Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Interview with Keith Goddard at Books Matter

LT members who’ve been around for a year or so may remember our partnership with Books Matter, an organization dedicated to providing books to needy schools in Ghana. I caught up with Keith Goddard—founder of Books Matter—this week, who was kind enough to update me on their latest projects!

Interested in donating to Books Matter? Drop me a line at loranne@librarything.com to donate books, or visit their website for monetary donations.

Can you tell us a bit about how Books Matter got started?

Basically, three things happened. First, my wife was sending some items to Ghana (that’s where she’s from) and she suggested we send some books and other things that my kids no longer used. The second thing is that she had always told me that many school in Ghana have no books. That really shocked and amazed me. The third thing is that I am a teacher in the Toronto public school system and I noticed that a lot of books are lying around in schools and not being used. So, I gathered up about 800 books and that was the start.

What is the process involved in getting a shipment of books sent? How many books can you send to Ghana at once?

We don’t have a lot of room at our house, which is where we store the books. Once we get to about 2,000 books our sunroom becomes unusable, so we are encourged to clear them out. Then we have to scan them, pack them, and raise enough money to send them. There’s no limit on how many we can send at a time, but due to the storage issue, we think around 2,000 is a good number.

In its first year, Books Matter sent 6,000 books to Ghana. That’s great! Did you anticipate that you’d have this much success?

I didn’t really know what to expect. Sometimes I think 6,000 is great and other days I feel that it’s nothing. I wish we could help meore people, but that being said, I know that the people we have helped are appreciative.

How many schools/libraries have received books from Books Matter now, and where are they? (Click map to enlarge)

So far, five institutions have received books from us: Bright Future School, in Keta; a library in Keta; a college in Ho; an elementary/junior high near Ho; and, an orphanage near Kumasi.

You recently ran an Indiegogo campaign, and set out to get another 2,000 books sent. Have those reached their destination(s)? Will you be running another Indiegogo campaign any time soon?

We ran an Indiegogo campaign just before the New Year, and with that money we shipped 1,700 books to five schools, two of which have separate buildings for the junior high and elementary schools, but on the same land. So, those books were cataloged into separate libraries. So, it’s five schools, but seven libraries. I hope that makes sense. Those books should arrive in late April. Since then we’ve received more books and would like to send about 1,500 in April. We’ve packed about 1,000 and scanned about 700. We scan the books we send to most of our recipients, but not all. Probably over 80%.

What are some of your and/or the students’ favorite books that Books Matter has sent?

We’ve sent some great books so far, but I hope we can get more book donations, from publishers, once we are an official charity. One thing that is difficult to do, but that I want to do, is get more feedback from the students about the books and their reading
habits, and how those habits are (hopefully) changing. I’d probably have to check some of the catalogs on LT to remember what we’ve sent! Good thing I cataloged them. We’ve sent a lot of great science and non-fiction picture books, fact books, and there are very few books like that in most Ghana schools. I think those will have a big impact on a lot of younger kids, even if they are reluctant readers, because the topics are so diverse and often relevant. We also sent a first edition And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street… lots of Dr. Seuss. It would be wonderful if any LT members thought there were certain must-have books for youngsters, that they wanted to donate, and maybe write a litte note in the front; they would just have to ship it to us in Toronto.(1)

What’s your personal library like? What sorts of books can be found on your shelves?

My personal library is really nothing to talk about… a fair number of biographies/memoirs about people in developing countries overcoming extreme adversity. Lots of non-fiction.

What have you read and enjoyed lately?

I like having about five books on the go at once, partly because I have trouble sticking with things sometimes! Also, because I enjoy such a wide variety and that’s the big reason I think kids should have a lot of books at their disposal to check out and become interested by. Having an e-reader is great, but that’s different than browsing through shelves of books, and touching them and flipping through them. That’s how kids catch the reading spark. That, and being read to. I just finished 12 Years a Slave and am now reading a modern day slavery account, called Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis. I’m also reading a book on how to use YouTube for marketing.

What’s next for Books Matter? Do you have the next milestone, upcoming projects/shipments, etc. in mind?

We’ve always got shipments in mind. We’d like to hear from some of the schools where we’ve donated and make subsequent donations based on their likes and needs. I would love to go back to Ghana sometime in the future and oberve the kids, talk to them about reading, read with them, and talk to the teachers about reading/teaching strategies. It would be great to give more support than just putting the books in front of people. That’s not always enough, especially if they haven’t already developed the reading bug. That’s why sending the picture books and easy readers for the very young children is so important.

I’d like to thank Keith for taking the time to chat with me! Books Matter is doing excellent work, and it’s a joy to work with them!

