Monthly Archives: February 2011

Monday Motivator: Dispose of Your Python Properly

Last week I watched a PBS program about pythons in Florida. There is nothing quite as unsettling as watching a python swallow an animal its own size or bigger, including one very unlucky alligator. What made this especially sad for the alligator is the fact that, in the natural order of things, he should never have come across a python in the swamps of Florida. You see, pythons are not natural to the sunshine state. They have been dumped by exotic pet owners who have discovered that they can’t house or feed a full-grown python, therefore creating a giant problem for Florida’s ecosystem.

Besides this being interesting in itself, this python problem got me to thinking. It seems that we all have metaphorical pythons that we haven’t disposed of properly. For some, it might be a job they’ve outgrown. For some, it might be a relationship that causes unhappiness. For some, it might be an outdated dream that no longer fills them with joy.

Like the pythons taking over Floida, our mental pythons can cause all sorts of damage: We let an outdated dream take up time and energy when we should be working on something that has meaning to us now. Instead of realizing that we need a new job, we take our frustration out on colleagues until the workplace is an unhappy battlefield. We allow ex-lovers and friends space in our heads so that we can’t move on.

It’s not that we don’t recognize the danger of our pythons. We know we’re unhappy, and we’re trying to deal with that anger and frustration. We’re just going about it in the wrong way.

So this week, identify your mental python, and dispose of it an appropriate manner.

The Jolly Librarian Ponders Problem Solving (Part 2)

 I pointed out last week that the crucial first step in solving a problem is to clearly define what the problem is.

Only then do we  move to the second step: Looking at our options.

There are two errors on either extreme when it comes to looking at the various options we have to solve a problem:

  • stopping at the most obvious or fastest resolution
  • spending too much time trying to find the perfect solution

Let’s take a problem that I face: getting up on time in the mornings.

What are my options?

  • Develop the willpower to get up when the alarm goes off.
  • Go to bed at an earlier time.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual that will make me sleepy.
  • Move the alarm clock across the room.
  • Put a second alarm clock in another room.
  • Buy a different alarm clock.
  • Have a friend call me each morning at 7 a.m.
  • Have something scheduled that makes me want to get up.

Here are some tips for making this stage effective:

  • Don’t limit yourself on your options. Brainstorm. Think up as many as you can. Now I’m not a proponent of coming up with a hundred things or not worrying if they don’t make sense. But do stretch your brain a little. Often, if you have a problem, it’s because something you’re currently doing is not working. So it makes sense to stretch yourself in finding other solutions.
  • This is the stage for doing some research. Find out what the experts say. Find out what works for other people. In my research, I did several database searches and some general web searches. I also asked people who seem to have no problem getting up how they did it.

So now I’m ready for step 3.  See you next week.

A Modest Example of What the Average Librarian Can Do

Last week, I was spending some time working at the circulation desk when a student checked out two books by Virginia Woolf. “Good old Virginia,” I said. “I wrote my thesis on her.” Now most of the time when I say this (not that Woolf gets checked out that frequently here), students smile politely and edge away.

But this student, after I handed her the books, hesitated for a moment. Then she asked, “You said you know about her?” I nodded.

It turned out she was writing a paper on Woolf. She was a smart student and already had some good ideas. But she wanted to know if I could suggest some other of Woolf’s writings to her. And I could.

Now, as I said, she was a good student, and I think she would have been just fine if we hadn’t talked. But college should be about more than being just fine. 

And on any given day, this is  what we do:

  • Talk with a student worker who wants to practice her English.
  • Ask a student about a film he just returned, resulting in his thinking through and evaluating it before recommending it.
  • Show a student how to do a PowerPoint presentation so that he’s not completely frazzled by the bells and whistles part instead of the content.
  • Notice a pattern in some materials being checked out and asking if the student knows about a local activity that fits in quite nicely with the topic.

Librarians do this daily and think it’s no big deal. Still, when I hear conversations about whether librarians are necessary any more, I think maybe we haven’t done a good job marketing ourselves.

So here’s a reminder!


