Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Jolly Librarian’s Perfectly Obvious Tips for College Success

I have no secrets to share, but these basic tips can make the difference between success and failure in college:

  1. Go to class. Show up. On time. Oh, dear, I can hear you now. But my professor only goes over what was in the book or the PowerPoint slides, etc. I don’t need to go to class to get an A. Get over yourself, and go to class.  Professors explain materials in different ways. Those slides you print out after class are only part of the story.
  2. Buy the textbook. Textbooks are expensive, granted. But they provide good information about your subject. They give you background for the class session and let you know in advance what material you may not understand.
  3. Use the textbook you bought. Do not have a book in pristine condition ready to sell back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. Open that book. Mark up chapters. Take notes in the margins. Weaken its spine from use.
  4. Ask questions in class. And I don’t mean, “Can we leave early?” When you’re confused about something, ask your professor. Don’t worry about the opinions of the other students. After teaching for many, many years, I know one thing for sure: For every student who asks a question, there are ten sitting in the back who needed to have asked it.
  5. Study every day. A constant review is more effective than sporadic cram sessions. Trust me on this. 
  6. Discover your college’s resources.  Go to the library. Find the Learning Center, Career Services, counselors, etc.  Their very purpose is to help you. Use them.

Getting Gritty: Introduction

As educators, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out why some students don’t continue on with their courses: Why some drop out even before the first test. Why others are within reach of the semester’s end and just stop attending.

Of course, just as interesting are those students who, on the face it, shouldn’t be passing. They come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are suffering from financial problems. They have family issues. Yet, they stick it out and graduate.

What is the difference? Some may say IQ. Others may blame bad schools or poor neighborhoods or lack of family support. And these issues may indeed contribute. But they alone don’t explain why two people can have the same family backgrounds, go to the same schools, and even have the same IQ’s, and yet one drops out while the other perseveres and succeeds.

Researchers are now investigating traits that might explain why people succeed. Called ‘grit’ these traits include hard work, delayed gratification, perseverance, resilience, and curiosity.

While it’s probably true that some people are just plain born ‘grittier’ than others, researchers and educators are studying how to provide learning environments so that students can become more persistent in working towards their goals.

Towards that end, the Tuesday blog this semester will be discussing the various components of grit. To get started, watch one of the leading researchers in the topic give a talk and take the GRIT test yourself.

Watch Angela Duckworth: What Is Grit? on PBS. See more from TED Talks Education.

Monday Motivator: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Cult author (and cutie) Neil Gaiman has three tips for success:

  1. Do good work.
  2. Be on time.
  3. Be available and easy to work with.

Now the good news is, according to Gaiman, you don’t have to be all three. If you can manage two of those things at any one task, you increase your chances of succeeding. 

We’d probably all agree that doing good work is essential to the process,. But doing good work is not enough. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you have a reputation for not getting things done on time, then the boss is going to turn to the second smartest person if that person is dependable.  

Gaiman’s tips remind us that soft skills are important. If you’re easy to get along with, people are going to want to work with you. If you’re known to meet deadlines, then a stressed boss knows that you’re not going to add to his/her stress. 

So, sure do good work. But also be agreeable and show up on time. And if that’s really hard for you, then be agreeable OR show up on time. 

How to Spot the Library Workers Among You

  1. They are never caught without a book. Waiting time is reading time for them.
  2. When you ask them to a party, they pause as they make the mental calculation of how many chapters of a book they will lose out on by going to a social event.
  3. When friends say they can’t remember a date or an exact quotation, they’re the ones with their tablets or phones out, searching for the answer.
  4. They’re the ones who will show you six “really useful” apps they happened to come across.
  5. They can come to near fisticuffs over the need or lack of the need to keep the microfiche collection.

Monday Motivator: Get That Back-to-School Feeling

Even if you didn’t particularly like school as a kid, there was something exciting about the preparation for the new year. You might get new clothes. You definitely bought new pens and notebooks. In the stores, you perused new backpacks and lunch boxes. There was definitely a feeling that something new was about to happen.

It’s sometimes harder to hold on to that feeling as an adult. After all, as a kid, you probably didn’t have to pay for those backpacks and notebooks. And for those of us who have been at work all summer, it’s easy to think of the start of a new semester as just another work day.

But it’s not. Whether we’re students, faculty or staff, each semester is the beginning of something new. For some, it’s their first time at the college. For others, it may be the beginning of their last year, before they go on to university or a job. Even if you’ve been here for decades, you have a chance to make an impact on a new group of students in a new way.

So do something this week to mark the newness of the semester. Bring in a new coffee cup. Start the semester with a brand-new notebook. Buy some new pens (purple ink!) and markers. Or go all out and buy a new outfit for the first day of school. 

Just do something to celebrate a new beginning. 

The Jolly Librarian wishes all students and teachers and the staff who support them a happy and fulfilling academic year!

The Week in Review

  1. Summer term ended, and now faculty are slowly making it back to campus to prepare for fall. 
  2. We did our first in-service for new faculty. It’s always fun to see people at the beginning of a new chapter of their lives, excited and ready for the challenge.
  3. The first of the returning students stopped by to say hello!
  4. We put up four exhibits and already have some materials checked out.
  5. We heard for the first time this semester, “How do I print?”. Now only 999,999 times to go 🙂

Authors and Readings: The Wish List, Part Two

So if I had a time traveling machine, here is a list of authors I’d like to hear read and talk about their books. Once again, there is no particular order to this list, and keep in mind that I am a Victorian at heart.