—interview by Loranne Nasir


1. As mentioned above, if you have books you’d like to send to Books Matter, be sure to send Loranne an email (loranne@librarything.com).

Labels: books for ghana, gifts, member projects

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Books for Ghana: LibraryThing teams up with Books Matter!

Between November and April, LibraryThing members raised nearly $2,600 for needy readers by adding events to LibraryThing Local!

When we announced this initiative we asked for your help in coming up with the best way to use this money to put books directly into the hands of readers who would benefit the most from them. We wanted to find a project where our contributions can really make an immediate, tangible difference, and one with which LibraryThing and its members can build an active and ongoing relationship.

We’re very pleased to announce that we’ve found just such a project!

Books to Ghana

In February we donated donated $600 of the funds raised to Keith Goddard’s Books4Ghana campaign on IndieGogo, enough to put that effort over the top. Keith, who’s been a public school teacher in Toronto for the past fifteen years and has family connections in Ghana, began collecting books last summer for the Bright Future School in Keta, Ghana, a K-9 school with 600 students and thirty faculty members.

The first batch of 200 math textbooks and 500 children’s books were sent in August 2012, and arrived in October. Another 3,100 books Keith collected from schools around Toronto (and stored in his house!) were shipped this February after the successful IndieGoGo campaign, and arrived just a couple weeks ago. They will be delivered to the school later this month. You can browse the catalog of these books at http://www.librarything.com/profile/booksmatter. As the project expands and books arrive at additional libraries, we’ll be separating these out into separate LT catalogs for each library, so that they can be optimized to fit the specific needs of each school (and so that they can be updated as needed, of course).

Keith has now launched a new website for the Books Matter project at http://www.booksmatter.org, and is in the process of registering as an official charity. He’s currently rounding up the next batch of books to ship over to Ghana, and identifying the schools there that will benefit most from books we send.

Phase One: How to help now

Right now the major need is funding for shipping already-donated books to Ghana: payment for a shipping container, sea transport to Accra, Ghana, and then transportation from Accra to the schools in the Volta region). It costs approximately $1 per book to pay for shipping (as Keith says, “$10 sends 10 books, $50 sends 50 books: the math is simple, but the effect is profound”).

We’re going to be giving more of the money members raised by adding events to LT Local for this, and we invite you, should you feel so inclined, to head over to Books Matter and donate directly to the cause as well. If you donate, make sure to mention you’re a LibraryThing member!

Phase Two: Collection Development

This is about more than money. Books Matter is cataloging everything they send to Ghana.

Having everything cataloged allows us to do more than send random books. We can get involved in collection development—sending the right books to the right schools to fill gaps or to focus on areas of interest. We can do this site-wide or in groups. So, for example, wouldn’t it be cool if the “Green Dragon” and “Science!” groups could collaborate to make sure they’ve got a good collection in their area? And teachers and children at the schools can also participate, telling us what they need and how we can help!

That’s our idea. We’ll support it with some money and with features. But members will have to drive it. Let’s see what we can all do for readers in another country.

Come talk about phase two here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/153515

Why we’re doing this.

We’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. We feel it’s important to give back when we can, and we want to give our members an easy way to contribute to a worthy project that puts books in the hands of readers who need them. By working with Keith and Books Matter, we’re in on the ground floor of a new, exciting project with lots of growth potential, and will be able to work with him to make sure that our contributions get where they need to go.

We’re really delighted about this, and we hope you all will be too!

Labels: events, fun, gifts, librarything local

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Edit and reorder sources in Add Books

Good news: We’ve improved the sources system within Add Books a lot.

Bad news: We had to transition to an entirely new sources system. Most members kept their sources, but some members and some sources couldn’t go into the new system easily. If you lost sources, you may need to choose them again. Fortunately, the new system’s a lot better at that.

You can find the new options on Add Books:
searchwhere

Everything now happens in a light box. The “Your Sources” tab allows you to reorder and delete sources.
yoursources

You can browse and choose sources, divided into “Featured” and “All Sources” on the other two tabs.
featured

As you’ll notice, a fair number of our sources are currently down. We’re working to get as many up again as possible, and add new ones. If you’d like to help and know something about Z39.50 connections, you’ll find we give our current connection details when you click the yellow warning marker.

You’ll also see other, very significant new stuff. But that’s a matter for another blog post!

Three cheers to our developer Ammar for the add-books changes!

Labels: cataloging, new features

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Books received in Ghana!

We are very happy to report that nearly 3,000 books for the Bright Future School in Keta, Ghana have been successfully delivered and were happily received by the students there earlier this month!

