Monthly Archives: March 2011

Research Is Like Dating: Sometimes the Right Source is Hard to Find

When beginning researchers come to the circulation desk, they often ask for something like this: “I’m doing a research paper on how school uniforms will improve test performance in Davidson County students. So I need a book on that.”

Of course, that’s not how research works. And by the time that students get to graduate school, they realize that a definitive books actually spells doom for the process since the whole point of academic research is to come up with a new vantage point on a topic. If you are doing research, the implication is that there is some argument about the topic or why bother?

Of course, beginning researchers will answer, rightfully so, we’re bothering because our instructors are making us. And I’m sympathetic, but that’s still not going to make sources appear like magic. So here are some tips for when sources seem to be hiding:

  • Broaden out your search. Maybe there aren’t any sources that pull up when you do a search on “Truman Capote” AND “Southern decay.” But there might be sources on Capote and the South or Capote and decay. And that might provide the evidence you need.
  • Look “slantwise.” In our Capote example, find an article that takes on typical themes of Southern writers and then show how Capote fits in with or differs from those writers.
  • Go negative. Now I’m not suggesting that you start talking smack about your topic. But sometimes you can prove your point by citing research that’s on the opposite side of your argument and showing why that’s wrong. So with our Capote example, let’s say you find a source that states that he should not be considered a Southern writer. Take that as your starting point and then use examples from Capote’s writings to prove your argument.

The Jolly Librarian’s final tip: Research involves some reading. Looking at a summary can give you much-needed help, but as you mature as a researcher, you’ll be surprised at the good information that appears in the middle of an article. Last night when we were helping a student with research on Truman Capote (yes, the example came from real-world experience), I found an article that had only one reference to Capote in its 20 pages, but skimming over it, I found an excellent section on Southern writers and decay, which turned out to be very helpful for the student.

Okay, one more final (final) tip. If you have trouble, just come see us in the library. We like nothing better than helping find information.

The Library Life Listers: Step by Step, One by One

In the book 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself, Steve Chandler discusses a “four-circle approach” to setting goals. It also works well for life listers because some elements on your list can’t be done in one day and require planning. Chandler recommends making four circles. In the first, you write the overall goal. In the second, something that can be done this year. In the third, something that can be done this month. And in the fourth, something that can be done this day. It’s a fairly easy way of keeping on top of things.

Now on to our lists:

Emily:  (Please note the stray dog still is at Emily’s house. She has lots of energy and desperately needs someone with a fenced-in yard.) Besides taking care of the dog, Emily has done the following:

  • Painted bathroom door and touched up trim throughout house (this wasn’t on my list, so it counts for life list bonus points).
  • After finishing two classics in a row (The Sun Also Rises and The Handmaid’s Tale ::it’s a modern classic::), I’ve decided it’s okay to move on to book two of the YA series the Hunger Games.
  • Discussed driving across the country with a friend. Decided it wasn’t plausible.
  • Purchased shallots for garden.

Allison (The Jolly Librarian thinks that Allison should consider becoming a professional life list coach. This girl knows how to work on her goals!)

  •  an excellent (flute) performance at my little brother’s wedding in May. Another rehearsal down, another rehearsal scheduled for tomorrow night. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is our best piece so far.
  • translate the book of Esther. Not as behind as I’d feared. Just a couple more verses and I’ll have met my goal for March.
  • work toward solving the problem of homelessness in Nashville. Finished Under the Overpass, and I’m continuing to carry cash and support The Contributor. I’m going to combine this goal with the next one for a while, since the project I want to focus on would benefit the homeless population here.
  • write some things I’m proud of. Haven’t written anything new, but I bounced some ideas off a few friends’ brains that helped me clarify my vision for the project I mentioned last week.
  • become more fluent in Spanish. I reviewed some vocabulary on http://freerice.com/. Attended a Spanish service Sunday evening.
  • give my best to the ESL classes I help teach. Back to assisting with class Sunday afternoon. Asked what I could do to help prepare for next week. I have until Sunday to come up with some fun games that teach prepositions : )

Jolly Librarian:

  • Piano. Had not been to the piano in three weeks. When I sat down at the keys this weekend, I realized I’d forgotten all but the most basic chords. I had to get out the Learner 1 book again.
  • Reading. Finished two books this week.
  • Socializing. Did none. After wrestling with the budget last week, I decided it was better for everyone if I stayed away from other people. However, I did go to lunch with the two Michelles who seem immune to my moods.

