Monthly Archives: November 2010

Life Lessons from the Library: Wily Age Can Trump Energetic Youth

There is a scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes that has rightfully become iconic. Two young women pull into a parking space that Kathy Bates has been waiting for. When she protests, they snidely remark on how they are younger and faster. She then proceeds to ram their car with hers, responding, “I’m older and have more insurance.”

While our culture worships youth, the truth is that age teaches strategies that also help make people winners. I was reminded of this last week when talking with a student. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and she was one of the few people left in the library. As she was gathering up her stuff, I teasingly said, “Don’t spend the whole holiday studying. Enjoy some turkey and a little rest time.”

She smiled at me and said she was not going to have to work the whole weekend. “See, I’m older than many of the people in my classes. And I know as the semester winds down, I’m not going to have the energy they have. So I make the most of the semester’s beginning. I get a lot done then, so I have a little more time and am not so overwhelmed at the end.” For example, having worked hard on early papers in one class, she now had the luxury of practically failing the current assignment without any effect on her grade. “Not that I plan to fail it,” she added. “But it certainly takes the pressure off.”

Older students are often worried about coming to college and ‘competing’ with young people just out of high school. This worry is usually needless. Life experience has taught such students strategies for success, perseverance, and determination that will serve them well in the classroom. This is true for other endeavors in life as well. While age may disqualify us for starting certain careers, such as pro basketball players and astronauts, in almost all other areas, the skills we’ve learned along the way will help compensate for our lack of youth when starting a new endeavor.

So next time, you’re thinking that your age might be a barrier in going after a dream, you’re probably thinking the wrong way about it. Instead, look for ways that your age might provide you some alternate strategies for making that dream come true.

Monday Motivator: Celebrate the Holidays in Your Own Way!

This weekend, I managed to get myself horribly depressed. What was I doing? Balancing my checkbook? Battling other shoppers for this year’s must-have gizmo? Weighing myself after Thanksgiving dinner? NO! I was watching holiday movies!

And I realized something. Holiday movies have much in common with women’s popular novels in the 19th century. Women authors, bound by conventional gender roles, invented scenarios that allowed their protagonists to be free, creative, and adventurous (usually after the death or desertion of the family bread-winner), and readers were fine with that as long by the end of the novel, those women were back to their proper role as “angel of the house.”

I see a similar pattern in many “heart-warming” holiday movies. A dysfunctional family comes together for the holiday. They don’t get along and they argue. No one is having a good time. The message is clear: Holidays are a time of stress and pain. And that message is fine, because at the end, some revelation brings them all together again to embrace the “true” meaning of the holidays.

But there are several problems with this scenario. Life is not a movie. Sometimes, a dysfunctional family gathers and there is pain, but there are no heart-warming revelations and hugs at the end. All go home a little more battered than when they arrived. Or there has been a great sadness during the year that the holidays simply can’t erase or even alleviate. And some people don’t have families to go home to.

 This doesn’t mean the holidays are just one big sad blob on the calendar. But it does mean those folks who don’t fit into the Christmas Card version of the holidays need to be careful not to let that picture color their own celebrations.

So my advice is to celebrate (or not celebrate) in your own way. If you’re single and love putting up a tree, then do so. Ignore those folks who snidely say how they wouldn’t waste time with a tree except for the children. And Christmas really is for the children. Don’t just ignore those people. Actively walk out on those people.

And if you don’t have a significant other to buy you that necklace that shows up on every other commercial during this month, then be your own S.O. and buy it for yourself.

And if this has not been a good year for you and you have some giant sadness hanging over you that the season is only making worse, then give yourself permission to bow out of as many gatherings as possible. Some years, it is a noble goal  simply to survive the season.

And if you are one of those gung-ho holiday celebrators, then go all out. Have a party. Or two. Invite me.

Library Losers: Let Me Say Thank-You to All You Folks Out There

This is just not the day to be worrying about calories and fat grams. Thanksgiving should be about more than just the food and how much weight one might gain during the weekend. Life is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated. So today the Losers are focused on what they’re grateful for. (The names are not listed to protect the innocent and/or cynical.)

  • I’m thankful that the temperature disparity in the library is such that I can roast my turkey in the computer lab while I chill my cranberry sauce in the back.
  • I’m thankful for colleagues who make me laugh every single day.
  • I’m thankful that CSD and Maintenance still take my phone calls.
  • I’m thankful that students see us as their allies.
  • I’m thankful that Emily and Allison bring their “practice” baking efforts to the library.
  • I’m thankful that Pam and Charles have never asked me to go to Costco with them.
  • I’m thankful that Margaret Faye has forgotten the library music video idea. (This is actually not true. It’s still ON!)

