Month: January 2013

In the Virginia Room with Tad Suiter

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On Wednesday 16 January 2013, I sat down to talk with one of the numerous helpful Virginia Room staff members, Tad Suiter, about special collections, the role of local history in the public library’s mission statement and library promotion.


The role of collections shifts in libraries and when one thinks about local history within libraries, the realization is that patrons who enter the contemporary Arlington Public Library will be checking out books and movies that are generally popular within the current culture, using the community boards and using computers with their free internet access to do everything from applying for jobs to playing web-based internet games. This role may not be as much about books as it has been. One of the resources that will not be used as often is the rare books and special collections found in Arlington County Library’s Virginia Room – a separate room on the first floor designed to act as a traditional reading room (such as the famous reading room in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson building), a linkage to the rare books vault and archival materials housed and managed to be used ONLY in the reading room. Most of these materials are rare and unique to Arlington and thus would not survive normal circulation cycles.

I asked about the Mission Statement of special collections within the Library and two points were made. <I write, “within the library,” because only a fraction of patrons who walk into the Central Arlington Library also walk into the Virginia Room. The Virginia Room houses the Special Collection – not designed to be circulated for numerous meaningful reasons.> The first point relates the Virginia Room’s collection mission to the APL’s Mission Statement as a whole. The APL’s Mission Statement is “The Arlington Public Library provides access to information, creates connections among people and promotes reading and culture–for every Arlingtonian and other patrons.” The Virginia Room certainly is situated to conform to that mission as the collections are Virginia specific with a niche focus on local history and Arlington history. Another aspect of the mission statement, however, makes mention of “other patrons.” One assumes this is deliberately ambiguous because the APL could never foresee the wide use potential of their special collections for work by scholars or writers from around the nation and world. In particular, Tad Suiter mentioned the excitement expressed by a visitor from Japan who noted unique items in the collection that are about Arlington but may be part of some specific interest within the domain of information collection. Sure, many patrons focus on genealogy or request items about the street they or loved ones lived on in generations past, but these special collections, though local in title, are also used by non-Arlingtonians.

The second point relates to this issue of APL’s mission statement, but subtly redirects the use of the collections – this is the point that local collections are useful to “reach out” beyond the local.   In the first place, the Virginia Room houses some of the institutional archives for APL. At first thought, it would seem that local archives are designed for use for APL studies – they are. But a county’s public library archives could just as well be studied in order to explore ideas within a grander scope to reflect trends within county libraries statewide or nationwide. In addition, even though the United States has plenty of diverse lives and diverse life-organizations occurring within its borders, the fact that Arlington is a suburb of Washington, D.C. (a relatively large urban district), means that some aspects of library use and local culture may relate to America generally since DC is where so many important decisions are made and Arlingtonians, many of them, work within these halls of decision. Arlington’s special collections are not just for use by Arligntonians even though the collections are housed within the Virginia Room and the mission statement declares fist the public library is for Arlington patrons. That same statement also declares it is available for other patrons. The above paragraph expresses the potential for extra-local use of special collections.

Truth be told, a theme running through the conversation with Tad Suiter revealed the challenges of promoting special collections. Special Libraries of America certainly believes in promotion of efforts by its members. But even the SLA does not have an “official” definition of what is a special library or special collection. APL has a semi-regular feature on its webpage through which it promotes historical elements found within collections found in the Virginia Room. Tad Suiter suggests he believes patrons would find it very interesting not just to see a piece of history written from artifacts in the collection (a perfectly fine effort for promotion), but also to realize the efforts of digging through the collections and the processing of those items for events, writing, research or other projects. Promotion of libraries runs through much current literature on library use, encouraging wide use and trends in social media. One can even see it pop up regularly in job postings across many fields within librarianship. I suppose this small essay is an act of promotion.

I want to thank Tad Suiter for his time and helpful ideas. The whole staff at the Arlington Public Library is very helpful, but I want to specifically thank the staff of the Virginia Room at this moment. I recommend checking out their special collections, ask questions and maybe send a comment or two here or at Twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Bike to MLK Jr. Monument Day

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21 January 2013.

It was a crisp friendly day down near the Potomac River in Washington DC – the day of President Barack Obama’s Inauguration for his second term in Office. People gathered to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose nationally celebrated holiday is also today. The sun was clear, the sky was blue and Memorial Bridge along with Independence Avenue were both closed to general through-traffic.


One can certainly see the array of visitors and the inviting weather.


The memorial features several informative elements – more than just a work of public art and tribute. There are also several quotes from his writings and speeches. Below are a few snapshots from the surrounding wall around the statue.


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – 1963.


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” – Alabama, 1963 (Letter From a Birmingham Jail).

This trip began and ended on my bicycle – I planned an arc to the journey. I left Northern Virginia and went to the Pro Shop, a full-service bicycle shop in Georgetown.


