Monthly Archives: October 2013

Our Week in the Library

Most Interesting Chat Question:  How much do Sprites in the S-building vending machines cost?

Best Research Paper Topic: Emperor penguins have the worst lives.

Sweetest Moment: Student asked if she could come around the circulation desk and give Pam a hug for “being so nice and patient and helpful.”

Most Tension-filled Moment: Playing referee among various study groups who all had A&P tests and who all wanted the box of bones for the entire day.

Worst Moment: When students don’t return the graphing calculators, and then other students can’t take their math tests. 

 

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The Quotophiles

Our quotation for this week: 

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.– St. Augustine

Where do the Quotophiles want to visit?

Colette: There are two places I’d really like to experience.  Both choices are based on nothing more than romantic notions of what life there would offer.  I don’t want to be a tourist though; “tourist” connotes for me a whirlwind of too many cities in too few days, air conditioned coaches and tour guides, which all feel too much like the boring parts of school.  I wouldn’t want to travel halfway around the world just to get trapped in a bus, and have to make chit chat with Bob and Shirley, who hail from Crudbucket, TX.  I don’t want to visit my dream places, I want to travel there and just be, for extended periods of time.

My first dream destination is Africa.  I blame this (credit this?) on Isak Dinesen and her mind blowing novel Out of Africa.  Ever since I read the line, and then heard Meryl Streep’s caramelized voice say, “I had a farm in Africa…” I’ve been in love with the continent.  I don’t want to do the typical safari though.  Hemingway had Africa all wrong.  I actually want a farm in Africa.  I want to tend some scraggly sheep and goats and grow something luscious in stingy soil.  I want to sit on my porch and watch the sun set over the Ngong Hills.  I realize I could just get a little farm here in TN and tend scraggly goats, but there is nothing romantic about saying, “I had a farm in Joelton.”

 My second dream destination is Ireland.  I’d like to live there in a mossy, stone cottage. I’d like to ride a rickety bike into town, where I’d drink very dark beer in a pub, as I waited for the bakery next door to finish bagging up warm loaves of bread, which I’d then put in my basket for the rickety ride home.  I don’t envision working in Ireland.  It’s more about the dark beer and the stone house and the stereotypes of friendly, laid back people with fantastic accents.

 My sister, a veteran traveler, tells me, “I love you more than my luggage.”  It makes me smile every time I hear that because I know that’s a lot of love. 

Emily: If I didn’t hate flying, the Nordic countries would likely be at the top of my world travel list. Get it? Top of the world.

Pam: I want to go to Ireland, but en route I would like to stop off in London and then head north to Scotland. As well, I’d love to visit the Netherlands. Machu Picchu calls my name, and I’d love to hike to base camp and beyond at Mt. Everest in Nepal. One day I’d like to walk the beaches of Costa Rica, and I long to view the sea from land in Greece. I’ve wondered among the broken pieces of the Parthenon, but only in my mind. I’d like to make that dream a reality. But mostly, I’d like to go hiking in the woods of my home where I grew up and try to retrace my paths to the familiar “horse tree”, our old camp and grapevine and find the waterfall where we dug clay from under the overflow of water. I’d like to try to find the old den tree Daddy showed me when we were coonhunting along the creek and try to locate the crevice I climbed in and out of as a child and walk up the old gravel road to Miss England’s place…but, that’s right…It’s a golf course now, so best I move on to new adventures and let those places remain sacred and untouched in my mind…

Sally: I would travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, because they love the bicycle as transportation there.  The erly.com link tells why.  Erly is a cool new collaborative Web 2.0 tool. 

Jolly Librarian: I would love to get a group of friends for a week in New York. We’d go to art museums, eat at fancy restaurants, see some Broadway and off-Broadway plays, walk around Central Park, and go to the Statue of Liberty. And yes, we’d do some shopping. Alas, since my friends and I are not wealthy, it would more likely be a weekend where we’d make it to an art museum, Central Park  OR the Statue of Liberty. We’d eat at hot dog trucks and buy a souvenir tshirt.

