Monthly Archives: March 2014

You’re the Star of Your Own Drama, But Then So Is Everyone Else

Last week was not a great week for Gwyneth Paltrow. She announced her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay singer, Chris Martin. Many obnoxious comments followed. (I may or may not have made one of them.) Then there was the interview in which she seemed to say that it was much harder being an actress mom than for those women who worked 9-5 jobs. This, of course, also led to outrage, including this one from one of those working moms.

Now I know next to nothing about Gwyneth Paltrow besides the fact that she probably would refuse to go to Krystal’s with me if we ever met. But it seems to me that Gwynnie had a case of a very common ailment: She’s gotten so caught up in her own life that she can’t see outside of her own experience.

I’ve been there. Years ago, I was overwhelmed by a breakup that I couldn’t think of anything else. It went on so long that I probably lost friends over it. I was starring in my own melodrama, and I was devastated when others refused to continue being my supporting cast.

Last year was a tumultuous one for our college. At one point, a faculty member said that she was being treated like a factory worker. Now, I have no doubt that she believed it, and she saw herself as standing up for all the little people being oppressed, like an academic Norma Jean. As someone who worked in a factory for three summers to help pay for college, I knew that there is really no comparison, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind.

It’s human nature. We see our struggles as overpowering, even mythic, because we’re living them. Intellectually, we might know that others have it worse, but emotionally, we’re being punched in the gut and that’s all we can focus on. And that’s true whether we’re a professor or a student. Or Gwyneth Paltrow.

The only difference is that Gwyneth probably has a publicist who really should have known better.

Monday Motivator: Do a Little Spring Cleaning

This weekend, I noticed that my bedroom curtain was weighed down with dust, so I took it outside for a good shake before throwing it in the washing machine. For some reason this action reminded me of a quotation from Thoreau. And being both literature major and procrastinator, I stopped cleaning to look it up:

I had three pieces of limestone on my desk,
but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily,
when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still,
and threw them out the window in disgust.– Walden

Unlike Thoreau, I like my stuff, so I kept cleaning. But I did have to agree that the furniture of my mind had become quite dusty. Now this realization did not bring me to any great changes over the weekend. Still, I know that I have some work to do. As with my curtain, I have managed to overlook the dust that has been gathering and weighing me down. I have gotten into an intellectual and emotional rut, and there is some deadwood that needs to get thrown out the mental window.

Wish me luck. And I challenge you, when starting your spring cleaning, do not overlook your mind’s furniture! Hopefully, you’ll not have the accumulation of mental dust that I’ve found, but still a good shake probably won’t hurt one bit.



We’re Librarians, Not Enablers

Occasionally, we’ll get a question on Ask-the-Librarian that is not really a question at all, but a basic plea for us to do the assignment for the emailer. Sometimes it’s clear the person doesn’t understand the assignment, and a few questions on our part will put him/her on the right track. But other times, it’s just as clear that we’re seen as a substitute for the hard work involved in research.

Basically, here’s what we can’t do:

  • Give you a research topic, provide you with all the sources, and the correct citations.
  • Answer your homework questions for you.
  • Tell instructors that their assignments are ridiculously hard or that there are no sources for your topic.

Why can’t we do these things?

  • Instructors would come to the library and beat us up.
  • We’re not the ones being graded. We’ve done our research papers and earned our grades. It’s your turn.
  • In the long run, you’ll not thank us when you don’t learn how to do research. (You may not think so now, but if you plan to continue your college career, this shortcut will definitely catch up with you.)

So what can we do?

  • Help you come up with strong search terms that will yield results.
  • Direct you to the best databases for your search.
  • Find sample articles so you can follow our example and successfully find more.
  • Help you with citations. (Notice the ‘help’ word.)
  • Direct you to good sources, whether they be books, articles, or websites.
  • Question you so that you can come up with a plan for your research.

How can you get the most out of an encounter with a librarian?

  • Know what the assignment is. 
  • Do some preparation. Have an idea of a topic. Look at a couple of databases. See if the library has any books on the subject.
  • Know what your weaknesses are. Maybe you can find materials on Machiavelli, for instance, but are having a hard time finding present-day examples of his leadership style. Then we can focus on where you really need the help.
  • Realize your instructor is the person who makes the final call on all aspects of your paper. Don’t try to make the librarians take sides. We weren’t in the classroom. We haven’t heard all the discussions. Always go with your instructor.
  • Take responsibility for your paper. The library staff wants to help, but we won’t take over the writing of your paper. We just can’t. Don’t ask.

In the library, we love to help students learn. But we can’t cross the line between helping students on their papers and doing the work for them. So please realize, when we say no, it’s because we have your best interests at heart. I know it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. But we do.

For those of you who need some help on your first argument paper, here’s a guide just for you.




Monday Motivator: Celebrate the Day

May you live every day of your life. –Jonathan Swift

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and here in the library, people are wearing green and occasionally greeting each other in horrendously bad Irish accents. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one doing the latter.)Image


But as I practice my pronunciation of ‘eejet,’ I’m reminded that there’s a good reason for such holidays. They lift us out of the mindlessness that we can get ourselves into, worried about deadlines, projects, appointments, and the daily detritus. We start thinking about the future when things will be turned in or finished and forget to enjoy the day we have. 

So try to find a way to celebrate everyday. And if you need a little help, here’s a website that gives you a reason to observe each day as special.