Library Life Listers: “And Days Go By; I Can Feel ’em Flyin”

Reporting on the life list each week does feel a great deal like being in this Keith Urban song. It’s so easy for five or six days to fly by and to have accomplished  only the basics and nothing on the list. Keith goes on to remind us, “So you better start livin’ right now.” And that’s what we’re trying to do. So here are our weekly reports:


  1. My leg is feeling stronger every day.  The only thing bad is that I now have to learn to walk again.  My left foot wants to turn in.  I am riding my bike trainer inside my house.
  2. One new thing I learned this week is that George Washington owned the largest whisky distillery in 18th century America. 
  3. On Saturday while watching my son learn to scuba dive I told the 2 lifeguards about the Gale database app and the MERLOT repository. One was a college student and one was still in high school.  Both had mobile devices and downloaded the Access My Library (Gale) App on the spot.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I told them they can now search and find reliable sources anywhere they have internet access.
  4. I submitted 2 sessions to the Sloan-C/MERLOT Conference this summer.  One will be a pre-conference workshop and one will be a poster session. 
  5. I found out that NSCC is going to fund me going to the TLA Conference this year in March. I am looking to going to that and networking with other librarians.  I am still working on my “Cycling for Libraries” conference here in the U.S.


I’ve nearly given up; I’m not in a good place with trying to lay out life goals. Perhaps it is because life is getting shorter and my goals seem to be getting further…too many, too few, I’m not sure. If I am to truly throw out ideas of things I’d love to do, to be, to accomplish, to become, my life list at this point looks like this:

A.       To be representative- in all that I am – of all the goodness I believe life is to be about

B.      To learn to play at least one Christmas song all the way through, on the piano by December

C.      To be able to play 10 clawhammer banjo songs without the tablature, by 2012

D.       To play a show at the Station Inn with my new band, The ProGrasstinators in 2011         

E.       To begin my new solo project by September 2011

F.       To take up hiking – beginning in MARCH 2011

G.     To obtain a weight of 130 by July 4, 2011

H.      To build my own compost this spring

I.        To grow my own vegetables this summer, including squash, cucumber, onions, potatoes, green beans, grape tomatoes, peas, watermelon…and a pumpkin! I’ve been marking out my garden areas.

J.        In my quest to continue reading 2 books a month, I am thoroughly enjoying listening to A Walk into the Woods by Bill Bryson. He is a stitch, and listening to him narrate his own work is truly entertaining.  I’m continuing reading little juvenile books, as time permits, which always makes me feel warm inside. My newest favorite, The Mouse Family’s Blueberry Pie. I’m trying to get through Eat, Pray, Love. I think the author is humorous and clever in her writing, but to be quite honest, her constant reference to self is annoying. I’ll keep you posted


Learn French:

After much discouragement, I’ve decided not to learn French. Instead I will eat more/better cheese. (After talking with the Jolly Librarian, Emily has added this back to her list.)

 Read less tripe, more classics:

 As I began reading a YA novel (not to be named here), I realized the following:

 1)      Angsty teens really aren’t that entertaining unless they’re wizards and/or child celebrities.

2)      I don’t really read much YA.

 And led me to the conclusion:

 Most of what I read, while not necessarily classic, does not officially qualify as tripe. Consider this list item complete.

 See Pam perform live at Station Inn and/or Bluebird Café:

 I heard a rumor about this new band: Pam Gadd and the ProGRASStinators.

 Read the book MFJ loaned me:

 Step one: I dusted it off over the weekend.  Then I started the aforementioned YA, which I quickly abandoned for a book on herb gardening (See Life List Item: Grow Herb Garden), which I quickly abandoned for a book on higher education, which I briefly abandoned for Pnin (See Life List Item: Read more classics) and then returned to last night. This leads me to a new Life List item: Finish more books.

 Cook a new dish and/or pie each week:

 For the most part, I’ve been doing this. Dishes have included, but are not limited to: Thai chicken soup, beets with a Pepto-Bismol pink horseradish sauce, and various other forgettably mediocre dishes.

