Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Library Says Goodbye to Terry

Today was Terry’s last day.  Tomorrow,  he and his band will hit the road on a fifteen day tour. Like many people in Nashville, he’s a musician and had to follow the lure of the road.

Terry’s name might not have been known to all the faculty and staff at our college, but for those students who came to the library for help, he was not only the guy who answered their library questions but also their guide and friend. Terry is the sort of patient soul who can answer the 50th printer question as if it were the first of the day. Students felt comfortable telling him about academic issues, and he helped them find the right place or person. He looked over their essays and gave feedback as a peer. During one semester, when the chess team had a set placed at the circulation desk, he played an ongoing match with an evening student (who was not the most gentle of winners). But Terry remained calm, and when I once mentioned his almost Zen-like attitude with the boaster, he shrugged and said, “Hey, I’m improving my chess game.” Some students asked for him by name. and some even chose to wait if he were out on break. They knew he would always help them, of course, but they also knew that he always wanted to help them. There was never any sense that he wished he were doing something else or that their questions annoyed him.

The same was true with his colleagues. He told me who the Kardashians are. He talked restaurants with Charles. He discussed the meaning of life with Pam. He shared biking stories with Sally. He is one of those people who seems to genuinely like everyone he meets.

We wish him well, we’ll miss him. But I’m not writing this to praise Terry alone. I’m writing this to remind us all that there are lots of Terrys out there. There’s probably one in your department. They are so low maintenance that it’s sometime easy to take them for granted. But let me assure you, our students (or customers or clients) don’t. The Terrys of the world often make the difference between students going away angry or going away feeling they have been heard and helped.

We celebrated Terry today with cake and a card. But don’t 2014-01-27 16.08.28wait until the goodbye party to celebrate your  Terry!

Monday Motivator: Take Another Look at Your Resolutions

It’s that time of year when gym regulars notice that there are fewer people on the machines and in the classes. Those who gave up sweets are now saying that maybe they will have one cupcake; after all, you only live once. And despite the cold, those who swore to give up smoking this year are disappearing outside a few times a day. 

Yes, it’s the end of January, and those resolutions seem as cold as the frozen lock that won’t let you in your car tomorrow morning. My own resolutions have hit something of a speed bump as well. One was to do a thirty-day challenge each month with the caveat that if I didn’t make one month, I had to keep it as well as add another the next. At this rate, I’ll have to take annual leave all of December to make up the failed challenges. The other was not to weigh more at the end of the month than I did at the beginning. Anyone for a quick liposuction this Friday?

Still, I think the better approach is not a passel of self-recriminations. Use this week to take a second look at those resolutions. Maybe the problem is not you, but them. Maybe you resolved to go to the gym five times a week, but with your schedule, you’re doing well to get there twice a week. Maybe in the whole scheme of things, you’re happier with the occasional cupcake than three fewer pounds. And who really cares if you like The Bachelor as long as you also work on your projects?

We tend to be over-optimistic on the first day of the year when all is new. But now four weeks into a cold and gray winter, take some time to review those resolutions with a more realistic eye. Then keep the ones that are truly meaningful to you. Modify them if necessary. Throw away the ones that just make you feel bad about yourself.

And then start anew. 

Let’s Get Started

Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect. 

-Alan Cohen

I realized today that, almost every time I was going to start a new endeavor, I had a last-minute ‘gut’ feeling that I didn’t want to do it after all and had to fight myself to give it a try. Years ago, on the morning when I was supposed to come up to Nashville to interview for a job, I had stayed up late the night before and when the alarm rang, I remember thinking, “Why do I want to drive up there? I don’t know anyone in that city. I don’t even like country music. I have a good shot at a teaching job in Georgia. I’ll just take that.” Finally, I rolled out of bed, telling myself that I would regret it if I didn’t at least see what sort of job it was. So I drove up to Nashville and have been at NSCC ever since.

Years later, I was about to start a summer doctoral program in Pennsylvania. Suddenly, I had that same ‘gut’ feeling, the one that said why would I want to spend all that money on tuition, an apartment, and the money lost by not teaching at my own college that summer?  It would be much smarter to stay home. But by then, I had learned that I simply do not have a trustworthy gut. It is just a feeling I have to battle every time I start something new. So I drove up to Pennsylvania, and I have never regretted earning a doctorate in English.

For new students, I’m sure that there are a hundred reasons why this might not be the best time to start college: 

  • The weather. Why not start in the summer when I won’t have to battle the snow and ice every day?
  • The family. Maybe I should wait until my kids are older, in school, out of school, grown, divorced and moved back in.
  • The job. I work too many hours. My job is too hard; I’m too tired to study after a long day in the office. My hours are too irregular.
  • Age. I’m too young. I need to see if my music career works out first. I’m too old. The other students will think I’m their grandmother.

Any of these might be good reasons not to come to college at this particular time. (Well, except for being too old. You’re never too old to learn!) Only you know if you are facing a real obstacle or if you’re throwing up obstacles because you’re afraid. 

