Monthly Archives: April 2013

When You Can Procrastinate No More

This morning while we were at the circulation desk, Colette said that she couldn’t believe so many students had papers due today.Being more cynical,I noted that it was likely that today was the deadline to turn in late papers. But in any case, there was a certain intensity and hysteria in the atmosphere. Things were due, and, for many students, they had procrastinated their way into a wretched experience.

The Jolly Librarian is no stranger to procrastination and the angst it can cause. So are some tips for when you’re down to the wire:

  1. Be realistic about what you’re going to be able to do. Some people say they work better under pressure. My years of grading papers tell me that this is not true. If you have put off a major assignment to the last minute, then your goal is to simply make a passing grade.
  2. Concentrate on the areas that are weighted most heavily. Students sometimes spend time on spelling (and spelling is important) because it’s easy but ignore the content of their papers. So look at your assignment sheet. If misspelled words count off 5 points, but plagiarized sections are an automatic ‘F,’ then, for heavens sake, work on paraphrasing.
  3. For reading assignments, skim the chapters, focusing on headings, italicized words, end-of-chapter summaries, etc.
  4. Manage your time wisely. Now, this may sound weird, considering that if you were a good time manager, you would not be in this situation! But look at everything that has to be done, how much of your grade each assignment constitutes, and make a schedule to do the most important assignments first.
  5. If you are truly in trouble, then talk to your instructor about the possibility of an incomplete.
  6. After the semester is over, go to your local tattoo artist and have the sentence, “Procrastinate no more” put on your arm, where the words and the memory of the pain can put you on a better path for next semester.

Monday Motivator: You Might As Well Be Yourself

I’ve been thinking of Gwyneth Paltrow, not because I’m a huge fan, although I did enjoy Shakespeare in Love. But last week, I ran across her name twice. One was in Zite, my iPad reader, in a headline stating that Gwyneth has now replaced Anne Hathaway as the most hated celebrity. Then on Friday, as I was checking out at Publix, I saw her photo on the cover of People announcing her as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ 

Now most of us don’t live in a world that’s as skittish and random as that of celebrities who can be adored one day and reviled the next. Still, there is something to be learned here. No matter what you do, there will always be people who won’t approve. There will always be people who question your motives or criticize your results. 

So you might as well be yourself. It might not make life easier, but it does make it more authentic.  

Reading Lives: Too Many Cooks

In support of the Culinary Arts program, the Mayfield Library has many cookbooks. Whether you want to cook Southern, explore your Italian side, make breads from around the world, or explore French cuisine with Julia Child, we have the cookbook for you.

This week the reading group shares their cooking experiences:

Colette: There’s a saying in my family; whenever something goes terribly wrong, or when the reality of a thing falls far short of one’s expectations, we call it a “Jelly Roll.”  If, for example, I went on a camping trip and spent the whole trip huddled in a tent while the rain poured down in buckets, I’d say that the trip was, “a total Jelly Roll.”  This saying comes from an ill-fated attempt on my part to impress a new love interest with my cooking.

 Normally, I pride myself on being a good cook, but the best laid plans sometimes turn into an unservable mess on the kitchen counter.  I was going to make a chocolate jelly roll – the perfect cherry to top off a scrumptious dinner.  In the magazine picture, it was a beautiful alternating spiral of thin chocolate cake and whipped cream, rolled into a log which is sliced and placed flat on a plate.  When done correctly, it is the Golden Ratio of desserts; however, my jelly roll didn’t have any roll to it.  It had more cracks than mud in a drought, so when I attempted to roll it into a log, it dropped huge hunks of itself on the counter and on the floor.  I had bits and pieces everywhere.  Plus I’d whipped the cream too long, so it was as close to butter as whipped cream can get, without actually being spread on toast.  When all was said and done, it looked like one of those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes that kids make in fourth grade.  I threw it in the trash and started again.  The second jelly roll turned out exactly the same…a mountain of crumbly nothing, topped with butter.  Needless to say, I think I served a dish of ice cream that night and I have not tried to make it since.

