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.

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