Monthly Archives: February 2009

review – the white tiger

tigOn a superficial level, reading the work The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga will introduce readers to a side of India that’s much different than the usual glamour of contrived gurus and opulent Bollywood.  The White Tiger is portrayal of the lingering, residual effects of India’s caste system on its slow yet inevitable push toward technological modernity.

Adiga’s novel focuses on one man’s breakthrough from “the Darkness” of backward rural poverty to “the Light” of urban entrepreneurship and what americans would probably describe as middle class luxury.  The story centers on Balram Halwai’s struggle to accept more of life than his caste will allow.  Born without a true name, Balram progresses from lowly sweet-shop worker to personal driver and servant to becoming a “respectable” businessman of Bangalore.  As with all good stories, the plot advances with the rationalization of one’s choices and sacrifices.  Sacrifices and choices involving losing one’s family, one’s humility, and murder.

Adiga adds several layers of philosophical complexity throughout the novel.  One the one hand, this a work outlining the persistence of slavery, not only in Indian culture, but modern culture as well.  Balram is an aberration, an Indian  who defies his culture not only in the pursuit of “entrepreneurship” but also the pursuit of being a free and true man.  Adiga compares most Indians living in the lower castes to being chickens suffocating in a great coop, unable and even unwilling and perhaps proud of it, to better their lot in life.  It is only when Balram finally realizes in his anger that the rich always get the best in life and the poor always get the leftovers that he makes the choices that cannot be reversed.

The greater psychological slavery realized by Balram is perhaps akin to something Nietzsche may have said regarding god being dead.  Adiga certainly puts it to the reader to decide whether Balram’s choices are truly necessary to become a free man in a highly corrupt India.  Whether they are or not, such is the plight in the darkest corners of India, for those truly grasping for a better life.  It is certainly compelling, a story with choices that multitudes are facing every day.  Excellent read.

media specialists and college librarians the same?

Here’s a recent article from the NYT, talking about information literacy among elementary school students, and the work it takes for media specialists to break through to their “patrons”.  It’s amazing how the perceptions of information literacy and web habits among children mirror those of college students.

It’s an interesting article that details the gamut of issues that librarians are facing, including:

  • Budget cuts
  • Librarians on the front lines battling info illiteracy
  • Dealing with outdated collections and limited funds
  • actually making a difference

Here’s the scary part:

Even teachers find that they learn from Ms. Rosalia. “I was aware that not everything on the Internet is believable,” said Joanna Messina, who began taking her fifth-grade classes to the library this year. “But I wouldn’t go as far as to evaluate the whole site or look at the authors.”

And:

During a lunch period earlier this month, Gagik Sargsyan, 13, slunk into the library and opened a laptop to research a social studies paper on the 1930s and 1940s.

“Have you looked at any books?” Ms. Rosalia asked.

A look of horror came over Gagik’s face. “No,” he said.

Not that surprising, really. But it’s self-evident to regard the stagnation of info seeking behavior among students of all levels, the OPACs, catalogs, databases that aren’t primarily utilized.  It does seem that students are taught little more than to fill in bubbles when not surfing the web. 

new music – MUSE

Well, not so new, but MUSE definitely has my vote for the best band in the world that nobody’s heard of (nobody in the USA, that is) .  They might just be the best band in the world.  But that’s up for discussion. What ho, might they have a new release come September?

infomaniacs hang out @ FORA.tv

fora A colleague just passed along a link concerning FORA.tv, and I must admit it looks exceedingly captivating.  Like academia.edu, FORA.tv is another piece of the academic’s puzzle for marketing ideas by and for those in the academic world, or rather anyone who wants to learn for learning’s sake.   What is FORA.tv all about?

FORA.tv helps intelligent, engaged audiences get smart. Our users find, enjoy, and share videos about the people, issues, and ideas changing the world.

We gather the web’s largest collection of unmediated video drawn from live events, lectures, and debates going on all the time at the world’s top universities, think tanks and conferences. We present this provocative, big-idea content for anyone to watch, interact with, and share –when, where, and how they want.