Pam (I would like her to add to her life list to get life list updates to me without my having to chase her down each week):

PERFORMING

  •  Booked 3 gigs so far:

This Friday, April 1st / Commodore Lounge / Vanderbilt, 9:30 p.m. with Kathy Chiavola, Jamie Hartford and Lisa Aschmann

May 15th- Country Music Hall of Fame / solo – History of Banjo Demonstration

House concert in May in GA !!

  • Had 1st full band rehearsal on Sunday. Am elated to have such great musicians who are interested in working with me 😉

WALKING

  • Have not walked this week, but am continuing my neck and leg exercises.

READING

Have taken on a 3rd and 4th read for this month:

Still finishing At Home, Agatha Raisin Mystery. Have put A Lesson Before Dying  and The Assistant on hold until others are finished

  Reach 128 weight —

  • Sucking on an M&M as I type. Still…am trying everyday to eat GOOD THINGS, TOO!

 Write 1 letter per week – Will write this week’s letter on the weekend. A good tradition…

Keep house cleaned weekly

  • Doing real good on this. Cleaned almost 10 hours on the weekend. I feel like a happy person when I wake up — instead of dreading getting up and walking into chaos!

COOK NEW RECIPE each week

OOPS

 New additions to my Life List:

  • Learn to Scuba Dive

 

Sally:

  • My leg muscles are getting stronger.  I am still doing physical therapy which includes riding my bike. 
  • Yes, last when I attended the TLA conference I did promote the MERLOT repository and learned more about promoting TEL.  Hopefully by summer we will have an encyclopedia as part of TEL.
  • Some new interesting new facts I have learned:
    • The Swiss Family Treehouse, which had been a fixture in the Anaheim theme park since 1962 was the attraction at California’s Disneyland that was transformed into Tarzan’s Treehouse in 1999.
    • Henry Fonda was the Hollywood star that once groused, “How in the hell would you like to have been in this business for as long as I, and then have one of your kids win an Oscar before you did. His daughter Jane won a Best Actress Oscar for Klute (1971). He won an Oscar 10 years later for On Golden Pond, in which daughter Jane also appeared.
    • Toothed whales are creatures of the deep that have a body part called a melon. The melon is the bulging forehead just in front of the blowhole of most toothed whales. It’s believed to be used to focus sounds during echolocation—the process by which sound waves emitted by the whale bounce or echo back when they strike an object.
  •  The most exciting news is that while I was networking with other librarians at TLA I discovered that several like my idea of a “Cycling for Libraries” preconference workshop at next year’s conference in Knoxville. We talked and I now have a plan.  I will submit the proposal in August to TLA.  We are hopefully going to get sponsors and maybe have t-shirts.  While talking with the Swets rep. I learned that their big main corporate office is in Amsterdam (bike capital of the world), so I have sent my idea to him and he will send it on to the corporate office to see if they will help.  He also told me that our new federated search site is ready. 

Life Lessons: Sometimes It’s Not the People, but the Environment That’s at Fault

A few semesters ago, I went through a period when I was quite disenchanted with our students. The lobby was filled with people yelling and laughing, all disrupting the quietness of the library.  Students came to the circulation desk complaining that groups of other students hanging around and chatting prevented them from being able to study. Students stood in groups waiting for free computers and ignored our constant pleas for quiet. Some days I was beside myself in frustration.