Getting Gritty: Become Comfortable with Failure

If you ask Maggie, she will never admit to ever actually failing. Sure things have gone wrong in her life, but there is always someone else to blame. Why did she get an F in math? Because her professor didn’t know how to teach it right. Why is she going through a divorce? Because her ex-husband was an immature idiot. Why is she in debt? Because her company doesn’t pay enough for an ant to live on; any human being in her place would be in debt. Why did the project fall through? Because her teammates didn’t do their part.

We all know a Maggie, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, we probably have been Maggie-like at various times in our lives. And it’s understandable. After all, America loves a success story; it’s not crazy about failures. But the problem is that it is inevitable that we’ll fail at some things, and unless we own our failures, we have little incentive to learn from them and improve.

The corporate world is beginning to take notice of the blessings of failure. At the Bessemer Venture Partners website, beside a link that lists their successes, there’s one that lists their less-than-stellar moments. There are now even ‘failure’ conferences. 

This need to acknowledge and own our failures is true for college students as well. One chapter in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Students Do is on failure: how to deal with it, how to learn from it. According to  Bain, “People who become highly creative and productive learn to acknowledge their failures, even to embrace them, and to explore and learn from them.”

How can we stop fearing failure and learn to accept and learn from it instead?

  1. We have to give up that automatic default reaction of “It wasn’t my fault.” We have to be willing to look clearly at what went wrong and our role in it. (This is easier to do when we no longer see failure as the ultimate bad word.)
  2. We can look for patterns. Do we give up when things get too hard? Do we delay confrontations until relationships are almost destroyed? Are we afraid to ask questions that might show our ignorance? (One instructor has students keep a failure journal to help them find just such patterns.)
  3. We can make a plan to improve. (Some experts really like if-then plans.) “If I want to give up when the course gets hard, then I’ll make an appointment with my professor.” We can also start with small-risk changes. “I’ll disagree with my friend about where to go to dinner.” Or make small environmental changes to help with our fear: “I’ll sit in the front of the room, so when I ask a question, I won’t see other people rolling their eyes or looking impatient.”

There’s no way around it. If we’re out there trying to make something of our lives, we’re going to fail every so often. So get over that fear of failure and get on with things. 

 

Monday Motivator: Ignore Something

When I was in graduate school, we students had a running joke that there was nothing like a dissertation hanging over your head to ensure that you had a sparking clean apartment. Writing a chapter? Cleaning a toilet? The toilet would win every time.

In those days, I made to-do lists each morning. I would go over the list at night and feel pretty good that I had accomplished 70% or 80% of the items. After a while, I noticed that the two or three things NOT getting done were dissertation items, the very items that I said were the most important to me. 

So. despite my love of checking things off lists, I made a new plan. My new list would only consist of items that got me closer to finishing my dissertation. My apartment got a little dirtier. I got a little fatter. But I earned my Ph.D. 

Sometimes, the secret to success is knowing what to ignore. 

The Messy and the Neat

Last Thursday, a recruiter was out in the lobby, offering our students part-time jobs and pink cupcakes. At the end of the day, she returned an extension cord she’d borrowed from the library and also gave us the leftover cupcakes. There were three. Two were eaten. One  was put on the back counter where it still sits today. It was not wrapped. It was not placed in a container. So it is now a hardened, inedible thing that is fast becoming a library knickknack.

Usually this would not have been a story. Most weeks, the morning librarians would have come in, looked at the leftover cupcake in disgust, and thrown it in the trash can, risking a messy librarian complaining later, “Hey, I was going to eat that.” But the fallout would be minimal. 

This time, however, the neat librarians decided to draw the line in the fast-hardening icing on the top of the cupcake. Perhaps it was the refrigerator clean out day a few weeks before. Perhaps it was the ever-growing pile of dishes that surrounded the sink that made more than one of them shiver whenever she walked by.

But this time, they took a stand. They would not throw out that cupcake. They would see how many days it would sit there on the back counter before the person who put it there would take responsibility and throw it away. We are at seven days and counting. 

