Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Contest for People who Write Goodly

I must hesitate here in sharing with you this link... this link to a contest. My dad pointed it out to me with this note: "here is a contest designed for Heather."

The Washington Post is auditioning for a new Op-Ed contributor. The prize? To be a pundit for 13 weeks in one of our nation's largest papers.

How could I pass that up? I've got opinions, I've got interesting things to say. Sign me up!

Many/Most of you are more intelligent and loquacious than I could ever hope to be. Truth owned, there are two of you in particular (K. and T.) whom I try to emulate on a daily basis. In your abilities to use the English language to its fullest. That is why I don't really want to share this - I don't want the competition!

But then I realize that the best person should win, even if the best person is not me.

Good Luck!

... oh wait, you wanted the link! So sorry, I must have forgotten! Here it is.

Monday, September 28, 2009

For the Russian Speakers Out There!

I'm totally geeking out right now! Ask any of my co-workers, I am babbling at a mile a minute!

All because I discovered the coolest website EVER!!!!! - Lib.Ru - that is all I need to be happy in this world.

This site is a collection of Russian stories, in the original Russian, and by famous Russian authors. Not to mention the interesting, if eclectic, assortment of international authors (now I know where to go to read Emily Dickinson's Poems in Russian).

For the class I've been helping out with, I needed to find the last paragraph of White Nights in order to take a look at a particular tense change. That is how I stumbled upon this site - bam!

Not only does it have the full text of many classic and new Russian tales, it provides links to secondary sources in Russian about the works and the authors.

And now I am totally convinced that I am going to be studying Russian a lot more with the help of this site.

Eeeek! Massive geeking!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creating Competition

I came across something the other day, something I am sure that many other managers have noticed and commented upon and written up and exploited: some people work better with healthy competition.


When I first started working at the bookstore, we had to try to sell memberships. It is not that they are hard sells, but they do cost money meaning a bit of an effort was needed to move the items.

My first Christmas season approached and our store manager decided to have a contest: the person who sells the most memberships within a set amount of time will receive a $100 gift certificate to anywhere. With that my friend and fellow newbie-cashier were off to the races!

There was no hope that I was going to win - my friend is the type of person who could talk a drowning man into a glass of water - but I had something to work for, something to grab at. Though I didn't win (second place with a $50 gift certificate was nice enough for me!), I still remember the contest and the motivation it inspired.

Just before I left permanently the memberships took a turn for the worse. Instead of them being used as something to be proud of, they were becoming something to dread. If your numbers fell below a certain level, you would be fired. I had always been happy with my numbers and excited to try the hard sell, but I grew to resent the you-must, negative reinforcement that was starting to cloud this practice.

Anyway, I had to come up with a way to get my student assistants interested in boring tasks, such as shelving, so that they would be more willing to give it the proper time and attention. This is why I started allowing them to use music devices (iPods, etc) while shelving, for example.

But the greatest challenge were the Search Requests - when a book is not where it should be, we have to search the likely spots it was miss-shelved. This is a process that takes time, concentration, and a bit of creativity. On an whim, I decided to create a "contest" - find a Search Request book and you get your name written on a poster for all to see. The person with the most found gets a prize at the end of the semester.

I did not anticipate the level of exciting response to all of this!! Two students in particular are begging me to give them all of the SRs that I have - they are in active competition with each other and are working hard to find these missing titles.

Big win! Some people must just respond well to the healthy competition! I'll have to wait to see where this goes, but I have to admit that I am overwhelmed at the success!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Illness at the Library

Shock of all shocks, the school year is already more than a month over! When I was in school, I remember how slowly it all passed, but the freshmen are already old hands at this college thing and I feel as though I barely blinked an eye. My mother always said that life just keeps speeding up and now I believe her, whole heartedly.

Today is my Monday - working nights and weekends tends to shift ones perspective on "weeks" - meaning I spent the first half hour of my day reading email, most of which held information already expired.

That is when I came upon one that held a link to this site: LibraryLaw Blog. Just as the name suggests, it is blog where you can ask all sorts of questions about the law and libraries (maybe that is why they named their blog that - hehe!).

N1H1 (aka - Swine Flu) was the topic of the post the link directed me to. In the post, the author discusses what rights library staff have in throwing out people suspected of being ill... in short: none at all. Personally I think this essay is spot on and lends exactly what I hold to be true about libraries a touch of legal backing.

Perhaps it is because I grew-up in a home with a doctor on hand who never believed we were sick enough to go to the doctor unless we severed a limb or perhaps it is because I have had Norwalk virus which was so horrible, painful, and gross that death being an end to the suffering sounded like a great, comforting idea, but I have been a cynic of this Swine Flu hoopla from the beginning.

Washing your hands with warm soapy water and using, occasionally, hand sanitizer, is the best way to prevent illnesses. End of story. I am sure that I am not alone in receiving countless emails and directives from higher up that contain N1H1 prevention methods that ring of verge-of-the-abyssness.

It has gotten to the point that I feel I need to apologize in class or at work for coughing - "I swear, I don't have swine flu!"

But back to libraries... my justification for not kicking people out or even giving them dirty looks when they cough or sneeze has always been that it is their personal choice and need to be there, and it is our duty as librarians to continue to provide this public service (hand sanitizer in tow, of course) for all. Who knew the law was on my side?

In the post, I think that the author drives home the more universal issue by saying "But the fact remains that librarians are not doctors, and cannot diagnose H1N1." And, as a colleague of mine aptly put it in a response to the link email, "Setting any legal issues aside, since the symptoms of N1H1 are just like any other influenza or cold, it would be impossible to determine who has it just by looking at their symptoms."

