Title Fail (Insert Vampire Metaphor Here): Library Failure, Pt. III

Here we are again, leading by example, coming up for air to talk a little more about failure.  Like, for example, my failure to keep a straight face yesterday at the reference desk when a patron’s cell phone rang.

Though I’m no Lady GaGa, I’m pretty good with the public service poker face when the occasion warrants.  Yesterday, however, I couldn’t remain composed when the cellphone ringing started.  You see, Constant Reader, the sound that played at intervals without ceasing was…

…a crowing rooster.  Sort of like this, only without the heavy metal riffing in the background.

Put yourself in my place for a moment.  In the peace and splendor of a steady, yet quiet, tour of reference desk duty, your composure is marred by


Every 30 seconds.  With the patron showing no signs of having heard the sound, or wanting to do anything about it.  And you, enforcer of the policy which clearly states that cellphones should be taken out into the hallway, cannot enforce it, becuase you have your head tucked into your hand, suppressing violent giggles.  Other patrons are looking at you, waiting for you to take charge of the situation, because you are the arbiter of order.  And yet, there you sit, turning purple from suppressed mirth.

Rooster.  Ringtone.  Professional.  Response.  Fail.

How my desk partner managed to get through it with a straight face, I’ll never know.  Perhaps he’ll consent to giving me lessons in future?  Or, perhaps, I should heed my own advice and see what science has to say about outsmarting my brain, so that I, too, can remain calmer in the face of mayhem?


 There’s no dearth of recent books ready to help you tame your amygdala.  Many of them cite the same scientific sources, so here, pulled at random, is a capsule description of what happens in your brain when the amygdala freaks out:

The Fear Response stimulates the amygdala-hippocampus complex (AHC), your emotional response center and the primitive part of the brain, often called the “lizard brain.” The lizard brain directs the emotions or behaviors that are responsible for survival of the species, such as fear and aggression. The lizard brain also stores the memory of any given negative experience or threat so that you can react even faster to it in the future.

Stimulation of the lizard brain triggers a cascade of events, culminating in the production of hormones and peptides, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that cause physical changes in the body. At the same time, changes occur in the brain that prevent you from doing any complex problem solving–you actually revert to a more primitive being whose main goal is physical self-preservation.

The Love Response, Eva M, Selhub, pg. 5

So, a chemical process that once might have saved you from being saber-toothed tiger chow now has the potential to trip you up by spurring you into fear-driven actions and responses that have the potential to become a negative feedback loop. What’s a librarian to do?

In a word, laugh.

There’s virtually no end to the veritable flood of information out there about the science of laughter. Robert Provine, a key scholar in the field, has generated a great deal of research on the topic, including a lengthy essay in American Scientist.  The bottom line appears to be that laughter is adaptive, is good for us, makes us healthier overall.  Which means that my giggle-fit “fail” at the reference desk yesterday wasn’t so much a “fail” as it was the best possible response to a fairly ludicrous situation.

That lets me off the hook quite nicely!  You, however, may be skeptical.  You would be perfectly within your rights to scowl at your screen, cross your arms and say, “Listen girlfiend, you’re not here, and you don’t know.”  Your library, you may reckon, is no laughing matter.  No amount of snicker-inducing shenanigans could possibly improve your current working conditions, could they?

Well, allow me to retort.  In part IV, I will attempt to sidestep the logical part of your brain and appeal to those parts of it that respond best to myth and symbol, via the figure of Abraham Lincoln.  And, of course, those pesky vampires.

I’ll try to wrap this up on Friday, but it could drag on until next week.  In the meantime, if you have any hilarious cellphone stories, please share in a comment.  Aside from the rooster, the best ringtone I’ve heard at the library was the refrain to The Scorpions’ 80s hair-band hit, Rock You Like a Hurricane. Can you top that, Constant Readers?

CLP Music Dept. Promo – From Haydn to Hip-Hop

Ryan and I get up to some pretty cool stuff around here, but we’re not the only ones in the organization having fun with technology. I’m happy to share a video effort put together by my colleagues in the Music Department. I’m also pleased to point out that Bonnie, Wes and Tim, three librarians who appear in the video, are also members of the Eleventh Stack blog team – clearly, this building is chock full of creative, multi-talented librarians!

Check out the wonders of our music department via the video stylings of David K., with expertise, help and support from music librarians Kathie L. and Kirby D.

Conventional wisdom has it that your videos should be short; I think this is definitely one of those exceptions that proves the rule – by this I mean, your video should be short unless you’ve put a lot of thought and care into a longform piece, as is the case here. And I definitely want to snag David for my own video efforts, before he gets snapped up by Cannes or Telluride.

