Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Hermits’ Delight

There was a general sigh of relief when we read this week’s assignment: Carve out some alone time. If there is something that library folks know how to do, it’s being alone. Let’s face it; many of our habits are solitary: reading, writing, looking up esoteric facts to share with uninterested friends, etc.

Even Pam, our most extroverted participant, managed to get in alone time by coming down with a stomach virus and staying home for two days. For Emily and me, it was just business as usual. As Emily pointed out, this weekly challenge was probably not meant for people like us. Still, we’ll take success any way it comes.

For those of you who need to find ways to be alone, here are some suggestions:

  • Go for a walk or a run. (Although I’ve joined the Y, I have yet to go to a class. I find walking/running on the track to be a more fulfilling activity.)
  • Read a book. (It’s one of the best ways to relax and enter other worlds.)
  • Begin a hobby. (Get away from the television and try something new.)
  • Close your door. (Pam doesn’t have a door, but she put curtains on her cubicle, so that she can lunch in peace.)

Our grades for this week:



Jolly Librarian–A


What Library Folks Wished Students Knew: Research is Fun!

This is a nerdy admission, but here goes. I often watch television with my iPad by my side. Now sometimes I play Words with Friends during commercials, but just as often I use it to look up things.  I see a guest star on a television show I’m watching; I do a quick search to find out what movie he was in last year. If a late-night comedian makes a joke about something stupid a reality star said, I look that up. And an episode of Jeopardy can launch 30-40 mini-searches.

Perhaps one of the things that students do not realize is that research, while hard, can also be fun. In its purest form, research is simply moving from ignorance to knowledge. There is something we realize that we don’t know and would like to, so we conduct research. As Zora Neale Hurston said, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Of course, beginning researchers have to deal with databases,  professional style guides, and plagiarism, as well as turning in a paper that is grammatically correct, error-free, and stylistically sound. So they can forgiven if they have a hard time of thinking of research as anything other than onerous.

One way to put some fun back in research is to choose a topic carefully. Beginning researchers often look to what will be the easiest topic for a paper. Instead, the entire enterprise would be more fun and actually easier if they started with a topic they were curious about. And we’re all curious about something.

And students shouldn’t be afraid to talk over a topic with their instructor. As a former English professor myself, I know that I would have been thrilled if a student had chosen a topic that meant something personally, that had the curiosity juices flowing, and would lead to some real learning.

Right now, you just have to take my word for it, but I hope one day, you’ll find out for yourself that researching a topic can be fun as well as a learning experience.


Monday Motivator: Be Quirky

A recent New York Times article described the eccentric behaviors of people who live alone. This, of course, was not news to me or my friends who are solo dwellers. Our quirky behaviors include but are not limited to the following:

  • falling asleep in a chair with a bowl of ice cream or can of soda in our hands.
  • eating a whole box of chocolate raspberry popsicles for dinner.
  • cleaning only when it’s clear that upon sudden death, people would talk more about the state of the house than the sadness of our passing.
  • talking to our pets, our plants, ourselves, or anything in our house (including one-sided arguments about the choices that Internet radio Pandora makes for us).
  • watching really bad television shows, the kind that we’d never admit to in public.

Now, you might expect that I will now bemoan this behavior and write about ways to make single life more ‘normal.’ NOPE! This is a call for everyone to explore their quirky side. There are millions of ways to live life, and we can get all tied up into a routine. So this week, look for ways to be just a little different. Do something that others might think is a little strange. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you’re fine. A few strange looks won’t kill you.

Can’t think of anything? Here are some suggestions from some quirky people I know:

  • Buy a brightly colored scarf or cap and wear it proudly.
  • Eat dessert first or eat dessert for breakfast or make dessert a meal.
  • Sing out loud in the shower or on the drive to work. (And don’t worry about anyone seeing or hearing you.)
  • Try a catch-phrase for a day.
  • Write a love song to your librarian.
  • Get up early and see what’s going on when you’re usually asleep.
  • Keep a little rubber ball in your drawer and occasionally throw it to a colleague.

There is nothing wrong with being quirky. And unleashing your inner eccentric can sometimes help you come up with new ideas. And even if not, you’re probably going to have a little fun.



There’s an App for That, But Should There Be?

