Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Library Losers: Philosophy is a Walk on the Slippery Rocks.

The Losers will discuss our philosophy of weight loss today, since we had no tangible success this week. As a reminder, our beginning weight was 537.1 . Today, we weighed in at a hefty 541.2, yes, a 4.1 pound gain. Not the direction we were hoping for. 

None of us can offer a good reason for the gain, but perhaps a look at our prevailing philosophies of healthy living might shed a clue (In fairness, I did not ask my fellow losers about their philosophies. I am inferring from their behaviors.):

  • Amy is the only one who lost weight this week. I consider her the drillmaster type. She has a goal for each week, as far as pounds and inches lost, and keeps track of it. When she decided to join us, she also joined a gym. I think if she actually worked in the library with the rest of us, we would lose more weight. (Or we would be in jail, and you would be looking for Amy’s body under Charles’s boxes that have still not made it back into his cubicle.)
  • Emily’s philosophy can best be described as “flying under the radar.” You would never know that she is one of the losers. She never mentions our efforts except when I call her in each Wednesday to weigh. Occasionally, she’ll say that she went out for a run or a walk. Still her weight seems to always stay pretty much the same.
  • Pam has a more existential approach to weight loss, which fits her general personal philosophy. After all, this is the woman in the middle of moving books who will suddenly turn and ask, “Why do you think we’re here?” And the question has nothing to do with books. So it’s no surprise her fitness efforts are also filled with questioning. For example, last week, she wanted a snack. (To be fair, she saw me with some vanilla creme cookies.) She looked at my cookie packet, and then later at her very own cookie packet. Her face became sad and reflective: “Just think of it,” she said. “You eat them and then they’re gone. And what did it mean?” “It means you had a yummy snack,” I replied. But that was not the answer she was looking for.
  • I can only describe my own dieting philosophy as carpe diem. Yes, I have a goal weight. And I do want to get there. But not at the expense of enjoying myself. So I’m the one who eats the cookies and the ice cream and the pasta. But I’m also the one who runs and walks a lot. And I hope the two balance themselves out. But if they don’t, I’m probably always going to come down on the side of daily joy instead of delayed gratification. 

But where our philosophies have failed us, pants might just provide needed motivation. The weather has changed. And one of us has some pants from last year that she wants to fit into. Another has just ordered some new cords in a smaller size! So we start again.

Check in with us next week.

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Popular: The Jolly Librarian Defends Google (and Other Search Engines).

Last week, a student needed some information for a research assignment: the letter that Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was in response to. When I found it on a website, her face fell. I was puzzled. “Isn’t this it?’ I asked.

She nodded. “But we’re not allowed to use anything other than books and library databases.”

This is a dilemma faced often by library staff members. Faculty sometimes make Google off-limits for research papers. And it’s understandable. Faculty are tired of reading papers that have been copied from websites or full of sources from some crackpot blog (the Jolly Librarian excepted).

And who can be anything other than sympathetic for the poor instructor who assigned personal response essays only to receive several identical responses, all copied from the same website.

Still, I think banning search engines as sources is just not a good idea:

First, it can give students the idea of an unreal dichotomy of search engine= bad while database = good. Now I can hear some faculty members howling in disbelief: “But Jolly Librarian! You are always going on about those wonderful databases you have in the library! Are you turning your back on them?”

Not at all. I could not have made it through my doctorate without JSTOR. And I think Academic Search Premier is the best database ever for students who are doing the sociology journal assignments.

But there is nothing magical about a database. It is a collection of magazines and journals. And magazines and journals can have both useful and not-so-useful information.  There are letters, book reviews, editorials, etc. that may not be what you want to include in a research paper.

And, sure, there are some pretty awful things circulating on the web. (I should know. I seem to have people sending me them to me on a regular basis) But there is some good information as well: government documents, business information, more and more online archives, etc. And don’t get us started on Google Scholar.

