Texting, Texting, 1, 2, 3…

It’s nice to go away, and it’s nice to come back.  Peace and quiet are necessary to recharge, but there’s something about getting sucked back into the joyful library malestrom and knowing you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

While digging myself out from under a mountain of e-mail, and celebrating gleefully over Eleventh Stack getting Freshly Pressed (!!!), I’ve also been futzing around with my library’s latest mad-scientist experiment:  text reference.

Yes, yes, I know, that’s not really “new.”  It is, however, new to us.  We weren’t sure how many of our patrons were tweeting, so we tried that.  Now we’re trying to see just how attached Pittsburghers are to their cell phones, and whether or not they’ll use them for library consults.

Click here to get the scoop, and please consider sending us a test text question, so we’ve got some data to work with.  And thanks in advance for your patience while we get used to doing a new thing.

Not sure when I’ll next get a chance to write, as I really do have some serious catching-up to do here.  I’d like to tackle that backlog of pensées, though, and the next one is on a subject near and dear to my heart.  Stay tuned.

Dear Twitter: It’s Not You, It’s Us

In which we take a tongue-in-cheek look at a project that did not go exactly as planned.

*hem hem*

Dear Twitter:

We’ve been seeing each other for about a year now, and there are a lot of things we really like about you.  You can be funny and charming, and you’ve shared a lot of interesting things with us during our time together.  In fact, it would be fair to say that if we’d never hooked up, the library would’ve missed out on a lot of good times.

Lately, though, we’ve been thinking about our relationship with you, and as difficult as this is for us to say, we just don’t think it’s going to work out between us on a long-term basis.  We hope you understand, and we wish you the very best of luck in the future with all your other relationships — in fact, you have so many other people in your life, we have a feeling you probably won’t miss us at all.

Just to make sure there aren’t any hard feelings, though, we thought we’d take a moment to explain what caused us to make this decision.  Put very simply, it’s not you, Twitter:  it’s us, as a library.

We know people say that all the time in breakups, and we know there are a lot of other libraries who have a relationship with you, so we want to be crystal clear about this, Twitter:  it really isn’t you.  You are fun, and shiny, and hip, and a terrific method of certain kinds of communication.   You are who you are, and we respect that. 

The thing is, we have to be true to ourselves, too.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to look ourselves in the eye in the mirror.  Given how tough that is for an institution to do in the context of a metaphor, we hope you can understand that.

Here are some of the aspects of our relationship that just weren’t working for us as a library.

We weren’t meeting the kinds of people we were hoping to meet through our relationship with you.

One of the main reasons we wanted to hook up with you in the first place was because you had a great reputation.  Other people who were seeing you promised us that if we got into a relationship with you, we’d have a brand-new connection to people in our service area.  Given that we are always looking for new ways to reach out to city residents, we found this tremendously exciting.

What we discovered, however, was that, despite our best efforts to tag and friend fellow Pittsburghers, we only attracted 228 followers,  most of whom were either businesses trying to sell us something, or other libraries and librarians.  While we love our professional peers mightily, and everybody has to buy some stuff sometimes, that wasn’t really our goal, and we were a little disappointed.  Either the audience we were trying to reach just wasn’t interested in us, or they weren’t in a relationship with Twitter themselves. 

Despite our best marketing efforts, nobody seemed to notice that we were now a part of your relationship circle.

Marketing is so important to libraries these days, especially when institutions that support the public good must compete with loud, shiny, for-profit entities for time and attention.  Because we want to be a forward-thinking library,we thought you could help us out as a low-cost marketing tool.  So we promoted our relationship with you in various ways, including a feed into the Eleventh Stack blog , links in e-mail signature files, and shameless self-promotion in every single self-nominating “best of library Twitter accounts” opportunities that crossed our path. 

Alas, according to the statistics — we used HootSuite — our feed received only 2,023 visits between June 2009 and June 2010.  That’s a lot less than we intended, especially since we were posting every day, and we feel a little discouraged that we weren’t reaching as large an audience as we’d hoped.  On top of that, only 27 people felt that what we had to say was worthy enough to put us on their special lists; our self-esteem took a bit of a hit over this, but it takes all kinds of folks to make a world, and we’ve come to realize that it’s not that we’re not special – we’re just not special in the way that works for you, Twitter dear.