Keith Goddard at Books Matter posted a short video on Facebook of the students saying “thank you,” so check that out if you can (it’s almost guaranteed to make you smile!). Keith reports that the school was actually on break when the books arrived, so there will be more pictures of the students with the books soon.

Earlier this month, another hundred books were presented to the library of the University of Health and Allied Sciences: Ghana TV was even on hand for the arrival of the books!

All of the books sent to Ghana this spring are cataloged on LibraryThing in the Books Matter account, and members have been helping out by adding tags to the library.

Keith is planning on sending the next batch of already-donated books to an orphanage in Kumasi, located in northern Ghana. The orphanage houses some two hundred residents ranging in age from six months to 20 years. The books will be cataloged and tagged on LibraryThing prior to shipment.

If you can help out by making a donation to help ship the books, it would be greatly appreciated! A gift of $1 basically funds the shipment of one book to Ghana, so every little bit helps! Head over to the Books Matter site and you can make a donation today. LibraryThing will be giving a $800 donation as well, from the funds raised by members adding events to LibraryThing Local over the winter.

For more on our Books to Ghana project and our partner Books Matter, see our announcement blog post. To help out with tagging the books or to discuss the project generally, chime in on the Talk thread.

Labels: books for ghana, gifts

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Apple highlights Local Books

Apple’s iTunes store has LibraryThing’s Local Books app. (see blog post, direct link) given us a rare honor—a spot among their featured apps.(1)

The exposure has shot us up in the books category, such that we are now—unbelievably—running third in the free section.(2) No matter how long it lasts—and we have no idea of that—it’s great news. The more people grab it, the more become invested in its success. We’re already seeing a pick up in entries to LibraryThing Local. And it puts pressure on us to improve Local and the app too.

Most of all, we hope the success of Local Books can inspire physical bookstores and libraries to embrace the digital world more fully—to put their basic information, events and holdings data out there for us and others to use. Their customers and patrons are eager for it. Only by embracing what the digital world can do for the physical can they compete against the continual advance of ecommerce and ebooks.

So, thanks to Apple for highlighting us, to Chris and John for making the app.(3), and thanks to all the members who entered the data to make it possible.


1. To see it, go to iTunes and click “App Store.” We’re in the third row of apps., next to “Puppy Park” and “Roadside America.” We only appear if the screen is wide enough to hold six icons. We go away if you’re only showing five or fewer apps.
2. The only downside has been that wider exposure has put the app in the hands of people who were, I think, expecting something different. Our ratings have shot down. Fortunately, they’re very much on par with other top apps. It seems iTunes reviewers are a finicky bunch!
3. They will be getting every dime the free app makes us!

PS: If you have an Android phone, check out our Layar app.

Labels: iphone, itunes, local book search, local books

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Find LibraryThing an employee, get $1,000 worth of books.

We need to find two excellent employees, a PHP hacker and a systems/database guy or gal, so we’re offering $1,000 worth of books to each of the people who find them. Think of it. $1,000 in books. What would you buy? Everything.

Rules! You get a $1,000 gift certificate to Abebooks, Amazon, Booksense or the independent bookseller of your choice. You can split it between them. You don’t need to buy books with it (but why do that?).

To qualify, you need to connect us to someone. Either you introduce them to us—and they follow up with a resume and etc.—or they mention your name in their email (“So-and-so told me about LibraryThing”). You can recommend yourself, but if you found out about it on someone’s blog, we hope you’ll do the right thing and make them the beneficiary.

Small print: Our decision is final, incontestable, irreversible and completely dictatorial. It only applies when an employee is hired full-time, not part-time, contract or for a trial period. If we don’t hire someone for the job, we don’t pay. The contact must happen in the next month. If we’ve already been in touch with the candidate, it doesn’t count. Void where prohibited. You pay taxes, and the insidious hidden tax of shelving. Tim Spalding and his family (all his family, Oakes) are not eligible, but if Abby wants to work Simmons or Altay his startup connections, fine. Abebooks employees are not eligible for this (but the internal offer still stands).

Needless to say, we’ll throw in a free lifetime membership, so you can catalog your loot. And you’ll get the satisfaction you helped LibraryThing become everything it could be.


Here are the job announcements:

UPDATE: We’ll take a look at people not in New England, especially for the DBA position.

Two jobs—dream jobs for the right people. We may hire one person or two, depending on what we get. (We’re happy to look at resumes with a mix of talents, or other talents.) Both jobs are located in the New England area, with some potential for telecommuting.

Syadmin/DBA

LibraryThing, the web’s largest and most innovative site for book lovers, is looking for a smart and experienced systems and database administrator. We value brains and talent above everything, but demonstrated experience with complex, high-traffic LAMP websites is essential to this position.