Second, not allowing  the web as source ignores the fact that, for most of their lives, students will be using search engines to gather information. Google is the first place most of us go for information. Today, for example,  I needed to verify the author of Brave New World. Did I go into a database or check the library catalog? No, I used the little Google search box at the top of my screen.

In fact, we in the library often use a search engine as our first response when a student asks a question that can be easily answered.  And, sometimes, if you force us to admit it, we Google a question and then find it in a database if the student can’t use web sources in an assignment. Of course, we have the advantage of knowing how to critically evaluate sources.

So, while I love our databases, I think the best approach is not to discriminate against types of sources, but to teach students how to critically analyze ALL sources. After all, like the devil, bad information can come in all sorts of packages.

Monday Motivator: Invent a Kid!

Our former colleague Jeremy Grall was on a plane to Poland yesterday. He’d brought along some academic tomes to read on the flight. Instead he took out a Harry Potter. “Is that bad?” he asked.

I would say no since I know many intelligent adults who have loved the Harry Potter books. But in case there was still a tinge of embarrassment, I recommend a strategy I have used to my advantage many times:

INVENT A KID!

For Jeremy, it would go something like this. He notices the flight attendant looking at the title. He smiles and says, “My son is wanting to read this. But I want to make sure it’s age appropriate first. The things we parents do for our kids!”  Jeremy gets to read the book he wants while still seeming the good adult.

I have done this in the grocery store when I’m buying a treat that, while one of my favorites, is obviously a kiddy food. If the check-out person makes a comment like, “Oh, I loved this as a child. But my mom always said it was pure sugar.” I answer, “Well, it’s a birthday treat.” And then I pay and get out of there.

Now, for readers with children, this deception is not necessary. You can simply blame your real kids for your reading Harry Potter or eating Smarties. But for those of us without, a temporary invented child allows us to enjoy the pleasures of childhood without suffering ridicule.

So this week: Invent a kid, or blame your own. But in any case, buy those Fruit Loops.

Faculty/Staff Book Recommendation: Harlan Pease

Confederacy of Dunces

 John Kennedy Toole

There is no shortage of material available dissecting, analyzing, and praising this classic by John Kennedy O’Toole.   But one key thing exists outside the realm of Literary Critics (with a capital “L”) – the book is funny.  Ignatius T.Reilly gets in your head and stays there, and his voice lives on after the bookis finished to make you laugh at the absurd in the everyday.

For the literary analysis, O’Toole seems to have revisited the unreliable narrator that Chaucer used so well.  Like Chaucer’s narrator, Ignatius appears to be the fool, yet he is the one that reveals the real truth of situations and people in a bitingly sarcastic look at human existence and assumptions.  

Be sure to visit your library to borrow a copy of the book, or, if that is not an option, buy a used copy.  As Ignatius would say, “possession of anything new or expensive only reflect[s] a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even casts doubts upon one’s soul.” 

Actually, go ahead and buy a copy.  Ignatius supports the arts. 

Harlan Pease, English

Library Losers 2.0: Starting All Over Again Is Going to Be Tough

The Losers begin a new chapter today. The three original Losers (the Jolly Librarian, Pam and Emily) are back as well as our adopted Loser, Amy from Title III.  The 2.0 series will last until December 31.

Our team’s beginning weight is 537.1. Our goals are as follows:

  1. 130 pounds (2 of us).
  2. fit into a specific pair of pants in the closet.
  3. 1 pound loss per week.

Our goals are pretty conservative but definitely reachable. The only problems that I foresee standing in our way might be Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Oh wait: That’s most of the next three months.

Yep, we’ll need your support!

Life Lessons from the Library: We Don’t Always Act in Our Own Best Interests

Today, Emily gave a workshop on basic technology skills that make a successful student. We knew that this was a helpful topic because these are skills we’re asked about everyday in the library and faculty complain about their lack all the time.

