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BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google

John Palfrey. Basic, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-465-04299-9

Reviewed by Annie Coreno

The future of libraries is filled with potential, according to Palfrey, the former director of the Harvard Law School Library and founding chair of the Digital Public Library of America. His new book carves out a strong and exciting vision for libraries in the 21st century, one that maintains the core activities of librarianship (“ensuring access to and preservation of information”), by combining the virtues of the library as a public space situated in a community with the vast networking capabilities afforded by the digital era.

Palfrey, a passionate advocate for libraries, underlines their importance—but make no mistake, his book is not so much an ode to libraries as a stark wake-up call. The question that looms throughout is whether libraries will even continue to exist. To that end, he paints a harsh reality of the crisis currently facing libraries as they “awkwardly” straddle the analog and digital spheres: “on the one hand, the public sentiment that the digital era has made libraries less relevant, and on the other, the growing number of expectations we have for libraries, stemming in no small part from the very digitalization that the public assumes is making them obsolete.”

It’s no revelation that libraries are underfunded and librarians are overworked, but Palfrey believes that in order to solve that dilemma, one must look back to the roots of the library system, when philanthropists endowed them for the public good. “We’ve forgotten how essential [libraries] are,” he writes. “The knowledge that libraries offer and the help that librarians provide are the lifeblood of an informed, engaged republic.”

Palfrey argues convincingly that libraries matter even more in today’s vast information environment than they did in the past. For those unfamiliar with the foundations of librarianship (say, anyone who thinks a librarian’s primary job is putting books on a shelf), Palfrey’s argument helps to move readers beyond the simplistic nostalgia for browsing the library stacks: “The powerful core idea is to focus less on books per se and more on knowledge transfer within a community.” This is far less radical than it sounds—libraries have always facilitated “knowledge transfer” through the books they lend and the collections they build. Palfrey urges readers to shift their understanding of libraries from the physical materials they hold to the activities that those materials promote.

This shift paves the way for Palfrey’s vision of libraries in the future. He illustrates the path forward with examples of the ways community libraries are working with the DPLA to became local hubs in a larger network of knowledge intuitions. His enthusiasm for these projects is contagious. The question that remains is where the money for them will come from, but Palfrey leaves this in the hands of his readers.

Above all else, Palfrey’s book serves as a strong reminder that readers and librarians alike have a stake in the future of libraries. Whether this is enough to motivate readers to pay it forward remains to be seen.

Annie Coreno is a reviews editor at PW. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Toronto.

Reviewed on 04/10/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Know You Think You Know It All: Advice and Observations for You to Stand Apart in Public and Online

Chris Black. PowerHouse, $12.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-57687-735-7

Black reappropriates the "listicle" format to uproarious effect in this book of advice aimed at young urban professionals. Part personal manifesto, Black's manual is tinged with cheekiness as he addresses many aspects of contemporary life. His guidance includes the professional (#12: "Sending work emails late at night makes you seem like a crazy person"), the social (#297: "It's a group text, not a filibuster"), the mundane (#156: "There's no shame in going to the mall"), and the practical (#90: "If you call the cops on your own party, you have to look surprised when they show up"). With 414 pieces of advice in all, the compendium never loses steam as the author provides a mix of insights that are by turns bizarre (#204: "The Oscars is no place for a kilt") and astute (#347: "Outrage is the go-to emotion for amateur critics"). Though generally directed at male Millennials, readers of any ilk will find advice that hits close to home. Most importantly, Black advises, "Never take yourself too seriously." His book—a social etiquette guide disguised as a gag book (or vice versa)—is testament to that. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

Jon Krakauer. Doubleday, $28.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-53873-2