Last night I was trying to use an app that would allow me to scan in an ISBN and avoid the work of looking up a book and adding it to a list. In theory, this is a good idea; I like saving time as much as the next person. It turned not to be in practice. By the time I had my iPad lined up correctly and the book scanned in, I probably could have typed in my entire home library. This came after a day when a colleague and I futilely searched for the tap, swipe or whatever that would allow us to scan in ISBNs on another app.  All of this started me thinking about the need for certain apps.

Let’s face it: we’re all a little app crazy at the moment. After I bought my iPad, I spent most of the first evening scrolling through the App store, looking for applications to improve both my personal and professional life, as well as indulging in a couple of games. Probably my only saving grace is that I’m cheap: I downloaded mostly free ones. Even now several months later, my few purchases have ranged from $.99 to $3.00, the only exception being a word processing app which was $10.00.

After this period, I am ready to draw a few conclusions about apps:

  • Some are excellent. I especially like the ones that allow me to monitor my progress on activities, such as writing, running, push-ups, etc. I can see at a glance when I fallen short and how close I’ve come to a goal for any chosen time period. I also like the ones that cull sources to form one ‘magazine,’ so I can read all my favorite blogs and news updates in  one spot.
  • Some are just not for me. There are lots of ones for making lists. While they may work for others, I would just as soon write down my to-dos and mark them off as I go.
  • Some are good, but they are only free in limited versions. I have three language learning ones, and to go further than the basics, I need to pay money to obtain further lessons.
  • Some really are not ready for prime time. They either don’t work or have so many glitches that they are annoying.
  • Some have no purpose. I downloaded one yesterday from my favorite store. It turned out this featured only a few options whereas a simple web search would have pulled up the entire website with all the information I needed to shop.

What I learned from my months of app searching downloading (and then deleting in many cases) is that the use of apps, like any resource, needs to be thought through and evaluated.

For me, I’ve generated a few questions that have helped me narrow down my choices when faced with the ever-increasing number of apps:

  • Will it help me achieve my goals? (This is very important if you are a teacher and thinking of adding some apps to your classroom. I am lucky to have a colleague who asks me, every time I show her another ‘cool’ app, “And how would you use it in a class?”
  • Will I use it? Now, in some cases, you may not know until you download and actually try it out. I’ve deleted most of the list-making and quotations apps after realizing they had been on the iPad for months without my even touching them after that first weekend of feverish downloading.
  • How much does it cost and how much will it cost later? Most of us aren’t millionaires, and cost matters. Especially if you are evaluating apps for classroom or student use, you have to factor in costs.
  • Does it work? A glitchy, half-functioning app will turn off students in a heartbeat.  And if I read a bunch of  user evaluations that complain of glitches, freezing, etc., I pass that app by as well.

Although I’ve only owned my iPad for a few months, I already can’t imagine a day without it. So I certainly am a fan of mobile technology. But it’s important to keep in mind that all apps are not created equal, and it’s wise to know when something should just be left alone. I don’t think everything needs an app, and even if I’m later proved wrong on that score, I do know that I don’t need every one of them.


The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Veggie Tales

There is a vicious rumor going around that The Jolly Librarian does not like vegetables. This is not true. Just last week, I put a photo on my Facebook page of me eating a salad. And I’m a huge fan of the potato: baked, fried, roasted, and boiled. Still, I have to admit I do find vegetables a high-maintenance type of food. They have to be washed. They have to be prepared in some way. You go into your fridge to pick one out for preparation, and it has ruined. And some vegetables, especially spinach, get stuck, without your knowing it, in your teeth and cause embarrassment for all involved.

So I was not terribly excited when I saw that our task for this week was to eat 4-6 servings of vegetables daily and that they had to come from different color groups. My partners, on the other hand, were ecstatic. “This was the first task you doled out that I could get behind,” wrote Emily. Of course, Emily is already a veggie eater and a cook. So this was not a huge change for her.

Pam, too, was optimistic about meeting the challenge, although, once again, she didn’t read the chapter. However, her midweek report is not particularly glowing: Monday — 3 Vegetables; Tuesday — 1 vegetable; Wed—(today), thus far, 0.

Me? Like Pam, I have increased my vegetables but find it hard getting the optimal number in. I did bring salad for lunch  Monday and Tuesday and ate an extra salad last night. I also had spaghetti sauce Monday and Tuesday night. I think what might actually work for me is to make a soup and get my veggies that way. Maybe this recipe!

Anyway for the week:

Emily — A

Pam — C

Jolly Librarian– C

The last two are hoping to make an end-of-the-week comeback!



