Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What I Do All Day

Since this is National Library Week, I thought I'd post a bit about what I do as a librarian. This is something of a "slower" week for me, with no classes scheduled to teach and a slight lull in textbook ordering duties. (I am the project manager for textbooks at our school.) Meetings and travel are taking up a couple of days, and I'm catching up on other work in between.

I begin most days when I'm at my home campus by going through email. I recently listened to a time-management seminar in which I found that I was doing just about everything right, except for checking email. The advice was to let it go until later in the day, and then check it only once or twice. That doesn't work for my job. I have too many email-dependent projects, so if I'm at my desk, my email is open. I deal with as much as I can when it first comes in, and label it or file it in a folder right away.

I was still waiting to hear back from a publisher about a custom textbook ISBN, so the textbook list was pending. In the meantime, I looked at my To Do list for the day, which I keep in Evernote. I checked off a few items that I had done, and added new ones from my emails. I had a request from a faculty member for her students to use the library for their certification training later in the month. I scheduled that and, since I had time, updated the instruction sheet for logging in, since the interface had changed. I used screen shots for this version to make it more user-friendly. Another faculty member stopped by to ask about resources for students in her job-search class. I found some websites as well as some books to requisition. (I've built an extensive job-search collection, and I'm always looking for ways to update it.) I added the books to my acquisitions page on Pinterest, and put them on my running purchase requisition, I also found three relevant books in our library, which I checked out to her and put on her desk. I did some preliminary prepping for the fall classes she requested, which will be on using social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and so on) to research employers and look for jobs.

Yesterday was Access PA training for their new Interlibrary Loan platform, so on Monday I printed out the training documents as well as directions to get to the site. By mid-afternoon I still didn't have the results of my ISBN research request, so I decided to distribute the summer textbook list with that one item still pending. Before leaving for the day, I tidied up the library and created my To Do list for Wednesday (since I would be off campus on Tuesday), and packed the training items in my bag.

All of this doesn't cover the little things that all librarians do -- answering students' reference questions, helping people connect to the printer, and in general lending an ear and a helpful attitude whenever needed. That's just all in a day's work. The variety, and the chance to help, are why I love being a librarian.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Conquering Difficulties

A friend shared this quote today:

          Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.

He was thinking of it in terms of life in general, but I replied with a musical application:
It is very true in a practical sense for music. I experienced it myself this morning. I decided to play as a postlude the Bach E minor fugue we had discussed. I struggled with the subject's entrance in the pedal when I learned the piece almost 30 years ago, and I still struggle with it today! My pedal technic is not as good as my hands', and because of that I never feel really secure in that spot. Even worse with such passages, if you don't immediately isolate them, work them slowly, in hands/feet combinations, different articulations, literally backwards and forwards, with innumerable repetitions, to ensure security -- worse yet, if you just blunder through them as you play through the neighboring, easier sections -- you will never be mentally secure on them. Thus, even if your hands and feet "know" the passage, your mind will always flinch as you come upon it. And that will be your downfall. Your hands and feet cannot do anything that your mind objects to, and your mind will object as you try to play a poorly-prepared passage. 
The reality is that I *am* able to play the passage, but it's still a place of concern. Steady, thorough preparation is crucial to secure musical performance. I guess that could be applied to life as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"I Became Very Thirsty for Math"

