Thank You, Callan

At Olin, we expect the library to be almost everything: a social gathering space, a repository for traditional knowledge, a universal directory for non-traditional knowledge, a collection of institutional memory and history, a co-working space for all, a classroom, a collection of tools, an audio/video production studio, offices for a few faculty members, a configurable event space, a host for SLAC, an open provider of all these services to the public, and more. Over the past few months, we’re struck by the fact that the library has handled all those tasks and more.

In her time in the library, Callan has reorganized and improved the layout. The structure and navigation of the library is now clear, thanks to the map at the front and consistent signage. The camera/audio equipment upstairs has been completely rearranged to somehow fit more digital tools in a smaller space—and now, the labels are clear. The checkout booth has gained a collection of clearly labeled cables for open use. The library now includes a range of book displays from diverse viewpoints and backgrounds.

The workspace downstairs is more open and accessible and has a functional checkout booth. The tools have been reorganized with a new, clearer arrangement and a system for keeping track of them. Tools that have been broken for the past year have now been replaced or repaired. The workroom has a clear sticky-note system for designating how long objects can remain there. And now, there’s actually room to store projects and supplies, because the space has been thoroughly cleaned and organized! Each closet and box has clear labels, and supplies that never got used have been migrated out.

Over the next 20 years, we’re excited to see how the library continues to develop. There’s always room to improve, and we look forward to seeing how the space evolves. For many of us, the library is the place we spend the most time in outside of our rooms, and it deserves the level of care and value that Callan has brought to it. We’re excited to see what future refinements, redesigns and renovations bring to Olin.

The Olin community owes Callan a great debt for taking on our already-beloved library, reaching out to understand how the community uses it, and improving it in the ways we needed. It would be easy for a new Director of the Library, an entire department at Olin, to sit still and allow the library to exist as-is. Instead, Callan has acted as caretaker and innovator at once, and has brought the Olin community into that process. More than simply “handling tasks,” the library has been cared for with tangible love, enthusiasm, and informed insight in a way that makes it a joy to work in. Her work as Director of the Library is an example for the path we hope Olin will take as we all consider the future of our college.

We thank you, Callan.

We also thank the librarians and student workers who support the library and workroom, including Maggie Anderson, Mckenzie Mullen, Reid Bowen, Vienna Scheyer, and Naomi Chiu.

Signed,

Sam Daitzman, Gail Romer, Luke Milroy, Diego Alvarez, Nabih Estefan, Olivia Jo Bradley, Caitlin Coffey, Nolan Flynn, Abby Fry, Riya Aggarwal, Reid Bowen, Marion Madanguit, Maggie Rosner, Corey Cochran-Lepiz, Jack Greenberg, Karen Hinh, Katie Thai-Tang, Eric Jacobsen, Tommy Weir, Brandon Zhang, Jules Brettle, Annie Tor, Sander Miller, Riley Zito, Dieter Brehm, Maalvika Bhat, Dylan Merzenich

Please Vote

If you are planning on voting for not-Trump in this year’s presidential election, you need to register to vote in the upcoming primaries (and they’re coming up fast) to have your say in the sort of president you want to have. A friendly but urgent reminder that several members of our community have graciously volunteered to help you (shoutout to Anusha, Abby, and Tommy) if you are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or feeling otherwise uncertain about this process. Check your inboxes for a form to help you get started (1/13, from Anusha), and look out for SLAC sessions! I’m also willing to help you out – just let me know. Register for that absentee ballot! Or if you’re from Massachusetts, mark your calendars if you haven’t already. February 12th is the voter registration deadline, and March 3 is Super Tuesday, aka Voting Day. 

I am also here to remind you that it is your Honor Code-bound duty to Do Something. We all signed this document, vowing to uphold it in our time here and beyond. We all agreed to strive to better ourselves and our community and take responsibility for our own behavior. If you have been disappointed, distraught, disillusioned, terrified, paralyzed, gutted, or otherwise by the words and actions of our sitting president; by the non-stop headlines denoting some fresh violation of a nation’s integrity, of a citizen’s pride; by the atrocities committed at our nation’s border; by not only the ignorance of climate change but outright denial of it; by the utter disregard for truth, unabashed shamelessness, and gleeful erasure of culpability — now, NOW is the time to do something

I will remind you that the privilege of democracy relies on its constituent members speaking up; that the power of a collected, concerted effort is greater than that of any individual, and that now is the time to do something.

I will remind you that families are being torn apart. I will remind you that American troops have been sent to Iran following our assassination of one of their military leaders. I will remind you that the sea levels are rising and that Australia is burning, that Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, that more storms are on the way. I will remind you that we had 417 mass shootings last year. And these are only the headlines. I am begging you to do something. 

