An Afternoon Outing to the 2009 Conference of
the American Library Association!
So I managed to slip away one afternoon, briefly. And I made my way up to the labyrinthine colossus known as McCormick Place--presumably one of the world's largest conference centers after its recent expansion. I had at the last minute decided to attend the exhibits at the annual American Library Association, which was being held in Chicago this year. I often wonder what ALA really stands for, as it conjures up a bevy of perplexing
enigmas when (and where) thousands of librarians converge on one earthly location, en masse like lemurs in search of high altitude and sand. I am among them. Our quirkiness exudes beyond the contemporary limits of general understanding, as each fiber of our MLS-ness comes in contact with one another: public, private, law, theological, corporate librarians huddled into poetic Wastelands of exhibits, not knowing which product will save them/us from themselves/ourselves or which will infringe upon their/our civil rights, liberties, and pursuits of happiness; the ALA conference (and especially the exhibits) is a whacky event that everyone seems to want to be at. And I mean whacky in a pretty decent way, like that relative we all have, but once a year and a bottle of sherry later is just about good enough. So what does ALA really stand for? Here's what some experts suggest:
ALA: Agave Lotion, Apply
ALA: Ample Literary Atrophy
ALA: Articulate Literati Appear
ALA: "Always Liking ACLU"
ALA: Affirming Love of Acrimony (for those who think librarians are prudish bun-wearers!)
ALA: Always Lucubrating Angrily (ok, don't go look up the word "lucubrate," it means "study")
You be the judge.
Okay, let's get this straight: I'm not a self-loathing librarian. I just need to put things into perspective. But let's admit it (in or outside of a 12-step program): there's a lot of odd stuff out there. Now take this item, for instance. At left is a a bronze cast bench of a pile of books, with an open book on top, which is actually a bench! From the makers of creepy bronze children (I'm not knocking this stuff, really!), the Randolph Rose Collection: "Sculptures for the Home & Garden" offers this wide array of high priced statuary and seat-ware for that bronzophile in you. Now if you or your recession-strapped library is willing to shell out $8,400 for this fine bronze book sculpture seat, because your conscience says "we need this!--let's cut acquisitions of children's books and get this nifty bench! The old folks will love it!" ...well then, go right ahead. It would be a fine improvement to any collection: home or garden.
Now these dandies as left, these are something quite to behold. They caught my eye at one point in the exhibits, and I thought: "My! what lovely purses you have!" Now besides sounding like a character out of some Mother Goose tale, I did in fact like what this artisan had done with these books. She'd first disemboweled the books, a true measure of bibliocide. BUT, she acted as any rational biblio-taxidermist would, and recreated (or, "repurposed") the book into a handy and fine accoutrement for that special night out.
In both photos you may see some interesting titles; the ones which I took close up show the detail of these older tomes, with the nice beadwork. In the above photo, you may see "Moby Dick" as purse and even the American Heritage Dictionary as purse (in case you forgot what "lucubration" means--and now that we've used the word twice, there's no excuse to forget it!). And by the way, these items cost $130 each. So I'm not necessarily promoting them; I'm simply showing them.
Kirtas Technologies: Since 2001 the great digitizers! I saw some fascinating equipment at ALA as well. Kirtas Technologies produces three major products which digitize books completely: by completely, I mean that the machines at left not only take digital photos of each page with high end Canon Mark III cameras (~$7,000-10,000 each; at 2 cameras per machine), the machine actually turns the book with robotic arms. I'd seen similar equipment at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, back in October 2008 in their digitization lab, but a human being was turning the pages. This was a bone fide robot here. And likely, because of these robotic features, the costs are extraordinary, if not phenomenal and prohibitive. The main cost is based on speed of digital production. So if you want to create 1,200 digital shots per hour, it will cost one price; if you want 1,800 per hour, another price; and finally, ~2,400 shots per hour, you're looking at taking out a mortgage. The price scale commensurate with these speeds was something like $69,000 (slower speed), $99,000 (medium), and $159,000 (fastest digitization speed). You are also able to rent these machines, but the cost for rental is also rather high--I think they said something like $10,000 with a minimum of 3-months of use. So, if that's what you want, the digital age is here! Jump on for the rock bottom prices, and contact Kirtas Technologies today!
Running of the Bulls?