The New Yorker has a beautiful story about a mathematician solving a famously-insolvable problem while toiling in obscurity. Except it can't really be called "toiling" when it seems as if he is quietly fulfilling a Higher Purpose:
A few years ago, Zhang sold his car, because he didn't really use it. He rents an apartment about four miles from campus and rides to and from his office with students on a school shuttle. He says that he sits on the bus and thinks. Seven days a week, he arrives at his office around eight or nine and stays until six or seven. The longest he has taken off from thinking is two weeks. Sometimes he wakes in the morning thinking of a math problem he had been considering when he fell asleep. Outside his office is a long corridor that he likes to walk up and down. Otherwise, he walks outside. 
 Yitang Zhang was born in Shanghai in 1955, and his education was derailed by the Cultural Revolution. Still, that didn't keep him from learning:
As a small boy, he began “trying to know everything in mathematics,” he said. “I became very thirsty for math.” His parents moved to Beijing for work, and Zhang remained in Shanghai with his grandmother. The revolution had closed the schools. He spent most of his time reading math books that he ordered from a bookstore for less than a dollar. He was fond of a series whose title he translates as “A Hundred Thousand Questions Why.” There were volumes for physics, chemistry, biology, and math. When he didn't understand something, he said, “I tried to solve the problem myself, because no one could help me.”
His story has much in common with Einstein's, of course, but in Zhang there is such humility and singularity of purpose that it's hard to imagine him living the kind of life Einstein did, even were he to achieve such fame.

Read the entire article: "The Pursuit of Beauty".

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reading in the Old Year ... and the New

It's embarrassingly obvious that I haven't updated my reading list (see right sidebar) in over a year. I'm leaving it there a little longer, because I hate to see it go, and after all, what's a few more days? But please don't get the impression that I didn't read anything at all in 2014. I did read quite a bit, although much of my reading was in fits and starts, and many books were left unfinished. Every year gets busier, and 2014 was probably the busiest yet. Reading time was replaced, in part, by increased hours at work, but also by some rare (for me) cultural and social opportunities. I actually went to symphony concerts, ate in restaurants, went to movies in theaters, and had a short vacation. Still, there's a lot to be said for a more solitary life of reading and playing music. This year I hope to read more consistently, and to track my reading again. Here are some books I'd like to get to:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, by D. T. Max

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife

Will I read all of these? Probably not. It's likely that some will be replaced by other books I'll encounter in the coming year. There is also quite a bit missing from the list which I'll read anyway: religion and self-help and gardening and decorating and exercise and music. I have been using Pinterest as a way to keep track of books to buy for the school libraries or books I'd like to read myself. (Sometimes those categories overlap, and for now they're all in one large Pinterest board simply titled "Books.") I go through reviews from Library Journal and other places and add titles to my books board. I not only look for books pertaining to the programs at our schools but also throw in a good portion of books to help students succeed, especially self-help books and books on study skills. I started using Pinterest in earnest for collection development about a year ago. I find it a useful tool.

I would love to read a book on information literacy and instruction, but I haven't settled on a title yet. Because I usually have to buy such books, I try to search out reviews and previews before breaking open the budget for them. I also attend a number of webinars during the year, so I'm looking for ones to put on that list as well. All in all, I'm hoping for a year filled with information and learning. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Back to the Blog

I'm preparing for some classes on various social media for our students, so I'm updating the blog with some posts that had been lingering in my "drafts" folder. It feels good to be back.

What They -- Actually, We -- Don't Know

Wow, it's been a long time. A lot has happened since we last saw each other. For one thing, I have another library added to my freelance-ish list. I wasn't expecting it, but now I'm coordinating library instruction for four campuses, which covers our entire school. So while I've become more efficient at some duties, and thought I could enjoy a time of finally feeling on top of things, I now have more to do.  But it's an enjoyable more, with opportunities for distance instruction and collection development and enthusiastic assistants.

Today was my first "Introduction to the Library" session for the new term. There were too many students to fit into our tiny library room (a good thing), so we missed some of the visuals the library itself can provide. I added something new at the last minute: the top FAQs students have in the library. Things like how to check email, how to log onto the student portal, how to find the handbook online, and what printer to select. Most of this they've been told before, but the first few weeks can be overwhelming, and if a few were bored, others seemed grateful for the review. Then we went over the catalog and research guides and databases, very briefly. A few students asked questions, and some were even taking notes.