Sexual-assault victims are routinely met with indifference and incomprehension, according to this impassioned study of campus rape. Journalist Krakauer (Into Thin Air) follows a rash of rapes at the University of Montana in Missoula from 2010 to 2012, events that sparked a furor and a Justice Department investigation; Krakauer sticks with two cases in particular through agonizing courtroom dramas, spotlighting the two obstacles to justice. The first is haphazard investigation, made worse by the callousness and suspicion about the motives of women making rape allegations on the part of the university administration, the Missoula Police, and the county attorney's office. (The county's chief sexual-assault attorney quit and joined the defense in a high-profile rape case against the University's star quarterback.) The second is the counterintuitive behavior of traumatized victims, which often undermines their claims. (The quarterback's accuser failed to call for help from her nearby roommate, then sent an innocuous text message with a smiley icon and drove her alleged assailant home after the attack.) Krakauer's evocative reporting, honed to a fine edge of anger, vividly conveys the ordeal of victims and their ongoing psychological dislocations. The result is a hard-hitting true-crime exposé that looks underneath the he-said-she-said to get at the sexist assumptions that help cover up and enable these crimes. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis

Edited by Keith Gessen and Stephen Squibb.. Faber and Faber/n+1, $17 trade paper (496p) ISBN 978-0-86547-831-2

The spirited, eye-opening examinations of various American cities in this intelligent collection of essays, many republished from n+1 magazine, tell a common story of economic vibrancy and ambitious vision followed by "postindustrial malaise," economic depression, ecological devastation, and rising crime. Some chapters peer revealingly into small pockets of a business or a lifestyle; others analyze structures such as highways, skyscrapers, and schools. The most thoughtful and thought-provoking provide personalized histories of various cities' struggles, illuminating their current economics (a study of denim production in Greensboro, N.C.; another of a brothel in Washington, D.C.), colorful pasts, and attempts at renewal: fracking in Williston, N.D., volunteerism in New Orleans, the DestiNY U.S.A. mall in Syracuse, N.Y., and reality TV in Whittier, Alaska. While the collection paints a depressing picture of the modern American city as home to strangling politics, entrenched racism, and desperate poverty, and subject to ongoing gentrification and exploitation by the very wealthy, several essays sow seeds of hope for a more promising future: one of environmental renewal and new civic institutions that can renegotiate livable, thriving communities out of a present crisis and a blighted past. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West

Walter Laqueur. St. Martin%E2%80%99s/Dunne, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-06475-2

Veteran foreign affairs writer Laqueur (After the Fall) provides an incisive look at recent Russian history and Vladimir Putin’s role in it, a topic that could hardly be more timely given recent events in Ukraine. Laqueur makes the depressing observation that the KGB, and even Stalin himself, have been rehabilitated in Russian public opinion, and he doesn’t offer much hope for an imminent change in direction for the country’s policy or political culture. According to him, “Russia has given up attempts to become part of the West,” which most Russians view as being “in retreat.” The most intriguing section is a chapter entitled “The Pillars of the New Russian Idea,” which takes a multidimensional look at the forces shaping the country today. Readers hoping for specific predictions will be disappointed, though Laqueur is grimly convincing in lowering expectations that Russia will become genuinely democratic any time soon. This thorough examination of all aspects of modern Russian society and culture makes an excellent addition to recent literature on Putin-era Russia. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Upstyle Your Furniture: Techniques and Creative Inspiration to Style Your Home

Stephanie Jones. Barron’s, $21.99 ISBN 978-1-4380-0556-0

Furniture artisan Jones, owner of the studio and shop Me & Mrs. Jones , compiles her techniques for furniture transformation into a helpful handbook. She begins with the basics: how to select those pieces that are worth the work of transformation, and then how to decide on the style, color, and process that will make each one look its best. Using examples from her own studio to colorfully illustrate the text, Jones shows the reader the best techniques for preparing, making repairs, finishing, and embellishing each project. The book ends with a comprehensive resource list that includes websites and case studies, along with a good glossary of terms. Jones’s focus on the eco-friendliness of salvaged furniture projects will appeal to DIY restorers with environmental concerns, while her fashionable and unique results will draw those whose interest is more design-oriented. More than 300 full-color photos and illustrations make the book inspiring and instructive. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change

Ken Druse. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $40 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61769-104-1

