Monthly Archives: January 2013

January 31: Oh Dear!

There are many good things about today: It’s national Eat Brussels Sprouts Day and Backwards Day. Still I can’t help feeling a little depressed. It happens to me every January 31st. Yes, it’s the day that I realize that I’m probably going to totally fail at my New Year’s Resolutions once again.

As long as it’s January, that gorgeous first month, that month of new beginnings, when the year is still a baby, I have hope. Sure, maybe I forgot to wear my FitBit six days in a row, overslept seven mornings, and missed a couple of deadlines, but, hey, the year is new. Anything can still happen.

But as the year moves from infancy to early grade school, I have to realize that probably major change is not going to happen. I did not change just because the year did. I still have my bad habits and they are deeply ingrained. 

This year, I decided to use Lift to keep track of my resolutions, and while there is progress on some (studying French, working on a secret project, and reading each day for 30-60 minutes), not a single habit made it for all 31 days. And some, in fact, (getting up early) didn’t get a single check. 

So the Jolly Librarian is a little disheartened today.Still, I don’t stay down for long, because, tomorrow, after all, is a new beginning. February, I’m going to own you!

Reading Lives: Tom Sawyer

Once in graduate school, we were discussing Huckleberry Finn. Suddenly my instructor launched into a full-scale attack on Tom Sawyer (the character, not the novel). Tom was a symbol of civilization, he said, full of trickery and selfishness while Huck was still pure. While this may be true, I wasn’t quite sure why he hated Tom so much. I think maybe he had just participated in some departmental dirty politics and was realizing that while his dream had been to be Huck, he was turning into Tom.

Still, no matter your opinion of Tom Sawyer (PS1306.A1 1991), surely most of us can agree that the chapter on whitewashing the fence is one of the most cheerful in American literature. It’s clear that even setting up the chapter is fun for Twain:

Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-
handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep
melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet
high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged.

But then, Tom’s friends begin to appear, and soon by his sheer ingenuity, they are all doing his work for him.

So the question for our group this week was this: When did you play a trick on someone to get your way?

Colette: I wouldn’t use the word “tricked,” but as a child, I was very good at getting my sister to do things for me –  partly because I was a candy hoarder and partly because she was a candy ‘ho.  My Halloween or Easter or Christmas candy would last me a couple months.  I squirreled it away like some natural disaster was about to wipe out all the candy in the universe and mini-sized Snickers bars were to be the new gold (I was kind of weird).  A week after any holiday, my sister would have eaten all her candy, and that’s when the manipulation began.  I “traded” with her; my candy  for the privilege of making my bed or doing my farm chores.  By the time my candy stash was nearly gone, a new candy-laden holiday would refill my coffers, and my bed went on being made.  I feel guilty now.  I made her chop the frozen ice off the horse trough, before school, in the middle of a Colorado winter, for a measly pack of Sweet Tarts.  Now that I’m older, and I’d gladly give her all the candy her heart desires, she isn’t much of a candy eater anymore.  I am.  If she were a crueler person, she’d turn the tables and I’d be the one making all the beds.

Emily: There was this job this one time where I convinced the search committee that I was brilliant.

Pam: I have to tell you, I just can’t bring to mind any memory of my doing this to anyone. However, my brother—years later laughed at my sister and me saying “Remember when you’all wanted to be go sled riding with me, so I made you a deal that you could pull the sled up the hill after I rode it down?”…and WE DID! Ha. How, could we have been such idiots?

Sally: The only time I can think of when I tricked someone into doing something for me was when I told my husband that the trail we where going to hike was shorter than it actually was.  I love to hike, he not so much!  He did survive the hike, and we are still married!  We saw some beautiful scenery.

Jolly Librarian: I’m the opposite of Colette. When my sister and I were children, we would each get a pack of Sweet Tarts on Saturdays. The packets then were much smaller, with 21 pieces per pack. I would have mine eaten by Sunday while my sister was a saver. So I would then propose that we play doctor and patient. I would be the patient and the Sweet Tarts would be the medicine. I’m surprised at how often it worked. Still, she got her revenge by running over me with her bike one day when I was lying out in the middle of her ‘race track.’

Sometimes a Small App Can Save the Day

In the past few years, most of the library meetings I’ve attended discuss mobilization and how mobile technology will be a game changer for libraries. These meetings usually focus on the big picture, and that is certainly appropriate.

But, for better or worse, the Jolly Librarian tends to be a small picture sort of person. So I get excited when an app solves a specific problem a student might have. And one did just that this week.

