Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Jolly Librarian Ponders Fairness.

Probably every parent and teacher says over and over again through the years to children and students that life is not fair. And it is undoubtedly one of the truest statements ever made. Good people suffer. Bad people prosper. People who make stupid attack ads get elected. Women reduce their calorie count to starvation levels and lose only three pounds while their boyfriends give up beer for a week and lose ten. All we have to do is look around us on any given day and see massive evidence that life is not fair.

Yet we all still expect it. I pondered this contradiction  just this morning as I went online at 10 a.m. to buy my U2 tickets for July’s Nashville concert. As far as I know, I did everything right. I hit the “buy tickets” button right at 10 a.m., but apparently taking the time to see where each price level would seat me was my undoing. Because when I went back in a minute later, there were no tickets. At any price.

Yet, at the same time that I was being turned down by Ticketmaster, Craig’s List and eBay were filling up with tickets-for-sale ads. It seemed unfair to me, and I have to admit that I spent more than a little time feeling quite sorry for myself that I would not get to the concert unless I was willing to dip into my retirement fund. By the time I’d finished moping, I was not only mad at those people who’d bought tickets only to turn around and sell them, Ticketmaster for not having the site set up so that I would have known immediately how each section was priced, but Bono as well, for not realizing that he might have some fans who couldn’t afford high-priced tickets but also weren’t comfortable standing for five hours in the midst of drunken revelers.  

But then I finally just laughed at myself. As a former college instructor, I certainly have said my share of “life is not fair” to pleading students who partied too hard and forgot an assignment. And, after all, what grown person thinks there’s fairness in rock music and big business?  

Basically, fairness is one of those constructs full of irony. Happiness can result from trying to be as fair as possible to those you see each day. But one sure way to make sure you’re never happy is to expect fairness from others, the universe, and rock concert ticket venues.

Library Losers: “Blame It On a Simple Twist of Fate”

There is a reason women hate the scale more than men: hormones. Throughout their lives, women are always fighting hormonal changes that can make them weigh 2 or 3 pounds more or less each day. Men may overeat, they may be couch potatoes, they too may down a quart of ice cream after a break up, but their weight is honest weight, not up or down due to hormones.

And when hormones and fate work together, the result is not pretty. Our combined weight today is 535.9, down from when we began but up from last week. And I again am responsible for the increase. But here’s the weird thing. If the weigh-in had been yesterday, we would have been at our lowest weight ever. But somehow, I gained more than a pound in 24 hours, even though I worked out at the Y, brought my lunch, and even avoided my favorite afternoon treat, Salt ‘n Vinegar potato chips. 

For a brief moment, I thought of cheating and putting  down yesterday’s weight. I mean, is it really cheating if I just transpose two days? But in the end, I decided to be honest. Because I know exactly where the blame needs to be placed: On fate. And hormones.

Life Lessons from the Library: If You’re There, People Will Ask You Questions.

Today, there were severe thunderstorms and tornadoes all around our campus.  It was the kind of weather that I imagine inspired the Snow Patrol song, “Lightning Strike” (well, except for the last redemptive section). A student who lives in another county wanted to know if the weather was safe enough around our campus to drive on in to class. So she called . . . the library.

Last week, I received an Ask-the-Librarian email, wanting to know if the other campuses had open labs and Macs in those labs. She kindly said she was asking us because the library got things done. I think she was probably just flattering me so I would look for the answer, but she was right. There is in the nature of library people the need to find an answer for questions. And library people also tend to think that there are no questions that are outside our area.

In fact, there have been many times when students have grown tired of the search and moved on to something else; they have left the librarians still looking and searching until they find the answer.  Yeah, we’re nerds and proud of it.

Still, there is another more practical reason that we receive so many questions. Simply put, we’re available. We’re open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. No matter if some of us are at meetings or teaching or working with other students, there will always be someone at the circulation desk to answer the phone or help the drop-in. Students know they will always get a person, and they take advantage of that fact. And we’re glad that they do.

