After the Alchemy, the Laundry?


File under “Doggerel, Random.” I’m still busy. I’m still kind of tired. And everything coherent I had to say I’ve already said at Lead Pipe this month.

All that aside, however, life is good. Even the worst day in a library is better than the best day scrubbing floors or serving food. Trust me. I know from these things. I don’t miss them.

And the days have been very, very good. We threw a party for a reference librarian who moved on up to bigger and better things at another branch. We welcomed a new reference librarian who has both fabulous professional chops and prodigious cupcake-baking abilities. I’m releasing reference books into the circulating-wild by the dozen, by the day, screaming, “FLY! BE FREE!” as I wheel the cartsful over to the shelving area. The Eleventh Stack bloggers remain a joy; in case you missed it, one of our newer team members managed to write a humorous, vaguely Rapture-related post without being offensive, which gives you some indication of the caliber of quality I’m working with here. All things considered, I have no complaints.

I’m just not quite sure what to do with this blog anymore, though, because, well…

…forgive me…

…the thrill is gone. There. I said it.

When I started Alchemy, I had just stepped into a shiny new job, ready to take on challenges about which I knew very little except that I couldn’t wait to learn more. And boy did I learn a lot. About emerging technologies, about vendor negotiations, about committee work, leadership, and a whole host of other things. The last three years have been educational, and I hope this chronicle of my progress in those areas has been at least somewhat witty and entertaining for those of you who’ve stayed the course.

I just feel like it’s time to do something different now with Alchemy, even though I’m not quite sure what that would be, or what form it would take. It’s not a comfortable feeling; in fact, it sort of feels the way it did when I was in a PhD program, making good progress, but strangely dissatisfied. It doesn’t feel organic to talk about my job anymore, and since I haven’t been excommunicated from Lead Pipe, I will probably do my philosophizing there.

So, whither Alchemy?

I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out. In the meantime, you can mark me as officially “on hiatus,” I reckon. I still have that idea brewing for another blog, one that would have shorter updates more often, but I am still tinkering under the hood with it. Given that it would rely heavily on the participation of guest contributors, I want to make darned sure I get it right before I wheel it out of the lab…

Until we meet again, here or elsewhere, I hope you are reading good books, thinking wonderful thoughts, dreaming noble and/or crazy dreams. I hope you are serving your patrons well, while taking good care of yourself, and that, despite whatever you might be struggling with, your professional life comes out ahead in a cost-benefit analysis.

Love and rockets,

the notorious LAV

One to Watch: Julia Karr’s XVI


Nothing quite shakes a busy lurker out of her multitasking whirlwind like a good book. 

A Muggle — by which I mean “non-librarian” — friend recommended XVI, by Julia Karr. Because I’m striving valiantly to keep up with YA fiction trends (those kids are going to be my patrons someday), I sat down with it this weekend to give it a whirl.  As matters stood, I was awake in time to set the clocks properly, because darn it, the book was that compelling.  I want to give a copy of this book to everybody I know who has children, and, of course, teens themselves.  It’s the kind of book that, ideally, parents and kids could read together and discuss.  It tackles a number of challenging issues, and it’s going to make some people VERY uncomfortable, but that’s only because the clear-eyed Karr has called shenanigans on some of the ugliest things about our culture:  the media, domestic violence, sexual assault, the restriction of civil liberties, and the class system we all pretend doesn’t exist, to name just a few.

What makes the novel genius, however, is that Karr has created a novel with strong, confident female characters who are not yet ready to have sex, but are still sex and relationship positive.  They simply want more for themsevles:  careers, fulfillment, dignity, true love.  And before you start rolling your eyes, the other piece of genius here is that Karr’s novel divorces morality from organized religion and puts the decisions about sex and sexuality right back where they belong:  in young women’s hands.  I’m not telling you how she pulls that off – you have to read the book!

All of these ponderous questions are wrapped in a darned good thriller, a well-told story that had me racing through the chapters to see how it would end.  This is the first book I’ve read that I would actually recommend to people who enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy for what it was, not the romantic mishegoss people wanted it to be.   Also recommended for young women and their parents, the men and boys who love them, the teachers and coaches who guide them, and anyone who wishes s/he had had this sort of book when s/he was growing up.  I know I’ll be buying it for my nieces when they are old enough to understand, and appreciate, what Nina’s world has to teach them.

Sneakily-hastily I remain

Your Alchemist, who can’t believe she managed to bang that out at the refdesk on a Sunday!

Dispatches From the Library Whirlwind


Still busy, but still here, observing, soaking it all in, thinking.  Focusing more on patrons than on philosophies.  Dulce et decorum est.  Contemplation ebbs and flows with action.  I am deeply, ridiculously happy.

The Winter Read-A-Thon fundraiser is all over but the collecting.  Fundraising = hard.  Quit that laughing.  It’s one thing to grasp a concept intellecutally.  It’s quite another to take a stab at actually doing something and finding out just how hard it is.  I did not make my fundraising goal, but I think that was a good experience for me to have.  If I’m ever crazy enough to try something like that again, I’ll know what to do better / differently.

The Eleventh Stack crew is giving away twenty-nine gifts for twenty-nine days to library patrons who comment on the blog.   This is our contribution to the countywide “One Book, One Community” effort, which you can read more about here.  The book we’re all reading is Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts, which is about how she learned to cope with her MS by practicing generosity.  If you scoffed at that, you’re probably too much of a cynic to thrive in Pittsburgh.

This is a pity, because Pittsburgh was just named America’s most liveable city again.  I’d been secretly wondering if my cheerful outlook on librarianship were due to the fact that I lived in a magical unicorn bubble of rainbows and happiness, and apparently it’s true.  Go ahead and roll your eyes, but this town sneaks up on you and surprises you.  We have amazing food options (vegetarians and vegans, this is your hidden Mecca, trust me), walkable neighborhoods, a world-class hospital system, some top-notch universities, thriving arts communities (both traditional and indie/progressive), roller derby, two newspapers in a time when print is supposedly dying, and, of course, Uncle Andy’s Palace of Wit and Wisdom, right around the corner from the Stillers-scarf-wearing Dippy the Dinosaur (formal name Diplodocus Carnegii).

So, yeah, I’m a little proud to be a small part of all that.  It’s not about me.  It’s about we.  Which is another reason why I’ve been writing less here at Alchemy, and saving my better efforts for In the Library With the Lead Pipe. Of course, by “best,” I mean, I think about the topic all the darned time, but don’t put anything on paper until the last minute, because I’m so darned busy; then I hope to heaven I don’t sound too much like a heretic. My personal mission as a library writer is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, but one should always do so with a strong sense of both justice and compassion.

