By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
I and most people in their thirties and forties grew up in an interesting time when it comes to robots and Machine intelligence. Robots are the automated devices that build our manufactured goods, the programmed tools that weld, test, and gauge everything we use. They may even for a few lucky ones have been something we got to play with as kids in school robotics labs, programming multi jointed limbs and pincer grips to move small objects from one side of the table to the other. For me, they were the first peek into Machine language. This was not, however the only way I saw robots. They were also the shining metal sidekicks, the implacable companions, and often the comic relief of some of my favorite books, movies and television shows. I could go from watching a sci-fi film on Friday to playing with an old Unimate PUMA at the local community college’s Saturday kids program the next morning. I almost didn’t see them as even similar versions of the same thing. Now that I’m an adult however I can look back and see my old Saturday morning friend was the Homo Habilis to today’s Homo Erectus. We are still in the early days of robotic evolution, but the pace is quickening and the robot who wants to be a “real boy” could be just around the corner.
You can’t take a look forward and appreciate the amount of journey ahead without knowing how far you’ve come. True electronic computers go back to the old vacuum tube run models that took up the same space as an entire gymnasium and were programmed with punch cards. Then came central mainframes with dumb terminals, mini systems and finally the personal computer we know and love still. In that time we migrated through magnetic tape and cartridges, through the innumerable floppy discs and hard discs to the thumb and hard drives of today. The robots have changed a bit as well. Aside from the science fiction progression we’ve seen from the Lost in Space robot to…well…um… the Lost in Space robot (1965 and 2018 respectively) there has been a huge swing from the early mechanical arms to the more modern, and yet still 18-year-old, Asimo.
The future of robots is heading down two main tracks, Humaniform and non-traditional robots. The Humaniform robots are learning (more on that in bit) to respond to human emotion. In some cases they are working on mimicking facial expressions with plastic and servos. It is among this variety of robot that scientists are working on human like movement. The non-traditional types are just as surprising. Military vehicle=s and drones are where the largest strides are coming from. Self-guided autonomous devices are delivering supplies and personnel. Dangerous missions are being performed with pinpoint accuracy by computers that are learning to modify their tactics. They might not look like C3P0 but the military machines are where we see science fiction meeting reality. Let’s just hope it’s more Bicentennial Man and less Skynet.
Artificial, or machine, intelligence is a different story. Until today the general maxim for working with computers is that they do not make mistakes. They do only what we have programmed them to do. Any errors are really the fault of the programmer. Going into the future we may see computers that are capable of extrapolating their own options and acting outside of initial human programming. This artificial cognition has a lot of people excited, good excited and bad excited. Advances in computing ability are allowing for computer scientists to attack the problem of A.I. in many different ways. They are approaching the problem from the angles of symbolic learning and human brain simulation among several others. They are also using the latest tools, networks to simulate neural pathways and statistical models to build decision making. One big question in artificial intelligence is the ability of man to create a moral structure for the A.I. brain to exist within. Many do not believe we can safely create a friendly A.I. with the level of knowledge we currently possess. That might explain why fiction has a lot more HAL 9000 clones than Commander Data.
The real future that many of us hope for is one that brings these two things, artificial intelligence and robotics, together to make a robotic being that will help us forward. Like many of the advances we have seen our imaginations are directed by the stories we hear and see and read. Advances in both fields will lead to the point where a breakthrough occurs, and it will be sooner rather than later. The only questions left to ask are will it be a benevolent discovery and are we worried about if we can rather than focusing on if we should.
 The terms humaniform and non-traditional are ones that I have chosen. Humaniform is a term I have lifted directly from the work of Isaac Asimov.
Further Reading (and since it’s Friday the 13th, have 13 books):
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (F ASIMOV)
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (LP F DIC)
- Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (eBook)
- The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (eBook)
- Neuromancer by William Gibson (F GIB)
- Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (F WIL)
- “Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne M. Valente (808.838762 MOR)
- The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez (F MAR)
- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (F BAC)
- Hyperion by Dan Simmons (F SIM)
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (F HEI)
- Otherland by Tad Williams (F WIL)
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (F LECKIE)
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
My boys, ages 9 and 13 love to sit down on a rainy day and watch Help!. The goofy antics of the four Liverpudlian lads have an entertainment value that transcends the decades. It’s not odd that people like the Beatles today, but it is an interesting change in the mindset of Americans. Most people do not listen to, let alone become avid fans of, the music of their grandparents. While I do enjoy big band and swing music, I would consider myself more exception than rule, even with the millennium era revival of Swing. My parents’ generation certainly did not listen to ragtime. So why do my kids, and many other of today’s children still love the Beatles? The answer is simply because they suffer from the epidemic that was called is Beatlemania.
