What I’m reading: July 2020

Between working from home and an upcoming sabbatical in the fall, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

What I’m reading for work

“Sanitizing American Library History: Reflections of a Library Historian” by Wayne A. Wiegand: Reading this recent article from Library Quarterly, I was reminded of a program I attended at an ALA Conference in Chicago a few years ago in which Geraldine Edwards Hollis talked about her experience as one of the Tougaloo Nine, a group of Black students from Tougaloo College who were arrested in 1961 after staging a sit-in at a local public library. The program included a film that featured footage of the incident, which showed the librarians stalking the students with a suspicious eye and calling the police even though all the students were doing was sitting quietly inside the library. Being confronted with these images was a bit of a shock since it went against so much of the 21st century rhetoric that Wiegand argues has fed numerous professional myths that position librarians as champions of intellectual freedom, diversity, and inclusion. Wiegand views all of his specifically through the lens of the Library Bill of Rights, which represents certain ideals that were not exactly held up throughout history. Considering everything that’s going on right now with protests for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, this is definitely worth a read when thinking about whether the place that libraries envision for themselves in the changing landscape really means anything if we’re not willing to acknowledge the uglier parts of our own history.

Citation: Wiegand, Wayne A. 2020. “Sanitizing American Library History: Reflections of a Library Historian.” Library Quarterly 90 (2): 108–20. doi:10.1086/707669.

“Curiosity and the Pleasures of Learning: Wanting and Liking New Information” by Jordan Litman: Somewhere along the line, the various threads of my research led me down a path of learning more about curiosity and how it’s been studied or theorized over time. I recently revisited this article, which provides an overview of different models of curiosity and attempts to reconcile them, to refresh my memory and help support a point I’m hoping to make as part of my book project in a chapter on how research starts. It’s interesting to me that the literature on curiosity and the literature from the LIS field on information seeking have so much in common, down to some of the jargon that they use, but they never seem to refer to each other. This is especially strange when considering the important role curiosity so often plays in our information-seeking activities.

Citation: Litman, Jordan. “Curiosity and the Pleasures of Learning: Wanting and Liking New Information.” Cognition and Emotion 19, no. 6 (September 1, 2005): 793–814.

 

What I’m reading for fun

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted by by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong: Around the start of the pandemic, I had to stop watching the morning news because doing so would make me feel stressed out and anxious for the rest of the day. So I replaced it with a rewatch of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Hulu. If you’ve never seen the show, just know that’s considered one of the all-time greats for a reason. This book tells the story of how the show came to be and why it was such a landmark in sitcom history. There’s a lot of fun behind-the-scenes trivia and while the book acknowledges that there was sometimes tension between the people who worked on it, it never gets too gossipy. For someone like me who enjoys learning the stories behind the pop culture that I love, this book made a really good companion to my rewatch.

 

What I’m watching for fun

The Repair Shop on Netflix: This show is like if the Great British Bake-Off/Baking Show and HGTV had a baby. Which is to say, there’s no competitive element to it. It’s literally just a group of experts who repair and restore beloved items that are brought to them from all over Great Britain. But, like GBBO, it’s very, very British. Like, it’s hard to describe how British this show is. And it’s wonderful. According to IMDB, over a hundred episodes have been produced but only about thirty of them are available on Netflix. The first set are under thirty minutes each while the second set are longer and go into more detail about the processes these experts use to do their work. Some of the episodes, especially in the longer set, are a little too transparent about the fact that they’re trying to use the sentimental value of each object to elicit an emotional reaction from the client (and by association the viewer) but there aren’t a lot of other gimmicks and though the interactions between the “cast members” are no doubt at least somewhat scripted or staged, they’re not obviously fake the way they tend to be on similar American reality shows like Pawn Stars. I love all of the experts and the work they do is utterly fascinating but my favorite are probably the ladies whose job it is to repair soft toys like old teddy bears that have been damaged—there’s nothing like seeing an adult cuddle a beloved childhood toy that’s been given a new life.

Queer Eye on Netflix: I also spent some time this month watching the most recent season of Queer Eye. I have a lot of love for Queer Eye and its stated mission but the pandemic definitely affected the way I watched this set of episodes, which seem to have been filmed about a year ago. Because as happy as I am for all of these people who get a boost from the Fab Five,  I couldn’t help but feel sad that they were taking these steps to better their lives without knowing what was coming. I couldn’t help but wonder where these people are now and how they’re doing, especially the ones with jobs and businesses that were probably particularly vulnerable to the economic disaster that came with the pandemic. I kind of wish they had replaced the “QE tips” at the end of each episode (many of which are amusing but not particularly helpful or interesting) with brief “Where are they now?” updates where possible.  That might have tarnished some of the escapism the show is trying to give its audience but unfortunately that escapism is already pretty damaged, by no fault of the show itself. Anyway, I still love these guys even when I don’t agree with some of their ideas and I know a season where all the “heroes” are people who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus (financially or medically) is inevitable if anyone ever gets to make TV again but it was definitely a different experience watching this now than it has been in the past.

 

What I’m playing for fun

Horizon Zero Dawn on PS4: Before I got a Playstation 4 a few years ago, my only experience with video games was with the original Nintendo when I was a kid. I’m talking Goonies II and Super Mario. Needless to say, video games have come a long way since then and playing them has definitely been a learning experience for me. After conquering all of the Uncharted games and The Last of Us, I decided to try my hand at the first open world game I’ve ever played, Horizon Zero Dawn. Because of my inexperience, I found the game confusing as hell at first but one of the pleasures of playing it was that it allowed me to develop a sense of mastery as I went along. Which is to say, the Stormbirds scared the hell out of me when I first encountered them—I can’t even tell you how many times the damn things killed me. But when I ran into one while tying up some loose ends before finishing the game, it was like…NBD. In a time when I feel sort of stuck in life, having something where I could trace the progress of my skills like that was really gratifying.

Smithsonian Digital Jigsaw Puzzles: I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles for a couple of years now but with so many people trapped at home, they’ve suddenly become ultra popular and, as a result, occasionally hard to find. After I finished the last 1000 piece puzzle that I own, I happened to stumble on a set of digital jigsaw puzzles created by the Smithsonian. I expected them to be a lot less satisfying than real-life puzzles, so I was surprised by how absorbed I was by the first one I tried. Definitely a fun alternative when physical puzzles aren’t available.

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