Indeed A Stage: Librarians and Theater


Well, that was fun!  But, all good things must come to an end.  I really enjoyed being on stage again after — yikes! — twelve years.  I suppose it’s less than that, given that I performed at Friday Nite Improvs for a few years. But it’s been more than a decade since I had to memorize a script and put on multiple shows in a weekend.  I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it until I started rehearsing, too.

At this point you might be saying to yourself, “Well, dear, that’s very sweet and all, but shouldn’t you go back to being a grown-up now?”  I suppose I should, rather.  Still, there are plenty of grown-up, sophisticated library bloggers about–I’ve decided that I’d much rather be the holistic type who tries to convince you that things like theater and improv could actually be good for your career.

Consider the reference librarian.  S/he frets and struts an hour or two upon the refdesk, then is no more (presumably s/he’s in a back office somewhere, ordering books, attending meetings, ripping her/his hair out, etc.).  S/he has scheduled entrances and exits, and when s/he’s at the desk, s/he has a role to play.

Occasionally these roles are scripted; more often, they’re improvisational.  You have a situation/location (the reference desk) and a relationship (librarian/patron).  Although there are a number of different shapes the conversation could take (Where’s the bathroom?  Do you have Jane Eyre? Does this reference book make my bag look fat?), you have absolutely no idea what any given person is going to say to you, and you have to be ready to respond in the moment.

One thing I love about improv is its reliance on “Yes, and.”  In the best improv scenes, the partners roll with the reality of the situation no matter how far-fetched it becomes.  “Did you steal a kidney from the transplant truck? ”  “Yes, and I wanted you to see it first–happy anniversary, honey!”  Hopefully nobody is bringing transplant organs to your desk, but they are bringing you a lot of other transactions where “Yes, and” is an appropriate response.  For example:

“Do you have The Castle of Otranto?” Yes, and you might also like The Mysteries of Udolpho, Northanger Abbey, or The Monk!

“Is there a bathroom on this floor?” Yes, and I’d be happy to show you where it is.

“Can I take books out of this section?” Yes, and nearly all of the other books on this floor are available for checkout, too.

“How many items can I take out at a time?” 50, (yes implied) and that total includes 10 DVDs, 10 CDs, etc.

The skeptical among you might be wondering, “Okay Tallulah Bankhead, what about those of us who don’t work in public service?”  Just because you don’t work directly with the public doesn’t mean you’re never going to be asked to give a presentation or, at the very least, speak in a meeting.  In fact, the amount of public service you do seems to be inversely proportionate to the number of meetings you must attend (I’d like a grant to study this — wouldn’t you?).  Why not get over your fears by trying out a few improv games?   At the very least, your next staff meeeting / training will be the one your colleagues will discuss for years to come.  “Remember back in the summer of aught-nine, when Tallulah had us play ‘Freeze’?  Good times!”

One shameless omission from both lists is “Questions,” in which the scene partners can only speak in queries.  This is a lot harder than it sounds, but a great way to break your brain out of its usual channels and stimulate some creative thinking.  And isn’t that something else we Librarians 2.0 are supposed to be doing?

Future posts will, I promise, be more “normal,” but I think the most important thing my return to the stage has taught me is that the boundaries between work and home are a lot more porous than most of us imagine.  After all, it’s not like we completely shed our personalities when we step into our offices–decorum might suggest we keep certain things under wraps, and tact will always be a huge part of professionalism.  Still, we are who we are, quirks, personalities, interests, and all.  I’m in favor of a holistic paradigm of library science, where who we are outside of our offices can feed and nurture the kinds of things we do inside of them.

Just a theory.  What sorts of things do you do in your leisure time that sustain your workday persona?

Back later this week with more whimsical thoughts…

Emerging Victorious


For the win, as the kids say.  I’ve got the certificate and the pin.  I have emerged. 

It’s more like leveling up in an RPG or PVP.  Congratulations elven mage!  You have earned the requisite number of hit points.  Here are  more skill points to spend in the areas you see fit.  Also, have some tokens and gold.

All joking aside, it went well.  I’ve taken video of our poster session on the Flip camera I borrowed from IT.  Now I just have to figure out how to upload it.  That may have to wait until I’ve come home.  I love the Flip, though, and will be saving up for one asap.

The bulk of today’s workshops were spent reflecting on our experience, what we’ve learned, and where we’ll go from here, so I thought I’d touch on those elements briefly.

The EL Project Experience

I deliberately chose a project that was not in an area I normally work in:  marketing.  It’s something I’m very interested in, but don’t get nearly enough of an opportunity to dabble with.  The group’s task was to re-prioritize the marketing plan for LibraryCareers.org .  The original marketing plan was created by a prior Emerging Leaders’ group in 2007; our task was to reassess their work, in light of the time that had passed, and re-rank their priorities.  Of course, being the overachievers that we collectively are, we decided that it would be cool to actually start some of the tasks and try a few things.  You can read all about our work at our project page on the EL wiki.