I am fully aware that it is too much. This is too much. As I type, I have the Senate Impeachment trial audio in the background, listening as Trump’s defense actively deflects and distracts from the message of previous hearings and testimonies, as they construct an alternative fiction to live in. I, too, would love to live in a world where our president has done no wrong, but given the facts before me, that would be a choice of willful ignorance. I am reminded of the closing lines of Ash Sanders’s essay, Under the Weather : that when the world is ending, our health depends on closing ourselves off to the awareness of this fact. I’ve closed the video. It’s too much. Senate is not going to put a stop to this. I don’t know how else to ask you. Please vote. 

And now, after that thoroughly depressing onslaught of appealing to your moral sensibilities, I am here to remind you that voting in this primary is an act of hope and possibility, not one that stems purely from desperation, and should be treated as such. It is the opportunity to choose a candidate that best represents your beliefs whom you could be proud to vote for. Who represents an idea of an America that you would like to live in? Who stands for the same issues that you stand for? We will never be able to erase the events of the Trump presidency, nor should we. But we can certainly put an end to them. We can learn and change and do something about the things that did not work, that are not working. This is the opportunity to vote for a representative who will be a champion of that vision. 

I am voting for Senator Bernie Sanders in this upcoming primary. 

I believe that he believes in the people of the United States: he stands (and has stood) for the rights and opportunities of those who have been disadvantaged and treated unjustly by our society. The titles of his stances and policies– a welcoming and safe America for all, Medicare for All, College for All– indicate to me that he believes in giving each and every American a shot at their American dream. He does not work just for himself, not just for those who are uninhibited by existing structures, who already have the privilege to do so. He speaks to work for us all.

He is a vocal supporter of the Green New Deal and is the only candidate I have seen that has treated climate change as a serious issue both on the campaign trail and through his votes in the Senate. I believe that Senator Sanders will support legislation brought up through our Congress that empowers the people and aims to reduce the disparities of justice in our country. Senator Sanders has given me every reason to believe this is the case: in 5 decades of public service, of standing in picket lines, in standing up to the most powerful without flinching to represent the people, he has championed a consistent message, even when the message was unpopular. He will stand up for you even when nobody else shows up, as he did in 1991, warning about continuous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My point is, he is here to support the people because he believes in us.

And of course, ideology is great and all, but these must be carried out into concrete policy. Senator Sanders has:

  •  provided 9 million more Americans with primary health care, 2 million more with dental care, and 860,000 more with mental health services
  • Raised the wages of 350,000 Amazon workers to at least $15 an hour
  • Restored $320 million in pension benefits to 130,000 IBM workers
  • Passed veterans legislation with John McCain providing $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses at the VA
  • Passed the first and only audit of the Federal Reserve in 2010
  • Passed the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act
  • Passed $3.2 billion in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy grants
  • Prohibited the importation of goods made by forced or indentured child labor

Just to name a few. 

Senator Sanders is electable. Many have stated they like Senator Sanders but are unsure of his electability: meaning they are unsure if other people would be willing to vote for him. These primaries are the time to show that he IS electable; that people ARE willing to vote for him. If there is anything to “win”, we win by playing to win, not by playing not-to-lose. If you believe that Senator Sanders is a strong representative of your beliefs, play to win. 

I’m happy to talk with you more about this decision if you’d like to know more, or if you’d like to tell me I’m an idealistic dum-dum, or anything in between or beyond. But the most important thing to me is that you do not miss your opportunity to have your voice heard in the arena where it will certainly make a difference. Please vote. 

Babson, Free Speech, and Overblown Outrage

I had originally planned to write a brief rant about how all the remaining top contenders of the Democratic primary are white (because hey, what the fuck is up with that?), but I recently learned about something a bit more close to home that I wanted to talk about.

In early January of this year, Asheen Phansey, an adjunct professor at Babson college posted a joke on his personal Facebook page. It was, in its entirety, as follows: “In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? …Kardashian Residence?”

It’s not a good joke, but quickly a local blog picked it up with the exaggerated headline: “Babson Professor Urges Iran to Bomb 52 American Cultural Sites to Own the Trumpsters”. The article says, “Begging a religious lunatic who oppresses women and gay people to blow up American cultural sites is sadly par for the course for your run of the mill college professor in 2020.” This soon found its way to Twitter where the professor was described as an “America-hating terrorist supporter” and others said he should be deported. He has US citizenship by birthright. People were encouraged to call Babson to complain. 

Within 48 hours, Babson opened a formal investigation and condemned “threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate”. The professor was suspended without pay, and when the investigation was concluded, just one day later, he was fired. 