Things Library Folks Wished Students Knew: Research is Hard

I was hesitant about my title today, afraid that it would turn people away. But I decided to stay with it because it’s a basic truth. Research is hard. But it is also exhilarating and just plain fun.

I fear we faculty may forget this as well. After all, I am probably representative of most of my colleagues. I have a Bachelor’s Degree, two Master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. After my B.A. in Journalism, I actively chose a life that included researching. By this time, I am fairly decent at it. I know what I have to do to find my sources and write them up. And that first semester in freshman composition is so far in my past that it’s tempting to forget that I was ever a beginning researcher.

But I was, and, until recently, I had the proof: my research paper from ENGLISH 111 so many years ago. My topic was The Black Plague. My face is red as I type this; it is the very topic I would now ban as an instructor because it has a tendency to lead into a report (and plagiarized at that) rather than a well-reasoned argument. And that’s what I turned in: a basically half-plagiarized report.

It took years of practice and instruction to improve my skills. And I’m still improving each time I write a paper. I won’t even look at my Master’s thesis now; it just seems so poorly done compared to my dissertation. And I’m sure if I happened to take out my dissertation these days, I would immediately find many areas I could have done better.

Research is like any other skill. It takes practice. It’s kind of like football. Even if you’re the best player in your high school, that’s not going to get you very far in college unless you practice and improve. And the best college players also must improve to be good professional players. And football players know this; I’ve never seen an interview where a football player says, “Hey, I was excellent in high school, so I’m not going to attend practice, study the films, or work out any more.”

So I’m not sure why students sometimes believe the research skills that got them through high school will be enough to ensure success in college. They must build on and refine those skills. And they will be required to learn new ones, and it will be hard.

But as any researcher (or football player for that matter) will tell you, ‘hard’ and ‘fun’ are not mutually exclusive terms.





Monday Motivator: Tone is Everything

Yesterday, I received an angry email. The sender was not particularly angry at me. But it didn’t matter; no one likes to be at the receiving end of someone else’s anger.

Still, I answered the email, ignoring the anger and the accusations and simply dealing with the problem at hand. Within in two minutes, I received another email  from the person apologizing for the tone of the first.  So there was a happy ending.

But there were so many options for their not being one. Email seems to give us the freedom to explode upon people, using language in a way we never would in person. Problems that could have been handled with a quick acknowledgment and apology are made into battles where no one is happy and everyone feels attacked.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t make complaints by email. The person who emailed me yesterday had a legitimite complaint that needed to be handled. But the tone was such that my first inclination was not to help but to defend myself and maybe attack in response. And remember, this wasn’t aimed at me. It would have been even harder to bear if it had.

Perhaps the best thing to do when writing an angry email is to stop and consider the following:

  • Is your purpose to let other people know you’re angry and show your disdain for their lack of intelligence, common sense, respect, etc and you have no need to work with them again? Then go ahead and be as insulting and sarcastic as you like. (And read my tone here: I am being sarcastic!)
  • Is your purpose to solve a problem? Then edit that email for word choice and tone.

It seems to me that we have enough problems to solve without unintentionally adding layers of animosity and misunderstanding to them.


The Self-Improvement Chronicles: The Dirt on Dirt

Our assignment for this week: Keep the dirt outside by taking off your shoes the minute you come in the door. This not only keeps your house cleaner but prevents you from tracking in allergens. Not the most thrilling of assignments, but still if you hate housework and have allergies, it is a useful one.

The Jolly Librarian always takes off her shoes when she arrives home. In fact, more than once I have almost fallen flat on  my face trying to get my boots off at the door. But it’s worth it after the lizard experience.

One morning, I awoke and was about to go downstairs when I saw something on the stairs that seemed to have a head and feet and definitely should not have been on my stairs. So I did what I always do when I suspect an alien creature in  my house. I threw a book at it. (Not that I disrespect books; it’s just that a book is always the closest thing at hand.) When it didn’t move, I put on some heavy shoes and ventured toward it. It was half a lizard, the top half to be exact.

Now I have no cat that might have dragged it in. And I’m seriously doubting the possibility that it was cut in half and dragged itself halfway up my stairs before expiring. Therefore, the only logical explanation is that I stepped on its remains out in the parking lot and brought it on my shoe. So now I religiously remove my shoes at the door.

Now for our team reports for the week:

Emily’s response to my reminder:  “It hasn’t crossed my mind, so I must not feel that it would make my life better.”