Emily: My mom set me loose with the oven and the Kitchen Aid mixer at a relatively young age. Cookies were my specialty; and one summer in elementary school I stood on a stool and baked them each and everyday. I also ate them each and everyday, which resulted in what my grandmother refers to as my “chunky summer.” In honor of my “chunky summer,” here’s my favorite cookie recipe of the moment.  And, if you want to have your own chunky summer, here’s my “Sweets” Pinterest board to keep you busy trying new recipes. 

Pam: Snippets of memories come to mind as I recall trying to learn to cook and how my mother would get SO FRUSTRATED with me worrying about the details, such as the memory of me asking her if I needed to level off the baking soda with a knife to make sure it was perfectly 1/2 tablespoon. Exasperated after so many questions from me, she snapped “OH, PAM, just dump it in there”! I was always so messy, too. I know that’s not surprising, as I’ve even been nicknamed “Pig Pen” for anyone who knows the flurry of debris I leave behind, crumbs, fuzz balls, napkins, and let’s not mention the back seat of my vehicle – which my landlord teases me to be renting to someone who lives there! But, to follow my trail in the kitchen is truly a dream come true for Hansel and Gretel! Perhaps my greatest feat was when I first started working at Nashville State and didn’t know how to make chili but was determined to enter the Chili Cook-off. True, I had once stirred together some hamburger and tomato paste and chili powder when I was 22 and living in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a summer, buuut, I didn’t really know how to make it. I scoured cookbooks, asked Sara Maxwell how, asked Charles May how, called Mom, blah, blah, blah, and finally I just decided to use my head and put in it what I thought would be delicious. I literally tossed together garlic, sausage, ground chuck, lots of spices and an entire stick of butter and carried my pot proudly to school (I didn’t even own a crock pot). And, I WON THE 1st PLACE BLUE RIBBON! Ha! I have never been any prouder! I pinned that baby on my blouse and wore it around campus the entire day! Now, time to go home and make one of my favorite recipes from Mom – chocolate fried pies! Hey, Mom, do I need to add grease to the ….? “OH, PAM, just dump it in there”!

Sally: My favorite cookbook is one that I got for Christmas from my parents when I was probably in 4th or 5th grade. It’s the Kids in the Kitchen cookbook.  The recipes are arranged “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, and “Advanced”. My favorite recipe is “Springtime Salad”. My other favorite recipe is one that I clipped from a magazine a long time ago because I like hotdogs. It’s called “if you’re Hungry for Hotdogs”. It’s a stir-fry recipe. My other favorite cookbook is one the library does have, A Taste of Homecoming by Daisy King.  It has some great Tennessee stories and recipes. 

Jolly Librarian: I am not known for my prowess in the kitchen. In fact, when I first moved to Nashville, I was invited to a cookout. I was told just to bring an onion to put on the hamburgers, which was the hostess’s way of saying that she was not going to ask for more than I could give. So on my way to the party, I stopped by the grocery and bought one nice fat onion. I’m still not sure why everyone mocked me about proudly plopping an unwashed, unsliced onion on the kitchen table.

The Study Skills Initiative: The Jolly Librarian Keeps a Time Log

I have written of the advantages of keeping a time log to find the pockets where time is wasted and where we can substitute more productive activities. So I decided to try it myself. For the past two days, I’ve kept a log of  my daily activities. I set my phone to ring at certain intervals and then checked what I was doing. Honesty Alert:I was actually a little more productive than usual. The fact that I knew I was tracking my time and going to write about it made me slightly more conscientious.

While here are many ways to do this to keep a time log; I decided to do a rough check every thirty minutes or so.


Anyway, here are some samples from today:

7:00– Alarm went off. I listened to the “old school phone” sound for ten minutes before getting up.

7:30–Eating breakfast and reading the newspaper.

8:00–Still drinking breakfast tea and reading devotionals.

8:30–Making my bed and catching up on Words with Friends.

9:00–Taking my shower.

9:30–Dressing, getting ready for work.

10:00–Leave house to go to dentist.

Noon–  Checking emails.

12:30– Answering LiveChat Question.

