Monthly Archives: October 2011

Monday Motivator: Always Make Time for a Little Fun

I once worked with a guy who gloried in being too busy. Once when I asked him how he was doing, he shook his head and said, “Too busy to  breathe.”  Since he did not fall down dead at that moment, I assumed he was being hyperbolic. And I also assumed if he were too busy to breathe, then he was too busy to answer my questions on his wellbeing. So I felt that I no longer had to participate in his race to be the busiest, most put-upon person on campus. I don’t think I ever inquired again.

People are busy; I don’t dispute that. But I have lost all patience with those who see being busy as some sort of badge of commitment, productivity, or even holiness. These are the folks who don’t even ask how you are because they have immediately launched into a list of things that on their plates. They are the ones that greet every moment of fun they see with statements such as “I wish I had time to fool around like that.”

But the problem with such an attitude, besides the fact that it drives people crazy, is that it’s wrong. People who approach their jobs with joy are just as, if not more,  productive. And the days seem to go by a little faster and a little lighter when you look for the fun in your job. Fun should not be added on to the end of the day (or a life) as some sort of accessory.  Fun should be in the middle of everyday.

People don’t have to decide between being productive and having fun. Both can be achieved at the same time. I type this dressed as a gypsy. One of the librarians is the Cat in the Hat. And another is a French sailor. Students have enjoyed the scene. We’ve laughed at each other. But we’re still getting our jobs done. Actually with a little better attitude than on some days.

Whether we approach our jobs as martyrs or joy seekers, we still have the same work to do. My recommendation: go the fun route when possible.  Life is too short for anything else.



Need a Scary Costume? Dress as a Procrastinator!

The procrastinator costume looks something like this: It starts out as a normal outfit, maybe some jeans and a t-shirt. Now the outfit will smell a bit because you never got around to doing the laundry this week. There are a few holes because you delayed fixing the rips when they first happened. You can make a hat out of the essay assignment sheets, the essays you haven’t even started on yet but are due next week. Make a belt out of the bills you’ve neglected to pay. Perhaps also wear the pair of glasses that are two prescriptions out of date.

For those of us who work with freshmen writers, the end of October is one of the scariest times of the year because it starts the research paper countdown. And those deadlines bring in the students who have delayed working on their papers until the last moment.

Consider the following conversation:

Student: I need five sources on Puritan dancing.

Librarian: I’m afraid we don’t have much on that.  But I can do an ILL request. When do you need the sources?

Student: Well, my paper is due on Monday.

Librarian and Student simultaneously scream in horror.

While the Jolly Librarian has certainly done her share of procrastinating, it is something that she has tried to warn her students to avoid. From our perspective in helping students get their projects done, it is the delaying, not lack of ability, that often results in students’ poor grades:

  • They often don’t have time to find good sources and end up picking the first ones that pop up on a search.
  • They plagiarise because they don’t have time to work on the paraphrasing and summarizing necessary.
  • Their works cited pages are poorly done because they are written with only moments to go before the paper’s deadline.
Of course, students are not the only ones who suffer from procrastination. It is a sneaky condition. We often fool ourselves by saying we work best under pressure. We make excuses that we are making progress towards our goal when we are doing something entirely unrelated. (During my dissertation, I often convinced myself I’d be in a better mood for writing if I just reorganized by closet.) Ironically, we  feel stressed and rushed because, always delaying means that we always have some deadline due.
I speak from experience when I say that learning to stop procrastinating can go a long way to making your life more enjoyable.

The October Challenge: Aargh! The Clutter is Returning!

All is going well with our challenge. Well, except for car girl, where the clutter in her house has overtaken her concern with her car. But she still has five days, and we’re all hoping for the best. I offered to go to her house and help, but when she learned that many garbage pails would be involved, she refused.

For the rest of us, the danger now is not to become recluttered. You know how it is: You have a clean desk on  Monday morning. And then on Monday evening, there are five or six papers that you’re not quite sure how to handle, and then on Tuesday, there are a few more. And then a few more. And by Friday, piles of paper once again threaten your productivity and, in some cases, your safety.

