What I Learned from Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff

I’ll be putting up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.

If you don’t have a blog but want to report on something, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Also, please feel free to send in nominations for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

What I Learned This Week

Worcester Cares for Haiti.  And haters.

Brian Nelson had a Nick Manzello tribute.

Gabe is back, and has the best quote of the week: “Sometimes the best things happening in Worcester are happening on the other side of the planet.”

Can you bear one more post about Scott Brown?  It’s really good!

The Sheriff’s Race has begun.

More about affordable housing.

Liveblog of City Council Meeting (plus additional commentary)

There were lots of event announcements this week: WPS Parent/Guardian Roundtable tomorrow, Alternative Craft Fair on February 6, Worcester Historical Museum Clothing Swap on February 13, George Street Bike Challenge on July 25, Worcester Cultural Commission Events Calendar.

Jeff discussed trash, Crowne Plaza and the dual tax rate.  Also, Belmont Street Community School & the Grim Reaper.

Karl on declining poverty and commutes.

Tracy mentioned three ways to contribute to Belmont Street School: write out a check or find out specifically what a teacher needs, eat at Piccadilly Pub on Sunday and mention “Dining for Dollars”, and next week’s fundraiser for the school.  She also blogged about the Finance and Operations Standing Committee (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Yet another Worcester T-shirt for those Worcester lovers.

Narragansett beer ads, Jordan Levy remixed with one of my favorite songs (what’s next, Ray Mariano backed up by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or Konnie Lukes with Aaliyah?), Binienda’s running again, flagrant veganism.

The Week in Tirella

OK — can we discuss the Spella for a few paragraphs?  Her post about the Worcester Cares for Haiti event was pretty standard fare, though it didn’t include any claims that Allen Fletcher can cause natural disasters.

I had hesitated writing a post about her Fran Anthes rant, because I am acquainted with one of F.A.’s children and was having a tough time being impartial.  (See this for what may be her version of a retraction.)  As I said regarding her sending messages to Joe O’Brien through Barbara Haller, it seems that Rose has as tough a time picking up the telephone and dialing a number as she does using spell check. 

Instead of calling someone for comment, the InCity Times prints a non-story based on someone’s complaint.  The resolution to the issue came not through Rose Tirella, but from good people who do the real work of making Worcester a better place.  Rose Tirella does not apologize for not doing any research and does not apologize for talking trash about someone who does more for this community in one day than Tirella has done in her whole life.  She seems to excuse her misrepresentations by saying that she willingly chooses to go to FHC.

Rose, you’ve got more of a platform than the rest of us, and you’re obviously passionate about the city.  People who work to make the lives of the less fortunate a little better are, by and large, not the enemy.  I hope you print a fuller retraction in your print edition.

Interview with Anne Hrobsky, Youth Services Division, WPL

I know Anne Hrobsky from the Pajama Storytimes at Frances Perkins Branch Library, so it was really nice to chat with her about topics beyond Sandra Boynton.

Young Adult
We were hoping to chat more about Young Adult Services and started talking about other things and didn’t get a chance to discuss it more, but she would like people to watch a video called How to Find the Books that the teen group put together.  Please leave them some feedback and suggestions for future video projects!

I’m hoping to talk more with Anne about programs for teens at the library, because there is a lot going on for teenagers at the library and whenever I’m there, the 18 computers in the YA area are always occupied.  If you haven’t been to the library in a while, you might not know how awesome their YA section is and how many kids are using their services.

Outreach to Third Graders (and other students)
One of my biggest concerns has been how children in pubic schools become familiar with the library and how to use its resources, especially since staffing school libraries with librarians doesn’t always happen in tough budget times.

For the last five or six years, the library has received a grant that allows a children’s librarian to visit every third-grade classroom — public, charter, private, parochial — in the city, to introduce the students to library services and encourage them to get a library card if they don’t already have one.  The librarian gives the children applications for library cards that they can bring home; when they go to the library to apply for their card, they also receive a special wallet to keep their library card in.  (The wallet is for third-graders only, so younger siblings will have to wait patiently for their wallet.)