  1. Charles Dickens. Dickens, of course, had a reputation of being an excellent speaker and performed before crowds. I think it would have been great fun to hear him read the discussion between Scrooge and Marley’s ghost: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  dickens
  2. Mark Twain. Samuel Clemens is also something of a no-brainer, since like Dickens, he was known as an entertaining speaker, although he confessed that, before his first speaking engagement, he contemplated killing himself, running away, and pretending to be sick. (All reasonable alternatives to speaking in public.) Apparently, he never did get over his dislike of the lecture circuit, but he did like the money!  My vote for a reading: Tom Sawyer’s ‘funeral.’  twain
  3. Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. “The Bad Boys’ Summer Tour.” Need I say more?
  4. Margaret Oliphant. A too-little-read Victorian writer, Oliphant wrote a very funny novel, Miss Marjoribanks as well as some ghost stories that have stood the test of time. She was in the not-unusual position of having to write to support her family after the death of her husband. Her output was uneven, but she deserves to be known. NPG 5391,Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant,by (Anthony) Frederick Augustus Sandys
  5. Jane Austen. I’m not what sort of stage presence Austen would have, but still, it would be fun to ask her (remember, I’m time travelling here) about her view on zombies. jane Austen

Monday Motivator: The Lesson of the Dogs

I’ve written before about my neighbor and his dog. Whenever I was taking out my garbage or going to the mailbox, there was a good chance the large white shepherd would coming bounding towards me, barking her head off, while my neighbor yelled in heavily-accented English, “Bella is friendly! Bella is friendly!” 

And Bella was friendly, but there was no way of knowing that until she DIDN’T knock you over and start eating your face. 

But my neighbor moved, and Bella is now somewhere else, scaring small children and timid neighbors.

A new couple has moved in, and they have three dogs, three very small dogs that a friend of mine always called “rat dogs.” I’m not sure what breed they are. They are cute and they also run towards me on my way to the mailbox. But they are not friendly. They bare their teeth, and they growl. They even do some circling like they’re a pack of mini-wolves. 

Of course, the fear factor is much less on  my part. Let’s face it; only my ankles are at risk. And if I’m in a particularly bad move, one small rush towards them on my part sends them scrambling back a safe distance to continue their growling. 

But it’s a good reminder that the old saying is true: Appearances ARE deceiving. And it makes sense for us to take the time to investigate before we judge.

The Readings Bucket List

Yesterday, I wrote about why I go to authors’ readings, which made me wonder who are the authors I still very much want to see in person. Many music fans have bucket lists of performers they want to see. (So do I: Sting is number 1 on that list. Bruce Springsteen was number 1 until Clarence Clemons died. Then he moved down one notch.) 

I’m not sure avid readers keep a list of authors they want to see in person. But maybe it’s time to start. My list is pretty short. Fortunately, I live in Nashville with the great Southern Festival of Books each year, and I’ve managed to see many great authors there,  as well as at Parnassus Books and Salon 615. Also, my field of study is Victorian literature, and those folks are dead and can only be reached by Ouija Board.

These are five that are currently on my list in no particular order:

  1. Mary Oliver. “The Journey” is one of my all-time favorite poems and seems to be speaking to me personally each time I read it.
  2. Kate Atkinson. I can’t say enough about this wonderful English author who can have you laughing, crying, hoping, and despairing–all on one page. She can write such a witty sentence that you find yourself reading it over and over and then quoting it to everyone you meet for the next several days. 
  3. Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy has a way of looking at the world that often frightens me, so does his skill as a writer.
  4. Richard Wiseman is a psychologist, and he takes a scientific and decidedly British (read witty) approach to many self-help topics.
  5. Marge Piercy is an acclaimed writer in several genres, and she is one of my favorite poets. 

Such a list is oddly personal. What make a “must see” for one person will leave another cold. Still, I’d love to know who’s on your readings bucket list.


Why the Jolly Librarian Goes to Readings

A friend of mine rarely goes to authors’ readings. “It’s like that old saying about sausage,” she says. “You enjoy it, but you don’t want to see how it’s made.” Living in Nashville, I can sympathize. After all, more than one good love song has been ruined forever after I heard that the song was written for wife number one when the songwriter was now on wife number four, and that relationship wasn’t going so well. 

The good thing about novels, though, is that they tend to be more complex than even the most complicated song, so you know that you’re going to face the good, bad, and ugly aspects of most characters. And while, like in a song, there might be a proclamation of everlasting love in a novel, you’re pretty sure that  the character is going to be running into some real trouble with that proclamation in the next chapter. 

So I don’t go to readings to see “the man behind the emerald curtain.” For me, if the author has done his/her job, the characters are so real to me that they exist in a totally separate world from the author, and the two almost have no relationship. 

So why do I go?

One reason is quite practical. There are many books in the world, but I only have a finite amount of time. By attending a reading and hearing a snippet of a chapter, I have a sense of whether I want to invest my time in reading the entire book. 

Also, writing and reading are solitary activities, and sometimes it’s nice to share space with other people who care about books as much as I do.

And then I go for THE MOMENT. It doesn’t always happen, but it usually does. It’s the moment when the writer’s story, whether it’s about a specific book or his/her life in general, reaches out and grabs my heart. 

Last night, it was this story from Steve Yarbrough, whose latest novel is The Realm of Last Chances. Yarbrough talked of coming home as a child to find his father, after a day of tenant farming, lying on the bed and reading from a library book, Paradise Lost. It was just a perfect picture of what books can mean to any and all of us. And it reminded me of my grandfather who, in his older years, mowed yards for a living. He would sometimes come home and have to lie on the porch for a good half hour before he was dry and cool enough to go inside. His book of choice: The Bible. 

And the last reason I go to readings: Because in the age of shouting down everyone who disagrees with us, with oversharing of every moment of celebrities’ lives, and the worst of human behavior being placed on show as entertainment,  it’s nice to be reminded of the transcendence that good stories can still have.