But most of all, we’re thankful for the support we get from everyone on campus to help make the library a happy, helpful, and safe place for students to ask questions and come for help.


Life Lessons from the Library: You Can Never Be Too Clear

Did you ever play the game “Gossip” as a kid? You know, someone started off with a sentence whispered in the next person’s ear and it went mouth-to-ear through every person in the group until the last person announced out loud what he/she heard? Usually, what the last person said bore very little resemblance to what the first person said.

Sometimes, in the library or learning center, we can feel like the last person in that game. We know the message has gotten garbled somehow; we’re just not sure where or how.

For example, last week, a student needed a source on a certain composer, whose name escapes me. What I do remember is that we didn’t have a book on this person. She said that she just needed some basic information about his life. I took her over to the reference center and showed her some music dictionaries and encyclopedias.

She was not happy. “My instructor said I can’t use Wikipedia.”

That would seem to be a fairly clear comment, except that it wasn’t. I asked her if her instructor meant Wikipedia only or any and all encyclopedias. She wasn’t sure, and there was no way to proceed at that point. See, some instructors ban all encyclopedias as sources while others dislike Wikipedia only.

But I was not to be beaten. “Okay,” I said cheerfully, “how about a journal article?” We returned to the computer where I went into JSTOR. Once again, the poor student backed up in horror.

“No,” she said. “My instructor said we couldn’t use any online sources.”

I sighed, but I felt that I was on surer ground here. I showed her the difference between a database and just any online source. I emphasized how the article had once been in paper form and could be used. (Now, I feel good about my advice, but one semester, we did have an instructor who refused all online sources, including databases and ebooks. We did not like him that term.)

So she went away happy and with the information she needed. Still, it reminded me that clarity is often in the eye of the beholder. As instructors, we often think that we have made assignments so clear that it is impossible for them to be misunderstood. But then, sure enough, students not only misunderstand them, but so do the librarians or tutors whom they’ve asked for help.

And once you move from the academic world to the personal one, clarity becomes even more important. How many fights have started simply because one person wasn’t clear about what she/he wanted from the other?

So what are the Jolly Librarian’s tips for clarity?

  • If you are an instructor, always have someone look over an assignment before handing it out. I know when I’m writing, it’s so obvious to me what I need to say that I may forget to be as explicit as I need to be.
  • If you are student, ask questions. Most instructors do not mean to be unclear and appreciate students’ questions for clarification. No one, neither student nor instructor, benefits from poorly-written papers resulting from not understanding the assignment.
  • In all relationships, double-check to make sure your listener is clearly understanding what you’re saying. If you sense the mood changing or someone becoming angry, ask “What is it you think I just said?” Clarify. Clarify. Clarify.
  • Ask for what you want. Don’t expect friends, spouses, bosses, etc. to be mind readers. The old “if he loved me, he’d know what I wanted” is untrue and ineffective.

Being clear about what you what you need and what you expect can solve a whole host of problems.

Monday Motivator: Just Be Thankful (No if’s and but’s)

Being Thanksgiving week, it certainly make sense that the message be on gratitude. Many people will sit around the dining table on Thursday taking turns telling the things that they’re thankful for. And that is a very good thing to do.

But many of us have a silent ‘but’ or ‘if’ going when we give thanks. It’s like this: “I’m grateful that my Grandpa is okay, but he shouldn’t have cancer in the first place.” “If my money situation wasn’t so bad, I’d be more grateful and able to give more gifts.” Etc.

Even in happy and full lives, there is a tendency to look at the things that have gone wrong and focus on those. Perhaps we need to adjust our psychic lenses and notice the things that could have gone wrong and didn’t. It might just change the way we view our lives.

I once read a quotation from a saint that went something like this: We should be grateful that each person we meet each day chooses not to kill us. (My crack research team and I could not find the original nor the speaker.)  Now, at first, this may seem like we have a saint that needs a good dose of anti-depressants.  But I think this person was on to something.

Life, liberty, and happiness are not guaranteed. There are natural and man-made forces lurking behind every corner that can take our health, wealth, and happiness away. But the miracle is that most days, none of those horrible things occur. Most days, no one tries to kill us; we don’t lose all our money due to bad investments, and the horrible disease doesn’t strike us.

On any given day that we still have breath in our bodies and thoughts in our minds, then we are living miracles. And that should be enough to express gratitude without any if’s and but’s added.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Making Life Easier for You and Your Librarian: Ways to Use Ask-the-Librarian

Here in the library, we get several questions from the Ask-the-Librarian email link as well as Chat every day. Most of the time we are able to find good information for our patrons. But occasionally, we are stymied, not so much by the information needed, but by the form the question takes.