I am taking a web course this semester, and one of my assignments required making a short voice recording and sending it to my instructor. Not the toughest of assignments except I don’t have a microphone on my computer and the link the instructor provided didn’t work on my computer. What to do? 

But then it occurred to me: there has to be an app for that! And sure enough, the app store provided me with many voice recording options, some of them free (my favorite type). I downloaded two to try out.

Luckily, the first one worked just fine. Voice Record Pro  by  Dayana Networks Ltd. was simple to use, telling me exactly when to start recording, and it gave me several options, including saving my recording to DropBox or Google Drive or simply attaching it to an email. The sound quality was fine, and after submitting it in my course, I double-checked that it worked. It did. So I was a happy student.

Students without computers at home often stop by the circulation desk to borrow a microphone to make recordings. But these apps mean that they can do this from their smart  phones in the privacy of their own homes. And even those without Smartphones can borrow an iPad from the circulation desk and go to a study room to make their tape instead of having to talk into a microphone in public. 

One warning, though. I decided to try out the other app I downloaded before writing this entry only to find that it’s not truly free. (The free version is a 30-day trial period.) This is not necessarily a bad thing; most apps are reasonably priced. But do make sure that the app will do what you need it to do without having to pay extra money. 

The Jolly Librarian is always looking for inexpensive apps that will make students’ lives easier. So please share your finds with me!


Monday Motivator: Be Welcoming; Don’t Just Say You Are

My neighbor has a large white shepherd dog, Bella. He likes to take Bella for walks around our complex, but he usually doesn’t keep her on a leash. Therefore, more than once, I have been confronted with a barking dog charging at me while my neighbor yells (in broken English): “Don’t worry. Bella is friendly.”  Now it turns out that Bella is a fairly friendly dog; her desire is to herd people, not bite them. Still, it’s hard to take her owner at his words when Bella is racing through the parking lot, her eyes pinning you down, and her expression proclaiming “Wow! Here’s dinner!”

Bella, unfortunately, is cursed with a happy personality housed in a menacing demeanor. But she is an ever-present reminder in my life to watch my actions and expressions when working with people. We’ve probably all encountered a clerk or customer service rep who made, “May I help you?” sound like “I’m going to take you out back and beat you up.” And no one likes those encounters, but I wonder if we are as aware when our own actions (and reactions) slip into some more negative.

And it doesn’t have to be openly hostile. When I was in college, I remember going to the reference room in the library, where the library help desk was, and, although I needed help, I never once asked the librarians there a question. Why? Because they never looked up. They never made eye contact. Their body language said clearly, “I don’t want to help you.” Now I’m sure that this was an unfair inference on my part, and if they saw this, they would feel hurt and misunderstood. (But I still think it was not too much to ask for them to occasionally look up and establish eye contact.)    

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”   And if you sometimes wonder why you are so misunderstood, it might be time to pay attention to your actions as well as your words.

The Jolly Librarian Becomes a Student (and Suffers Accordingly)

Those of us who live in the academic world  believe we have a pretty good handle on the trials and tribulations of students. After all, we too were college students, most of us for much longer than the average person, earning Masters degrees and doctorates. But like with our grandparents, who told us that they hiked thirty miles in the snow to go to school, our memories may have a tendency to make us more studious and virtuous than we actually were.

This semester, I’ve reentered the student world for the first time since I earned my doctorate. Librarian Emily and I are taking an introductory French course online. Emily is a total beginner in French, and I taught myself enough to pass a graduate reading exam but can barely speak or understand the language when spoken. 

I went to the bookstore and found my book–and discovered that it was very expensive. I then decided to go the ebook route and downloaded my book from Amazon. It was still expensive, but I figured, since I take my iPad everywhere, I would study more. (This has not proven to be true.)

I was quickly reminded that, although people tell students that these are the best years of their lives, there is a lot of stress involved in taking a course.

First, there is the never-ending suspicion that I am missing something. This course is well developed with a conscientious and present instructor. (We do not wait around for emails from her.) We practice all our skills each week: vocabulary, grammar as well as written and spoken expression. I try to keep up, but I’m always sure that there is some hidden assignment out there that I’ve forgotten.

Second, I would have thought that I was long past this fear, but I’ve found that I still don’t want to be the slowest kid in the class. I worry that my recording of the alphabet will be unintelligible or that my part of the class discussion will sound simplistic. In this area, I am quite jealous of colleague Pam. She simply is not embarrassed about trying out new skills. This semester, she is taking ASL, and, the first week of class, a deaf student came to the circulation desk. Within minutes, she was practicing the alphabet and asking him questions about signing. Watching her, I was reminded that learning is my goal for this class, and you can’t really learn anything without taking some chances. 