The Fab Four started out as a fab five: John, Paul, George, Pete and Stuart, and were originally known as the Quarrymen, then Johnny and the Moondogs before moving through several variations of the name we all know and love, before settling on just The Beatles. They got their start in Liverpool, but played in Hamburg, Germany for a time before they all had to leave for one reason or another (Harrison was an unaccompanied minor, Best and McCartney were deported over an arson charge, and Lennon left of his own accord.)They played Liverpool and acted as a backing band and even returned to Hamburg before returning to England and starting to record their own music. Stuart Sutcliffe returned to his art, and the other three replaced Best with a drummer named Richard Starkey, Ringo. The rest of the story is known to music and pop culture fans the world over. They took England by storm in 1962 and 63, then America later that year followed by their first visit in 1964. It was the spark of the British Invasion, and the moving of a phenomenon from Europe to American shores. Beatlemania had made its beach head in the United States.
The outpouring of affection and devotion dedicated to the Beatles took the world by surprise. It was never observed before and really has not been repeated since. Many bands have been called the next Beatles, from the Bee Gees to Oasis to One Direction, but no one has ever lived up to the name. No one had or ever has caused wholesale hysteria among fans like the Fab Four, although Elvis had come the closest. The best explanation that anyone can seem to come up with is that the Beatles tapped into a confluence of factors that hasn’t occurred before or since. The large number of potential fans brought about by the baby boom, the safe appearance (despite the scruffy band stories we all hear their androgynous haircuts, suits, and simple movements while playing meant they were far less threatening than the overtly masculine and sexual Elvis), and the unsure world brought about by the height of the Cold War and death of President Kennedy, made teens everywhere ready to latch on to something. They fell to that with a will. Screaming, fainting, panicking and occasional rioting were more than just a trope from the beginning of A Hard Day’s Night, they were the reality of day to day life for the guys.
The lasting effect of the Beatles, in my opinion, is not the pop culture phenomenon. It is what they brought to music and more importantly musicians. Many people make fun of the Monkees as a manufactured Beatles rip off, but what many people don’t realize is that many bands were structured in the same manner. Even the Beatles were told they were going to play certain songs and not others. Rock and Roll was very much like today’s country music where songwriters made the songs that would sell and musicians played what they were told to. The Beatles began playing songs that were commercially viable. This meant basic formulaic songs and covers. As they increased in popularity, they gained more bargaining power so that by the time Help! (the album) came out, they only had one cover and were able to add more experimental songs like “I Need You”, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, and “Yesterday”. The greater their popularity, the more control they had, and it’s evident as you go through Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The experimentalism of The Beatles (more often known as “The White Album”) shows the power they had been able to amass. They were the first major band to tell a big label that they would play what they liked and make it stick. This changed the way rock and roll worked from that day on. That’s not to say that the manufactured band had ended, but it meant that a band with good songwriting chops and a strong following was more important than record executives market analysis, and bands have used this to innovate ever since.
I really think that the best testament to the power of Beatlemania is that the 55 years of fanaticism it caused is only based on seven years of collaborative work. Four Generations have grown up with the Beatles’ music and they are loved by members of all of them. Bands like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and U2 have been playing together for a much longer time and released a great many more albums, but have not reached the iconic stature of the Beatles. They have changed the state of modern music for their era, but still had less impact than the Beatles. Their fans and their impact stem from the inroads made by the Beatles and, while their impact is not cheapened, it is diminished by the fact that the Beatles had already planted their flag in those lofty heights first.
- Dreaming the Beatles: A Love Story of one Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield 782.4216 SHE
- The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn 782.42166 LEW
- Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World by Steven D. Stark 782.42166 STA
- Beatles ’66 The Revolutionary Year by Steve Turner LP 782.42166 TUR
- How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler J 782.421660922 SAN
- The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull J 782.42166092
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
As many of you have already discovered, the Library is making a lot of changes. The computer lab is being remodeled. The carpet in many places is being replaced. Shelves are getting emptied out. There are new study carrels throughout the upstairs. These changes are all geared to give today’s library patron the best twenty-first century library experience.