1:00–  At Circ desk–checking out Macbook to student

1:30– Still at circ desk, checking email again

2:00– Discussing schedule for rest of week with staff.

2:30– Looking at materials for meeting.

3:00–In boss’s office hearing bad news.

3:30–Still in boss’s office.

4:00–Signing papers.

4:30–Helping students fax

5:00–Typing blog.

Three things pop out at me about today’s log. One, today seemed to be filled with interruptions. I had to go to the endodontist, which took a good part of the morning. Also this week, we’ve had quite a few library staff members taking leave for one reason or another, which has put me at the circulation desk more than usual. (I don’t mind this; I like the chance to work with students.)

Two, I seem to be a lingerer in the mornings. Most people are through with breakfasts, showers, and transportation to the office by the time that I finish up my reading over tea and cereal.

Three, I am one boring person!

The idea of the time log is to accurately measure your time and to see if you are putting the necessary energy into the most important tasks. The exercise, however, doesn’t do much good if you don’t put what you find into action.

So here’s my action plan:

  1. There is no need to take this much time over breakfast. I will plan to turn off my computer so that I’m not tempted to check emails or search the web while I’m eating. This should save enough time so that I can get to work earlier (and leave earlier) or exercise before coming to work.
  2. I really enjoy helping students at the circulation desk, so I’m going to manage to spend some time there each day. It helps to know the students personally and get a real sense of how they perceive the library. (Notice the purpose of the time log is not to simply find time wasters. You may also find activities that add value to your days and will need to find an opportunity to do more of them.)
  3. I didn’t go through my evening hours because I knew what I would find. After I come home and work out, I often just plop down on the sofa and watch television until bedtime. (I mix this up with some snacking, playing Words with Friends, and doing DuoLingo lessons in French.)  Now, while I need time alone more than most people, I also need to get out more. So I think I may move my exercising to mornings and then plan socializing activities before going home.

Since the semester is soon ending, I will not do any major changes to my schedule right now. But I will experiment with being more efficient in the mornings. If this works, I’ll take the period between semesters to experiment with exercising before work. And I will definitely start spending more time at the circulation desk starting tomorrow.

Basically here are the three steps to using a time log:

1. Log your activities for a representative period.

2. Check where your weaknesses lie.

3. Start experimenting on improvements.

Good luck!

Monday Motivator: Decide Wisely

Every so often, in discussions about student success and retention,  a frustrated faculty member will say, “They are adults. They need to make adult decisions.”

Now, I’m certainly in favor of students taking responsibility for their own learning. However, research pretty clearly shows that being an adult has no  correlation with making better decisions. In fact, there now seems to be a  small mini-genre of books that investigate our human tendency to make bad decisions. (Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and, most recently, Decisive by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.)

The Heath brothers do a nice job of summing up the research on the various types of bad decisions we make and why. While they often focus on business, the same sort of mistakes plague our own lives as well. We buy cars  we can’t afford because we become convinced we can’t have a good life without heated seat warmers. We stay in bad relationships too long or end good ones too soon. We yell at our bosses, send stupid emails, or complain so often that we can’t get traction when an important issue arises. We stay in bed instead of exercising. We super-size our orders at the drive-thru. We don’t save enough for retirement.

If you think none of this applies to you, then think about the bad decisions of people you know. (One of the problems in making good decisions is that we often see other people’s problems clearly while we have whole layers of intentions and defenses surrounding our own.)

So what hinders our decision-making ability? According to the experts, there are several reasons:

  • We tend to limit ourselves too soon. Many of us think in quick two-choice options. Should I fire this employee or not? Should I go to Italy or save money? Should I stay in bed or go to class? 
  • We are mired in the confirmation bias. We tend to search out information that conforms to our views and ignore that which contradicts them.
  • We focus on the short-term results. The alarm goes off. It feels much better to stay in bed (immediate positive result) than getting up and going to class. (After all, that consequence, if any, is weeks away.) Or we might avoid doing something because “we’ll die of embarrassment.” Short-term fears trumps long-term benefits.
  • We are overconfident about our correctness.
  • We get blindsided when factors change.