The 400 pictures, starting with bedewed sensitive ferns gracing the cover and helleborus and brunnera inside, give plenty of reasons to include Druse’s latest work in all gardeners’ libraries. But Druse’s words, offered in the tone of a neighbor happy to advise, make this book worth more than mere coffee-table topping. Having written The Natural Shade Garden two decades ago, Druse (Making More Plants) now extends those ideas to encourage gardeners to deal with the changing climate by attending to the low-stress benefits of life in the shade, including less demand for water and the advantage of lower temperatures. “Shade is looking good to 21st-century gardeners,” he writes. Druse addresses topics such as sustainability after he offers common sense on degrees of shade (light to medium shade, filtered light etc.), plants with a purpose, paths into the woods, water gardens, and gardeners’ ethics. He divulges secrets from experience; for example, his toilet tank helped rehydrate seeds. Even in cutlines, his delight in gardening percolates: for example, he notes attentively that prairie dropseed smells like popcorn. Druse sells shade masterfully. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Gardener’s Guide to Weather and Climate: How to Understand the Weather and Make It Work for You

Michael Allaby. Timber, $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60469-554-0

Science-geek gardeners will love this volume in Timber Press’s Science for Gardeners series. Allaby (Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate) is a fount of climate knowledge, starting with the cleverly stated difference between weather, a daily changing set of conditions, and climate, or long term weather averages: “ ‘Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.’ ” Knowing that will help any gardener to begin to talk knowledgeably about climate change, one important topic in the book. But gardeners will want the dirt on plants and how their growth and flourishing is affected by weather and climate, and Allaby’s book is less helpful on this score. He’s long on hard science, written understandably, in chapters on climate, weather, and soils, but he pays relatively little attention to problem-solving and protecting gardens against harsh weather. It’s science but with little to no horticulture. Color illustrations enhance the value of this book for the reference shelf; it’s probably best read in winter by those seeking the really big picture for their gardens. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Why Kids Make You Fat... And How to Get Your Body Back

Mark Macdonald. HarperOne, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-236390-9

Nutrition and fitness expert Macdonald (Body Confidence) focuses on helping parents in his latest offering. Macdonald, the father of two young children, gained 35 pounds in his first two years of parenthood. He aims to help parents to regain a measure of control, while admitting that life with children is bound to take unexpected turns. His plan calls for a one-week detox (no gluten, soy, cheese, alcohol, etc.) followed by “Ignite” and “Thrive” phases. Both “grab ’n’ go” and “gourmet style” recipes accompany each phase, since finding time to cook is another challenge for parents. “Eating in threes” is the approach’s foundation: parents should eat every three hours with the correct balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. This, the author claims, keeps blood sugar balanced and helps avoid “cracking” (e.g., reaching for pizza, donuts, or other fattening treats). Along with exercise and menu guides, Macdonald covers such topics as shopping with and for kids (never set out for the grocery store while hungry), travel, and “taxi service” tips (parents should pre-pack their MRFK—“Mobile Readiness Food Kit”—with wholesome on-the-go snacks). Macdonald’s amiable voice, combined with impressive before-and-after pictures of clients, will motivate parents hoping to drop pounds and live healthfully. Agent: Michael Broussard, ISB New Media. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wanderlust: A Modern Yogi’s Guide to Discovering Your Best Self

Jeff Krasno, with Sarah Herrington and Nicole Lindstrom. Rodale, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62336-350-5

Wanderlust Festivals cofounder Krasno presents a companion volume to the festivals, a series of large-scale lifestyle retreats that combine yoga and wellness with the arts. To clarify the philosophy behind the events, Krasno defines the word “wanderlust” as meaning more than just the desire to travel, but extending to an intense “yearning to explore and understand the world” and “longing to know and actualize our true and best self.” The well-known teachers, experts, artists, and business leaders who teach and perform at the festivals also provide the book’s contents: among them are musicians Moby, Krishna Das, and MC Yogi; Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa from Golden Bridge Yoga; Hormone Diet author Sara Gottfried; pioneer vinyasa teacher Rolf Gates, trance-dance yogini Shiva Rea; Insight Meditation Society cofounder Sharon Salzberg; and Ohio congressman Tim Ryan. A reader can, in effect, experience the festival’s essence through the book, which includes yoga routines, meditation guidance, blank pages for guided journaling and drawing, and recipes for conscious eating. The richly illustrated volume is a souvenir, a sampler of yoga lifestyle activities, and, perhaps, a vicarious trip for those who have yet to go in search of their own “true north.” Agent: Kitty Cowles, Cowles-Ryan Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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