Now most of these improvements have obvious reasons, but the empty shelves in our history section and the continued downsizing of our biographies might not be so apparent. Libraries around the world are seeing a huge increase in circulation as they increase their eBook holdings. Some have seen increases, year over year, of 100% or more. While our increases may have not been that significant, we have seen large gains in circulation as our eBooks catalog grows. During our Make-It-A-Million campaign we checked out 223,972 digital items. That is more than double the number of 4 years ago at 104,000+. Considering our readers’ obvious interest and the limited funding we receive, we have made the fateful decision to transition to a fully digital collection[i].
“Gasp!” I hear from the multitudes. How can you get rid of the physical books? It was a really, really easy decision. I mean, those books are really, really, REALLY heavy. In fact, they are far heavier than what we have down in fiction. It will be a gradual change (like I said, they’re heavy. No one’s taking a load of them down stairs in a hurry), especially since none of us like to work out. We prefer reading. The collections that receive the heaviest use will be the first to transition, hence the history and biography section shrinkage. Next will be cookbooks, followed by self-help and the political books. Unfortunately, once the books have been removed we’re kind of stuck with digital since we will have donated all of the books to the Franklin Transit (they’re planning to add bookstores on the trolleys). That means that the non-fiction section, which no one really cares for anyway, is the trial section. If this goes poorly, the print books will be saved in the other sections, and we’ll consider removing the digital collections for those sections. But there will be no going back for the non-fiction section. Dun dun dun…
So what are we going to do with all this space? We are constantly being asked for two things: study rooms and a coffee bar. Now that the non-fiction section is being digitized, we will finally have the space to put those rooms all over the upstairs. Plans are in the works for nine new glass enclosed rooms, lockable from the outside (and only the librarians have the keys… good luck!) and a regionally known coffee shop will be setting up shop between the staircase and the windows overlooking the parking lot (the espresso machine is also available for checkout). There are also plans to replace the periodicals section with a newsstand run by Barnes and Noble. Apparently, they’re a little strict about paying before reading (those glass rooms can also be used as library jails). Um, anyway…
As of right now, it is only the non-fiction and reference sections that are being migrated to digital platforms. The Children’s Section, Young Adult’s, and Fiction will remain as is until at least the end of the fiscal year in June, and then we’ll see how tired our arms are. In fact, we will probably not change the young adult section over at all. Statistics for the last year show a significant drop in teen eBook sales and polls of those between 12 and 18 have shown a marked preference for print books. Go figure!
The library is aware that this may prove unpopular with many of our patrons, but we cannot allow progress to be stymied (eventually the goal is for the library to be manned by volunteer robots). Have no fear though; if you still want the old book feel and smell, you can still get your fix. Because we won’t have that massive amount of paper and other flammable material all over the place, candles with the new “Old book smell” scent will be placed throughout the upstairs. And the desk that was formerly known as the reference desk will now be the Library Guru desk where we will still be able to get your print media for you through interlibrary loans, although you will have to bring an offering of chocolate to speak with us. Luckily, as you are not tied to the total instant gratification that the digital generation can’t live without, the one to three weeks it takes to get the book brought in will not be an issue for you.
So I hope this has allayed any fears you may have about our changes. If you want to let us know what you think please email us at Ha.Ha.WeGotU@HappyAprilFoolsDay.bazinga.
- The Williamson County Public Library Annual Report 2014
- The Williamson County Public Library Annual Report 2016
- The Williamson County Public Library Annual Report 2017
[i] In fact, this whole blog is a rather elaborate April Fool’s Day Prank. I just believe that no one actually bothers with footnotes until the end. The reason for the empty shelves in the 900s and the shrinking biography shelves is that we are making space for brand new, actual ink and paper books to keep our collection as current as possible.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Easter is a holiday that everyone knows is Christian, right? Or is it another pagan festival corrupted to fit the recruitment needs of the early church? Just like a paraphrase of the old Reese’s commercial, you got your pagan in my Christianity or vice versa.
Easter as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of man is undeniably Christian. It’s not misplaced in the year like Christmas, to help offset the yule festivities, or made up to cover an existing harvest festival like Halloween, All-Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It does have the distinction of being part of the collection of last great moveable feasts along with its associated days of Lent (and for that matter, Mardi Gras). However, it is most certainly a Christian celebration of a Christian concept. There’s no pagan influence in how we celebrate Easter, right? The answer is not so cut and dry as we would like to think. There are three elements of the traditional American Easter celebrations that strike many people as odd. The profusion of rabbits, ducks and chickens is the big one. The inclusion of decorated eggs is another. Finally we have the name. The amazing inundation of pastel colors might be a fourth reason for some of us, but I’m afraid that is an unsolvable mystery.