Our latest effort, in which we debate the stealth librarian manifesto, has me all fired up about things I can’t quite articulate yet.  I believe public librarianship needs a new professional discourse, a new kind of writing, a new kind of way to express ourselves and demonstrate our value to our communities.  For the life of me, though, I cannot yet imagine what that might be.  Thoughts?  Opinions?

I also, heaven help us, have an idea for another library blog.  It would probably mean abandoning Alchemy, but….all things to their times and seasons.  It’s foolish to cling to flowing water.  Right now I’m still marinating the idea and waiting to see where it leads me.  If you’re intrigued and possibly interested in helping me shape what’s currently a vision, drop me a line…

I’m also still making my way through tiers and tiers of reference books, many of them old and filthy, trying to decide what to keep (and where to put it, if it’s worth keeping), what to weed, and what to reclass as circ.  A surprising amount of books are ending up in circ–talk about Second Life!  And nothing makes me happier than opening up a book and saying, “Holy crap, the world needs this–why is it closed ref?”  If you love your patrons, set your reference books free.

Reclassing/weeding is, of course, grubby work, which is why I do it mostly on Fridays when I can wear beat-up jeans and a snarky t-shirt with my obligatory librarian cardigan and my “purchased before hip” Doc Martens with the skulls grinning fiercely from the sides.  As I work, I think about different kinds of labor, and whose labor is valued, and why.  I think about where I came from (blue collar central) and where I am (white collar central) and where I’m going (qui sais?), and how I can make the most of what I have so that others can have nice things, too.

There’s more, of course.  I think about how proud of myself I am that I could walk somebody through downloading an ebook on virtual reference today, without freaking out or giving the wrong answers.  I think about the meeting I had this morning, and all the good insights I got from the group of people who cheerfully showed up and listened attentively while I pitched my next crazy idea.   I think about the book I’m reading right now — Julie Rose’s 2008 edition of Les Miserables — and how amazing it is.   I think about how I have to restrain myself from going around telling the people I work with how much I care for them, lest they look at me funny, and what a sincerely bad idea the “International Hug A Librarian Day” project is (Friends don’t let strangers touch friends.  That is all.)

But, mostly, I think about this fragment from Osho’s Emotional Wellness, a book I was reading earlier today:

The way of the heart is beautiful, but dangerous.  The way of the mind is ordinary, but safe.

Obviously we need the way of the mind in libraries.  But I still think we could stand to use a lot more of the way of the heart.  Our institutions need a little danger, a little passion, a little shaking up.  I’ll do my best.  You come, too.

Until goodness knows when, I remain, your humble servant, etc.

LAV

Library Alchemist

Libday Sixburgh: Library Day in the Life, Round 6


Thank goodness for libday, which gives me an excuse to fire up the crucible again.

Not that I need one.  However, I remain in that state where doing and being are more important than writing about it.  Despite this, though, it is important to get over oneself and bear witness from time to time, because people still don’t understand the diversity of what we do on the daily.

I’ll give you the perfect example.  I’m riding the bus home the other night.  There’s been a snowstorm, so the bus is packed, and folks are testy.  In an attempt to alleviate the tension, a young man strikes up a fake newscast, improvising what a reporter might have to say about the packed and weary commuters slogging homeward.

Naturally I find this delightful, and ask the young man if he’d like a color commentator.  He acquiesces, and we ham it up all the way to our respective bus stops, to mingled consternation and delight from our fellow riders.  Improv Everywhere, here we come!

Eventually, though, we get to the part of the conversation where he asks me what I do for a living.  And when I say I work at the library in Oakland, what’s his immediate reponse?

SHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Now, mind you, that’s after I’ve just been one of the loudest people on public transport that night, if not ever.  Talk about librarian stereotypes, not to mention blowing the chance to get a lady’s phone number.  What’s a girl to do?

Keep blogging, apparently.  Welcome to libday 6 in the ‘burgh.

9:51 a.m.  Have just spent 20 minutes trying to impose order on chaos.  This means copying the desk schedule into my Outlook calendar, and filling out my daily goals and priorities diary.  Oh, quit that laughing.  I thrive on chaos and multitasking, but there’s a backbone of organization propping it up.  The diary was a New Year freebie from the folks at Get Organized Wizard, and I like it a lot. It consists of one sheet for every day with the following sections:

  • Top 3 daily priorities
  • Other tasks
  • Notes / thoughts / observations [great place for an inspirational quote]
  • To buy
  • To e-mail/call
  • Appointments/reminders

I may not get to everything, but at least I now have a template/touchstone.  We’ll see how that goes…

10:17 a.m.

Just finished reading New York Times Book Review, and marking my orders.   My philosophy of collection development is that by the time a book cracks NYTBR, we’d better have it on order; thus, reading it becomes a game I play against myself to see how well I do at both the book trade game, and the collection development game.  Got everything except the new Mahmoud Darwish translation, so I ordered that, and then lost myself in the backpage essay– much to think about, there!

So, yes, I am sitting up here reading for a large chunk of my day.  Just not in the way you’d think, or for the same purposes.

10:42 a.m.

Trying to work out a schedule conflict for tomorrow.  Despite sincere efforts to change, I am still trying to do too much in a day, and be Super Awesome Perfect Librarian.  Deep breaths, reminding self that all I have to do, ever, is my best.  Hoping whatever drives this need for perfection will sort itself out by the time I retire.

10:56 a.m.

Schedule conflict = resolved.  Everybody here is so nice/flexible.  Whew.

Also, covert blog maintenance.  When you’re the leader of a great team, all you really have to do is stand back, give people room to be awesome, and quietly poke at things from time to time.  So I futzed around under the hood, read Julie’s wonderful essay du jour, checked the blog e-mail account, and sent a note to the team about an upcoming project we’re doing, to make sure we’re all on the same page about it.

11:21 a.m.

Morning break, which I never feel like I need, but am always grateful I took, come 6 p.m. (ending the day frazzled = not optimal).  Picked up books at the circ desk, strolled around the building, chatted with people.

11:36 a.m.

Knee-deep in database stats.  The state report isn’t due until later this spring, but I like to stay on top of numbers, given how slippery they can be.  We’re having a database committee meeting Friday, too, and it’s nice to make renewal decisions with some numbers in hand.  Luckily, many of our vendors offer pre-scheduled e-mail reports, something I’m taking advantage of this year in my never-ending quest to be more organized.

For those of you who read that and said, wait, what, numbers?  Yes.  Librarians count things.  Some things we choose to count on our own, and some things the state makes us count.  We do this so that we have something tangible to point to when we ask for money.  Not that it ever works!  But intangibles such as the joy of learning or the common good don’t even get you in the door, whereas being able to say “Over 1500 children received free online homework help this year through the library” carries a little more weight.

