Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Jolly Librarian Considers Eating Frogs

Today is Mark Twain’s birthday, and among the various witty and wise things he supposedly said and wrote during his life was this: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

According to Brain Tracy, a motivational expert, that frog should be the hardest thing on your to-do list. 

Now there is nothing new about the idea of getting the worst task out of the way first. My mom, your mom, everyone’s mom  told us this for years. Still, it’s one of the simple things that many of us don’t do.

Because even though it’s simple, it’s also hard. No normal person likes to rush into something unpleasant, and if we put it off, there’s a chance (however slim) that the problem will solve itself. (Once, after a root canal, I was almost run over by a texting teen driver, and I have to admit that I was mostly disturbed by the fact that  I would be killed AFTER suffering through a root canal.)

In general, though, after years (decades!) of putting off distasteful tasks, I have finally realized that there is no real payoff. It’s not as if I had a carefree happy time until I took up the dreaded task. In fact, it was the opposite. No, I spent every delaying moment in a free-flowing state of apprehension. My stomach hurt. In the midst of doing something else, my mind would suddenly shift to that undone task, and dread would overtake me again.

So I finally gave in and started “eating the frog.” I fear dentists, so I make the appointment for first thing in the morning. There’s a confrontation that can’t be avoided: It’s on my calendar as the first appointment for the day.

If you’re not sure what your “frog” is, just think of the things you need to do. When you hit the one that makes your stomach lurch or makes you want to dive back under the covers in the morning, you’ve found it.

Doing the difficult thing might not make it more pleasant, but it truly does make it less onerous by freeing it of the accompanying dread. You also gain an incredible feeling of accomplishment, knowing that the worst thing (probably) is over already and there’s only one way to go for the rest of the day: Up.


Give Wikipedia a Break!

As of last night, five of us have been helping a student with her research with no success. Actually, that’s not quite true. The information she needs is readily accessible. On Wikipedia. And that’s a source that her instructor will not allow.

Now in general, I am not a fan of using encyclopedias in research papers. Students need to be delving deeper into topics, not skimming the surface, which is what encyclopedias do well. Furthermore, I know that if instructors didn’t ban Wikipedia, some papers would include sources from nowhere else.

In the case of the student yesterday, the source as she needed it was only in Wikipedia.  Now, that, obviously, is not a reason to allow it as a source. However, by each statistic, there was a nice hyperlink to its source. The information was documented and was probably more reliable than anything else we could find. (And we found little else.)

But there’s a bigger issue here than five library staff members spending hours on a search that could have taken five minutes. Whether we like it or not, most students, once they graduate, are going to use basic search engines when they need answers to questions. They will be much better prepared to do this if they’ve had practice deciding when Wikipedia (or any web site) is appropriate rather than never using it in college because it’s banned.

As I was writing this, a colleague from the English department came in and curmudgeonly (his word) argued against my thesis here. He strongly feels the disadvantages outweigh the advantages in the classroom. However, his argument was not on the reliability of Wikipedia, but the tendency of students to rely upon it if it weren’t banned. And, to be fair, I’m not facing the daunting task of grading more than a hundred research papers each semester. That practicality might outweigh my philosophy.

Still, in general, it’s time to stop bad mouthing Wikipedia.

The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Post-Holiday Analysis

This week, we decided to use the college’s institutional effectiveness system on ourselves. (Well, on our past week.) One part of any such program is to close the loop, to see if things worked and what should be changed. So while our minds were still on Thanksgiving, our task was to take a look back over the holiday and see if there were things we will change next year. So here are our reports:

Colette: I was definitely smart enough not to go anywhere near a shopping outlet on Black Friday, so I don’t need to learn that lesson.  Next year (did I say this last year too?) I need to stay away from that second slice of pie.  Perhaps if I only make one kind of pie next year, I won’t feel the need to sample both kinds after I’ve already eaten myself into a gravy slathered stupor.  Friends don’t let friends eat too much pie…

Emily: My only regret is making my pumpkin pie crust out of pecans.

