In a college literature class, we were reading Shakespeare when a minor character commented on now being a few hours closer to the grave. (I could have sworn it was Romeo and Juliet, but I haven’t been able to find the reference.) Probably I can’t remember where I read it because this tiny line knocked me for a loop. Believe it or not, it was the first time that I thought of life being a straight road leading to death.
In my world, life was made up of series of beginnings. There were new school years each August. In college, there were new semesters twice a year. And then, unlike most of my friends, I stayed in education. So each year brought new students and new classes to teach. And it’s the nature of our business to think of new beginnings and second chances.
Still, New Year’s Eve does bring out the contemplative in me. There are a series of ending rituals I engage in this day. I read the last page of my devotional and put it away. Then I go through the current year’s file folder of personal things, notes, cards, etc., and decide which ones I’m keeping. Finally, before I go to bed, I take some time to reflect on the best and the worst of the year.
But, even on this day, I’m more inclined to be thinking of the beginning of the new year, more than the end of the old one. If I haven’t found them already, I go out to buy my devotional and calendar for the next year. And don’t even get me started on resolutions. By the time the clock strikes twelve, ending the old year, I’ll have a whole list of ways that I’ll make myself better during the next 365 days.
Not that I keep them all. But there is just something about new beginnings that bring out the optimist in me.
Last Sunday I watched “Framed” on Masterpiece Contemporary. Based on the novel by Frank Cottrell Boyce, “Framed” tells the story of a curator who cares for the National Gallery’s collection when it is moved to a secret location in Wales after renovations force their removal. It is a gentle story of the ways that art can affect us. And it’s also a reminder that a too academic or technical view (such as the curator has) of art can be as damaging to the psyche as not appreciating it at all. The Welsh villagers let the art go right into their souls and change their lives, something that the curator must re-learn to do as well.
This idea floated around the corners of my mind as I visited the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to see the Impressionists exhibit. Like everyone else at the museum, I received gratefully my audio tour guide and listened avidly as various paintings were explained to me. I learned a few things and enjoyed the beauty of the paintings. But did any of them change my life the way they did for those eccentric villagers?
No, I have to admit. But the exhibit did remind me of how important it is to have beauty in our lives, and we all deserve to have access to great art, literature, and music. Also, I was a happier person for having seen the exhibit. And that is no small thing.
Any year that has the library escaping the natural flood waters in May only to be soaked by a knocked-off sprinkler head during the summer is going to have its share of weird and wacky moments. Here in no particular order are some of the more memorable:
- The most flattering inappropriate student comment. A student looking for Pam came back to the circulation desk and said to me, “Well, I usually want Pam to help me, but you’re cute too.”
- The most unflattering inappropriate student comment. A student came to the desk asking for the person who had helped him during the morning. He said to me, “Well, she was a woman like you, only young.” Ouch!
- The most irritating faculty comment. Said by many: “What do you do when we’re not on campus?”
- The most interesting find in a study room. A pair of man’s pants.
- Best newly coined word by a library staff member. “Thighous” by Pam Gadd. As in “I look especially thighous in this picture.” Meaning: More thigh than you would like to have on your leg.
- Oddest nickname given to a staff member. “Mr. Peabody.” A student called Andrew that; we have no idea why.
- Best political comment. A student told Emily that he needed some sources and none from those liberal magazines that colleges like to push on people.
- Best Gift. A small reading gargoyle statue that will become the library’s mascot.
Here’s to a wonderful and eccentric 2011.
Students who are just starting the research process often come up to the circulation desk with what they consider a simple request: They want ONE book that covers everything they need to put in their paper. It takes a lot to convince them that if one book covered everything they wanted, that would be more in line with a book report rather than a research paper. Many leave us at that point, convinced that we’re holding out on them. Later they come back a little more willing to listen. And we help them find the sources we need.
