Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Library Losers: In Which Our Heroines Find Success and Share it.

This may be our best week ever: Pam lost 3.5 pounds. I lost a pound. And Emily has maintained (which is her goal). And Amy continues to lose inches and is celebrating a looser waistband. Only one Featherweight checked in today, and she has maintained as well. So we thought we’d share some of her success strategies this week:

  • Drink two glasses of water immediately upon getting out of bed in the morning because it helps jumpstart your organs and metabolism for the day.
  •  When treats are served, choose only one. Today we had pizza and cake for Sandy’s retirement party. At least two of the losers chose strategically, choosing either a treat of pizza or cake but not both. (I admit it. I was the loser who pigged out on both.)
  • Keep moving. Joining the gym has made me more excited about working out. I’m getting more miles in and more of them are done running than walking.
  • One of us has found that smelling food is often enough for her, so she doesn’t have to taste it. This tip comes with a caveat. Other people really don’t enjoy someone leaning over their food to smell it. So this one might make you unpopular.
  • Two of us have had an opportunity recently to be with older people who are suffering from obesity-related illnesses. And we realized that we need to make some changes if we are to avoid that path. So picturing the lifestyle we want to live (instead of the cute little bodies we hope to have) is a better motivator.
  • Treat each meal or snack separately. It is too easy, after messing up, to say, “Oh well, I might as well eat everything in the freezer now.” Learn to get back on track as soon as possible.

But those of you who read novels know that heroines are often faced with great difficulties after a first success. So keep cheering us on our path.

Life Lessons from the Library: At Some Point, You’ve Got to Do Something with That Research!

This disease is well known among Ph.D. students: researchitis. This happens when a graduate student keeps researching and researching a topic but never actually gets to the writing stage of the dissertation. This can happen for many reasons from fear of not having enough material, from fear of the actual writing, or from the simple fact that researching is a hundred times more fun than writing.

Researchers, at all stages from the beginning composition student to the engineer at a major company, must, at some point, put down the books and  journals and do something with that knowledge. It may be to write the paper. It may be to take the product to a test market. It may be to admit that the process won’t really work. But something has to be done.

The same is true in life. At some point, we have to realize that, whether we know everything about a subject or not, we’re going to have to take action. It may be buying the car before we’ve consulted every single consumer website. It may be admitting that we don’t need to read another self-help book before we start telling people how we really feel. It may be that taking another class before starting our business is no longer the best course.

I’ve always admired my friend Margaret on that score. When she wanted to stop teaching and have a more flexible schedule from home, she researched being a freelance writer and then became one. When she told us a few years ago that she suddenly realized her mother had more friends than she did, she looked at ways of making more friends and then went out did it: joining Curves or hosting a neighborhood party. If it had been left to me, I would still be looking for that last perfect book on making friends so that I would be sure that I’d have everything right and couldn’t fail.

Of course, that’s the secret. Having done the research certainly gives you an advantage in being successful. But it can’t insure it. You could still fail. But here’s the thing: If you wait until you have every perfect piece of information, then you’ll definitely fail because you’ll never do anything.

A good example here is Thomas Edison who certainly did his research but also more than his share of trying. When asked if he were discouraged about failing so many times at “inventing” the light bulb, he responded that he hadn’t failed, he’d only found 10,000 ways that hadn’t worked. Which put him that much closer to one that would.

As a library person, I love research. If I did nothing but research, I would be a very happy camper. But real success marries research and action.

Monday Motivator: In Each Life, Rain Will Fall. So Buck Up.

Last week, we moved back into our beautiful renovated library with new carpet and new paint. It was a wonderful week. Then this morning, I received a call from my staff. There had been a sprinkler mishap. By the time it was over, bound periodicals were soaked, carpet was soaked in the learning center and library, and the floor was messed up in our computer lab. Water soaked through some of our walls and our floors, and for awhile, we weren’t sure if electrocution might not be in our future.

But in general, the damage was relatively mild. It looks like our computers came through unscathed. You never like to lose books, but if you have to, bound periodicals have the least impact on our students. Still, it was disheartening to watch the workers rip up our new carpet squares and know that it may be many weeks before the replacements will come in.

But what do you do? Sit around and whine? Or get up and do what needs to be done? Although I am often quite proficient at the former, I find that doing the latter actually makes life a little easier. So we got started on cleaning out a room that will become our second lab (and probably our only lab for the upcoming weeks). Maintenance, of course, started working on the various problems immediately. And we looked for a way to be open for students first thing tomorrow.