I needed some brass nipples in order to build a new wheel set for a planned commuter bike – only one part of several projects underway. I got the components (Thumbs up the Pro Shop) and then headed around the city along the river on the Mt Vernon Trail to the Memorial Bridge. It was closed to traffic and was enjoyed by groups of happy pedestrians and mall visitors – many walking four or five abreast. Thanks to the National Park Service for doing this. Independence Avenue was also closed to through-traffic – an arrangement which made it easy for visitors and walkers to enjoy the full spectacle of memorials in the area of the National Mall. I crossed the bridge and sped along Independence Ave on my fixed-gear to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. There I was met by hundreds of fellow Americans enjoying the same thing (though most without bicycles ;)). The route of connected trails allows travelers who use bicycles to cross the Potomac River in many key points – both sides of the Key Bridge in Georgetown, both sides of the Memorial Bridge at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and over I-395 at 14th Street. These access points to the District all connect to the Mt. Vernon Trail – which runs along the Virginia side of the river. But for those in the District, there is also a network of trails (though more akin to wide sidewalks) that run along the river. The area is well connected by path/trail for use by bicycles.

It was a multifaceted journey on my bike that brought together history, tribute, sights of the National Mall and bicycling.

Did anyone else ride their bikes to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on his holiday? If so, how was your trip?

Thank you.

Feel free to leave comments.

All pictures above were taken by JL.

Wobbly Gear, A Ride-About.

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          A word of advice to those cycling recreationally – keep pedaling. By this I mean to point out that when the rider finds the need to ride easy up an incline, even one more than just slight, the best method is to use the ratio of gears designed to keep momentum. There is no reason to turn all the gears down and ride slowly – a technique practiced by too many.


          Notice the small ring on the inside of the crank – the chain-ring nearest the bottom bracket.* It’s extremely small. So small in fact, that on most bicycles, it is useless. The main bike/ride scenarios in which a triple chain ring may be necessary are on a few mountain bike rides and on long-distance touring. Really, the triple ring set-up is not even necessary on road bikes. But in circumstances of touring, the small ring is not used because of hills alone – it is used with hilly terrain + a bicycle loaded with panniers (front and rear). Otherwise, the strength of a rider who goes out even occasionally will be enough to carry the bike over most hills attempted by these kinds of riders on a set-up built around whatever the number of gears available in the cluster.

Note the lack of inner ring on the crank pictured below.


The chain runs between the chain rings and the gear cluster (cassette).


          I do not mean to point out one brand of crank set of cassette type or another. I just mean to use an image to make a general point. Of the two cranks pictured above, the one on the bottom lacks the inner ring. In cycling culture, this ring is built onto some faster hybrids (flat-bar road bikes) and basically every road bike built for speed. Mountain bikes, even those built with a double chain ring crank set-up instead of a triple, have smaller teeth counts and in their gear clusters, tend toward really high teeth counts in the lowest gear (those closest the wheel). The reason for this of course has to do with constantly changing terrain that alternates between degrees of mud, loose or rocky sections and varied grading. In other words, gearing must be designed to allow the rider to confidently climb and descend on dirt.

On a road bike, however, mainstream gearing of the double chain ring and a gear cluster with smaller teeth counts is arranged as such to allow (force) the rider to pedal harder…and thus travel faster. Why can’t hybrids such as comfort bikes and flat-bar road bikes arrive out-of-the-box with a double chain ring and slightly higher teeth counts on included gear clusters? These hybrids don’t need 53-39 teeth chain rings or 11-21 gear clusters of course. I am suggesting something slightly smaller than a compact road crank (a tad smaller than 50-34 teeth) with an 11-28 (road cluster designed for very hilly terrain). Or for some, a gear cluster more akin to a mountain bike – 11- 34 or 36 teeth. This may require the addition of a long-cage rear derailleur to handle the large gap between the smallest teeth cogs in the higher gears and the highest teeth cogs in the lower gear. But so what? Even if road riders (of which I am one) and mountain riders (of which I am also one) keep riding in technical gear-chain ring set-ups designed to handle specific technical tasks relative to each riding scenario, the majority of “Sunday afternoon” riders don’t need or want these set-ups. They don’t even need the alternative triple chain ring usually built on hybrids and nearly all kinds of recreational bicycles. They really should be riding bicycles built more closely to the gear arrangements I am talking about here – something that I will not coin as truly hybrid: HYBRID GEARING.

Taking this step will swerve recreational bicyclists away from defaulting to certain types of bicycles because the addition of hybrid gearing to a diverse array of bicycle types will change how they can be used. The most important reason I suggest this whole notion to the world of bicyclists and cycling culture is because if recreational and hybrid riders drop the chain to the smallest ring on a triple chain ring (assuming the chain is in a low gear on the gear cluster), they also tend to pedal slowly in an attempt to “force” the technology of the machine to carry them up the hill. The machine is never going to carry a rider. The rider always has to pedal the bike. And in this case, not only has the rider slowed their pace to something absurdly slow, this “technique” of pedaling also makes it easier for the rider to lose balance and weave erratically because the momentum of the bicycle and its rider have slowed so much. Momentum is your friend – consistent momentum produces a more steady and safely controlled bicycle. And if the rider can just keep pedaling a little more using a hybrid gearing in a double chain ring set-up, so much the better for maintaining pace up inclines. Gone will be the days of wobbly bicycle rides.

Thank you for reading.

Don’t hesitate to comment here or at Twitter.

*The Images above are intended as “fair use” and are not installed in the post to promote any one crank or cassette cluster or another. They are simply “quoted” from around the internet. Site

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Amidst the many options one chooses to engage in life, I choose bicycles. To that end, I registered Bike Rolls, a bicycle blog that may morph into a business in the future.

Expect Bike Rolls to change in the future.

Thank you in advance.