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Librarian Blog

An A for effort?

I feel kind of sorry for the folks who put together the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
The museum just opened to the public, and it's not getting much love.
For example, Edward Rothstein wrote a critical piece about the museum in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, concluding that, "...just as no one will learn to write here, few will be inspired to read." Better, he says, to pick up a copy of the Norton Anthology of American Literature and start reading, or, even better, go to a library.
We appreciate the plug.
But, I also wonder if something of merit can't have come from the Chicago effort to do something about American letters. Maybe not.
How hard, though, it must have been to even try. How do you capture the essence of the exercise that is writing? How do you put something concrete together about imagination? Can you have an exhibit behind glass of "genius?"
I congratulate the museum's founders for trying.
If they fell short, that's too bad, but not necessarily a reason not to stop by to see how they approached this very tough subject.


I had no idea there was a thing such as a World Memory Championship tournament.
There is.
And the people who compete are a) pretty good at recall; and/or b) adept at using memory tricks. Or maybe both.
Imagine being able to look at 72 words and then recalling each of them 20 minutes later.
I don't know how many words the winners of the WMC tournament can recall, but I'm impressed by a recall of 70 out of 72.
It turns out that I might be able to do something approaching that even though my brain is, well, on the aging side of things.
Research reported in Science News in April found that training could help with memory retention -- by a good amount.
One memory trick researchers found was effective was called the "loci method." You associate what you want to remember with something you can remember, like the route from your bedroom to the curb out your front door. The first thing to recall might be put in your closet to be "found" later. The next thing might go in your bathroom, the next in the shower stall, the next in the front hallway, and so on.
The idea sounds solid, and obviously it works.
But, there's something to be said for a little book you keep in your pocket with a pencil so you can keep lists and make notes and free up your brain for other stuff.

The poll that counts

Public opinion polls may or may not be less accurate today than ever before.
So, it's more than likely that when someone cites this or that poll result to justify a political stand he or she is relying on information that's not especially useful in the real sense, as opposed to the political sense.
The only poll that counts is the one that happens in November, in the case of national elections.
And one would hope that in that polling venue a lot of people would show their interest in the health of the nation by going to the polls and having their voices heard.
Well, not so much.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that about 62 percent of those eligible to vote did actually vote in the 2016 presidential election. That's about the same percentage as voted in 2012. Significantly, however, the percentage of blacks who voted dropped pretty dramatically in 2016 from 2012 numbers. I don't know why.
Nor do I know why Hispanics continue to vote in such low numbers. About 50 percent of those who could vote do so every time a federal election comes around. I'm surprised that the 2016 presidential ballot didn't have enough of a difference in policy terms to incite higher numbers from this segment.
It's not just tsk-tsk-too-bad that people don't vote. It's also a good way to lose a constitutional democracy. They realize that in Australia where turnout is in the 95-percent range. It's that high because the law requires Australians to vote. They don't get a free pass on whether their grand experiment in self-government can be sustained.

How to do the Bee

It may be hard for kids to do very well in a spelling bee.
For adults, it's even harder.
We are now planning our third Adult Spelling Bee, which will be staged in the mid-fall. And, we'll be making some changes so that the folks who participate have even more fun this year.
One thing we want to do is make sure everyone understands how to prepare for the Bee since most of us adults have not been practicing spelling in a formal setting for quite some time.
The New York Times' special kids issue last Sunday had some helpful hints. One was to practice spelling, of course. Another was to look at the practice word list that the Scripps National Spelling Bee posts, NOT to memorize the words, but to understand how word origins work. The practice list is brokekn down by language influences, with the idea that words from Latin, say, are pretty similar in construction after incorporated into conversational English.
There's been some misunderstanding about this advance word list in the past. People tried to memorize the list, thinking only the words on the list would be in the Bee, and that's not been the case and won't be the case in the future.
For most adults, then, the Bee will be a crapshoot based on how many words they know in a rote fashion and how many they can figure out from what they know about languages.
It's all supposed to be in fun, anyway, and we'll try to keep it that way.

Adios to photo mag

I learned just today that Popular Photography magazine is no longer.
It ceased publicatoin after its March/April edition went into the mail and on the shelves.
I guess I'm surprised it lasted all of 80-something years. Recent developments in mass photography have not been good to or for what I'd call for lack of a better word "quality" photography. When you can easily take thousands of images in a few moments with a phone, and they are not really bad, you don't need advice from anyone. Just post them and move on. And if you want one that's really good, surely one of the thousands will be beyond just OK.
I learned to be a professional photographer on a large-format camera that basically shot black-and-white TriX film for a semi-weekly newspaper. I never shot color for a newspaper in my career, but I did supervise a lot of color photographers and I supervised the move from film to digital back when digital news cameras cost $25,000 and could only be purchased from the Associated Press if you wanted that kind of price.
I don't lament the good old days, though. What's gone is gone and it'll never come back, just like Popular Photography is gone.
The new way of shooting may not be as good as the old, but it's certainly cheaper and more accessible. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe not.
It's sure made it a whole lot harder to find places to hide.
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