Monday, January 30, 2012

Stalking Saturn

Saturn's Majesty, in the Infrared

Saturn and those fabulous rings. Rings that make a scientific and aesthetic statement. Rings that capture our imagination and challenge our notion of what is possible. Remember making the model of our Solar System in elementary school? Did you agonize over what to use for Saturn’s rings? Fuzzy pipe cleaners? A slice of Styrofoam? (a definite carving disaster) Should there be glitter?

But while the model was interesting, Saturn and a host of other planets and stars are up there in the sky, visible and accessible. Ever had a wonder-moment of stargazing – when someone points out Polaris, the Big Dipper, and if you’re lucky, Saturn? Except 5 minutes later, the sky returns to dots. Just dots. Nothing looks like a dipper. But everything looks like a dot.

That is my dilemma: a deep interest in astronomy, yet a lack of navigational skills. The stories about the stars and planets, however, kept my interest alive. The mythic Olympian crowd and their in-fighting, the all-knowing Zodiac (“You’re especially intuitive today… and feeling very optimistic”) and the brilliant, awe-inspiring scientific discoveries.  I’ve existed on their stories alone until very recently.

This is what happened:
One evening last week, I saw a group of our neighbors gathered on the street: necks craned, phones pointed at the sky. Ambling aimlessly (zombie-like would be accurate, but I’ll refrain from using the z-word because I like my neighbors).  Turns out, far from being undead, they were using an app that brings information about the celestial bodies to you: interpreting the heavens, literally from where you stand. Want to see Saturn? Jupiter? The trajectory of the Sun and where it will set? (Think of the photo opportunities here…knowing exactly where the sunset will be. No more last-minute dashes around trees or rocks to capture the perfect sunset). The immediacy of information is incredible and powerful.

So I joined my neighbors in the street, tracking Saturn, the moon, and finding Polaris. I don’t know why it is so wonderful knowing which celestial body is which. It just is. To be able, at last, to smile up into the night sky and say good evening to Saturn: it’s wonderful. To stalk Saturn across the heavens: exhilarating. Now the stories and the physical nature of the cosmos can coexist in my reality.

That’s the beauty of learning something new. Everything else adjusts to let the new knowledge in, and once the dust settles, you find your brain ticking just a little bit faster- checking for parallels, bridges to new ideas, inconsistencies and applications.

(a few titles  -available at the Chandramohan Library- to whet your appetite for celestial information:

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. –Mike Brown (call number: 523.492 BRO).
Powers of Ten: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe. –Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison, and  the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. (call number: 523.1 MOR).
Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love. –Dava Dobel. (call number: 520.92 SOB).
A Walk Through the Heavens: A Guide to Stars and Constellations and Their Legends. – Milton D. Heifetz and Wil Tirion (call number: 523.8 HEI).
Moonscapes: A Celebration of Lunar Astronomy, Magic, Legend and Lore. –Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (call number: 523.3 GUI).
Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution. –Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith (call number: 523.1 TYS).)

-Mrs. Eldridge

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What We Make and Who We Are

Taylor Mali is a contemporary poet I’ve only recently discovered.  I received a link from a librarian colleague that impressed me so much, I feel compelled to share it with you…

Yes, this poem is about teachers, but I’d like to take a little leap into the topic of *What Librarians Make*.  Our careers are on the line in many school districts across the country.  Some administrators call the position of librarian antiquated.  One independent school in Massachusetts took the radical step of ridding the library of all its print books, purchased more computers and Kindles, and added a coffee machine to their former library.  Said the headmaster, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.” (Boston Globe, “Welcome to the Library. Say Goodbye to the Books” by David Abel.  4Sep, 2009.) What???  Have we not kept thousands of beautifully illuminated scrolls and manuscripts in our libraries and institutions of higher learning, despite the advent of the printed book?  Not all books in or out of print are available in electronic format.  Not all Google sites are created equal. 

So, back to my original thought…What Librarians Make…we make books, periodicals, scholarly journals, vetted websites, media, and databases available for our library users.  We slog through  less-than-accurate web sources to supply the very best information for students and teachers.  We help students find strategies to develop research skills, how to evaluate websites, how to cite sources, and, of course, how to find great books to read.  There’s more, but I won’t belabor the point. 

The bottom line?  The old model of the librarian and library are long gone, but they’ve morphed into something pretty darned exciting.  The incorporation of databases, eBooks, rss feeds, blogs, wikis, QR codes, and a wide variety of media haven’t replaced the books and periodicals we already have.  Technology works alongside print material and traditional media.  It can enhance the information and literature we find in print and often makes it readily available to many users at once.  I can’t think of a better career.

Mrs. Hodge