I personally disagree with the decision made by the Babson administration, and I’d like to explain why. First, two disclaimers: This was not a good joke, it wasn’t very tasteful, I will not defend it. Also, I am not questioning the legality of Babson’s action. As a private institution, they are not bound by the First Amendment. However, I believe that the firing of Phansey is a gross overreaction that damages the very important culture of freedom of expression at Babson and in higher education in general. 

Babson has stated commitments to academic freedom and freedom of expression, and historically they have stood by them even in controversial situations. It is a betrayal of these principles to now so hastily fire a professor over a poor joke on Facebook. Phansey apologized and removed the post, but to no avail. PEN America, a free speech advocacy group, put it well: “If professors face such extreme consequences for comments that contain sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, or irony on social media, it will perpetuate self-censorship and a culture where honest discourse is paralyzed. College leaders must not rush into formal investigations and decide on severe repercussions in response to speech that contains no nexus to a professor’s role and no clear indication of violent intent.” PEN America also released an open letter calling for Babson to reverse the decision signed by a number of groups and individuals, including the American Federation of Teachers, AFL CIO, and the ACLU of Massachusetts. 

There is also some weirdness going on where Babson claimed to be “cooperating with local, state, and federal authorities,” when in fact there was no criminal investigation, and they had simply emailed the Wellesley police to warn of a potential social media firestorm. This brings us to a different broader point about how institutions deal with social media outrage. This incident was nothing until it began circulating among conservative social media circles, and Babson’s response can be read as an attempt to head off negative social media coverage. 

It’s worth stopping here to remember that social media is not real life. Conservative twitter is not real life. Liberal twitter is not real life. Online outrage is not always without valid cause or purpose, but it must be handled tactfully and thoughtfully. In their haste to respond to social media, Babson made a bad decision, and I hope they will reconsider it. 

P&M

I was a P&M ninja last year because I thought the class lends itself to really exciting and different types of projects that you have a good amount of control over. I don’t have time in my semester this year to be a ninja, but I’d like to remind the Olin Community about cool projects students have done in past years through Frankly Speaking.

Here are 6 projects that were submitted via the form I sent out on the CarpeDiem and HelpMe mailing list. 

Project/year: CAD Buddy (2018)
Person/part of team?: Nathan Estill (yes)
What was exciting? We got invited to Solidworks to pitch the idea and talk about it.
What did you learn? I think I learned about how many product decisions are dictated by the past standards that have been set and how many older customers are the bulk of user groups.

Project/year: The Investigators (2019)
Person/part of team?: Anonymous (yes)
What was exciting? It kept people talking, interacted with the whole community, solved a problem help me couldn’t solve.

What did you learn? To pick a good team.

Project/year: Button/pins. Included the Mark Pins (2018)
Person/part of team?: Anonymous (2019)
What was exciting? This project was the start of pride pins made for OPEN  (because we were marketing towards Wellesley students lol). I also got paid $5 for a Mark Pin by Caitrin Lynch.
What did you learn? How to use the button maker in the library and that memes are profitable. 

Project/year: <info.olin.build> (2018)
Person/part of team?: Kyle Emmi (yes)
What was exciting? I had come up with the idea during an in-class brainstorming session and watched it grow as I added more and more post-it notes with different features and information that should be included. This was in the beginning of the class so when I finally pursued the idea in the final project, I was able to see my original idea change shape into a final and very usable product.
What did you learn? That a group of highly motivated people with a good skill set can get a lot done in a very very short amount of time with the right idea.

Project/year: Disposable Cup usage at Olin (2018)
Person/part of team?: Corey Cochran-Lepiz (yes)
What was exciting? I got to chat with the kitchen staff and know more about the campus usage of disposable cups directly from the source. We also got to hear about previous systems they have experimented with which gave our project a jump start into brainstorming new ideas that they haven’t tried yet with their blessing to conduct our own experiments.
What did you learn? I learned that the DH ran through a couple thousand(?) disposable cups a week and that previously they tried a system where they gave people reusable cups to use but despite that people still preferred the disposable ones. (And more often than not they would toss it into the trash can which renders the compostable aspect moot)

Other comments: I had a lot of fun in this project and even extended it to my final where we spoke with coffee shops about the issue.

Project/year: Poptalks! (2018) Our final value proposition was to “encourage meaningful discussion within the Olin community by organizing and lightly facilitating conversation surrounding topics that are usually avoided.” After getting formed in P&M, PopTalks grew into a club that has been around for 3 semesters and counting.
Person/part of team?: David Freeman (yes)
What was exciting? We used this project to carve out a little space in Olin where we could engage with our community in a way that felt really good and nourishing.
What did you learn? I learned that I have permission to shape projects into what resonates with me. There can be a balance between stretching myself in learning and staying true to where my heart is, and this P&M project was my first opportunity to discover how meaningful it can be to follow my heart in Olin projects.