12:04 p.m.

Started my shift in the phone room.  Phone shifts are always a grab bag; sometimes the phone rings, and sometimes it doesn’t.  When it does, it’s often a lulu of a difficult question that will keep me doing follow-up for a day or two.  After all, in this day and age, if you’re calling the reference department, you’re either lacking internet access, or you’ve already Googled all over creation and not found what you wanted.

And I’m at peace with that.  Sure, I do a lot of phone number lookups and simple searches for folks without web acccess, but that’s an important service, too.  And when the really difficult stuff comes along?  It’s like hitting the mother lode.

We shall see.  When we’re staffing the phones, we’re also required to be logged into the chat reference module, to pick up any internet traffic that surfs by.  Right now, though, it’s quiet, so I’m going through my mail.  One of our vendors now offers educational streaming video, so I shoot a short heads-up note with the info and link to a few of Friday’s meeting attendees, who might have a special interest in the product.

12:43 p.m.

So far this hour:  one call, no chats.  Printed out a web article for a patron without internet access, and put it aside at the reference desk.

Luckily for me I always carry around a pile of odds-and-ends:  projects I mean to work on, crazy ideas I have, things to read, etc.  I’m attending an ebooks webinar tomorrow afternoon, and there’s a lot of advanced reading for that, so it’s nice to have a few moments to do that.

1:31 p.m.

Lunch = tasty leftovers plus errands.  Normally at this point I would also wax rhapsodic over whatever book I’m reading at the moment.  However, during Winter Read-A-Thon, only my pledge pals get to peek at my book picks.  If you have no idea what on earth I’m talking about, click here to get the scoop.

1:49 p.m.

Re-ordered a book in my subject area that’s been missing for ages.  Among other things, I buy library science books, so it really irks me when one of them walks off.  For starters, they’re none too cheap.  For seconds, who on earth would take a libsci book except one of us?  And that’s Not Very Nice.  Just saying. 

[As I read back over it, that doesn't seem like a kind thing to say.  Then again, I just spent $65 of my collection budget on a re-order because someone was unkind or careless.  Grrrr.]

2:17 p.m.

Busily brainstorming.  I’ve got a conference call at 3, and I’m really excited about it, because it’s attached to a great ALA project.  Alas, I have Public Librarian’s Disease, which means that projects that don’t originiate here in my library–or relate directly to public service in my own institution–frequently take a back seat to whatever has to be done Right Now.

This is the uneasy kernel of truth that lies at the heart of the public / academic library split.  Academic librarians are part of a system where writing, publishing, presentations, and serving on committees are directly tied to their professional rewards.  Public librarians?  Not so much, unless you’re on the management track.  So you make a lot of tough choices, and, frequently, do a lot of unpaid extra work that may or may not get you closer to your goals.  Which means you have to be really vigilant about knowing yourself, and amending your goals, as necessary.

 All that being said, I’ve got some ideas.  Some of the other group members have already sent documents to the task force listserv, and they have some great ideas, too.  Should be a good call.

2:30 p.m.

Just skimmed the weekly media roundup.  There’s a story about local non-profits’ use of social media, and it mentions the CLP social media team.  This means it would probably be a good time to update the Facebook page.

2:45 p.m.

Realized that, post conference call, I need to leap straight into a virtual reference shift.  Definitely time for some tea and another quick walk around the building.

3:20 p.m.

This is turning into the best conference call ever.  Really.  All fired up with ideas.   And, of course, making more work for myself!  The price of vocation, but it’s a fun price.  Off to investigate corporate structuring in Google and Apple.

3:59 p.m.

Logged in to the virtual reference console early, because I am just that much of a nerd.  Staffing chat reference is one of the highlights of my day.  It feels good to know you can help somebody halfway across the country from your own comfortable chair, using only your wits and your digits.  Technomagery at its finest.

Should be busy, too.  Not only are we at peak time, but I’m staffing all the queues at once, including the 24/7 worldwide queue.  And people wonder why I stumble out of here all giddified….

4:11

I was right.  I am in the middle of a long question, and the new question chime keeps sounding.  Ding.  Ding.  Ding.  This would be nerve-wracking if it didn’t reassure me of job security.

4:46 p.m.

Just FYI, no break in the questions.  And they are all long, complicated questions.  Take that, Google!

5:01 p.m.

I try to spend the last hour of my day sneaking clean-up tasks into whatever I’m doing.  Under the current circumstances that means going through my e-mail inbox from back to front and trying to make decisions and take actions that will lead to deletion.

5:37 p.m.

Temporary lull in questions means I can peek at my newsreader.  Glad I did.  Librarian humor.  Gotta love it.  Thanks for making my day, Walt!

5:45 p.m.

Dependable as clockwork, there’s a problem with remote access to one of the databases, per a caller into Ready Reference.  I’m in the middle of a VR question, so I gracefully try to juggle the needs of the colleague in front of me and the person on the screen.  Alas, it is not something we can work out in 15 minutes – or without the help of the IT department, for that matter – so I ask my peer to get the patron’s name and contact info so we can playtest and follow up tomorrow.

5:52 p.m.

I’d better stop now if I want to bring my workday to a graceful close.  Thanks for reading along with libday 6.  Hopefully you found it amusing or revealing, or both.  And did you notice how there wasn’t a single shush in there?  Or, in fact, much actual face-to-face contact at all?

Only eight years out and the field for which I have been “classically trained” has turned right on its ear.  Can’t wait to see what happens next…

Winter RAT Revealed: The One-Shot Alchemy Pledge Drive


I imagine I’ll be writing this in fits and starts, given how busy we are tonight.  The reference room is filled with people using our reference books and our computers.  The collective hum of scholars makes me almost as happy as the baba ghanouj I had on dinner break.  Given the quality of the baba ghanouj here in Oakland, that’s saying something.

But:  a post I promised you, and a post you shall have.  Especially since it’s less a post and more of an invitation to join me on my next wacky library adventure.

The Winter RAT One-Time Pledge Drive

Terri Gross I’m not.  I am, however, participating in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Winter Read-A-Thon, a fundraiser dreamed up by my peers who work in the New and Featured department.  When they first announced the project, I had two thoughts simultaneously:

  1. That’s sheer genius!, and
  2. Hey, the acronym for that would be Winter RAT

Good thing I wasn’t on the planning committee, eh?

At any rate, it works like this:  you sign up to secure pledges for the amount of time you spend reading between January 8 and February 19, 2011,  Pledges can also come in the form of one-time, flat donations.  This is to prevent persons like myself, who read 24/7, from taking unsuspecting pledgers to the cleaners.

And I thought, help raise funds for my library by doing what I’m going to do anyway?  Where’s the registration form?  And where the heck can I find a stuffed rat to serve as my project mascot?