As Anne says, the goal of the librarian’s visit is to get children so excited about going to the library that they do the “hard sell” to get their parents to take them.  I think third grade is a great time to get into the library — you can read, and you’re starting to get homework assignments and projects that require research.

The library also tries to offer occasional tours of the Children’s Room when they can; schools can request a tour.  They are also looking to work with a group of teachers to inform them about  new features and resources in the library; this would be a “train-the-trainer” group that could bring this knowledge back to their fellow teachers.

Summer Reading List
When I was in school, you needed to read 3 books listed on the summer reading list, no substitutions allowed.

While the Worcester Public Schools does still have a summer reading list, those books are suggested (except in the cases of students taking AP English, who have a restricted list of required reading).  Children are still required to read a certain number of books, all of which can be their own choice.  But — even with the list as a suggestion — many children might not believe that they can really read anything they choose.

So — while it’s not the decision of librarians whether the reading list goes away — it is something Anne and I discussed.  The library is the source for many children’s summer reading. Last year, 1,134 children participated in a Library Friends-sponsored contest, where they received one raffle ticket per book read, with the possibility of winning one of 69 prizes.

The possibility of moving away from a fixed reading list is something I know the School Committee will be discussing further.  I’m of the “encourage children to read whatever they like and good taste will accompany voracious reading” school of thought.  As Anne said, it’s really a matter of what the goal of summer reading is: to encourage children to begin or continue the reading habit, or to reduce the summer slide by making sure they read at least three books at their grade level and of a certain quality.

Upcoming Events
Mother Goose on the Loose en Español

This year, the Big Read is focusing on the poems & stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  Inspired by The Gold-Bug, the Children’s Room will be hosting an afternoon of bugs, with insect shows.  (They’re also hosting a reptile show during February vacation week; check with a children’s librarian to see if tickets are required.)

New Preschool Computers
For those of you who’ve seen the new preschool computers, yes, we did talk about them.  I want to do another post on them, hopefully with pictures and video and a short review from my older son.

CWW: Spag’s 19

I always feel uncomfortable admitting I shop at Spag’s 19, for two reasons.  The first reason is that I worry about that “you’re betraying the memory of the real Spag’s” look I’ll get; the second is the general ick factor of shopping at Building 19.  (Though — I have to confess — if you remember the Cheapo Depot in Leicester, shopping at Building 19 is like going to Nordstrom’s.  My Cheap Yankee friend always used to joke that he wouldn’t be surprised if we read about a truck carrying a load of salsa having a spill and then saw jars of salsa with the label “May contain shards of glass” at the Cheapo Depot the following week.)

Well, on the topic of total desecration of Spag’s, here’s Exhibit A:

Yes, that’s Jerry’s cartoon head pasted over the Spag’s trademark cowboy hat.  Also, they couldn’t quite get the red of the “19” to match the red of the “Spag’s.”

I have to say, though, that the grocery section at Spag’s 19 is not half bad.

Look how well organized items are:

I mean, it almost would look like a semi-real supermarket if it weren’t for: Continue reading

Interview with Pingsheng Chen, Worcester Public Library

Last week, I had a very awesome Thursday morning at the library.  One of the people I was most looking forward to talking to was Pingsheng Chen, Electronic Resources and Virtual Reference Supervisor. 

Twitter & Facebook
I first wanted to compliment her on the totally awesome Twitter feed she puts together and asked her how she does it.  I may have some of this wrong, but here’s the basic gist:

  • She has the library Events Calendar automatically update the library’s Twitter account via TwitterFeed.  So, if you follow the library on Twitter, you’ll automatically know what’s happening that day.
  • She also posts special articles of interest and library news items on the library’s Facebook account, which then updates the  Twitter account.

I asked her how she selects articles to link to.  She loves The Book Bench, The Millions, and 52 Stories.  (I found out about the last two from the library’s Twitter account, and now they’re in my feed reader.)  She tries to pick items she thinks have a broad interest or are something you might not have read about elsewhere.

