Monday, June 19, 2017

The Sounds of Silence: Practicing meditation over the Summer break

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By now you've likely settled into your Summer break pattern. Maybe you've found yourself becoming one with your couch and binge-watching Netflix until the dreaded, "Are you still watching..." message pops up with the sole intention of guilting you into action.

Or maybe you're embracing some activity that fell dormant while you were racing towards the finish line of Spring's final exams and final projects.

Maybe the Central Texas pollen has you hiding under a blanket, only to reach out for a tissue and allergy pill.

Whatever routine you've found yourself in as Summer takes off, you're likely finding more free time for thoughts to run rampant in your head: Thoughts about classes, projects, graduation, THE FUTURE (that one needs all caps, always), next semester, vacations, finances, relationships, GPAs, grad school...

Yup, there they are - not too far from the surface after all.

I'm happy to report that the library has quite the collection of mindfulness and meditation resources. And you know you're going to find links to those resources in this blog post, right? What kind of blog post wouldn't have links?

My own journey into meditation involved my realizing that I can't turn my thoughts off, and therefore am impervious to meditation. The end.

Just kidding - I'm still trying to develop a regular meditation practice. I started a 10-day guided meditation program in December 2016, and I just completed Day 7 today. So, I'm moving right along. By this time next year, I'll be well on my way to a more restful mind.

What first gave me hope that I could learn to meditate was this TED talk by Andy Puddicombe:

Check out our collection of books by Andy Puddicome here (There's one of those links I promised).

Alkek also has a nice collection of guided meditation resources that might help you get started on your journey. We have books, e-books, audio books, streaming media, DVDs, pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.

Sorry, I got off track (more on Forrest Gump here...).

Lastly, if you're more of the Netflix/Hulu/Amazon variety when you're between semesters, try downloading the Kanopy streaming app (look for it in your list of streaming channels), and check out this series on "Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation Course." You can access Kanopy through the library's databases, or by logging into the app with your University login.

For my part, I'm going to work my way through that practicing mindfulness course this summer, and finish up days 8-10 of my guided meditation this week. If all goes well, by the time the Fall semester sneaks up on us, I'll be breathing and meditating my way through all the stresses that inevitably follow.

If you have a meditation or mindfulness practice that works for you, share it in the comments below!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Meet our new Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith

The Library of Congress has named Tracy K. Smith its 2017 Poet Laureate! 

Image Source: Lewis Center for the Arts - Princeton University
My favorite part of Ms. Smith's response to this prestigious title is best read in her own words:
"I think the responsibility really is to just help raise the awareness of poetry and its value in our culture," Smith tells NPR. "To me that means talking to people — getting off the usual path of literary festivals and university reading series and talking to people who might not even yet be readers of poetry. 
"I would love to go to places where people might be struggling, where people might wonder if there are voices out there for them," she says. (Source: NPR, The Two-Way)
Since becoming a Librarian, I have often contemplated how best to reach those who don't know what they are missing. Poetry is in my blood, so her message strikes home for me. The idea of "getting off the the usual path" is relevant outside of poetry also. As the Library Director in a small town near Albany, NY, I found myself faced with the question of how to reach the rural population when it came to youth-related library events. On the one hand, we had Main Street residents bringing their small children to Storytime and other library-sponsored events, so we could rest assured we were reaching our patrons. On the other hand, we had farming families living in the outskirts of town, who likely didn't follow the Library's Facebook page, and didn't have the free time to bring their children to our events. One solution that worked for us was to partner with the local Fire Departments, and bring Storytime to them, closer to their homes, and within walking or biking distance to the older children. Outreach was key, and being willing to load your personal car up with books, magazines, audio materials, and DVDs was a valuable service to the community members who either didn't know what they were missing, or who couldn't make it to the Library's Main Street location.

Now I work in a University Library, and while I did try to get an "Adult Storytime" off the ground last year (I'll spare you the sad details of attendance, where we actually managed to chase some students away when we started reading), Storytime is no longer my problem to ponder. Now I have other questions, such as: How do you reach students who spend more time on their phones, than physically in the library? Full Disclosure: I spend more time on my phone than in any physical location, so I'm the first to be thrown under the bus here. In any case, I welcome the challenge of reaching our University population in their natural habitat, and offering them glimpses into our resources.

And so I cannot wait to become more familiar with our new Poet Laureate's body of work.  And I hope to help make these resources more available to our Library's patrons (students, staff, faculty, and community-at-large).

Please take some time to explore some of Tracy K. Smith's work - available in our catalog, and our poetry databases. Here are some of her works available from Columbia Granger's World of Poetry Database.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Celebrate Pride Month

Happy LGBT Pride Month

Celebrate Pride Month with highlighted films from:

Explore our Catalog

Resources Include:

External Sites:

Still can't find what you're looking for?

Suggest a purchase for the Library collection!

Leaving Soon - What's Leaving "Films on Demand" Database in June?

Leaving our Films on Demand database in June:

Watch them now before they're gone!

How to Be Happy: Finding More Joy Through Happiness Training - BBC
Can happiness be taught? Modern science has done much to improve the human lot but has cast little light on how to achieve happiness. QED, with help from several experts in psychology, has developed a “course in happiness,” which is designed to change deep-seated beliefs and attitudes and make it possible to find more joy in life. This program observes three volunteers from very different backgrounds and walks of life as they take QED’s three-week course of instruction under the careful guidance of a psychologist. Will they feel any happier? The program provides the answer to this question as the three volunteers prepare to get on with their lives. Original BBC broadcast title: How to Be Happy. (49 minutes) A BBC Production

College, Inc. - PBS/Frontline

This edition of Frontline takes a closer look at the booming business of higher education. It’s a $400 billion industry fueled by taxpayer money. But what are students getting out of the deal? Critics say a worthless degree and a mountain of debt. Investors insist they’re innovators, widening access to education. The program follows the money to uncover how Wall Street and a new breed of for-profit universities are transforming the way Americans think about college education. Distributed by PBS Distribution. (60 minutes) Distributed by PBS Distribution.

Offstage, Onstage: Inside the Stratford Festival
Cameras go backstage during an entire season of the Stratford Festival to capture the creative spirit at the heart of a treasured Canadian theater company. For five decades, the festival’s stage has been home to the world's great plays and performers. Award-winning director John N. Smith (The Boys of St. Vincent) gives unprecedented access backstage, offering a fascinating look at the personalities and the production process behind live theater performance. Viewers sneak a peek into William Hutt’s dressing room as he does his vocal warm-ups before Twelfth Night and watch as Martha Henry commands the stage in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This fascinating documentary provides a glimpse at the artists, craftspeople, and technicians who reveal their secrets, from shoemaking, sword fighting, and sound effects to makeup and mechanical monkeys. (86 minutes)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Red Pill: A documentary by any other name...

I watched the documentary The Red Pill on our Kanopy streaming database earlier this week, and my foundation feels cracked now. My attempt to comprehend the film has become such a constant thought, churning in my head all week, tumbling over and over again like a pebble, waiting to be made smooth; yet every time I pick it up again, I cut myself on the edge. I can't come to a conclusion. I need guidance from trusted sources - to tell me which way to lean on this, and which filter to apply - which lens to look through. The metaphors could go on for days... anything to keep me from diving into the real controversy.

For those not aware, The Red Pill is a documentary made by Cassie Jaye, a self-identifying feminist and documentarian, about her journey into the world of Men's Rights Activists (MRA's). I had not heard of MRA's before watching this documentary, so I had no opinions going in. In fact, I mistakenly thought the documentary was about the Reddit forum by the same name. The Guardian describes that Reddit forum: "The online community hosted on Reddit is where men go to air their toxic views about women." Thus, I started the documentary fully expecting to learn more about this reddit group, and equally expecting to be angry with what I learned. I was very upset by the end of the film, but for entirely different reasons.

A little about me: I identify as a feminist. I learned in Women's Studies classes in the mid 90's to say, "I advocate feminism," as a stepping stone to saying, "I am a feminist." Most of us were newly learning about racism, classism, and sexism (in an academic setting anyway - we had witnessed inequalities our whole lives, but didn't have the same words or understanding of them until we began studying them as concepts).

I need to take a moment to define "feminism" for everyone reading this. It's important that we're on the same page - especially for further analysis of this film. "Feminism" to me, is the movement that pushes for equality between all people, men and women alike. My definition would need to be updated (from the 90's) to include people who don't identify as men or women. We could shorten the definition, and clarify it, by stating that, "Feminism states that all people are equal, and should be treated as such."

When I started my education in Women's Studies, there was a back and forth between students and some professors that used to go like this:
Professor: What is feminism?
Student: That women should be equal to men.
Professor: Which men?
Student: Huh?
Professor: Not all men are considered equal...
Welcome to the beginning of my undergraduate education.

A little more about me: I was raised by a feminist mother. And father for that matter, though I don't remember him using the word. I sometimes joke that my mother read me Gloria Steinem as bedtime stories, but it's not that far from the truth. All my bedtime stories were likely read to me through a feminist frame (for which I'm grateful), and my signed copy of Steinem's book of essays was my second-most prized possession in high school (the first being my signed copy of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye).