If you’re cynical, you might be asking yourself, “Er, why are we trying to encourage people to become librarians right now?”  Even I can’t candycoat the notion that, in the short term, things aren’t looking so hot.  I, however, am committed to library science for the long haul.  People will be needed to keep libraries going.  Fewer people, probably, I”ll grant you.  But if that’s the case, then we want the absolute best and brightest.  Anyone who would like to engage in a spirited discussion on those points is cordially invited to comment.  You might want to check out my comments on librarians’ salaries, too, in my report – we have a LONG way to go, and we should NOT stop fighting for better pay  However, we HAVE made progress.  The data is there.  It just needs to be organized and presented in a comparative fashion, so folks can see the gains, however modest.

What I’ve Learned

This is, I think, the part that doesn’t mesh neatly with what the program’s creators intended.

I applied for Emerging Leaders during a very challenging period of my life.  I had just experienced two very personal losses, and my confidence was at ebb tide.  I was engaging in what has been a habitual pattern for me:  trying to compensate for personal difficulties with yet another professional success.  I thought that if I could just Be More Brilliant (patent pending), it wouldn’t matter quite so much that I had failed so miserably in other areas of my life.

This project, while utterly fabulous, turned out to be the assignment that convinced me I had to take better care of myself, or I was going to burn out in a hurry.  Between my normal project workload, the slowly blossoming library budget crisis, and the larger-than-expected enrollment in 23 Things ‘N @, the last thing I needed was one more project. And yet, I had taken it on.

So, basically, I had two choices. I could quit, or I could figure out once and for all how to take better care of myself so that I would have the strength to deliver on all the promises I’d made.

I started with sleep. 8 hours, whether I needed it or not, every night. That was a habit that took a while to build, but I could feel the difference once I’d created it. LAV with adequate sleep is so much more effective than LAV without sleep.

Next, diet and exercise. I’ve been vegetarian for about 1.5 years, and have been cutting back on dairy to see if I can transition to a vegan diet and still be healthy. I made a new rule for myself: I have to either walk TO work or walk home FROM work – no exceptions, no excuses. And I began a yoga practice that began paying off almost immediately, especially since it’s mostly restorative yoga – the last thing I needed was one more activity where I was striving instead of nurturing.

The next step was to add more fun things back into my life, so that I was more than my job. This was really really hard for me. I’m so very much in love with what I do, and it’s really easy for me to take on more and more library work–both paid and volunteer–because it means so much to me. But other things mean a lot to me, too, and I’d been skimping on them to the point that, when I started adding them back, I didn’t realized how much I’d missed them.

So, I’m writing a lot more now. Plays mostly, some poems. I’ve entered some of my work in a short play festival – I’ll let you know how that turns out – and I’ll be starring in a play a friend wrote, to fulfill a theater residency he won. I’ve become seriously artsy-craftsy, both at things I already enjoyed, like needlework and decoupage, and things I’d never tried before, like painting and drawing.

The result of all this personal tinkering is that I’m a lot more interesting to be around, I think. I’m also a much more effective librarian: I’m managing my time better, getting things done more efficiently and effectively, and taking a lot more of the normal daily stress and drama in stride (those of you who miss the dramatic goat farm declarations will be reassured to hear that they haven’t vanished entirely). I feel a million times more confident than I ever have, because I’ve gone a long way toward solving the biggest problem I face: how to balance LAV the fiercely brilliant and creative librarian with LAV the ridiculously lovable, comically flawed human being who, like everyone else on this dotty blue planet, is simply trying to make her way the best she can.

Quo Vadimus?

So, now what?

That’s a good question.  I honestly feel now like I could do absolutely anything.  So what do I want?

I”m pretty happy where I am, doing what I’m doing.  Pittsburgh rocks, Washington press corps snickering aside.  I’d like to stay here for the next 40 years, work my way up the food chain, and get the big gold watch when I finally retire.  It remains to be seen whether or not the economy will support this endeavor.

That being said, what I really want to do, regardless of what titles I may hold or official responsibilities I may have, is to create environments where people can be their best selves.  I want to help people become the best they can be.  I want to help them achieve their goals and then to go beyond those goals to tap potential theydon’t even realize they have.  I want to inspire, motivate, and induce side-splitting laughter when appropriate.  I want to be a good listener, the kind of person a colleague can come to when s/he needs advice.  I want to call shenanigans on bad behavior and take concrete steps to make it better.

Mostly, though, I want to be a good person, ethical and fair, kind and wise and loving.  If you can do that, I reckon, everything else falls into place exactly where it should be.

And with that, having discharged my official conference duties, I”m exercising the right not to blog.  I’m going to visit the exhibits, and see some panels, and attend some meetings, and reunite with classmates and old friends, and talk to random people on shuttles and in coffeeshops in the hopes of making new connections.  I’m going to walk around Chicago and soak up its utter fabulosity, and I’m going to start memorizing my lines for my play.