But if you’re here, don’t keep debating about whether the conditions are perfect. Dive in and start to work.

The Jolly Librarian’s Reading Resolutions

These are some the books I want to read in 2014 listed in no particular order:

  • I am reading a biography of each of the presidents, well, up to the living ones. I’m not sure how objective biographies are of people who are still alive. Last year, I made it through Jackson. Van Buren is next on my list. I’m having a hard time getting excited about him,even though there was a gang in his honor on Seinfeld. This year, I hope to make it to the 20th century.
  • I have the new Jonathan Swift biography on my bookcase: Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World by Leo Damrosch. But someone told me I really needed to read Gulliver’s Travels first. So that is my forgotten classic for this year.
  • I am also a mystery novel fan, so I want to read the new releases by Deborah Crombie, Susan Hill, Ann Cleeves, Charles Todd, and Peter Robinson.
  • Each year, Goodreads members can join in a reading challenge. This year, I’ve pledged to read 60 books. Wish me luck!

What are the books on your 2014 list?

My Worst Good Idea

It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. We were shifting books to move the language/literature section to the other side of the library. So I suggested that we make a small ‘leisure’ reading section downstairs. It seemed logical. We have students who have been assigned pleasure reading for their learning support classes and sending them up to the rows of P’s often overwhelms them. So I decided to bring some ‘fun’ books down for those students.

Then the trouble began. How does one decide which books go into such a category? Years ago, a cataloger apparently tried to make the distinction by having a PZ category. At least that’s what we assume the person was doing. There were many popular novels (or those popular in the 70’s), but there were also some in that category that were just as obviously classics. In fact, it was so confusing that I asked our current cataloger to reclassify them.

But as I proceeded, I certainly sympathized with that unknown cataloger’s dilemma.

Everyone had an opinion:

  1. I hate that you’re excluding classics. I want students to know that Dickens can be as fun to read as a mystery novel.
  2. You’re including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch? That is definitely not leisure.
  3. You don’t have very much nonfiction. Lots of people read nonfiction in their leisure time.

I actually agreed with everyone. I love Dickens. I’m pretty sure no one is going to pick up Tartt’s 770-page novel for a reading assignment. And many of our weaker students would probably prefer a nonfiction book. And as I was upstairs shifting books, I saw book after book that I wanted to move to that section, books that I could imagine reading on a rainy afternoon with a scone and a cup of tea.

Still, the leisure section, as imperfect it is, provides nervous students with a place to start their search. If they don’t see anything they like, they can ask us for some suggestions. 

And if it’s a failure . . . Well, the nice thing about library work is that we can always start over and try something completely different. Maybe a whole leisure section of nothing but Dickens?


Monday Motivator: Some Days You’ve Got to Rely on Your Good Memories

The library is in chaos. Like many libraries, our technology book sections are shrinking because it makes much more sense to buy those as ebook subscriptions which change as the technology changes (every two weeks, it seems). But our humanities sections keep growing as both faculty and students still like paper books to read for both work and pleasure. 

So we need to shift some of the humanities. But there are a couple of problems. One, the technologies and the humanities are on opposite sides of the library. And, two, every book will have to be moved. 

We started this project with enthusiasm and purpose. But now two weeks in, it’s beginning to resemble Lord of the Flies. There have been disagreements on whether to knock out some shelves, physically move some others, how many books to put on a cart as we shift, and even if everyone is dusting the shelves the right way. At this point, I expect fisticuffs to break out any moment. (Well, the librarian equivalent of it, which is to go into individual cubicles and refuse to speak to anyone for several hours.)

When such things happen, and they do happen, whether in libraries, offices, or homes, I find it helpful to remember that the person with whom I’m so irritated at the moment is also the person who brought me a gift for watering her garden, made me laugh when I was sad, gave me a chocolate out of his secret stash, etc. 

Sometimes, remembering such things is enough to bring everyone back to amity.And if not, it can at least keep fisticuffs at bay.

Monday Motivator: Celebrate When the Bad Doesn’t Happen

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened. 
― Mark Twain (attributed)

Like many of you, I spent the weekend thinking about bad weather: snow, ice, and the coldest temperatures in more than a decade. I worried about my heat pump malfunctioning, my pipes bursting, and my car sliding off the road as I drove to work on icy streets. 

But this morning, my heat pump was noisy and rattly, but working. My pipes made it through this first night of cold. And a combination of wind, luck, and TDOT treatment of the roads made the drive in like any other normal day.  (Well, except for scraping ice off the windshield in single-digit temperatures!)

Since I do not have the ability to control the weather, it obviously made little sense to spend much time worrying about what would happen,once I’d done the few things I could do, such as  leaving the water running at night and buying some groceries, Yet, I still worried. It’s what I do. So since I’m a worrier, and at this late date, probably not going to stop any time soon, I decided to add another step to the process:

I am going to celebrate when all the things I worry about DON’T happen. So today, I reveled in my warm house. I gave a big shout out to my pipes for not bursting and letting me have some nice hot water for my shower. And I said thanks as I drove on non-icy roads.  