But now, the library is generally quiet as is the lobby. We rarely have to ask people to be quiet. And there have been few complaints.

What happened? Did we get a totally new kind of student?

No, the students stayed the same. What changed was the environment. First, the  college built a student center, a place for students to hang out and chat. Then, subsequent renovations expanded the Learning Center and added a second computer lab for the library, so for the first time, there were enough computers for everyone.

Suddenly, it was clear. We’d not had a student problem. We had a space problem. Once the real problem was solved, other things, such as noise, disappeared.

It’s easy when things are going wrong to blame other people. But a closer look can reveal that in the context of the environment, people are acting rationally. For example, since the library was the only place with comfortable chairs, it was natural that people would congregate there and chat. Once another, better, building served that function, people went there. And when there weren’t enough computers to serve students’ needs, then, again, it was logical that students would hover over users’ shoulders and try to nudge out others in line. (Maybe not terribly polite, but logical.)

We often blame other people for things falling apart when, unintentionally, we’ve set up a system or environment that almost guarantees failure. It’s like trying to lose weight when you have your house stocked with junk food. Or blaming your cubicle neighbor for your inability to concentrate when it may have more to do with the office design itself.

So next time a problem needs to be dealt with, look at the environment and the system before blaming others.

Monday Motivator: “Don’t Say Anything Until It’s Working”

These wise words came from CSD expert, Paul Kaminsky, at a meeting last week. He was talking about a program that could automate a time-consuming process, and one of the deans asked if she could go ahead and tell people. His answer: “Don’t say anything until it’s working.”

It reminded me of that old business adage: Underpromise and overdeliver. Of course, we live in an age of hype where the opposite is the norm. Every movie is advertised to be the event of the summer or fall or holiday season. Last week I was watching a television show and the previews for the next week proclaimed it to be the episode I’d been waiting for. My reaction was ‘Well, why did I just watch this one, then?”

The same is true in personal relationships. I have a friend whose father constantly promised that they would go on fun summer vacations. They never left the house.  Looking back, she said it wasn’t so much the lack of vacation that she missed; since they were poor, it never would have occurred to her on her own that the family might go to the beach. But she resented the build-up and subsequent let down.

It’s easy to promise, not always so easy to follow through. So it makes sense to wait to make proclamations about how great something is when it’s actually in existence and ready to go.

So this week, “Don’t say anything until it’s working!”

The Jolly Librarian Ponders Problem Solving: Part 6 and the End!

We have come to the end of our process. We’ve done the following:

  • identified the problem
  • researched various solutions
  • tried some out
  • chose the best one,
  • and reviewed the results.

What else is there to do? Just a few things, but they are important.

First, you want to ensure that the problem doesn’t raise its ugly head again. For our hypothetical student in the math class, it’s important that he keeps going to the Learning Center and getting the help he needs. For me,  trying to get up with the alarm each morning, I have to set the goal each night until my jumping (okay, heaving myself, cursing) out of bed at the same time each morning is an engrained habit. 

Second, there is still time to refine your solutions. For me, I found that the alarm on my new smartphone is quite annoying, annoying enough to make me get out of bed and go downstairs to shut it off. So I’ve added my Blackberry to my repetoire of morning alarms.

Third, this is also the time to see if there are associated conditions with your problem that need solving as well. For my math student, he might notice that the learning center tutors have helped him, but he still needs to get in the habit of doing his homework the same day as the class. For me, I have realized that while getting up on time is a problem, so is dawdling in the morning. I like to read the newspaper, work the Sudoku, read a daily inspirational message, and then check email and Facebook. I need to streamline that routine so that I get from breakfast to the gym in a more timely fashion.

So now we have come to the end of solving a particular problem. With a little thought, research, experimentation, and determination, you can make your life a little easier.

