Inside New Orleans

10:10 PM 0 Comments A+ a-


I did some conference stuff today (finished my scouring of the convention hall – three boxes going home! – and a great conversation with the Syracuse University representative about their Ph.D. program), but I mostly wanted to talk about New Orleans and the experience I’ve had here. Everyone I’ve met has been so friendly, but the disaster of Hurricane Katrina is still very much a real entity. The shuttle bus driver on Friday was telling one of the other librarians that the company he worked for lost 20 older buses that just got demolished in the lot because they didn’t have drivers to get them. All the drivers that were in the city were given a bus, told to load up their families and their belongings, and then directed to hospitals and nursing homes around the city to pick up passengers. Our driver said that it was a grueling drive that his children still have nightmares about – I gather that several of the elderly passengers died on the bus en route to their Georgia destination just because the drive was over 8 hours.

I’ve also been seeing a recurring ad on the local channels of an older woman talking about she, like many other women, was raped at a school during the hurricane and encouraging the women living with this experience to come forward and seek help from one of the many rape crisis centers in the city. Another shuttle bus driver, when asked by one of the passengers what the most startling difference in the city was post-Katrina, responded the lack of stray dogs. He said that when it was too hot out, the dogs would put their paws up on the doors of the buses and often the drivers would let them hop on to cool down and then let them off at the next stop. Canal Street, he claimed, used to have tens if not dozens of stray dogs traveling up and down it prior to the hurricane. Of course many of these animals drowned, but he said most of them were shot by the police and National Guard to help prevent the spread of disease because they were eating the human bodies that had perished during the storm since their normal sources of food were gone.

Pretty much downtown things look normal, but then you happen upon a shell of a building with broken windows and no roof. (The picture is from a building directly across the side street from the Sheraton.) Up on my floor of the hotel, you can glance down at the city and see, even on Canal Street, all the rooftops with no roofs, or piles of debris (little bits of blue tarp can be seen everywhere). Six months later, and the people who owned these buildings have not returned. I could be projecting, but beneath the friendliness and gratitude of the tourism workers (and so many people have said in that Louisiana drawl, “We love librarians, baby!”), people’s eyes look shadowed and you know that they have only begun to deal with the true aftermath and trauma of this storm.

I think what it comes down to, is that so many people think of New Orleans the way the Demco booth depicts it – that jazz playing, mardi gras celebrating town, but I really have such a warm feeling about the complexities of this city. Complexities that I have only begun to touch on. I was scheduled to meet Elizabeth Kahn, librarian for the McMain School, at 5 pm in front of the hotel and I have to say that men in New Orleans seem to really appreciate a well-dressed woman. I had gotten spiffed up in my new Talbots sundress with matching pink shrug and little kitten mules and I got a “You are CUTE, darlin’, really CUTE” and a “Baby, you look seriously fine – love it when a woman looks good” from two very old men (why is it okay when an older man says something like this, and sexual harassment when it comes from a younger one?) and I have to say I really felt bolstered to know I looked nice.

Elizabeth was right on time in her rental car (hers was having work done) and she is SO nice – she is chock full of energy and talks with her hands, which I appreciate, being a chronic hand talker myself. She took me to various areas of the city that were affected by the storm, and I have to say, as prepared as I was by all the city coverage, it really is not the same as seeing it yourself. I commented that I think the people who have managed to gut their houses and clean up the yards must be totally depressed to see nothing but abandoned houses with scrubby landscaping and broken windows on all sides of them. This house was just a few doors down from the in-renovation house of a teacher friend of Elizabeth’s and we both thought that the message spray painted on the side of the building to be just heart wrenching.

She took me to see the main levee that had been broken through and that was being repaired with two huge cranes. There were these two cars in the parking lot with a boat thrown on top of them from the marina near by (there are cars everywhere silted over and abandoned, some of them still sitting in the middle of the road where the water pushed them, that still need to be picked up and disposed of by the city). Where I was standing had been a favorite restaurant of Elizabeth and her husband, but you wouldn’t even have known a building was there except for the two stairs and little railing that led up to…well, nothing.

We went to a “New Orleans” style restaurant picked by Elizabeth, which had delicious food and neat murals and chandeliers everywhere. The owner’s original restaurant was next door with the plywood still up on the windows and had rented this space to another business, but figured it would be easier to open up using this place, which looked really nice and fun. We had the waitress take our picture, and while a little blurry, I think you can tell we were enjoying talking to each other!

Elizabeth was a tireless tour guide and, being a New Orleans native, she has such a wonderful sense of history of the area – it was really neat to hear her point out a school and mention that a relative had graduated from there. We saw her school, the McMain School, (pictured) which is a neat Art Deco building and drove around Tulane University and the Garden District and gaped at all the stunning architecture. I can’t believe how so much of the city is still out of commission. There was no electricity at several of the stoplights, so the people just have informal rules about who gets to go first, the streetcar still wasn’t coming out all the way down St. Charles Street, and they still aren’t getting magazines or catalogs in their mail. I am such a magazine junkie that this seemed totally cruel to me – how can you not get your magazines?!

