Lamenting the Lost Card Catalog

The Card Catalog

The Card Catalog

Earlier today, my brother and sisters and I received an email from our older brother Steve.  He had just read a book review in the Washington Post concerning a new Library of Congress book entitled The Card Catalog:  Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures.

It brought back memories, and I’ll let Steve’s note to the four of us take it from here.

This story took me back to all those days in libraries…Cookeville and Murfreesboro public, at Tennessee Tech & Western Michigan (where I almost lived while doing my thesis– I even had a private cubicle!), and the 2 church libraries. I spent lots of time at the one in Cookeville where Mom was a one-woman staff for a long time. I would help bind books, glue return card pockets, and watch her type cards for the ubiquitous card catalog. I loved all that. Now I read on my pad and search online, rarely going to an actual library except to find a book old enough to not be available digitally. This article reminded me of how much I’ve lost, and how much I miss Mom.

Being just three years younger than Steve, I have many of the same memories (although the colleges are different).  Our mother was a librarian and a lover of books, and she imparted that love to all of us.

Helen portrait

Helen Roberts Brown – Mom – as a young woman. She began her career as a librarian after my parents married and moved to Cookeville, Tennessee

Writing the review in the Post, Michael Lindgren captures it well:

“This book about card catalogues, written and published in cooperation with the Library of Congress, is beautifully produced, intelligently written and lavishly illustrated. It also sent me into a week-long depression. If you are a book lover of a certain age, it might do the same to you.

“The Card Catalog” is many things: a lucid overview of the history of bibliographic practices, a paean to the Library of Congress, a memento of the cherished card catalogues of yore and an illustrated collection of bookish trivia. The text provides a concise history of literary compendiums from the Pinakes of the fabled Library of Alexandria to the advent of computerized book inventory databases, which began to appear as early as 1976. The illustrations are amazing: luscious reproductions of dozens of cards, lists, covers, title pages and other images guaranteed to bring a wistful gleam to the book nerd’s eye.

For someone who grew up in and around libraries, it is also a poignant reminder of a vanished world.”

I haven’t read this book (heck, I don’t even own it yet), but you can bet I’ll buy it soon (and not the digital version…I still like the tactile feel of the book cover and paper in my hand when I read on my train ride to work every day.)  But just the fact that someone would lament the late, great card catalog is reason enough to put this book on the recommended list.

When you see me seriously depressed for a week, you’ll know I’ve finished The Card Catalog.

More to come…

DJB

Let’s Start It Up and See Why It Doesn’t Work

Last week I referenced historian David McCullough’s most recent book The American Spirit, a compilation of speeches over the past three decades. There’s a great deal of wisdom in these talks, including this gem from a speech in 1994 to the graduating class at Union College in Schenectady, New York:

“Once, in the last century, in the Cambria Iron Works at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after working for months to build an unorthodox new machine for steel production, the engineer in charge, John Fritz, said at last, ‘All right boys, let’s start it up and see why it doesn’t work.’ It is with that very American approach to problems (McCullough adds) that I think we will find our course.”

The American Spirit

David McCullough’s “The American Spirit”

I love the sense of experimentation that’s at the core of this story. Recently, a colleague and I were discussing a program where our metrics were not (yet) reaching our goals.  We both saw the challenge as a way to push us to dig deep.  To understand that failure can lead to the unpacking of assumptions, new ways of looking at things, the acquisition of knowledge, and finding new paths to success.

When we look up to find that programs (or our ways of working) are static, we may need to build some unorthodox new machine and then “start it up and see why it doesn’t work.”  In this land where the whole idea of our country is an ongoing experiment, what could be more American?

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

An Aid to Navigation in Troubled, Uncertain Times

The American Spirit

David McCullough’s “The American Spirit”

The July 4th weekend turned out to be the perfect time to read historian David McCullough’s newest book The American Spirit:  Who We Are and What We Stand ForThis compilation of 15 speeches spanning the years 1989 through 2016 brought renewed appreciation for the wisdom of the elder statesman of America’s historians (and honorary trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation).  The fact that it includes McCullough’s October 20, 2001, speech at the National Trust conference in Providence, Rhode Island—the most memorable of several David McCullough speeches I’ve been privileged to hear in person—is an added bonus.

Some would note that optimism is in short supply in today’s world. That was certainly the case just six weeks after 9/11.  Yet in 2001, McCullough used the setting of the First Baptist Church in Providence—one of the nation’s most historic houses of worship—and the scholarship from his recently published biography of John Adams to make the case for “the importance of history as an aid to navigation in such troubled, uncertain times,” as he says in this book’s introduction.  He spoke then to the importance of authentic places in helping to make a “physical, tactile contact with distant human beings. To “feel their mortality.” To “feel a common bond” with all humanity.

We think we live in difficult uncertain times (McCullough said in 2001 in Providence).  We think we have worries.  We think our leaders face difficult decisions.  But so it has nearly always been….It is said that everything has changed.  But everything has not changed….We have resources beyond imagining, and the greatest of these is our brainpower….And we have a further, all-important, inexhaustible source of strength.  And that source of strength is our story, our history, who we are, how we got to be where we are, and all we have been through, what we have achieved.

The First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church, Providence, RI

Speaking in 1994 at Union College, McCullough touched on this same theme when he said,

I think what most of us want—as most people everywhere want more than anything—is to be useful.  This and to feel we belong to something larger than ourselves.  What is needed now…is a common understanding of what that larger something can be.  What we Americans need above all is leadership to define the national ambition….Beware the purists, the doctrinaires.  It has been by the empirical method largely, by way of trial and error, that we have come so far.  America itself is an experiment and we must bear that always in mind.