Right now, the library has about 320 followers on Twitter and 256 fans on Facebook.  Please consider following the library on one (or both) platforms.  You’ll not only get updates on what’s going on at the library, but you’ll get a lot of interesting reading about books.  (And, while you’re at it, follow WorcesterDPW&P on Twitter, too.  There’s a lot more than trash collection on that feed!)

Ask a Librarian Service
Pingsheng and I also talked about all the options in the Ask a Librarian service.

You can always call the library (508-799-1655, then press 3) during regular library hours for reference questions, but the library has three other ways to ask questions, especially outside of regular library hours.

Email.  You can ask a reference question via email.  This is a great way to ask those questions that come to you at three in the morning and which don’t require an immediate answer.

Text Messaging.  The WPL participates in a collaborative reference service (of about 70 libraries) that allows you to text your question and get a response from a reference librarian.  The hours are Monday-Friday from 9am-11pm, and Saturdays from 10am-6pm.  Your question will be answered by a reference librarian at one of the member libraries, and Pingsheng said that it’s usually extremely quick.  She also encourages people who use the service to follow the instructions, especially putting “WPL” in your message so that they can track Worcester Public Library patrons who use the service.  If they look at this by obviously Central MA area code, 20 patrons used this two months ago, and 40 used it last month, so the numbers are growing.

Chat with a librarian.  The Worcester Public Library is partnering with the Springfield Public Library to offer live chat with a librarian Monday-Friday from 3:00-5:30pm.  (You can also enter a question & our email address in the chat box at any time and a librarian will return your message.)  This chat box can be downloaded onto your iPhone, Android or Palm device.  (Pingsheng showed me the chat box on the iPhone and it was pretty cool!)

The goal of the different methods (phone, email, chat, and texting) is to reach as many people as possible.  There are some people who live, eat, and breathe text messaging — so, for those people, texting a librarian would be a great fit.  For the selective luddites (like me) who don’t have a cell phone, the live chat or phone might be a better choice.  But the goal is the same: to have access to a reference librarian who is looking at real reference materials and doing real research (and not just relying on my method of choice, Wikipedia…)

Bottom line
Many people have the perception that the library is only in the book-lending business and only employs spinsters who wear their hair in a bun.  Those people have not walked into the Worcester Public Library in the past five years, they haven’t visited the library website, and they really need to meet Pingsheng Chen.  She is incredibly passionate about the ways librarians can help people get reliable information, and the importance of being flexible enough to meet people in the platform(s) they prefer.  I look forward to seeing what she does in the future with the digital side of the library!

Library Book of the Week

I know I haven’t been posting a lot this week, and part of that is because yesterday I visited the Worcester Public Library and talked with a bunch of the librarians there about the latest and greatest library happenings.  Over the next week, I’ll be posting the details of those conversations, but it’s going to take me another day to recover from the awesomeness overload that was my trip to the library.  Everyone there was so incredibly kind and helpful and I have never felt like such a celebrity (“Oh, you’re the blogger!”)  So, I am even more passionate about the library and even more committed to letting people know about all the great things happen there. 

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I also have to apologize for being remiss in my reviews of the library books I read.  I read a lot, but don’t always have the energy to write about what I read, but I’ll try to get more energy in the future…

So — The AnthologistNicholson Baker.  I think I’ve mentioned how much I love Nicholson Baker.  And, trust me, everyone around me knows too.  My husband knows that I would totally leave him for Nicholson Baker, except for the fact that I could not deal with living in Maine. And he’s married and old enough to my father and his kids are probably adults.  (And, really, how could I choose between Charlie Rose and Nicholson Baker?)

I used to be one of those people who said that the two best living American writers were John Updike and Philip Roth.  And then I shortened the list to Philip Roth.  (Let it be here known that I would never leave my husband for Philip Roth.  I think it’s possible to think someone’s a great writer and a pretty sketch-tastic person.)  And then I read Room Temperature and I haven’t ever laughed out loud reading a book like I did that one.  (I was waiting to fight a traffic ticket at the courthouse and was reading R.T. and chuckling to myself so much I thought my fellow ticket-fighters were going to vote me off the bench.)  So, as far as I’m concerned, Nicholson Baker tops Philip Roth and anyone else you could throw the “Best Living American Novelist” title at.