 Jolly Librarian

  • Learn to play the piano, specifically 10 Christmas songs by December 2011. After a minor breakthrough last week, I met with much discouragement this week when I discovered there are even more chords to learn—even in the easy Christmas song book. There is something like a G#m something or other. Now that’s not even in my chord book, so I thought perhaps it would be the same as an Aflat chord, but no matter how I try, it sounds perfectly horrid when I come to that part of the song. Still, I can play “What Child is This” all the way through, although it takes several minutes and several breaks as I try to remember which chord to make next. I have now started “Good King Wenceslas,” my favorite Christmas song. In any case, it is quite fun learning something totally new and probably a good experience for me in my teaching role.
  • Cook new dishes. To be honest, this is not on the top of my list of things to have done before I die. Still, I have received much mocking for my food routines: pasta five or six nights a week. So this week, while I didn’t cook, I did buy something besides pasta to have for dinner: a Harris-Teeter pre-prepared pot roast dinner. It was quite tasty. I also asked my mother for the recipe to her egg custard, which she sent but with the less-than-inspiring comment: “I can’t imagine your ever making this.”
  • Have something to take to writing group each meeting. So far so good. I’m glad that I didn’t put “have something praiseworthy to take to writing group each meeting.”
  • Am thinking of adding a new item to my list: Running a race– after seeing a news item about a 95-year-old runner who keeps breaking age records (mostly because she’s the only 95-year-old person running). Still, she didn’t begin until her 60s, so I would have a head start. And I ran two miles today after finding out that my boss had called a meeting, and it was run or be late.


Poor Allison. After she reported last week, the flu virus that has stalked so many this winter came down upon her like the proverbial ton of bricks. By Friday, she felt miserable and went home, just returning today. She has only one item to report: watching Everafter in Spanish.

I hope you all are still making your life lists and checking off items. While I’m certainly not going to make the news with my achievements, the list does keep me more focused. And that can’t be a bad thing.



Life Lessons from the Library: Have a Plan for Looking for the Missing

Sometimes in a library, you have two opposite schools of thought on missing items. One is to never declare something lost or missing. Assume that it will be found or will turn up. The other is to declare it lost immediately, so students will know that an item is not available and won’t spend time trying to get it. The Jolly Librarian leans toward the second extreme but understands the first. After all, librarians often love mystery stories and television shows. We like to solve problems. And a missing book is a problem that not only needs to be solved but also makes us question our professional identity. After all, we’re librarians: we should know where our books are.

The Jolly Librarian has a reputation among some of her colleagues of being quite adept at finding books/films that have managed to go missing. This is only true because it bothers me that our catalog says something is available when it’s not. And I often spend time that would be better used elsewhere in a frustrating search.

But over the years, I have come up with some approaches that have made finding missing materials a little easier. They work for other, non-library  items as well:

  • I look around the area where the item should be. So if a book should be with its PS3535.87 friends, I look up and down that shelf to see if it has been misplaced.   
  • I check behind and in between. One of my more embarrassing encounters with my public library occurred when I received an overdue notice. As a library employee myself, I was sure that I would never have kept a book overdue; besides, it wasn’t in my bookcase or my bedside table, the two places where books might be. I was adamant in my innocence. Until the day, I happened to be sitting on the couch, dropped a piece of candy, and slid my hand between the cushions to retrieve it. There was the book. And, yes, I do know that this says volumes about the state of my housekeeping. But now, in my hunt for missing items, I search behind other items. And you’d be amazed at how easily a little book can slide right into the middle of a bigger book.
  • I look for logical connections between the item missing and something else. In the library, we shelve using the Library of Congress system. So if a book or CD goes missing, after looking on the shelf and behind the other CDs, I haven’t found it, then I look for the same number in other sections: DVDs, books, and reserve area behind the circulation desk. Reserve books can end up in stacks. Books that should be in stacks find their way to reference. Although they all have stickers saying where they should be, they can wander from their homes.
  • Finally, I set a time limit. In the library, after a certain amount of time searching, I check the book out to missing. If we find it, we can change the classification. This works for other thing as well. Last October, I lost my credit card in a restaurant. I paid for the meal, and the credit card was there. I went to my car, and it wasn’t. I immediately went back to the restaurant where they looked and saw nothing. I looked through my purse, my clothes, my car. Nothing. I returned to my office and emptied out my purse. Then I went to the bathroom and took off my clothes in case somehow my credit card had gotten itself entangled in one of my undergarments. Then I realized I had spent all the productive time I could spend on this search. I called American Express and canceled the card.