I'm always surprised by what students don't know, and then I remind myself that I shouldn't be. I don't go into anything very technical at all, but I do point out what I think they might need to know. For instance, there are always some students who think that the library catalog is a whole bunch of e-books. So while I tell them that we do have ways to read some books online, our catalog mostly contains the records for print books. Being a librarian is as much about mind reading as it is about reading.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Books Saved My Life

(It's been a while since I've written something here, so I thought I'd take up again with a post about how important books are to me.)

"Books saved my life." Well, maybe not literally. I've never been one to give up on life completely; I'm much too stubborn for that, as well as too curious about what lies around the corner. But books have helped me over some really tough spots.

When I was in 3rd grade, and in a new school, the Scholastic Book Club saved my life with the first book I chose on my own: Child of the Silent Night, a biography of Laura Bridgman. Later, in 4th grade, our classroom teacher had a stash of books in the back of the room: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Twenty-One Balloons, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I borrowed them from her, and after school let out for the summer, I missed them so much that I asked my parents to buy them for me. I can't guess how many times I read them, but there are still parts of them, and illustrations, that I remember four decades later.

When, as an adult, I moved to two wildly different cities within two years, and felt lonely and afraid in the midst of a gloomy Southern winter, I picked up the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries my sister had given me the year before, which I had put aside for later. There couldn't have been a series more tailor-made to cure my ills. I had long been a fan of detective fiction: I had a bunch of Encyclopedia Brown books, which I read over and over, despite knowing how each case was solved. Now here was Lord Peter, a bon vivant, but also not a stranger to the slough of despond, and (later) his lady friend, Harriet Vane, who blended the worlds of academia and detection and romance into the perfect medicine for what was ailing me.

Years later, sinking in the depths of marriage problems, I bought Whittaker Chambers' Witness. The beauty of books is that they create relationships between you and the most unlikely characters. On the surface, an ex-Soviet agent from Maryland (a Quaker) and a stay-at-home mom in Louisiana (a Catholic), one now dead and the other desparingly alive, wouldn't have much in common. But Chambers' story of his break with Communism and his rise as a writer ("In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return") gave me hope that I might do the same, albeit in a different time and place and circumstance.

The past few years have been very busy, and promise to be busier, but I again turn to books as a respite ... from exhaustion, from loneliness, from disappointment, and sometimes just as a way to travel to a different place and meet new people. Books hold the promise to save my life, if only metaphorically, again and again. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014


The other day I taught a class session on Pinterest for our cosmetology students at the school. The idea was that students could post pictures of their work on Pinterest and create an online portfolio for potential employers to view. Well, many of the students were already veteran users of the site, and they taught me a thing or two. It was a very enjoyable class, with lots of participation. Some students said they use the site daily. I had created an account and had done some pinning when the site was new, but hadn't really used it much since then.

Preparing for the class got me thinking about other ways I could use Pinterest. Every so often I begin anew my quest for the perfect (free) web-based organizer, but I still haven't found one. All sites seem to have a fatal flaw, and very few systems can truly organize everything. By everything I mean my schedule, tasks, images, favorite sites, articles to read, RSS feeds, and a few hundred other things. Well, Pinterest certainly isn't the answer, but I might just use it to manage a a couple of things on my wish list.

I've long wanted to keep a list of books I'd like to read. I'm a huge fan of LibraryThing as a quick way to create a catalog of books, but I never could seem to maintain my reading list there. I'm not sure why, but it always seemed a little too time-consuming as a quick way to add things. Now I'm trying Pinterest. I pin the book's page from Amazon and add it to my list. The Pin It extension for Chrome makes it easy to pin pages right from my browser.

