Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Last night I went to bed at nine o'clock. I never go to bed that early -- but the weather had changed drastically and I had a really bad headache. So I got an unheard of nine hours of sleep last night! I woke up at six this morning and decided to sit out on our balcony and read while drinking coffee. It was quite delightful. The kitty comes and sits outside with me and listens to the birds while I read. The only downside would be that she likes to try to eat the flowers -- and that's probably not a good thing. I mean, they're not my flowers, but I still feel a sense of obligation to try to keep the cat from eating them.

Anyway, I'm getting close to having fifty books read! It's crazy -- I will probably have fifty done by the end of June! I'm not sure exactly where I left off, but I think I'm at number thirty-nine. So here goes: 39: Whose Wedding is it Anyway?, a very fluffy chick-lit book. Definitely not the best one I've read, but it wasn't terrible either. 40: The Wisdom of Crowds - a book that I have been meaning to read since January when I read an article in Slate where the authors of Blink and this one wrote about their books. Blink, of course, has gone on to much fame and fanfare, but The Wisdom of Crowds has kind of toiled in obscurity. I enjoyed it -- it's a short book that discusses how collectively people are smarter than they are as individuals. I found it really interesting, and even thought that I should reread it and try to apply it to libraries. (I think I may have mentioned this before, but seriously, that's how big of a library nerd I am!) The one thing that I thought was most interesting is that in a committee, it is better to have someone relatively new and inexperienced or a dissenter to help the group come to better conclusions. Having someone with a different perspective -- the minority perspective is how the author described it -- helps the group come to a more nuanced conclusion. 41: Painted for the Kill - a fun mystery from the 1940s that has recently been reprinted. I enjoyed it and may have to see if the library has the second book. It's set in a beauty salon in New York City and has a pretty twisty plot. I didn't figure out who the killer was, but the detectives are pretty fun characters. A definite quick read!

Last but not least, 42: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam. This is another one that I've been meaning to read for a while -- since February I believe. It's a very, very dense book with tons of statistics which indicate that the American community has been in decline for quite some time. I thought it was interesting that a lot of the time church-going can indicate how often someone will volunteer and how much more involved they are within their community. And in many ways, that does seem to be true -- most people have a network of their family and work, but if you add in a church community, it definitely adds to the social network of an individual. I know that is definitely true for me! Putnam also talked about social capital, a concept which I think I understand but am not sure if I can explain real well. Basically, social capital seems to be the connectedness of a community -- involvement in churchs (Putnam used churches to stand for all religious communities, regardless of whether or not it was a church), volunteering, etc. And there was an interesting map that indicated the levels of social capital within the individual states. Guess where the highest levels of social capital were found? Not on the East Coast, believe me! No, it was definitely in the upper Midwest -- the states of Minnesota, North and South Dakotas, Montana, and Washington had the highest levels of social capital. Wisconsin was not that far behind, with a slightly lower level of social capital. Putnam also said that "One surprisingly strong predictor of the degree of social captial in any state in the 1990s is, for example, the fraction of its population that is of Scandinavian stock" (294). Fascinating stuff!

I found this book to be really interesting, especially after just complaining that I didn't feel like I do enough. But after reading this, I can actually feel pretty good about myself -- compared to other members of Generation X (which I am not exactly sure if I am a member of -- the cutoff date seems to vary from book to book, but I don't really feel like a member of the Millenial generation either, so perhaps I'm right inbetween it and have a sense of disconnect!) I definitely am more involved with my community. After reading about how the Midwest (and specificaly Wisconsin/Minnesota) are better off when it comes to social capital as compared to where I am now, I thought to myself, why wouldn't I want to move back there? But it seems as though I have found a community here within Maryland -- a church where there is a group of people my age who are willing to go to church and meet regularly for Bible studies and other social events. And a workplace where there is a diversity of ages -- and quite a few younger people! In libraries, that seems like a rarity, to be able to find younger librarians. If I decided to go back to pursuing a career in academic librarianship, I would probably not find as many younger librarians among my co-workers. So why would I want to leave this area, when I have found (forged?) a community of my own? I don't know...

Putnam wrote another book (with some other authors) in 2003 -- Better Together: Restoring the American Community, which I have sitting in front of me. I'm planning on starting that one pretty soon -- it has a chapter entitled "Branch Libraries: The Heartbeat of the Community," so it'll be more fun for my nerdy librarian self -- to see what suggestions he has for restoring the American community.

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