Project/year: Waffle Food Cart (2018)
Person/part of team?: Jordan Crawford-O’Banner (no)
What was exciting? It seemed like they did a lot of good work and testing.
What did you learn? I thought it was an interesting look into what is important for restaurants to be successful.

Project/year: <info.olin.build> (2018) a website to help people navigate stuff on Olin
Person/part of team?: Anonymous (no)
What was exciting? It helped me, as a user. I still use it even now.
What did you learn? I learned that a static Olin-centered P&M project can make a difference.

Project/year: A concert finding app (2017)
Person/part of team?:  Allison Basore (yes)
What was exciting? We got a lot of interest from our user group. Ultimately, the idea itself was not that exciting, but the concept that we could build something that people wanted was very exciting.  
What did you learn? Besides learning how to talk to strangers for the first time, I learned how to identify value in an idea. 

My Riding Stables: Life with Horses (Review)

I am not a gamer girl. I play farming simulators and that’s about it. 

I grew up playing Farmville (Zenya) before smartphones allowed you to check on your crops. I was in a Facebook group with mostly old people where people shared extra animals. I was friends with my classmates’ parents not my classmates. 

Over the summer I started playing Stardew Valley (Eric Barone) on PC which I will maybe write a review on later (I have strong feelings on it after sharing it with unappreciative friends). To this day I’ve logged 100+ hours on it.

But last semester, I needed something to look forward to at the end of finals. So I split a Switch Game with Mark Goldwater ‘21 as a joke during Cyber Monday sales.

I saw this game and I was like, “Haha, it would be so funny if we bought this.” So we did and it was. 

Let me be clear: you would play this game as you would watch a bad movie. It was made in Unity originally for PS2. Anupama Krishnan ‘20, said she played it as a kid and nothing has changed since then. The graphics prove this isn’t a lie.

The gist of the game is that you bought a rundown horse stable, and you need to bring it back to its former glory. So you buy some horses (you also get to customize your first one), feed them, clean them, clean their hooves, fix their health, massage them, and ride them. There are nine races you have to win.

You have to make money to upgrade your place and maintain your horses. To do this you originally have enough money to buy a horse track where you train other people’s horses so they follow directions (more on this later). 

You can then save up to buy the following: a massage parlor, a breeding stable, and a guest house. In the massage parlor, (which is the most efficient way to make money) you massage horses. In the breeding stable, you pair one of your horses with a stud and instantly produce a horse for a client. Lastly, the guest house can be upgraded to host up to 9 guests which stand in front of your house waiting for you to check in (see bullet 9 on the following list).

It’s a terrible game in a few ways:

1 Your person can’t turn, and thus you must do multi step turns or walk backwards.

2 There isn’t really an explanation of the controls. (Two examples are: turning your horse in races and completing a massage.)

3 You can only have 6 horses at a time.

4 In the track you own, the horses don’t have a turn animation and it’s scary.

5 When you clean their hooves, the hoof will just go away and come at you in the screen which is alarming as well.

6 Everytime you feed your horse, it scoots you to the right as you dab.

7 You can only buy a certain quantity of items at a time. (ie 10 supplements)

8 The only way you learn what you should be doing is because you realize things are going really bad.

9 This guests just check out your horses without warning and return them to you filthy as heck.

10 The quality of your stable is based on how many races you’ve completed, but you can only complete one race a week. 

Which brings me to the fact that I’ve put more hours into this game than I’d like to admit because I still have to feed and clean my horses every day. 

If you’d like to try it, here are some tips when you start playing. 

A Live with the multistep turns and get good at walking backwards or you will waste your in game time.

B Do not feed your horses hay. Feed them either Barley & Oats or Pellets (Pellets preferred).

C When you feed them, feed them once without supplements and once with supplements. (This is how you make sure they have energy and heath)

D Do not skip the first Sunday of races, practice with your horse (the same one over and over for the week) starting Thursday. 

E Only check in guests Mon-Wed so they don’t take the horse you’re trying to race with.

F You check on your horses’ stats with the RZ button. If they have more than have health just groom/hose them down. Checking if they’re hooves are clean wastes your in game time. This is good for checking their health as well.

G Aim for the Three Gold Hooves, this gives you points (you can only buy certain things with points). 

H The Three Gold Hooves come from grooming (not hosing), cleaning their hooves, and massaging them (without a saddle) at the parlor. 

I To massage at the parlor, when you get the horse press A. Look at the yellow circle with green arrows. If an arrow turns off, move the brush that way. Click again. I recommend just looking at that compass (sometimes the fastest massage is when the brush isn’t touching the horse). 

J Enjoy the game, it’s pretty fun. 