Pam was much more effusive. In fact, by the time she finished mentioning all the things that could be dragged into her house, we were glad that we didn’t live in the country and hadn’t been invited over to her home. Here is a partial list:

  • Smeared soggy cat food from the front porch that got rained on
  • Decayed mulch stuck on my shoe from cutting through the flower patch
  • Hay from the strands flung all over my driveway—because the haybale was mildewing from being sat out during the Fall. I strewed it all over my gravel driveway—it looked so pretty…until it got wet, and…
  • Dog poop from the old, fat neighborhood stray who visits to lick up leftover cat food (except the soggy pieces I track in…)
  • Mud from the old garden plot…where I had to walk into it to pick up the stray paper plate that had twirled across the yard and landed there during the storm…

So our grades for this week:

Jolly Librarian– A

Pam– B (good work, but she still didn’t read the chapter)

Emily–C- (for being sassy)



Things Library Folk Wished Students Knew: This Isn’t Everything You Are

A colleague is taking a math class.  Although this is her second math class, she still doubts her ability, and each homework assignment, quiz, and test make her more and more anxious. She is not only struggling in the course, but she is letting those struggles take over her identity as well. She has started to label herself as a failure.

Of course, this is crazy talk. Besides being a math student, my friend has also done the following:

  • taken all but two courses for her degree while working full-time
  • recorded an album
  • was once nominated for a Grammy
  • is so warm and friendly at her job that students flock to her
  • taken in stray kittens
  • served on the board for a charitable foundation

You get the idea. She is a good person, a well-rounded woman, and a wonderful friend, and we all remind her of that when she begins to let her math struggles  overwhelm the rest of her life.

But when the stress of the course takes over, it’s often hard for her to remember how successful she’s been and will continue to be. And she’s not alone.

I sometimes hear students call themselves stupid or failures because of their academic problems. When I talk to them, I find that they have raised or are raising children, working at demanding jobs, volunteering at their churches, or (this is Nashville after all) writing songs and performing. I tell them that I admire them, and they look at me like I’m crazy. I can almost read their minds: Crazy woman! Weren’t you listening? I just said that I’m about to flunk out of college. There’s nothing to admire here.

One of the nice things about working in our library is that we get a chance to talk to students when they’re coming to check out a book, check their Facebook page, or check on the availability of candy at the circulation desk. And we take these opportunities to remind them that, no matter their grades, they are still perfectly good people. The only thing  a bad test grade means is that these perfectly good people need to study harder or differently for the next test. At the most, it may be an indication they might be happier in another major.

But I worry about those we don’t see or don’t have friends or colleagues or family members to remind them. So this is another thing I wish students knew:

This isn’t everything you are.



Monday Motivator: Forgive Mistakes (Even Your Own)

Last week, I was buying tickets to a comedy club for a fun group night out. I went to the website and put in my order. Everything went well until I got to the pay page and couldn’t find the submit button. So I started over. And that’s when things went really wrong. I’m still not sure what happened. But my receipt read the following: tickets bought on the 9th for a show on the 9th. The only problem was that I was supposed to be buying tickets for the 10th. And to make matters worse, the club’s website stated on every single page that no refunds were available and to check orders carefully before clicking submit. After a few minutes of useless cursing, I went back in and bought tickets for the right night.

There are times, few and far between, when I realize that I have made some  progress to enlightenment during my many years on this planet. Previously, a mistake like the one above would have sent me into a days-long funk where I would have berated myself for stupidity, railed against any club that wouldn’t give a refund, and refused to even consider having a good time. 

But now, I just chalked it up to a stupid mistake. As the Dalai Lama said (about much more important things): “If a problem is fixable  . .  ., then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.”  In my case, both ideas were appropriate. I couldn’t get my money back, so why worry? And I could still go on the right night, so I bought my tickets. Again.

Besides, it was a good reminder that mistakes happen to the best of us. Not that I so much needed a reminder of that since I make mistakes most days. (Today’s was mistaking my leave-in conditioner for hair gel. The result is not pretty.) But I did need a reminder that mistakes can be made worse by our reactions to them. And it makes little sense in most cases to make others or ourselves suffer because of those mistakes.

Of course, if the tickets had been expensive, this story might have had a different ending, and the Monday Motivator might have been entitled, “Screaming at the  Zanies person is not helpful and can lead to a restraining order.”