In the battle between the messy and the neat, the messy will always win, for they have obliviousness on their side. Once something is laid down, the messy no longer see it. They care not about the number of containers in the refrigerator as long as they manage to find a way to stuff another one in there. They don’t even seem to notice the piles of paper at their desks that seem to wobble more dangerously over their heads each day. 

Even when they are brought face-to-face with their messiness, they have the ability to turn it into some sort of moral high ground:

  • What, you threw out that paper?! I was saving that for recycling. I guess you don’t care about the environment.
  • You’re going to throw out that cheese? So what if it has some green on it? I can cut that out. Some of us believe in saving our money.
  • Or the worst of all:  What are you getting so upset about? It’s just a cupcake. You need to learn to relax.

Now the Jolly Librarian would win no neatness awards. In fact, I spent an inordinate amount of time Tuesday freeing my keyboard of crumbs so that the zero key would work again. But I do notice if food is decaying on the shared dining table or if a bizarre smell is coming from the refrigerator. My messier colleagues simply do not, or they are able to hold out until a neat librarian can’t stand it any more and does a clean up.

Perhaps the messy librarians are more evolved; they can survive the smell and the gunk as long as they don’t have to do the cleaning. 

 

 

 

The Quotophiles

Our quote for this week is a Guatemalan saying: Everyone is the age of his/her heart.

So how old are the Quotophiles?

Colette: If Sandra Cisneros is correct, we are all, at all times, every age we have ever been.  When we turn 20, we are still 19 and 18 and 17, etc…under the surface. I like this idea.  Human tree rings.  It doesn’t account for being older than we really are, however. 

 On any given day, I am likely to be a wide range of ages.  Take Fridays as an example.  I get off early on Fridays.  When I leave work at 1:00, I am buoyant and the day is full of possibilities.  I feel reckless.  On the way home, I blast Vampire Weekend.  I want to call my friends, make plans and do tequila shots.  I’m about 25-years old at 1:00.  By the time I get home, I realize my friends aren’t 25.  They are at work and I can’t call them yet.  I remember that people who are 25 aren’t even awake yet.  I age a couple years before I get inside my house.  After putting away my things and getting lunch, I start to feel like I should be responsible and use my afternoon wisely to get things done.  I do a mental check of my “have-to” list (house cleaning, lawn mowing, laundry, grocery shopping, running to the bank) and before I know it, I’m 40-years old.   Middle aged, but not hopeless; I still want to go out and play when I’m through with my chores.  Flash forward a few hours.  After all those chores, I’m feeling tired and my shoulder probably hurts from sweeping.  Now I’m 50.  My middle aged self would like to take a nap.  My inner rings are disappointed.  

 From this point on, I age exponentially, like a flower dying in time lapse photography.  My evening is wide open, but I’m shutting down.  I could meet some friends downtown, but the traffic…bleh.  I could listen to live music at The Basement, but the crowds…bleh.  Expensive drinks, bleh.  Parking, bleh.  I’m now older than my parents and twice as stodgy.  By the time the 20 something crowd is hitting the town, I might as well be 90, revisiting my early bird dinner special, talking about my senior discount and shuffling off to the bathroom with my walker. 

Emily: I feel like this is the wrong answer to this question, but I suppose I’ve always been old at heart. I like to eat dinner early, go to bed early, rise early, take naps. I’m curmudgeonly. I’d rather pull weeds than go to a party. I wear the prescribed amount of sunscreen and a large brim hat when pulling said weeds. I get upset about things like the timing of stoplights and neighborhood speeders. Sometimes I see upsetting things on the local news and want to write a letter to someone, anyone. I started using the turn of phrase, “Kids today…” when I was eighteen. I keep track of my daily fiber intake. However, I do not like prunes. I always have a cardigan on hand. Movies are too loud. Taken together this makes my “real age” what, like, 83?