I should have paid attention to that lesson this Christmas when I went to Alabama to visit my parents. We have a basic tradition in my family. I drive down on Christmas. We hit a few Christmas sales on the day after, and then we go out to eat for my mother’s birthday on the 27th. So usually one book is enough for the trip. Besides, I had learned that books are heavy travel companions when I’m only going to get to one anyway.
But this year, plans changed. My brother-in-law, a fire fighter, had to work on Christmas day, so I went down on Christmas Eve. That was not a huge change to my plans. But the snow on Christmas Day was. My parents live out in the country on the other side of a mountain. Not only do I have to go over the mountain to get home; we have to go over this same mountain to do any shopping or eating out. And my parents truly do live in a rural area; their neighbors across the road are cows and goats. Suddenly, there was a chance that I could be in Alabama for several more days than I’d planned.
I was fortunate enough to have food, shelter, electricity, and my cell phone. But what I didn’t have were books. I only brought one. And I had only brought my bedtime book, the book I read after everyone else has gone to bed. But suddenly, I needed books to fill up the afternoon when my Dad was watching television in my bedroom. (For most of the year, that’s his den.) While I could read in the living room, it was not a place for uninterrupted reading since my mom likes to tell me about tidbits she’s reading in the newspaper, little things that happened in a restaurant weeks before, or what’s happening out in the neighbor’s yard. My mom has this stream of consciousness thing going that ignores what others might be doing in the same room :).
Luckily, by the 26th, we were able to get out and the next day, the streets were perfectly safe. And I came on back home. But the lesson has been learned. Even if I have to buy an e-reader, I will never again travel without a selection of books.
Okay, so technically, the Christmas season does not end until Epiphany (January 6). Still, the pressure-filled part of the holiday has passed. The presents have been given; the feasts have been cooked and eaten; the love-filled or dissension-filled family get-togethers are ending.
But for most of us, there is a little lag before we get back to our regular routine. Many have a few days off from work. (Those of us in education have a whole week before we go back.) Everything seems to go a little slower this week. The pressure to make a perfect Christmas, for better or worse, is over.
So for a little time, don’t worry about taking down the tree. Let the post-holiday clutter stay in place for a few days. And leave resolution-making until the end of the week. Instead celebrate a moment of downtime:
- Make a cup of coffee or tea. Claim one of the boxes of gift candy or cookies. Go to a quiet room and enjoy.
- Take advantage of the sales and buy yourself a treat. (I recommend a book.)
- If you’re not a football fan during this bowl week, steal away to a movie or a museum.
- Before taking down the Christmas tree, take a moment after everyone’s gone to bed and enjoy the lights and think about the history of all the ornaments that you’ve collected over the years.
- Rent or download your favorite silly movie (Two of my favorites are What about Bob and About a Boy).
- You no longer have to rush from store to store to find that one perfect present for that person who already has everything and probably won’t like anything you get him anyhow. So instead, stop at a coffee shop, don’t get your coffee to go, and just sit and people watch or daydream for a little while.
Your motivation mission this week: have a little low-key fun.
Here in no particular order are the best things that happened to the Mayfield Library in 2010:
- Our name changed to the John E. Mayfield Library. We are very proud to work in a library named after a man who has supported NSCC so enthusiastically over the years. Not only that, he is a big supporter of reading and literacy. And he is also a genuinely nice guy!
- Allison Boyd joined our staff in August. A mere youngster, Allison has brought added enthusiasm to the library. She seems incapable of losing interest in citation questions. She picked up interlibrary loans as if she’d done it her entire life. She has the fashion sense of a movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. And she may be the most genuinely positive person I have ever met. (She is also the only person in the library who uses the word “alas” in everyday conversation.)
- Terry Kane joined us in October. Another twenty-something, Terry is a fun colleague and a quick learner, which was helpful, since he came to us right in the middle of the semester. He plays in a band and reads Faulkner in his spare time. He owns a calm, unruffled personality which is very helpful when students lose their documents mid-essay and believe that the library staff can find them.