In life as in the library, things go missing. But with a plan and a clear head, you have a good chance of finding them. And if you don’t, you can at least give up the search with a feeling that you did all that could be done.

Monday Motivator: Go to a Bookstore

If you’re like me, the news that Borders is closing hundreds of its stores was sad news, almost as sad as the news last semester of Davis-Kidd’s demise. When I saw that my favorite Borders had escaped the chopping block, I vowed to go and buy some books in support.

So last Saturday, on my way home from Alabama, I stopped at Borders to fulfill my promise. And I was reminded of why we all suffer if we let bookstores die.

Although I have a lengthy Amazon list, I didn’t have the titles, or more important, the authors’ names with me as I shopped. Although the salespeople would have looked them up in an instant, I felt more like browsing, especially since the latest The Decemberists CD, “The King is Dead,” was playing in the background.

And I found two books. Okay, now for those who know me, this is not a big deal. I can find books I want to read almost everywhere. But what was so exciting about this visit was that neither book was on any list that I keep: not on Amazon, not in my notebook where I jot down titles that friends are reading or that get good reviews. In fact, I found these in the religions section,  titles that would never have come up on my Amazon recommendations.

Besides hanging out with fellow book lovers, bookstores provide us with us with the chance of the unexpected meeting. Online bookstores are great at listing our likes and giving us recommendations. But that unexpected find is something that the computer can’t give us and shouldn’t be expected to.

So this week, support your local bookstore and find an unexpected treasure that’s just waiting for you.

The Jolly Librarian Ponders Problem Solving (in 6 parts)

The Jolly Librarian doesn’t really have many problems to solve. Whenever a problem seems to be approaching, she calls one of her trusty assistants and says, “There is something that looks like a problem coming. Please handle it.” And her trusted assistants do just that.

Still, there are times when the trusted assistants can’t be found no matter how hard I look. And I am forced to solve a problem by myself. Then I use the following format:

Step 1:  Identify the problem.

It is my experience that most people spend way too little time on Step 1. Accurate problem identification is the key to solving any problem. Let me give you an example:

Years ago, when I lived in Alabama, I worked with Sarah. Sarah was a nice woman, but if you talked to her very long, you discovered that she was constantly unhappy about something and someone else was always to blame: her boss, her boss at her part-time job, her colleagues at both jobs, her husband who became her ex-husband, then her boyfriend. Finally, one day, her second boyfriend said, somewhat timidly, since Sarah could be a wee bit explosive, “I think you need to look at the common denominator here. It’s you.” Now to give her credit, Sarah listened and realized that while changing jobs and changing boyfriends might be necessary, it wasn’t going to solve her basic problem—her own dissatisfaction and her tendency to criticize instead of solve.

It is often human nature when faced with a problem to look outside of ourselves for the cause. But we have to make sure that we just don’t stop there, that we also investigate the internal and personal causes of the problem as well. It may be true that your colleague in the next-door cubicle drives you crazy with her gum-popping, but a closer investigation might reveal that if you liked your job, her habit might be adorably eccentric, not murder worthy.

This step is crucial no matter what kind of problem is being faced. As I walk into the library, I sometimes hear students say, “I’m failing math (or whatever subject) because my instructor sucks.” And I am tempted to respond, “Maybe that’s true. But do you do your homework each night? Are you paying attention in class or texting? Have you seen a tutor?”

Now I am not one of those hard-hearted people who say that folks bring on all their problems. I am simply saying that you can’t solve a problem until you clearly know what it is. And that sometimes takes a little more thought that most of us generally give it.

Next Friday, I’ll look at Step 2.

When Librarians Get Tough

Reserve textbooks are never to leave the library. That has been true for the past six years in the Mayfield Library. This policy allows the most students access to needed texts. So when they are taken from the library, the staff is forced to move from helpful to tough mode. And I’m not talking tough love here; I’m just talking tough.

We have a procedure we follow. We email, we call, we send letters. And then we block accounts and send the student to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

Now this would seem to be straightforward. And I guess it would be. In a perfect world where people update their email and phone numbers. But people don’t. So we call and email and email and call with no success. Then we send letters that come back to us undeliverable.