I’m not sure, but it looks as if FORA.tv gathers its content from institutional organizations themselves rather than indexing from sites like YouTube or Google video, etc.; still a little uncertain on this one. Uploading video also requires a submission process, obviously for weeding out the less educational content.  But if you wanted to find the latest high-profile speech on the economy or were even wondering what it would be like to die via black holes, FORA.tv is the place to be.

review – outer dark

outThough short in length, Outer Dark is a deep and lengthy exposition on the antiquated and rural American experience. McCarthy skillfully frays and interweaves a set of storylines occurring around the turn of the 20th century, though since it takes place in an isolated and unnamed countryside, it may as well be placed in the 19th century.

The story is based around the familial dissolution between Culla Holme and his sister Rinthy. Living together in rural isolation and upon the birth of her child, her brother promptly discards her child in the wilderness and sets out on an aimless sojourn for sustenance and perhaps a new set of boots; while awakened with the loss of her family, Rinthy resolves to set out and reclaim her child. Interspersed between each character’s quest is the inclusion of a band of marauding malevolence influencing the travels of each.

Progressing through the Cormac McCarthy oeuvre, I’ve come to notice certain undeniable recurrences: aimless and intentionally underdeveloped characters, no quotation marks, sparse yet colorful dialogue, dusty and nearly-deserted roads serving as the vehicle of the story, and a healthy dose of depravity. None remains lacking here.

I contend that McCarthy is just as much a writer of horror as he is of high literature in the Faulknerian tradition asserted by so many others. Outer Dark is not just a story about incest or poverty, but rather like Blood Meridian or No Country for Old Men, it’s about the pervasive lack of morality or injustice and the whimsical brutality so inherent to humankind. It’s about cannibalism, both metaphorical and literal; it’s about the people who are “takers”, those who are able to possess or consume others; and in McCarthy’s world, the consequences are never assumed for anyone’s actions.

Outer Dark is much starker than McCarthy’s The Road, as it establishes a post-apocalyptic environment without the fireworks or even hint of a catastrophic event. Quite simply, it isn’t needed. In that respect, it’s much more powerful and disturbing; its conclusion is the antithesis to that in The Road.

frothcoming

dom1

For those who have or even haven’t read The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, one should check out The Domino Men, whch comes out Feb. 12th.  Word is The Prefects are making an encore appearance.

the incidental opac

conceptLibrarians, I’ve come to understand, facilitate things.  Just like those late-night, seedy, ever anonymous entrepreneurs on streetcorners and in beer gardens possessing the ability to procure certain items on short notice for other unnamed yet interested parties, librarians too, embrace their responsibility of passing on their coveted contraband of information or that of retrieving such information.

And considering information retrieval, I’m incessantly perplexed with the utter obliviousness users have toward their library catalog.  It’s as if users take pride, relishing a certain sense of entitlement in their lack of curiosity toward navigating library resources.  Hence, the librarian is forced to find new ways to shuffle these students like cattle through the  slaughterhouse of information literacy or competency.

I’m not all that surprised that we now are induced to a vomit-inducing display of flashing lights and multimedia just to get students’ attention.  Should users actually spent five minutes exploring their OPAC (or listening to their librarians), they might actually learn how supremely practical subject headings can be.

Take for example, aquabrowser, a different kind of OPAC designed to display relationships based on searching terms.  My local public library uses it, along with the option of using a more traditional OPAC.  Aquabrowser uses a visual diagram of one’s search terms, highlighting possible misspellings, relationships, translations or thesaurus terms for one’s search.

I personally like it, however I feel it’s designed for the user who has no idea what they’re looking for, wherein I posit the hypothesis that those users are for the most part uncommon. Traditional OPACs will get the user to their items just as fast if not faster assuming they know what they’re looking for.

Users want to know if their materials are already checked out before they want to know what you have.  Therefore, the fact that you have an OPACs is incidental and it will be used primarily when one’s primary request has become unavailable.

Egads, you may be thinking…what is my point anyways?  Having OPACs that visually diagram your search, all supplemental and wondrous as they may be, may not necessarily be more useful than the standard OPACs, though less “dynamic” in the Web 2.0 sense.

Users, particularly college-level users mind you, aren’t familiar with their collections, and thus their OPACs.  I suppose that’s part of what makes us librarians freaks…we willingly, involuntarily befriend our collection regardless of whether a copy of Mall Cop has already been ordered and is on its way. Getting users to use the catalog for its own sake is herculean.