Monday Motivator: Maybe We’re All Just Big Toddlers

This morning while I was in the dentist chair for a good two hours. (Life Lesson: If you don’t want to spend this much quality time with the dentist, you need to  break the sour candy habit as soon as possible.) And like most dentists, mine has decided that having the television on while having your teeth scraped or drilled will lower anxiety. Since I never watch daytime TV, when asked what channel I want, I shrug and accept whatever’s on.

So today I saw Jo Frost, world-famous nanny, talk about her new book in which she helps frustrated parents turn their children back into the sweet things they once were. Basically, her advice for children is what works for everyone: Get enough sleep. Eat well. Get outside and play. (Today, I’m 0 for 3 on this. So perhaps I will be having a tantrum before the day is out.)

But she also talked about how to behave when your child is out of control. She has a three-step method: Step back, observe, and step in. And it occurred to me that this is a useful technique no matter with whom you’re dealing.

Too many of us skip that first step. Instead of stepping back, we jump right in. We decide that someone is being disrespectful, that we’re being cheated, or that someone doesn’t like us. But taking a step back and observing can change the whole picture.

Maybe the guy at the counter is ignoring me. Well, no one has the right to disrespect me like that; I’m a paying customer. I yell and throw the clothes I wanted to buy on the floor. (Yes, people really do that.)  But if I had stepped back a second and observed, I would have seen that he’s actually looking up something for a customer on the phone.  

In fact, maybe it’s wise to think of us all as just big toddlers. On any given day, some of us didn’t sleep well. Some of us need a snack. And some of us need to get our frustrations out with a good run. So we get grumpy and act out. 

But as Jo Frost would tell us, someone has to be the adult in such interactions, and I would prefer it be me. Wouldn’t you?



When Browsers Don’t Play Well Together

Last week, while working on an accreditation report, I decided to check on the ease of downloading some eBooks before stating that students at all campuses could use them without problems. I downloaded Adobe Reader and Bluefire and proceeded to follow the web directions we had posted on one of our guides. 

At first, things seemed to be going well. The screen told me that my book was checked out and downloaded. Success.

Not quite. Or not at all. Because I couldn’t find the book anywhere on my iPad. 

After trying for a good hour (I’m nothing if not determined!), I emailed the colleague who made the guide to ask what I was doing wrong. She wasn’t sure but said she’d try the next morning.

The next day I asked her if she’d had any trouble. Everything went fine, she said. I ran into her cubicle with my iPad and went through all the steps. We agreed I did everything right. But no book appeared on my iPad.

She went to lunch, and I sat at my desk believing I was cursed when suddenly I remembered something . . . 


Flashback to a year earlier.

My phone rings. It’s the assistant to the vice president.

Her:  Why haven’t you signed the curriculum requests in SharePoint?

Me: I did. Yesterday.

Her: Your signature is not there. 

Me: Okay, I’ll do it. (Deep sigh) Again.

I go in and electronically sign the requests.  Thirty minutes later my phone rings. It’s the Associate Vice President.

Him: Hey, I can’t sign off on those curriculum requests until you do.

Me: I did! I promise! Twice!

Being a tech guy, he checked as I did it a third time. He could see my name being typed in. But when he signed in again, my signature was gone.

I did the only logical thing: I barged into our Computer Tech’s office and declared that my computer was haunted.

He nodded and then asked calmly, “What browser are you using?”

“Chrome. But why should that make a difference?”

He shrugged. “SharePoint is a Microsoft product and doesn’t always play well with other browsers.”

I went back to my office, opened Sharepoint in Explorer, and everything worked fine. 

Later, our Tech, who really should get an award for his patience and good humor, asked if I wanted him to try to get the two to work together. But since it was not big deal to open up in Explorer, I let it drop.

Back to present day

I sent my lunching colleague a text. “What browser did you use?”


I had been using Chrome, so I opened the website up in Safari, did all the same steps again, and a new screen appeared, asking me where I wanted my book downloaded. This time, it worked and worked so easily that I could heartily recommend it to any student who needed an eBook. 

Being of an inquisitive mind, I did a search on why some browsers won’t work on some sites, and, not being, a techie, I basically fell asleep before I got through the first paragraph. But it often has more to do with the increasing complexity of websites than of browser deficiencies. For the average user like me (and maybe you), the thing to keep in mind is before giving up in despair, try a different browser. 

It may not be “change your browser, change your life.” But sometimes it’s certainly “change your browser, get your site to work better.”




Monday Motivator: Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Make the Call

Yesterday was a weird weather day. In the morning, there was ice everywhere, and I kept getting calls from colleagues who couldn’t make it into work. A few hours later when the governor closed all state offices, the roads around the college had gotten much better, and students were puzzled about why we were closing up shop. This morning, I received an email from my local Y, which had also closed early yesterday. The director apologized to those who had pointed out the roads were fine and that the administration may have erred on the side of caution.

Someone once said that if you make a decision that everyone agrees with, then it’s probably not a very important one. (Or you have so thoroughly beaten down your team, they’re afraid to say anything.) But in general, people are going to disagree, sometimes criticize, and sometimes ridicule.

Still, someone has to be the one who makes the final call. And that call will have to be made without all the possible information that could be found on the topic. And it will have to be made without the ability to predict the future. And it will have to be made by a certain time.     

In the end, you have to make a decision. And if it’s wrong, you’ll need to make corrections. But even if it’s right, you’ll probably still be criticized by some. So what do you do then? 

Well, you can freak out and swear never to make another decision, but then you won’t be worth much to yourself or to others. Or you can, wary but determined, go on and make another tough call, knowing it’s the path all decision makers have to take.