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Sunday musings

I started library school this fall and I’m on the archival administration track. I have a paper to write and I’m reading the Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics for the Society of American Archivists. While thinking about collections that donors want to leave closed until their death, I had an image of rows of boxes in the archives wrapped up with bows that state “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL MARCH 2040,” “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL AUGUST 2025,” and, you get the idea.

Okay, back to assigned essays.

The Future of Libraries

Yesterday, The New York Times published Libraries Must Change, an opinion piece by president of the New York Public Library, Anthony W. Marx. I first started thinking about the future of libraries in Fall 2019. I took a writing creative non-fiction class and wrote two essays about libraries. The first was basically a love letter to the libraries I have used throughout my life, which my professor loved and raved about to the class. The second he steered me to write. He wanted me to explore the future of libraries, and I could tell from his attitude towards the final draft, that I hadn’t been able to get where he wanted me to go. In Spring 2020 I was finishing my last two classes. One class was a class in Archival Administration where we were planning to visit different archives around us in person and write a report. COVID-19 closed our campus before that happened and we did virtual visits to libraries and archives instead. One of the libraries I chose was The New York Public Library. I was in awe of the massive online collection they have built and continue to add to. Since then I keep thinking about that essay and how I will rewrite it someday with what clues to the future of libraries have been revealed in the wake of this pandemic.

Here is the essay as it was turned in to my professor. Any thoughts or comments as I think about its next form are welcome.

More Than Just Books: Libraries and Service Trends

I was at my mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving and her friend asked me what I was going to do after I get my bachelor’s degree in the Spring. I told her I had applied to Wayne State University (WSU) and hoped to be accepted to their Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program for next fall. “Well, you do like books,” she said, waved her hand, and moved on to the next topic. I should have told her that while I do enjoy reading, I want to be a librarian because I love information. I love organizing it, storing it, and helping people find it. The stereotype of librarians reading all day expands to include libraries as quiet spaces presided over by a judging, bespectacled spinster with a tight bun. She places her index finger to her lips and shushes all talk, even whispers, that aren’t directly related to due dates of materials. These misconceptions persist even though today’s library is a noisy, collaborative hub staffed by people of all genders, and often with tattoos, body piercings, and pink hair. This generation of librarians is more likely to be shushed by a patron while teaching someone how to file their taxes online, than to do the shushing.

When I was in middle school (1983-85), I began collecting music. I collected it on vinyl records and cassette tapes bought in record shops like The Vinyl Solution in Grand Rapids, MI, department stores like K-Mart, mail order via the Columbia House Record and Tape Club, and yard sales. I once scored a copy of the Jackson 5’s Third Album for ten cents. It had a skip on it and the anti-static sleeve was gone but I cared for it like it was a mint, first edition, copy. I had a cheap tape player/audio recorder that I propped up against my radio to capture music and comedy bits onto blank cassette tapes. I wrote the contents of each tape down in spiral bound, one subject notebooks. I sorted the records and tapes by artist (last name first for solo acts) and then by the album’s year of release.

As information professionals, most librarians are excited by the latest technology because it can help them provide the best user experience for their patrons. My simple paper system was effective for my small collection, but with the amount of information available today, and the variety of formats it is stored in, libraries need powerful online systems that allow patrons to access their collections wherever they are. While e-book and online serials are replacing a significant amount of print material, we still need libraries because they broker deals with book publishers and vendors and teach us how to use the platforms they are distributed through. We may be able to Google everything, but we still cannot access most e-books and magazines without a credit card or a library card. Articles proclaiming the death of libraries often forget this.

Public libraries not only provide access to information but valuable social services. The Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) offers programing for all ages. As a mother, I have borrowed books that I couldn’t afford to buy for my son, participated in a Dog Man Party (a popular graphic novel series by Dave Pilkey that my son adores), brought him in during summer break to play with other kids, and enjoyed animal shows by Binder Park Zoo in library meeting rooms. Probably the most unusual thing I went there for was a pair of solar eclipse glasses. As a person who lives in a 600-square foot house, what I am most grateful for is the number of e-books and mp3s I can borrow and stream from KPL on my laptop and phone.