We simply didn’t have the time and energy to treat you the way you deserve.

You’re very much an extrovert, Twitter, all sass and dazzle.  Your words flow a mile a minute, and you speak in short, snappy sentences that sometimes took our breath away.  You keep up thousands of conversations at once and exchange information at warp speed.  We found this very exciting and fun, in the beginning, and looked forward to knowing you better.

The problem is, we never felt like we could give you the attention you deserved.  You’re hard to keep up with, and our mission dictates that we have to serve the entire public, not just the folks who use the world wide web to communicate.  Between book ordering, program planning, and staffing the physical reference desk, it wasn’t always easy, even with the schedule we created, to make time to ensure your needs were attended to. 

We want to take this opportunity to apologize for all those dates we broke, and all those days we left your messages hanging.  You deserve better than that, Twitter  — you deserve a relationship with an organization that has enough funding so that there could be one whole staff member devoted to keeping you happy throughout the entire workday.  Alas, that is definitely not us right now.

We could go on, but we think you get the idea, Twitter:  we’re simply too different right now.  We’re open to the possibility that our circumstances, or yours, might change.  Who knows?  In a year or two, we may want to try again.  Anything is possible in our brave new digital world, after all.

But for the time being, we think it’s best if we part friends.  Maybe we could log in sometime, browse your tags, see how you’re doing – you’re not the right tool for us right now, but you’re a heck of a great tool, and even if our paths never cross again, we’ll be able to look back and laugh at that interesting year we spent together in the early aughts.

Here’s looking at you, Twitter.  Take care.

PS:  Er, this is a little awkward, but we feel like we have to say it:  please ask all your other partners to respect our decision and not try to change our minds.  This was difficult enough for us as it is, and the last thing we want is hard feelings by people sending us a bunch of links to Twitter tutorials and marketing strategies and stuff.  Maybe down the road we’ll be ready to think about that again, but right now it would simply be inappropriate.  Thanks in advance for understanding.


Okay, that was entirely too much fun.  Good thing I have another sober, depressing post in the hopper.  Or would you rather have the lighter, fluffer videotherapy piece?  Comment and vote, gang – sad Alchemist, or perky Alchemist next time?  YOU make the call!

Interlude: Chapman’s Homer

It’s been a long short week, hasn’t it? Perhaps that’s just my projection, but it sure feels like it.

One lovely library moment I’ve had lately popped up while I researched Pensée #4.  Searching for Juvenal led me, eventually, to Homer’s Batrachomyomachia – and the reason I link, specifically, to our catalog record this time is so that you can get a load of the named author/editor and the date.  Go on, click.  I’ll wait.

I nearly broke both legs on my way up to eighth stack to get my hands on the book.  The date is certainly reason enough alone, but if you’re wondering about the author, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump in the associative chain to Keats.

For those of you who didn’t spend more years than is sensible studying literature, I’ll summarize:  Keats never really “got” Homer, mostly because he found the translations boring.  He had a special beef with Pope’s translation, an opinion that irked fellow poet Lord Byron to no end.  And yet, when Keats and his friend got their hands on Chapman’s translation, the recently film-ified Homer-hater finally “got it.”  In fact, he got it so strongly that he stayed up all night writing a poem about it.

[My next question, of course, was, do we actually have "Chapman's Homer" in its entirety?  Answer =  yes.  "Replicate Keats's reading experience" is now at the top of my to-do list.]

Clearly Keats was not having the greatest “user experience” with Homer.  Then Chapman came along, and it was like a whole new world for him.  That knocks me out, because it sounds so much like what still goes on in our libraries today.  A hurried businessperson feels s/he “doesn’t have time to read,” but s/he loves using the Playaways.   Or maybe a non-native English speaker doesn’t feel ready for the fiction section just yet, but loves the graphic novels.   See also instructional DVDs, databases, and books on CD, and the uses thereof.

