Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Jolly Librarian Goes a Week without the Internet and (gasp!) Becomes More Productive

After storms moved through Monday night, I arrived home to find my phone and internet both out. Now I wasn’t terribly worried, mostly because a huge storm had just blown through, and it was clear that my electricity had gone out at some point. With the heat we’ve been having this summer, I was just glad the lights and the air conditioner were back on. My phone and internet didn’t seem so important. After all, I have a cell if I really need to get in touch with someone.

It wasn’t on the next morning, nor the next evening. Nor the next. Nor this morning. At first what seemed a minor annoyance became major. My staff usually emails questions in the mornings, so they don’t have to wait for me to come in to get their answers. I had a book review that couldn’t be sent until I got to work.  And I became dreadfully behind with my friends on Facebook.

But here is something amazing. The first morning, I got up, ate breakfast, read the paper, and got ready for the gym. When I arrived, I glanced at the clock on the wall. I was at the gym a whole hour earlier than usual. It happened the second and this morning as well.

I realize that I have gotten into the habit of hanging out on the web over breakfast: checking my work emails, seeing what’s going on with my Facebook friends, perusing possible books to buy on, and seeing if there’s a new song I want to download from iTunes. Lord. It’s a wonder I ever got to the gym or work at all.

There is a certain irony to this realization. After all, I hear folks make comments about the amount of time students waste on the web. I’ve made them myself, especially when I’m trying to close the library only to have a student refuse to budge because he’s just go to see the end of some silly YouTube video. But I learned I’m not immune to the time-wasting charms of the web.

So while I’ll be grateful when my Internet returns, I’m making a vow to be a more thoughtful user of it.

The Library Losers: In Which Our Heroines Ponder the Nature of Hunger

My friend Margaret has been dog sitting her mother’s dachshund, Emma. Emma is a closet eater, or, more accurately, an under-the-bed eater. During her stay with Margaret, Emma dragged under the bed and ate the following:

  • 3 granola bars
  • 2 boxes of raisins
  • Gorp
  • An open box of dog treats
  • Bag of Swedish fish
  • An avocado

This does not include the cups of coffee and a bottle of syrup that she jumped up on the counter and slurped up. In case there is no contraband or permitted food around, Emma will eat dirt. (Yes, Margaret actually has a video of this.) Now most domesticated dogs are candidates for eating disorders, although Emma seems to be a binger on steroids.

But Emma’s condition made us consider the nature of hunger. After all, in the wild, dogs are not eating this way.  They eat what they need, and then they move on. If they do stuff, it’s only because it is a season of scarcity and they will need the added fat later. (Now, I don’t know if any of this is true, but it always seems to be in the various chapter 1’s of diet books I’ve read.) But once dogs are brought inside and have easy access to foods, even foods that they’ve never seen before, they become crazy gluttons.

So the logical conclusion is that accessibility trumps hunger in both house dogs and library employees. 

For example, last weekend, I bought a jar of honey-roasted peanuts. I didn’t particularly like the taste, so I brought them to work (and yes, I know that makes me a saboteur of the other losers’ efforts). Nobody was that excited about them. Yet, each time we walked by, we found ourselves grabbing a handful. Hunger had nothing to do with it. We could be coming back from lunch and still our hands would go in the jar.

But one bright spot is that we have realized that fact, and all of us have made strides to battle eating things just because they’re there. 

The other bright spot is that we had a great week. No one gained. Two people maintained (although I suspect Emily is now simply maintaining to be obstinate). And three of us lost weight for a total of five pounds. Maybe not the results that Jillian Michaels would require, but we’re pretty proud.

And not one of us has resorted to eating dirt. So, no matter how bad we are, we still have more control than Emma.

Life Lessons from the Library: Always Have a Back-Up Plan.

Today, I loaded some songs on my iPod (always trying to have new ones in the running rotation) and headed to the gym. As I was stretching before going out on the track, I switched on the iPod. Nothing happened. I pressed the middle button in case I had mistakenly hit pause. Still nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. It was alternating an angry green and yellow light as if it were quite perturbed. After five or six more attempts, I had to face the fact: my iPod was not working.

But this story has a happy ending. I went out to my car and got my second iPod and brought it in for the track. So running ensued. 

One of the advantages of age is knowing that things will go wrong, and a back-up is needed. It is one of the things I tried to tell students when I taught composition. “When making out your schedules for your research paper, assume that the databases will be down one of the days that you’re doing your research. Assume that your computer goes into superfreeze the day you need to type your paper. Build in a plan around the worst-case assumptions, and then you’ll have your paper ready on time.” 

But students, especially younger ones, are essentially optimistic creatures. We see them in the library all the time: They have their paper on their flash drive ready to print off. Unfortunately, something has happened to the drive, and nothing is working. Or they wrote their paper in a word processing program that our computers don’t seem to recognize. The paper is due in five minutes. Disaster strikes. They are panicked.