Here are some tips to keep clutter away:

  • Handle items as few times as possible, In a perfect world, you would deal with each piece of paper as it came to you, and then you would either throw it away or file it. Emails could be answered or deleted, but we all know it’s not a perfect world. Still, it’s a good routine to get into. Don’t have slips of paper hanging around on your desk or emails lingering in your box long after they’ve ceased to be relevant. Deal and go. If you can’t deal, put them in a folder to work with later.
  • If you can’t bear to throw away or delete, at least get them out of sight. Make a folder (real or virtual) and put projects in. Check it after a certain length of time. Is any of it relevant? Does anything still need to be worked on? If not, let it go into the trash can.
  • Don’t mistake moving stuff around with actual progress.
  • Make technology work for you. I’ve found I can delete most emails that come to my box because when people respond, the entire chain of comments is there for me to review. And, if for some reason, they’re not, I can retrieve them from my sent box.
  • Also, don’t mistake decluttering with actual progress. This is a lesson learned while I was writing my dissertation. There was nothing more appealing than cleaning out my files or reordering my books when I was supposed to be writing. And since it was ‘related’ to my project, I felt I was doing something useful, but, at the end of the day, I wasn’t any closer to finishing the actual dissertation.
Still, we’re better off than we were at the beginning of the month. Now we’ll wait with hope for Car Girl’s final report next Wednesday.

Life Lessons from the Library: Celebrate Those Who Have Left Us

This October the Mayfield Library lost a good friend and colleague when Jim Janosky, coordinator of the Horticulture program at Nashville State Community College, died suddenly.

One only has to go look at the greenhouse to see evidence of the enormous contribution Jim made to the program. But we in the library have memories of him as well.

He was always coming in to check out a video to show to one of his classes on topics such as soil propagation. He had, without a doubt, the college’s oldest ID card, an old blue paper thing with no picture on it. It was torn and taped together. And we laughed at his determination to make it last.

When we had an exhibit featuring horticulture, he loaned us several plants from the greenhouse, although he had seen the pitiful state of the few green things we had managed to keep alive in the library.  Because of his trust in us, we kept them blooming during the exhibit  (although we suspect he paid several secret visits to check on their health).

We didn’t have the daily contact with Jim that his department or his students did. But we are grateful to have known him.



Monday Motivator: Try Something New

There is a line in the Paul Simon song, “Still Crazy After All These Years” that really describes me (besides the title, of course):

I seem to lean on

Old familiar ways.

It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid of change. It’s just that I easily fall into a pattern and stay there. I will choose the same things over and over and be quite satisfied with those choices. For example, if I go to the store for some ice cream, I’ll look at the cartons and think, “I should try something new. I’ve bought chocolate mint for the past several years.”  And I’ll start to reach for something else. But then I think, “What if I’m hit by a car tomorrow while walking? What will I want my last ice cream flavor to be? My old standby or something new?” So I return to the chocolate mint.

I don’t see this as much of a problem, but it does lead to some gentle teasing from my colleagues. Today, for example, I was invited to the garde manger class for lunch.

As I was leaving, someone asked, “You’re going to the culinary area for lunch?”

I nodded.

She sighed. “Do they know about your eating habits? How you only eat the same foods over and over, like pasta every night? And how you hate to try new foods?”

“No,” I said. “I assume that information has not been shared with them.”

She sighed again, more deeply this time. “I can’t believe they are going to waste that good food on you when there are people here who would appreciate it.”

And I have to admit that as I listened to the students describe the menu, I was overcome with a feeling of anxiety. None of the items sounded anything like the number 1 combo at Wendys. Still, I filled up my plate and tasted the unknown. And, to my surprise, I enjoyed almost everything.

So I left the culinary luncheon today with not only a happy tummy, but a new resolution: to be willing to try new things. Yes, tonight, I’m going to leave that chocolate mint in the freezer and venture into unexplored flavors of ice cream. Who knows what will come next?