I doubt that we’ll look back on this day and say it turned out to be a great day. But we got things done. And in the end, that’s the important thing.

The Jolly Librarian Joins a Gym

I had put off  joining a gym for a long time. And I have to admit that my reason was pure vanity. I like to work out first thing in the morning after breakfast. This means no makeup, no styled hair (not that my hair is ever very styled), and no shower. Just me and my iPod.

But I’m not sure if it is due to the effects of global warming or my own aging, but this year, I’ve had problems dealing with weather extremes: first weeks of subfreezing temps in the winter and now weeks of 90s in June. So I joined the Bellevue Y.

The first day I went to work out, I prepared: I put in my contacts, washed my hair, and even put on some tinted moisturizer. But once there, I was in for a most pleasant surprise. The Bellevue Y is a most egalitarian place. Sure, there are some with designer work-out clothes and carefully tousled hair. But then there are others who simply have thrown on some clothes. And there’s one group of people who don’t even own work-out clothes, simply walk the track in shirts, slacks, and tennis shoes. In fact, my Y is combination Y and senior center, so I can see a nice transition into old age here.

I am not a machine person. I stay on the track. Now I can’t explain why running in place on the treadmill makes me crazy but running 52 times around a circle to get my four miles in doesn’t. But that’s just the way it is.

Once I learned I was not going to have to get dressed up, I got into a routine. I ate breakfast at home then put on my work-out clothes (Does anyone else have tshirts from 1995?), clip my hair off my face, put on my glasses, and get my iPod. I drive the five minutes to the Y, where I put my purse in my locker (I bought a new pretty pink lock just for this purpose to show my seriousness) and climb the stairs to the track.

Like all activities, walking/running has it levels of intensity. The really serious people probably were up at 4, running the streets, and if they come in the Y, it’s only to lift weights. The next level of seriousness belongs to the treadmill people. I can see them from jogging seriously, checking the machines to see how many calories burned and their heart rate and pulse are doing.

Then there are those of us on the track. We are the motley crew. If it tells you anything, I am often the youngest one running the laps. There are those who are obviously doing some sort of rehab. There are others who come to chat while they work out.  Then a few of the more athletic will come up to do a few laps after or before bootcamp training. There is one woman who has a very Zen approach. She walks the five feet from window to window and then stares out the window for a good five or so minutes before moving to the next one.

Now gyms are notiorious as places to check out the dating market. Librarians also like to do some checking, but our goals are a little different. I notice as I’m running how many people below me on the tread mills are reading books, magazines or iPads, versus watching the televisions that are installed on each machine. There are some ellipitical machines at the corners of the track for those who want to exercise away from the crowds. One day, a guy was there reading a book. Each time I passed him, I tried to find out the title. Then it occurred to me that he might think that I was interested in him and not his book, so I averted my eyes for the rest of the laps.

You might be asking: What is the Jolly  Librarian doing during those 52 laps when she’s not surveying the reading tastes of other members? It is a good question, and one I’ll answer next time. Stay tuned.

The Library Losers: In Which Our Heroines Face Competition and the Fear of Success

For many months, the Library Losers have been dealing only with ourselves. There have been no outside forces to compel us to improve our dietary habits. This changed last week. First, Amy Stewart joined our group, and she has serious goals, such losing a certain amount each week as well as a certain percentage of body fat. Suddenly, we’re thinking we’re going to have take ourselves a little more seriously.

Then things got even worse. Over in the C Building, a gentle group of women centered around the Workforce Training Office came together to form another group of losers, and they are also serious. They even gave themselves a name: The Featherweights. It became clear that the Losers would have to get serious or be known forever more as the group that even lost at losing.

And we had a good week. Our group lost a total of 2.5 pounds. There were several contributing factors to this besides the competition. One of us (and we’ll go nameless here to avoid the shame) took before pictures of the flabby parts as a cruel reminder the next time she wanted to pretend that things were not as bad as she thought. One of us went to the gym six out of the last seven days.

But quickly, we discovered another problem. We had succeeded. And what do you do when you succeed at something? You celebrate! And how do we celebrate? That’s right. With ice cream.

So we are now trying to feel good about ourselves without that icy legal addictive substance. Only next week’s weigh-in will tell us if we can keep the ball rolling. So check in with us.

By the way, the Featherweights are starting off nicely At press time today, they’ve lost 2 pounds.