Okay, it may be a little corny, but I think we all need a reminder that many things that keep us up nights may never happen. (Even as I type this, my inner worrier is saying, “But they could all happen tonight.) Still, they didn’t happen today, and, for today, that’s enough.

Losing Weight with Librarians

Losing weight is one of the most popular resolutions each year. And it has been on my list more years than I would like to admit. As a researcher by nature, I’ve tried to find the various weight-loss secrets. Unfortunately,I have not found the secret to eating as much ice cream and cake as you want while still dropping the pounds. I think in the end that there may not actually be any secrets, just three basic common-sense rules that none of us particularly want to follow. Here they are:

Eat fewer ‘bad’ foods. Now, according to some diet experts, there are no bad foods. These people have not worked in our library. Perhaps a cookie on its own is not evil, but when is the last time anyone has simply brought in one cookie and put it on your desk? At any given time, there are cookies, candies, breads, chips, donuts, and/or cakes on our back counter. Some of them have been given to us. (Like the kid in old cereal commercial, the library staff has the reputation of ‘they’ll eat anything.’) But most of the damage, we do to ourselves and to each other. Did I receive a box of candy for my birthday and have eaten enough to make me sick? Well, let me put it out so that others can be sick with me. Or maybe I’ll be ‘thoughtful’ and get an extra order of fries when I run by the drive-through. Someone will want them. You get the picture.

It is simply unrealistic to think that our library is ever going to become a place of clean eating. Therefore, our best bet is to reduce our own bad choices. And we all have our own ways of doing so:

      • Emily has a basic formula. For each food, she asks the simple question, “Is the pleasure worth the calories?” She answers no to whole categories of food.
      • Some of the staff who work in the back simply don’t go to the back counter in the other part of the library. Out of sight, out of mind.
      • Colette indulges in sweets, but because she brings her lunch and has the rest of her diet in hand, it’s not a huge deal. 
      • For me, the Jolly Librarian, I try to delay the first snack as long as possible. I know if I eat a donut, I’ll want another one. But if I wait, there’s a good chance there’ll only be one or none left.

Eat more ‘good’ foods. These would be low-calorie, low-saturated fat choices. Now it seems that the easiest way to do this is to make lunches on the weekend and bring them to work each day. No matter how determined I am to buy a salad at the nearby drive-through, by the time I make my order, I always seem to be ordering some French fries, or a burger, or a milkshake. So it’s better just not to go there. Also, if there are some snacks waiting on the back counter, the total damage is less if I’ve had a salad for lunch than if I’ve consumed Combo Number 5.

The main thing for me is convenience. So if I can make having a salad with chicken as easy to grab at work as a hamburger, then there’s a chance I’ll do it.

Move more. I am writing this at 3 p.m. A quick glance at the pedometer tells me that, although I went upstairs and did an hour of shifting books this morning, I have walked a meager 3291 steps, far from the suggested goal of 10,000. Librarian work tends to be sedentary, despite the cute videos of librarians chasing down bad guys or dancing to “Gangnam Style.”

So we have to make an effort to get some movement in every day. Here’s how we do it:

  • Emily, Colette, and Terry all have dogs that need walking.
  • Colette set a goal to run/walk a 5K race each month this year.
  • Sally rides her bike to and from work each day.
  • Andrew walks to and from work.
  • I keep my pedometer on and try to make sure I get those 10,000 steps, even if it’s walking around my bedroom at 11 p.m.


Now, it’s obvious we’re never going to be awarded the “Library with the Healthiest Habits.” However, we must be doing something semi-right. After all, they’re not having to cut out the walls to let us out to our cars at night.


The Jolly Librarian’s 2014 Resolutions

There is something both optimistic and depressing about making New Year’s resolutions. I thought this yesterday as I was running around the track at the YMCA, dodging all the new members whom I’ll probably never see again after the end of the month.


Depressing? Sure. Think about it. Many people’s 2014 resolutions are probably almost the same as those of 2013, 2012, . . .

  • Lose weight
  • Find love
  • Stop smoking
  • Save money 
  • Eat better

The fact that the same things show up over and over again obviously mean that we didn’t achieve them in years past. But there’s something sweetly optimistic about it as well. We don’t give up. Some part of us still believes that we can be thinner, nicer, richer, etc. etc. So even for a little while, it’s in our heads that we can be better people, and it’s hard to find fault with that.

So whatever your resolutions are for this year, I wish you luck. And I encourage you to turn those resolutions into goals with a plan in pace to achieve each one. As Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” 

The Jolly Librarian’s Resolutions for this year?

  • Read more good books.
  • Help more students understand that the library is the place to receive friendly help.
  • See the funny side of things as often as possible.
  • Enjoy each day, for  no one has unlimited time.

Oh yeah, and I might try to lose a few pounds and sneak in a few more vegetables.

Happy New Year!