In the meantime, other students need that book. So we look up student schedules and ask their instructors to get out the word the book is overdue and dire consequences await if it is not returned. We will even go into the class and find the student, although some instructors don’t like us interrupting class time.

Students react differently to these notices. Some, especially new students, seem genuinely surprised that they couldn’t take the book home and keep it. Others insist they brought it back. And some simply own up to it. 

Last week, we had a reserve book missing. We emailed and called to no avail. We looked up his schedule, and, lo and behold, he was in class in our very building. We took a letter there and asked his instructor to deliver it to him. Less than two minutes later, he walked in the library, book in hand. Shaking his head and putting his hands up, he said, “Here it is.”

“Did you read the letter?” we asked.

He shook his head. “Didn’t have to. I knew exactly why you came in my class.”

This is a student we know well, and my guess is that there were some extenuating circumstances. But he didn’t spend time pleading ignorance or that he was a special case. He returned the book, ready to accept the consequences. It was refreshing.

Not all days end so well for the library detectives.

Library Life Listers: Get a Hobby

To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.
 Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, prime minister of England during World War II, was also an avid painter, completing hundreds of paintings during his lifetime.  Painting also helped him fight his lifelong battle against depression.

Still, hobbies are often not given their due.  Oh, I wish I had time for a hobby, snarls some snarky person, upon hearing that another has read a book for pleasure or gone to a bridge tournament. But ban such people from your mental universe. Hobbies have many benefits:

  • reduce stress.
  • sharpen the mind.
  • lower blood pressure.
  • help you meet and bond with others.
  • cheer you up and help you over tough periods in other areas of your life.

This is one of the reasons why many people add hobbies to their life lists. Our Library Life Listers group has several hobbies on our lists, including reading, cooking, and playing piano. And the one thing we all agree on is that life is better with hobbies.

Now to our weekly updates:


  • Rien à signaler. (Emily’s witty way to say nothing happened this week, although she did report in French—You may remember one her goals is to learn French.) To be fair, Emily, like many NSCC folks spent hours last week either trying to get home or to work in snow and ice. Her husband has added a goal to her list: learning to drive on ice!



  • an excellent (flute) performance at my little brother’s wedding in May.
    I finished the arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Then plans changed slightly: it would be better if I performed with a piano accompanist, after all. I found an accompanist–a good friend, with whom I’ve performed before–within minutes. So, I won’t need the solo arrangement of that piece, but I’ll be working with a musician I can count on. Excited about this!
  • stay on top of my linguistics class at MTSU.
    I did well on the first test. This week, I’m refining my plan for my major project.
  • translate the book of Esther.
    I am back on schedule now–maybe even ahead! I’m getting faster at translating, too, which is encouraging.
  • find some worthwhile-seeming way to work toward solving the problem of homelessness in Nashville
    I have made some decisions about this…I hope they’re smart ones. I’ve realized that it will be very difficult to work regular volunteering into my schedule this semester. For the rest of this semester, I’m going to keep cash on hand so that I can buy a copy of The Contributor any time I see a vendor. I’m going to take out just a little cash at a time so that I’m less tempted to spend it on other things. (Last time I took cash out, I spent most of it on coffee.) I’m also going to research volunteer opportunities. I won’t try to work volunteering into my schedule until after the linguistics class and the wedding performance, and I won’t take any more classes-for-fun until I’m doing more to solve the problem of homelessness. (And this will most likely mean volunteering. Volunteering won’t “solve the problem,” but it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s more than I’m doing right now.)
  • write some things I’m proud of
    I didn’t write anything new, but I edited a couple poems.
  • become more fluent in Spanish
    I revisited a couple episodes of Coffee Break Spanish….and sent some text messages in Spanish? Does that count? (The Jolly Librarian says yes, this counts.)
  • somehow improve the ESL classes I help teach

I emailed a friend who has a Master’s degree in ESL and has taught ESL classes for years. She had some helpful advice! I have a lot of work to do, but Sunday afternoon’s ESL class went well, I think.


The Jolly Librarian


  • Learning to play the piano.  