Mostly, though, I’m going to enjoy having emerged.  I make rather the fetching butterfly, if I do say so myself.

I’ll fight wih that video footage next week.  Take care, and be well.

Yrs, etc.,

the incorrigible alchemist

Failure, laptops, and more professional reading.


Part I:  Failure

Failure at failure confirmed.  The reality of public service is that there’s very little time for serious writing and reflection.  What makes this a catch-22 is that if I returned to academe, I’d have plenty of time for writing and reflection, but fewer opportunities to practice that which I’ve written and reflected upon.  Or so it seems.

At any rate, I only know two things for sure about failure:

  1. If libraries operated by the same rules as Friday Night Improvs, you’d see more innovation and creativity.
  2. Beckett should have the last word.

Part II:  Laptops

Ah, TTW.  Is there no end to your inspirational properties? Apparently not. Is it too late to change my goals for 2009? Because if there’s a way to make our reference area more laptop-friendly, I’m on it. Not that we aren’t plenty laptop-friendly already! But why settle for good when you can be amazing?

Part III: More Professional Reading

Checked out: Mobilizing Generation 2.0. Am hoping it will give me more insights into the folks who are going to be my adult patrons in a relatively short time.

Returned: MySpace for Moms and Dads, which definitely merits a stand-alone review, for various reasons. I’ve made a note of it, but you may have to nag me.

Onward and downward!

Project mash-up


Busy writing, busy writing.  The blog team had its last pre-launch meeting, and now we’re just putting the finishing touches on our brainchild, which I will, of course, shamelessly promote as soon as it goes live.

The CLP website redesign goes live next week as well, so there’s been a lot of last-minute tweaking there.  I suspect I’ll be spending a good deal of time Monday morning testing database links (in-library and remote access) to make sure there are no hiccups with the referring URLs.

Other alchemist endeavors this week have included:

  • tweaking the Ref. Services LibraryThing procedures (so far, so good!)
  • adding up January database stats, making arrangements to get stats for new databases, and other assorted database troubleshooting tasks
  • good old-fashioned collection development (long may it wave)
  • answering reference questions about French theater
  • various computer “How do I?” questions

One fear I had about becoming the “techie librarian” was that it would mean I would have less time to read.  Thankfully, those fears proved groundless.  I’ve just finished The Knitting Sutra, which I’d highly recommend to not only knitters, but also anyone who would enjoy a short, gentle read about the soul of handicrafts. On tonight’s bus ride I’ll begin Elizabeth Gaffney’s Metropolis. 19th-century New York? Sold!

What about you? Reading anything swoon-worthy?

Brought to you by the letter D…


What I’m up to today:

Data collection.  See that shiny new “Meebo Me” window?  I’m playtesting to see how intrusive such a widget would be in a reference setting.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to ding me, whether I’m in or not.  Ask me reference questions, real or faux.  Ask me how I’m doing.  Tell me what you’re doing.  We’re going for verisimilitude here, so don’t hold back…I’m keeping stats!

Database training.  Led a session for a dozen students from a nearby uni.  It seemed to go well.  What was very interesting was that it was definitely a mixed-proficiency group, so some folks were zooming ahead, and others needed coaching.  Teaching by Walking Around – you’ve got to love it!

Databases redux:  Why am I being denied access?  What’s coming up for renewal when?  Who’s our vendor contact where?  Why can I find anything in these files?  All part of the exciting world of database care and feeding.

Drama.  Namely, purchasing it.  A good liberal arts education prepares you for many, many things, including diverse collection development assignments.  Whew.

Dinging.  I love it when folks send me links – makes up for the fact that it’s hard to keep up with all the news, even with fine newsreaders like Bloglines. So, courtesy of my fine peer Gina B., check out Zotero for citation management. They even have a WordPress plug-in, if you should need it.

There’s more, but you get the drift…what’s new @ your library?

“One 2.0 idea, hold the technology.”


One purchasing assignment, plus a reference question about standard British dialect, equals a possible service idea:

CLP’s service audience includes students of CMU’s drama program, Point Park’s drama program, Pitt’s drama program, the Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA), Rogers Middle School (the CAPA magnet), and a plethora of theatre groups large and small.  Common requests include monologues for auditions, full-text plays, dialect learning materials, scores, and costumes/set design.

I wonder if it would be possible to put these materials in the same location as an Audition Support Collection (insert fancy name here later)?  That way, users would only need one service point instead of several; I’m thinking the room that currently houses the scores would be a good place, as those materials would be tricky to relocate.  Plays, being much more lightweight, would be easier to shift around.  And we’ve set a precedent with the poetry collection…

Five minutes from now, when the clouds have dissipated, I’m sure we could find all sorts of practical reasons why this wouldn’t work.  However, it is the “what if” thinking and willingness to experiment that make a library 2.0, not necessarily the technologies.  So, what was your first response to my idea, and why?  Is this in the spirit of 2.0, or not?

We now return you to a regularly scheduled quiet night at the library.

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