- Although I am no fan of plastic surgery, I am happy to report that the library received a major facelift this summer. The old girl needed it. The walls got a fresh coat of paint. There is new carpet. We added a second station to the circulation desk. We took down the old, weary banners and have some new ones to put up. It just seems a little cheerier around here.
- Sally has been part of a team investigating the use of app technology for libraries. Working with the iPad, she hopes to bring library services to the ever more mobile student.
- Of course, for all of us, one of the best things about 2010 was that, while hurt, Sally survived a bicycle vs. SUV crash in November. She hopes to be back part-time in January.
- As always, our student workers were great, getting books shelved and magazines organized. Every semester, they quickly become like family, and it is with a mixed feeling of pride and sadness when we say goodbye to them.
- I don’t know about other colleges, but here at NSCC, we often feel the love of colleagues: faculty, staff, and administrators. No, they don’t always shower us with money and gifts, but there is a genuine respect for what we do. We feel a real part of the college.
- From a personal perspective, I always consider one of the best things about each year is that I get to work in a library. Ever since I was a tiny child, I have considered libraries magical. And while I don’t consider every workday magical, I do think I have one of the best jobs on campus.
- And the best of 2010 can’t be complete without mentioning our students. Some we never do more than smile and nod as they come through to get books or do some work on the computers. Others start out shy and a little embarrassed but soon realize that we love helping them with their research problems, or any problem that may come up. One student said to us recently, “This is not technically a library question, but so far, you guys have found an answer to every other question I’ve had, so I’m going to ask you this as well.” And we did find the answer.
Looking back, we’ve had a pretty good year here at the Mayfield Library. And we’re looking forward to 2011.
As I look over the past year, there are a few things that I certainly hope do not repeat themselves in 2011:
- Librarian Sally was hit by a car while on her bicycle. She is still at home recovering from a broken leg.
- One of our staff members, Deborah, became ill and was out for several months.
- During the renovations, an accident turned one corner of the library into a waterfall, destroying much of our bound periodical collection and some of our culinary books.
- For one week during the summer, we worked out of a corner of the Learning Center.
And then, of course, there was the event that affected all of Nashville, the flood in May. All of us had colleagues, students, family, or friends who lost their homes in the flood.
But probably, the saddest moment for the library was when two of our long-time staff members retired: Sandy in May and Deborah in October. While we wish them much happiness and fun with their new-found free time, it’s always sad to see people go when you’ve worked with them everyday for years. While jobs can always be replaced, individuals can’t. We still talk about Sandy’s penchant for talking to herself and Deborah’s voice resonating over the loudspeaker. We still miss them.
But even the worst of 2010 was marked with optimism and humor. Sally is determined to get back to work and back on her bicycle. She’s been keeping up with us on her iPad and even made a quick visit this morning.
During the “water situation” this summer, staff members didn’t spend time moaning about the ruined materials, instead finding a way to work around them and keep going.
One of the nice things about working here is that we know how to keep our heads about us and to laugh when things go wrong 🙂
“Sometimes, it’s just plain hard not to sympathize with Scrooge,” a friend of mine said recently. My friend certainly was not having the best of times. Her mother was trying to arrange the Christmas dinner so that a certain son-in-law (whom she did not like) could not attend. “There is just no way this is going to end well,” my friend moaned. “I’d have more fun lying in bed alone in my apartment for two days.”
Certainly, the season does have its low points. I overheard a man say to his wife in Target today: “If you ask them what they want and they don’t tell you, then as far I’m concerned, they get zilch.” He was not a happy camper. I myself was on my third store looking for something that I’m pretty sure isn’t even made any more, but is on my father’s list this year. And I’m determined to find it because my dad rarely has anything on his list.
In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who seemed to have the least bit of holiday spirit this morning. The Monday before Christmas starts the countdown for those who put off buying presents or put off facing those unpleasant family arrangements.