The library at Western Michigan University (where I currently work as a student employee) has been boxing up books with low circulation numbers and moving them to storage. It has also been digitizing master and PhD theses, and while they typically keep one original print copy in the archives, second copies are being withdrawn. Several years ago, new theses began being submitted only digitally. Copies off all these digital files are being uploaded to ScholarWorks, for researches around the world to use in the comfort of their home, office, library, or coffee shop. As books disappear from the stacks, shelving is removed and replaced with tables, comfortable chairs, and white boards for students to use during group study. Other changes include a café, a virtual reality lab manned by the library’s Information Technology department, and a makerspace where the Innovation Club houses 3D printers and other tools for student projects.

I asked, two WMU librarians Amy Bocko (Digital Projects Librarian) and Marianne Swierenga (Cataloging and Metadata Librarian) where they thought libraries would be in twenty years. They both believe there will be an increase in technology-based services. Amy’s position didn’t even exist ten years ago and now her department is recreating “unique, rare and delicate materials online for many people to use.” Marianne believes libraries will still be at the “center of our communities, offering access to information in whatever formats exist.” I overheard another librarian talking about an aging database titled Making Modern Michigan. This database, built by fifty-two Michigan libraries and housed on one of Michigan State University’s servers, is not as attractive or easy to use more recent databases. The documents and photos were scanned as low-resolution grayscale images (I assume this was standard practice due to server space being expensive), instead of high-resolution color images and PDFs as is current practice. Each page of personal diaries are individual files and not easy to read. I am interested to see if the collections will remain in their current form, be reimaged using newer equipment and standards, or if both will happen. Perhaps we will have a legacy edition and, if these institutions have the time and funding, a new high-resolution edition. I think this would be an excellent way to document how libraries change with technology.

As public libraries evolve, we may see fewer books, but there will always be a commitment to the community and its most vulnerable citizens. An example of this is the Hilary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library (part of the Central Arkansas Library System), which has many patrons who live in poverty and are food insecure. This library used input from patrons (some as young as eleven) to design the new building and grounds. They built a teaching kitchen, food greenhouses, and a 165-seat theater, in addition to traditional library areas like book stacks and a computer lab. Another example I would love to see become a model for other communities, is here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. KPL has a partnership with Kalamazoo Public Schools, and last year they launched the OneCard. The card works as a student’s school ID and library card, and a KPL library card. High school students also receive free rides on city Metro busses with their OneCard.

I continue to be excited by new technology and use in the organization of my music collection. Like most libraries I have had to reorganize my space. My records, cassettes, and CDs have been moved off site to remote storage (AKA a friend’s house). Now my collection consists of roughly 10,000 mp3s ripped from my CDs and others purchased from Amazon and other retailers. I still enjoy organizing them and often edit the metadata to correct display problems with music apps.

In the future, I see libraries as being even more fluid than they are now. I see them shifting focus and transforming spaces well ahead of coming trends. They will be pillars of their communities and provide technology and job training. They will be hubs of creativity where people can paint, write, and work on other crafts, either alone or as part of a group. They will be places to meet with friends and play a classic boardgame or the latest videogame. They will also be keepers of their community’s past by being part museum and art gallery. They might even have a corner where someone can choose to read a print book or listen to a vinyl record.

I can speculate about the technology and layout of future libraries, but ultimately the people graduating high school in the next few years will be the ones who shape libraries in the next twenty to thirty. Seeing how these young people organize around the political and social issues that affect them, I believe it is going to be an exciting time. I look forward to seeing how they reinvent libraries to suit the needs of their communities.

Writing Continues to Evolve

As someone who has always followed the rules of writing to the point of freaking out over citations in research papers, I agree that writing can, and should evolve. In her New York Times opinion piece Gretchen McCulloch talks about how young people have been making their own writing rules in order to convey feeling in text messages. In We Learned to Write the Way We Talk she argues that it is okay that younger generations are changing the rules of writing. They are unwilling to leave their feelings out of their writing, and that’s a good thing.

I think this is great. I am nearly fifty-year-old and returned to college a couple years ago. I discovered the personal essay this past semester and it has opened up a whole new world of writing for me. A way to share my stories without being totally self-indulgent. Personal essays were not encouraged when I was in K-12, but they should have been. There is always going to be a place for scholarly and technical writing, but personal writing should be our go-to when sharing life experiences, and when we are texting, all caps and no periods are sometimes necessary to show how we feel about a topic or person. The rules of writing have not been static in the past, and they shouldn’t be now.

Fort St. Joseph

Banner indicating where the Archeology Open House at Fort St. Joseph is being held. Text reads: "Archaeology Open House @ Fort St. Joseph. Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project Western Michigan University." Image of French is one viewer's left-hand side."
Banner for the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Open House.