There are a number of theories you will see on the internet or hear from people about the claim that the word Easter is a corruption of the name of the goddess Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess of love fertility and war. You’ll hear how there were eggs full of blood smashed on her alter, rabbits regarded as her sacred animals, and how the whole thing was a sacred ceremony celebrating her aspect of the goddess of spring fertility. Almost all of this is bunk. The animal that was most often associated with her is the lion and the only real time we find that big cat in Easter mythology is as a bit of a joke in a certain English candy companies commercials. While she did have a ceremony in the spring, it had little to nothing to do with eggs and mostly involved the equinox and a concept of sacred marriage which may have been anything from a ritual conjoining of the king and the high priestess to a city-state wide activity that resulted in a lot of births nine months later.
There may actually be a goddess who gave her name to Easter. Eostre is an Anglo Saxon goddess of fertility who has cognates with remarkably similar names throughout the Germanic pagan world. Most languages use their version of the word Pesach (פֶּסַח) which means Passover. Not surprisingly, the languages that use something similar to Easter are all in the Germanic family. In fact she may have been a version of the Norse goddess Freya.
The Easter Bunny may come by way of Eostre as well. What little we know of her and her various incarnations from around Europe tells us that the fecund little rabbit was one of her symbols. The version we have today probably stems from the Osterhase, an egg laying rabbit native to German vernal traditions dating back to the 1500s. According to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung,
“A legend holds that a poor woman living in Germany decorated colorful eggs for her children to find in the garden. As soon as the hidden eggs were found by the children, a large hare was seen hopping away. The children thought the hare (Hase) left the eggs.”
There is no doubt that the legendary reproductive powers of the rabbits and hares have been linked to the fertility of spring, but I’m fairly certain the eggs came from somewhere else.
The egg association may have something stemming back to a pagan root. They can’t help but give one ideas about birth and renewal. However the practice of the Easter egg as we know it relates to the fact that for many years, eggs were on the list of foods forbidden to Lenten penitents. People would celebrate the return of eggs to their diet by giving them to each other as gifts. Decorating them began to become popular as well growing in to the modern dyed egg as well as the ornate Ukrainian eggs and even the priceless Faberge eggs.
It really doesn’t matter where the symbols come from. Many people will argue back and forth for centuries to come over the origins of every little word in every liturgy in every faith the world over if you let them. The important thing is to enjoy these festivities in the manner that pleases you best!
- The Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival & Lent by Tanya Gulevich R 349.2667 Gul
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
You walk through a misty glade. Pagoda are off to the right and torii gate are placed indiscriminately on your left. You approach a small pond, a figure sitting in a simple robe on a rock several feet off shore. He turns and as he does you see it is the rock turning, not the sensei. You also see the Mac book and the familiar coffee cup with a mermaid logo. He looks at you and with characteristic poor dubbing and origin-less wind sounds he waves two fingers at you and says, “How good is your google fu?”
Google (or any search engine) search skills are not something to be taken lightly. Most of us will never need to know how to code or even get into the more arcane formulary ends of Microsoft Excel. Searching for the information we want, or in many cases need, is a vastly more important skill. We’ve been through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Industrial Age. This is considered the Information Age, and strength in this age of man is determined by your ability to access information and keep information secure. We’ve already discussed stealth and security in your ninja training, your defensive skills, now we will work on your fighting skills, your ability to strike fast and accurately when looking for what you need to know.
The white belt is phrasing. First, you don’t need to type a Google search as if it were a question . You are adding words to a search that will give you more responses but may not contribute useful information. Always keep your search terms as short as you can while including all the information you need to find. If you want to know “How do I prevent a heart attack?” Just search the words heart attack prevention.