And we’re all vulnerable to these thinking errors, whether we’re a beginning student or a seasoned CEO (or professor). When it comes to decision-making, students are adults. It’s just that adults often don’t make great decisions.

The Jolly Librarian Attends a Meeting of Library Deans and Directors

I’ve just returned from a meeting with all the TBR and UT library deans and directors (with a special visit from the Vanderbilt Dean of Libraries thrown in for good measure). Now, back in my office, I am deciphering my notes. My handwriting is not great at the best of times, and during the two days of the meeting, I was taking notes like a freshman frat boy who has just woke up from a hungover nap to realize that the test’s tomorrow and it’s entirely based on the lecture being given.

A constant in my tenure as dean has been my admiration for the other library leaders in our state. From the beginning, they have been willing to share their knowledge and expertise. Their concern for students never wanes. They always seem to be on the cutting edge of emerging technologies. And they are genuinely fun people!

When I look at my notes, it’s amazing at the range of topics discussed. There are notes on where libraries are heading in terms of collection and space. A presentation on MOOCs shed new light on what is becoming a common topic of discussion in higher education. Then there are the little tidbits of information said in passing that will make life much easier for me here in my own library. 

Each meeting is like having a highly-trained team of consultants available for a day. Except these folks are free. And I suspect much more helpful.

Reading Lives: Speaking in Tongues

For those of you learning a foreign language, either for your degree or for a trip abroad, the Mayfield Library has many resources. One of our newest is the TEL (Tennessee Electronic Library) database, PowerSpeak Languages, which has lessons in the following:

  • Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Mandarin
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • English (for Spanish speakers)

Our most popular language course on campus is Spanish, and we have a guide for that.

This week, our reading group shares memories of foreign languages:

Colette: I was an exchange student, in my youth, and lived with a host family on the most Southern tip of Japan.  I spoke almost no Japanese and my host family spoke almost no English, so we played many games of charades in places like the grocery store or the train station.  Most of the people who lived in Fukuoka had never seen an American, except on TV, so I was something of a status symbol for my hosts, and a curiosity for their neighbors. One day each week my hosts held an “open house” where neighbors were allowed to come over and get a peek at me, or have a “chat”, which consisted of lots of smiling and nodding at nothing in particular.

 My most memorable language experience was on the day I attended classes with one of my host sisters.  I was there during the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  The instructor was lecturing and drawing pictures on the board; the topic of his lecture soon became very clear to me and I knew the pictures were for my benefit.  He drew an airplane, an atomic mushroom cloud, and then proceeded to draw a huge pile of stick figures with x’d out eyes.  As all heads in the room turned toward me, I felt shame like I never had before.  Sometimes there just aren’t any words, in any language, that seem suitable.

Emily: My foreign language experience is almost exclusively limited to that most useless of dead languages, Latin. Everyone (everyone being other people who took Latin) tells you, “Oh, it’ll improve your vocabulary.” “If you ever want to learn a romance language it will be soooo easy!” “The Certamen Bowls will be the highlight of your high school experience!” (The Latin dweebs know what I’m talking about…) “You get to read the Aeneid!” Despite these compelling reasons to choose Latin as my foreign language of choice, the most compelling of all was, “You don’t have to speak it.”* So I signed on for four wonderful years of Latin in high school — Latin at my high school was more club than a class. There were about 15 of us that took the class every year, despite only needing two years, and about two who actually learned Latin. The rest of us excelled at earning JCL (Junior Classical League) ribbons in areas like costume and pottery. For those of you unfamiliar with Junior Classical League, just imagine hoards of fifteen-year-old Dungeons and Dragons players converging in one place to conjugate Latin verbs whilst wearing makeshift togas and trading Magic cards. I, for one, am the proud owner of several second and third places ribbons for photography.

*Ironically, since I didn’t learn Latin in high school, I had to take a few semesters in college. Apparently, classics professors don’t believe Latin is dead, forcing shy students to read the Aeneid out loud in class, “Again! With feeling this time! Make Virgil proud!”.