Now, most of the time, we can help them or, at least, get them over to the wizards at the Computer Services Help Desk. But, often, the problem could have been averted by a little planning and back up. Here are some things that the library staff does to avert deadline tragedy which we hope might work for students as well:

  • When I was working on my dissertation, I had copies on my hard drive at home and at work as well as a flash drive. I also kept a hard copy of various drafts, so if the very worst happened and all computer versions disappeared, at least there would be one paper copy from which I could start again.
  • As well as saving a copy to your disk, email it yourself.
  • Get your resources early. We library folks know that the students who come to the library as soon as a research project is assigned get the best choice of books. Those who wait are forced to read the 600 page tome of political theory in early 19th century America.
  • Always assume something will go wrong and work that assumption into your project schedule. Have a back-up plan. Who knows? You might even finish the work early. And as far as I know, no one ever had a panic attack by finishing a project early.

Having my second iPod in the car meant that I got to run with my daily dose of Snow Patrol and Coldplay. Having a back-up plan for the research assignment might mean that you actually finish the project without wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s worth a try.

Monday Motivator: Their First; Your One Millionth!

Today was a busy day in the library as you can probably guess by my just now getting to the Motivator. Students had drafts of research papers due, but even more time-consuming, several sections required PowerPoint presentations that were due tonight. Emily bore the brunt of the latter group’s questions and did it with her usual grace and patience.

One problem with questions about PowerPoint on the assignment’s due date is that they seem to be the same questions over and over again. How do I get a background? How do I add a picture? How do I save it? By the end of the day, if you’re not careful, you’re tempted to answer a little shortly, or snap a little bit, or ask in desperation, “Did you not think of doing this assignment before today?”

But there is one thing we try to keep in mind. While this may be the fifteenth student with the same question today for us, it is the first time for the student asking. His or her anxiety level at trying to get the work done in time will not be helped by our frustration at hearing the same question again.

So what we try to do (and Emily does this much better than I) is wipe the slate clean after each student and treat each question as if it’s the first time we’ve heard it.  

Sure, it’s not always easy to do. But every student deserves the right to feel as if he’s being treated as a person with a question, not just the 50th question of the day.

So the motivator for this week: Try to wipe the slate clean after each question and problem today, and look at each student’s request with fresh eyes.

Libraries as Starfish Savers

You’ve heard the story of the person who spies a man on the beach throwing starfish back into the sea.

“What are you doing? There are miles and miles of beaches, thousands and thousands of starfish. You can’t save the tiniest fraction of them. What difference are you making?”

The old man smiles, replying, “I can make a difference to this one.”

As a dean, I spend a great deal of time working on a macro level–trying to structure learning resources so that the greatest number of students will benefit. Still, some of my most satisfying days are the ones that I just may have helped one student make it.

Take today. Although I don’t usually work Fridays in the summer, I came in today to finish up some paperwork. At 3:30, a student came in for help on a research paper. Now, in no way was she one of the desperate cases. She already had her thesis, her major points, and some source material. As we looked through the articles, she had a keen eye on what would be compelling evidence and what would not.

What she didn’t have was a great deal of confidence. Although she’d made A’s on all her papers so far, she was concerned that the research paper was a whole different animal and that she would never be able to write the five pages assigned. My main role was as cheerleader. “Great source.” “You’re really on your way!” And especially, “Yes, you have enough for five pages.” By the time she left, I hoped I convinced her. But I gave her both my and Emily’s schedules for Monday just in case.

These are days of data-driven funding and documentable outcomes and this one encounter won’t make any report I have to do this year. But I like being in the business of starfish saving. And if we in education ever forget how to do that, we are doomed and rightfully so.

The Harbinger of the End

Even if we did not have the semester calendar available to us, the library staff would know that the term is nearing its end. During renovations, with the computers down and the upstairs blocked off, we saw just a few students a day. And many of their questions were informational in nature.

Then this week hit. Students are completing research papers, finding books for projects, and trying to learn the intricacies of PowerPoint and Word. Today, at one point, we navigated helping one woman learn how to post a discussion and take an online assessment while helping two others find sources for their research papers on crime and recidivism.

And we’ve never been so happy. Despite all the other jobs that go into being a library worker, nothing makes us happier than helping students with their assignments. This is why all of us chose a college environment.

So if you’re a student out there wondering if it’s a good time to go to your library to ask a question, the answer is a definite yes. Come on over. It’s our job and our privilege to help you.

The Library Losers: In Which Our Heroines Ponder the Ways Technology Might Save Them

I am not a morning person. In fact, I might be described as a morning hater. My sister claims that at least some of her later digestive problems can be attributed to sitting at the breakfast table as a child listening to my mother scream at me to get up over and over again.