Yesterday I took Merrick to the open house for the WMU archeology dig at Fort St. Joseph in Niles, MI.

Entrance of Fort St. Joseph open house. Advertisement for Western Michigan University encourages people to "Go West."
Sign promoting Western Michigan University at the entrance of the Open House.

It was not just a tour of the dig, but an interactive experience for children and adults. Musician’s played music from the time as living history demonstrators danced for, and with, members of the audience. Children could collect beads from various stations in exchange for asking them a question about what the person was doing or showing. They also had an area where children could pretend to be the archeologist by sifting sand to search for bones and other artifacts.

Living history demonstrators play music inhabitants of Fort St. Joseph might have listened to and demonstrate a popular dance of the period.

There was a lady making thread with a spinning wheel, there was a man dressed as a Jesuit priest, there was a blacksmith, someone explaining military rations for the time, and so much more.

People take a guided tour of the St. Joseph River in a canoe lead by a living history demonstrator.
Canoe rides were offered to attendees.

I talked with the lady spinning thread about how everything was carefully made by hand at that time. Including the sails on the ships. Imagine how many hours it took to complete a sail. It is staggering. Today we buy clothes we never wear and throw them into landfills. Scraps from the machine cut cloth that eventually gets shipped elsewhere to be sewn into clothing is also thrown into landfills.

We learned from the Jesuit priest that all the priests had a PHd in at least one branch of science. He also did a thought experiment with Merrick regarding transportation. Having Merrick guess by looking at the map how goods were transported at the time (rivers), then asking him what might have replaced them (railroads), and then what replaced those (highways). He then discussed how drones are being tested to deliver items now and asked Merrick how he thought we might be shipping goods when he reached 40.

A trench dug in a 20th century landfill will make it easier for future WMU archeology students to search for artifacts.
This past summer WMU archeology students dug under a 20th century landfill to research whether the fort extends any further to the south.

One of the most interesting things to me is that Students are digging under a 20th century landfill. The amount of waste in this small area is staggering. And it is so close to the water. I would love to see some of the metal and other recyclables in the area be returned to the industrial system before the these resources are beyond salvage, and for the unusable contents to be moved away from the watershed and into a contemporary, rubber lined landfill.

Image of trench two at Fort St. Joseph. Glass bottles, broken washing machines and other items tower above a pit dug out by students and instructors. A water removal system is in place to keep the area free of standing water during the digging season.
Trench Number Two
A tree stump along the trail for the WMU Fort St. Joseph open house. Vines and old shelf mushrooms cover it.

There were several activities we did not get to, but I plan to return next year.

Author's son in front of a marker from the city of Niles, MI. Text reads: "Welcome to the St. Hoseph River Park Project. Park operated by city of Niles Constructed by French Paper Co. Dam 300 feet Picnic Area and Playground 400 feet Downstream Boat Launch 1/2 mile Powerhouse downstream 400 feet on west bank. Open to the public without discrimination. Additional information available at powerhouse office 100 French Street Niles. Licensed by Department of Energy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission License No. 10624-000."
Monument welcoming visitors to the St. Joseph River Park Project.

Saturday A.M. at WMU

Sculpture inside Dalton Center at Western Michigan University.

Merrick is taking an art class at WMU and rather than drive back home I stick around campus and hang out with my homework. I took a few pictures with my phone this past weekend and while they’re not great, they represent some of what I love about campus.

Sprau Tower seen from inside Dalton Center at Western Michigan University.

I have a student job here and would love to work in the library full-time but openings don’t come up often. I am in a spot right now where I want to stay and apply for an opening that might happen after summer but I am looking at full-time jobs in other fields because I only have four classes left before I have my bachelor’s degree.

Looking east to Dunbar Hall, Sprau Tower, and Brown Hall at Western Michigan University.

I am unsure what to do in the future. I planned to go on and get a Masters in Library and Information Science but now I wonder if I should hang up that dream, since good library jobs are so hard to secure, and settle for something that might not be my preferred field, but pays the bills. That question is going to have to be answered soon, but for now I will enjoy getting to visit and work on this campus.

Looking east to Sprau Tower, Brown Hall, and Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University.

Shaggy? Like wow.