Pam: Such a good assignment we have this week – what did I learn this Thanksgiving that I will change for next year? Hum, not to go home next Thanksgiving? No, kidding 🙂 (yeah, right…)…Okay, in all seriousness, I learned to not ask questions when I cook with my sister. She seemed frustrated at me needing her advice, even though I have NEVER cooked for a large amount of people before (does 5 count as a large amount? It does when you live alone)! I just wanted everything to be perfect. I learned to fake it till I make it. That good enough? Other lessons…Take a bottle of Maker’s Mark and slip it into my beverage at every meal and….

Jolly Librarian: Next year, I will listen to my staff when they inform me that there will NOT be a rush of students on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving and let more people have time off. I will also remember that Thanksgiving is not a week off; in reality, it is only two more days than a weekend. I say this not to complain, but to remember not to overload my to-do list with things that simply aren’t going to get done. Finally, I will remember to provide my own secret Thanksgiving dessert that I will eat in its entirety  later at home. Alone.

When Plagiarism Happens to Good People

Not all plagiarism is intentional. Sometimes students don’t quite understand how to cite correctly. (And I know that instructors are now yelling about how students have been taught. But professors have researched so much that they sometimes forget it’s a hard skill to learn.)

So for students who are unclear on what constitutes plagiarism, here are some basic rules:

  • Anything that comes from a source that you put in your paper must be cited. It should be cited in the paper itself and on the works cited page.
  • If you are using the source word for word, then you must put quotations around it or put it in block quote format.
  • Most of the time, you will paraphrase and summarize your source material. You must still cite it because the thought was not yours.

Why does unintentional plagiarism happen? I’ve never done a study on the subject, but my teaching experience (and being a student once) tells me that there are some core reasons:

  • Students leave their assignments to the last minute and plagiarize because they’re just trying to get something turned in.
  • They don’t know how to write a research paper but have one assigned in a non-composition class.
  • They have received a bad grade before on a research paper but didn’t get  feedback on how to improve.
  • They don’t ask for help.

Luckily, all of these can be overcome. There is quite a bit of good information out there on the research process. Here is some of it:

And, of course, don’t forget the personal touch. Talk to your instructor. Stop by the library or learning center. You’ll find people who want to help you stay plagiarism-free!

Monday Motivator: Try Out “I Messed Up” Without the “But”

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Kimberly Johnson

Have you ever received an apology that wasn’t really an apology, that actually made you feel worse after receiving it?

“I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you had been acting like a jerk all day!”

“I apologize for ignoring you, but you always seem to go on and on about stuff.”

In fact, do you even remember the last time that you received just a basic apology without the qualifying “but” at the end? “But I was tired, overworked, didn’t have the right information, etc.”

Perhaps you recall  making such a snarky apology yourself. Probably not, although you probably have. We seem to have an unlimited ability to justify our own behavior.

In their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson examine the way the brain is wired for justification. This is not an excuse for bad behavior, instead a call for watching ourselves more closely since we’re not attuned to our own mishaps (In fact, we’re more likely to call them mishaps when we mess up and something  more graphic when someone else is the culprit.)

In truth, people don’t much care if you were busy, overworked, or saddled with stupid colleagues; they just want the problem fixed. And in personal relationships, they just want to get back on track, which doesn’t happen when you apologize by blaming them for your outburst.

As in most things, the simpler the apology, the better. So this week, try a “I’m sorry” or “I messed up.” And then just stop. No “but” allowed!

The Self-Improvement Chronicles: An Attitude of Gratitude

Like most people, the Self-Improvers are putting aside a few moments to count their blessings this week.

Our reports:


I’m not going to blow the lid off originality here, but the things for which I am truly most grateful are the same things for which most of us are grateful.  I try often to say a quiet “thank you” to the universe for the loving people in my life, for good health and for being able to keep my priorities focused on those things.  Bottom line, I’m grateful I wake up happy every day, and that the people I love wake up that way as well.  On a less important scale, I’m grateful for a car with a good heater, a fridge with an ice maker, indoor plumbing, Ben and Jerry, talented authors and musicians, living with a massage therapist and owning a dog who is neither a barker nor a chewer.  I’m also grateful to live in a country with the good sense to celebrate family, food and football all on the same day.

Emily: I’m grateful for friends and family. I”m also grateful for all the turkeys who gave up their lives to be overcooked.


