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?


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….


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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