  • MySQL. Query optimization, replication, tuning, maintenance, recovery.
  • Systems administration. Linux administration, security, maintenance and recovery. Installation of new hardware.
  • Programming. You don’t need to start out a PHP guru, but you’ll have to support this part of the site.
  • Personal qualities. Speed, intelligence, reliability, high availability, good communication skills and sang-froid.

Hacker/Developer

We’re also looking for a crackerjack PHP/MySQL developer. To qualify you must be passionate, creative, flexible–and fast.

  • PHP. We write terse, losely modular non-OO code.
  • HTML, CSS, Javascript.
  • MySQL. Knowledge of query optimization, replication and MySQL internals a plus.
  • Design or UI talents a plus.
  • Knowledge of social networking, math, statistics, collaborative filtering, bibliographic data or library systems a plus.
  • You must learn quickly and communicate effectively. Skills and attitude matter; experience per se does not.

How We Work

LibraryThing has a somewhat unusual development culture. It is not for everyone.

  • We develop quickly, knocking out features in hours or days, not weeks. We value results, not process.
  • We develop incrementally and opportunistically, assuming that member feedback will sometimes overturn our plans in mid-course, and that some projects will fail.
  • Everyone who works for LibraryThing interacts directly with members.
  • We value initiative and intellectual engagement. You must be able to work alone or in a small team.
  • We are only accepting applications from people within driving distance of Portland, ME or Cambridge, MA. We are currently headquartered in Portland, ME–the second floor of a gorgeous three-family along the Eastern Prom.–but may relocate to the Boston/Cambridge, MA area.
  • LibraryThing is more than a job for us. We work long, hard and usually sober, but not necessarily during “regular” hours. We love what we do. We want someone who will feel the same way.

About LibraryThing

LibraryThing is a social cataloging and social networking site for book lovers. Started in August 2005 as a hobby project, LibraryThing has grown to a handful of employees and some 215,000 members in a dozen countries. Members have cataloged 15 million books and applied almost 20 million tags. We are well known in the library world, and rapidly winning over booksellers, authors and publishers.

Contact Tim Spalding (tim@librarything.com) for more information, or to send a resume.

Labels: jobs

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Fifteen million books!

Going down, like the Titanic.

LibraryThing has hit fifteen million books.

Number 15,000,000 was a 1963 edition of The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton, added by dukedom_enough at 8:57am on June 15. For his luck, Dukedom earns a free gift membership.

Now begins the countdown to a major milestone: becoming the second largest “library” in the US, and with or soon after that, the second largest in the world, gulp.

LibraryThing is not of course a “real” library. You can’t take the books out, they do a lot more with them, and we have a lot more duplicates. We have only about 2.5 million distinct “titles.” But the comparison gives a sense of relative scale to the enterprise.*

Anyway, the tally is now as follows**:

  1. Library of Congress — 30,011,748
  2. Harvard University — 15,555,533
  3. Boston Public Library — 15,458,022
  4. LibraryThing — 15,081,543
  5. Yale University — 12,025,695

With luck, we’ll settle in behind the Library of Congress in 10-15 days. At 30 million, they’re going to take a while to beat.

When will we hit second in the world? Unfortunately, I can’t find a good list of world libraries by volumes. Everyone concedes that the Library of Congress is the largest library. The rest is foggy. Wikipedia has the British Library at 150 million items, and 22 million volumes. The Bibliothèque nationale and the Berlin State Library are at ten million volumes. (The German National Library is said to have 22 million items, but items aren’t volumes.) The stubby entry for the National Library of China speaks of it as:

“… the largest library of Asia and with a collection of over 22 million volumes (including individually counted periodicals, without these around 10 million), it is the fifth largest in the world.”

Which raises the question, does the ALA Factsheet also count periodical volumes separately?

Tim is dead. (Credit)

Surpassing the BPL in any way feels blasphemous; I love the place so much that comparing LibraryThing to the BPL—well, the lions should eat me for thinking it. But Harvard will be sweet. I lived most of my life in Cambridge, MA, but the bastards rejected me twice—undergrad and grad! So, in that spirit, and with Yalies protecting my back, let’s beat that little pile of books over at Widener.


*There are all sorts of problems with these numbers. In fact, libraries don’t really know how many books they have. LibraryThing has a small percentage of items that aren’t books, and a larger number that are “wished for” other otherwise ephemeral. At the same time, many of LibraryThing’s “books” are composed of multiple volumes. So, we’re in the neighborhood of 15 million anyway.

LibraryThing demonstrates something we always knew—that regular people have a lot of books—probably many times what all the world’s libraries hold. I’ve never seen the relative numbers discussed. It never mattered before, but now that regular people can put their catalogs online and engage in tasks, like tagging and work disambiguation, that bear on age-old issues of library science, it’s not entirely pointless to compare the two.