Jolly Librarian: I would like to say that I am the eternal college student, still doing the things I did in my early 20’s but, alas, that would be a lie. I still like many of those things, but I have added some qualifiers over the years. Yes, I want to go to the beach, but not enough that I’ll ride eight in a car and share one hotel room with all my car mates. I would like to see the newest movie, but if it means sitting behind some chatty person on a cell phone, then I’ll wait until it comes out on Netflix. Sure, I’d like to go see Snow Patrol in concert again, but I can no longer abide the nosebleed section where the cheaper seats are. Of course, many of my friends say that I’m only being sensible. But let’s face it; sensible is just another word for middle aged. 

Getting Gritty: Celebrating the Gritty (and the Library)

This is our fall break, and I planned no blog in the Gritty series for today since most people would be away from campus and be quite cruel in the winnowing of their in-boxes tomorrow. 

Yet when I came to my office today, I was amazed by the number of students in the library.

  • A group of nursing students reserved a computer room; they’ve been there all day.
  • Two other rooms have students meeting with tutors.
  • The computers out front keep filling up as students come in either to get a head start or to catch up. (And, only one guy is checking his Facebook page.) Most seem to be working on their math assignments.
  • Others are using the study rooms to write papers on their laptops.

So I am celebrating those students who have taken some time during the Fall Break to keep up with their studies. 

But I am also celebrating the library as a place where students can come to do those things. It’s important to realize that in this ‘everyone has a device’ age, students sometimes still need a place to go:

  • Not everyone has high-speech internet access at home.
  • Not everyone has a quiet place to study.
  • People still need a central location to meet tutors or study partners. The library offers a convenient place to do that. (After all, I may not know how to get to someone’s house, but I do know how to get to campus!) 
  • It’s nice to have a place where people are around to answer questions.

So today, I’m giving a shout-out to the gritty and the fact that the gritty have a welcoming place to come and study 🙂

Monday Motivator: Know What’s Important

A friend lost his office last week. It had to go to the dean of  a recently-created division. It had been an administrative office before he was there, and it’s the typical corner office: large with windows.

A few days later, he told me he had found one. We walked over to see it. It is less than half the size of his previous office. It is right by the mail room. I asked in sympathy, “Was this the only office available?”

“No.”

I waited for clarification. He pointed to the glass wall that looked out on the courtyard. “I need natural light. That was all I wanted last time. I didn’t care about the size of the office, just that it had windows.”

 He is a smart man. It would have been easy to get all tied up in external factors of success. A move from a big office to a small one is a type of demotion. Or being by the mail room can’t be good. We sometimes fight for status to our detriment. 

But my friend has his window, and he is happy. And that is true success.

 

The Quotophiles

Our quotation for this week is from Stephen R. Covey:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

So how do the Quotophiles fail in their listening skills? Ah, let us count the ways . . .

Colette: I have to admit that I’m not always the best listener. Being a good listener is hard.  I have to catch myself when I’m listening just for my break into the dialogue, and not for what is really being said.  I have to remind myself that in a good conversation, listening is as important as talking.  (So why do good talkers get all the credit?)  I am a better listener than I used to be, due more to maturity and practice, than to any single instance.

Teaching taught me a lot about listening.  Parenting did too, especially in my son’s teen years when what was said was not necessarily more important than how it was said, or when what was not said usually mattered a lot too.  Listening during silence is a learned art.  Oddly enough, I’ve also learned a couple things about listening from my dog, since his communication is subtle and listening for nuances can be the difference between a happy day and a chewed up slipper, or the need for a clean-up in the hallway.

Emily: I’m probably a better listener when I don’t care anything about a topic. Otherwise, I do find myself thinking about a comeback. So perhaps the key to being a good listener is to hang around boring people.