Over the holidays, my uncle asked me if I’d read The Anthologist, because he knows I love Nicholson Baker, because everyone knows I love Nicholson Baker.  “Well, I’m trying to pace myself and read his work in order and not gorge myself on him,” I said.  (In reality, I got stuck halfway through Vox because I am the most asexual prude who ever lived, and I haven’t wanted to go on to the next book because I’m trying to follow my plan of reading everything in order.  But I justify not finishing Vox by reminding myself that sometimes I will leave a book half-read because I love it so much that I don’t want it to end.) 

So — where was I?  Oh, I was refusing to read The Anthologist because I hadn’t finished Vox.  That lasted all of a month, and I was walking by the new fiction books on the way back from the children’s room and there it was, calling to me.  I’ve heard that call before — “Read me!” — and I’ve answered that call before, despite the piles of books by my bed and in the bathroom and checked out of the library.  “Read me!”

Of course I picked it up and read it and loved it.  It’s narrated by a quirky, procrastinating, middle-aged poet named Paul Chowder who’s working (or, rather, doing anything but work) on the introduction to a poetry anthology.  If you like rhyming poetry (= my husband), this book’s for you.  If you like random anecdotes about Elizabeth Bishop and Charles Simic, this book is definitely for you.  If you like Nicholson Baker’s attention to detail and funniness and streams of consciousness, you will love this book. 

My problem, of course, is that the book came to an end and now I am so revved up to read rhyming poetry (well, any poetry) that I’ve taken a Swinburne anthology out of the library and then I’m going to read everything Sara Teasdale ever wrote.  (I’m really only familiar with poetry in Old and Middle English, and I think Spenser’s a total genius, and I like Keats and Tennyson a lot as well, but beyond that I know bupkis about poetry. I’m telling you — this book should be required reading in an AP English class, because it makes you so aware of rhyme and rhythm and — again — it makes you want to take Swinburne out of the library.)

I just returned it to the library, so run right over there and take it out.  (If you take it out, you can also experience the best pleasure of a library book.  Someone who read it before me made a correction to a typo with a pencil.  I love that — it’s like having an in joke with that previous reader.)  Or else give me a reason why I should finish reading Vox.

If you’ve made it this far, The Great Books Discussion Group will be discussing The Fifth Child and its sequel, Ben, in the world, on Wednesday, February 3 at 7pm in the Banx Room of the WPL.  Everyone is more than welcome to attend, and these are both pretty quick reads.

What I Learned From Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff

I’ve put up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  I may go to the Historical Commission and City Council meetings.

If you don’t have a blog but want to report on something, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Also, please feel free to send in nominations for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

What I Learned This Week

Tonight at Union Station — Worcester Cares for Haiti benefit.

The retirees will meet the mayor on Monday.

Lots of commentary on the Scott Brown Senate win.  (And people actually voted!  And people got phone calls from Bill Clinton!  And Pat Boone!)  (And this reminds me of my favorite motto: “Some of my best friends are Republicans”, which doesn’t embarrass me as much as it did ten years ago.)

There were a few responses to the Worcester Magazine article on affordable housing

Victor did a great job summarizing the quotes of the week.  (Also, he was successfully able to combine my two favorite topics — the Senate race and Doctor Who — in one post.) Jeff also highlighted another great quote.

Tracy read the Ed Bill so you don’t have to.  (Update, 11.29am — notes from the School Committee Meeting)

Mike pointed to the Save Our Poolz documentary, which has the single best captions of anything I’ve seen all week (Grace Ross: Worcester District 4 City Council Loser; Kathy Watters: Loves Her Neighborhood).

Jeff updates us on the Planned Parenthood/WRTA situation and points us to a public forum on transportation next week.

Snowmen, monster snowflakes, Montvale, local online news outlets.

