Monday, January 31, 2011

Author Philip Pullman's Impassioned Plea!

Okay, if you don't want to hear anymore impassioned pleas to save libraries worldwide (and especially here in TX), then stop reading my blog now. Otherwise, I encourage you to read this article by the author of the Golden Compass series, Philip Pullman.

Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.

Isn't it sad that librarians, who should be spending their time helping their patrons (and, in the case of school librarians, working with their students to love reading and to learn valuable technology and research skills), are having to wage marketing campaigns just to justify their (and their libraries') existence? I read a great analogy posted on the TLA Listserv that went something like this...

Legislators cutting what they don't understand (i.e., library funding) is like someone pulling out and disposing of a car's engine because they don't appreciate how essential it is to car's performance.

Another quote that really struck me?

Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague. - Eleanor Crumbleholme, Library Asst., University of British Columbia

I'll save the lecture for now, but I'm not done yet!

Help Save the Libraries!

Once upon a time, a famous library advocate (if memory serves me correctly, it was Benjamin Franklin) was quoted as saying "You can judge a community by its libraries" or something to that effect.  Author Mark Twain made similar comments.  Their observations are as relevant today as they were when they made them centuries ago.  So, if this is the case, then the United States in general and the State of TX in particular are guilty of gross negligence!  In a time when reading and technology skills are critical, TX has seen fit to put all libraries and their staffs on the chopping block.  Shame on you!

Here are just a few examples of what has come to pass and what is looming in the near future for TX libraries.  The proposed state budget calls for eliminating Loan Star Libraries (direct aid grants to public libraries), all state funding for TexShare databases, the K-12 Database program, and more.  Last school year, the Plano ISD eliminated all library assistants (while keeping the 10+ football coaches at each of the high schools).  The Austin Independent School District (Austin is home to the University of TX, by the way) is planning to eliminate all middle and high school libraries/librarians in the upcoming school year.  Here is an excellent article from an Austin ISD Middle School librarian outlining their plight - Stevenson: Why librarians are essential

Although there are some state legislators who advocate for libraries, their numbers are few.  One who will be voting to retain the current library funding is Rep. Rafael Anchia.  His full article in the Dallas Morning News is here - Rafael Anchia: How the local library helped shape my path to Austin   - and here is a brief excerpt...

Yet in 2009, the last year for which figures are available, the state provided an average of only 24 cents per person in public library support. The national average was $3.35. Texas ranks a sad 48th in state funding for this precious resource. With proposed budget cuts decimating essential library programs, we are headed on a path that will greatly harm generations of future Texans.

I have worked in both school and public libraries in many regions of the US and have seen first-hand the slow hemorrhaging of critical funding to libraries; however, TX is at the top of the list in its lack of support.  Texans are proud for being "bigger" at everything, but they should be ashamed to be the biggest destroyer of libraries.  If we can, in fact, judge the Texas community by its libraries, then it will be found guilty for its ignorance and shortsightedness.  Is this really the legacy our legislators want to leave?

If you care as much as I (and my fellow librarians) do, then please visit the TX Library Association website and voice your opposition to these proposed cuts.  Our school and public libraries are one of the few bastions of democracy, especially as the divide between rich and poor widens.  If we don't have fully-funded libraries and well-educated librarians on staff, the poorest among us will be denied equal access to information and technology essential for competing successfully in our global society.  Please, vote "yes" for our libraries, vote "yes" for our kids' future!  Click here - Texas Library Association - Save Library Programs.  Thank you for your support!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books to Movies

Wow, how time flies during the holidays!  I just noticed that I haven't posted since just before Thanksgiving, and it only seems like yesterday.  I have to admit that, over the Winter Break, I watched more movies than read books.  However, I noticed that many of the movies were adaptations of popular books, which brings me to the topic of today's Blog!

When it comes to choosing whether or not to read the book before seeing the movie, people seem to be solidly in one of two camps.  Since the book always comes out first, most people will see the movie afterwards.  However, I'm in the other camp.  I'd rather see the movie, then read the book because, invariably, the book enriches the story and usually fills in the blanks that can't be covered in an average 2-hour film.  In my opinion, there's nothing worse than reading a fantastic book, then seeing how some screenwriter totally destroyed it to meet Hollywood's (sub?)standards.  If I've already read the book and liked it, I'll usually skip the movie rather than waste my hard-earned money to be disappointed.

For instance, one of my favorite books as a teen was Colleen McCullough's The Thornbirds.  At 700+ pages, it was a long read, but I enjoyed it so much that I read it three times.  (Ahh, to have that much free time today!)  Six years later, it was made into a television mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain (the actor I envisioned in the role) and Rachel Ward (a lousy actress who couldn't handle the task of playing Meggie, in my opinion).  I was glad that they employed the mini-series format because there was no way this story could be told in a single movie.  The story was left pretty much intact, but there were a few major plot points that were entirely changed (to the detriment of the film).  You wouldn't paint over the Mona Lisa, so why mess with a literary masterpiece?

However, there are times when books are so convoluted, surreal, or philosophical that committing them to film and giving us poor readers visuals is the only way to really make sense of them, albeit with one person's vision.  The book/film that instantly comes to mind is John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.  Since the author himself offers up three separate endings to the story, no harm is done if the movie maker picks only one.  This book, by the way, was chosen by TIME Magazine as "one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present."

So, what did I watch over vacation?  One was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.  I didn't care for it as much as I had hoped, and I definitely felt that there were pieces of the puzzle missing.  I'll be reading the novel soon since just about every woman on the planet has by now, and I figure there must be more to the story than the screenwriter/director Ryan Murphy was telling us.

The other movie was a piece of light-hearted fare on Lifetime called Sunday at Tiffany's.  Surprisingly, it's written by James Patterson (the writer better known for his thrillers and, to kids, for his Maximum Ride series).  I say "surprisingly" because this one is a romantic fantasy!  For this adaptation, I may not read the book because I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (yes, romances are my guilty pleasure) and, after reading a plot summary of the novel, it sounds much darker and sadder than the film.  However, I just took time to look at reader comments online, and it sounds as if the book, although vastly different than the movie, is an excellent read.  What I don't get is why they used James Patterson's name if it was so loosely adapted by someone else (as if "inspired" by his novel).  Generally, other readers who watched the movie first also liked the book but those in the other camp (who read the book first) were very disappointed and were asking for a better, truer adaptation in the future.

So, what can students take from this discussion?  A lot of things!  One, if you're going to cheat and watch the movie instead of reading the assigned book, you're taking a big risk!  LOL!  Two, if you watch a movie you really like, see if it's an adapted rather than an original screenplay and then read the book from which the story is taken.  There may even be a written sequel (or two or three).  Three, if you read a book (like the Twilight or Harry Potter series), you'll either love the movies no matter what or may be very disappointed by the director's vision.  Remember: the beauty of a well-written book is in its ability to let the reader imagine the scene, to invoke our emotions, and to leave our lives enriched...and perhaps wanting more!