October: Projects and Whatnot

The last few weeks have been pretty intense.  The fall semester’s in full swing here in Oakland, and when your library is the peanut-buttery filling between the crusty loaves of Pitt and CMU, you’re kept hopping.  A lot.

I think the best moment, though, was when we had six reference librarians at the desk helping with the elementary school tour group that ended up staying all day, doing research for their History Day projects.  Imagine reference service as a basketball game.  Zone defense, as opposed to person-to-person, of course.  It was awesome, in multiple senses of the term!

Other things October hath wrought:

The database committee met to vote on some renewals, and entertain some suggestions I had.  Most were approved.  Essentially, I want to expand the committee’s charge to include not only the selection of databases, but also the promotion of electronic resources and training both staff and patrons to use them.  This was met with much more support and enthusiasm than I expected, so once again I’m back to the brainstorming board, dreaming dreams and scheming schemes.

LJ and SRRT both sent me new books to review, so I’m knee-deep in reading and note-taking there.  Given that this is an “extra-curricular” kind of thing, it’s challenging to make room for it in a day, especially when there’s so much guilty pleasure reading to be done.  All the same, this is one of those things that, ultimately, falls under “service to one’s peers,” so I’m definitely down with sacrificing a lunch hour or five.

Speaking of school tours, I just gave one this morning to a writing class from Pitt.  The focus was on finding magazines and journals, and also covered how to research publication markets.  Secondhand info from a colleague, who had a friend in the class, relates it was a job well-done.  It’s nice to be able to put one’s pre-librarian teaching experience into service for the institution, and there’s just as much of a need for BI and LI, I think, in the public sector as there is in academe.

The PaLA presentation (dun dun dun!).  My chief concern is making us all look good while still being faithful to the notion that Library 2.0 is going to look different at CLP than it does at other institutions.  Why?  Our patrons have different needs.  The digital divide is a big concern here (see above about BI and LI), and while we’re taking strides in the technological realm, there are still a lot of traditional library services that our patrons need and want.  The key is balance, a middle path.

As I have commented elsewhere this week, moderation is not “sexy,” per se – it does not boost one’s Technorati rating, or vault one into the library blogosphere spotlight.  It does, however, help staff achieve goals and objectives, and helps everyone who works in a library deliver excellent service.  The profession needs dreamers and doers.  I perceive part of my job as negotiating a middle ground between both kinds of folk.

There’s more (there’s always more), but I would like to make a plan for tackling tomrorow’s tasks before I go home.  What are you working on?  I’d love to hear.

Database Byte: Naxos Music Library Jazz

First in a series of database overviews.  Designed for staff to enjoy, and/or pass on to their patrons.

Brief description:  extensive collection of jazz in streaming audio format.


  1. Includes tracks unavailable on CD.
  2. Advanced search allows for searches by catalog number
  3. Browse function allows for serendipitous exploring
  4. Users can change sound quality to fit their connection speed
  5. Remote access with valid CLP library card


  1. Difficult to search.  I should be able to find Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn easily in a jazz database.
  2. Contents appear to emphasize orchestras and composers over performers.
  3. Individual users can’t create playlists.  This could be a mistake in the era of iTunes, Pandora, and LastFM.
  4. Search help is minimal, and doesn’t offer suggestions for what to do if your searches aren’t working.

Suggested uses:

  1. Relaxation at home
  2. Stress relief at work
  3. Music education / appreciation for parents who homeschool
  4. Exploration for folks seeking new musical experiences

Don’t just take my word for it – try it yourself, then come back and leave a comment.  If you’re a frequent user with an alternative pov, your thoughts are welcome, too.  And if you’ve got suggestions for future reviews, I’d love to hear those as well.

Soft like a pretzel. Also, first Friday book review.

Part of the point of 2.0 is networking, so if you’ve found your way here via my e-mail invitation, welcome.  Feel free to comment, argue with me,  and suggest content!  One feature I hope to debut very soon is a prototype page of what an official CLP blog might look like.

 Fridays in the workshop are, I’ve decided, a great day for book reviews.  When I’m assigned a collection area, I’ll concentrate on non-fiction reviews from that subject.  Today, however, I’d like you to meet (or get reacquainted with) Studs Terkel.

And They All Sang is a collection of interviews with singers, composers, conductors, and other luminaries from the diverse world of 20th-century music. Readers who enjoyed Terkel’s eponymous Working will find the familiar interview format appealing, while music aficianados will relish the deeper insights and revelations from persons with whom they are already familiar. However, novices to the worlds of jazz, opera, and the like will also find this delightful because of its anecdotal style and welcoming presentation. Recommended for fans of all sounds and styles who enjoy non-fiction that reads like fiction.

And that’s all she wrote! Have an excellent weekend, everyone.


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