Pam: Are you talking to me?… 🙂 Of all of the great wisdoms I have come to “learn” (not necessarily employ) this one has got to be one of the biggest truths of life. Admittedly, I grew up guilty of this one, big time…my mind ‘a going 100 miles an hour as someone spoke to me…listening, yet thinking AS they talked, of what I WAS GOING to say back the first chance I had to jump in there. My, aren’t we all self-important? It is so true in life, in general, when you talk with people, watch them to see if they are truly listening. Often times you can tell they are not. (And the older I get, the less I am apt to continue talking if I think they are not). Sadly, many of the students I find myself working with are peeking down at texts while I take the time to look up research for them. If I discover them doing this, I promptly look at them with complete disappointment, and they will most always look ashamed and put down their phone. More and more we live in an era where young people (and older ones, too) need visual stimulation to keep interested. Despite this, I absolutely love to listen to audio books. It builds a story – just like old-time radio used to do. Perhaps this is helping train me to be a better listener. Is it not truly a treasure in life to find someone who you find to actually show interest and caring concern in what you are sharing with them? It is! May we all dig the cotton out of our ears and show more respect to our fellow human beings as they share with us!…I just hope they’ll hurry up and get done so I can get my two cents worth in!

Jolly Librarian: Years ago, I was taking an exam in the neverending process to be certified as a teacher. This particular test was a basic skills exam. I sailed through the reading, writing, and reasoning. Then there was the listening test. As someone’s taped voice droned on and on, my mind wandered. I think it may have actually wandered all around the world. I returned from my out-of-body experience to realize that I had missed a huge chunk of the material that I was now going to have to answer questions on. Either osmosis kicked in, or the questions could be answered by inference and common knowledge. I passed the test.

Getting Gritty: Don’t Let a Failure Define You

John Quincy Adams certainly seemed destined for greatness. He was the oldest son of a founding father and second president. At 11, he sailed with his father to France and studied there. As a teenager, he worked as secretary to Richard Dana, the American minister to the Russian court. After earning his degree at Harvard, he served as a diplomat in Holland, Prussia, and Russia. He served as the Secretary of State under James Monroe (at the time this position was a stepping stone to the presidency), and he negotiated with Britain to fix the northern boundaries between the United States and Canada.

But then he became president. The Electoral College’s votes had been inconclusive, and after some wrangling and dealing, he was declared the victor over war hero, Andrew Jackson. But, according to biographer Harlow Giles Unger, JQA was a man out of step with his times. He believed that everyone had “unlimited talents, restrained only by lack of educational opportunities that he believed the federal government should provide.” But this seemed elitist to the average American who just wanted to own enough land to feed his family and sell the extra. Basically JQA suffered through four years of Congressional obstruction; Congress brought government to a halt. And JQA, in his old-fashioned belief that the public “would recognize merit,” didn’t campaign for his proposals or answer his critics.

Here’s how Unger describes him: “Depressed, he moped about the White House, lost weight noticeably, and reduced his presidential routine to early-morning Bible reading, a daily walk or swim in the Potomac, dinner . . ., then an evening chat or a game of billiards. In the course of the day, he kept up with newspapers, signed letters, and received occasional visitors, but grew so moody he stopped writing in his diary, unable to understand why and how he had failed to make his countrymen understand what he was trying to do for them and his nation.”

When he lost to Jackson in 1828, JQA wrote in his diary, “The sun of my political life sets in the deepest gloom.”

But the sun had not set on JQA’s political life. In fact, he was just beginning what was to become the most noble part of his career. Elected to the House of Representatives, he rejected party politics and became an advocate for the abolition of slavery. When the House passed a Gag Rule to disallow abolition petitions, JQA attacked that as unconstitutional and found various ways to reintroduce the topic, so much so that southern House members charged him with treason. He led the legal team that freed the black prisoners on the ship Amistad. And he finally defeated the Gag rule.

When he died (in the House of Representatives) in 1848, according to Unger, “The nation mourned as it had not since the deaths of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. John Quincy lay in state in a committee room in congress for two days after his death; thousand filed by silently, often not knowing why exactly, but somehow realizing they had lost a champion of their rights–a representative of no single constituency, state , or region but of all Americans and of the whole nation.”

 When we look for role models, we often choose those shining stars who seem to fly effortlessly from victory to victory. But often the most successful people are those who have tasted failure, but found a way to make a difference in spite of it.