Have you had a Keats experience lately, either as a librarian or as a library user?  What book, movie, CD, work of art, etc. clarified something for you so that you “got it”?  In what sort of materials/services are your “user experiences” primarily based?

[I have to confess, I'm rather fond of the crumbly books and the ideas that have stood the test of time.  I wonder, occasionally, what will last, what precious 21st-century artifacts future librarians will break both legs to look at, and cradle lovingly in their hands.  Any guesses?]

Reading Today: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky. Lipsky has an extensive heart-to-heart with David Foster Wallace, and LAV finally understands the magnitude of just what we’ve lost.

Excuses: An FAQ

And just where have you been, young lady?

I’ve just returned from another one of my mini-staycations.  Notice how nobody died, and nothing caught fire.  My email is a right backlog, though – I’ve spent most of this morning cleaning it up.

Don’t you worry about becoming irrelevant in today’s fast-paced world of digital excitement?

Even we technomages have our limits.  I think it’s very important to spend periods of time away from workmail, workblogs, worktwitter, workfacebook, and, well, work, period.  I’m actually much more concerned at the moment as to whether or not I can use the word “technomage” without J. Michael Straczynski slapping a lawsuit on me.  A quick search of the Trademark Electronic Search Service (TESS) at the USPTO site indicates I’m safe, but I think he should probably call me, just so we can have a good professional discussion and clear that up.

Fair enough.  Now that you’re back at work, can you tell us why there was no August Wilson Leadership Academy post for Feburary?

Er, yes.  That.  I chose to spend my time differently last month.

But it was such a good idea!

I know.

And you promised!

I know!  I hang my head in shame.

So, when will we see the next installment?

When I read something that inspires me.  It’s not looking hopeful.  I’ve been reading a lot of leadership material, and, well…

Well what?

It’s kind of depressing.




Reasons vary.  Some books are heavy on the inspiration, light on the practical implementation.  Others are crammed with bullet points, suggestions and tips to the point where it’s overwhelming.  And don’t even get me started on “management parables.” 

Well, why don’t you talk about that, then?

No can do.  Much like Booklist, Alchemy only gives positive reviews.

Where’s the fun in that?

Hey, nobody tries to write a bad book.  Even Stephanie Meyer had good, albeit sparkly, intentions.

You know where those lead, right?


So, how have you been choosing to spend your time?

Workwise, it’s still all about the databases:  making sure they’re working properly, troubleshooting them when they’re not, promoting/marketing them, gathering statistics, trying to see if all the vendors can deliver said statistics in the new format certain parties want, running trials, giving meetings, taking notes, and trying to stay on top of / manage the ongoing POWER library situation.


Hey, you asked!


It’s not very exciting, I know.   So much library work takes place behind the scenes, and is difficult to talk about in an exciting way.  This is why I usually philosophize rather than talk about what I’m doing.  I’ll gladly change my position on this if I suddenly get an outpouring of comments begging to hear more about the intricacies of einetwork database statistics collection.

Er, pass.  Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

When I’m not managing the electronic resources, I’m still doing everything else I usually do:  buying books, fussing over Eleventh Stack and CLPicks, staffing virtual reference and — once in a blue moon — working at the physical reference desk. 

What’s your favorite workday responsibility?

Of all the tasks on my to-do list, coordinating Eleventh Stack is still my favorite.  Serving as team leader/editor is fun and educational, and I’m both surprised and pleased that our library’s blog has passed its second birthday without a drop in quality or quantity.  Credit for that goes to my amazing team, of course.

So, you’re not at the reference desk much these days.  How do you feel about that?

Truthfully, I would like more time at the physical reference desk.  However, there will be plenty of time for that when my countywide committee responsibilities end in 2011.  I think it’s really important to try as many things as you can; even if you find out that certain kinds of library work are not to your liking or skill set, you can still learn from them.  And I’m certainly not sorry for the opportunity to get to know my peers out in the county — it’s led to a number of opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and I have a better picture of the Pittsburgh’s public library landscape than I did previously.

That’s a lot of p-sounds in a sentence.

That’s technically not a question.