Research as Fighting (and Other Metaphors Gone Wrong)

Like many college English instructors, I’ve been told by students that their high school teachers taught them many strange things about writing and research. Unlike some of my peers, I always feel sympathy for those teachers, for my years in the library have imparted the following basic truths:

  •  Students often horribly garble what they were told, usually unintentionally, because they didn’t understand the first time or because they simply don’t remember.
  • Like most people, students think the consequences will not be as severe if they can blame someone else.
  • Teachers did say such a thing, but they were simplifying a concept or, heaven forbid, speaking metaphorically.
I once taught a basic writing class. We started with the parts of speech and sentences and worked up to paragraphs. There is a horror that can only be felt by an instructor who has made things as basic as possible, looks out into the class, and sees no comprehension on students’ faces. Such times require resorting to a simplification or a metaphor to make things clear. Unfortunately, students may not remember that this works only some of the time for certain types of writing. Instead they move on as if the words had been written in their flesh and say to subsequent teachers, “Dr. Jones said that . . .”
I thought of those times yesterday when I was helping a former student worker, a student from Somalia. She was starting a research paper and declared that she’d never done research, that she had no idea what it was. After a few attempts to tell her, I clutched at an old example I used to give when I taught the persuasive essay.
“Imagine that we’re having an argument. You say it’s better to be an only child. I say it’s better to have siblings. You decide that it’s easier to win your argument if you have others who agree with you. So you pull in your friends. That’s what your sources are. They are your back up.”
Her face lit up: “Oh, now I understand. It’s like a fight.”
Now, as far as analogies go, it’s not a terrible one for introducing the research paper. Still, I shudder to think what she’ll tell her instructors some day in the future: “The librarian said research is like a war.”
And the instructors will shake their heads at my ignorance over drinks at happy hour.

The October Challenge: Then Came the Excuses . . .

  • I got a headache from all that dragging and dropping.
  • I’ve so many projects going on right now.
  • It’s easy to be a slob when you live alone.
  • I still have a week and a half to go. So don’t bug me.
After the initial enthusiasm and action, there comes a down time, a time when folks realize how messy their rooms, cars, or offices actually are and they become discouraged. For us, apparently, that would be week 2.
First, let’s take another look at Car Person’s photo in Week 1:
Where do you put the people?
Now let’s look at this week’s photos:
At least the tire is gone!
Is that a fish?
I don’t think there’s anything else to say about this.
For the rest of us:
  • Closet Guy was basking in success until a mouse decided to take up residence in his newly organized closet.
  • The Jolly Librarian has cleaned out two file drawers. Unfortunately, not everything can be thrown away: personnel files, etc. Still, older files are now in a different place so more pertinent information can be accessed quickly.
  • Desktop Librarian is cleaning up her computer as the neat row of folders on her documents page attests. But the chore is giving her headaches.
Still, we’re all making progress. Well, except for Car Person who may be slipping backwards. But she promises to make progress this week. Keep your fingers crossed, and in the meantime, don’t ask for a ride with a certain person from the library.

Life Lessons from the Library: Learn Like Terry!

The Mayfield Library staff has had an ongoing chess match with students for the past few weeks. We have no chess masters in the library, and the students have been trouncing us. And occasionally, we’ve been mocked by those same chess-loving students.

Terry, our main circulation desk person, has borne the brunt of this mocking, since he’s usually at the desk and the one who is drawn into playing. In fact, at one point, I told him if it were too much of a hassle, we’d take down the set and move on to something else.

He shook his head and said it was fine. He liked getting to know the students, and he was learning chess.

It was then that I realized that Terry was a living example of what I’d just been reading about in a book on student success. Terry was a “get better” rather than a “be good” learner. And that one attitude can make a real difference between success and failure.

You see, we live in a performance-based society. According to Heidi Halvorson, Ph.D., performance goals tend to lead us to focus on being as good or better as other people. There is nothing inherently wrong with such goals, except they have a tendency to get tied up with our sense of self worth. For example, Terry might have felt that losing at chess meant he wasn’t as good as some of the students in this skill and then gone on to think that maybe that meant he wasn’t as smart as they or as smart as he thought he was. When you start tying goals to self worth, it can be a quick slippery slope to depression with the end result being that you just stop trying.

But instead, Terry had a “get-better” goal. He had played a little chess before and enjoyed it. He didn’t expect to win because he was a beginner. He expected to make mistakes because HE WAS A BEGINNER. He enjoyed getting better each match, and because his self worth wasn’t tied up in the game, he was also enjoying getting to talk with and find out more about our students.

Research tends to show that students who have “get better” goals tend to seek out help more often, make a plan to work harder, and even recover faster from depressive episodes than those who have the “be good” mindset.

It is an attitude worth encouraging in our students, our children, our colleagues, and especially ourselves. So next time, you’re scared of trying something new. Remember Terry and do it anyway. You may not always be the best, but you can always get better.