The Jolly Librarian Ponders Getting the Word Out

Today, two students asked for help on research topics. They started out asking for books, which I didn’t have on those particular subjects. I suggested that the databases were a better place for these topics and showed them how to use them. I then told them they could access them from their computers at home. 

I enjoyed working with them, but I was a little bemused by their surprise that they should have access to such wonderful sources at their fingertips. After all, we (the various members of the library staff) speak at new student orientations. We tell new faculty about our services. We do orientations for all sorts of classes. There is an orientation online. The information is on our website, in the student handbook, and the college catalog. But each semester, I feel that there has to be a better way of promoting our services and that many students don’t use them because they simply don’t know about them.

Of course, in this information-drenched world we live in, it’s not uncommon for any one message to get lost. More than once, I have mentioned something to a library staff member only to receive a blank look in response. “You know, I sent an email about it last week,” I say. Still, no spark of recognition. And just last month, my friend Michele and I agreed to go to a concert. I managed to get the tickets and sent her an email the next day. Her response: “What concert was that again?”

Maybe you just have to be flashy in these days to be heard AND remembered. Maybe we should try one of the following:

  • give interviews where we look vaguely psychotic and announce, “Yes, I’m on a drug. And that drug is the library.”
  • star in a music video. Many libraries have gone that route, my favorite being “Librarians do Gaga.”  But there are two problems with that idea. One, my favorite band, Snow Patrol, has no music that lends itself to adding lyrics on the joy of searching databases. Two, my staff has threatened to quit if I make them gyrate on-screen.
  • make the library a ‘cooler’ place by being more exclusive. Perhaps we have been too open and welcoming in our approach. We could put a bouncer at the door and let him/her choose who is ‘cool’ enough to gain entrance on given night. We could change up the passwords to the databases, giving them out to only an exclusive few.   

But the problem is that library workers, by definition, want people to feel happy in the library. We want everyone to have access to our services. As a colleague who works in another library once said, “Some areas divide students into ours and theirs. But libraries see everyone as ours.”

So we’ll keep advertising our services, hoping to reach as many as we can, and depending on word of mouth. And we’ll always feel that we didn’t reach as many we could have. So it would be nice if you’d help us out. Tell someone about your library today!

Library Life Listers: The Dog Ate My Life List

One of the nice things about life lists is that when life throws you a curve ball, you have the list to remind you of the things that you want to do and not just have to do. And we did get some curve balls this week:

  • Emily had a dog follow her home. The dog is sweet but does not like being kept in the bathroom as she demonstrated by scraping paint off the molding and doors. Emily is trying to find her owner while keeping her house intact.
  • The internet went down for a whole day at work, on the very week that budgets were due.
  • The Jolly Librarian battled to maintain her jolliness while the budget balance started shrinking alarmingly in Banner.

But enough excuses. On to the lists:

Emily:

Acquire and watch Mad Men Season 4: I have a plan to empty my Netflix queue forcing Netflix to send me Mad Men immediately.

Grow vegetable garden and herb garden: Herb garden is tilled. Planted strawberries along fence. Planted pansies (they’re edible).

Paint the dining room/paint shelves: Adding to list paint bathroom door and trim. (Jolly Librarian: Please see above explanation about dog.)

Pam:

PERFORMING

  • Am thrilled that I’ve actually assembled 3 / perhaps 4 musicians (5 if we can find a mandolin or dobro player to join us) to have a 1st rehearsal run this coming weekend to see how we sound as a band! Please wish me luck!!! A dream again, since 1999.

WALKING

  • Another breakthrough came with walking 2 – yes friends 2 – MILES on Saturday! Walked again this morning, not quite 2 miles. Have mapped out a new route – 3 miles.

READING

Have taken on a 3rd and 4th read for this month:

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines and The Assistant by John Grissom. I’ve discovered I have different moods, and it is nice to meet them with a variety of books to choose from. Whoever said you need to finish one before starting another?? (Certainly not the Jolly Librarian who currently has two unfinished books by her bed and is planning to start another one tonight.)