​I was talking with my good friend Jen about all the great things Shaggy has done and she put forth the theory that it is actually Scooby Doo who has the power, not Shaggy. I decided it was a worthy theory to pursue.Think about it…what makes more sense, that a dude who dresses like a tree would be all powerful or his trusty dog who is always looking out for him? My money is on Scooby being a loyal friend and letting Shaggy take credit for everything his wonderful dog has made possible.

This theory may be updated as it takes up residence in my head and occupies my thoughts.

Remembering Summer

Lake Superior Shore near Newberry, Michigan

During these cold, snow-covered days, it’s nice to look through vacation photos and remember that the sun will shine in Michigan again soon.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Miner’s Castle. Munising, Michigan

If you visit Pictured Rocks make sure you stop at Miner’s Castle. We didn’t think too much of Miner’s Falls but this stop was one of the highlights of the trip. We will return.

Tidal Pool at Black Rocks, Marquette, Michigan

The tidal pools at Black Rocks are teeming with plant life, and tadpoles. Please be kind to them all.

Tadpoles from Black Rocks tidal pool taking a short trip away from home.

The tadpoles were put back after the kids who owned this bucket were done studying them.

Monday Night

Apparently this never posted, so here is Monday’s post, but on a Wednesday. I was also sure I posted something yesterday, but I see no sign of it now. Time to reboot and start my daily blog now. Because no time is better than right now to start working on the next chapter of your life/project/book.

It’s noisy tonight. Keyboards clacking, rescue sirens blaring, and wicked winds howling. This is winter on my hill, in my town, in my state on February the eleventh.

Today I have learned some interesting things:

  • There is a dessert called King Cake
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda is going to appear on Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  • I might be playing SimCity BuildIt too much
  • I still can’t stand people reading over my shoulder when I type
  • I both dread the day my child becomes a pod person who never talks to adults and kind of can’t wait for it

That’s all for tonight. Have a good tomorrow, whatever day it is that you’re reading this.

Come in Houston

This is a piece of flash fiction I turned in for my final portfolio in my Writing Fiction and Poetry class last semester.

Come in Houston

            My dad’s old moon pencil spoke one day. Not the cheap standard HB2 pencil found everywhere in the U.S.; no this pencil was once used by N.A.S.A. for missions to the moon. I never knew the complete series of events that led to me being its owner. I only knew my dad bought it from someone with a hard luck story. He never believed the pencil was from N.A.S.A.; after I reached thirteen, I didn’t either. I kept it as a reminder of my dad’s kindness, and because it was a cool story. I live for cool stories.

            The cool story was that my dad was running early for an appointment and saw a sign in a shop window. The sign read:

Leo’s Pawn Shop.

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!

Everything Must Go!

He thought his time would be better spent perusing the shop’s last wares than reading an eighteen-month-old issue of The Saturday Evening Post, so he went inside and looked around.

            The shiny silver pencil with the N.A.S.A. logo was housed in a glass case under the register with a price tag of $100. My dad looked up at the man behind the register and said, “convince me to buy this pencil”

            “Good choice sir,” said the man with a twinkle in his green eyes. He opened the case and took the pencil out. “Why don’t you hold it for a bit,” he said and handed it to my dad.

            My dad took it and said, “this feels heavier than it looks.”

            “Yes,” said the man. “This pencil isn’t a souvenir; it was actually used on an Apollo mission. I’m not sure which one, but I like imagining Neil Armstrong himself using it to calculate the math needed for the trip home.”

            “Why are you only charging $100 for something supposedly so priceless?”

            “I have no proof; just a feeling. A guy asked $25 for it several years ago. He told me he used to work at N.A.S.A. and it was one of his perks. Said he hated to part with something that was part of the Apollo Missions, but was broke and needed a train ticket home. So, I bought the pencil and kept it around, mostly as a curiosity.”

            “Interesting. Are you going out of business because you’ve bought more stories than goods with high resale value?”

            The man chuckled, “I’m afraid so. Now I need to sell before I lose anymore and can’t grant my wife’s wish to retire and move to Florida.”

            “Now I don’t know if I believe the moon pencil story but contributing to someone’s retirement is one I’d like to play a part in,” he said and opened his wallet. He took out a crisp $100 bill and gave it to the man.

            “Thank you so much,” said the shopkeeper as he took the $100 and rang up the sale, “and my wife thanks you too.”

            After dad passed away I donated most of his possessions but kept the simple silver pencil. For years it sat silently in my pencil cup as a happy reminder of man who paid $100 not for a pencil, but a story.