Still, that does mean we sometimes get some questions that are unexpected:

  • Why is my financial aid not complete? 
  • Will my instructor accept my paper late? 
  • Do you have (fill in the blank)? We’ve had requests for the obvious, such as paper, pens, or calculators all the way to personal hygiene products, creamer, band-aids, and food.
  • What time does the (financial aid, records, admissions, division offices) close?
  • How much does my math book cost?
  • Why is my classroom empty?

In general, whether the question pertains to our area or not, we try to find an answer. (The exceptions are financial aid and what an instructor will or won’t accept.) So we call the departments to see if classes have been canceled. We look up the price of a book on the bookstore list. We have an extra supply of bandages, eating utensils, and folders in case students need them.

And we do this for several reasons. One is that we really like students. But two, we realize that customers tend not to make distinctions between parts of an organization. It doesn’t really matter if we don’t know or just say we don’t know; it appears that our institution doesn’t care about getting the answer if any one of us says I don’t know and I’m not going to look because it’s not my job.

Besides in life, we’re usually on the other end, asking questions and trying to get help, and wishing the person would find us an answer instead of taking so much time explaining why it’s not his/her job.

Monday Motivator: If You Must Snap, Snap at the Right Person

Friday, I was in line at Target pharmacy to pick up a prescription. So was the woman in front of me. Something had gone wrong, and her medicine wasn’t there. It turned out that the doctor’s office made a mistake, and it couldn’t be fixed until the pharmacist was able to reach the doctor, something that she’d already tried to do that morning.

The woman in front of me was livid. I know this because she announced in a very loud voice, “I am livid.” She then proceeded to share this anger with the pharmacist and her assistant for several minutes, berating her doctor and the doctor’s staff, yelling about how much time she’d wasted on this, and how she needed her medication because she was about to go on vacation. She seemed to think that her tirade was okay since, as she said several times, “I’m not mad at you.”

I did what any good person with British genes would do. I stared at the floor and pretended that this embarrassing encounter was not going on in front of me. Still, I couldn’t help but think about what a complete waste of time this was.

Sure,  the woman had a right to be upset. But the pharmacist had done nothing wrong, was doing everything in her power to ameliorate the situation, and couldn’t actually do anything else until the doctor’s office called her back. Nothing was being accomplished here except the woman’s getting to vent and my getting a topic for the Monday Motivator.

I am not a fan of snapping at people, but if snapping is going to be done, and let’s face it, it is, then at least snap at the right person. This woman could have felt just as good by making a call to the doctor’s office and venting her feelings there, with the added benefit that these were the people who could actually resolve the situation.

Someone once told me that anger should never be expressed unless all of the following criteria are met:

  • It’s directed towards the right person.
  • It’s at the right time.
  • It’s done privately.
  • It’s done to solve a problem, not to get even.
  • And if you get even the least bit of pleasure out of making the other person feel bad, then don’t do it.

It makes sense. So here’s hoping for a snap-free week.

The Mayfield Library Welcomes New Staff Member: Terrence Kane

Terrence Kane started work at the Mayfield Library on Monday and hit the ground running. Already he is helping students find materials, recover lost documents, and print their Powerpoints. He is also learning how to battle the copy machine into submission.

Take a moment and meet Terrence Kane:

  1. What do you like most about working in the library?
    • In my first three days I have had more people say “Thank You” than have said it throughout my entire life. Everyone (staff and students) seems to have a super friendly disposition which creates a comfortable work environment.
  2. What do you wish students knew about the library?
    • So many movies to take home, but, as I have learned, don’t come looking for material on Frederick Douglass; someone was a big fan.
  3. What are your hobbies?
    • Playing music, biking, screen printing, reading, and buying 45 rpm records. There is nothing quite like spending an afternoon digging through record bins and finding the absolute perfect title. It’s bliss.
  4. What’s your favorite television show?
    • “The Wire.” Creator David Simon is a 2010 MacArthur Grant recipient, so I guess that validates my five years of obsession over the show. Take that “Law and Order.”
  5. What’s your favorite movie?
    • Masculin Feminin. It was directed by Jean-Luc Godard and released in 1966. Godard is credited with a cinema movement dubbed the French New Wave. I also really like The Harder They Come. It is a must see for any Jimmy Cliff fan or I guess any fan of reggae music in general.
  6. What’s your favorite book?
    • This is tough, so I am going to pick two. The first is Everything that Rises Must Converge. This is a collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories and a must for anyone into Southern Literature. The second book is A Confederate General from Big Sur. This was written by Richard Brautigan who was dubbed by literary critics as the writer most representative of the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s. Little did they know that he was not really a fan of hippies.
  7. What is a saying/code/ideal you live by?
    • Buckle up!