Partaking in a centuries old custom, I think that whatever happens in Pamplona, Spain each year is no more nutty, confusing, and downright tribalistic as the "running of the books," or maybe it's "running of the lib-ulls?" At the very end of each ALA conference, some exhibitors, who are book vendors, offer their books for free. People line up in itchy lines: itchy, because there is a palpable itch among the bipedal line-waiters, who deplore, detest, and outwardly grieve the dilatory nature of having to "wait." Wait for a free book on a shelf. A book they probably never heard of, never cared to read, nor probably will ever read. But the mere fact of its freedom, its freeness, its emancipation from publishers, on temporary shelves, somehow magnetizes the book to the ALA-attendee. We all turn into nickel-bound ends of a metal forcefield, start vibrating, and rotating in counter-revolutionary spins, like dreidels, wanting our unnecessary free-books. I noticed, at the booth I was at, HarperCollins, there was a line of about 40 people. The oddest thing was that I was the only man in line. I thought: "Hmmm, am I in the wrong line?" (This was confirmed by another librarian who attended ALA this year, and we later joked about it). Everyone was pushing forward, as if there were a hand to shake, or the president was nearby and had said "hope" and winked at adoring onlookers. People were trying to cut in line. Trying to move into the penned area of bookshelves. One woman attempted to carry out some fourteen books!--until the overseer of the HarperCollins booth said: "Mam, no--I can't allow you to do that. It's not fair to everyone else." She had a look of shame in her eyes, and a hint of annoyance, as if she were telepathically texting the overseer with a visual text that read "WTF lady!" She put the books down, took one, and retreated from our scowling gazes. Then, a voice from heaven--the loudspeakers announced: "Ladies and Gentlement, the Exhibit Hall is now closed." And like the separation of primeval waters and the dome of Genesis, light became dark. They turned the hall lights out! And in an instant, those remaining in line swarmed into "piranhic" fits of bibliothirsty cro-magnun library professionals. I grabbed a book by Werner Herzog not 0.05 seconds before a white haired old woman. She sighed, with immense sadness, as if I'd trampled her azaleas or tulip patch, even drowned her goldfish. "I wanted that one," she faded away. I said: "Just a moment." And I reached up for the book I really wanted on Kenya. Then I returned and gave her the Werner Herzog. "Oh, thank you, thank you!"
Again, like the popular neologism, bridezilla, I wonder if we must go beyond that descriptive nomenclature, asking ourselves: was this a bookzilla moment? How dreadful humanity can be. Nothing like a Brando-Kurtz moment to reflect on such buoyant matters and the sociology of this annual ritual.
The Spoils of War
The titles I managed to get in the mad dance included:
Michela Wrong. It's Our Turn to East: The Story of A Kenyan Whistle-Blower.
Ben George, ed. The Book of Dads: Essays on the Joys, Perils, and Humiliations of Fatherhod.
Immanuel Kant. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.
Soren Kierkegaard. Works of Love.
Willa Cather. The Bohemian Girl: Stories.
Leo Tolstoy. Family Happiness: Stories.
Inger Christensen. Azorno (A Novel, translated from the Danish).
Simon Schama. The American Future: A History.
And this most curious novel:
Wu Ming. Manituana.
Why is this novel so interesting...and odd? Simply: the author is not Chinese. It is a collective of five Italian authors based in Bologna, who are writing about the American colonial period! There is much more to say about this, but I will keep it short. Wu Ming is derived from a former group called Luther Blissett, which was a multi-national, multi-ethnic group of writers and artists, who (among other things) authored a book entitled "Q"--which is about a radical Anabaptist in the 16th and the dreadful experiences of war and death that he goes through. Fastforward: after existing from ~1993 onwards, the group Luther Blissett fractured and in 1999, some of its early and core members committed some sort of "ritual disembowelment" (there's that word again!), like samurai. Frankly, I don't even know what they mean by that! They formed Wu Ming, and began again at their novelistic tasks. And here is their most recent. The buzz on the internet is that these writers (and especially the task of "Q") are "anti-novelists" and "Q" is the "anti-novel," presumably because of their take and approach to writing. But I need to know more. Otherwise, we may soon be moving into the anti-blog and anti-blogger movement.
Best we stick with calm topics, like books and librarians.