So I was intrigued when I read about Clocky in the book Nudge by Richard Thaler. Invented by an MIT student, Clocky is for those who are addicted to the snooze button. When Clocky’s alarm goes off, Clocky rolls over off the bedside table and flees. The sleepyhead must get out of bed and hunt it down to stop the alarm.

I did not buy a Clocky because I believe it would have lasted two days before I stomped its little runaway self into oblivion. But the idea behind it seemed sound: people who actually get out of bed are less likely to go back there. So I put my alarm clock in the guest bedroom. The next morning, the alarm went off. I got up, turned it off, and went right back to bed and slept for another two hours. This went on for several mornings.

So then I took another step. I took the alarm clock downstairs, turned it up as loud as it would go, and put it on CD mode. So now each morning, I am awakened by Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.” I am a Coldplay fan, but I bet that not even Gwyneth Paltrow wants to hear Chris Martin’s falsetto before breakfast. So I stumble downstairs and turn it off. And, so far, I have not clumped back upstairs to bed.

In the book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath note that maybe a future MIT student will develop a vending machine along the lines of Clocky, where a snack will take off and we’ll have to run and catch it. This inspired us to think of some other technology that would help the Losers:

  • Vending machine/scale/judge combo: When you make your choice, the vending machine says in a loud, shaming voice: “You weigh 155 pounds. Do you really want a Snickers?”
  • Vending machine/scale/drill sergeant combo: You are weighed and the machine judges how far you’d have to run to burn off the calories of the snack. Then, like Clocky, the snack takes off running the requisite distance.
  • A refrigerator that locks itself after dinner.
  • An email system that automatically deletes any messages with the words, “free food,” “snacks” or “Caesar’s menu for today.”

But while we wait for the technology to kick in (C Building folks, you could start working on this), we will continue with our slow and steady ways. Amy has lost more inches. I’ve gone to the gym each day.  Emily has a new appreciation for cucumber sandwiches.

And I’ll give the last word to Pam: 

This journey is truly life-changing, and I am continually challenged. It can’t be overstated, as Faye continually emphasizes, that one has to burn MORE calories than one takes in, in order to lose fat. That’s the plain and frustrating truth. Through passionately caring about my present and future health, I am choosing to eat constant ‘real’ food, much less sugar and salt; and equally important, am learning that I must allow myself the ‘mistake’ of learning through the I-feel-fatigued-so-I-probably-need-more-protein, etc.-phases, thus shifting and experimenting with changing my choices, etc., not just throwing my hands up and giving up. In that way, this is taking longer, but I’m truly becoming educated, and I feel like I have the hope of preventing, or at least, delaying the onset of inevitable weakening of my health as I grow older. For the first time in my life, I am allowing myself to make mistakes along the ‘weigh’. Important Note: Watch out for hidden calories! There are 10-yes you heard me right- 10 calories in 1 cashew. That’s 100 calories for 10 cashews!

Life Lessons from the Library:Be Gentle with Other People’s Treasures

Several times a semester someone calls to see if we want their old books. Many times, this is an emotional process. A parent, grandparent, husband, wife, or lover has died, and the person left behind is finally cleaning out the house. In some cases, the books are the last thing to go. No one is quite sure what to do with them.

The dilemma is this: no one in the family actually wants the books. But they are not valuable enough to sell. And there is just something about books that keeps people from simply stuffing them in the trash.

That’s when they call us. Now our policy is simple. We look them over, keep the ones we can use, and put the rest out on the give-away cart. For many people, that’s enough. They can honestly say they dealt fairly with Uncle Fred’s books.

These books come in various shapes and conditions. Recently, we opened box after box of books that had stayed in a garage for several months. Mold had gotten to some. What interested me the most was the number of perfectly preserved dead spiders that kept falling out of the pages. We debated for awhile whether they were brown recluses, but since we never came across a live one, we let it go.

When you are given another person’s library, you can often see changes that person has gone through over the years. There are boxes of how to make it through a divorce, how to deal with a difficult teenager, and sometimes the saddest of all, what to do when the diagnosis says cancer. I can’t help wondering sometimes if the person even remembered the feelings that went along with those books bought ten or twenty years earlier.

Recently, I talked with a woman who had lost her lover of several years. He’d died a couple of years ago, but she was just now getting to the point where she could go through  his books, his books being his most precious possessions. She wanted them to go to a place that would love and appreciate them as much as he did. Well, that’s what she said, but I suspect that she really wanted someone to love them as much as she loved him.  They turned out to be mostly science fiction and computer books, not something that we needed on our shelves. So now I must call her and tell her that we can give them away to students, but we can’t love them as much as she does. And she’ll have to keep searching for a better home for them.