The Jolly Librarian Ponders Planning

Life is what happens to you While you’re busy making other plans.– John Lennon

One of our critical thinking initiatives concerns planning. For the college student, planning is a pretty crucial skill. There is the assumption that one has a reason for coming to college: becoming an accountant, getting your grade point high enough to transfer, even, in the old days, to find a husband. Having that long-term goal firmly implanted in your mind can help get you through the days when you’ve studied until 2 a.m. and have to get up for an 8 a.m. class. It can help when math formulas are so mixed up in your head that you can’t see straight.

But sometimes those long-term goals are so far ahead in the future that they no longer seem especially motivating. That is why having shorter-term goals are just as important. They give you happy successes on the way to your larger goal.  

Goals can keep you on a path, but one thing to remember is not all paths are straight. And that’s okay as well. One of my life goals, for as long as I can remember, was to earn a doctorate in English. Now, no one could have taken a more roundabout way than I did in achieving that goal. My first degree was in Journalism. My first Master’s Degree was in reading education. I had actually started a degree in education administration, because it would be more practical, when I realized that I could not face any more of those classes. I decided to take a literature elective one semester to give myself time to think. Within ten minutes of the first class, I knew I was where I needed to be. So for the next few years, I took classes at night while working during the day. I wrote my thesis on Virginia Woolf and then I had a Master’s Degree.

I told myself that was enough. And a few more years went by. But still, the goal of having a doctorate and not just a doctorate in any field kept flashing in front of me every so often. So at an age where most folks are more than finished with their formal educations, I packed up my car and moved to western Pennsylvania for two summers. The first week I was there, I totaled my car. The second summer, I lived in an apartment across from a fraternity house and read Shakespeare with a throbbing bass for background. I reviewed Spanish and learned enough French to pass the reading examinations. I spent a year fighting procrastination and a long-distant advisor who was very kind but a procrastinator in her own right to write my dissertation while working full-time. But I did it. In 2003, I officially became a Ph.D.

Planning is good, and plans can keep you on track. But remember, just because you go off the track at some point doesn’t mean you won’t have another chance to jump back on and complete that goal. If that’s what you still want. And if not, you have every right to make another plan and start over.

The Library Losers: Feel Like I’m Winning When I’m Losing Again

The good news is that the Losers are at an all-time low: 535 pounds. The bad news is that our success can’t be explained by any logic or rational thought.  I feel a little like I did occasionally as an instructor when I would add up the final grades for a student who did not do well on any one particular assignment, but somehow made it to the passing range. The numbers seemed to take on a life of their on.  So it is with us this week.

Amy is at the same weight for the third week in a row. Here are her thoughts on this situation:

Well, despite my efforts of a five-day-a-week gym schedule, having a trainer, AND seeing a nutritionist, I made zero movement in the past week.  Not a single pound, inch, or BMI percentage point moved – in either direction.  There isn’t a word in the English language strong enough to convey my frustration level, but nevertheless, I shall persevere.  The fat will not defeat me!

I lost .7 pounds from last week, but since that weight reflected the ton of food I ate at the farewell party, it is not exactly a victory. And, to make matters worse, I have had to cut back on exercise. During the summer when I was on a modified schedule, I could get in four miles a day. Now I’m doing well to get three. And it’s showing. Oh, sure, some people might take this as a sign to eat less to make up for the exercise reduction, but, come on, you know that’d just not going to happen with the Jolly Librarian.