To earn your yellow belt you need to know your Boolean operators. Boolean operators sound technical but this is really basic, I promise. Looking for Information on J.R.R. Tolkien is going to give you a lot of information. You only need information on his military service. You type in Tolkien and military your search terms limit the returned to just the sites that contain both of the terms Tolkien and military. Even better, you can use and not. We’ll use Professor Tolkien again. You decided that the paper on Tolkien’s military service was too narrow, so you decide to broaden the topic to include all of his life except The Hobbit. You can search Tolkien and not Hobbit. This way you get only sites that don’t include the diminutive people of Middle Earth. You can use the minus sign for a similar effect. Finally, you can use or. You want to go see where Tolkien grew up so you search for information on his birthplace and youth by searching for England or South Africa. Now you have mastered the basic Boolean search.
What happens when you can’t just limit your search to a small number of simple words? Here is where you will learn the information needed to earn your orange and red belts. You can get concise results for multiple terms by putting your search terms in quotation marks. Searching for information on the Jane Austen’s niece would give you information on Ms. Austen and her niece and nieces in general. Searching for “Jane Austen’s Niece” will only give you search results where those words occur together in that exact order. Now here is the best part. You can combine this with your earlier Boolean skills and search for instances where said niece commented on her aunt’s work by searching “Jane Austen’s Niece” and “literary commentary”. In this case you’ve taken a long string that could give you way too many options and limited it to a Boolean string, two specific phrases limited by the word “and”. For the record but, not, and or work just fine here too. There is also a way to search for a term you don’t know. Instead of adding something like and, this time you put in the term you know and add an asterik (*) as a wild card. This will bring up more options for you to browse.
The blue and brown belt level is one of finesse. It is finding the right results among your newly limited searches. If you have a search that brings up what looks like good results you must be wary. Look for the mark that says Ad, Paid, or Sponsored. These are clues to let you know that the sights you see, usually at the top of your results, are from services that have paid to be where they are. While not always, quite often the information or service they are providing will come with a cost. The other thing to be on the lookout for is the Missing: word. This means that the result you are getting does not include one of the search terms you entered.
To attain your black belt in Google fu you must move beyond the realm of the search. You must extend your knowledge of Google to your widest limits. You can use google to translate foreign phrases or even entire websites. You can get currency exchange rates and split restaurant checks as well as calculate a tip. You can even view art from all over the world. These are just a minor selections of all the things you can do without leaving a Google site. Use your new found Google fu search skills to find all the great tricks Google can do.
You are now wise in the ways of Google but there are other ways available to you. Many of these other paths, such as Bing jitsu or Yahoo dö (we promise, we’re not advertising for Google, it’s just the search engine that most people use). The foundations of these arts lay in the same place as that of Google fu. Your Boolean strings and quotation mark limitations will be recognized with them as well and they may have their own special techniques too.
- The Associated Press guide to Internet research and reporting by Frank Bass 070.40285 BAS
- How to find information online by Amanda StJohn J 025.0425 STJ
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Being a ninja is synonymous with stealth. This lesson is all about online stealth.
In the last year or two, internet privacy has been in the news. Sites from credit report companies to the emails of our presidential candidates have been hit with online attacks. Our local governments and schools are regularly accosted for personal information. What can we do to protect ourselves? The average person is not going to receive the same volume of scrutiny from hackers as, for example, a candidate for senate, but you still want to make sure that you are protecting yourself as much as you can. Browsing the internet in the most private manner possible is a good start. Now I’m not talking about taking your laptop into the broom closet, I’m specifically referring to the way you surf the net.
Virus protection and firewalls
This may seem like a basic bit of information, but you’d be amazed at how many people need to hear it. ALWAYS use your virus check software. NEVER turn off your firewall. Antivirus software keeps incoming cyber-attacks from disrupting your computers functioning. Without it you could be giving people access to anything from your browser history to your credit card information and even every key stroke you make. It is the active defense system for your computer. The firewall is the passive defense. Just as a real firewall keeps blazes from reaching parts of a building and burning through property, a computer firewall keeps people on the outside from getting into your info and burning through your bank account.
Your Browser’s Privacy Feature
Almost every browser out there, for mobile or desktop devices, has a privacy feature. It may be called something else, but if you look you should be able to find it fairly easily. While this is not the same as going online incognito, it does offer a certain amount of protection. Here are the basics for the most common browsers:
- Internet Explorer: Here you’re looking for the In Private Browsing feature. It’s under the tools menu in the drop downs on the menu bar, or you can access it by hitting Control + Shift + p. InPrivate Browsing keeps your computer from storing information like cookies, temporary Internet files, and history.
- Firefox: In Firefox You can access the private browsing mode by clicking the hamburger button and then choosing the private icon that resembles a carnival mask. You can also use the same hot key combination as internet explorer. The Major difference with the Firefox protection is that it keeps sites from trying to track where you’ve been.