For example, at least once a semester (every semester), I’ll get an email like this: “nature/nurture.” Now because other students have emailed me, I’m guessing that this is a question from the psychology assignment that asks students to find scholarly sources on the nature/nurture controversy and come down on one side or the other. But, of course, there is no way I would  know that from the words written there.

So Suggestion 1: Phrase your question in the form of a question. It makes it much easier to answer.

One semester, I received a series of emails from the same person, most of them asking me to summarize basic concepts. Soon it became clear that she was supposed to be writing a summary of each of her chapters and wanted us to do that for her. That was confirmed when her final question was, “Summary Chapter 12.”

Suggestion 2: Do not ask the librarians to do your homework for you.

In the vast majority of cases, however, students use those links for their stated purpose. They want help finding resources, and we want to help. So here are some tips on making the ask-the-librarian time more beneficial for both of us:

  • Give as much information as possible on the front end. If you’re looking for a specific article, let us know the title, author, and/or anything else you might have that will help us find it for you. If your paper requires scholarly journals, let us know. By giving us as much information as you can, you increase the chance that we will send you information that actually fits what you need.
  • Give us time to find the answer. We are answering your questions while we are also working with students here in the library. We promise to get back with you within the day, but we can’t promise to give you answers in a minute or two. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of researching to find the material you need.
  • Be as clear as possible. Assume that we haven’t seen the assignment, so while “factory workers’ wages in China” might be crystal clear to you, it means little to us unless it’s put in context of the actual requirements for the paper.
  • Tell us what course you’re in. Sometimes that’s crucial. If you have to find a research article on child abuse, for example, each of the following areas will have a different take and a whole set of journals to explore: Sociology, Psychology, Education, Social Work, Criminal Justice, etc. By knowing the course, we can get you information that is exactly what you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to let us know if what we send is not quite what you need. We don’t always get it right, but we’re always ready to give it another shot.

By following these simple tips, the Ask-the-Librarian links can be very helpful to you in your research!

The Jolly Librarian Ponders the Optimism of Procrastination

I worked the circulation desk today, and almost every time I tried to tell  students when their books were due, they responded, “Oh, they’ll be back tomorrow.” The answer was usually accompanied by a guilty giggle.

Yes, it is the season when those rare creatures make their way into the library. It is the season of the procrastinators. Procrastinators, in general, are gentle animals, characterized by good will and unwarranted optimism. They hear the research assignment in August and think, “Well, this is interesting, but the due date is far away. And right now, there are so many things to do. My friend needs help moving. I want to practice my guitar. And there is football to watch.”

Of course, as each week goes by, the deadline gets closer, but the procrastinators do not notice. Life has other things calling for their attention, and if a hint of unease does occasionally slip into their consciousness about that research project, they manage to push it aside with another task that seems quite urgent at the moment, such as reading a chapter in the psychology text or searching online for a new green sweater.

But then the due date looms, and procrastinators can no longer pretend that time is on their side. They come to the library and ask in a self-effacing tone if we can help them find a scholarly article on homelessness, books on obesity, and/or a novel on the required list that is not too long (translation–able to be read in one night).

They cringe a little, perhaps expecting the lecture they often receive from non-procrastinators: how they should have used their time more wisely, how impossible it is now to do an adequate job, and how they are making themselves sick with stress.

But in the library, we don’t judge. Our job is to welcome all and help them get where they need to be. They receive enough criticism elsewhere; besides, it’s not as if they don’t know they have an awful night or weekend ahead of them. We help them find what they need and wish them well as they leave.

The Jolly Librarian has a soft spot for procrastinators because I am one of them. I have written research papers, assigned in August, over Thanksgiving weekend. I have suddenly found “Beverly Hills 90210” completely fascinating rather than read another 18th-century novel. I have suffered the consequences of waiting to the last minute. I have been lectured about the stupidity of putting things off.

But like my fellow procrastinators, I am not lazy, stupid, or pig-headed. More than once, I have sworn that THIS time is the LAST time I will put things off, that next time I will begin early and have things finished before they are due. And I have meant every word, only to fall right back into my procrastinating ways.

I’ve battled procrastination, and I’ve finally realized that it’s a part of me like my green eyes and fused toes. But I’ve also learned that once I stopped battling it and started accepting it, I could still get a lot accomplished.

For me, the following things work:

  • Kind self-talk is more effective than angry self-lectures.
  • Telling myself that I’ll just do a little and then I can stop often works, and sometimes (not as often as I”d like) I get motivated to keep working.
  • Doing a little bit every day keeps me from being overwhelmed.
  • And I NEVER let myself ask for a deadline extension.

We are what we are (procrastinators), but, paradoxically, we can still get things done.

Library Losers: Still Praying for a Miracle

Our total weight this week was 535.3. This is actually good news. We not only lost weight from last week, but we’re down from our first week in this series.