Sorry.  Read any good books lately?

I thought you’d never ask.  Under the umbrella of professional reading, I’m currently swooning over The Late Age of Print, which nimbly vaults over the “print vs. digital” dilemma by examining the print book as a consumer product / cultural artifact. On the religion/spirituality tip, I’ve got Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian (vocabulary and diction geared toward the divinity school set) and Bring Me the Rhinoceros (more layman-friendly).   Fictionwise, I’m in slack-jawed awe of American Salvage, a collection of tight, well-constructed stories about uncomfortable subjects, and Every Last Drop, the fourth installment of the Joe Pitt Chronicles, a series designed expressly for folks who appreciate the hard-boiled qualities of Chandler and Hammett, New York stories, and — are you sensing a theme, here? — non-sparkly vampires.

 I’ve also got Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook checked out, but I’m a little nervous about opening it. 

Why?   It sounds great!

It does!  Problem is, I have a feeling it will blow any other excuses I have for not writing into smithereens.

And that’s bad because….?

Because facing up to the truth about yourself, your gifts and abilities, and the way you can best serve the profession, and then getting over your fears and excuses, is one of the scariest things you can do throughout your career.  And it’s not like you do it once and you’re done with the process:  if you’re growing as a professional, you are constantly surveying the landscape, looking at where you are now, as well as where you would like to be.

Where would you like to be?

That’s the kicker:  I thought I knew.  Now everything ‘s up for grabs again.  This is very scary, but also delightful.

In what way?

Well, when you stop growing and learning, you might as well hang it up.  And I’m afraid you lot are stuck with me for quite some time.

All righty then.  Anything else to report?

I’ve just finished and turned in another book review.  Book reviewing knocks me out, and I’d love to do more of it, so I’m currently scouting out more opportunities there. 

I’ve also just been selected for the third cohort of the CLP Leadership Institute, a training program for Carnegie Library staff under the auspices of the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant we received.  I’m hoping this means I’ll be exposed to a better quality of leadership literature; it definitely means a lot more meetings and seminars in my future, though, which brings us back to the problem of making more time to write for Alchemy.

So, what are you going to do about that?

I have a few ideas.  I seem to work better with structure and guidelines, so I’m looking for a writing template that will be both on-topic and regular.  Heaven help us all, I also have an idea for a completely separate library blog, and am quietly making my pitch to parties I suspect might be interested in collaborating on it.  If that takes off, it will debut near the end of April, and will serve to complement the kinds of things I like to discuss, but can’t always make time for.  It will also, I hope, fill an as-yet-unfilled niche in library world.

And that is…?

You’ll just have to rest in the mystery a little while longer.

Fair enough.  How are you going to spend the rest of your day?

I have one hour in which to take things that are currently on my desk and do whatever it takes to get them off of my desk and finished.  I will then spend the last two hours of my day on AskHere PA.

Do you like working virtual reference?

I absolutely love it.  Disdained by some, virtual reference is actually a key service these days, primarily because the quality and type of the questions received simply cries out for informed professionals who are skillful at ready-reference, information literacy, bibliographic instruction, and good writing/communication skills.  A healthy dose of compassion certainly doesn’t hurt either. 

Can you send us off with a video?

Ask and get.  Here’s a clip from a British band called The Heavy, whose performance on David Letterman was simply splendid.  If you enjoy old-school soul, but appreciate contemporary twists, you’d do well to watch this clip, and then run — not walk — to pick up The House That Dirt Built.

Woah!  Dancing skeletons!  That’s, er, not very professional.

Probably not in the conventional sense.  Remember, though:  Alchemy’s all about balance and fun along with all those high standards.  See also “not forgetting you’re a human being with human needs” and “regular rock out breaks.”

Well, that was…very Alchemy.

Thanks!  Tune in next time for a little less fun, but a lot more professional philosophy, probably early next week.

10 Things Currently Making Me Happy

Wait, what?  Who are you, and what have you done with our melancholy alchemist?