            One day I thought a kid’s walkie talkie was on next-door. I heard, “Come in Houston. This is recovery ship Oh-niner-niner. Do you read us?” This continued for four days, then there was silence, and I assumed the toy got broken. But on day five I placed my hand over my pencil cup to decide which writing utensil to use and heard, “Hey! Pick me!” I Assumed this was the walkie talkie kid again and I ignored the words. Then the cup fell over and I had to pick up all the pencils and pens. I reached out and grabbed the pencil with the N.A.S.A. logo. It’s weight and thickness felt natural, like it had been tailored for my hand. It said, “about time.”

            I dropped it to the floor. There was no way this was a kid with a walkie talkie.

            “Sorry to frighten you. Please pick me up again.”

            “What’s going on?” I asked as I bent down and picked it up.

            “What’s going on is that you need to get me back to N.A.S.A. They are going to want to hear what I have to say.”

            “And that’s how I ended up, at N.A.S.A.’s gate with a pencil.”

            “You know I can’t let you in, right?” said the security guard.

            “Well, I need to talk to someone. I have called repeatedly, and people keep hanging up on me.”

            “Let me make a call.”

            He dialed a number and with a giant smile on his face said, “Hi Bob? Yeah this is James at the front gate. There’s a gentleman here with a moon pencil. He stopped talking; the smile on his face shrank and disappeared. “Okay. Will do,” he said and hung up the phone.

            “Um,” he said to me, “Bob’s coming to see you. I need to take your photo and make a copy of your driver’s license.”

            He snapped my photo, I gave him my license, and he went back into his booth. A few minutes later he came out with a lanyard and a visitor’s pass inserted in it. He handed it to me and said, “put this on while you’re here. You’ll get your license back when you leave.”

            A small man with a hunched back and bright white hair came out to greet me. “Hello,” he said and looked at my lanyard, “Mr. Babcock.” He held out his right hand and I shook it, he was a lot stronger than he looked. “I am pleased with your visit. Let’s go to my office.”

            When we were in his office he said, “can I have the pencil please?”

            I handed it over and said, “why do you believe me when no one else does?”

            “I was part of the project it was used on.” He held the pencil up and the N.A.S.A. logo changed into a black cube. “I have been waiting for its return. This is my ticket back home.”

            My jaw fell open.

The pencil spoke again. “Hi Bob, so glad to read your vitals again.”

            “And I am glad to have them read. I am ready.”

            “Excellent, just a few adjustments. The transport will be ready soon.”

            Bob looked up from the pencil to me, his gray eyes were tired, yet sparkling. He smiled softly. “I never thought I would see my ticket again. Thank you for bringing it to me.”

“You’re welcome.”

“A former colleague stole it when I wouldn’t tell him how it worked. He wanted to replicate the technology and use it in private industry. How did it come to you?”

            “My dad bought it at a pawn shop years ago. If you don’t mind, I would like the rest of the story, or at least as much of it as you can share.”

            “I understand completely. I am here because I wanted the rest humanity’s story. My planet is on the other side of the milky way. I have been here since the first moon landing when I met Neil Armstrong. I am a changeling and can copy other organisms.” I gave N.A.S.A. a lot of information about the moon and my world and they agreed to let me come back with them to compile a report about humanity for my people. I was supposed to stay for ten years, but when the communicator was stolen, I missed my pick up. This was the last scheduled attempt should I miss the original date. I am grateful that I will see my home again.”

            “Wow.”

            “Ready, Bob?” asked the pencil.

            “Ready,” said Bob, then turned to me, “I’m glad you liked the story. Stories drive the universe. Enjoy your tour of N.A.S.A. Security will meet you in the hall. Thank you and goodbye.” He pushed the top of the pencil eraser in at the same time he pressed his tie pin and disappeared.

            Now that’s a cool story, I thought as I left Bob’s office.

            “Really?” said my nine-year-old son and looked at the N.A.S.A. lanyard in his hand, “Is that really how it happened?”

            “Of course,” I said, “how else would a simple storyteller get a tour of N.A.S.A.?”

Winter in Michigan

An Imayo Poem

I read an article on the Writer’s Digest website about Imayo poems today and was inspired to write my own. They consist of 4 lines that have 12 syllables each. Each line has a separation between the 7th and 8th syllables.

 Winter in Michigan
Rain then snow and topped with ice – children home from school
Much too cold to play outside – feels twenty below
Cocoa and video games – books and art supplies
Entire house is littered – piles two feet deep