"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Jul 31, 2009

Finally, circ!

I've gotten some experience with the ILS system in use here (Millennium, in case anyone cares ;) ) via my work on the reference desk, which involves a lot of renewing, checking patron records, putting things on hold, etc. -- all of which is done through the Millennium interface. But even though I've been here for a couple of months, I still hadn't actually been trained in how to check things in and out! Tomorrow I'll be spending the day at a branch library, where basically my whole time will be spent in circulation, so on Wednesday I finally got some circ training. It was a lot of fun, and in some ways even more fast-paced than reference! I only have a basic understanding, but it's enough to get me through tomorrow -- I'll just refer people who want new cards or who have really complicated issues to the more experienced staff.

The branch library is apparently going to be pretty intense -- I'm told I will be on my feet and constantly doing something from 9:30-5 straight, except for my lunch break. It will also be a challenge because there are a huge number of immigrant Chinese who come from all over to that branch on Saturdays, due to its high-quality Chinese language collection, and I honestly am not that good with accents. I always feel really bad when I have to ask someone to repeat himself or herself because I couldn't interpret his/her accent well. And I think a crowded, high-pressure situation will probably make things a bit worse. But I'll never improve if I don't get practice!

Today was actually a good warmup -- I was on desk for two hours and never had a chance to breathe (including one twenty-minute session with a gentleman who wanted to log into his e-mail and download and print some photos someone had sent him but who couldn't correctly do a single-click with the mouse... I got good practice being patient and calm with that one -- and I think I did fairly well, considering my level of frazzledness at the time), and in the middle of the day some repairmen set the fire alarm off THREE times, once just before my second desk shift and then twice more during the shift! If I could keep my poise intact through all that, I have confidence I'll do all right tomorrow.

Jul 24, 2009

Drawing lines...

Several of the presentations I attended at ALA Annual mentioned the importance in public service positions of drawing a line between your personal and professional lives. A line I heard suggested more than once was, "I'd be happy to talk about anything related to the library with you, but I cannot discuss my personal life."

Sounds sensible and easy in principle, doesn't it? But I'm finding that in practice it's rather blurry. And it's compounded by the fact that when a patron isn't actually breaking rules or being disruptive I'm not always terribly socially assertive, and tend to want to be polite rather than have someone think I'm being rude for no good reason.

For instance: When I was running the teen gaming program on Monday, one of the teens found me in a quiet moment in the kitchen as I was cleaning up and asked me if I am religious. That is clearly a line-crossing question. But I couldn't quickly think of a way to handle it that would be polite and avoid possibly damaging the rapport I was beginning to build with him, so I answered truthfully, "No, I'm not religious," trying to be a little brusque in hopes that that would discourage him from saying anything further without hurting his feelings.

Of course it didn't work. He proceeded to very earnestly and naively (as in, without a lot of knowledge about the religion himself -- he couldn't even explain the Adam and Eve story in a really coherent way) attempt to convert me to Christianity. An apocalyptic, end-times-are-coming strain of Christianity, no less. I was pretty uncomfortable. You just do not debate theology with a thirteen-year-old who clearly hasn't begun thinking critically about anything yet, let alone the beliefs he's clearly been indoctrinated in since childhood. Especially if you are working in a professional capacity in relationship to said thirteen-year-old. (Nor would I have particularly felt comfortable revealing my own thoughts on Christianity to him if he had been capable of engaging in a reasoned debate at a fully adult level. Again, that's crossing a professional line.)

I should've known better than to really answer that first question, because it got me into a situation that made me feel really uncomfortable and because really, my religious beliefs are not the business of my library's patrons. But still, it's taken me days to come up with something that I could've said that might have worked. (I feel as though in this situation, even the line I got from ALA Annual would be too abrupt. But I did finally decide I could have probably modified it to something like, "That's a personal question, and it's not really appropriate for me to be talking about my personal beliefs with library patrons. I'd be happy to discuss a library-related topic with you." -- maybe even following it up with, "Did you know we have a lot of books on religion? Maybe sometime we could try to find something interesting for you to read about religion.") So frustrating!