Fret not.  I’m as harried and hectic as ever, as you might have guessed from the long pause since my last entry.  And, to be perfectly honest, goat farming is starting to look good again.  I’ve applied for an internship at a local farm, and will keep you posted. :)

But!  I promised you a happiness list, and I always keep my promises.  My definition of “happy” tends to be slightly eccentric, though.  I wouldn’t say I’m only happy when it rains (that’s just garbage), but I’m decidedly neither cheery nor sunny in the conventional sense.  This is because, like Eric Wilson and Barbara Ehrenreich, I believe we ignore our shadowy aspects, and the gifts they can bring, at our collective peril.

All that being said, here’s my list.

#1.  The interrobang

Punctuation for the 21st century!!.  How can you possibly look at that and not smile?

#2.  The Pixies

This is the most accessible tune I could think of to post – some of you might actually remember when it was first released.  But if you plunge more deeply into the YouTubes, you’ll find all sorts of other melancholy goodness from this talented group.

#3.  Ferrets Dancing to Weezer

No explanation necessary, really.

#4.  Zebra finches rocking out

Contemporary art = really cool.

#5.  Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget.

Have you ever hugged a book? Because I have. Lanier’s cautionary tale about the limits of Web 2.0, and his problems with its infrastructure, is something I’d love to see librarians read and respond to.

#6.  I’m not the only person who feels that way about #5.

Jessamyn West explains it all for you. Includes an interview with Lanier. Bookcrush! Authorcrush! Prominent Librarian Crush! What are you waiting for? Go read it!

#7.  Charlie Huston’s “Joe Pitt” novels.

Like Pulp Fiction, with vampires.  PS:  They definitely don’t sparkle.  Also, a romantic subplot designed for us cynical-romantics.  Start with Already Dead.

#8.  Steampunk Dice.

For the gamer who has everything. Valentine’s Day draws apace. I’m just saying.

#9.  Witty T-shirts.

Exhibit A. See also. It only hurts when I laugh.

#10.  Book Challenges

No, not like that.  The kind where you sign up to read 50, 100, or some other quantity of books in a specific time period.

I’ve signed up for challenges at Goodreads and Every Girl Blog, but I want to single out a wonderful challenge I just stumbled upon: The GLBT Challenge.  Not only is it a laudable idea, but it’s organized in such a way that you can participate as much or as little as you like.  In fact, it’s insanely manageable, even if you’re already challenged up to your eyeballs.  Click on over and take a peek.  January may be behind us, but Feburary has just begun…

So, there you have it.  I’ll not compel you to go and do likewise, but if you’d care to leave a comment, I’d love to know:  what’s making you happy right now?

Middle Marching

Lest I give the impression that Alchemy can do no wrong, or that things are always easy for me, I must confess that this past week has been very much like leadership bootcamp.   Not in a bad way.  In fact, ultimately in a productive, “growthy” way.  But I take my lumps just like everyone else, I assure you.

One of my biggest challenges is what I think of as, with apologies to George Eliot, middle marching.  It’s the tightrope-walker phenomenon that occurs when you have multiple constituencies to please, and middle managers know just what I’m talking about, because they’re accountable to both administrators above them, as well as their staff below them.

In my case, it’s not so simple.    I’m a Gen-X project leader bobbing and weaving between Boomer managers and the Millennials on their staffs.  This means that my responsibilities are, in no particular order:

  • To make my boss look good
  • To make my library look good
  • To encourage and nuture my team members
  • To make sure my project is compliant with the larger organizational picture
  • To foster change and innovation in a way that is non-threatening for all stakeholders, and compliant with the library’s strategic plan

It’s obvious where the struggles lie here.  You can’t make omelettes without breaking some eggs.  I would argue, however, that breaking eggs for the sake of breaking eggs is simply a waste of eggs.  Some eggs aren’t meant to be broken.  Some eggs are meant to be decorated prettily and put in a basket with hay.  Others are meant to hatch and become peeps who will grow up and lay more eggs, some of which might be omelette-appropriate.  It goes without saying that you should never throw eggs at anybody else’s glass house.  Bottom line?  You have to know which eggs to break, and which to leave intact.