Meet Rattus Jellibatus, the official mascot of the Winter RAT project.

Rattus Jellibatus

Isn’t he adorable?  I found him on Etsy, and he’s winging his way here from Australia as we speak.  Once he gets here, I plan to photograph him in various spots at the library, enjoying the books, using our research databases, and, of course, helping me raise funds for the Read-A-Thon.

[I should point out that at least one colleague has expressed disdain for poor Rattus, and has threatened to stomp on him.  I am currently writing up a Rat Sensitivity Training Plan that I hope to submit to Human Resources by the end of the month.  Honestly.  Some people's children.  Hee.]

The Ask

This is where you come in, gentle readers.  I would like you to consider signing up to sponsor me for Winter Read-A-Thon, and I’ve come up with a number of different incentives for you to do so.

I know you probably get a lot of requets for donations on a regular basis.  I’m adding my request to the pile for two simple reasons:

  1. I believe libraries change lives, and
  2. You don’t ask, you don’t get.

That being said, I don’t believe in asking over and over and over again.  This isn’t PBS or NPR.  You have lives, and limited funds.  So here’s what I’m proposing.  Take a look at the list of incentives below, and consider making a one-time pledge.  You may make a pledge at any point between now and February 19, and you have until March 1, 2011 to send me your pledges.

I know, I know, it’s tough times out there.  I assure you, no donation is too small – I believe in the power of crowdsourcing.  If, for example, every single one of my Facebook friends pledged only $1, I would be 90% of the way toward my high-end goal, of which we shall speak in a moment.  But if you’re not in a position to give, I totally feel you.  That’s why I’m only asking once.

What’s In It For Me?

 I’m so glad you asked!  If you make a pledge to LAV’s Winter RAT project, you get the following:

  • Access to a pledgers-only Winter RAT blog, which will detail my readerly adventures, and feature many darling photos of Rattus Jellibattus in quirky Pittsburgh locations, once he makes it through TSA screening.
  • The chance to win swag in a weekly raffle.  Trust me.  It’s cool stuff.
  • The power of recommendation compels me!  I give my peer Karen Keys credit for this one–if you pledge me, you get to pick one book for me to read per dollar pledged, up to $5.00 (keep in mind, I can’t read EVERYTHING  in a finite period, so play nice).

You will also get my undying gratitude, but many of you have that anyway.  There is, however, one more thing.

Straight to Pink

My high-end fundraising goal is simple:  If I can obtain $500 in pledges for Winter Read-A-Thon, I will dye my hair as pink as dear Rattus Jellibattus.  And I will leave it that way through ALA annual, so that you can get the full effect in New Orleans.

But Leigh Anne, you may protest.  YA librarians do that all the time as an incentive for their teens.  Why is this different?

It’s different because not everybody reading this essay is a librarian, for a change.  And there are quite a few people in my past and present who would get a big charge out of sensible, sedate old me doing something so overtly outrageous when covert ops are more my style.  At least, I’m hoping. 

So, if you think LAV with a head of bright pink hair would be a hoot, please consider making  a pledge at your comfort level.  Honesty compels me to admit I’ve already netted my first donor by promising she could come with me to the hair salon and watch me get it done, so the journey’s already started, my friends.  Have at it.

Nuts and Bolts

If you’ve already made up your mind to sponsor me, woohoo! Please e-mail me at vrabell at carnegielibrary dot org with the subject heading “Winter RAT Pledge” and the following information:

  1. Your name
  2. The amount of your pledge
  3. Your e-mail address if you wish to have access to the subscriber-only Winter RAT blog
  4. The best way to contact you if you win a weekly raffle

Keep in mind you don’t need to send anything now.  In fact, I’d be interested in knowing how many of you would like a PayPal pledge option – I can set that up easy-peasy, if there’s enough interest.

If you need some time to think about it, feel free.  Bookmark this post.  Think it over.  Get back to me.  You can leave a comment here at Alchemy, or e-mail me at the address given above with the subject heading “Winter RAT question.”

And if now is not the correct time for you to make a donation?  I totally understand.  Thank you in advance for reading this missive–which, as I suspected was banged out hastily between patron interactions–and godspeed to you in 2011.

I’m dreaming of a pink NoLA, and a well-funded Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  What say you?

Introducing the Andys: Alchemy’s Best Books of 2010


Happy New Year, dear readers! I just read the “state of the blog” update that WordPress sent out to all its members, and this reminded me that a) I do have a blog, and b) I should probably pop in to say hello. I hope you had the lovely winter holiday of your choice.

It’s still very busy in the LAV world, and I still feel more contemplative than talkative, but I did want to share some bookish love before we officially close the chapter on what has been another interesting year for libraries.  It’s comforting to know that, no matter how much change and challenge whirls around our heads, we can always find refuge between the covers of a good book.

Hence, the Andys.  I get most of my reading materials from the library in which I work, so I think it’s only fair to praise this year’s favorites in the name of Mr. Carnegie.  I’d love it if our library gave an actual book award – I think it could be a fun, community-engaging project, and we could start small by simply bestowing honor, and then in future years working up to the black-tie gala, red carpet cakewalk, and hideous Lucite statuettes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here are the first-ever Alchemy Andys, awarded to books I really enjoyed in 2010, regardless of when they were originally published.

Graphic Novels

All of the comics I read this year were exceptional, but my favorite, hands down, was David Petersen’s Mouse Guard.  The story is compelling, and the artwork is so beautiful that I found myself gazing at pages repeatedly, drinking in the beauty with my eyes.  I never wanted the story to end, and I can’t wait for it to continue.

Horror

No contest.  Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series.  Good grief!  I started this series at the end of 2009 and burned through all of them in record speed in 2010.  Vampire noir on top, with a sweet, satisfying punk rock romance underneath.  And the ending?  Have mercy.  If you can handle the juxtaposition of violent and profane with wounded/star-crossed , start with Already Dead.

Mystery

Another year gone by, another thousand or so books recommended, and I still don’t like mysteries.  Now that fellow library blogger Will Manley is deep into his mystery project, and having a change of heart about the genre, I just might be the last mystery skeptic in the profession. 

All that being said, I loved Tana French’s In the Woods.  Perhaps it was the setting — Ireland– or my deep and abiding affection for broken, wounded characters (so much like real life).  At any rate, I found this tale of a policeman whose own childhood was affected by crime both gripping and moving.  I’ll not spoil the end, but boy was I rooting for some things to happen, and crushed when they didn’t, even as I understood why they couldn’t.