Reach 128 weight —

  • With the new addition of actual exercise and the help of an ‘ap’ downloaded to my phone which keeps track of the food pyramid I should follow, I am inspired to get back on track.

ORGANIC FARMING– Planted my first crops! Onions!! Next, squash and cucumbers out by the fence, tomatoes and jalapenos along the side of my house, garlic and herbs in the back of the house and beans, okra and eggplant up with the onions in the side yard!! Yippee!

 Write 1 letter per week – Wrote a long-overdue letter (and a package of goodies) to my 16 year old niece (she always writes me back—what a truly incredible tradition we started several years ago), as well as a letter and package to my sweet mom. Next: my friend Becky up home and my Aunt Janet in Kentucky, as well 😉

 Keep house cleaned weekly

  • Got up an hour and a half early this morning to organize house again. Rearranged all the furniture in the living room this time for a fresh look. I cannot believe the difference this makes! Next project—my music room / office!! After 2 years of putting off.

COOK NEW RECIPE each week

  • Cooked a BRAND NEW recipe this week “Ethiopian Cabbage and Potatoes.” Absolutely delicious!! What an inspiration to do this. Plan to make it again.

 COMPOST

  • Something got in and dug out all the old eggs I put in the compost, an inspiration to build a contained one.

 CLAWHAMMER BANJO Learn 10 clawhammer banjo songs by 2012

New additions to my Life List:

  • Travel to Machu Piccu
  • Visit Rome
  • Visit Greece and see the Parthenon
  • Visit the Great Pyramids
  • Hike to Base Camp at Mt. Everest

 Allison:

an excellent (flute) performance at my little brother’s wedding in May
Rehearsed with my accompanist. We’re off to a good start, and we’re rehearsing again tomorrow night.

translate the book of Esther

Only a verse or two this week…still behind.

work toward solving the problem of homelessness in Nashville

Bought a couple copies of The Contributor; still reading Under the Overpass.

write some things I’m proud of

I haven’t written anything new, but I talked to some people from http://www.loveinstereo.com/ about the possibility of re-working a draft of an existing piece into another format, to be sold to benefit the homeless population of Nashville. The dear Love In Stereo folks liked the idea, and I’m excited about having a goal to work toward and a way to give.

become more fluent in Spanish

Listened to some Michel Thomas as well as some Coffee Break Spanish. Sunday evening I visited the Spanish-speaking church in McMinnville, where I have several friends. Made halting but enthusiastic conversation with people I hadn’t seen in a while. (Jolly Librarian note: Student worker Noelline is not only fluent in French, but Spanish as well. Chat with her.)

give my best to the ESL classes I help teach

I was out of town this weekend, so nothing here.

Sally:

Sally has not reported in, but that’s because she’s achieving one of her goals: going to TLA where I have no doubt that she is promoting TEL and iPad mobile apps.

The day the internet went down Sally did one-on-one quick tutorials on mobile apps with students on their phones or other devices. She was so excited about this that I suspect she was driving the backhoe that sliced the cable.

Jolly Librarian:

Socializing: Went to a reading on Saturday and met two Facebook friends in the flesh. Then had lunch with two more.

Writing: Once again brought something for writing group.

Reading: Finished another book.

No complaining: Let’s say the budget year ending made that a little more difficult than was anticipated. Plus, I have to admit to some badgering as I made several of the library staff do their evaluations. That Charles can hide like a cat when he so desires.

Life Lessons from the Library: Lists are Fun, But at the End of the Day. . .

There is a book that everyone is the library has been leafing through the last few days. It keeps being put on the cart to be shelved, but then the next time I look it’s back on someone’s desk. It’s 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die (and 10,001 More You Must Download by Robert Dimery and Tony Visconti. I was pleased that Snow Patrol was included. Terry wondered at the number of Iggy Pop songs that made the book. And Emily and I were both surprised that several Barry Manilow songs were there, and then both admitted that we’d been fanilows at some point in our lives. Now I would say that this intense interest is because two of our staff members are musicians, and we are, after all, in Nashville. But the same types of discussions also happened when we cataloged books of lists on best novels, movies, and paintings.