Two people showed up: one a computer science student who needed some extra credit and a woman who really needed the workshop. After it was over, Emily was glad that she was able to help the student but sad that more had not shown up. I tried to console her: “It would have been in their best interest to attend, but people don’t always act in their own best interest.”

This is a basic truth both inside and outside the classroom. Students know they can’t write a good research paper in a weekend (and if they don’t know, their instructors surely tell them), yet a goodly number procrastinate and end up doing just that. Most know that going to a party instead of studying for a chemistry test is not a great idea, but many still go to the party instead.

But if it ended with our student years, it might be okay. But it doesn’t. I’m always a little surprised when I read editorials that say that government retirement money should be put back in the people’s hands. “They know best how to use their money,” the pundits say. But do we? Research shows that most Americans have not saved enough money for retirement on their own. Many more are drowning in credit card debt.

But the funny thing is that the pundits aren’t really wrong. We DO know that saving money for retirement is a good idea. We ARE aware that our credit cards carry 20% interest rates. We just don’t act on that information. 

In many cases, it is a clear case of short-term versus long-term benefits. Yes, I know that it would be good not to have to eat cat food when I’m retired, but that’s years away. It would also be good to go out and spend $40,000 on a fancy car, and  I could have that nice car by this weekend. Sure, I’ll end up paying three times the iPod’s value if I put it on my credit card, but I can have it TODAY!

And this behavior seems to transcend education, status, or even age groups. In fact, economists are now taking this way of thinking into account. A good book on the subject is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.   

The lesson here is that we have to put into place designs that make people have to work harder to do the wrong thing. For our library workshops, it would help students if they were mandatory unless they could show their instructors that they already know the skills. For retirement, workplaces could automatically take out a certain amount of money from paychecks unless workers opted out. And credit cards, well, maybe it should just be a whole lot harder for most of us to get them.

For those of us in the helping professions, we can’t take refusal personally. Not always working in our own best interest seems to be a basic flaw in our human design. Still, there’s hope: being aware of this may be the first step in the battle to overcome it.

Monday Motivator: Laugh at Yourself and You’ll Be Constantly Amused!

A few months ago, we were moving the AV collection from the Learning Center to its new location upstairs. Part of the job was to get the films back on the shelves in the correct order. The first time, we left too much space for future additions and ran out of room. So then we started shifting everything back a bit. At one point, that required two of us, one on each side of the shelf handing films to each other. Pam and I were doing this. She was handing them to me, but then disaster struck. She had gathered too many for me to take. So we stood there on either side of the shelf, both with our hands on the films, but neither in control. It was obvious that any second they were going to crash to the ground in a mess. We looked at each other and did the only thing possible: We broke into uncontrollable giggles at our mistake and let them fall.

Obviously, it was not the only response possible. One of us could have gotten all mad because the other didnt’ hand right or grab right. We could have grumbled at the extra work we were having to do. But those responses wouldn’t solve our problems either. And the thought of our standing there holding on for dear life to those films as if they were made of crytal was just too funny.

One of the nice things about working in the library is that there is just a lot of laughter that goes on everyday. We take our jobs, but not ourselves, seriously. And we are able to laugh at ourselves, which goes a long way in making a gentle, humane workplace.  

So instead of waiting for someone else to make a mistake or do something a little strange in order to have a good laugh, keep your eyes firmly on yourself. I promise that you’ll always be laughing.

The Jolly Librarian Considers Bias

I studied under postmodern professors who believe that truth is relative and no text is free from bias. While this may not be a useful way of studying literature, it does seem to be helpful when considering web sources.

About three or four times a week, either through email or Facebook, I am assaulted with links to webpages that accuse our current administration of various faults. This, of course, is nothing new. My liberal friends did the same thing during the previous administration. I guess this would not be such a problem except, in the library, we spend a lot of time stressing to students how important accuracy is. So when I noticed that so much of it was wrong and could easily be disproved by a simple check of the facts, I assumed the senders would want to know they were passing along wrong information. I posted links to Snopes.com, a site whose very purpose is to show the accuracy or lack of it in online chatter. But then one friend sent me a link to an article that accuses Snopes of bias. Never mind when I did the same search, underneath that article, there were at least three that refuted the claim. 