Pam: I have many happy memories of studying Spanish, but I believe one of my favorites is meeting a handsome man from Venezuela while singing one night at the Blind Lemon in Cincinnati. He was very friendly, and I was enamored by his sweet personality and the challenge to attempt to talk with him. Pathetically, he had seemed to have learned much more English in two weeks than I had learned Spanish in three high school semesters (even though I DID win the Spanish III award, might I add :-). It was around Christmastime, and there was festivity in the air. He invited me to dinner, and the next day before he arrived, I looked up my old Spanish instructor’s phone number and had the most delightful time cramming a review over the phone. As we hung up, Senora Smith bid me good luck with my big date. I invited him over to my apartment the next day, and we sat on my living room floor near the Christmas tree chatting up a Latin storm. It was a FABulous time! Having toured for seven years with my country band, Wild Rose, I have extremely fun memories of attempting to speak in many foreign languages each time we performed out of the country. I fronted the band, so it was always a playful challenge to address the audience in their language, and they appreciated it with much enthusiasm. Sweet memories flood my mind from Kumamoto in Japan, from Germany, Switzerland, Spain and France, but perhaps none so vivid as when we performed in Sao Palo, Brazil and I zealously attempted to convert my Spanish into Portuguese there. What a joy to chatter endlessly with our guides and be able to connect with the anticipating audience. It was not until I came off the stage that I learned (AND LATER READ in one of the country trade magazines back in the US) that I had evidently delighted the crowd a little too much when I had joyously announced that we were having a great time and hoped to “Eat Sh–“! True, true.

Sally: My memory of learning a foreign language begins in kindergarten. My kindergarten teacher had been to Spain and knew Spanish so she taught us some basic Spanish. Then in 4th grade I learned French. I high school for the language requirement I took Spanish again. By the time i got to college I was so confused that I did not take a language.  Maybe now I should try TEL’s new PowerSpeak database to learn a language. 

Jolly Librarian: My doctoral program required proficiency in two languages. Having taken Spanish in high school and college, I had hopes to pass that test. (As long as I didn’t have to say anything.) But for my second language, I was going to have to start fresh. But after taking the Spanish test, I was pretty confident. This test covered basic newspaper articles in Spanish, and I was pretty sure I could learn enough French to do that. So I started learning French on my own, checking out grammar and dual-language books and studying a little bit each day. On the day of the test, I opened  my booklet to find no charming news stories. Instead I found a literary analysis of Negritude. (I’ve never even heard of it.)  I struggled along and turned in my paper, and immediately started looking for college classes I would have to take in place of the test. Several weeks went by, which gave me time to contemplate the added time and expense these courses would add to my program. Then came my grade. I not only passed, but the reader said I had a good sense of the language. I learned two important lessons that day: Sometimes the dumb get lucky. And, apparently, sometimes drunk people are hired to read and analyze graduate language exams.

The Top Five Reasons to Celebrate Mayfield Library on National Library Workers Day

5.  Staff prepare and present workshops on word processing, presentation software, and MLA.

4. When you can’t find a book or an article, staff members will show you how.

3. If you’re scared of giving a speech, certain staff members will listen and give you feedback.

2. Once you introduce yourself to Pam, she’ll remember almost everything about you.

1. All the staff members want you to succeed! All you have to do is ask for help.

Monday Motivator: Keep a Watch on Your Decisions

During spring break, I established the basic policy that only three people could take leave on any given day that week. It all seemed perfectly logical until, on a slow day, someone pointed out we had more staff than students in the library. Now, this was not necessarily a problem; all breaks are a great time to get caught up on other work. Still it was obvious that if other people wanted to take some time off, the world was not going to fall apart.

For several years, I had one staff member who was seriously ill and another with some serious family issues. On any given day, the phone might ring early in the morning, and one or the other or both would tell me that she couldn’t make it in that day. I had learned to be cautious with how I approved annual leave, afraid that the library would not be staffed.

Although those folks have both been retired for years now, my decision-making process on leave time requests had become automatic. Basically, I was adding two people to each request. (So if you asked me for leave, my mental response was that three people might be out!)

