Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Last Week of Classes: Remember We’re Here to Help!

As summer term winds down, remember that the library staff is still ready and willing to help you get the most of your last few days of the semester.

  • Are you still working on that research project? We can help you find good sources that are reputable, understandable, and will please your instructor.
  • We can provide basic help with formatting your papers or Powerpoint presentations. 
  • Our library provides a quiet place to study.
  • The library has study rooms where groups can work together.

And we’ll provide a word of encouragement or a sympathetic smile during this stressful time!

Good luck everyone!

The Monday Motivator: You Are Contagious. Decide how.

Recent studies on emotional and social contagion have come up with interesting results:

  • A leading predictor of obesity is our friends. If our friends gain weight, we are 171 percent more likely to gain weight as well.
  • Employees who are depressed and burned out pass those moods on to their colleagues.
  • A depressed friend can pass that mood on to you in just a 20-minute phone call if you start out the conversation in a neutral mood.
  • If you live with someone, your moods can converge, so that there is less difference between you.

The workplace is a great example of mood contagion. We’ve all experienced how one angry or unhappy coworker can bring down the mood of an entire group. Studies keep showing that we are vulnerable to others’ bad moods. Not a happy thought if you hang out with the chronically unhappy.

So this week keep in mind that moods are contagious. We may not be able to avoid that, but we can be aware of what’s happening. We can stay away from the chronically unhappy and/or actively resist letting their bad moods spread to us. We take preventive measures to guard against colds and flus; the same can be true for contagious bad feelings as well. Here are some suggestions:

  • When faced with someone who is always unhappy or angry, remind yourself that this probably has nothing to do with you, no matter how much the person might try to make it so. If you weren’t there, the person would be unhappy about someone or something else.
  • When possible, remove yourself from places that make you stressed, even if it’s just for a fifteen-minute break.
  • Fight back with  humor. Just as bad moods can spread, so can good ones. Be a carrier of happiness and contentment.

We may not have control over others’ bad moods. But we do have control over ourselves. So make a decision today to start a happiness epidemic!

What Are the Good Things about Being a Librarian?

The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.– Carl T. Rowan

A student once told Emily that if he had her job, he would kill himself.  I always laugh when I remember that because to me, working in the library is the best job in the world. For the person who loves reading and learning new things, the library is the perfect place to work. Here are some of the activities we do on a daily basis:

  • Help students with research projects but never have to grade any.
  • Spend time researching topics with students and for faculty.
  • Investigate new books and databases to add to the library.
  • Keep up to date on technology that is now the mainstay of libraries.
  • Make exhibits so that students and faculty know what the library has to offer.
  • Develop web pages for the library website.

All of these are very meaningful, but helping students has to be the most rewarding part of the job. Students often come in unclear about how to start a research project. We help them see that there’s nothing mysterious or even hard about the process of finding sources. It’s wonderful to see the fear disappear from their expressions as they realize they can handle the assignment. And it’s even better when students come back later to tell us that we helped them.

For me, the library was the place that opened up a door to different ways of thinking and  living. And I’m proud to be a small part of the tradition that provides that opportunity to others.

The Monday Motivator: Protect Yourself Online!

As I deleted the 50th email today in a language that looks like a combination of Russian and Greek, I decided that this week would be a good time to remind everyone to protect your identity online.

Almost 10% of identity theft occurs online, and the victims number in the millions each year. And, of course, we’ve all heard the horror stories of people meeting rapists and murderers online. So it pays to be careful.

Some basic guidelines:

  • If you plan to meet an “online friend” in person for the first time, make sure it’s a public place.
  • Don’t use the same user name and password combination for all your accounts.
  • Make  your User ID and password hard for a stranger to decode (numbers, letters, and mixed case).
  • Monitor whom your children are meeting online.
  • Don’t open emails sent by strangers.
  • Be extremely cautious about giving out personal information online.
  • Beware of phishing, those emails that look legitimate, but aren’t.

We all love the internet, but we have to remember that cyberspace is not all warm and fuzzy. There are some real crooks out there, and the internet provides perfect cover for them.

The Monday Motivator: Ask If You Can Help (and Listen to the Answer!)

Most of us like to think of ourselves as helpful beings. When we see someone struggling, we jump in to help.  And that is a good thing. Usually.

But there are times when we are so sure that we know the answer to someone’s problem, that we forget to ask if our help is wanted or needed. Or if there’s even a problem.

This happens all the time in the workplace. Someone is doing a task that we know we can do better or more efficiently. So we jump in and give all sorts of unasked for advice. And then we wonder why the person doesn’t seem grateful and maybe even angry.  

Perhaps it’s because we’ve made some unwarranted assumptions. We’ve assumed the person wants our help. (Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of our brillance!) We’ve assumed that the way the person is doing the task is not simply different, but wrong. And maybe we’ve even assumed a person should be grateful when we point out the error of their ways. None of the above is a given. And while workplace issues can arise from such misunderstandings, they pale beside the problems such assumptions can cause in personal relationships.