But she, like everyone here, really seemed to believe in her city and celebrated every restaurant reopening or building renovation like a mini-Christmas. Elizabeth is actually moving to a new school that is beginning (and will be serving an underserved population) and she actually just finished some interesting training in California offered by the foundation begun by Bill Gates, since her new school will give every child a laptop through his foundation’s largesse. I think it sounds really exciting and if anyone can do it, she can will all that energy and drive! I can’t wait to follow her career and I offered to continue to partner with her if her new school needs items as well – I’m sure the LAB has fundraising ideas to implement!

A very long day...but a good one

8:04 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Oh my goodness, I am SO tired. Whenever I'm tired, I wear bright, nice clothes, and my polka dotted skirt with yellow top, definitely qualifies as a pick-me-up. I got up at 5:30 am this morning so I could grab some delicious continental breakfast (hello, chocolate crossaints) before hopping on the bus for the convention center at 7 am. At least, that was the plan. When I emerged at 7:05 am into the sweltering heat (it was around 84 and unbearably humid at that hour), there were several buses in view on the next block queuing up to come to the Sheraton. Excellent, I thought, sipping my creamy hot chocolate from the club lounge (please ignore logic discrepancy of my drinking hot chocolate when it was so hot out. Thank you.). So I waited. And waited. And waited. It was over 10 minutes and the buses were still down there, double parked, no drivers, nothing and a big airport shuttle bus waited in front of the hotel, next to another convention center bus with no driver. Very strange. Another librarian and I finally decided to cross the street to the Marriott where a bus came in a few minutes.

I got the convention center and schlepped over to the Hampton Inn, where, in keeping with so much of this conference, I had to use my psychic ability to figure out where my ballroom was. I got up there (it was chilly, luckily I've been carrying the pashmina shawl my Mom gave me a few years ago for a light layer) and proceeded to sit through the session on Online Tutorials. Suffice it to say, that in a session on online tutorials, I would have liked to see examples of online tutorials, talk about online tutorials, and learn about tools that help make online tutorials, none of which happened in this session, which was full of other information. Regrettably, there was no feedback form.

Over to the adjoining ballroom for the Independent School Section "Tea" which was really a delicious brunch full of lovely indigenous foods to New Orleans and lots of tea stuff like scones and biscuits. (This was a much better event than the ISS Tea at AASL, at which, blog readers might remember, there was so little food that I was forced to eat the grape garnish of the empty cheese platters and groveled for the bartenders to get a tiny glass of water from the cash bar.) I sat next to the librarian from St. Mark's School, the arch-rival of Groton, so we had a nice talk about mutual acquaintances and New England boarding schools.

I toodled back over to the exhibit hall where I picked up where I left off yesterday and managed to get another whole box of Advanced Reader Copies and tote bags and pens. I sat in on the Lexis-Nexis demonstration which regrettably was for one of their business products which was indescribably BORING, but I got a really nice little notebook and pen and was entered in a contest to win a flat-screen television! I had to sit down anyway, so it wasn't a problem. My arms were approaching orangutan length today with carrying all the bags to the far end of the exhibit hall to the UPS store, but I always packed the bags in the box, so I could have stuff in my arms in an aisle in order to exclaim, "Oh, my! I do not appear to have a convenient tote bag to carry my things and advertise someone's company shamelessly!" at which time some gallant vendor would hustle forward with a durable nylon bag with screenprinted logo and proclaim, "Madam! Fear not! I, fabulous vendor of a product all must have possess a lovely tote bag that will solve all your problems while accomplishing my own advertising goals. Please, please take it!" And, being a polite young woman, I would. Or something like that.

I went to the Independent School Section Committee meeting (what a fabulous group with tremendous energy!). My favorite thing was that I got to meet up again with Alison Ernst, the library director at Northfield-Mt. Hermon, who I had meet four years ago when Ethan and I did a best practices visit out there. We kept thinking that Alison looked familiar and it turned out that she went to Hampshire College (with slight overlap with us, hence the familiarity) and she also went to Simmons for her MLIS! Sisters under the skin, I guess. She was at the conference with her 13-year-old daughter, who was SO lucky - she got a ARC of a new Meg Cabot book, brought it back to the hotel room, read it, and then MET Meg Cabot the next day!! Alison said there was a huge line but Meg Cabot kept talking enthusiastically to her daughter, so I came away with the idea that Meg Cabot must also be a super nice person, just like my good friends Sarah Dessen and David Levithan. (Giggle!!)