I wanted a way to save the sites for webinars I plan to view or participate in. I was always emailing myself the links. Now I've pinned them to my Webinar board. The image is often generic to the webinar's sponsoring site, but so far the specific URL has been saved. I've really wanted a way to save articles to read later, and Pinterest sometimes works for this, but not always. I know, I know, there are other sites out there that do this. I just can't seem to devote the miniscule time needed to keep up with them. I'm not sure I'll keep up with Pinterest, either. (sigh)

The downsides to Pinterest? 1) You can only keep three private boards at one time. I'd really like it sometimes if all of my boards were private. You can keep your profile out of Google search results, but that's about it. I'm not entirely comfortable sharing my tastes in fashion, home decorating, food, books, and music with the rest of the world. 2) The site can be a huge time-suck. Even our dedicated cosmetology-student Pinners admitted that there were a lot of ideas they found on the site (for hairstyles, nails, makeup, or even crafts) that they never used. So beware.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

More Reading

I found out early this morning that one of my favorite blogs, Dial M for Musicology, is back -- and has been since the end of June! One of the authors, Phil Ford, was kind enough to reply to one of my old Tweets about how much I missed the blog, and let me know of its revival. And I see that I've missed some posts on one of my other favorite blogs, Think Denk, by pianist Jeremy Denk. The last post I read was in February. With bloggers like Denk who post infrequently, and whom I really love to read, I go through a frustrating cycle. I read something, then check back every few days for another post. Nothing. Eventually disappointment overtakes me and I give up. So I've taken to enforced periods of abstinence, so that when I visit, something's there. Now I just wish I had time to read everything!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 Reading ... and One Really Good Book

I'm not going to spend a lot of time here on the blog discussing what I read in 2013. You can see the list on the right sidebar (for now; eventually the 2014 books will be up.) My reading doesn't follow much of a pattern, except that I don't have much time to read. The audio books are what I listen to on my weekly commute. I borrowed more audio books from the library than what you see listed here, but if they're boring or just don't catch my interest, I return them quickly. I do the same with printed books. So to say that any of these books was my favorite would be misleading: the list was already culled before it appeared here. I tend to favor biographies and non-fiction, with a dose of humor thrown in to keep things interesting. Of course, my reading is limited to what I can borrow, although a few of these are ones I've purchased. I finally finished The Pale King. It's a long book, and I read it in stops and starts. I like to think of it as the Moby Dick of the IRS. I love David Foster Wallace's writing, but as with almost all authors, I prefer his essays to his fiction. And of course, this was a posthumous book anyway.

Some other notes: My enjoyment of Philip Roth's writing has only increased over the years. I was talking with a friend earlier this fall about favorite writers, and we both mentioned Roth, and the look on his face when recalling "Goodbye, Columbus" somehow summed up the Roth experience for me.  (And I like "The Conversion of the Jews" in that collection even more.) Of course, there's much I haven't read, but every time I read something by him (or in this case, listen to something), I enjoy it. Yes, for those whom it bothers, there's a lot of sex. But I sometimes think that because it's so over-the-top, it almost ceases to be offensive. And the reading on the audio books was quite good. There's an old interview with Roth in the Paris Review online here that I have to make time to read. Relatedly, I'd read little or no Updike (memory fails here), so I tried the only audio book of his the library had. Some of it I liked, but some felt dry and repetitive. Perhaps the short-story collection wasn't his best work. I might make him an author to read in 2014.

I love biographies, so there are quite a few on my list. And of course concentration camp books are one of my favorite genres. (You can see I'm a niche audience.) Plus some self-help and a little humor. I especially liked Steve Martin's autobiography. He is such a thoughtful person, and while there was humor in it, much of it was a very serious reflection on his life. Nothing beats a well-read, educated comedian.

Finally, my favorite book of the year is one I haven't finished yet -- Magic Search: Getting the Best Results from Your Catalog and Beyond (Kornegay, Buchanan, Morgan). The real subtitle is at the top of the cover: "Subdivide and conquer with LC subdivisions!" This slim book (under 150 pages) lists the best Library of Congress subdivisions to use for various subject searches in library catalogs. It's geared toward reference librarians, but it's also helpful for catalogers. Since I do both, I'm working my way through the book a little at a time, taking notes. The book has too much information to do a quick read-through. This is one book that will definitely stay in my collection of librarian tools and one that I will refer to many times. Highly recommended!