I had a minor and diminished breakthrough this week. As a person who learns mostly by reading, when I decided to learn the piano, I bought at least 5 different teach-yourself books. But lately, I had been at a plateau. I recognized C, F, and G chords, but everything else was making me crazy. I had to look up every chord every time, which is not a lot of fun. Then this past weekend, I was reading a page on chords in one of the books, and suddenly I got it. I realized how to make minor and diminished chords. And when I was playing, I realized I also knew my D, E, A, and B flat chords as well. Finally, last night, for the first time, I could make a C7 chord without tearing ligaments in my hand.

  • A few weeks ago, I discovered that was doing a reading challenge. I signed up to read 52 books this year (2 more than last year.)  So far, I’ve read 7. 
  • I didn’t cook or eat anything different this week. Yes, I had pasta every night for supper, and yes, I enjoyed it each night. 



My leg is feeling stronger each day.  My therapy when well today.  I leg pressed 90 pounds today.  It hurt a bit, but I did 20.  I also did some other new exercises.

Although no students “officially” came to me MERLOT for nursing and biology majors I did show MERLOT to 2 students that were in K-158 yesterday.  They both joined MERLOT.  One of the students is a nurse practitioner student at the TTC next door.  He was studying for a test on the Repository System.  He said the tutorials and simulations I showed looked great.  So I did promote MERLOT.

Here is a link to my presentation using content builder:

What I like about content builder is that it easy to use and update. 

Something new I learned is that Ohio, as claimed on its license plate, is the “birthplace of flight” because Orville and Wilbur Wright were born in Dayton, Ohio.  North Carolina is “first in flight” because of Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers first successful flight took place. 

I am still working on the app.

I am also working on my presentation for next years TLA conference in Knoxville about MERLOT for librarians and also a cycling for libraries event.  That is why I really need to go to this years TLA conference in Murfreesboro. 


(Editorial Note: Pam has been suffering from a flu-like illness since last Tuesday. So she does have a pass this week. This is her report.)

  • What I did – am making progress on more than anything (and I should add this into my “life list” is this: To STAY on top of things, daily. I can’t express how much this is making a difference in me cognitively—to not carry around the haunting feeling of “I need to…” all the time. So, although I was resting (and moaning) more than anything, from being sick – and wasn’t very productive toward certain life goals because of it,  I did feel that the “down-time” allowed me time to accomplish really tuning into focusing on organizing and taking steps toward building a plan toward some very important life goals, as well as attempting to unclutter some important things that need cleaning out of my unorganized, and therefore overwhelming and suffocating mental closet 😉 



Life Lessons from the Library: Step Back from the Data!

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” –Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein died in 1946, so imagine what she would think today when we get up-to-minute feeds on the very important (protests in Egypt) to the mundane (another couple stayed married 50 years) to the disgusting (anything that has to do with Charlie Sheen). She might very well think that we’ve not only lost our common sense, we’ve lost our minds. 

Being bombarded with information has just as many dangers as not having enough. For one thing, the media, in order to fill up the 24/7 news cycle we all live in now, repeat stories incessantly, interview people who are only peripherally connected to the event, and make stories out of almost nothing at all. 

If we’re not careful this can lead us to believe the world is a very dangerous place. Think of all the medical research studies that warn us of various evils with only a minor or no mention that the study has not been replicated or that it was conducted with only a small group of people, etc. This seems to especially affect women who are left with advice such as have a drink and save your heart and increase your risk of breast cancer. It can make you despair of ever doing anything right.

And having too much information can keep you from ever making a decision at all or being happy with that decision.  If you are an “optimizer” (a person who must find the perfect solution), then you spend a vast amount of time doing research on any decision. Let’s say you’re buying a car. Most would agree that this is a major purchase and time should be spent on getting a good, reliable car at a good price. But for the optimizer, there is always another website to consult, another dealer to visit, another article on cars to read. And even after the purchase is made, the optimizer dreads that he/she didn’t get the very best thing out there.

So whether you’re writing a research paper, buying a car, or deciding on that perfect job, at some point, you have to step away from the data. You have to say firmly to yourself that you have enough information to do what needs to be done. Give the information time to simmer. And information in and of itself is not useful. You must take it, analyze it, and evaluate it. And then come to a decision.

It’s true that you will never find all the information there is on any one subject. But remember that’s not what you’re looking for. If you use good skills, you don’t need all the information, just the right kind.