Then there's the question of how much it's appropriate to reveal in casual chitchat as you go about your job. Sharing personal information is a social lubricant, and I do find myself talking about my academic program, sometimes my future career, and how I grew up in the area with random people. Is that crossing a line? Or is it just polite? I still am not sure on that one...

Jul 16, 2009

Read Something! -- _Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage_ (Richard Holmes)

Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage


260 pp.


Samuel Johnson has come down to us through Boswell's biography as an imposing, established figure of legendary status. But in the late 1730s he was an unknown, troubled young poet wandering the streets of London. At this time he met and befriended Richard Savage, a mesmerizing and charismatic yet controversial and himself quite troubled figure on the London literary scene. Only a few years later, Savage would die and Johnson would publish a biography of his friend that would launch his own distinguished career. Holmes constructs a meticulous and intricate portrait of the friendship between these two men that is at once a double biography, a psychological excavation, an extended work of literary criticism of Johnson's biography of Savage, an exploration of how we construct our own and other's identities, and a "biography of a biography" -- the story both of how one biography was created from a brief period of intimacy and of the launching of a new literary form.

Appeal characteristics

  • Psychological focus, with psychoanalytical overtones (though not strongly pronounced)
  • Moves fairly slowly; carefully examines key events from multiple angles
  • Frequent literary criticism interwoven into the text (interpretation of an author's works to shed light on his psychological state)
  • Centers on a controversial figure with a mysterious birth and troubled life, who is also a charismatic genius
  • Investigative/speculative -- attempts to elucidate a relationship about which next to nothing is known
  • Does not delve into great historical detail unless necessary to do so for dicussion of the Johnson/Savage relationship or one of their own lives
  • -- but does give brief, 1-2 paragraph biographies of some minor figures who appear in the text
  • Stylistically, very readable; straightforward and almost conversational

Other notes

  • Not a thorough biography of either man (although Savage's life is covered in a fair amount of detail due to necessity of doing so in order to analyze Johnson's biography of him); Holmes is more interested in the relationship between the men and why Johnson wrote his biography the way he did

Jul 15, 2009

ALA Annual 2009


...That was interesting.

This past weekend, I went to my first ever professional conference -- ALA Annual in Chicago. It was huge and overwhelming, and I am glad that it was held in Chicago because if it was in a city with which I was unfamiliar it honestly might have been a bit too much. But I think I navigated it pretty well, and I sat in on some interesting sessions (and got a bunch of free stuff! -- including three more books which I had no business acquiring, given my current backlog...).

More detailed comments on individual sessions will probably follow later, but here's a summary of my weekend:


Arrived, got into city, checked into hotel, met up with roommate. Registered, and discovered that the booklet I'd been sent didn't even include everything that was happening at the conference! (So... many... committee... meetings... *gasp*) It was kind of frustrating because my whole experience with trying to pick what to go to was constantly complicated by discovering that yet something else was going on that I wanted to do, so to arrive and find that there were tons of other things... I gave up on even browsing the book listing the schedule, and decided to stick to the schedule I'd drawn up before leaving home.

That night, my roommate, another classmate from SI, and I went to the gaming event. It was fun, and there was yummy food. We played one round of a really weird trivia game, and then went on to this game where you get prompts (e.g. "mysterious power tool") and try to come up with the same response as other players -- usually writing, but sometimes doodling. That one was tons of fun and we played it twice. Then it was back to the hotel for bedtime... lots to do in the morning!


The buses, my roommate and I discovered, were a mess. We waited 20 minutes at one stop and none even came by. Then we walked to the Hilton, which was one of the headquarter hotels and on the same route as the bus we were waiting for. Of course, there we immediately caught a bus. It was kind of ridiculous and seemed poorly organized/implemented.

Due to the bus thing, I got to the first session 20 minutes late. I felt embarrassed walking in late, but then a lot of people came in much later than me. As the conference went on, I learned that this isn't unusual. The first thing I went to was a talk on what it's like to be a librarian in a correctional facility. It was really interesting, and confirmed that that's a career I might be interested in, although it presents some very difficult challenges.