But things are not looking good for the Losers. As I mentioned last week, only Amy has maintained any enthusiasm for the task at hand. Emily is a lost cause. Pam is swinging between despair and hope.

And I am amazed at my body. I have found out one good thing. If I am ever lost in the desert and have no access to food, my body will happily preserve its fat. After having to fast for 36 hours this week, I lost a TOTAL of .8 pounds. Good for survivalist mode. Not so good for a life with a McDonalds on every corner.

And we are closing in on that most dreaded (for weight watchers) season: Thanksgiving and Christmas where snacks appear at every corner tempting and offering happiness. Yes, like every sappy holiday novel or movie ever written, the Losers need a miracle. But unlike those sappy novels and movies, I don’t see a happy ending here.

Life Lessons from the Library: Don’t “Google” Medical Issues Unless Your Critical Thinking Skills Are Healthy

“Never Google medical stuff!” This was the advice from Emily, one of the Mayfield Librarians, after reading the Jolly Librarian yesterday. One would not think the Jolly Librarian would need reminding of such a basic fact, especially since I have gone through my share of mystery illnesses over the years. But we all have our days when we don’t do the right thing, and yesterday was mine.

I was scheduled to have a routine test done this morning, which required a day of preparation, mostly not eating anything solid for the day before and nothing after midnight. Now, I am a girl who likes to eat. And I like to eat a lot on a regular basis. And I like my snacks. At first, things were not so bad. I didn’t get up until mid-morning so there would be fewer ‘awake’ hours of hunger. I had a cup of tea (sugar but no milk). Then two hours later, I had my first allowed food: an orange popsicle.

But then the real hunger set in. I had a bouillon cube and hoped for the best. But to be four hours in the day with a grand total of  a hundred calories was not pleasant, so I looked for something to help me pass the time. Unfortunately, that was searching online for other people’s experiences of this preparation.

Yikes! Okay, here is a  basic truth about medical chats. Those who sail through procedures tend to go on with their lives and not go online. Those who have things go wrong post and post often. So I discovered, to my horror, that the medicine I was going to have to take in a few hours tasted terrible, many people couldn’t get it all down, and some vomited it right back up. (The Jolly Librarian dislikes throwing up as much as she dislikes not eating.) Obviously, I was not looking forward to step two.

But step 2 turned out to be fine. The medicine didn’t even taste bad to me. I mean I’m not going to start ordering it with meals or anything, but it was not excruciatingly bad. I drank it all down, and I never once became nauseated. So I was home free, right?

No, apparently my hunger was making me mildly insane, because I returned to those sites and read some more. There, I learned that things can go wrong at any and every point of the process. There were people who woke up in the middle of the procedure!!! There were those who were rudely awakened by the nurse to say that the preparation hadn’t worked right and it would all have to be done again. And we had not even gotten to the purpose of the test: to see if there were any malignancies.

Many people reported not being able to sleep the night before the test, and I was one of them, not because of any effects of the medicine, but from my own anxieties built up from reading these posts.

The good news was that all went fine. I was home three hours later, and I have already a meal (and a snack). Life is good.

Still, I have to reflect that 99% of the bad times I had the past two days came from not listening to Librarian Emily. Ignore librarians at your peril. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.


Monday Motivator: Don’t Confuse Worrying with Planning

People who chronically worry often defend themselves by equating worry with care. “Of course, I’m worried. I love you.” And I do think it’s hard not to worry about people we love. I am a worrier, and I’ve always been. As a kid, when my dad was late getting home from work, I would pace from window to window, hoping to get a glance of his car so that I would know  he was all right.

Unfortunately, worry on its own does little good. It makes us feel bad and does nothing to help others. But sometimes it just sneaks up on you, and there you are in its grasp and it seems that nothing will loosen it.

This happened to me yesterday. I was getting ready for a medical test that has to be done this week. It’s a regular thing, but still unpleasant, involving a liquid diet. I was so worried about it that I couldn’t settle to anything. I drove to the mall, just to walk around and get out of the house. While I was worrying, I didn’t get much else done, including laundry, cleaning, or even reading.  I did stop by the grocery store and buy the few things I could eat: jello and Popsicles.

Did all this worrying help? Not at all. In fact, it had an even more negative effect. I spent a good hour online looking up this procedure and reading other people’s horror stories. Could I have spent the time better? Well, yes. Even looking beyond the laundry and cleaning, I could have done something much more practical. Today, when I opened my package of Popsicles, I found that there were 9 grape and cherry (the 2 flavors I couldn’t have) and only 3 orange. So unwashed and unkempt, I had to run out to the grocery store and buy some more.

So planning for unfortunate events is helpful. Worrying about them is probably inevitable. The important thing is not to confuse one with the other.