That incredible, edible metaphor is all a roundabout way of saying that communication is probably the most important thing a leader does (or doesn’t do).  Nothing else matters as much.  You can be aces at everything else, but if you can’t communicate properly and professionally, you’re going to have problems.

So, how do you middle march?  Here are some of my guesses, based on what I’ve learned this week:

  • Assume that everyone has good intentions.  Cling to that assumption even when you want to pull your hair out.
  • Wait 24 hours before you send e-mails about sensitive issues.
  • Better yet, go talk to people directly.  You probably need the exercise, and there’s less chance of being misunderstood.
  • Be able to back up every decision you make with policies, procedures, goals and objectives. 
  • Don’t take anything personally.
  • Don’t take anything personally [lather, rinse, repeat]
  • Apologize when you are wrong.  Stick to your guns when you are right.
  • Pick your battles.  Not every hill is the one you want to fight and die on.
  • Concede defeat graciously.  You have, after all, lived to fight another day.
  • Put yourself in other people’s shoes.  Build bridges, not walls.
  • Forgive other people for their mistakes and move on.
  • Forgive yourself for your mistakes, and move on.
  • Strive to be the kind of person your cats already think you are [except for the whole "made of tuna" part].
  • Communicate well, clearly, and often!

Thoughts?  I need all the help I can get, dears. :)

We have almost reached the end of a very busy/exciting week!  Next week,when the dust settles, I will have much to tell.  For now, we’ll push the Hepburn post back a teensy bit so that I can keep my promise to Library Scenester Erin Dorney, who tagged me in an internet happiness meme. Normally I’m as enthusiastic about memes as I am about diphtheria, but since we could all use a little more happiness in this crazy world, I’m down with it just this once.

Laptop “Sexy Back” Interlude

Last week, for science, I gave up using the internet, and most other media, for a whole week.  You can tell by the speed of my re-entry I didn’t miss it much (and that being on vacation for a week means tons of makeup work to do). 

I do plan a more thorough critical analysis of the experience at some point.  However, to tide you over until I can piece my thoughts and notes together, here’s some footage of a gorgeous laptop that has the potential to bring sexy back to library science:

Make sure your speakers are on, too.  Because nothing says “Hellooo gorgeous new technology!” like a little smooth jazz.  Your normally sanguine alchemist just developed a holiday wish…

The rolltop is the brainchild of Orkin Design; click around a bit and check out some of the other cool things they’ve come up with!

How to Keep the Light On

Kudos are in order for everybody involved in the Keep the Light On Levy, one of 30 successful library levies in Ohio this election season.  Mahoning County residents obviously have their priorities straight when it comes to library funding, but the phenomenal effort exerted by the library’s supporters was, I’m sure, a key role in the levy’s passing.

What made this campaign so delightfully awesome? Let us count the ways:

  1. The perfect slogan.  Keep the light on.  Could it be any clearer?  Mood, imperative.  Focuses on the positive.  Uses one of humankind’s most primal metaphors, light, implying warmth, growth, safety, knowledge.  Sheer genius.
  2. Gorgeous web design.  Love the simple primary colors.  Love the inclusive photo on the front page that reflects the diverse makeup of the Mahoning Valley.   Love the simple box arrangement that makes the page easy to navigate.  Ditto on the tabs at the top.
  3. Patrons are front and center.  Two of the first things you see there are “The People’s Blog” and “Real Quotes From Real Library Users.”  The scrolling list of library supporters is a nice touch, too, letting people see how much they’re appreciated.  The only thing that could make this even better is moving the library usage calculator up higher, so people could see and use it more easily.
  4. Transparency.  As you navigate the site, you will see funding issues explained in a clear, concise fashion.  The FAQ, in particular, explains where library funding comes from at the state and local levels, what cost-saving measures the library has already tried, and how much money fundraisers and other revenue-generators actually raise.  Most importantly, the FAQ details what cost-saving measures the library has already taken, and what consequences would occur if the levy doesn’t pass.  Here, in my opinion, is the money quote:
  5. Levy FAQ 6. What effect has the loss of 31% of State funding had on Your Library?  Thirty members of Your Library staff had to be laid off. Funding for books and other materials dropped dramatically. The entire staff, including the Director, took wage cuts. The library was forced to reduce hours at all locations.