Life Lessons from the Library: A Source is a Nice Thing to Have (But Verify, Verify, Verify)

Recently, I was a function where one of the guests was telling everyone how to lose weight. She told us what to eat, what not to eat, what kind and how much exercise we should get. All of this information had a basic message: we could get as thin as she if we would just do what she does. There was just one small omission in her instructions: She neglected to mention that she was also a smoker, something that helped keep the weight off but didn’t do much to promote the healthy image she was trying to project. So I marked her off  the list of good sources for tips on healthy weight loss.

One of the most important things a beginning researcher should do is to learn to verify sources. In many classes now, instructors ban the web as a source and make students use databases only. I understand why they do this: it is an attempt to have students use good sources, those that can be trusted. And articles in a  database certainly go through at least one round of  review, unlike the pure web where the Jolly Librarian’s opinion of George Eliot can sit equal with that of the greatest  Eliot scholar known to humanity. Still, students should learn to judge critically articles for their validity and reliabilty and simply not trust their packaging (database).

When I taught, I always liked to use real-life examples to drive home my points: Suppose you’re wanting to take Comp I next semester and you’re looking for a good instructor. So you ask one friend about Dr. Jones.

“Aargh,” he screams, “Dr. Jones is the worst in the world. I didn’t learn anything in that class. She should be fired.”

Then I would ask the class: Is this a reliable source?

(Since I was the Dr. Jones in question, there would be shouts of agreement that the source was impeccable.)

But then we would do other scenarios: In one case, the source had missed three weeks of class and was notoriously tardy in turning in assignments. In the other, the source was a hard-working student who cared deeply about her classes and went for tutoring each day.

Of course, in real life, sources may not be so simple to judge. It’s sometimes hard to know when people have hidden agendas, and sources themselves aren’t always aware of their biases. So it’s always important to verify information that we’re given. Even professional journal articles are not immune to bias since they too are written and reviewed by humans.

So, the lesson here is a simple one in both research and in life: use sources but don’t trust them blindly.

Monday Motivator: Sometimes You’ve Got to Fake It.

One of the more interesting news feeds that came over my Facebook page today was the item from the New York Times that sometimes when soccer players are tumbling to the ground during World Cup matches, they are faking in order to get a foul called on the other team. What I found most interesting is that this would be considered news. Come on, surely, everyone has witnessed great acting from an athlete hoping to get a favorable call. According to my dad, almost every injury that occurs to anyone playing Alabama is nothing but a fake.

Still, faking can have a useful role in our lives. Happiness research tells us that even faking a smile can make us feel more cheerful. And probably no student in any introductory speech course would ever actually give a speech if he/she didn’t fake confidence (or, in my case, not dying) for the first few minutes.

When we call someone a fake, it’s usually not a compliment, but probably every courageous act started out with shaky knees and tumbling tummies. The only difference between the success and the failure was that the successful person felt the fear and then faked the confidence.

Are Libraries Necessary?

This is a question I am asked at parties by folks not in the field. (This may explain why I don’t particularly like to go to parties. Most people don’t have to defend their professional existence over wine and cheese.)

The first time I was asked this question, I was astounded. I have spent most of my life in school, both as instructor and student, and can’t even imagine my life without libraries, let alone a society without them. “Of course,” I responded emphatically, as if someone had just asked if I thought oxygen was necessary.

But now, after years of working in the library, I understand the question. Many students think research is simply Googling a term. And they don’t need librarians to do that. Even those who are more adept in their research skills can use the databases from home or work. So are we necessary?

I am not qualified to answer for the entire library world. But I can for my own library: the answer is an unqualified yes. And for both obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.

The student researcher today is inundated with information. The simplest web search can come up with hundreds of thousands of hits. Even database searches can seem overwhelming. Students need instruction on how to limit searches to useful information, not the first three or three shortest articles that pop up. And librarians know how to do that, and we have time to help students with those searches.

But at my own library, students see our staff as much more  than “research guides.” For many, we have become surrogate teachers, parents, siblings, and counselors. We help them find their schedule. We do on-the-spot advising. We show them how to navigate their course shells. We’ve even walked them to their classes in other buildings.

There are several reasons why we are often bombarded with non-research questions. We are an open office with someone always available from morning to night, so students know that they’ll find a live person in the library. Two, library workers, by their very nature, like to find answers. So we see it as a personal challenge to discover if a class will transfer to Kentucky or if the bus stops on Old Harding Pike.

Beyond that, since we are not grading students or having to get from one class to another, we have the time to see beyond the student label, to the often scared and insecure person in front of us. We have comforted students who have just failed a test or lost a document on the computer. We provide a relatively quiet place for study, and we are non-judgmental when a student can’t do something that an instructor has already explained how to do. 