Non-fiction

I thought this Andy would be tough to award, given how much non-fiction I tend to read.  When you’re the pop non-fiction collection developer, you find yourself sampling a lot of the goods.  The hands-down winner, however, was Rob Sheffield’s hilarious memoir, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.  Sheffield’s account of teenage crushes and musical obsessions had me laughing out loud in public places all over this fair metropolis, and during the chapter about driving an ice cream truck with Prince blaring away on the radio, nobody would come near me due to the non-stop idiot giggling that bubbled forth from me without pause.  If you’ve been a teenage boy, loved a teenage boy, grew up in the 80s,  or simply need a good laugh, grab this.

Poetry

This is where I lose some of you on charges of nepotism.  One of the most excellent things about Pittsburgh is that it’s full of poets.  Even with this year’s losses of the Gist Street Reading Series (may it rest in peace) and the International Poetry Forum (sob), Pittsburgh is still very much a poetry town.  You wouldn’t think that based on our reputation, but it’s true.

That’s why I’m honored and pleased to give the Andy to a volume of poetry I can’t stop rereading, one that’s really moved me:  Renee Alberts’s No Water.  Often, in hectic moments, I find myself repeating one line over and over as I work:  “The wine breathes.”  It is strangely soothing and meditative, and helps me center and focus.  The wine breathes, and so do I.  The entire collection is lovely, but it’s that one moment that stuck with me that sealed the deal.

Sci-fi / Fantasy

I could kiss Charles Yu right on the mouth for his hilarious-sad-philosophical novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, so I’d like to apologize right off the bat to Mrs. Yu, if there is one (poaching ain’t classy).  The prose is simple, but the ideas are quite profound; sentences glitter like what I imagine Brian Greene’s string theories must be like:  webs of nouns and verbs that nudge us to question the nature of generally accepted constants like time, love, truth, and “now” (whenever that is).  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scratch your head.  Yu nails it.  Whatever “it” is.  One morose time-machine repairman, for the win.

Short Stories

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage gets the Andy for being red-state raw and authentically angry. As much as we would like to think that everyone in America shops at Whole Paycheck, walks around with an e-reader, and frets about whether to pick the body-scanner or the pat-down at the airport, there’s a whole other America out there, composed of people whose sincere efforts to do better for themselves are smacked down again and again by forces out of their control. A shock of cold water to the face for those who ever wonder about the “other” America beneath the glossy facade you see on CNN. Brilliant.

YA Fiction

In my only nod to popular opinion, I have to go with Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay.  Judging solely from the heated “Team Gale” versus “Team Peeta” arguments, it would seem that few readers of the Hunger Games trilogy realized what a masterpiece they really had in their hands.  Katniss Everdeen sees and experiences horrors no teenage girl should ever have to, and survives to create the best ending for herself that a PTSD survivor can hope for.

The Hunger Games was never really a romance, though romantic feelings play a part in it.  It is a trilogy about the horrors of war, the manipulation and abuse that can occur in the media, unbridled politics and power, the gap between rich and poor, the excesses of the former, and the deprivation of the latter, all exaggerated almost beyond belief.  But the scary part is, it could really happen.  Katniss’s Appalachia is not all that far removed from the real one, reality television gets crazier by the moment, and do you really want to get me started on the wealth discrepancy in America?

No, you really don’t.   But you do want to take another look at Mockingjay, so you can officially declare yourself “Team Katniss.”

There will be no Andy for drama or mainstream fiction this year.  Sad, but true.  Nothing moved me.  Then again, given my fondness for time machine repairmen and tough-talking vampires, is anyone surprised?  While I appreciate “good” literature, I am very much a genre grrrl.  And I’m at peace with that.  You could argue that it is genre readers, after all, who are keeping libraries afloat these days.  A can of worms for another time.

But first:  on Wednesday we will finally get to the bottom of Winter RAT, and sometime next week I will get around to telling you just where I was all December, and why, and how it moved me.  Literally and figuratively.

Until then, I hope your new year is off to a wonderful start.  I’ve decided to celebrate by re-reading one of my favorite books and diving into a classic I somehow never found time for.

What are your readerly plans for 2011?  Any suggestions so far?

Wild World of Alchemy, Liminal Space Edition


Wordsworth defined poetry as strong emotion recollected in tranquility.  I feel much the same about blogging, except that here it is nearly a month since last we spoke, and I don’t have a blessed thing to say to you.  Not, mind you, because things aren’t happening.  It’s just that there’s been very little tranquility in which to process them.

That’s not a complaint.  I remain busier and happier than ever, but I will need more time to make sense of it all.  I seem to be in a sort of liminal library space, where things happen, but are difficult to explain.  Bullet points might cheapen that, but for the sake of not losing touch with you entirely, let’s try, shall we?

  • Vacation.  I took one.  It was great.  I never did quite catch up afterwards, though.  Price of library success…
  • NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated, otherwise known as “LAV disappears in November.”   This year, I wrote an urban Amish paranormal fantasy romance.  No, you may not read it. :)
  • In the Library With the Lead Pipe.  I’ve been asked to join as a guest author/editor.  I’m thrilled beyond belief; however, I’m also stumped as to what to write about first.  Until I get my act together, please check out what my sterling teammates have to say.
  • Future Perfect Task Force.  A new responsibility about which I will speak more later!
  • Branching Out.  I’m currently in the middle of a fun job-shadowing adventure that I intend to write more about at length.  It’s very different from the work I normally do, and it’s definitely helping me become a better librarian.
  • Facebooking.  I’m now part of the library’s social media team, and as such I help maintain good patron relations by ineracting with our library users on Facebook.  It’s an advocacy week around here, so as you can imagine I’ve had lots of photos and such to post.  If you haven’t friended us yet on Facebook, consider this your engraved invitation.
  • Winter RAT.  Another surprise I intend to write about at length.  You’ll just have to die of suspense until I reveal what that acronym stands for.  Just thank the powers that be that I am not in charge of naming things around here, as my twisted sense of humor might be the death of us all…
  • 2011 Reading Plan.  I know, I know, how could I possibly read more than I do?  But I’m starting to feel like I need a plan.  Despite getting the best education I could afford, I’ve discovered there are still huge holes in it.  Ergo, I’m having people I respect and admire compile lists of things I should read, and I’m plundering the Zs for all those lovely books about what to read next.

And, of course, none of the usual shenanigans have ceased.  I’m a busy library bee, and a happy one.  How are you?

The Librarian, Waiting: A Ghost Story


I’m not sure how the rest of the country celebrated Halloween, but here in the mid-Atlantic, we were all up in the haunted houses, the corn mazes, and the spooky hayrides.  Some of us painstakingly assembled Halloween costumes to wear to parties where Edith Wharton might’ve blanched at the level of social competitiveness over concept and execution.  Others bought up candy like it was going out of style so they wouldn’t get a reputation for handing out crappy treats on their block.  And, of course, at the reference desk we fielded the yearly round of questions about witches, ghosts, local hauntings, urban legends, and the like.