The other night I saw the most fabulous sight. I was driving along chatting with my mom and I saw a shooting star come falling out of the sky…and it fell, and fell, leaving a bright, wide streak as it arched. The head of it was so bright and twice as big as a regular star. I watched this meteor sail across the sky at least 4-5 seconds before it slowly burned out wondering, truthfully with my heart jumping a bit, if it might strike the earth! I learned the next day that very evening I’d spotted this amazing stream of light, that the earth was passing through the tail of Halley’s Comet! I AM THANKFUL I GOT TO WITNESS A PART OF THAT! My other feelings of gratitude at this special time of year are that my Mom is healing well, after a huge ordeal following her knee replacement surgery…(and we’re speaking again rather than yelling :-)–Did I mention I’m grateful for PATIENCE and learning deeper meanings of love? I’m grateful I’ve learned to cook and that it’s no longer a chore but has become a new hobby and challenge! Who would have thought? Certainly not Julia Child, I’ll tell you THAT! (OR my mother)! I’m thankful for my reconnection with my old, dear friends, the New Coon Creek Girls and the reunion shows we have been doing. I guess it goes without saying that I’m thankful for my job here at the library and having a boss who has a great sense of humor, as well as fabulous (truly) co-workers which make me miss them a bit when I go out of town for 10 days. Lastly, I’m thankful I got to be on this journey of life. I stay amazed at the miracle of it, the mystery of it and the wonderment. Happy Thanksgiving All!

Jolly Librarian: I am thankful for a healthy family. I am thankful for a job I like doing 99.9% of the time. I am especially grateful for colleagues and supervisors who support our various experiments. And I give special thanks to Emily, Colette, and Pam who (usually) good-naturedly have participated in these Wednesday blogs 🙂



The Jolly Librarian Considers Plagiarism

The Jolly Librarian, of course, is against plagiarism and has never deliberately plagiarized any other person’s work.

Still, it’s the  time of the semester when plagiarism is a hot topic on our campus as research projects are due. Faculty face the unpleasant task of assigning F’s to plagiarized papers, and students face the unpleasant task of receiving those grades.

Now, in my humble opinion, there is a great deal of difference between unintentional and intentional plagiarism, and I’ll spend next week discussing how to avoid the first type. But for today, let’s just review what is intentional plagiarism (in my mind, just plain-out cheating).

You should never do the following:

  • Buy a paper from a fellow student or from a website and turn it in as your own.
  • Turn in a paper written by your mother, significant other, best friend, etc. and turn it in as your own work.
  • Write an introduction and conclusion and then copy and paste the rest of the paper from another source.
  • Turn in a paper that you wrote for another course or in high school. (Now some might be surprised that this would be considered plagiarism since it is your own work. Still, most instructors expect that you conduct fresh research and write a new paper for each course. And let’s face it: By turning in the same paper more than once, you’re not learning to be a better researcher or writer.)

There is little debate here. Students may not be happy when they’re caught, but they’re not surprised at the result. We all pretty much know that these are clear cases of academic dishonesty.

Just don’t do it. No learning takes place. And the penalty can be severe if you’re caught.

There is really little I can do to help intentional plagiarists. They know the rules; they know the risks, and yet they proceed. It is to the unintentional plagiarists that I will next direct my attention and my sympathy.

Until next Tuesday.

Monday Motivator: When A Dysfunctional Person Asks You to Dance, Just Say No

Last month, in O Magazine, Martha Beck wrote in her column, “Free yourself from dysfunctional people by refusing to try to control them.”

This idea came back to me over the weekend as a friend described the various crazy people she expected to encounter over the holidays. It was like the entire dysfunctional universe was holding a convention at her house: There was the constant criticizer. There was the chronically unhappy person who spread gloom with every step (like an emotional Pigpen). There was the problem denier. And that was just for Thanksgiving.

Now besides moving and leaving no forwarding address, I know of no way to keep such dysfunctional people away. But we can control how we think about them.

Imagine this scenario:  Aunt Adele starts to give her (always negative) opinions on (pick any of the following) the way you raise your children, the fact that you have no children, that you spend too much money on cell phones, that your turkey is too dry, or any of the hundred things that Aunt Adele can complain about before dinner.

You can think, “Oh, Aunt Adele is so horrible. Why must she always pick on me? She’s ruining our holiday.”

Or you can think, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Adele. She actually looks a little like Abraham Lincoln when her jaw clenches that way. It’s kind of cute.”