And — watch out telegram.commenters — the Telegram is thinking of charging for online content!

Let’s Talk Cranford

I know that these WGBH-related posts bore the vast majority of my extremely small readership to tears, but there are about three of you who care (one of whom is me), so here’s your weekly fix of my public programming complaints.

I liked the original Cranford.  I have to confess I never read Mrs. Gaskell before, and this almost tempted me to pick up a couple of her books.  The original Cranford was the story of a small town in England in the 1840s that’s on the cusp of major changes with the coming of the railroad.  The series highlighted the ups and downs, the warts and wonders, of living in a town dominated by a bunch of aging spinsters and widows who live by a strict (if somewhat weird) code of conduct.

I was looking forward to Return to Cranford, even though they’d killed off Philip Glenister’s character at the tail end of the original series, thus reducing the sexy quotient of the whole town of Cranford by 95%.  (We were able to retain 5% sexiness by a brief appearance by Martin Shaw as Judi Dench’s brother.  And, yes, we can certainly discuss Glenister after this.  But let me have a paragraph or two to complain about Return to Cranford.)

So — if you read this, you would have thought, “Oh, great, I’ve got another three hours of Judi Dench in a charming and elegiac tribute to a time gone by.”  And you would be completely misled.  First of all, Martin Shaw was replaced by some dude with big sideburns, so no one will be getting any action in Cranford.  (Not that they were in the first series, but at least Philip Glenister was exchanging meaningful looks with the milliner/BFF of Francesca Annis.  So there was hope that not everyone in this town would be a spinster for ever.)

Return to Cranford is one big bloodbath.  Not only do they kill off two pretty major characters in the first half hour or so, but they also don’t bring back any of the more interesting characters.  Wacko sister who wanted to marry the doctor but ended up with the butcher?  Indisposed.  That chick who got married to the soldier in India is gone, and Mary Smith, the visitor to the Jenkyns household, is gone.  No more young doctor, that poor kid who gets the 20,000 pounds isn’t really around.  And perhaps the point is that Cranford’s becoming a ghost town, but it could have been done in a little less boring manner.  I do not recommend you return to Cranford unless it’s to watch the original series again.

OK — now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Glenister.  T-Traveler liked this review of the American version of Life on Mars and I could not agree with it more.  Specifically:

[Harvey Keitel] lacks the beefy virility that British actor Philip Glenister brought to the role of Sam’s boss, chief detective Gene Hunt, in the BBC show. Glenister’s Hunt is everything we treasure in a ’70s television cop: He’s crude, sexist, mildly racist in a nonmalicious way, built like a bull, and forever itching to knock heads. Much of Hunt’s dialogue (e.g., “You great, soft, sissy, girly, nancy, French, bender, Man United-supporting poof!“—which, for those who don’t speak 1970s Cro-Magnon Brit, is basically a list of synonyms for homosexual) offers guilty laughs in the Archie Bunker mold, with a wincing Sam functioning as a sort of Meathead from the future.

Yes, yes, and yes!  I loved Glenister in this, and I think he’s even better in Ashes to Ashes.  He doesn’t play Gene Hunt as a one-dimensional bigot, and I think he is just about the most attractive human being on TV today.  (Not handsome, but I think he just has such great charisma and intelligence, and the roughness around the edges doesn’t hurt, either.)  I caught him in Byron, which was on Ovation a week or two ago, and he was playing the manservant of Lord Byron, and he was really great.  And I tried desperately to like Demons, and he is the single worst thing about that show, which says a lot.  I don’t know whose idea it was to have him play an American (improbably named ‘Rupert’) but he’s one of those Brits who only has Chicago gangster in their repertoire of American accents.  So I keep thinking that they’re going to be involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre when they’re trying to slay vampires or whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing on that show.

So someone at Masterpiece needs to give Glenister a part he can really sink his teeth into.  Enough with all the Jane Austen miniseries that aren’t as good as the 20 Jane Austen miniseries that have already been produced.  Put Glenister in the role of the Mayor of Casterbridge or — better yet — give him his own series on Mystery! now that Inspector Lynley is no more.  Or — better still — just put me in charge of programming at Masterpiece so that I can make sure I always have my fill of Inspector Lewis and possibly make better choices of hosts.