Once I was gently reminded that the current staff is usually punctual and present, I relaxed my leave-making rules, making everyone, including myself, happier. But it was a good reminder to make sure that my decisions are based on current conditions and are not a holdover from an earlier time and place!


Reading Lives: The Good, The Bad, The Dysfunctional

Folks often don’t realize that we have current novels here in the library. Our current favorite is The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, a professor at the University of the South. This novel about a bizarre family of performance artists has been picked up by Nicole Kidman as a future movie project. It is sad, moving, and often just flat-out hilarious. I recommend it to everyone. Besides his wife, agent, and possibly Nicole Kidman, I am the book’s biggest fan.

But it’s not our only novel about dysfunction. We have others that will make you happy that your own family is relatively normal:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

This foray into the world of dysfunction made us wonder what aspects of our own lives would be put in a modern novel. Here we go:

Colette: I’m happy to say that the lion’s share of dysfunction in my family is far away, in the outlying kin, not in my immediate family; those in my immediate family are practically perfect :).  That said, every summer of my childhood we drove deep into mosquito country to visit relatives (the dysfunctional ones) and a 900 mile car trip in 99 percent humidity can turn just about any family dysfunctional at some point.  I wrote a poem about the trip we brought along our hamster, which promptly died en route and it spent the remainder of the trip in our ice chest, next to the sandwiches.  If you’re into deceased rodent poetry, I’ve included a link to Part I of that poem, Ways_You_Come_to_Know.

Emily: Eric and I routinely choose watching Shark Tank on Friday nights over socializing.

Pam: The horrid vision of a certain family member slamming down a boxful of Easter baskets and hatefully snarling at each of us to have a blessed Easter as she stalked off and slammed the door behind her still echoes in my dysfunctional memory bank as the ultimate in my journey of stepping on egg shells…literally! My mother had me innocently call this family member and find out if they were on their way yet, so that my mom could go ahead and put the rolls in the oven. This turned into an extreme misunderstanding with that person believing that I (of all people who is “always late” and “we always work around HER schedule”) had been shown favoritism by my mother when I’d “had the nerve” to call and question her as to the time of their arrival. Good grief! It was a most unpleasant exchange. The ultimate twist was the shame placed on us when it was explained that the reason they were running a bit behind was BECAUSE SHE WAS MAKING US EACH A LITTLE EASTER BASKET! Geez! After this family member stomped off, I opened the box only to find all of our baskets tipped over and strewn all over the bottom of the container. It’s a horrid memory that we still talk about to this day. It ruined the entire day for us all.

Sally: I was a student at Belmont University in the 1970’s. well at the time Belmont was Baptist and had hours for the women’s dorms. They also had room checks every now and then.  Well one day my brother, who does not look at all like me and had long hair (remember this was in the mid-70’s), was in my room visiting when the dorm mother had a surprise room inspection.  All the girl’s on the floor knew he was there and that he was my brother, but the dorm mother did not.  We finally convinced her that he was indeed my brother.  Everything ended up ok, and I did not get kicked out of Belmont.  I could also tell you about getting locked in Belmont’s library…(but that’s another story).

Jolly Librarian: One year, my mother decided to go after the doves. She and my dad have a feeder outside the kitchen window where they can watch birds while they eat breakfast. The fat gray doves were hogging the food and chasing off the smaller multi-colored birds. My mother decided to take action. She found my sister’s childhood BB gun and declared war on them. So my neighbors were given the treat of seeing my mother appear from the garage, gun in hand for several mornings. Now if this were a Southern Gothic tale, my mother would be showing the first signs of dementia or would accidentally take out the eye of a small neighbor kid. But nothing like that happened. No birds were even harmed. For one thing, my mother opened the door with such force that they all flew away. For another, the BB gun had long been damaged and shot its bbs out in a random pattern, anywhere but where it was aimed. We never discovered how my mother and the doves came to a truce. But they did, and to this day, they eat calmly at the feeder most mornings. I dare not ask where the BB gun is.