If you’re not dealing with a true sadness (death, illness, divorce, etc.), then give your inner Scrooge a little time to rant and rave. Look at the long lines and the surly clerks with a jaded eye for a few minutes. But then remember this: how truly lucky we are to have such fortunate lives that we think waiting in line is a true imposition. Maybe our families are truly eccentric, even annoying, but remember that we still have families to visit. And we’re not guaranteed that from day-to-day.
The holidays simply don’t bring out the best in everyone. And not everyone can fake jolliness. But we can all be thankful for the people and things we do have.
Happy holidays, everyone!
This was not a week most of us want to repeat. Two bouts of bad weather caused havoc with our final exams schedule. On Monday, not all students, faculty, and staff could make it on-campus to take their exams. And since the schools in Metro and the surrounding counties were closed, the students who were also parents suddenly had childcare issues to handle as well. Then there was a prediction of an ice storm on Wednesday, which put everyone on edge again, and although the worst did not materialize, we still had to prepare for it. This was not the ideal week for any of us.
Still, I was impressed with the fortitude and spirit of staff members in the Learning Resources areas. We were open and staffed so that students could come in to do research, take tests, and seek tutoring. In one case, a staff member slid through a 4-way stop each morning in her effort to open the library. But each day, she got up and did it again. One person brought an overnight bag in case the roads got bad and she couldn’t get home. And despite the weather, the Testing Center kept giving tests to those students who did show up.
Of course, it’s expected that people show up to work, so some might find little noteworthy in what I’ve just written. But what is amazing is the attitude staff members displayed. Sure, most would have rather stayed in bed on those snowy mornings and not braved the slick streets. But once they were at work, they did their best to make sure students were served in a cheerful manner. There was very little whining, and most people found ways to joke and make the days pleasant for both their students and their colleagues.
Students did the same. Now we did have one who snapped at a library staff member because he didn’t think he should have to drive on bad roads simply to take a final. But in general, students were grateful the library was open. They took the opportunity to come in, do make-up work, or just hang out on the computers until the roads cleared a bit.
While this week was fraught with problems, it was also a good example of people making the best of a less-than-optimal situation and proving that a cheerful attitude can improve such times.
There are about a million reasons I would not want my boss’s job. One is that you have to actually understand statistics. Two, you have to write reports that don’t allow you to wander off into engaging stories. And three, you have to deal with complaints from not just one, but every division on campus. But the main reason today that I would not want my boss’s job is that the VPAA is the one who gets the blame for the class cancellation decision on snowy days.
Now let me make one thing clear. I am an Alabama girl who rarely ever saw snow growing up. If I had my way, we’d close the college every time there was a snowflake in a 150-mile radius. I don’t like driving on snow; I know I”m not good at it. (And a note to all the other drivers out there: You’re not good at it either. You just think you are, which makes you much more dangerous.) I would vote for the words “winter wonderland” being stricken from the language.
But I am sympathetic with the folks who have to make this decision when the snow comes down and then freezes on the roadways. I have been in Nashville long enough to see schools and colleges make all kinds of decisions on snow days, from shutting down, to opening late, to closing early, to keeping to a normal schedule. And the one thing that all decisions had in common was that there were people who were vocally and adamantly opposed to the call. I remember one winter when Metro closed schools several times only to be ridiculed in the newspapers by community members who said that there was no good reason for the closures and the children would suffer from not being at school. Then came a day they didn’t close and a snowstorm swept in: Children were on buses for hours and parents complained that Metro didn’t care about their children’s safety.
So if there is anything to learn from a snow day experience, perhaps it’s this: Decisions that affect many people should never be lightly made. But you’ll never make a decision that will satisfy everyone. And decisions have to be made. If the decision is a bad one, we can learn from it to make a better one next time. But even a better decision won’t be without detractors.
So this week, if you’ve been putting off a decision because you think it’ll make you unpopular, go ahead and make it. And know it probably will make you unpopular with some. But despite that, it’s really the only way to move forward.