There is a lesson to be learned learned from accepting other people’s books. Treasures come in all forms, and when someone offers to share theirs with you, it is your duty to be as gracious, gentle, and honored in the receiving as they were in the giving.

Monday Motivator: Take a Mini-Vacation!

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here at NSCC, some of us seem to have a case of the summertime blues. Why? Well, we’re in the middle of a never-ending heat wave. We are on the tail end of renovations, and after a couple of years, it’s hard to stay enthused about torn-up ceilings and misplaced faculty. Students and faculty are beginning to feel the pressure of deadlines as the semester begins to wind down. For some, the long-planned getaway is already over. For others of us, we’re just realizing that we haven’t taken a vacation this summer, and now it’s likely we’re not going to be able to at all.

Yikes! No wonder we have the blues. So what is the cure?

The Jolly Librarian has the answer. Take a mini-vacation, just a little something that reminds you of those long lazy days of childhood summer breaks. Here are some suggestions:

  • Eat ice cream.
  • Ditch the serious literature and find a fun read in the genre of your choice. My favorite is mysteries, and I love the thought of having a new book waiting for me when I get home. Series are also good choices; it’s fun to follow the same set of characters through various adventures.
  • Go see an afternoon movie, the sillier the better. (And believe me, silly is not hard to find this summer.)
  • Download a few new songs. As my faithful readers know, I usually recommend Snow Patrol, but here, I’m going to have to move away from the lads. For this, think back to those crazy summer songs that made up your high school, college, or favorite vacations. Revisit them. I just put “Lime in the Coconut” on my iPod, and it makes me smile every time it comes up in rotation.
  • Go out one night and just watch the fireflies for a few minutes.
  • Be at tourist at home. We’re lucky to live in Nashville with its variety of music, art, history, and theatre, but most places have some claim to fame. Check them out.
  • Go swimming with a child. (Actually, get in the water. Don’t just watch from the side.)

This list is just a beginning. I’m sure you’ll add many more when you think about it.  And send me a virtual postcard from your mini-vacation 🙂


The Jolly Librarian Ponders the Need to Share Too Much

Two days ago, Pam, one of our staff members , came down with a mysterious stomach ailment. It consisted of periods of agonizing pain where she doubled over, made awful faces, and then hobbled to the bathroom. It was not pretty to witness, and witness we had to since, at the end of each episode, she insisted she was fine. As of today, she truly is fine. And we’re none the wiser about what caused her discomfort, although we are much more knowledgable about everything that happened to her after she went home, disgusting things that if I encountered them on a television station or in a book, I’d switch the channel or turn the page.

But Pam’s experience made me wonder about those who share everything about themselves with any and everyone. And how they always tend to wind up among a group of people who share almost nothing.

Pam says it’s because she was in a band (a Grammy-nominated one), and that, on the road, there is often no such thing as privacy. And you’re with these folks 24-7, so it just becomes natural to share everything with them.

Now this is not a fault. It’s just that I am at the other end of the spectrum. When I’m sick, I hate calling in to tell people in case they ask what’s wrong. To me, that’s private. So I email a generic message to the entire staff, and I’m not terribly happy doing that. 

Perhaps it’s because I had chronic nosebleeds as a kid. I’d be sitting happily in class when suddenly blood would come rushing down my chin. My teacher would grab me up and take me to the bathroom, where depending on her theory of nosebleeds for that year, she would push my head back, push my head forward, keep my head upright, and/or pinch my nose. It was always embarrassing; everyone in the class watching me leave and then coming back with a sympathetic but still irritated teacher who’d had to leave a class of students for me.

 So I decided at a young age, I’d had enough of public physical ailments, and I would try to keep mine secret for as long as I could.

It extends to other situations as well. One of the first things my ‘adopted’ niece learned about me was that her Auntie Faye likes her privacy. I’d be visiting their house and excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

“Go with you,” Lowell announced.

“Now, you know Faye likes her privacy,” I said.

Then she would cry. And it says something about my need for privacy that I let her cry instead of letting her come in with me.

Later, she didn’t cry. She would simply stand at the bathroom door until she heard the toilet flush. “She’s coming back! She’s coming!” she’d scream. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was still too close for comfort.

But in the end, it all worked out. Soon, if I excused myself, she looked at everyone else in the room and said knowingly, “Faye needs her privacy.”

Still, there are always issues to be worked out when the many-boundaried work with the no-boundaried. I deal with Pam’s lack of boundaries by talking over her and saying things like, “You’re grossing me out. And I’m going to be sick if you don’t stop.”

She deals with my many, many boundaries by looking at me quizzically and saying definitively. “This is not disgusting.”

It shouldn’t work, but, somehow, it does.