Overall, I’d like to say that if the game didn’t have bad handling and controls it would be pretty boring. The horses are cute and you get to Dress Them Up with flowers in their hair. You also get to buy some cute outfits. 

Anyways, if you have any questions please reach out to me. Mark (he’s a bystander) and I sometimes play it in the EH2AL. 

Book Review: Winter Break Edition

Hope you had a great break and start to the new year. Perhaps you’ve set some resolutions to expand your brain, like making a bookshelf bigger because you have more books to put on it. Maybe you just want to make the start of your spring semester even more packed than it already is. Or you fit neither of these descriptions but have a few minutes to kill at the moment.  

In any case, below are a few more books that I added to my mental catalogue over break. I have included a spoiler-free summary of my feelings toward these books, as a treat [insert Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Maui in Disney’s 2016 Moana here]. 

For your at-a-glance satisfaction, I am using the Goodreads™ rating system:

5 stars: it was amazing

4 stars: really liked it

3 stars: liked it

2 stars: it was okay

1 star: did not like it

Watchmen 

written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons

5 of 5 stars

The classic 1987 graphic novel (of which there exists an excellent – and recent – television show existing in the same universe in the present day. This new story adds a new level – nay, I dare say completes – one of the characters from this graphic novel and adds a necessary dimension to the universe of this original, both of which are commendable, rare feats. Now back to the book). The back cover speaks:

“Watchmen is peerless.” – Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone

“A brilliant piece of fiction.” – Richard Gehr, The Village Voice

“The first great humane act in superhero comics.” – Steve Edgell, Escape

“This is the book that changed an industry and challenged its medium. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, then WATCHMEN is the one to start with. And even if you have, it’s time to read it again.” 

I wholeheartedly echo these sentiments. The storytelling and artistic choices of Watchmen are stunning. The way the story is framed (literally and figuratively) is filled with so much care and consideration; I can’t help but think it’s a masterwork. There are so many different modes of storytelling, characters, and tropes, where each element is interesting and unique and then put all together it is greater than the sum of its excellent parts. I can gush endlessly about Watchmen, but for your sake and mine, I’ll end my endorsement of it here. Available in the Olin College Library. 

The Idiot 

by Elif Batuman 

5 of 5 stars

I love everything about this book. I love the way the narrative was set up in sort of vignettes from the protagonist. And I love the protagonist through her thoughts about the ongoings of her lived and emotional life. I love the idea Batuman explores both through the protagonist and through the process of me (the reader) becoming acquainted with the protagonist: about how we can fall in love with people through their written accounts and written correspondence and how at the same time, communication in person can be awkward. Is it the version of ourselves that we can communicate through writing that is more Real and True, or the version of ourselves that communicates to others in person that is more Real and True? Is this a question that is even worth asking, and if it is, does the answer matter? (something something, Plato’s Theory of Forms, something something) What do you do with the love you have for an idea that is not projected perfectly, or even closely, into reality? Is learning what to do with that love part of “growing up”? Is our ability to project ideas perfectly into reality limited by language, the framework we use in order to convey ideas? Or is it simply a matter of finding the right words at the right moment in the right language?

In some ways, I felt that this book was written for me. I am a math student in college that had a recent semester abroad in Hungary who spends a lot of time reading the words of others. Maybe that personal profile resonates particularly well with certain characters in this story. Maybe my meeting with this book was serendipitous: some stars aligned, I happened to have the exact life I have had up until this point and encountered this book at exactly the time that I did and everything just worked. What I’m trying to say is that maybe this book is not for you (maybe I am possessive). Maybe you will read this book and think it is long and the characters are annoying and The Worst and holy-crap-nothing-even-happens-and-no-one-does-anything and don’t-even-get-me-started-on-emotional-immaturity. Maybe you don’t love the protagonist, maybe you don’t love the book. If that ends up being the case, that’s okay. But you know, I don’t think this book was written for me, so I think you might love it, too. (CORNY! BOOOO!)

The Left Hand of Darkness 

by Ursula K. Le Guin 

5 of 5 stars

Bro. Are you kidding me. The hat trick? Ridiculous. At this point, I’m three for three over winter break. Yeah my break was good, thanks. Le Guin’s worldbuilding radiates with her love for her imagined world, created from loving observations of ours. Her love is not uncritical, rather the sort of love that is there despite the flaws, but still treats them as such. A creator’s love, perhaps? It did take me a while to really get into the world she had created, but once I got there, it was a fascinating one to explore. I think it would be both unfair and wrong to map her imagined world directly to ours; however, she does get to the core items. It takes vulnerability, open communication, and mutual trust to get to understanding, and we owe it to one another to acknowledge our differences and work towards that understanding. And it is important that these differences are not necessarily items to be resolved. Can you meaningfully change someone without meaningfully changing yourself, if we are all different sides of the same coin? Or forget duality, if we are all individual differentials on the same continuum? We can all be better for one another; we make each other better by being there for each other despite all of our flaws (our differences), because of our flaws (our shared ground), by acknowledging that not all flaws are necessarily flaws (our changing perception), by believing that we can all be better. 