The spookiest thing I had going on, though, was a trip down memory lane as I copied Word files from floppy disks to USB.  If you really want to scare yourself, hunt up a piece of writing from about eight years ago and take a good, hard look at how your brain was working back then.  Especially if the document you’ve unearthed is…

your library school application essay.

Aieeeeeee!

When I saw the filename and realized what it was, I was almost too chicken to open it.  Was I really ready to jump in the wayback machine and take a look at how I viewed the profession before I was in it?  What if I were such a naive simpleton that my hard-won, battle-scarred, sophisticated ninja reference persona couldn’t stand it, and dissolved into a poof of smoke from sheer cognitive dissonance?  What if I  were guilty of writing that I wanted to be a librarian because I loved books so much?

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Never one to back down from danger, however, I took a deep breath and let the past come back to haunt me.  For your spine-tingling edification and nail-biting delight, let’s take a look at some of the silly things I said before I was a librarian.  Those with weak hearts should turn back now, before it’s too late!

Still here?  Fools!  Your “reward,” brave souls, is my opening paragraph:

Joseph Campbell wrote, “We must be willing to give up the life we have planned in order to have the life that is waiting for us.” I lived the truth of those words while I was studying for my doctoral exams in literature. Three years into my studies at X University, I was having second thoughts: did I really want to commit myself to a life of teaching and scholarship? Was I wise to head straight for a PhD without exploring other options? With such heady questions buzzing around my brain, I did what any self-respecting, clnflicted scholar would do: I withdrew from my graduate program and went off into the world to find the life that was waiting for me.

Egad!  Who quotes an author in an essay and doesn’t cite a source?  No self-respecting future librarian, that’s for sure.   I’m surprised the admissions folks  didn’t crinkle the whole thing up and toss it in the round file on the spot. 

Luckily, well-trained present-day me was able to verify that I’d somehow managed to get it right (Reflections on the Art of Living, 1991).  As for my naive-arrogant tone, well…there’s nothing to do for that except headdesk.

*headdesk*

Luckily, I redeemed myself in paragraph two:

I threw myself into career exploration in the same methodical manner I’d thrown myself into writing research papers and teaching classes.  I took aptitude tests and interest surveys, pored over books like What Color is Your Parachute, and shadowed friends and relatives on the job to see what their careers were like.  On a more practical note, I got my first non-academic job, which proved to be an intensive seminar in customer service.  For fun, I started going to Friday Night Improvs and entertained Pitt students on a weekly basis.  These seemingly unrelated pursuits taught me a lot about my strengths and preferences.  I learned, for example, that I liked to work with the public, and that I had the skills to both make them laugh and put them at ease.  At the same time, I was obviously skilled at research and organization, as my rapid advancement in my “real world” job demonstrated.  I realized that I wanted a career where I could weld my scholarly pursuits with public service.  Where was the best place to work with both people and information?  Why, in a library, of course.

Obviously the scary part about that passage is that it’s entirely too long, and my inner critic is half-tempted to start drinking again over the fact that clearly, at one point in my life, I had no clue how to break up large chunks of text into smaller, more sensible paragraphs.

Upon closer examination, though, what we see here is a plucky kid with a lot of potential who at least has some problem-solving skills. Although I didn’t realize at the time exactly what I was doing, I treated the process of finding a new career as if it were a reference interview, consulting credible sources, asking other people for help, and experimenting a little to see what would happen. This informed, yet playful approach is, I hope, what sealed the deal.

Let’s see what other havoc I wrought on the English language:

Once it finally dawned on me, I’m surprised I hadn’t known it all along. Maybe subconsciously I did; when I looked back on my career thus far, I’d always been happiest either in a library, or showing somebody how to use one. At any rate, there was one way to find out; to test my new goals, I applied for and obtained a help desk position at the Carnegie Library’s main branch. Several months of observing the Humanities team, shadowing the other departments, and answering patrons’ questions have convinced me that I’m on the right track. I would like to explore the possibilities more closely before I decide what kind of librarian I want to be, which is why Pitt’s program, with its independent study and internship options, is so attractive to me.

Ding, ding, ding, ding! Despite my horrid sentence structure, we have a kernel of truth here. Tender library school students, I beg of you: if you only heed one thing I ever say, let it be these words uttered by both the ghost of my former self, and the slightly wiser woman who sits before you now: before you go get that ridiculously expensive degree, go get a job in a library and find out if it’s really what you want.  And by the way, pick a program where internships and practical experience are, if not required, strongly encouraged.

[One caveat: your classmates might laugh at you for working clerk jobs; some of mine did. They called me a Wal-Mart greeter, and made a point of ribbing me about it every chance they got. Ignore them. They won't be laughing quite so hard when job-hunting time rolls around, and you are the one with practical experience and professional contacts in your arsenal.]

The end is in sight, thank goodness:

It’s more than a little ironic that my pursuit of authenticity has led me back to graduate school. Joseph Campbell, however, would both understand and appreciate the irony of my career quest. Hopefully you will share his view and let me begin the MLIS program this May. With your permission, I can prove that I will be an excellent librarian.

Gah, cover your eyes! Weak! Lame! Pathetic! Aieeeee!

*faints*

Anyone have any smelling salts? While I find it somewhat comforting that I have clearly developed as a writer, I reserve the right to be appalled at the extent of my ignorance, despite the best education I could afford.

It was ironic, though, that following my true, authentic path in life meant another master’s degree, and another outlay of funds, though I’m pretty sure Campbell wouldn’t have an opinion one way or the other (ah, the arrogance of youth).

Still, the true beauty of this last paragraph lies in the fact that it’s actually a dare. C’mon library science: let me show you what I can do. And when one dares to dare, one is generally taken up on it. Life loves a daredevil, either to raise him/her high, or bring her/him low.

The true end of this story lies, I hope, a long way off, and is bracketed by two ghosts: the ghost of the person I once was, and the ghost of the librarian I will be. Standing at the center point, looking forward and back, I can see and hear them both. The “normal” person I once was can’t believe she will “grow up” to be me; the sophisticated, white-haired woman I will become — who, for some reason, looks a lot like Barbara Cartland in my mind’s eye — simply smiles so as not to give away the game of what’s to come.

Can you see, from where you stand, the ghost of the librarian you were, and the ghost of the librarian you will be? How did you get here? How have you improved? What will you learn, and what will you go on to do? And of course, the most important question of all: are you willing to give up being the librarian you are in order to become the librarian who is waiting for you?