I want to underscore that, in making the comparison, we mean no disrespect to libraries. I think I’ve got some proof that LibraryThing has always been on libraries’ side. Our first hire, Abby, was a librarian. We have always favored library data, where our many recent competitors only care about Amazon’s data. We link to libraries extensively, something no competitor does. And we are grateful that our work has been of interest to the library world—Abby and I have become minor fixtures on the library speaking circuit.***

**Source: ALA Factsheet: The Nation’s Largest Libraries.

***My Library of Congress talk will be online soon, as will my recent keynote at the Innovative Users Group meeting in Sligo, Ireland.

Labels: 1

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

An Interview with Novelist Priyanka Champaneri

LibraryThing is very pleased to sit down this month with author Priyanka Champaneri, whose debut novel, The City of Good Death, won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing in 2018 and is shortlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2021 First Novel Prize. Set in the Indian city of Banaras, it follows the story of a man who works at one of the city’s death hostels, where the dying come for a “good death”⁠—one that will release them from the cycle of reincarnation.

Your book is set in a locale you have never visited, and addresses a very specific set of cultural and religious practices. How did the idea for this story come to you?

I’d grown up in a Hindu household and had a distant understanding of Banaras and its importance within the religion, but my interest wasn’t really piqued until after college, when a friend sent me a link to a Reuters article titled “Check In and Die in Two Weeks, or Get Out.” That article was my introduction to the city’s death hostels, and I was immediately intrigued. In hindsight, I now realize the attraction was likely hooking into the different parts of my identity. The part that had grown up surrounded by Hindu philosophy understood the practical need for a death hostel, but the part that was born, raised, and educated in the United States could also view the hostels from a Western perspective, one that might see such places as utterly unique or even alien.

There were so many layers right there that instantly caught at my interest, but I didn’t do anything about it immediately. At that point, I hadn’t yet entered graduate school, and I wasn’t really writing much of anything in a focused way. But the idea of setting a story in a death hostel stayed with me once I began my MFA program at George Mason University, always humming in the back of my mind as something I might one day use. I began to read about Banaras to satisfy my curiosity about the city, and the initial reading sent me down a wonderful rabbit hole of research. I started looking for more visual resources as well, books of photography, films and documentaries, YouTube videos uploaded by travelers walking through the city’s narrow alleys. I wasn’t doing any of this in an intentional way, and writing a book still seemed like an impossible thing. Beyond my limited confidence in my abilities as a writer—both then and now—I was also hesitant because, as you mention, I had never visited this city. I was intensely wary of writing about a place that I had no firsthand experience with, particularly one as important and iconic as Banaras.

But while I was contending with my anxieties and fears, all the research I was doing just piled up in my brain, and I started seeing scenes, hearing characters, feeling something grow within my imagination. I had thought quite a bit about the things I felt I didn’t know, but I hadn’t realized the richness of what I did know—the visuals I’d stored away from my travels to India, the stories I’d grown up hearing my father tell me about his childhood in a Gujarati village, the extensive home library of Indian fairytales and Hindu philosophy that I had access to when I was growing up. All of that came together and informed the book that would become The City of Good Death.

You describe yourself as a “slow writer,” taking over a decade to craft and publish your first book. What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking your time, and what has the publishing process been like for you?

It’s really hard to say there are any advantages to being slow—I certainly wish I was faster. One contributing factor to my slow pace is I work a full-time day job, and my writing time is limited to weekends and evenings. But the biggest reason I take so long is because I can only write organically—I’ve tried to write using outlines, but I just get bored and my motivation quickly dries up. Working blind, with no real notion of where the story is going, keeps the work interesting for me, because I find things out page by page much as a reader hopefully discovers things. But it’s also painfully slow, because what the reader doesn’t see are all the wrong turns and dead ends I’ve found myself in, where I had to work myself back out and start over.

I spend a lot of time thinking rather than writing, especially when I get to a crux point in the plot where a character has to react, or something major happens—for days, weeks, even months I will turn over possibilities in my head. My goal is to stay true to what the character would do while also avoiding all outcomes a reader might expect. There’s a Pixar infographic I once saw where the writers talked about their storymaking process. They say that first they think of what might happen in a situation, and then they discard the idea; they go for the second solution and discard that idea—on and on for about five iterations, until finally the one they land on is the least obvious and the most surprising.

