Duck Duck Book

26 – classic houses
11.22.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Classic houses of Seattle : high style to vernacular, 1870-1950 / Caroline T. Swope.
Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2005.
[MCL call number: 728.37 S979c 2005; nine copies, one hold]

If you are interested in the minutiae of U.S. domestic architecture, with careful discussions of questions like the difference between the four square and the craftsman house, this book is for you. It focuses on the houses (mostly the fancy ones) of one city, Seattle, and discusses them by period and architectural style, from Victorian to modern. There are hundreds of beautiful black and white photographs (mostly exteriors), detailed descriptions of specific notable houses, and an excellent chapter on researching your own house's history. The book's appendices provide a house locating tool (by neighborhood and by chapter), a map of Seattle neighborhoods, a glossary, an index, and a very solid bibliography.

Despite all this, the book has somehow raised my hackles slightly. Maybe it's just the competitive crankiness that comes from living in and loving the lesser-celebrated of two cities which are much compared, but when I look at the (mostly) grand houses described in this book and consider where they might be located, I think of Portland and not Seattle. In my mind, Seattle's housing is best characterized by vast and now-dingy tracts of as-small-as-possible houses, with no dining rooms and no basements, erected in haste to contain wartime workers and the many other folks who streamed into the city in the 1940s and 1950s (Seattle's population grew by 190,000 people in that time!).

But nothing smacks of small-minded provincialism more than a tendency to deride other cities as a way of championing my own, so I shall quit before I walk any further down that road.

I will leave you with this: Classic Houses of Seattle is a lovely picture book, useful for anyone interested in 20th century domestic architecture. It provides substantive and interesting information supplemental to its illustrations. But it focuses too much on the highfalutin and the expensive — the book has no substantive discussion of those as-small-as-possible houses with no basements, though I would argue that they, also, are classic Seattle. However, the pictures are still pretty, the supplemental matter and how-to-research information are still invaluable, and Classic Houses does provide a nice, if slanted, introduction to a portion of Seattle's material history.


26 – elements of style
11.22.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: literature

The elements of style / by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White ; illustrated by Maira Kalman.
New York : Penguin Press, 2005.
[MCL call number: 808.042 S927ei 2005; 21 copies, one hold]

Here is the classic manual of style, written for use in the United States. No doubt most of you have not only heard of this book but have used it, and perhaps you’re wondering why I think it’s urgent to inform you of its importance. The Elements of Style is a classic, it’s true, and among people who enjoy writing or who have been made to learn to write it needs no introduction.

But this particular edition is gracefully enhanced with paintings by the talented children’s book author and illustrator Maira Kalman. Kalman’s paintings bring Strunk & White’s usage examples to life in unexpected ways. For example: “Overly, muchly, thusly” (page 110, an ostentatious lighthouse) “Bread and butter was all she served” (page 20, a nurse and two children sitting down to a meal, with some lovely modern paintings in the background), “None of us is perfect” (page 19, a room full of people).

If you still need convincing that this is a great idea, take a peek at some of Kalman’s earlier triumphs — these include Stay Up Late, with words (from the song) by David Byrne (New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Viking Kestrel, 1987) and Chicken Soup, Boots (New York, N.Y. : Penguin Books, c1993), a fanciful exploration of the world of the jobs that adults have. You can look at illustrations from many of Kalman’s books at her website.

26 – the bohemian
11.22.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: articles

“The bohemian, the Bolsheviks, and the old blues,” / by Mary V. Dearborn
Yale Alumni Magazine, September/October 2005.

Louise Bryant, the subject of this article, is unfortunately more well-known for her husbands than for her own life and work. The famous part of her life story is attached to the story of her second husband, Portland’s own John Reed. While they lived together she wrote numerous articles on political and current-events topics, and a best-selling book on her experiences living in Russia and the young Soviet Union during the 1917 revolution, Six Red Months in Russia (various publishers, 1918-2002, available online). Mostly no one remembers Bryant, her writing, or this best-selling book — in fact, most folks are more familiar with Reed’s book about living in Russia during the same period, Ten Days That Shook the World (various publishers, 1919-1997, available online).

“The Bohemian” describes a collection of Bryant’s papers owned by the Yale University Library, and provides a brief introduction to Bryant’s life. Selected images & documents are reproduced in the article, and a finding aid to Bryant’s papers is available on the Yale Library’s website.

A few of Bryant’s articles, and another electronic version of Six Red Months in Russia are available online at the Internet Archive.

26 – library thing
11.22.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: websites

Library thing / Tim Spalding.

Library Thing is an example of something that is much talked-about in the library techie world of late: social software. No doubt other people are talking about it too.

Social software is any software system that allows users to produce collaborative work or content. There are lots of different kinds, but one of the most talked-about are websites that allow users to create lists and classify the items in them, in a shared environment. This is called tagging, and here’s how it works:

I add something to my list, and I create some tags for that thing. Then if you look at my list, you can see my tags. If you look at the list of tags I’ve attached to one thing, you can see my tags and use them to look at what anyone else has tagged with each tag. Usually you can also search or browse through a list of all the tags used by all the users, or search the entire system by keyword. There are websites that will allow you to do this with your favorite websites, digital photographs, and now, with Library Thing, books.

Using Library Thing, you can get library cataloging records (yes, the real thing, MARC standard format) from a long list of libraries around the world or from Then you can add your own information to the record for each book: tags, comments, and reviews.

Tags work kind of like the Library of Congress Subject Headings in library catalogs (or, in the olden days, the “subject” file in the card catalog). The big difference is that library catalogs are put together according to a whole lot of strict rules (really!), while tagging is higgledy-piggeldy, as sloppy as the person making the tags wants it to be. So you might have the tags “vegetables,” “veggies,” “greens,” “roots and tubers,” and “veg.” Do they mean the same thing? The answer is, maybe, maybe not.

My friend Davey brought all this together for me recently when he suggested that big library catalogs might be more useful if they incorporated tags as well as Library of Congress Subject Headings or other standard subject taxonomies. Hmmm. Then people would be able to add tags to the books they had read, maybe post reviews like people do at booksellers’ websites, and thus provide a whole new avenue for people to find what they want at the library. Pretty smart. This is not something that will happen soon in big institutional libraries, but Library Thing allows us to experiment with something similar in the meantime. And, according to Library Thing’s creator Tim Spalding, someday in the near future Library Thing will include Library of Congress Subject Headings, and then you will be able use either to find books by topic.

I’ve used Library Thing to make a small library catalog with the items from the last few numbers of the booklist. If you click on the little person’s head icon on the right hand side you’ll see the “social data” for each of the books I’ve entered. You can see the tags I chose and use them to link to books that other people cataloged with the same tags. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to jump from my list to other lists that include the same books because this booklist hasn’t included many items that were superpopular among other Library Thing users. But you can with a few of the titles.

You can make your own account and catalog your own books, if you like. Library Thing has a very nice “about” page which explains how everything works.

The librarianish among you may want to see what other librarians are saying about social software. I’d recommend you start by checking out Jenny Levine’s The Shifted Librarian.