CWW: Visting Museums for free (or cheap)

Today’s Cheap Worcester Wednesday is about visiting museums on the cheap.

Museum Passes
I’m always surprised at how many people don’t know they can reserve a pass at the library to get free or extremely cheap admission to museums.  The Worcester Public Library has an online site for reserving passes.  You can reserve a pass up to 30 days ahead of time, but you can only reserve one pass at a time.  (As a warning — if there’s a school vacation week coming up, you’d better get your reservation in early!)  What I like about the site is that you can filter on a specific pass (say, the Worcester Art Museum) or on available passes (so, you’ve got Thursday off and want to see where you can go).

The WPL has passes for the following venues (note that you can get some passes at Frances Perkins branch as well): Annual ParksPassChildren’s Museum Boston, Davis’ Farmland & MegaMaze, Discovery Museums, Ecotarium, Higgins Armory Museum, Museum of Science, New England Aquarium, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, and Worcester Art Museum.

Other Ways to Visit Museums on the Cheap
If you have an Ecotarium membership, you have reciprocal membership to many other museums.  We’ve visited the Berkshire Museum (a very cute natural history museum, with a touch of art, in Pittsfield) and the Peabody Museum of Natural History (a very nice Brontops specimen, and the nicest dinosaur fossils this side of New York City) with our membership card and paid either nothing or less than $5 for a family of four.

The Worcester Art Museum is nearly always free Saturday mornings from 10am-noon, excluding special events like Flora in Winter. 

One of my family’s absolute favorite places to visit is the Amherst College Museum of Natural History in Amherst, which is always free to visitors.  Amherst College is right on Route 9, and there’s usually a decent amount of parking a couple of blocks away from the campus.  They’ve got a great collection of fossils (including some great displays of prehistoric mammals, the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in the world, some nice dinosaur specimens) and the museum has devoted a whole wall to these really great pull-out drawers that showcase the smaller pieces in their collection.  I cannot recommend this museum enough.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge is free for Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning (year-round) from 9:00 am to noon and on Wednesdays from 3:00 to 5:00 pm (September through May).  If you haven’t ever seen the Kronosaurus, you really should.  (I also recommend reading The Frightful Story of Harry Walfish before you visit, because a lot of the interiors of the museum in that book are straight out of HMNH.)

A little off the beaten path…but if you’re in Williamstown, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is beautiful and free from November 1 through May 31.  (Though I don’t recommend taking a one-year-old…and don’t ask me how I know!)

Any other ideas on visiting museums on the cheap?


I was surprised that no one took Dianne Williamson to task for using the adjective “cursed” when describing Haiti.  (See second paragraph down.)  At least Pat Robertson cited a deal with the devil.

When I read the title of today’s column (which perhaps I am a touch sensitive about, since I am a somewhat anonymous blogger), I thought she would instead discuss the comments to Clive MacFarlane’s column about the continuing public records battle between the city and the T&G.  According to some of those anonymous commenters (whose remarks have since been removed), Clive has a vendetta against Officer Rojas, because Rojas arrested Clive for drunken and disorderly conduct by Rojas in the wee hours of some January morning in 2004, and then Clive had the arrest expunged from the court record, though if someone wanted to look at the arrest records, they could get them from the Worcester PD.  (Again, all of this is according to the extremely unreliable anonymous commenters.  I really don’t care what may or may not have happened, and if Clive has indeed been arrested by Rojas, he’s in good company.)

If Dianne were so concerned about the anonymous attacks on someone, why not lobby to change the policies on telegram.com, where people can feel free to spew all sorts of garbage about the nearest convenient person?  Why not take the Telegram to task for promoting the most commented articles on the front page of their website?  As long as traditional media continues to give people an outlet to attack others from behind pseudonyms and with no accountability, I will refuse to take seriously their complaints about anonymous attacks.