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

That took forever and a day to write; I had originally intended it to appear on Halloween; however, I have just returned from a delightful, delicious long vacation and — in keeping with the theory of the Year of No — I simply refuse to do any sort of professional labor when I am not on the clock, technological advances be damned. Be that as it may, however, I was unable to keep away from the library altogether, and I have several amusing stories to tell you about that at some point, workload permitting.

For now, though, I invite you to look in your own ghostly librarian mirror and tell me what you see…

“Nobody Died, Nothing Caught Fire”: The Art of Self-Appraisal for Public Library Workers


It’s that time of year again.  The leaves don scarlet and orange frippery, then gradually waltz to earth in a slow dance of death.  Bitter, howling winds nip at the ears and fingertips.  Germs and viruses of every stripe stalk the land, sidelining the weak and weary with their pestilence.  And librarians nationwide collectively bang their heads on their keyboards as they strive to summarize their annual accomplishments in the rite of self-appraisal.

[Academic librarians  are cordially invited to go do something fun in lieu of finishing this post.  As competitors for tenure, this sort of thing is part and parcel of the fabric of your lives, and Alchemy's supposed to be fun/helpful, not stressy/repetitive.  Have you considered ballroom dancing instead?  Mustache growing for fun and profit?  Otter spotting?  Go to.  Other librarians may stick around as inclined, and I hope you will at least chuckle at our plight, if it is not applicable to you.]

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the process.  Believe me, I like having a measurable, objective, quantifiable yardstick of the professional progress I’m making.  Something I can point to, much as a mason can point to the cathedral s/he helped build.  Goodness knows library science can be, er, fuzzy and ephemeral at times, what with all the helping and the world-saving and whatnot.  Bring on the concrete criteria!

However, despite the benefits of self-appraisal, its major drawbacks are that you still have to a) remember everything you did all year, b) write it up in a coherent fashion, and c) make new goals for the coming year,  all of which can be challenging when you’re d) busier than ever at the reference desk, and e) anxious about writing to begin with.

Fret not.  Alchemy’s here to help.  And by “help,” I mean, mostly, “gently suggest possible anxiety-relieving options.”

Part the First:  Gathering Information

Your calendar — e-mail or paper version — is your friend.  Take a quick flip back through whatever organizational tool you’ve been using and check for entries that indicate anything you might have done:  programming, working extra shifts, outreach, etc.  If it was important enough to put on your calendar, the chances are 50/50 that it will be important enough to record as an accomplishment on your appraisal. 

You will probably start to see patterns emerge as you click through the months; this will indicate areas of focus and or strength to emphasize.  Did you pretty much live in the book order room?  You’ll be hyping your mad collection development skills.  Spend a lot of time in meetings?  You’ll be talking about teamwork, collaboration, and all that jazz.  Bonus:  you get the pleasant surprise of realizing you’ve done more than you thought. 

If you have a blog, repeat this step by clicking back through your tags and / or archive.  See also:  the saved e-mail folder.  If it was important enough to save, it might be important enough to mention, especially if it’s a thank-you note from a patron for being extra-super-spiffy.  

Next, go get last year’s appraisal (unless this is your very first appraisal, in which case, please wait patiently and a new paragraph will be with you as soon as possible).  Part of the deal, remember, is that you get to keep a signed copy of what you and your supervisor discussed last year.  This is good because  the experience of discussing your self-appraisal tends to vanish in a haze of nostalgia once you’ve survived it.  Much like childbirth, or so I’ve heard.

At any rate, your prior year’s appraisal will have a list of the goals you indicated you’d achieve in the coming year, and should write about now.  For the moment, don’t worry about whether — or how well — you’ve achieved those goals.  You’re here for information, and skimming the record of what you and your boss discussed last year should jog your memory.  If not, there’s still time to jump ship for the competitive worlds of academic librarianship or otter spotting.

If this is your first appraisal, or you still feel like you don’t have enough material yet, a second opinion is called for.  Given that most of your peers are probably fretting over their own appraisals, the correctly-timed, half-joking question, “So, what did we do last year?” could lead to a round of collective inspiration/revelation…or, failing that, a round of margaritas as you bemoan group memory loss.  Usually, though, what happens is that your peers will have noticed things about you that you didn’t consider a big deal, which can help you flesh out your appraisal.  If you’re lucky in this regard, be prepared to repay in kind.

Part the Second:  Writing the Darned Thing

If self-appraisals were a movie, this would be the part that gets filmed as a montage.   You’ve seen it before: the writer labors at her/his keyboard.  Seasons pass.  Pieces of paper are crumpled and tossed at wastebaskets.  Cigarettes are smoked and/or liquor consumed.  Stormy classical music plays in the background.  And then, finally, the sun comes up over the horizon, and the writer drops off to sleep, exhausted, but done.

What happens in the hazy spaces of actually producing the writing will forever be a mystery process known only to each aspirant.  That being said, there are a few things you can do to prime the pump so that you’re not staring blindly at a wall at three a.m. or frantically banging your keyboard in time to Rachmaninoff.

My favorite technique is something I like to call the faux appraisal, the record of all the things you did — or refrained from doing — but would never actually submit to your boss in writing (unless, of course, you’re hankering for a brief visit to a padded cell, helped along by an armful of Thorazine).  This can be a fun exercise, if you commit to it whole-heartedly.  Observe:

It’s been another banner year for me here at Sunshine Rainbow Unicorn Bubble Public Library.  For the eighth time I am pleased to inform you that nobody died and nothing caught fire on my watch.  Quite the contrary:  armies of malevolent clowns repented their sins after basking in the gaze of my glorious customer service smile, and all of my programs were attended by at least 1,000 patrons, plus a phalanx of talking owls who have humbly requested that I become their queen. I responsibly managed a collection budget of seventeen acorns and a box of Junior Mints, with which I was able to buy seven hundred copies of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom thanks to my personal relationship with Oprah Winfrey and my strong library marketing skills, with which I sold our book jobbers on my alternative acorn-based economy, thus saving the library heaps of real money. In conclusion, I have a lightning-shaped scar on my forehead, thus placing me in a protected class of fictional characters who cannot be expelled from the library lest small children cry. I hope that this document and the large box of donuts to which it is attached is sufficient to demonstrate my continued value to the organization.

 Hopefully indulging in some serious silliness will break through any writers’ block or appraisal anxiety you might be experiencing.  If you do it right, it can even be a cleansing experience.  Just remember, if you get too crazy, burn or shred that draft ASAP;  your organizational culture might not be ready for a phalanx of talking owls just yet.

Not a fan of narrative? Several colleagues have reminded me that the humble bullet point can be your friend. You don’t want to undersell your accomplishments, but you also don’t want to force yourself to write long paragraphs if that’s just not your style.  A long list of bulleted accomplishments can look pretty impressive, especially from across the room, and for supervisors with piles of appraisals to read, they can be a godsend. 