Phew. Corny. Jeez. THE POINT IS, I highly recommend this book. Also, forget all the “lessons” and “themes”, it’s a well-crafted universe, a joy to explore, an intriguing story and plot. But actually don’t forget the “lessons” and “themes”, because those are important, too.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

by Robert D. Putnam

2 of 5 stars

Since my previous three books were rated so high, it might be kind of jarring to see such a “low” star rating for this one. I will take the opportunity to remind you that 2 of 5 stars is not only my subjective opinion but also that it means I thought the book was okay. So, on a scale of 0 to 100, this would be like a 75, as opposed to a 40. 

This book is meticulously researched, with its central claims painstakingly supported by graphs and findings from a multitude of studies. The discussion of these graphs is well-done and specific: Putnam is careful in making claims, and is also careful to clarify what he is not claiming. All of this is well and good. However, this book was a slog to read through. The careful specificity and individually outlined variables were intentioned to make his claims robust, which they did, but they also made them dreadfully repetitive to read. It didn’t help his case that his claims were ones I already believed and believed easily; he was merely showing me many, many numbers and metrics by which this belief could be backed up (That isn’t to say that believed claims shouldn’t be questioned, nor is it to say that the methods were beyond reproof. All I am saying is that the manner in which it was presented felt repetitive, especially given that I was already following what he was saying). I find that I am most compelled by hard statistics when I have a specific anecdotal narrative to attach them to, a tactic often employed in many recent non-fiction books. The times when Putnam employed that tactic made his book noticeably more readable.

Putnam was most compelling when he offered his analysis through truisms, statements such as:

“There may be nearly as many fans in the political stadium nowadays, but they are not watching an amateur or even semi-pro match. Whether the slick professional game they have become accustomed to watching is worth the increasingly high admission price is another matter.” 

and:

“American nostalgia in the late twentieth century is no run-of-the-mill, rosy-eyed remembrance of things past. It is an attempt to recapture a time when public-spiritedness really did carry more value and when communities really did “work”.”

Putnam’s chapters on television and politics felt especially poignant today, so much so that at times they felt prophetic. These chapters highlight his astute observational and analytical skills, which are not hidden in the rest of the book where they are simply less interesting.

In the 20 years that have passed since this book’s initial publication, we’ve witnessed so much change: earth-shaking events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the internet and personal computer becoming ubiquitous, the election of President Barack Obama, improvements in overall societal attitudes towards marginalized groups, the conversion of national politics and mass media into relentless sources of entertainment, and the commodification of lifestyle, to name a few. Even with no knowledge of these events, this book offers an explanation for why things have trended in the way that they did, and issues a well-intentioned plea to not forget the importance and impact of community. I cannot say that I loved or even liked reading this book, though at the same time I cannot say I did not like the book, nor can I claim that its message and insights are unimportant. It was okay. 

I’ll be reading the following titles sometime in the (hopefully near) future, dependent on the amount of free time I end up having (yes…priorities):

  • Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
  • Against Everything by Mark Greif
  • To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov

Even if I forget to reply to you, I enjoy hearing about books you’ve read or your opinions on the aforementioned books. 

I’ll end this review with some (relatively) shorter reads that have really stuck with me. In my opinion, all of them are essential reading. As an aside — the amount of incredible work out there floors me. It is overwhelming in a way; I am incredibly grateful that this is the case. Seriously, each one of these pieces made my world bigger:

  • On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion
  • My Instagram by Dayna Tortorici
  • The Art of Dying by Peter Schjeldahl
  • A Common Seagull by Sheila Heti
  • Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night-Stand of a Life by Elizabeth Wurtzel
  • The Fog of Rudy by Jonathan Mahler
  • Would you please please please please please please please stop talking? by Wyatt Willilams
  • Under the Weather by Ash Sanders
  • What is Monoculture? by Kyle Chayka

Happy reading!

Build Week Reading List

Editor’s Note: This reading list was curated over Build Week 2020 by those attending and moderated by Louise Nielsen and I (Erika Serna). Link to the reading list is <tinyurl.com/readbuildweek> which has links to the articles.

A place to share media that are good reading for other Build Week participants! Please look at the Code of Conduct for Build Week to determine if something is appropriate to add.

Moderated by Louise Nielsen ‘19.5 and Erika Serna ‘21 (please reach out with any concerns).