I really took that advice to heart, because creating surprise in plot is so rare and hard to do. I would mentally cycle through scenarios—”What if this happens? Or what if this happens?”—basically storyboarding the scene in my imagination, and when I got to an idea I thought might work, I sat down and wrote it. Even then, it very often didn’t work. It was a constant trial-and-error process of trying to get to the most authentic action for the character, and the most surprising resolution for the plot.

The publishing process has been both eye-opening and humbling for me. I tried to get this book published the traditional way—e.g. finding an agent, submitting the book to editors at any of the major U.S. publishers, and going from there. While it worked out with the agent portion—Leigh Feldman has been a fantastic ally and collaborator during the entire process—it didn’t work out with the publishers. We submitted the book for about two years, covering all the major, minor, and independent presses in the United States, as well as some in the United Kingdom and in India, and while we received really lovely responses, no one was willing to acquire the book.

After revising and submitting and still receiving no interest, Leigh and I had a conversation about me shelving the book and moving on with my writing life to work on something new. A few months later, I submitted the book to the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Winning the prize was the only thing that saved the book from a life of being confined to the hard drive of my computer.

Nothing about the book changed between the version submitted to publishers and the version submitted to the contest. What changed was the willingness to give an unknown writer and an unknown story—one told with a lens that is unfamiliar to many in the Western world—a chance at a wider audience. And for that I am profoundly grateful and very aware of how fortunate I am, and how everything that has subsequently come my way—every event, every encounter with a reader, every interview (like this one!)—is a gift. Because it could have gone very differently.

Did writing this book change or influence your own views on the subject of death? What is a “good death” for Priyanka Champaneri?

The entire process of writing and revising this book took about 10 years, so it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the person I am today, and the views I have now, are a place that I was guided towards because of the book, or because it was the inevitable result of time passing and my getting older. I actually think the book just sharpened things for me. Whenever I’m feeling out of balance emotionally, I often don’t know why—but I can usually write my way to understanding the reason. Similarly, I think writing this book forced me to pull out what I’d thought about over the years—the principles I’d tried to live my life by, the conclusions I’d come to, the questions that still occupied me—and really examine them for what they were. And that process was one that probably did more to solidify my perspective, rather than shape.

I’m too superstitious to go into detail about what a good death means for me—but I will say that I believe a good death hinges on whether a person feels they led a good life. And that means different things to different people. Much of my spiritual philosophy centers around duty and a balancing of scales, so I try to live ensuring that I fulfill all my obligations to the people and things I share my life with.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching the book?

I love this question—no one has asked me this! I have two things that really struck me in my reading that have stayed with me. One is associated with the reason Banaras is said to have this effect of ending the cycle of reincarnation for those who die there—it’s said that time simply does not exist in the city. And without time, you accrue neither good nor bad karma—your scales are always balanced, no matter your actions.

This was something I really ran with when writing The City of Good Death, which gives no obvious clue as to when the story is taking place. I didn’t want to be tied to any specific historical event, and I also wanted to create something that seemed like it could have happened 200 years ago or be happening now, because that echoes my experiences of traveling in India. You could be getting a lecture from a child on the street about coding, then turn the corner and stumble on a weaver working his loom in the same way his ancestors would have done generations before.

The other interesting find is a story I came across in my research. Banaras is said to be the city of Shiva—the Hindu trinity’s God of Destruction. And when a person dies in Banaras, it’s said that Shiva is the one to whisper the words the soul will need for safe passage out of the cycle of reincarnation and on to liberation. I could immediately see that image in my head, and I was desperate to write my own version. I didn’t always know where the book was headed as I was writing it, but I did know I wanted a character to have an experience with that moment, so it was something to keep me motivated as I worked on the book.

Tell us about your library. What’s on your own shelves?

You can trace the years of my reading life through my bookshelves. Phase 1 is filled with fairy tales—especially the entire Rainbow Fairy Book series edited by Andrew Lang—as well as all of Roald Dahl, Dick King-Smith, the Anne of Green Gables series, and the entire Amar Chitra Katha oeuvre of comic book adaptations of The Mahabharata and other Hindu epics and mythology.

The next phase comprises all the big, capacious novels that I love to get lost in—A Suitable Boy, A House for Mr. Biswas, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Midnight’s Children, Our Mutual Friend, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and the entire Harry Potter series.

And in my current phase, I’m just indiscriminately reading everything, so there are art books, photography books, fairy tale retellings, essays, poetry, slim introspective novellas alongside colorful and fast-paced graphic novels. I no longer care about genre or form or even subject matter. My only goal as a reader is to experience a perspective that is new to me, and always, always, be engulfed by story.

What have you been reading lately, and what would you recommend to other readers?