We solve the problems when we can, and we just listen if that’s what we need. 

Many of our students are the first in their families to come to college. They don’t know the system; they don’t know what to do when things start going wrong for them academically.  Many, especially among returning adults, are unfamiliar with word processing or other programs and last did research from books, not databases.  Having been both teacher and library dean, I’m surprised at how many students will ask us questions they are afraid to bother their professors with.

For these reasons and more, I still nod emphaticaly when asked if libraries are necessary. And I truly can’t imagine a time when they won’t be. It is the most fulfilling and meaningful job I’ve ever had.

The Library Losers: In Which Our Heroines Realize that Sins Must be Accounted for.

I have a confession. I love ice cream. I mean I love it the way Colin Farrell loves making sex tapes. I am not the only Loser with this weakness. Both Emily and Pam like ice cream as well. So we are trying to come up with a way to work around this particular problem.

Pam’s solution has been to skip meals and then eat ice cream for supper. She will tell us how much ice cream she ate. Emily and I will look at her in horror. She’ll then say, “What? I didn’t eat breakfast (or lunch or dinner)!”

On the other hand, Emily is the “accountant” of the group. When faced with a tempting treat, she does a quick mental calculation: “Is this treat worth the calories?” She has a whole list of foods that don’t make the cut: peanuts, Twizzlers, Smarties, etc. So she always has some calories in reserve to eat ice cream.  It’s probably no surprise that she is the slimmest of the original Losers.

Another technique we have used  to some success is to buy individual serving sizes of ice cream. This has worked on our waist lines but has not been so great for our pocket-books. Each carton has 150 calories, but probably costs $50 per ounce. Still, sacrifices must be made.

A few years ago, Linda Lyle decided to lose some weight. I remember asking her what plan was she using: Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Blood Type. She looked at me for a moment as if I suddenly stopped making sense. Then she answered in her usual gentle manner: “I’m eating less and exercising more.” As usual, Linda went to the basic truth of weight loss. There is no magic potion, just a simple mathematical formula (which might explain why I’m no good at this): Calories in must be less than calories burned.

Research shows that people who keep food diaries tend to lose weight. The reason is pretty simple. It’s easy to lie to ourselves when we’re not accounting for every single bite we eat. In our memories, the 900 calories we eat in ice cream for supper is easily made up by the 300 calories we didn’t eat when we skipped breakfast. I know there are some days that I feel quite proud of myself for having a salad for lunch and then remember that I also had a bag of vinegar/salt potato chips in the afternoon and maybe some cashews out of Charles’s stash (and was it one handful or two?). A food diary can keep us honest. In fact, in one survey, the majority of respondents said that the food diary was the only thing that had really worked for them.

So we continue on our quest. The original Losers gained one pound this week, but one of us joined a gym and another has been walking most days despite the heat. So we’re carrying on.

Life Lessons from the Library: Determine How Much Information is Enough.

When making a purchase, how much research do you do before making a final decision?  Do you look at all possible books, articles, and websites before shopping? Do you go to every store that sells the item before purchasing? If so, you are what is called a maximizer. You would think that would be a good thing, but research into happiness shows that maximizers are not as happy as the satisficer. The satisficer is the person who has criteria and standards but is not overly worried that there might be something better out there or might lose out on a better deal.

There are several problems with being a maximizer. For one thing, in a world that includes the internet, you can be in the position of never finishing with the research. There will always be one more consumer satisfaction website to read, one more store (perhaps in India but with free shipping!) where to check prices. Then even after purchasing, the satisfaction has a hard time kicking in. After all, perhaps someone else might have gotten a better deal or maybe a newer and better model came out right after you bought your widget, etc.

Now, satisficers are not the type to go out and buy a car on a whim. But they have a sense of what will satisfy their goals. For some, time may be more valuable than money, so saving a little may not be worth the extra hours spent on the research. And for others, like me, the stress of continuously searching takes away from the joy of ownership. When I was buying a camera, I voluntarily limited my search to what was available at  Costco. I just wanted to take pictures, not become the next Annie Leibovitz. I bought my camera and have been more than happy with it now for three years.

This is also true in research. Some students can never stop looking and start writing the paper. I’ve known people who never actually finished their doctorates because they were always looking to make sure that nothing new had popped up in the research since the last time they did their literature review. One thing that librarians and teachers know they have to do is gently lead students to the point when they say they have done a good enough job on the research and start writing the paper.

Whether writing a paper or buying a car, knowing when enough research is enough can make for a much happier experience and make you a much happier person.