For best results, however, make sure they’re all things you actually did, with no padding.  Think of bullets as if they were buttons on your lanyard.  A reasonable number of pithy ones make you look hip/cute; too many make you look like you work at TGIFridays, especially if they all involve committee service, and you have no plans to enter management.

Somewhere along the line you should refer to those goals you dug up earlier.  If you achieved them, make sure you say so, and go crazy on the descriptive (or the bullets).  Conversely, if you didn’t, you can still save the situation if you have a plausible explanation why.  Public libraries change quickly, remember, so it’s possible that you were needed at the reference desk more, and had less time to work on X-Y-Z special project, or the funding was pulled, or the library decided to go in a different direction.  There’s no shame in not meeting your goals, unless your only excuse is that level 16 on Portal made you cross-eyed.

In addition to a written section, many of you may have to deal with the Dreaded Ticky Box Phenomenon, in which you pigeonhole yourself into categories based on your gut instincts. This is the part of the evaluation where most people undersell themselves, so my advice to you is to re-read your bullets or paragraphs, and then rank yourself one level higher than you think you deserve.

Sound prideful? It’s not likely, but if it makes you feel better, try reframing it as a business transaction, say, selling your car or home. The more you ask for at the outset, the more you’re likely to get, even if there’s a downward adjustment somewhere in the process. Very few people are so deluded that they will rank themselves higher than they actually deserve. So if, for example, your choices are “Achieves,” “Exceeds,” and “Excels,” go for “Exceeds” and “Excels,” especially in the areas where you have the most proof to back you up.

If that still seems excessively boastful, do it anyway and hand it in before you can change your mind.  If you really do need a reality check about your greatness, your boss will gladly give it to you – and if s/he’s a good boss, she’ll even do it in such a way that you’ll appreciate hearing it.   Most people, however, tend to err on the side of Neville Longbottom rather than Hermione Granger, an unfortuante tendency of librarians that we’ll just have to unpack some other time.

Part the Third:  Setting New Goals

This is what is referred to in the professional library literature as “the fun part.”  It can, however, also be the most challenging, especially during times of uncertainty when you’re not really sure if there will be time, funding, or staffing for all the cool things you want to do.  With that in mind, here are some suggestions for good goals.

  • If you did something well last year, up the ante and say you’ll do more of it.  Make sure you attach a measurable number of some kind – a percentage, a circ stat, a dollar amount, a time frequency, etc. – to “more.”
  • Heed the need to weed.  If you have a collection, you’re going to have to weed it at some point.  Writing it down on paper ups the chances that will actually get done.
  • Try at least one new thing, preferably something that scares you just a little.  This indicates that you have initiative and are curious about things outside your area of expertise.  There’s also the potential for low risk and high reward here.  Trying new things is a win-win situation because nobody expects you to be instantly fabulous at a new skill, but you get points for trying.
  • Team up with another co-worker on a goal.  Ideally this is something you’ve discussed with said co-worker in advance, something that’s too huge to tackle on your own, but would really benefit the library.  Not only does this earn you “team player” points, but it also demonstrates that you recognize that your performance is designed to benefit the library as a whole, not just you personally. 
  • Stick to two or three goals.  There’s only so much any one person, no matter how talented, can reasonably accomplish, and you don’t want to make promises on which you cannot reasonably deliver.  In fact, underpromising and then exceeding expectations is a good strategy.  Just make sure you don’t set the initial bar too low — you don’t want to look like you’re phoning it in.

There.  Feeling a little better?  Obviously this post not the end-all be-all solution to the self-appraisal problem, and I’d love to hear how you yourselves have handled the beast in the past.  Also, since every institution is different, you may be able to give insights and information for which I have no context.  How does your library evaluate your performance?  What hurdles have you jumped, and what advice can you offer about them?

Many thanks for indulging my own first-draft hijinks.  I feel a lot more comfortable about writing my own appraisal now that I’ve had a bit of fun with the idea.  I’ve also got a hard-core art question to work on, so there may be another long pause before you hear from me again…but when I get around to it, I simply have to tell you about something I found on a floppy drive, something I thought had been lost forever.

Good times.  Happy self-examination!

Super Shallow True Reading Story (Pedagogy of the Depressed)


I finally got my hands on Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to our Brains…and I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

*facepalm*

It wasn’t that I couldn’t finish the book.  I’m sure I could have, as it was a very good book.  It contains important information about neuroplasticity, and the way technologies affect the human brain.  Things library school professors should be addressing.  Hell, things society at large should be addressing, before we collectively dissolve into a nation of drooling, tapioca-brained, blithering idiots.  And while it is, at times, both dry and didactic, it’s also fascinating, intriguing, and scary.  You should stop reading this blog and go get yourself a copy, right now.  I’ll wait.

It was also, however, extremely depressing, if you’re at all a fan of books and print media.  Ergo, having read above and beyond the Pearl-mandated 50 pages, I put it aside, with a twinge of sadness at how much of a relic I have already become, at my tender age.

[Nota bene to new grads: No, you may not have my job. I am not quite finished with it just yet. :) ]

In my melancholy state, I returned to the novel I was, comparatively, enjoying far more than The Shallows, although “enjoy” is probably the wrong word to describe what happens while reading Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story.  Told through a combination of e-mail, chat, diary entries, social network posts, and straight narrative, it is the story of a fortyish man who falls in love with a shallow, self-absorbed younger woman.  The generation gap, the technology gap, and other gaps in their relationship play out against a frightening political landscape where your civil rights and social worth are determined by your credit rating, and privacy only exists in the few copies of print dictionaries that are collected by random eccentrics.

About 3/4 of the way through the novel, it dawned on me:  Carr and Shteyngart are writing about the same themes.  Only the literary form varies.  Preferring the novel to the work of non-fiction tells me that I learn better through the medium of story and literary artifice, rather than the straightforward recitation of facts and figures.  But how wonderful it is to have both!

Which leads me to wonder:  which enterprising library science prof will teach these two texts in tandem in their next technology class?  How edgy would it be if the next innovation in library technology education is…the print novel?  When will we, as library professionals, start critically examining the effects all of our shiny new toys  in the classroom, via the variety of cultural artifacts produced in our brave new world?

A lady can dream, can’t she?

If you are doing this sort of thing in your classes already, do share.  I’d love to learn more (and, possibly, sign up).  What else are libsci professors teaching — or not teaching — these days?  What do you wish you were reading in class, gentle library school students?  MLIS-holders, what do you wish you had read in library school, libsci-related or otherwise?

Maybe I should start my own online MLIS program.  Alchemy University.  Hm.  At least I could promise you a few good laughs. :)  Bonus points to anyone who spotted the Oxford comma, above.

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