Umma’s Table by Yeon-Sik Hong (translated by Janet Hong) is probably the best graphic novel I’ve read all year. It’s the story of a Korean man’s struggle to find balance between nurturing the world he’s created with his wife, young son, career, and new home with the obligation he has to his elderly parents and all the complexities of his relationship with them.

I’ve also read several Japanese YA/middle-grade books in translation that have just bowled me over—there is such a depth and frankness to them that I haven’t seen before in the genre from Western writers. My favorites so far are Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki and Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba.

And one more—I recently read Cicada by Shaun Tan, a picture book that just made my head explode, it was so incredibly good!

Labels: author interview, interview

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

TinyCat’s December Library of the Month: The Anomaly Archives Library

To read more about TinyCat’s Library of the Month feature, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

December’s Library of the Month is a fascinating organization focusing on the most curious phenomena this world has to offer: congratulations to The Anomaly Archives Library! The Founder of the Anomaly Archives, SMiles Lewis, was kind enough to take my questions this month:

Who are you, and what is your mission—your “raison d’être”?

Our legal name is the Scientific Anomaly Institute, but we generally refer to our organization as the Anomaly Archives and that’s how we promote ourselves. I founded the organization with the State of Texas in 2003 and we became an established nonprofit in 2006.

Our raison d’etre is the, “Preservation and dissemination of scientific research into anomalous phenomena; Research and analysis of accumulated collections; Education of the public regarding scientific investigations into these phenomena.” Put another way the purposes of the organization are:

  • Managing and developing an archive and library for documents and literature with regards to a multi-disciplinary approach to anomalous phenomena
  • Supporting, promoting and pursuing research to obtain increased knowledge about anomalous phenomena
  • Pursuing and stimulating a critical, scientific discussion of anomalous phenomena, and providing a forum for information, support, and sharing among researchers
  • Functioning as the archives and library for like-minded organizations, and other groups in the community that have similar interests.

Some of the types of subject matter our special collections cover include: UFOs and Ufology, Consciousness (“What is it?”, meditation, dreams, lucid dreaming, and more), Parapsychology (ESP, PSI, Remote Viewing, etc.) and the Paranormal (Ghosts, Hauntings, etc.), Fortean (after Charles Fort: chronicler of the unexplained) Phenomena, Cryptozoology (Bigfoot and undiscovered hominids, lake monsters, sea serpents, and other undiscovered/out of place or sightings of presumed extinct animals), ParaPolitical Science (after Professor Peter Dale Scott’s, Mae Brussell’s and John Judge’s approach to “ParaPolitics” aka Conspiracy Theory), Human Potential, Jungian Theory, Frontier Physics and much more!

Tell us some interesting things about how you support your community.

Far too often, the personal libraries and research materials of researchers—including correspondence among researchers and witnesses—of these mysterious phenomena end up lost or thrown into landfills by family who don’t recognize the importance of such legacy materials. Or such collections end up being sold online via eBay or passed along to other researchers who may not share the material with others nor properly protect and preserve the materials. That’s where we, and the small network of similar anomalous archives (see our “Other Archives” online directory), come in.

We are constantly looking for such abandoned or forgotten collections while also actively working with still living researchers to help make sure their legacy, in the form of the materials making up their personal collections and life’s work, is preserved for future generations. We serve as a research resource for other investigators looking into the many and various anomalous subjects covered by the collections within our archives. We also host regular public events featuring researchers and experiencers of these strange phenomena. Our current Streamathon event series is our most ambitious such event to date!

What are some of your favorite items in your collection?

There is so much, it’s very hard to identify specific items but…our oldest materials include historical texts from the 1600s that are part of our biggest donated collection: that of rare book collector and seller Bob Girard. Robert Charles Girard was the entrepreneur behind North America’s largest reseller of UFO related books, called ARCTURUS BOOKS INC. He published a long-running CataZine in which he’d write reviews of everything he sold. Bob has been called the “Proust of the UFO phenomenon” (John Chambers, Paranormal journalist, 2004).

Bob Girard’s collection has books on everything from Alchemy and Atlantis to all aspects of the Unexplained but also contains some of the most rare early Flying Saucer-era UFO books. We also have a nearly complete collection of his CataZine.

Other gems of our collection include an amazing collection of 1990s alternative media zine scene publications as well as rare audio and video recordings, materials from a local Past-life Regression Hypnotherapy clinician, the unpublished manuscript, daily diary, personal letters and more of a local Alien Abductee and Trance Medium who was featured in a 1990s anthology of similar cases, and much more!

What’s a particular challenge your library experiences?

Funding and staffing: we’ve grown considerably over the past 3 years, acquiring more collections and getting more volunteers active in our ongoing activities. However, we still have no paid staff and this severely limits the amount of hours we are open to the public. Then with the current COVID situation, we’ve had to completely shut down and this has been the single greatest threat to our ongoing existence.