We ask that you include content warnings (CW) in your listings so readers can decide what they want/are able to engage with. The following is a list (in progress!) of example types of content that would be important to note:

  • Any type of abuse or violence, specifying the type (sexual, child, physical, etc)
  • Sexist, racist, ableist, and/or classist exploitation
  • Homophobia or transphobia
  • Severe mental health issues (for example, depression, grief, self harm, and/or suicide)
  • Drug use, alcoholism, or substance abuse

If you’re on the Build Week slack, there’s a channel for discussion (feel free to leave comments on this doc too) – we’d love to hear your thoughts on these articles!

Again, please add more (template at bottom)!

You’ve Run Out of Free Articles This Month

tl;dr: Publishers are crushing the life out of libraries. They’re undermining libraries’ efforts to democratize access to information and advance learning. You can push back by refusing to be a part of this broken system and deciding to make your own scholarly work more accessible to all.

A few weeks ago, officials in Citrus County, Florida denied a local library’s request for funding its subscription to The New York Times.

“I’m going to be a ‘no’ for this. Fake news. I agree with President Trump,” one of the county commissioners said as he explained his position. “I will not vote for this. I do not want The New York Times in this county.” The commissioners laughed at the thought of paying for the paper, especially digital access to it. One asked, “Why the heck would we spend money on something like that?”

Librarians around the country, including the three of us here at Olin, are alarmed by the implications of this. Should an official’s political views be grounds for deciding what content a library can make available? How about a publisher’s profit margins?

At the beginning of November, Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers in the U.S., declared they’re instating embargos on all libraries looking to obtain multiple copies of new ebooks until eight weeks after their release date, in order to boost paper book sales. 

Imagine there were 20 Olin students who wanted to borrow an ebook copy of Edward Snowden’s new memoir Permanent Record back when it was first released in September. Under Macmillan’s rules, our library could have purchased one e-copy of Permanent Record on its release date, waited eight weeks, then purchased additional e-copies. If, after those eight weeks, we bought three additional e-copies and loaned each of them out for two weeks apiece, this would have cost us $210 (vs. $120 for four paper copies) and there’d still be borrowers waiting to be able to read a digital copy of Permanent Record. If you had to wait three or four months to read something, would you just go buy it, or maybe just not read it at all? (The library does own one paper copy of the book, by the way.)

In the words of the American Library Association, this “limit[s] libraries’ ability to provide access to information for all. It particularly harms library patrons with disabilities or learning issues. [Ebooks] can become large-print books with only a few clicks, and most ebook readers offer fonts and line spacing that make reading easier for people who have dyslexia or other visual challenges.” As a librarian wrote in an editorial for Publisher’s Weekly, “[W]hile Macmillan’s ebook embargo aims to squeeze a few more sales out of frustrated library users, it unfairly disadvantages ebook readers who use the library out of need. Equal access to information regardless of ability to pay is foundational to a democratic society and is why public libraries exist.” It may not be as blatantly censorious as what the Citrus County commissioners are up to, but the embargo prevents people from being able to read what they want to read when and how they want to read it.

Macmillan and its ebook policy present a problem to libraries that amounts to censorship by a thousand cuts–or maybe a thousand invoices. By pricing libraries out or denying them access altogether, companies are limiting what people can read and, in the process, creating a user experience so frustrating that many people give up on it. Streaming media platforms are another challenge. There is next to no conversation happening about how libraries can provide institutional access to services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. When librarians try to engage in agreements with these companies, they tend to hear nothing back. We’re so far out of their line of sight because we aren’t profitable. After all, our business model is essentially “take very small amounts of money from people through taxes or tuition and translate it back into lots of free stuff for those same people to use.” Theirs is “charge lots of people quite a bit of money for just enough access to things they like that they keep autopaying their subscriptions.” Doesn’t mesh well.

This is bad because at some point in the near future, the physical media libraries can easily provide access to in the form of DVDs will cease to be a viable option for many borrowers. In early 2019, Samsung announced it was going to stop manufacturing DVD players. We’ve seen Oliners experience the joy of running around trying to find external DVD drives on campus, and we’ve talked to faculty flummoxed by how to provide access to documentaries they’d hoped to show in class. Libraries are already contending with certain exclusive streaming shows and movies never being sold as physical copies. This is only the beginning as we move to an era where DVDs become a thing of the past and theatrical releases go straight to streaming, again creating a division of access based on who has or doesn’t have the $9.99/month for a Netflix account (and the $9.99/month for a Hulu account, and the $6.99/month for a Disney+ account, and the cable subscription for an HBO GO account, etc.).