On that note ~ stay healthy but, more importantly, sane!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Having Dinner with Mr. Penumbra

SciFi is fun, and, I think, its authors, readers, and enjoyers (enjoiers??) are some of the most creative minds in the world - looking to both the past and the future with equal hope and tribulation.

A while back I discovered (as much as I could discover something that has been around for a while and already has a wide readership, but whatever) a podcast-based Sci Fi magazine, Escape Pod, which finds interesting short stories and creates audio recordings of them. Not only is it interesting because of the science fiction aspect, but what a wonderful idea! Bringing together, from different sources all sorts of stories and presenting them in yet another media - audio. (written word-digital world-audio presentation)

The reason I bring up this particular episode... the title got me! Yes, I was sucked in by the title: Mr Penumbra's Twenty-four Hour Book Store, written by Robin Sloan.

Imagine working graveyard shift at a 24-hour bookstore!! Now that has to be a little slice of heaven! But the story that develops out of this tingle-worthy title has given me pause as, of all things, a librarian.

Libraries pride themselves on being the eternal (or as close as we can get) depository of information, ideas. If you listen or read this story, you will discover that the author is fascinated with the notion of living forever through and in ones work. Writing "Make something that will last... and you will live forever."

How does something last? Through the author's own words and images in a passive way? Or through someone elses active, thoughtful efforts?

That is actually not a particularly interesting set of questions, so I'll leave them there like dangling participles.

A little further in the story Mr. Penumbra says: "Just because it is changing doesn't mean it is over."

My frustration with other librarians not willing to see (? create ?) a place for themselves in the future, amongst digital collections and podcasts, is that they seem to see this change as the end. But, as I've written here, here and elsewhere, without the change we have no future - it is an opportunity to redefine ourselves and our trade in this world.

Creativity, reading, writing and even librarianship are not dead, not done - they are changing, that is all.

So, if you have an hour, listen to this story - I still can't get over the awesomeness that would be that book shop... though you would have to staple me to a chair to prevent me from reading the books!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

www - Wild Wiki Web

Time to get back to business...

Part of my position in the library is liaison between our building and the on campus Art Committee. When I started working here last year the organization was still new and not quite eased into their own rhythm as a group.

Now, a year later, I've become the unofficial technology guru... that title being bestowed because I "built" the website (using the campus template of course). The website battle was easily won - I'll do all of the work in setting it up and we get increased exposure. Done.

The difficult part is the communications between members. With forwards, replies, and new threads making my head and Outlook hurt, I've created a new way of communication with the crew: a Wiki.

Though it is still being built, I'm already running into walls miles thick with the group. Most have never heard of a wiki, some don't want to join yet another group, and still others think email is the best way to communicate. For a group of people that never sit in the same room, ever, it is difficult to address these issues and convince them that the wiki is the best plan.

In his article, Control and Community: A Case Study of Enterprise Wiki Usage, Matthew Clark breaks wikis down into three types: public, enterprise (the focus of the article), and team. The later being the type with which I am dealing.

The few lines he dedicates to team wikis conveys all of my hopes and frustrations for the future of this effort.

For example: "In contrast to public Wikis, where self-selection guarantees that the vast majority of users are technically savvy and keen to be involved, the people contributing to a team Wiki may not be doing so voluntarily or with much enthusiasm. It may well be a required part of their work that they would prefer to avoid. The need to make the Wiki as easy as possible to use becomes even more important in this context."

That is it exactly! Most have never been exposed to this, nor really think that it is necessary.

My only option at the moment is to keep pushing, slowly, while making the wiki the easiest I possibly can. Eventually, if all goes well, my patience will be rewarded... if not, well then I'll have a great looking wiki to put on my resume.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Thought - I Saw It!!!

In my capacity as librarian, I try to keep atop information about careers - finding them, keeping them, etc - so that I can help direct people to helpful books and sites in their quest. More personally, my sister just graduated from college last May. Unfortunately for her, she graduated at the wrong time and in the wrong city. She is doing everything right, now she just has to wait.

Anyway, much of what I have been reading focuses on finding something you are willing to do for free - then go do it. Eventually your passion will lead you to a career, not just employment.

Since starting this guest lecturer gig, my mind has been racing! Racing with different resources, thoughts, plans, etc. In fact, I was grinning like a fool today as I walked to class... and we weren't talking about anything I am particularly interested in. What is it going to be like when we get to the 1800s? Squeal.

But that is not what I want to talk about...

I saw something in class today, something that startled me and brings me to tears, now, thinking about it: a true learning moment. What a stupid name for such a revolutionary event, but that is the best I can do.

This student asked a seemingly off topic question and as the professor and I (mostly her though) answered, a change took place. Neither of us knew it at the time but the student had asked THE big question. As she listened her eyes grew wide and her mouth tightened a little on the sides - more than just understanding the answer, some pathway in her mind was rewired or at least affected in some way.

A tiny little change... yet I saw it, the instant, the moment. There in her eyes, in the response we gave forced her to see the world differently or to fill in a blank in her understanding. And I had no idea that was going to happen!

It was there! I saw it! I played a part in that! Me!

I've never really known what I wanted to do before. Sure, I always had an answer whether or not I believed it. But now when I say "I want to be a professor" it is less of a calm statement, and more a battle cry with three exclamation marks behind it!!!

Man, if only I get to see that moment once more in someones eyes, then all of the schooling and hard work will be worth it. More than worth it, actually.