- Chrome: From the more menu click new incognito window. Chrome refers to their privacy mode as incognito mode. It opens in a separate window so there is no mistake about whether it is on or not. Incognito mode does not save your browser history of cookies, but what you did can still be tracked by your network provider, be that your ISP, work or school.
- Safari: When you open a new private browsing window from the file menu in the pull down bar of Safari, you are getting a fairly similar private browsing experience to the Chrome user. This hides your history from the people who use your computer but not from the provider of your internet service.
TOR Browsers and VPNs
For true internet privacy you need to be using a Virtual Private network (VPN), the TOR browser, or both. VPNs are a special private network used while on a public network. It allows communication from one source to another in a secure private manner. While private browsing features keep your computer from picking up information about what you do online, the TOR browser keeps everyone else from seeing it. This gives you the freedom to be online without leaving your IP footprints everywhere you go. Even using these in tandem, however, is not foolproof. Always make sure that you give out as little personal information as possible when going online.
The Throw Away Email
One final tool is the throw away email. This is an email you can set up with a company like gmail that allows you to create an email that does not have any of your actual personal information attached to it. With an email like this you can still sign up for those contests and newsletters that may pique your interests but might be a tool for spammers to get your information. The important part is making sure that when you set up the email you are using a service that does not ask for name, address or phone number. There are even services that will set you up with a temporary email, such as guerrilla mail.
The internet can make your everyday life great deal easier, but it can also make it easier for spammers and scammers to make your life miserable as well. Protect yourself according to your needs and never give them more information that you want them to have. Remember, the first weapon of the internet ninja is stealth.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Last year they asked me to make up a list for the New Year Reading Challenge. Apparently I did a good enough job that they’ve asked me to do it again. Last year I talked about all the benefits of reading. How it can help with empathy, stress, high blood pressure, and even reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These are all great and laudable reasons to read, but the main thing that I’d like to work on this year is fostering a love to read. According to a Gallup poll, between 1978 and 2014 the percentage of people in the United States that hadn’t picked up a book in a year or more close to tripled from 8% to 23% [i](and they even counted the audiobook listeners as readers). That it has tripled is bad enough, that it is nearing a full quarter of the population is startling.
The average number of books read per capita was 12 in 2015, but the voracious readers inflated that number a bit and the most common given response to a survey of readers when asked for the number of books they’d read in the last year was four[ii]. Four?… Four! How in the world am I supposed to make a book challenge list to attract the average person when they only read a book a season?
I realized that this blog is usually read by readers. We word hungry book people that push the average up to twelve books a year. This year I thought I’d make it both a little easier and a little harder. There are two less books this year, but the suggestions are more specific. If you can read two books a month, regardless of the themes below, great! But if you like to push yourself, try to keep up with the challenge and if you need help finding a book ask your local librarians for help. We’ve always got suggestions.
- It’s a new year, read something new. Pick a book that was published in the last 2 months.
- Renew your spirit for the New Year, read something that inspires you.
- It’s African American History Month. Read a book by an African American author.
- Read a book with a romantic theme or subplot, It doesn’t have to be a romance novel, just a little love will do.
- Award Season is wrapping up. Read a book that has won an award. 
- For Women’s History Month, read a book by a female author or with a female main character.
- Read a collection of poetry for national poetry month.
- Spring has arrived, read an article in a periodical about nature
- Free Comic Book Day is May 6th. Read a graphic novel, comic book or manga.
- Teacher Appreciation week is in May. Read a book that is required reading for school. 
- Get a book recommendation from a dad.
- Read a book about the outdoors, whether it’s a story, travel guide or field guide.
- July 4th celebrates independence, be free to read a book of your choice.
- Find a beach read, something fun and enjoyable, regardless of whether you are going to the beach.
- It’s hot in the south in august. Read something form a southern writer.
- Go back to school by reading a book you loved or were supposed to read in high school or college.
- Harvest time brings to mind great food, find a book about food or cooking that you might enjoy.
- Read a book that has been banned in September to celebrate Banned Books Week 9/29-10/6/18
- Read a book about something that scares you. It doesn’t have to be H.P. Lovecraft, just that you challenge your fears.
- Halloween means treats and sweets. Try a little brain candy. Read a book just for its entertainment value.
- Election season is close at hand. Read about the issues and the candidates.