Pam lost weight as well this week, a fact we’re attributing to a party she’s giving this weekend, which required her to clean house this past fall break. And only those of you who know Pam can truly understand what kind of workout that was!

So we celebrate, although we don’t know why. And we hope our luck holds out.

Life Lessons from the Library: Take Advantage of Down Time

It is almost 3 p.m. on the second afternoon of fall break. Most of our computers are filled with students who are finishing up on various projects that are due later this week. But in general, it has been a quiet two days. Only a couple of students have needed in-depth help with papers, and a few have had quick word processing questions.

In the library, we take advantage of whatever down time is provided for us. Charles is unpacking boxes from the renovations this summer. Sally is catching up on cataloging. Andrew has been training our new employee, Terry. Allison has been able to do some in-depth essay evaluation with students. And I’ve worked on a presentation about reading journal articles. These are not the sorts of things that we are able to devote time to when students are here.

I think it’s a good lesson for outside of the library as well. For most of us, there is never going to be an unlimited amount of free time to pursue dreams. We have to take advantage of the small breaks that appear in our already busy lives. And they are there if we will only look carefully:

  • Cutting back on only one television show a night can create 3.5 hours of time for other things each week.
  • Bringing lunch instead of going out can give you a hour a day for reading, writing, or other activities.
  •  If you are a compulsive joiner or you have a tendency to say yes to everything that’s asked of you, schedule one hour that’s just for you and when people ask you to do something, say (very truthfully) that block of time is filled.

Most of us don’t have scheduled down times like fall, spring, and semester breaks to let us work on those important projects or even not-so-important ones that keep getting pushed aside. But we all have mini-down times. So use them wisely.

Monday Motivator: Give Second (or Third) Chances, but Be Wise After That

I was playing ball with my four-year-old friend yesterday when her ten-year-0ld cousin came out to join us. Her face crumpled.

“Make him go in,” she said. “He’ll scare me. He’ll jump up behind me and scare me.”

I tried to explain that I couldn’t punish him for something he had not yet done. She sighed and stage-whispered in the most world-weary tone, “He’ll scare me. He always does.”

I sympathized with her. After all, it is the nature of ten-year-old boys to bother their little cousins, especially once they discover that a specific action really does scare or irritate them. But she’s learning one of those life lessons: When do you give another chance and when do you say ‘no more’?

I tend to be in favor of second or third chances, probably because I’ve received so many in my life. For every stupid thing I’ve done, someone has been willing to overlook and still believe in my potential or basic decency. Besides, I have to believe in change for the better, or why else would I be in education?

Still, there is a fine line between giving many chances and being a doormat. A friend of mine works with a person who simply can’t pass up an opportunity to make a snide comment or subtle or not-so-subtle criticism. Everyone who knows my friend has given her the same advice: You’re not going to change this person, and it’s obvious that, for whatever reason, she will never respect your work. Disengage. When she comes at you, walk away. Realize it has more to do with her than with you.

Still, my friend is constantly hurt because she keeps believing, despite all proof to the contrary, that this time, she will have a respectful encounter with her colleague. She’s like Charlie Brown and the football.

So the Monday Motivator for this week is this: Give people second and third chances, but protect yourself as well. And for my little four-year-old friend, keep playing with your cousin, but don’t turn your back on him.

Faculty/Staff Recommendation: Phyllis Gobbell

The Help

Kathryn Stockett

The book lets readers experience the era of the 60s in the South,  through the narratives of three women.  One is a young white woman who has recently graduated from college and returned to her parents’ cotton farm in Jackson, Mississippi, and two are black maids who work for white families in Jackson. Each narrator has a unique voice. That’s what I like best about the book.  When going from one narrator to another, I always hated to leave the one I was reading but was anxious to hear what the other had to say.  It’s not often that I say I didn’t want to put a book down, but this was one that I really wanted to keep reading.

Phyllis Gobbell

English Faculty