This one course certainly has renewed my respect for (and awe of)  students who are taking a full load of courses, working at a job, and raising a family as many of our students do. And if any of you are feeling a little stressed this semester, come up to the circulation desk. We’ll share your pain.

Reading Lives: Snoop

In the book snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You (BF323.S63.G67 2009), psychologist Sam Gosling argues “that the things we own and the way we arrange them can say more about us than ever our most intimate conversations.” (Click here for a video of Sam Gosling telling us what our personal spaces can’t hide!) Scary thought, huh? 

So this week, we delved into the deepest part of our psyches and revealed what our stuff says about us:

Colette: I had no idea being a self-improver was going to make my faults so visible, so widely accessible, to people who have never met me.  Usually I get to share a meal or a laugh with a person before he/she gets a laundry list of my idiosyncrasies.  I don’t have a lot of control over what my work space looks like, so a psychologist wouldn’t learn much about me by looking at the circulation desk.  If a psychologist came into my home, I think he’d say (with feeling) “You have impeccable taste, Colette!”   And then he’d likely sit down and say, “So tell me about this OCD of yours.”  

Emily: Until about a year ago my cubicle decor consisted of a pencil cup and a calendar. I suppose this would say that I’m a boring minimalist. Or maybe that I’m afraid of commitment? Overly private? It’s a stark contrast to my home, which is full of old furniture, books, pictures, dust bunnies. Nearly all my furniture is inherited from grandparents and great aunts. What’s not inherited is likely something I found at a flea market for 20 bucks or less, so be forewarned that many of my chairs are less than stable. Now that I’ve been here four years, a bit of my personality may be peeking over my cubicle wall. I’ve haphazardly collaged my outer wall with book postcards and scraps of old calendars.  I’m slowly doing the same to the inner walls. I’ve considered moving a lamp in, but I just don’t know if I’m ready. Perhaps my hesitation comes from a fear that my cubicle might befall the fate of its neighbors. Or maybe I’m just a slow mover. 

Pam: Upon stepping into my work environment, one would likely observe that I have varied interests. I would hope that, along with their initial response of horror at the unending clutter, they would think I have a good sense of humor 🙂 As far as my home environment, that would depend on what week they happened by 🙂 If one stopped in right now, they would find a very neat, orderly, crammed-full home that would reflect to them my extreme interest in music, reading and pets. Although cats are the great love of my life right now, I have been collecting old dog figures (iron, bisque, pictures, etc.) since my early twenties and have quite a unique assortment that accent my house. Musical instruments hang, sit and lean everywhere along with many pictures of wonderful friends that adorn the walls and shelves. Perhaps the biggest thing one would learn from observing me is that have left a dusty trail of Everything old and odd!

Sally: Probably that I am a multi-tasker, but hopefully somewhat organized and I am a catalog librarian. 

Jolly Librarian: The first thing that you would notice coming into my office or house would be books: Books in bookcases, books on the desk, books on the sofa. You would get the correct idea that I love to read. But I realize that Gosling is right: The literary books are all downstairs while the “less impressive” ones are up in the guest bedroom, and I never have guests. In fact, after looking through his book, I packed up three bags of self-help books and put them on the give-away cart. The other thing you would gather from my stuff is that I have many interests, but I don’t follow up on them all. There is the dust-covered keyboard in the living room, the guitar and tennis racket in the back of the hall closet, and even the series after series of French tapes in a bookcase. Still, I don’t get rid of them because you never know when I’ll come back to them. After all, I just took up French again!


Starting Anew: Some Basic Rules

A new semester means a new beginning. Here are some tips that can lead you to success in your new endeavors:  