    Emphasis mine. Everybody. Took. Wage. Cuts.  Wow.  That is definitely one way to tell people that you are dead serious.  Would you take a wage cut for your library?  But I digress:

  6. Good use of social media/web technologies.  Content on YouTube.  Strong Facebook and Twitter presences.   Including PayPal as a donation option.  An e-newsletter.  Clearly this group “gets it” when it comes to reaching out to tech-savvy patrons and including them in their advocacy efforts.
  7. [Aside:  Yes, I'm biased.  You can take the girl out of Youngstown, but you can't take the Youngstown out of the girl.  And honestly, why would you want to?]

    What insanely cool, awesome thing are you doing to rock the advocacy boat at your library?  Leave a comment telling me about your creative/unusual “save the library” endeavors, and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of Keri Smith’s This Is Not A Book – I just happen to have stumbled into an extra copy, and I can’t think of a better way to reward hands-on advocacy than with a hands-on, not-a-book destructo-journal.

    Leave a comment by 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, 2009 to be in the running. And thanks in advance for everything you do to keep the light on in your libraries!

    You know what’s almost as important as keeping the light on? Lightening up. Methinks my next post is going to be both fun and silly, because, quite frankly, there’s been a dearth of that around here lately. Stay tuned.

In Praise of Silence (But Not Shushing)

Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. What senses, then, do we lack that we cannot see and hear another world all around us?”

–Frank Herbert, Dune

The reference room is quiet tonight.  The sound of my fingers flying over the keys is probably the loudest, although there are other typists.  Readers rustle pages.  Pencils skitter across notebooks.  Occasionally someone asks a question, and your alchemist tries to answer in her indoor voice.  Call it 4′ 33″ 2.0, if you will.  Just don’t call it a scandal, or a sign of irrelevance, because it’s actually quite beautiful, if you open yourself up to it.

There have been a number of high-profile news articles lately about old-school vs. new-jack libraries; excitement and razzle-dazzle vs. “musty” books, and people with “strange attachments” to them.  I ask, once again, why we must have an either-or library.  I wonder why we cannot have both.

I am, as ever, biased.  My craving for silence makes Jean Valjean’s bread-lust look downright tame.   But we are now, for the most part, hyper-connected, 24/7, and working with technology makes me grow weary of it, occasionally.  It is challenging, sometimes, to drag myself away from the tweets, the status updates, the never-ending flow of information and hype, and carve out space and time for quiet reflection.

What would we hear, I wonder, if we were more open to and accepting of silence in our libraries?  Is it possible that the silence that’s become so reviled and scorned of late has something to teach us?  That it gives shape to the sounds?  What if we had libraries with warmer, more animated spaces for the extroverts and cooler, quieter places for the introverts?  Just because you noisy lot outnumber us 3 to 1 doesn’t mean we don’t get a vote!

Perhaps that’s a stretch.  Still, the concept of a media fast, as articulated by Julia Cameron and Gregg Levoy, is starting to sound awfully attractive to me.  One week with no newspapers, no internet, no texts, no tweets, no cheeps, no beeps, not a single lux-ur-ee.   Status update:  unplugged.  Achievement:  serenity? 

Let’s take that heretical thought and stretch it a wee bit further:  could you go 40 days, say, with no e-mail, no cell phone, no emerging technologies?  Would you feel alienated, disconnected?  Or would you trust that the news you needed to know would find you?

A moment of silence, for silence, please.  It’s an endangered species in a loud, crazymaking world.  I am all for progress in the form of cheerful, welcoming spaces, and our libraries should most definitely have those.  I would argue, however, that excising our remaining quiet sanctuaries is equally unwelcoming.  If the user experience is meant to be paramount, then that should include all users, not just the ones who prefer noise.

I know, I know.  Worst librarian 2.0 EVAR!  My defense is that I’m aiming for 3.0. :)

Have the rowdy or restful weekend of your choice, and we’ll talk again soon.

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…

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 148 other followers