There is something intriguing about a list. We feel a little surge of accomplishment and maybe even superiority as we check off the titles of works that someone has determined to be the best of the best.  And these lists do give us a place to start if we do want to start reading good books, listening to good songs, or viewing good art.

But as my colleague Pam pointed out, these lists do have their problems. Being a bluegrass artist, she had a different view on the best songs. She kept asking if certain artists and songs were included. She was usually disappointed in both. And she’d never heard of many of the songs that were listed.

Obviously, such lists can never be completely objective. As an English major who focused on Victorians, I’m sure that my list of most important books would be quite different from an English major who specialized in postmodernism. Sure, we might agree on including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne. But we might break out in a fistfight over whether we should include Gertrude Stein or add a second George Eliot novel.

So books advising us on the best of anything certainly are fun and can be instructive. Just don’t take them as gospel.(And a second George Eliot novel should always beat out Gertrude Stein!)

 

Monday Motivator: Learn to Improvise

I was at home at nine this morning when I tried to check my work email. The page wouldn’t load. Not terribly concerned, I went on to the gym. Returning a hour later, I checked again. Still nothing.  But I wasn’t too worried. I just assumed our exchange for off-campus wasn’t working. But once here, I realized it was much more than that. Our entire system was down. We could not check out materials. We could not search the databases. We were pretty much at a standstill as far as technology.

But not with library work. We set up an old-fashioned yellow notebook and wrote down students’ “A” numbers and book titles for check-outs. For textbooks, we took IDs and kept them in a file box while the books were in use. When students needed to find books, someone walked them upstairs to show them the approximate spot. And we started leafing through current periodicals to find articles that would help those who couldn’t wait for the internet to come back up to get their research done. And I was even able to encourage three staff members to complete their yearly evaluations. At the end of the day, I felt we had done some good work.

But what was most interesting to me was how people reacted to the situation. Some folks stared at the sign we’d put up and stalked out. Some came up and demanded to know when the web would be working again and stared suspiciously when we said we didn’t know. Some were completely despondent. And some simply shrugged their shoulders and set about doing other tasks.

People who are able to improvise, to make a quick change of plans, will always be a little happier, a little less stressed than those who are not. It really is a skill worth learning. Because let’s face it, most of the time, we have only a limited amount of control over things. We have the illusion of control, but really that’s all it is. Those who know how to roll with the punches and make alternate plans on the spur of the moment aren’t smarter than the rest of us; they just realized a long time ago that plans are always written in sand.

So this week, spend less time griping about things not going your way and instead improvise!

 

 

The Jolly Librarian Ponders Problem Solving: Part 5

Many think that once the solution has been implemented, the problem-solving process is over. Alas, that is not the case. At least if you wish to be an effective problem solver.

Implementation must be followed by assessment. You must see if the solution worked and how well. Assessment is easier in some areas than others. For example, if your solution to failing math was going to the Learning Center, the score on your next exam should tell you whether or not the solution is working. If your problem is general unhappiness, then it might be harder to pinpoint success. Still, it’s important to know how and when a problem is solved, and know what criteria constitute success for you.

With my own problem of not getting up when the alarm goes off, I have had only intermittent success. Of the seven days of implementation, I have been up on time for four of them. The weekend was a disaster (which I put down to the time change). Monday and Tuesday worked well, but then on Wednesday, I turned both alarms off and slept until 10 a.m. Yesterday and today were better again. So I’m going to try for another week of implementation and then assess again. I need this to work because I’m running out of options. My next step may be to hire someone whose only job is to toss me out of bed in the mornings!

Next week, we wrap up the process.