  • Start as you mean to finish. In other words, go to class. Buy your books.Start out with the assumption that you will work hard all semester. Some students let the first few weeks slide by and then are in a rush to catch up the rest of the term. If you start with consistency and persistence, you’ll have a much better semester.
  • Pay attention. If you are in class, pay attention while there. Don’t spend the lecture texting your friends or checking Facebook. If you are reading your text or working in your web course, don’t do it in front of the television. Research has proven that multi-tasking really doesn’t work, and folks have to switch attention from one thing to another. And let’s face it: For most of us, a post about a cute kitten will take our attention away from our professor or assignment. Just don’t go there. (BTW, almost all professors can tell when you’re not paying attention. You’re not fooling anyone.)
  • Ask questions. You don’t understand a part of a lecture. Raise your hand and ask a question. Ignore the guy behind you sighing in annoyance. He can use the time to check Facebook. But get your answer. If you’re doing homework or reading an assignment and you run into trouble, mark it and ask in class the next day or visit your professor’s office or go to the Learning Center. Do not persist in ignorance because you’re embarrassed.
  • Keep an eye out for trouble. Assignments and quizzes do not exist just to give you a grade. They also allow you to monitor your learning and see where things are going wrong. A teaching friend of mine once begged  her students not to stuff their essays in their notebooks after seeing the grade: “There are helpful comments written all over them!” she wailed. Look at those returned assignments and see where you can make improvements.
  • Make necessary modifications. So let’s say that you get a paper back and your grade isn’t great. Your instructor says you don’t use enough details to prove your thesis, and you need to organize your ideas. You’re not sure what any of that means, so when you write your next paper, you do all the stuff you did last time, except you make it longer. When your grade doesn’t improve, you’re sad because you worked so hard! But here’s the thing: Working harder and longer doing the wrong thing doesn’t make things better. To solve a problem, you have to see where you’ve gone wrong and then make changes. If you’re not sure what those changes should be, return to number 3 in this list. 

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but if you just did these five things, I’m willing to bet your semester would improve!

Reading Lives: The Power of Habit

Our book this week, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (BF335.D78.2012) is an interesting exploration of habits in all aspects of our lives. He gives the example of how Target tracks shoppers’ habits so that they know when certain consumers are pregnant and can market accordingly. But he also discusses that how we can change our own habits for the better by changing one of three elements: the cues, the rewards, or the routines involved.

Our question for this week: 

What potential habit would make you a happier person?

Colette: I’d like to make ongoing, meaningful correspondence my new, renewed habit.  Many years ago,  I used to write several letters per week, to friends and family.  This habit gave way, eventually, to several lengthy emails each week.  It genuinely made me happy to stay connected to people I care about, and I’ve never been a fan of talking on the phone.  Sadly, my email habit  has fallen by the roadside – pushed to the shadows by both text messaging and (ack) Facebook.  A text message is a great way to let someone know that you’re running late or that you’ve forgotten to put eggs on the grocery list.  It is not, however, a good venue to truly connect with another human being.  And neither is Facebook.  There, I’ve said it.  I have never been able to embrace Facebook.  I’ve tried.  I posted a couple pictures.  I’ve lurked on occasion at “friends'” pages.  I even fake harvested fake crops on a fake farm, one insipid summer.  I just don’t get the attraction.   Maybe I’m missing something, or my “friends” are just especially lame at posting.  I don’t get why they’d want everyone to know they just took some clothes out of the dryer, or that they had wanton soup for lunch.  I was raised to believe that yammering on about such mundane details made you both a bore and an ego maniac.  Anyway.  I’ve gotten off track.  This is supposed to be about forming healthy habits and  I’d like to bring back the art of connecting with people, old school.  I don’t think anyone I know is harboring a box under his bed, or tucked away in his attic, full of saved text messages from an old friend.

Emily: I’d likely be happier if I could stop worrying. But if you don’t worry about things, you can’t prepare, so it might lead to me being blindsided by a natural disaster, plague, nuclear war, getting trampled in a crowd, being attacked by a bear, finding a foreign object in a burrito, or looking into a solar eclipse. I guess it’s still a worthy cause. 

Pam: Sinking into my deepest psyche, the habit that would have made the most positive difference in my life—and that would now make the most positive happy difference in my life would be: 

To arise after waking, stretch, and after working here each day- choose to go to a workout facility (YMCA) and move my body through a routine of weight-bearing exercise and aerobic (swimming would be the best for me) workout. THIS would make a difference in my life, I am convinced now more than ever, as I watch nearly every person I grew up with (now older) slowly become weak, inflamed and cripplingly immobile.

 Sally: My habit to develop and maintain had be advocacy for things like libraries, TEL, MERLOT, greenways, bike parking facilities, active transportation, etc. 

Jolly Librarian: Sunday morning, I awoke early and felt strangely energetic. Before the Y opened at noon, I read the newspaper and my devotionals. I put away my laundry and ironed some skirts that had been waiting on top of the dryer for more than a month for some attention. Then I went up to the spare bedroom and weeded my bookcases. After filling up three bags of books, I was ready to get to the gym to exercise. “Wow,” I thought. “It feels so good to get things done. I’m going to do this everyday.” The next morning, after hitting the snooze button many, many, many times, I dragged myself into work late, with my hair unwashed, my body unexercised, and my mood depressed. So, yes, I firmly believe that if I could get into the habit of getting up when the alarm goes off, I would be a happier, more productive person.