The bloodiest battle between libraries and publishers of all, and the one that’s closest to home for us at Olin’s library, is happening in access to academic research. Olin pays for access to ebooks and other electronic content, such as databases of scholarly research and online periodical subscriptions. We do not pay a small amount of money for these things to begin with, but virtually all publishers try to tack on an increase when it’s time to renew our subscriptions–not just once every few years, but every year. The percentage growth in academic and corporate libraries’ expenditures on these resources was 673% between 1986 and 2015. That’s not missing a decimal point. Olin didn’t exist in 1986, but if we did, you can bet your buns that our budget wouldn’t have gone up by nearly 700% in the thirty-odd years between then and now.

In the early months of 2019, the academic library world was rocked by the news that the University of California system ended negotiations with publishing megagiant RELX (you may know them as Elsevier) for a new journal subscription contract. This was huge; as a piece from Inside Higher Ed put it, “no [institutions that have tried negotiating] in the U.S. have the financial and scholarly clout of the UC system — which accounts for nearly 10 percent of the nation’s publishing output.” In a decision that took hundreds of opinions and dozens of departments unified in their mission to fight back against the debilitating costs of accessing research and reliable sources, UC brought widespread attention to the matter of price gouging and the importance of open access publishing.

That leads us right into why we should care and what can we do. 

Open access publishing means making research freely available, as opposed to lurking behind paywalls. If you’ve ever maxed out on free stories on a news website or searched our library resources, you’ve ran into these nasty things, tempting you with the contents of an article or ebook only to find it’s in a database we don’t subscribe to because it’s prohibitively expensive for us. To give some context here, Elsevier’s profits in 2017 – profit rooted in the publication of others’ scientific work – were an obscene $1,170,000,000, a profit of 37% over their operating budget. As a response to this extortion, open access takes shape as a commitment made at the college or university level to ensure that faculty or student research is accessible internally for free or in open access journals, or both.

How does this impact your education? Open access furthers research and innovation in all fields, and engineering is no exception. Even if you aren’t doing much research or writing right now, you will if you go to grad school, if you choose to teach, or when you file patents, author white papers, or do other fact-finding projects at work. Unfortunately, we’re very far away from a purely open access world. The prestige of publishing in certain journals combined with the greedy, powerful vendors–can’t live with ‘em (pay through the nose) or without ‘em (kill access to research)–keeps access exclusive and profit margins high.

Any library’s ability to sustainably and easily provide access to quality resources is vitally important to its existence and relevance to its community, but because publishers are so fixated on profits, it’s increasingly becoming impossible. Circling back to ebooks and streaming media, even if you haven’t set foot in a public library in years, think about the good they add to this world. They aspire to offer equal access to information that many individual patrons might not be able to afford, whether it’s in the form of a New York Times subscription, an electronic copy of a hit bestseller, or a handful of DVDs to watch with family over a holiday break. But because libraries can’t foot publishers’ bills, the public is effectively being divided into information haves and have-nots, undoing the work that public libraries have done to democratize access in the past century and a half.

Here at Olin, and at institutions throughout the world, our ability to continue providing access to reputable academic resources is at stake. Would you want to see engineering, computer science, or any other field base its research conclusions solely on what you can find on page one of Google search results? (Be real, no one ever goes past page one.) If subscription costs go up another 673%, that very well could be the future we’ll be living in 30 years from now.

There are things we can do at Olin; we are tiny but mighty and we can set a new example for how to approach this problem. First, we need a refreshed discussion about the importance of open access. Your librarians feel it is our duty to make trusted, reliable content available to our students and faculty. By following an open access policy, we can ensure together that the Olin community, now or in the future, won’t pay for the research generated by its own scholars.

The library also needs community input so we can think strategically and proactively about how to provide the content and resources you need. We need to critically evaluate what we’re paying for now and find alternatives. Over time, our model might look a lot different than what we’re doing today–it might be more time curating open educational resources and less time (and money) spent on managing subscription packages–but librarians can’t make those big decisions or push back against the broken publishing system alone. When you’re ready to join this conversation, we’re ready to listen.

In the meantime, you can help libraries today by signing these two petitions:

Peppermint-Chip Cookies

Recipe modified from https://lilluna.com/peppermint-chocolate-chip-cookies/ 

Makes 36-40 cookies. 

Ingredients:

1.5 sticks softened butter, 3 tbsp warm water, 1 c sugar, 1 c brown sugar

2 eggs, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp almond (optional), 1 tsp peppermint extract (optional)

3 c AP flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and your chocolate (8 oz Peppermint Kisses is good)

Instructions:

1) Cream butter, water, and sugars.

2) Beat in eggs

3) Add in the extract(s)

4) Incorporate half of the flour, the baking powder and the baking soda. Then incorporate the rest of the flour.

5) Fold in your chocolate (in this case peppermint flavored). 

6) Form 1.25″ balls. Cover them in flour. 

7) Set them 1.5 inches apart. Don’t press them down.

8) Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 10 mins.