What is your favorite thing about TinyCat, and what’s something you’d love to see implemented/developed?

My favorite thing about TinyCat is its ease of use and inexpensiveness. I have many ideas I’d love to see implemented but mainly I’d like to see a desktop cataloging extension that synced with the online version in ways that allowed easier updating of both a local catalog and the online catalog.


Want to learn more about The Anomaly Archives? Follow them on social media (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook), visit their website at https://www.anomalyarchives.org/, and check out their TinyCat collection here.

To read up on TinyCat’s previous Libraries of the Month, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Calling all TinyCat libraries: become TinyCat’s next Library of the Month—just send us a Tweet @TinyCat_lib or email Kristi at kristi@librarything.com.

Labels: libraries, Library of the Month, TinyCat

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

Author Interview: Anne Helen Petersen on Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

headshot of Anne Helen Petersen

In the past several months, we have been interviewing people in the book world with interesting perspectives on current events. This month KJ talked with Anne Helen Petersen, author of the new book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Ms. Petersen is a former academic & professor, now culture writer with two previous non-fiction books and a long tenure writing cultural and political analysis at Buzzfeed. She currently writes “Culture Study,” a newsletter through Substack.

What brought you to the subject of specifically Millennial burnout? Do you think the stressors of COVID-19 have exacerbated or intensified feelings of burnout in this or any generation?

It’s pretty straightforward: I’m a millennial, and I’d been burnt out for years — but didn’t understand what I was experiencing as burnout, because I’d always thought that burning out meant hitting a wall and, like, collapsing. I prided myself on being able to just keep doing the work, no matter my exhaustion and stress. When I finally figured out what was going on, it was only because I was able to expand the definition to describe a feeling that I think so many in our generation feels — the result of great instability/precarity and the feeling of needing to work all the time to counteract it.

COVID has only exacerbated and amplified existing burnout. Everyone I know who was exhausted before the pandemic now feels like they’re barely holding it together — especially parents. I think that before COVID, many had become pretty adept at ignoring some of the larger structural brokenness in society and trying to patch some of the holes in the social safety net. Now there’s no more pretense: something’s very broken, and we have to get pissed off enough to fix it.

In a recent newsletter on your Substack, you examined how the vocational awe affects the essential workers it venerates, specifically in the context of librarians. Earlier this year, we talked with Callan Bignoli, a librarian-activist for front-line workers amidst the stuttered re-opening of libraries. Can you speak to how vocational awe, librarians, and burnout meet?

The short answer to this question is that vocational awe creates an aura of do-goodness around a job that does two pretty crappy things. First, it makes it so that the vocation as a whole becomes reticent to self-critique: it’s so essential, so good, so venerated in society, that there’s not much room to figure out what’s maybe not so good (and causing burnout!) within it. Fobazi Ettarh’s seminal piece does an excellent job of pointing to how vocational awe amongst librarians has allowed the profession to just stick with the status quo of maintaining implicit whiteness (and white standards of behavior, of learning, of speech, whatever) within library-related and librarian-related spaces.

But then it also allows people outside of the profession to dismiss very real demands, on the part of librarians, for things like adequate funding, health care, and support for dealing with the myriad jobs that each librarian is now tasked with performing. If you ask for more, it’s somehow viewed as indicative of a lack of passion, or a lack of appropriate awe for the job. This mindset is preposterous and yet truly ubiquitous.

Much of your work—in print and at your former time at Buzzfeed—has dealt with gender. Did you find a similar focus when researching and writing your newest book?

I think a large percentage (but certainly not all!) of my readership are women, and speaking VERY broadly, women are more willing to elaborate on some of their feelings about various issues. They’re also super angry about persistent inequalities in domestic labor, and I think that really comes through in the millennial parenting chapter. But in general: I’m a feminist, my work is feminist, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to keep drawing attention to the insidious ways that patriarchy makes life (for men and women) more miserable than it needs to be.

How is your personal library organized?

It is a very complex and very sophisticated mix of general subject area and aesthetic. All of my Penguin Classics live together, for example, and all of my academic texts from my PhD. But then, I’ll admit, there are areas that are all relatively new fiction with blue and green dust jackets. It pleases me!

What are some books you’ve read lately that you would recommend?

A few books that have pulled me out of my Covid-related difficulties with reading: Miriam Toews’ Irma Voth, Diane Cook’s The New WildernessBrit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Niall William’s This is Happiness.

Anne Helen Petersen can be found on Substack, Twitter, and of course her author page here on LibraryThing.

Browse all of our interviews here

 

 

Labels: author interview, interview, Uncategorized