Monday Motivator: Take Care

While I wanted to write a more motivational post for the week, happenings in the library keep leading me back to one subject: the flu. Pam was out all last week, and she made it back today just as Andrew called in sick. As I sit here at the circulation desk, I can hear the sniffles, coughs, and sneezes of students who have come in to register.

So my mind is on the pragmatic this week: Try to stay well. 

Of course, this is not easy to do when you work at a college and see as many people in a day as we do. We sometimes feel especially vulnerable here in the library. More than once, we have had students lean over us at the desk, saying that they were too sick to go to class but thought they’d come in and get a book. Aargh! 

So what can we do?

  • Get a flu shot. I got mine in November at Target from a very enthusiastic pharmacist. The flu shot is not perfect, but according to doctors, it can help lessen your symptoms if you do get one of the non-covered strains.  
  •  Wash your hands. I attended graduate student with the daughter of a nurse. I have never met anyone more paranoid about touching surfaces. In fact, I thought she was a little weird. But research and experience proved her right. The flu virus hangs about on surfaces. So wash your hands. Over and over and over again.
  • Don’t touch your face. So you’re washing your hands, but researchers say there are many more opportunities for germs to get back on them before you wash them again. So don’t touch your face. I have to admit that this is hard for me. For one thing, I have crazy curly hair that tends to stray onto my cheeks and into my eyes. Two, I express half my emotions with my hands–putting my hands over my eyes, slapping my forehead, even putting my hands on each side of my face like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. But you’ll be more likely to avoid the flu if you make your face a hands-free zone.

Of course, getting through the flu season unscathed is always a bit of a gamble. Still, there are some things we can do to improve our odds. Stay healthy!

Is There a Psychopath in Your Library?

With the recent publication of the most and least stressful jobs, I suppose that it makes sense that there would also be a list of the types of jobs that attract psychopaths. 

These are the jobs that rate the highest:

Highest Rates of Psychopathy

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (Television/Radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police Officer
  8. Clergy person
  9. Chef
  10. Civil Servant

Now, I was not surprised to find that librarians did not make this list, but then our profession did not make the bottom ten either (those with the lowest level of psychopathy):

  1. Care Aide
  2. Nurse
  3. Therapist
  4. Craftsperson
  5. Beautician/Stylist
  6. Charity Worker
  7. Teacher
  8. Creative Artist
  9. Doctor
  10. Accountant

Kenneth Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, states that once we dissociate the word “psychopath” from the word “killer,” we can see that an element of good old-fashioned psychopathy can be quite helpful in the road to success. After all, the psychopath is fearless, charming, and persuasive. He/She doesn’t procrastinate or take things personally when things go wrong. Of course, the whole lack of conscience or empathy can be a bit disturbing but often effective.

Still, even granting that psychopathy has its positive qualities, it’s hard to imagine that libraries would attract many psychopaths. At least, at my college, we library people admit to procrastinating. We take failure extremely personally. We can be kind and gracious to people who need help, but we would rather stay in our cubicles than simply be charming for charming’s sake. And since we spend a great deal of time trying to encourage students to use scholarly articles instead of Wikipedia, I would argue that, many days, we don’t feel very persuasive.

Still, that doesn’t mean just because we’re not sociopaths, we’re don’t have our moments. When I meet people at parties (the few times a decade I’m actually invited to a party), there are two basic responses when I tell them I work in a library:

One: “Oh, I love librarians. They helped me so much on my research on (fill in the blank).” Or “Librarians are the nicest, most helpful people.” 

Two: “Librarians! This really mean librarian scarred me for life.” Sometimes the stories are decades old. One friend tells of being reprimanded for choosing the ‘wrong’ books the day it was his turn, as a second grader, to roll the red cart to the library and bring it back filled with books for his classmates. Some have more recent tales. One colleague remembers going to another college library to do some research. When he left, he somehow set off the alarm, and the librarian who confronted him refused to believe that he didn’t have a book or magazine hidden somewhere on his person.

Perhaps the lesson here is that people’s impressions of libraries are formed long before they meet us. Therefore, although we may not have Jason or Freddie Krueger working with us, we can still scare students away with a careless answer or a brusque response.