What we need to do is to add a step between the seeing of a “problem” and the “helping.” That is asking if the person wants or needs our help, such as “I’ve been dealing with angry customers at the front desk for several months now. Would you like some suggestions on how to calm them down?”

If the person says yes, then we’re free to offer our advice. But that’s not the hard part. We have to remember that the person has every right to say no, that she may be quite content with the way she is doing her job or handling her relationships, etc. (And let’s face it: some people just like the drama.)

 Sometimes we can’t give the person the option of refusing our help. If I’m having surgery and someone’s about to cut out the wrong organ, I don’t want any asking going on. I want those hands stopped immediately. But those life-or-death moments don’t happen that often. Often, what’s really at stake is simply the matter of being right.

So take a stand on improving workplace (and personal) relationships today. When you ask if you can help, listen to the answer. And if the answer’s no, move on without rancor.

What Do We Know? Not as Much as We Think.

For the past two weeks, the airwaves and internet have been buzzing over the deaths of Michael Jackson and now Steve McNair. Just as with the death of Princess Diana, commentators have marveled at the extent of the public emotional outpouring over complete strangers. Celebrity gives the impression of familiarity, they tell us.

For those of us in Nashville, the death of McNair seems to have hit especially hard. People on the screen as well as the average person on the street have done all sorts of verbal gymnastics to try to maintain the McNair-as-hero image in spite of the very sobering facts surrounding his last months. Perhaps part of it is due to the coupling of words “sports” and “hero.” We do this pairing way too easily in American society in spite of the fact that we have more than enough evidence by now to realize that high-level, high-paying sports are just as likely to bring out the meaner part of human nature as they do the heroic and noble. Secondly, we seem to have a hard time accepting that people can be both mean and noble. It reminds me of a friend of mine who had an affair. She once said to me despondently, “I still want to be Gandhi, but people only think of me now in terms of this one mistake.” But in our sound-bite culture, we often find it hard to take the full measure of a person.

But perhaps the real lesson to be learned here is the reminder that, despite the number of times we see celebrities on television and online, despite the number of interviews they give, and despite the number of articles we read about them, we don’t know them. Most celebrities spend a great deal of money to hire people to ensure that the public image is the only one we see. We need to take a step back and remind ourselves that the fact that someone is cheerful in an interview doesn’t tell us much about the real person. (In fact, it only tells us that he/she knows how to give a good interview.)

Recently, I read an article by two philosophy professors who said that instructors of critical thinking have traditionally spent their time on critically reading texts, which, of course, is important. Still, for most people now, the main mode of garnering information is not through text. People need to know how to critically evaluate what they see on the screen as well as what they see on the page.

Despite the gossip and publicity, to me, it all comes down to this. Three lives are lost, and families are grieving. Let us hope that we the public will give them the space to mourn in private.

Monday Motivator: Don’t Be So Quick to Say “I don’t have time.”

Time is a created thing. To say “I don’t have time” is to say “I don’t want to.”

 –Lao Tzu

Now if you’re like many people, this saying from Lao Tzu is not going to go down in your list of favorites. Research shows again and again that many of us feel time deprived, giving up sleep and exercise time to get work and family chores done.

Still, I think we should not dismiss Lao Tzu so easily. Saying “I don’t have time” has become for many of us the excuse that covers everything from doing distasteful things to trying new activities or even working towards goals that we say we want to achieve.

But a honest analysis of our time might reveal some troubling truths. Many people who say they don’t have time to exercise watch hours of television each day. I often say I don’t have time to work on my writing, but do manage to make time to read chapters of a novel or play hearts on the computer.

There’s nothing wrong with ditching a goal that no longer fits or choosing to spend time with family instead of going out with a friend who keeps asking you to the movies. But it’s important to realize that we are making choices, at every moment, on how we’re going to use our time.

To paraphrase Annie Dillard: How we spend our moments is how we spend our lives. Let’s make sure that we spend them consciously.

A Timely Reminder: Use Critical Thinking When Searching the Web

Probably Michael Jackson is the most popular search term this week six days after his death. The amount of information about him being placed on the web is astronomical. And some of it is accurate: TMZ was the first to report on his death on its website.

But the days following his death show the weakness of getting all of one’s information online. Getting information out instantly may be one of the web’s strengths, but the resulting weakness can be that rumor is put up instead of fact. Information is not checked out before published.

The other major weakness of the web is that anyone can post anything at any time. A good example is the story that Jackson is not dead.

So how to tell the good from the bad? It’s not always easy, but use your critical thinking skills:

  • Look at the source. Who is publishing the site? Who is the author? Have you heard of them before?
  • Does the position or argument make sense?
  • Can you find the information backed up in other places?

By using common sense and critical thinking, the web can be your friend when doing research.