- Find a book about someone, somewhere or something less fortunate to help you be thankful for what you have.
- Find a book that takes place in winter to match the weather outside.
- Add Jolabokaflod to your holiday calendar. Give books as gifts on December 24th and spend some time reading one.[iii]
-  Some links to great award sites are available here: http://www.bookspot.com/awards/
-  Here is a list of common Required reading books: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/high-school-required-reading
- [i] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/
- [ii] https://www.irisreading.com/how-many-books-does-the-average-person-read/
- [iii] Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of giving books as presents on Christmas Eve and reading as a family for the rest of the night.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Jólabókaflóð, or if you prefer your text free of diacritical marks and disused letters, Jolabokaflod, is a tradition that could only come out of Iceland. Literally it translates to Yule Book Flood. Icelanders read an average of eight books a year, while Americans end up at about four. They also publish about one title for every two hundred people and there is an average of 775 titles released every Christmas season. This onslaught of reading material is the flood but it’s only part of the tradition.
The actual beginning of this Christmas ritual doesn’t go back very far, though the Icelandic love of books goes back over a thousand years. Icelanders have always been lovers of stories and tales, especially on the long winter’s long nights. The Skalds, wandering or court poem singers, were held in some renown and acted as the author/rock stars of their day. It was not uncommon for a Skald to be taken with the plunder of war. They filled the great halls of Viking leaders with songs and tales as, sometimes, nightly entertainment from Russia to Greenland. The famous Eddas (two Medieval Icelandic literary works) also carried poetic myths down through the ages and were memorized and recited by scholar after scholar until recorded by a man named Snorri Sturluson to both preserve and enhance their accessibility. Finally the sagas journeyed from land to land taking tales of Thor and Loki (not just Marvel characters) and Beowulf and even Leif Erikson to the people of Scandinavia.
The modern half of the tradition owes its genesis to the independence of Iceland from Denmark in 1944. Because of the Second World War, many things were rationed. This made giving presents at Christmas hard, unless of course, you took advantage of the long standing love of tales and gave books for Christmas. You see, one thing that was not rationed was paper. The Icelandic people and their publishing houses loved the idea. Beginning in the Forties and running down through today, people have been waiting impatiently for their copy of the Bókatíðindi, the magazine/catalog that comes every fall. This magazine is put together by all the publishing houses in cooperation to showcase all the new titles for that year. This is the Sears and Roebuck Christmas book of Iceland. The difference is that the publishers print, package and ship these catalogs to every household in the Nation…for free. The revenue generated more than outweighs the expense. All of the media, print broadcast and online, have book reviews and publication announcements. It is the event of the year.
So what exactly makes this a Christmas tradition? Everybody gives books at Christmas. Everyone. All of Iceland has their Christmas Eve meal, exchanges gifts and then sits around as a family and reads their new books for the remainder of the day while eating konfect, filled chocolates, and sipping hot chocolate or jólabland, a sweet nonalcoholic malt beverage that is a Christmas favorite. The parties that occur after Christmas will have a lot of book discussions. Newspapers will be covering the best and worst of the books, from writing and plots to covers and titles.
We could all benefit from this, but I certainly don’t endorse replacing all your holiday gifts with books. The great thing about borrowed traditions is that you can adapt them to fit your life. I first ran across this tradition on Christmas Eve two years ago. This was a little short notice for 2015 so I decided that I would try it with my family in 2016. Last year we all drew lots in November and picked a book for the person we drew and everybody go to open their book on Christmas Eve. We then spent the remainder of the evening quietly reading. It was a great way to quiet down kiddos, hyped up on Christmas cookies and the pending visit from Santa. It also solved the “Can’t we have just one present tonight?” problem that parents have faced for years. It’s also a great way to foster a love of reading in your whole family.
We are a nation made of other nations and their traditions. We have German Christmas trees, English carols and eggnog, Spanish luminarias and Irish mistletoe. We are not afraid to adapt great traditions from our ancestors, or even our neighbor’s ancestors. Jólabókaflóð is making its way into American holiday plans. You can find everything from recipes to try and hints at adapting the book flood to fit your holidays to Icelandic chocolates and Jólabókaflóð pyjamas. So maybe this year while you’re out doing the dreaded holiday shopping, pick up some books for your family and friends and borrow a tradition from our Icelandic friends and have a nice reading time on Christmas Eve.