This is a good time to remember the power of history.  The power of story.  And it is an especially good time to work to ensure that the story of who we are and all that we have been through to reach our achievements as people and as a nation is not lost in the uncertainty of the present.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Spend Some Money on a Closer

I was at Nationals Stadium on Wednesday evening with a co-worker.  Beautiful evening.  Low humidity.  Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the home team.  Nats are playing the world champion Chicago Cubs.

And 10,000 seats are empty.

Nats v. Cubs

Nats vs. Cubs on a beautiful night at the ballpark

What the heck is going on? I certainly asked that question.  But today’s Washington Post had the full story.

The Nats and Lerners—according to writer Barry Svrluga—were price gouging, in hopes of making an easy buck at the expense of long-suffering Washington sports fans.  Plain and simple.

“Nationals officials clearly saw the four-game Cubs series as an opportunity to draw large crowds at high prices. Last year, when Chicago played a Monday-Wednesday series at Nationals Park in mid-June, the crowds were 37,187, 41,955 and 42,000 — and the environment was perhaps the best of the regular season.

This year, the four Cubs games were listed in the preseason pricing structure as “Diamond” games, the highest of four tiers of pricing the Nationals offer. The only other Diamond game on the schedule was Opening Day. Even the annual Fourth of July game, this year against the Mets, is a step down.

That means there were higher prices across the board for the Cubs series. The July 5 game against the Mets, for instance, is in the “Regular” tier of pricing — the lowest. The most expensive seat is $370. A dugout box seat is $90. The cheapest advance-purchase ticket is $12.

But for the Cubs games, the increases were significant. For Thursday’s series finale, the high-end Delta Sky360 Club seat runs $450. The dugout box seats are $140 apiece. And the right-field terrace seat — that cheap ticket that is the price of the movie less than a week from now — is $35.”

What is it about real estate developers that makes them think that all of life is a deal and they can make people pay unreasonable prices just to line the developers pockets?  The Lerners need to put some of their billions into hiring a decent closer.

A modest proposal for the Nats:  until the team wins multiple playoff series and gets to the World Series under this ownership team, the “Diamond” level pricing should go the way of the Edsel.

More to come…

DJB

Ideas. Relationships. Adventure.

Brown University 2015 Graduation

A scene from the Brown University graduation of 2015…you can guess who the guy is in the middle with the sunglasses and big smile.

This is a time of year when many of us have either completed school terms or have celebrated the accomplishments of children or other friends/family members at commencement ceremonies.  Scholar and author Warren Bennis was thinking about this time of transition when he wrote the following in his landmark book On Becoming a Leader:

“If I were restricted to three words in any commencement speech, they would be:  Ideas, Relationships, and Adventure.  Ideas are the basis for change, for re-invention, for, yes, intellectual capital.  Relationships have to do with outstanding people working in harmony and openness, where everyone feels empowered, where all members feel included and at the center of things, where they feel competent and significant.  And Adventure has to do with risk, with a bias towards action, with curiosity and courage.”

The challenge for organizations and their leaders is, as Bennis states it, to “create the social architecture where ideas, relationships, and adventure can flourish.”  That isn’t easy, especially in light of challenges facing us today, but those who “choose to succeed must have the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures.”

It is my belief that building the type of social architecture to ensure that ideas, relationships, and adventure can flourish is a collaborative effort that never ends.  Each of us plays an important role.  How we model behavior from our own perspectives and positions is as important as written statements of organizational or personal values.  When it comes to the organization where I work, I’m glad to be traveling that path with a group of talented and committed colleagues who are eager to continue that work together.  It is the only way we’ll succeed.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…

DJB

New Perspectives

The Next Level

The Next Level by Scott Eblin

In his book The Next Level, Scott Eblin warns against being too myopic, which can lead to silos in organizations or businesses. We all understand our organization or business, but often only from one seat or perspective.   I bring this up because of a conversation I had last week with one of our senior staff leaders in my organization, the National Trust. We were discussing ways in which we could help individuals on our team who become too closely identified with one program, their work in one city or region, or expertise in saving one type of historic resource. It reminded me of my own experience.

Several years ago I was working with an executive coach.  After receiving 360 degree feedback on my work, she asked to see my resume, which listed my various preservation jobs since I entered the field. Once she reviewed the resume, my coach had me undertake what I thought at the time was an unusual task.  I was to rewrite my vita without using the words “historic preservation” or without the name of any of the agencies or organizations where I had worked.  In other words, she wanted me to take a fresh perspective as to who I was and my capabilities at the professional level.  That led me to think about my eight-year stint as executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, for instance, in terms of skills and accomplishments without relying on the jargon of my profession.  No “I led an effort to enact Virginia’s historic preservation tax credit” for this exercise.  Instead I had to talk about coordination of a network of supporters, communication of key concepts to the media, collaboration with partners to reach new audiences outside my professional field, and providing effective testimony before legislative committees.

It was an eye-opening experience. I had become so identified in my own mind with my preservation career, that I simply never put much thought into how the skills required to do my job translated into a broader world of possibilities.  This exercise, along with several others she had me do, forced me to look at my career, skills, and life with a new perspective.

When one becomes myopic, you don’t step back to think about the type of skills you may bring to other work where you could be a valuable team member. Similarly, you don’t think of areas where you may want to seek training to broaden your expertise. Let me encourage you, as you think about your work and what you bring to making a difference in this world, that you think bigger and try a fresh perspective every now and then. I suspect you will be surprised at what you find.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB