Monthly Archives: January 2011

Monday Motivator: Don’t Tell Others How to Grieve

St. Paul tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” It’s worth noting that he did not say “show others how to mourn.”   While it is probably a good idea to never tell people how to feel, grief, for some reason, especially brings out the didactic in some of us.

I had noticed this tendency before, mostly in crime documentaries, where law enforcement officers would say with certainty that a suspect was not mourning the way a wife, husband, child, parent, etc. should. As a fairly private introvert, these statements always made me nervous, wondering if one day, I too would become a suspect because I didn’t wail or cry appropriately at the death of a loved one.

But in real life, this telling other people how to grieve has less to do with accusing them of a crime than hoping to provide comfort. I got a close-up view of this last week when a friend’s husband died. There were many well-meaning statements that meant to comfort, but missed their marks:

  • I know you don’t want him to suffer and are ready to let him go. (In fact, my friend wasn’t ready to let her husband go. And the unintentional inference that, by wanting to keep him with her, she was willing to let him suffer didn’t help at all.
  • It’s not healthy to hold back your tears. You need to cry it out. (This occurred when my friend stated her intention of not crying in public. For some, crying is easily done and provides catharsis. Others of us need to maintain some control, at least in public.)
  • Look at the puppy! (Okay, this was mine, trying to distract my friend from a sad moment by having her look at her new puppy chewing a shoe or a purse.)

One night as  I was leaving, she said, “This is a like an awful nightmare that won’t end.” Then she smiled sadly and patted my hand. “But a nightmare with wonderful people in it.”  It was then I knew that as helpful and supportive as we were all trying to be, we couldn’t make this nightmare end for her. Her pain was her own. We couldn’t feel it for her.

So for once, I just shut up and tried not to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

Life Lessons from the Library: Research Comes in all Forms

The Jolly Librarian has curly hair. Now this would not be pertinent to libraries, except that curly-headed people become researchers out of necessity. Curly hair has a life of its own: It decides daily how it will behave. It doesn’t like certain types of weather. And it can expand to exponential width on your head when it so desires.

Therefore, curly-headed people are always on the lookout for a product that will tame tresses to reasonable bulk or a stylist who is not afraid of the mass confronting them in the chair.

So we become intrepid researchers:

  • We accost total strangers in restaurants, at parties, or on the street to find out who cut their hair or what products they use.
  • We form loosely affiliated groups with the sole purpose of sharing products that promise to make our hair a shiny cascade of curls or take all the curl out.
  •  We search online for styling tips and videos that will make the difference between the Medusa look we now have and the aforementioned cascades of curls that show up in advertisements.

Students tend to think of research as dry stuff in books and articles on topics that are academic in nature. But research occurs all the time. It occurs during the following activities:

  • Interviews: When we ask the beautifully coiffed curly girl who cuts her hair or what product she uses.
  • Experiments: When we try those products on ourselves and decide on the success or failure of the results.
  • Reading: When we go online or to magazines to see what other users or professional stylists say about products.
  • Sharing results: When we post or tell others about what works.

Granted, there may be nothing inherently interesting for you in the assignment of a research paper on the use of the monocle as villain identifier in 19th-century novels. But if you look at the process, you can learn that those same steps can be used in more real-world research questions. And the one thing you can count on, no matter what you decide to do in your future, is that you will have to do research, whether it’s for a Master’s thesis or to find the best cure for “Medusa” hair.

Monday Motivator: Communication is Hard at the Best of Times

I was reminded of this fact after watching the Golden Globe awards show. The response to Ricky Gervais was equally divided among my friends. Those my age or older thought he was mean and rude and shouldn’t be asked back. Those a generation younger thought he was absolutely hilarious and right on the money. “After all,” said one, “surely Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp knew they were in a boring movie that didn’t deserve being nominated for anything!”

Now, on most counts, these friends are quite similar. They are all educated. They are all middle-class. They all have nice respectable jobs. Their only difference is age.

So once again, I’m reminded of how difficult communication is. We bring so many things with us to any conversation: our age, our background, our politics, our religion, our sensitivity or lack of. In fact, it may not be a wonder that there are so many miscommunications. It may be more of  a wonder that we ever communicate at all 🙂

Last summer, I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine was working a concert in Florida. I didn’t recognize one of the names (and still don’t). When I was told that it was a conservative radio announcer, I said, “Oh, no wonder then.”  My friend, on the other side of the table, became prickly, “What do you mean by that?”  She is a conservative and I’m a liberal, and it was pretty obvious from her tone and body language that she was prepared for some snarky comment about conservatives.

 When I answered, “I don’t listen to radio,” she visibly relaxed. Her psychic shields came down, and we had  a perfectly pleasant evening. But if we can wander so quickly into misunderstandings with people we’ve known for years, how much easier is it to misinterpret those we barely know at all.

Your motivator for this week: Take some time to really understand what people are saying.

The Jolly Librarian Makes a Modest Snow Proposal for Reporters

For us Southerners, snow is a novelty, I will grant you that. So it is exciting the few times a year that it covers the ground, students get a holiday, and the rest of us must battle the roads to get to work. It is a newsworthy event.

But perhaps it’s because we’ve had more snow than usual this winter. Perhaps it’s because driving in snow does not bring out my jollier side. Perhaps it’s just because I’m older and just don’t want to waste minutes on the same story week after week. But I have lost patience with all the local news stations’ reporting of our inclement weather. So I’m asking all local news to consider the following during bad weather:

  1. Please do not tell us how bad the roads are from the studio and then show pictures of cars merrily zipping along the roads. Talk to the guy reporting on the street before making general statements. As a corollary, we don’t need to see pictures of clear streets. A general statement that “main roads are good” will suffice.
  2. No more reporters in grocery stores showing pictures of empty bread and milk aisles. Truly, it has been overdone. We get it. We Southerners like our milk and bread during snowstorms. Perhaps if you must, report on why we gravitate to those two items. Otherwise, let’s agree that this is not news.
  3. No more reporters with their portable thermometers taking the temperature of the streets, the roads, or a cup of hot chocolate in their hands. Once again, if there is snow on the road and the temperatures are falling, we get it. It’s cold out there.
  4.  If the weather is truly bad, then don’t use teasers. No “Will your morning commute be treacherous in the morning? Find out at 10.” I know you need the ratings, but your primary purpose is to inform. Just say it. Here in the South, if you say it’s going to be bad, we’re going to stay tuned anyway. Count on it.
  5. And no more man-on-the-street interviews of people who have slid on the ice. After watching these for a month now on various channels, I realize there are really on about 2-3 ways of describing a car sliding. And you’ve described them them all. Over and over and over.

Sure, when there was only a snow every two or three years, you could get away with stalking bread shoppers in Kroger or measuring the heat of your cup coffee amidst a snow drift. But, come on, this is our 4th snow in a month. It’s time to get a hold of yourselves.

The Library Life Listers: The Lists Revealed!

Life lists, by their nature, are fluid entities. Items are added and subtracted as lives and needs change. And, of course, in the hands of the library staff, they will be even more fluid than normal. And because our lists are public, obviously, there are some areas of our lives that have been left off.

So, without further ado, let’s reveal the life lists. I’m leaving names off until the end to see if you can match the list to the person.

Staff Member 1:

  • Learn French
  • Go to France (or, more realistically, Quebec)
  • See Pam perform live at Station Inn and/or Bluebird Cafe
  • Cook a new dish and/or pie each week
  • Drive across the country (take Northern and Southern route)
  • Read less tripe, more classics.
  • Acquire and watch Mad Men Season 4 (preferably, at the same time as MFJ in order to facilitate more meaningful show analysis)
  • Grow vegetable garden and herb garden
  • Share wealth of vegetables, some in the form of pies.
  • Cook dinner for friends (more often)
  • Paint the dining room/paint shelves
  • Construct a blue bottle tree
  • Read the book MFJ loaned me
  • Return book MFJ loaned me
  • Stay out past 9 more often
  • Visit all National Parks (Eleven down)
  • Visit all Fifty States (14 left to go…)
  • Go on more picnics (double points for picnics in National Parks)
  • Get a hobby.

Staff Member 2:

  • an excellent (flute) performance at my little brother’s wedding in May
  • stay at the top of my linguistics class at MTSU
  • translate the book of Esther (although I’m already wondering how in the world I’m going to find time for this!)
  • find some worthwhile-seeming way (volunteering for some organization, probably) to work toward solving the problem of homelessness
  • write some things I’m proud of
  • get better at Spanish
  • somehow improve the ESL classes I help with

Staff Member 3:

  • Read at least 2 books a month
  • Lose weight to 132 and maintain below 135
  • Exercise an hour a day at least 5 days a week
  • Write at least 1 letter a week
  • Pay my vehicle off in 4 years, not 6
  • Record another cd of original songs
  • Play at least 20 shows a year 🙂

Staff Member 4:

  • Read all Charles Dickens.
  • Go to a concert at least once a year.
  • Travel out of state once a year.
  • Have something to read at Writing Group each meeting.
  • Also stay out after 9 more often.
  • Attend every Frist exhibit.
  • Visit Cheekwood in every season.
  • Pay off my house early.
  • Don’t whine about problems. Either solve them or let them go.
  • Cook two dishes a month.
  • Practice piano.

Staff Member 5:

  • Get well after my broken leg and get back on my bike!
  • Advocate for more greenways and bike lanes that people to destinations.
  • Promote the Tenn. Electronic Library.
  • Educate more faculty and students on what a great resource MERLOT is. 
  • Create a student friendly MERLOT portal for theTBR eLearning portal. This is close to being ready. 
  • Create an app.  The first Tennessee app was created by the TTC/Hohenwald. Called “Green electrons and ham”.
  • Learn something new everyday.
  • Plant more trees.
  • I would like to organize a “Cycling for Libraries Conference” along a famous bike trail in the United States.  I’m thinking maybe the East Coast Greenway that goes from Maine to Georgia. They are having one at the end of May this year from Copenhagen to Berlin.  It’s going to be 10 days stopping along the way to talk about various library topics.

 Lists and Owners:

Staff Member 1–Emily

Staff Member 2–Allison

Staff Member 3–Pam

Staff Member 4–Margaret Faye

Staff Member 5–Sally

Monday Motivator: Think Through Fear

One of the advantages of being older is that you’ve lived through bad times before and you start to see patterns. And one thing that tends to happen after such awful events as the one in  Arizona last week  is the rush to find one thing to blame. In my life time, after massacres, I’ve seen blame attributed to such varied things as the Beatles, the movie Natural Born Killers, bullying, and other religions.

But I think the rush to blame has something simple at its heart: basic fear. We see something that simply doesn’t make sense to us, something that seems almost inhuman. (Although you would think by now we would know it’s not inhuman at all. It seems to be sadly too big a part of our human condition.)

We feel that if we can just find the one thing that caused this event, then we can prevent something like it from ever happening again. So we look around in our culture and yell that we must not allow certain music or books; we must not allow certain people into our country; we must ban guns or we must arm everyone. I think this is a very human reaction and normal as long as we realize its limitations.

In truth, we can never make our society or ourselves completely safe. And  we won’t make it any safer by banning every suspect song, book, movie, or practice of free speech. Now this is not to say that the killings last week might not have been prevented. I hope so, but I don’t think the answer will come from shouting blame at each other. I think it will come from a more measured approach to a multi-faceted problem: How do we treat our mentally ill? What is the line between being “weird” and being dangerous? And in a society that, for better or  worse, has decided to allow its citizens to arm, what should the limits be? All of these are topics worthy of discussion, as long we realize that no solution will be a panacea.

Last weekend, I found myself thinking on a chapter in Moby Dick: “The Line.” I still have the book I read in college and by this chapter title in the table of contents, I wrote “Important.” I’m sure this referred to the promise by one of the three professors who assigned the novel that it would show prominently on a test. But that’s the thing about great literature: ideas bury themselves in the back of your mind only to reappear when they’re needed.

“The Line” is about the rope used in whaling. Audiences of the 19th century would have been very aware of  the awful accidents that occurred when a sailor got caught up in the rope. But Ishmael, our meditative narrator, ends the chapter with this:

All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.

There is nothing wrong with feeling fear and nothing wrong with trying to learn from horrible events. But before we too quickly blame something or someone for such events, we need to acknowledge the fear we feel and acknowledge that life can never be made completely safe. Only then can we work toward a rational solution.


The Top 5 Non-Library Questions Asked in the Library on the First Day of Classes

The Mayfield Library has often served as an information center, so much so that we finally just volunteered to replace the information table in the K Building a few years back. We like seeing so many students, but it also means that we have to be on our toes when questions come from left field.

So here are the top five questions we’ve received so far today and our responses:

  • Do you have change for a $20? It being the day before payday and the payday after Christmas, none of us had anything close to $20 on us.
  • Why can’t I log in? This question has various answers. The happiest is when they’ve just registered which means they are not in our system yet, and we can log them in as guests. The saddest is when we look them up in MyNSCC to find they no longer have a schedule and tell them they have to start again. That is never a happy moment for anyone.
  • Why can’t I print? There are always many reasons for this, but the most common one today is that the library computers now have Office 2010 which has a slightly different print screen. We’ve had to decipher it along with the students. In reality, it’s not that different. But it’s disconcerting to students who left in December used to one thing and come back in January seeing another.
  • Where is K102? This is not as strange as it seems. K102 is actually the student vending machine/lounge area. So students go over there, see the coffee and soda machines, and  assume they are in the wrong place. Sometimes, after we assure them it is indeed the right place, they then assume that we may have some basic intelligence problems. The look of disbelief is priceless. 
  • Do you have any idea how much this book costs? (Usually asked after checking out a textbook on reserve while holding it up in the air.)  We assume this is a rhetorical question.

But the main thing is that no matter if the questions are library or non-library in nature, the gratitude when they’re answered is just overwhelming and heartwarming. We’re glad a new semester is underway.

Library Life Listers: And So We Begin

Before I discuss our life lists, I’d like to share something that Robin Cooper-Wilbanks, psychology professor extraordinaire at Humphreys County, shared with me after last week’s post:

For my Psychology of Adjustment class, I have the students do bucket lists after watching “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. He was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, who was dying from pancreatic cancer. You can watch this inspirational lecture on This summer one of my 22-year-old students died from Cystic Fibrosis and her sister read her bucket list at her funeral. It was bittersweet because you could see how many things she HAD accomplished along with how she was working toward the things she never got to do.

 If you haven’t seen the Randy Pausch lecture or read his book (check it out at the Mayfield Library), it is certainly worth doing so. A life list can be a real source of inspiration.
Of course, it can also be fun. And that’s what we’re hoping for. There are five Library Listers (well, four and one who keeps promising to give me her stuff. You know who you are!) 
And, as usual, we had some difficulties. Our first difficulty was trying to decide what to put on our various lists. Imagine, if you will, various conversations between Life Listers and me.
Me:  I need your list.
Staff Member 1: I think this idea is stupid. There is no way we can achieve these things each week. We’ll just fail each time.
Me: No, they don’t all have to be big things. There can be some small, easily accomplished things as well. It’s a list of things that you want to do before you die. Some will be huge, sure. But some might be something like appreciating sunsets.
Staff Member 1: (simply gives disgusted look)
Me: I need your list.
Staff Member 2: I can’t think of anything. (After long pause.) I suppose I could clean my house.
Me: Maybe we should review what a life list is.
But in between snowstorms and inventory, we’ve made our lists and hope that our Wednesday postings will motivate us to have lots of checkmarks by the end of the year.
Let me know what’s on your lists as well.
Until next Wednesday!  

Life Lessons from the Library: Sometimes All You’re Being Asked to Do Is Listen

When someone on the library staff comes to me with a problem, I want to solve it. Or I want to give him/her the tools to solve it. I suppose that my default position is why would anyone want to wallow in a problem longer than necessary when it can be solved?

Of course, this attitude gets me into trouble. Some people just want to be listened to, and despite my initial thought, this doesn’t mean that they want to wallow in the problem or not solve it. They just want recognition that the problem is real and important.

I have to admit that my own attitude on this is a reaction to my own over-the-top behavior as a younger person when I could wallow in my problems for an infinite amount of time. As long as I was whining about them, I thought that would substitute for solving them. So I have to constantly remind myself that there is a middle ground.

And the library is an excellent place to be reminded of such things. Maybe because we’re a captive audience at the circulation desk. Maybe it’s because we have kind faces. Or maybe it’s because students know that we can’t give them failing grades. But whatever the reason, we’ll sometimes get an earful about the problems of  the typical community college student.

We try to follow some basic rules in listening to them:

  • We sympathize but never blame. We might say, “That must be frustrating for you,” but never “Lord, what a crazy freak you have for an instructor!”
  • We might give a gentle nudge in the direction of a solution, but if it becomes clear that’s not what is wanted, we back off and just listen.

Sometimes, when you’ve worked at a college for a long time, the processes and procedures become second nature, and you forget that it may seem strange and frightening to new students. It is easy to label those who can’t seem to get the point as obtuse or stubborn. And when you look behind such a student to see another hundred waiting in line, sometimes the only thing you can do is move the person on.

But if you can, actually listening can often make things better. We all like to feel we’re important. We all like to feel that we matter. And sometimes, even if the problem can’t be solved, that’s enough.

Monday Motivator: Appreciate the People Who “Make It So”

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, when giving a command, would always say “Make it so.” There was something I always liked about it: a sort of acknowledgement that while he was granting permission for something to be done, it was someone else who was doing the work.

I thought about Captain Picard’s saying today as I drove in to work on the slushy roads after a night of snow. I thought of all the people who worked over the weekend to make sure that the roads were decent enough to drive on this morning: the crews that spread salt, the other crews that snow plowed mounds of snow out of the way, the workers at stores who were out salting and pushing snow off to the side in their parking lots. And then there were the people who made it to work today so that I could make  my deposit (and not have American Express mad at me) and get my daily fix of Diet Coke.

We sometimes forget all the people who make it possible for us to get out and just have a normal day. I don’t like snow, but I do like the reminder to appreciate all the people who “make it so” so that we can do the things we need to do.