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Librarian Blog

A gathering place

When there is talk of a wall between Mexico and the United States, the idea that comes to mind is to separate two groups of people one from another.
What if a wall could do the opposite and bring people together?
How about a Library Wall, where Mexicans and U.S. residents would gather to trade and sell books and talk about ideas?
Not for Ronald Rael, a professor at the Universitiy of California at Berkeley and the author of a new book called "Borderwall As Architecture."
Business Insider previews the ideas in the book in its online journal filed today.
The library iin Rael's book is just one of many designed to make something of the wall besides, well, a mere wall.
He has, for example, plans for a Burrito Wall, where people would come to break bread together.
And there's a solar-energy gathering wall among his proposals.
The library wall actually has a prototype up on the Canadian-U.S. border, according to BI.
So, you know, if we build they might come. And that might not be such a bad thing after all.

Flood-damaged photos

Right after the flood of Memorial Day weekend in 2015, the library brought in experts from the University of Texas to show people how to salvage their family photos.
They conducted some very helpful workshops, and while I don't have data to support it I think a lot of photos were saved because of their advice.
I have a daughter who made it through the Houston flood unscathed, thank goodness, and she asked me to email her some information about saving photos.
What I recall of what the UT folks advised was this:
If the photos are stuck together and you can't gently get them apart, you might as well discard them. You're probably not going to be able to save them, so concentrate on the ones that are single or that can be pried apart carefully.
For those, spread them out and let them dry on a flat surface, if possible. Don't start scraping debris off of them; you'll just peel off the image. If you have access to a freezer, put these photos in plastic bags and freeze them for a few weeks. That will help dry them out.
When they are dry, you can flatten them by using heavy books to weight them down.
If when you remove them from the freezer, they have dirt or debris on them, put them in clean water and gently swirl them to remove as much debris as possible. Then let air dry, then freeze again.
If you don't have access to a freezer, then spread the photos out and use a fan to dry them. Again, they will curl, but you can flatten later.
If the photos are in an album, try freezing the entire album, then try to remove the photos from their sleeves.

Just enjoying the read

In last weekend's Wall Street Journal, Will Schwalbe has a fine reflective piece on the joys of discovering books that have been left behind by people using rentals during the summer months, when things do tend to slow down.
"The serendipity is thrilling," he writes. He lists numerous books and authors he has simply run across when his mind was free to wander. Maybe those times were in summer; maybe not. Regardless, he let himself have the freedom to explore something he might never have given a second glance at in the hectic day-to-day busyness of American life.
It has been rare for me to allow myself such whimsies. I'm the kind of guy who thinks he must fill up all the available hours with reading that turns into something useful -- a valuable insight to be reviewed and perhaps used later in a discussion, a fact that must be squirreled away for retrieval when I'm writing, that kind of thing.
A few weeks ago I kind of stumbled onto Jack London and borrowed a huge book of his collected works from a friend and fan. I was hooked and wondered why I had read so little of this wondeful writer when I was a young man.
I have not stopped there. From London, I have wandered into the territory of Louis L'Amour.
It's all just for fun. And I must admit I get a little guilty pleasure out of reading these slim volumes. But, they do seem to let my mind rest up, allowing me to let go a little and recede from the world of work where my brain seems to spend most of its waking hours.


The newspaper story lead paragraph of the year belongs to one Cameron McWhirter, whose story in last weekend's Wall Street Journal about genealogy began this way:
"I am descended, at least partially, from liars."
McWhirter then details the unfolding untruths that he was told by his parents about who his family was and where they came from.
What they said was somewhat less than truthful, as he notes in his opening.
And, boy, is he not alone.
I wonder how many people were told whoppers by their parents and grandparents and are just now finding out they didn't actually descend from Hiawatha and/or King Richard III and/or Eric the Red.
I have done a little digging around on Ancestry.com, enough to know that what my dad told me was pretty much true: I'm a white bread kind of guy with roots in Scotland and England, period. That has been a source of great disappointment to my daughters, who hoped we had roots back in the land of the Choctaws.
I have not had the definitive DNA tests that are out there, and probably will not have one. I am interested in my ancestry. I am not interested in knowing whether I will get cancer or Alzheimer's.

Better use of drones

Like many other Texans, I watched with astonishment as Hurricane Harvey inundated the coast and just kept delivering blow after blow to areas like Rockport and Houston. I wasn't exactly glued to the TV set over the weekend, but I tried to keep on top of the situation because I have two daughters and four grandchildren living in the Houston area, one family in League City and one in Pearland.
On the ground, TV crews did a pretty decent job of telling us the story, although I think the Weather Channel set up in one place and just kind of stayed there for a whole day. I saw the same two cops filling up a boat engine with gasoline for several hours, for example.
What was missing -- for me -- was creative use of drones to tell the story. Today's drones, equipped with cameras, are cheap and plentiful. I wish the networks had sent them up and given me a good bird'seye view of the whole situation on several occasions.
I know that TV reporters are trained to get the human element of a story first. I was a TV reporter myself. But, the broader context is also very helpful, and in this case really does tell the horror story of rainfall's devastating effects on Houston.
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