play with one tool, make it RSS. If you’re already using RSS to keep up with your favourite blogs, cartoons and cake wrecks, it’s time you considered using it for collection development too. What is RSS? RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is used to receive automatic updates from a web page. An RSS feed is simply a list of new information that appears on a website. New material is automatically gathered into one place in a feed reader, arranged to be read, skimmed or saved for later, in one format that is easy to save or send by e-mail. Content updates exist for websites, blogs, searches – everything! For more information, see the ‘RSS in Plain English’ video.

Keeping abreast of contemporary fiction is a challenge, particularly for a new librarian when it is published a foreign country. Media outlets do not always pick up new and first-time authors until they win an award and furthermore, it is becoming hard to rely on published book reviews. Owing to the economic crisis in traditional journalism, many newspapers are cutting Literary Editor positions and reducing the number of book reviews (as demonstrated by Library Journal’s initial decision to close Críticas, for example.) At the same time, a new breed of book reviewer had emerged – the literary blogger. Although many decry the rise of the ‘over-opinionated and under-qualified dilettante’, literary bloggers often provide an alternative viewpoint, picking up on many titles and authors that are ignored by the major publishing houses’ marketing.

One of the central tenets of Web 2.0 is the facilitation of communication, using the Web as a two-way conversation rather than solely as an information provider. While we are extremely lucky to be able to rely on the specialized knowledge of the SALALM libreros, librarians also need to take advantage of this paradigm shift. Subscribing to personal blogs, small-scale literary magazines and newsletters through RSS means that the Internet can be used to develop a wider knowledge of recent publications as well as a barometer to gauge cultural and literary developments from within a country.

A good place to start finding literary information is to scour regular, foreign and speciality (such as Technorati, Blogalaxia, Blogazos) search engines for literary blogs. Search for key authors, literature prizes or recent literary news to find relevant bloggers. Most bloggers also provide links to the blogs that they read, which can be mined for further examples. Other sources of information include literary-prize websites, newsletters, literary associations, journals and magazines. Recently, book review aggregators have sprung up, which can make keeping up to date even more efficient. (Culture Critic, Complete Review.) I subscribe to around 20-30 sources, which gives me insight into formal and informal literary developments in the country in question without becoming overloaded. Obviously, a certain number of articles hold no interest for me, or overlap with others, but it is easy to skim through articles, and the inevitable overlap assures me that enough bases are being covered.

I channel these feeds into one super feed through Yahoo! Pipes. For more information about how to set up a yahoo pipe, please see my mini tutorial. Look at my sources here.

Alison Hicks

University of Colorado, Boulder