My bookshelf is full of feminist literature - Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Adrienne Rich, Caitlin Moran, Roxane Gay... I'm going from memory, and I'm surely missing some big ones. Many of my books were given to me by my mother; in the front flap of each book are small (now yellowing) pieces of paper, on which she wrote the date and a brief message describing why this was one of her favorite books. I cherish the books, but I cherish those slips of paper more.

So now you know a little about my foundation. Which is important for this discussion.

The rest of this will include spoilers about the film The Red Pill. If you don't want to know what the documentary reveals, you should stop reading now.

The Red Pill describes a men's movement that feels left behind by the feminist movement. Cassie Jaye interviews men, some of whom once belonged to the feminist movement, but left it when they felt that their own causes weren't given equal treatment. Others did not describe themselves as ever being feminist, but they make clear distinctions between "feminism" and "radical feminism." The latter, according to them, being much worse.

What about all of this belongs on a Librarian's Blog? Perhaps I should have started with that question. After watching the film (on one our library's databases), I got into a discussion with a graduate student from our Social Work program. I knew that this student was focusing her recent research on programs created for boys. She had been looking for resources that discussed boys falling behind in education, and this film covered that topic very briefly towards the end. I suggested the film to her, as a resource for her final project, and we fell into a discussion about the overarching theme of the film. Given that this student and I see the world through different paradigms, it was a very interesting conversation.

I was struck with the idea to show this film to a larger audience (as part of a library film series), and host a discussion afterward. We have the great privilege, as a University Library, of being surrounded by students, staff and faculty who could all contribute to an engaging (and challenging) discussion of these themes. The Library has been hosting a Civil Discourse series, which has been popular with the students. I saw this film, and potential discussion, as being in the same vein.

If you're still reading, now would be a good time to throw in the quick and dirty #elevatorspeech on Information Literacy (I promise it's quick, and mostly painless). We live in the time of "Fake News." Librarians the world round have dusted off of their capes, pulled on their superhero boots, and created libguides and lesson plans to help in the quest for Credible Information, and Reliable Sources.

Given my background as a research and instruction librarian, I set to work looking for sources to better evaluate The Red Pill. If you've never seen a Librarian in crisis, you should have been in my office last Monday. What I discovered is that there is not a consensus on the credibility and value of this film. I compiled a list of sources, including their bias-rating.

The short of it (from left to right):

  • An open letter from David Futrelle published online essentially calls the film, "a feature-length advertisement" both bought and paid for by the "Men's Human Rights Movement."
  • The Village Voice calls the director a "proproganist," and questions whether she left out pertinent information about one of the main subjects in her film. 
  • BBC reports that, “Cassie tells me that she is still passionate about women’s issues, and is sad that making The Red Pill has branded her a traitor of women.” 
  • The Guardian Austrialia, "... apologises for taking the bait," after the film's screening was cancelled at a Melbourne cinema. 
  • The Federalist notes that "dissent is not allowed" from the feminist movement.

My own opinions include shades of all of the above arguments. I am sufficiently torn, which I think speaks to the power of this film. And the film has provided the starting place for many conversations in the past week. I would not go so far as to call it propaganda, but I would also not call it unbiased. I wished, through the entire film, that Cassie Jaye would interview a feminist with whom I could relate. The only self-identifying feminist in the film I could relate to was the director, and her denouncement of that title at the end felt devastating to me.

I do hope to host a screening of this film at our Library. And I also hope to find some faculty members who would be willing to help lead and moderate a discussion afterward.

Stephen R. Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Such a screening would require an abundance of listening to understand.

And Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I hope (with all hope) that we can listen to each other, differences and all, and try to love the questions, and the differences, in the hopes to understand each other better, and come out on the other end, in a better place.

Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The 3C's of Finals: Candy, Coloring & Cartoons!

Who says you can't have fun while studying for #txstfinals?
Stop by the Research & Information Desk on the main floor of the Library to pick up your Finals study-essentials!



Monday, April 24, 2017

#librarianlife #poetrymonthrocks

I attended the poetry reading by Dr. Mark Busby this afternoon in The Wittliff. One of my favorite parts of my job is meeting the faculty and seeing them do what they love. We can get so caught up in the fast-paced academic calendar that we forget why we were first drawn to the University. To have the opportunity to listen to inspirational poetry, eat fresh strawberries, and look at beautiful photographs... All in a day's work!

Check out our catalog for some of Mark Busby's books

We also have e-books available - click and enjoy!