I also attended my NBPTS Committee (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards) and then finished for the day. Thank heavens. I got on the bus and headed back to the hotel to have a nosh in the Club Lounge, which as usual, sated my hunger. I took some pictures in my hotel room to show the view, and so Ethan has a picture of me to see, since he says that it makes him feel better. I was psyched checking my email that Kelly and Sean Dickinson, as well as Emily and Sam (who is in Russia, no less!) are checking the blog and super excited that I met Sarah Dessen and David Levithan. Finally, some enthusiasm! They'll be happy with all the advanced reader copies I got - I've thought about them as I've picked them up, "Fantasy and science fiction for Sean, historical fiction for Kelly, new David Levithan for Emily". I've been so envious of some librarians who got the coveted Captain Underpants tote bag from Scholastic - they ran out when I got there! Damn, my Saturday morning headache!! Ethan just can't get as excited as my LAB since he hasn't read their books and the other librarians I meet up with are simply not appreciative of my author conquests!! I can't wait to get home - I miss everyone so much.

And DAVID LEVITHAN!!!

7:27 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I could not believe how noisy the people next door were – crazy librarians yukking it up at midnight for over an hour while I tried to get back to sleep! Granted, I’m crazy go-to-bed-early girl here because I’m so tired, but what is the deal? That is so inconsiderate and something I expect from teenage boys and not grown women. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are from California and having some kind of clock-resetting problem. Perhaps with alcohol being a factor (I heard people stumbling and I don’t think jet lag makes you that clumsy.)

I went to the continental breakfast, which was yummy as always and then headed across the street to the Marriott for my Google session. It was very interesting – a nice representative of Google (who said he is one of the many librarians that work for Google) gave an in-depth talk about their Google Book and their Google Scholar products. It was interesting to hear their take on the scope and depth of the projects and how the idea came to their individual creators. Highlight was me winning a Google ball cap for identifying the picture of Jane Austen (Jane helps in so many ways).

I hustled over the convention center around 12:15 to start my exhibit hall trek. I decided to be methodical and start in the 1000 aisle (it goes up to aisle 3700). I visited a great kiosk with print/copy management software (and got some great ideas for preventing the crazy printing and copying waste we deal with), got a more in-depth demo of Sagebrush InfoCentre, saw some great library furniture that has some real possibilities for our renovation, and picked up hordes of ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) from HarperCollins. I even visited the ETS booth and learned all about their new ICT exam which lots of kids will start taking and, hello, it's mostly library skills with lots of related technology skills in between! At some point, I felt really tired and thought my arms would fall off with all the free stuff, so I hiked to the UPS store and filled up one box and rented another to hold all my freebies. And I only finished the 1200 aisle!! I bothered to look at my cell phone for the time and realized it was 3:30!

Realizing I was borderline dehydrated and that Ethan would yell at me (he really lectured me about remembering to drink water with the ridiculous heat here), I dashed to the cafĂ© and got a liter bottle of water and a pastry (I’ve told you everywhere has good pastry here). Then I swatted my head – David Levithan was supposed to be here at 3:00! What if I missed him! It was 3:45 and I had to get all the way across the huge exhibit floor!

So I ran to the booth he was supposed to be in, and there he was in all his curly-haired glory, calmly signing his Nick & Norah book (yes, folks, I have it ordered) and discussing someone’s upcoming marriage. Clutching the stitch in my side, I gasped out, “Oh..thank..god..you’re…still…here. I was worried I missed you!” He smiled graciously as I started telling him how we can’t keep his books on the shelf, how we read them during the Banned Books Week reading marathon, how I think he’s such a lyrical writer. Remembering what an ass I made of myself for Sarah Dessen, I tried to stay lower-key, but I don’t think I really succeeded. His publisher got me two ARCs of his new books (one he authored, Wide Awake, and he edited the other, The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities) and he personally autographed Wide Awake to me! “To Courtney, Thank you for helping keep readers wide awake” and he put a smiley face next to his name! David Levithan drew me a smiley face!

I asked his publisher to take our picture, but she must be a little challenged when it comes to digital cameras because she ended up taking a little movie of us posing. I was able to make a frame into a jpeg, but it’s a little blurry. I think I look slightly less maniacal than yesterday, however.

Being very tired, I figured that I would just grab the bus and go home, but as I passed the ALA Bookstore in the lobby, I remembered that they were giving little tutorials on making the READ posters with the software, and since that is a long overdue project, I stopped in. I am so glad I did – the tutorial was great. Thirty minutes of great information and a great demo from the ALA people, who were super friendly and helpful. I feel very empowered to go home and start cranking out read posters. They have a second CD with even more great backgrounds, so I think I’ll end up getting that (they gave us all a coupon for a conference discount for it) just to have more options.

Home on the bus and up to the club level for snacks. This time they had as the hot appetizer, Beef Wellington in Puff Pastry, so between that, the cheese and crackers, the potato chips, several glasses of lemonade and the huge cookies the size of my head I brought back to my room, I’m all set for the night. I will need at least four days of the South Beach diet to wean myself off all this sugar!! Maybe I’ll go to the gym tonight and use the treadmill – wait a minute…I easily walked five miles today! Bring on the cookies!!