- Songs of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown
 Nancy Marie Brown and many other scholars believe that much of the inspiration for modern favorites The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and their literary descendants come from the tales of the Vikings.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Everyone loves a good mystery. We love to hear the details and questions left. We love to put our brains to the facts and puzzle out what may have been missed. A small part of us hopes (however unlikely it may be) that we may actually be able to find that crucial overlooked bit, or make that perfect leap that could bring the mystery to an end. It’s one of the reasons the mystery genre has been so popular since Poe created it, through books, radio, film and television. Sometimes though, the mysteries are real, the people have disappeared. I’m not talking about the search for mysterious creatures like big foot or the investigations of odd phenomenon like the Bermuda triangle. I’m talking about the actual mysteries from the real world that puzzle investigators and theorists every day.
The Lost Persian Army
Some mysteries go back in time, way back in time. For instance, in 524 BCE the emperor of Persia sent an army into Egypt. The emperor, Cambyses II, was attempting to solidify his claim to the throne of Egypt. This meant destroying an oracle and priests of Amun that declined his invitation to legitimize his right to pharaonic glory. To do this he sent 50,000 troops from Thebes in the east of Egypt into the desert. These were Persian soldiers and Egyptian conscripts, men used to the harsh deserts. However not a one of them ever made it to the oasis where the temple was. They had simply vanished into the desert. Theories have abounded to explain their fate for millennia. Herodotus believed they were lost in a sandstorm and the entire army is buried beneath the dunes of Egypt. Most recently an Egyptologist and Professor, Olaf Kaper, has said he believes they were slaughtered by the rival claimant and Cambyses just claimed they were lost to avoid the embarrassment according to some hieroglyphics he has just discovered.
Let’s jump forward about 2000 years. While we are all at least somewhat familiar with the lost colony of Roanoke, most of us never understand the immensity of it. Sure there were other colonies that failed. The initial attempts at Jamestown collapsed. The Popham colony in Maine thirteen years before the pilgrims also ceased to be. There was even a late 1600s colony near the site of Roanoke on Colleton Island that ceased to exist. These examples have one thing that Roanoke does not. We know what happened to the people. Poor planning, internecine strife and fiscal mismanagement brought those colonies to an end, and we have the records, survivors and graves to prove it. Roanoke has none of this. Here an entire colony just simply vanished from the face of the Earth in the time it took the governor to sail to England and back. Governor White had gone back to England for supplies for the struggling colony and left 115 people, including his granddaughter, and first English child born in the new world, Virginia Dare. When he returned three years later the colony was deserted. A fence post had the word Croatoan carved into it and a tree had the letters cro. All the buildings had been taken down showing it was not a hasty departure and no new graves were located. The agreed on sign that they were forced to withdraw, a Maltese cross, was not found anywhere. The people had just gone and, despite much trying and many theories, no one has figured out their fate in the intervening five hundred years.
Closer to today we have the case of the MV Joyita. This was a yacht built for a 1930s film director that was found adrift in the south pacific in 1955. But this was no luxury toy, discarded when the next shiny bauble appeared. This boat had gone from luxury yacht to U.S. Navy patrol ship to a charter boat for hauling or fishing. She was sturdy, despite some radio range issues and leaky pipes. She was found listing, but afloat, five weeks after and 600 miles off course from her last planned trip. She was found with the dingy, life rafts, emergency supplies, firearms and crew of twenty-five missing. Not a person was aboard, which was odd considering the fact that she’d been afloat all that time. Here too you find a lot of theories, from injured captains to attacks by Japanese military personnel that refused to believe the war was over, but no answers.
Apollo Mission Goodwill Displays
Here we find the theft of an object. Not too irregular, right? Things get stolen all the time. How about when twenty-seven versions of the same thing go missing? Now we have your attention. After the Apollo program managed to reach the surface of the moon, NASA put together plaques and displays of moon dust and a flag that was carried on an Apollo mission. They were made for all the United States Territories and States and multiple other countries as well as the United Nations as good will gifts by the Nixon administration. Since that time the displays from Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Honduras, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia have all vanished mysteriously. Several attempts have been made to locate the displays but none have surfaced, not even on the illicit markets catering to less than scrupulous collectors. This is made more suspicious by at least five more thefts of moon materials.
While we like a mystery that ends with a solid resolution, there is something to the unexplained mystery that draws us to seek new answers and solutions. Maybe someone should write and unsolved mystery novel next?