In the first instance, you have accepted Aunt Adele’s request to dance, and you’re twisting and sweating and feeling your blood pressure rise. In the second, you just let Aunt Adele dance by herself out in the middle of the floor.

Dysfunctional people will come into our lives; we can’t control that. But we can control how we react to them.


The Jolly Librarian Becomes Part of the Old Guard

It was bound to happen some time; I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. At yesterday’s  TBR deans and directors meetings, I realized that I was now one of the seasoned veterans. Yep, now more than 50% of the group came on board after I did. Three directors retired at the end of last year, which made the final push into the old guard complete.

Although I am going to miss those folks who retired, who showed me the way when I  first became head of the Mayfield Library, I certainly am enjoying getting to know the new folks, hearing their new ideas and seeing our state libraries from a different perspective.

What I don’t particularly like is being classified as one of “experienced” deans. I feel about as ignorant as I did back when I joined the group in 2002. I know a few more terms, have a little more savvy in dealing with purchasing, and realize now that the field is changing so fast that we all feel overwhelmed. But what I don’t feel prepared to be is a mentor for anyone. When I consider the wisdom and encouragement that Vicki, Rita, and Mary Evelyn provided, I know I’ll never be that wise and be able to help anyone they way they did me. So I apologize to the new folks for my lack in these areas. But, luckily, you have other great folks who will provide much guidance.

Maybe that’s my problem with being part of the old guard. I’ve grown older, but not wiser.


The Self-Improvement Chronicles: We Must Do This Again

A couple of Thanksgivings ago, I walked around Radnor Lake with a friend of mine. We both agreed we enjoyed it and that we would meet to do it more often. We’ve never been again.

Now granted, some folks say things like this all the time as some sort of conversation filler. Yet, for all of us, there are those activities that are fun. We love doing them, but then suddenly we look back and realized we’ve let weeks, months, even years go by without revisiting them.

So our task for this week was to take one such activity and do it.

Here are our reports:

Colette: It’s not every day that a person must, as a work related mandate, do something fun.  For the record, I’d like to say  it’s a brilliant idea and should be embraced like Casual Friday.  I’m not sure why I waited until the weekend to start packing in some fun, but I had many things I wanted to pull out of the hedonism cupboard (a long hike, a third quarter football nap, some sushi).  Unfortunately, I got side-swiped by a migraine.  I soaked in a few hours of the beautiful sunshine on Saturday, before I got punched in the head, but clean gutters and mulched leaves weren’t what I had in mind when the week began.  I missed the fun boat and now I’m feeling more than a little sorry for myself.  All in favor of a do-over, say “Ay.

Emily: I’m going to trivia tonight and I went antiquing over the weekend.

Pam: This week I spent more time than normal revisiting things that have brought a good feeling to my life, but that I too often set aside and forget about. For me, cooking and exercising are two of those things. I hauled out my Nordic Trak from the garage where I had stored it over the summer, and set it up (and used it!) out in my sunroom – so that I can get into a routine of cross-skiing now that it cold outside! Also, I brought in tall table that I’ve stored in the garage for about 2 years which is just PERFECT for food prep! This has brought me new hope as a person who is a messy cook anyway, because it no longer frustrates me to try to find space for my cutting board, bowls, measuring cups, ingredients, etc. I cooked a wonderful (if I do say so myself) sautéed tilapia dinner just a few nights ago and have several meals planned for the weekend ahead. I’m cooking!! That’s my biggest accomplishment!

Jolly Librarian: At first, I thought I had this assignment in the bag because I was going to a concert Sunday night. But Pam pointed out I’d been to a concert the previous week, so I obviously wasn’t depriving myself on that score. Then one night, the Piano Guy was part of a PBS fundraising extravaganza, and, motivated by something he said, I sat down at the keyboard I’d bought from a colleague some years ago. Instead of fussing over every chord change, I just played the ones I knew and improvised the rest. Now, no one is going to mistake me for Regina Spektor, but I had fun and realized that was the purpose. (And as an aside, I think I’m only one Christmas away from having “Silent Night” down to shorter-than-30-minute performance!)

Our grades:

Emily:   A (Her answer was very short, but it’s her birthday.)

Colette: A (The Jolly Librarian is sympathetic to migraine sufferers.)

Pam:  A

Jolly Librarian: A