Now, first let me say that I have no idea if Snopes is biased or not. The authors could certainly be biased in choosing which articles to debunk and which to leave alone. But the issue I was dealing with was simple factual accuracy. If you say something was in The Wall Street Journal, then it’s a simple act to check the newspaper’s database to see if that article ever appeared.

So Idecided that some of what I was being sent had nothing to do with providing people with accurate information; it was just a form of venting. So I’ve left off commenting on it or even reading it.

But the web is a huge source of information for us, whether we’re searching for information for a research paper or the best home remedies for colds. So how do we cut through the bias to make sure we get the best information possible? Here are some rules of thumb:

  • The angrier the tone, the more wary you should be. Angry people are rarely sitting on the fence calmly looking at both sides of an issue. Whether you agree or disagree, your “bias shields” should go up when reading angry prose.
  • Watch out when the writers tell you how you should feel or react. One of the emails I often get sent starts with something like, “If this doesn’t upset you, then you don’t have a pulse.” This always irritates me, and my first reponse is ‘I’ll decide how I react. I don’t need you to tell me.’
  • Watch out for buzz words instead of logical discussion. They vary from issue to issue. One I keep hearing now in political ads is “Obamacare.” It’s pretty hard to have a civilized discussion over abortion if one side calls the other “baby killers.” And you can’t have a decent debate over the current president’s policy if to disagree gets you instantly labeled a “racist.”
  • Realize that it’s much harder to be bias-free that we think. Don’t assume you are without bias. In fact, if you analyze your own thought processes, you might find a common path. You make up your mind about an issue and then you autmatically, without thinking, pay attention to the information that supports that idea. So it’s a good idea, as a matter of course, to routinely look at sites, television shows, articles, etc. that show the other side of an issue.

 Bias is pervasive and insidious. And inevitable. But the good thing, once we realize these things, we are on guard against its effects. We become better thinkers and better citizens.

Meet Our New Staff Member: Allison Boyd!

The Mayfield Library is happy to have  Allison Boyd join our staff. Having had previous library experience, Allison was able to hit the ground running and make all our lives easier the first few weeks of the semester. She is also a very cheerful and happy person to have around!

The Jolly Librarian asked Allison to tell you a little about herself in her own words:

“I grew up in McMinnville, Tennessee, and I went to college at Freed-Hardeman University. I graduated with a B.A. in Arts & Humanities in 2006 and again with an M.A. in New Testament Studies in 2009. Presently, I am studying English education. Last year, I worked for the library at Motlow State Community College, and now I am excited to be here at Nashville State, with such fun, supportive coworkers and a vibrant, interesting group of students. I enjoy literature, languages, writing, music, and exploring interesting parts of town. Margaret Faye has urged me to mention my most recent accomplishment, which was converting an antique door into a coffee table over Labor Day weekend. The “coffee table” does not actually have legs yet. It still looks like a (very pretty) antique door on concrete blocks. I welcome any suggestions or carpentry.”

If you haven’t already, stop by the Mayfield Library and meet Allison.

Coming Soon: Library Losers 2.0!

Today, Pam and I were discussing that we had perhaps become a little too complacent with our losing routine. After all, if you looked back a year, we both had done very well. But we realized we were resting upon our laurels and needed to take the Losers more seriously, the way we did when we started. I mentioned this to Amy who agreed. Then I told Emily, who said that she doubted that she’d ever taken our efforts very seriously, but agreed to keep going. I also realized that it had been a long while since I’d heard from the Featherweights. I knew it was time for a new beginning.

So starting next week, we will be the Library Losers 2.0.

All past gains and losses are gone. We are starting over with next week’s weigh-in.

So if your office wants to become a team of losers, now’s the time to join.