After that I went to the exhibit halls. At the NMRT booth, I ran into another new attendee. We bonded over trying to figure out where the heck the Placement Services stuff was (why was a conference book put together by LIBRARIANS so difficult to find information in?!), then she discovered I was going to the Unshelved booth and got excited, so we went together. (I got a t-shirt, and signatures. It was awesome.) We wandered around the exhibition hall, into and out of a session on gaming in libraries (standing room only, and hard to hear from the back), and down to the Placement Services area. It was pretty neat to meet someone and just get along with her for a couple of hours.

Next stop was the event I'd actually had to come to ALA Annual for: the orientation for the LLAMA mentoring program to which I've been accepted. That was, unfortunately, held at a hotel at some distance from the convention center. But I made it up there okay, and finally actually got to meet my mentor in person. I was a bit nervous, but he's very personable and we got along great. I'm looking forward to seeing where the relationship goes. (I'm sure more posts about that will be forthcoming over the next year -- and yes, I do have his permission to blog about it.) We chatted, listened to a brief presentation on mentoring, and filled out a form to outline our initial expectations and needs (at which point I had major SI 501 flashbacks).

I got out of the mentoring program orientation right when the next session I wanted to go to was starting. Unfortunately, I had to get all the way back to the convention center! A very nice bus driver stopped for me as I was jogging up to the stop, so I didn't lose too much time and was only about half an hour late. This session was on disengaging from talkative patrons, and while it wasn't fantastically useful, I did get some good things out of it.

After that, there was (eventually) dinner. We (the same three of us from the night before) wanted to get pizza, but there were huge long lines at Giordanio's (sp?), Gino's East (sad... I have good memories of dinners there with my boyfriend when we were in Chicago in January), and Due's (we didn't even look at Uno's). We ended up at Chile's. But I had a mudslide, which was desperately needed after a long day, so that was good. We'd been planning to go to the storytelling event that evening, but by the time we were done with dinner the event had started, and we were pretty tired. We ended up hanging out in Grant Park listening to a free concert for a while, and then went back to our hotels.


I started out Sunday with the exhibit halls. Picked up tons of free stuff (including one of those incredible huge red totes by... was it McGraw Hill? I can't remember), and entered a lot of contests. I dread all the mailing lists I'm going to have to unsubscribe myself from...

Next I went to the Paranormal Fiction panel. It was awesome. There were three writers there (including Charlaine Harris!), and I love listening to writers talk about their work! All three were intelligent and witty and very interesting. I think the panel was theoretically for readers' advisory purposes, but I didn't get very much out of it that way. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and I'm really glad I did it.

Then I had an hour or so free, so I grabbed lunch, made some phone calls, and dove back in to the exhibit halls for a little while until it was time for the presentation on dealing with challenging patrons. (Are we noticing a pattern in my session attendance?) This was a bit more useful than the talkative-patron panel, and I picked up some really good tips and ideas. There was also more of a discussion than in other sessions I'd been in, and although I didn't speak up, it was really cool to feel like I was sitting in the middle of and engaging in a real discussion about professional issues with other working professionals. It made me wish there were more opportunities for that kind of thing at the conference as a whole. (Maybe there were and I just didn't discover them...)

Next, my last pass through the exhibit halls. I picked up more free stuff, entered more contests, wandered up and down almost every aisle, had a lovely chat with the woman at the Hoover Institution booth (Stanford is my alma mater, so I had to stop by there!), met a woman working at the same library as my roommate for the conference... and went to the post office five minutes after closing. Oops. At least there was a FedEx downstairs, though they really stiff you there (they charge a "handling fee" on top of shipping -- $10 for packages 2-10 pounds -- ridiculous, and they totally do it just because they know they can and people will have to pay it). I also ran by the Bookcart Drill Team competition, which was mildly entertaining. I have visions of incredible bookcart routines which I know I will someday choreograph...

And that was it. I picked up my duffel from coat check, waited ages yet again for a bus (Gale has not made a good impression on me, due to their very prominent sponsorship of a very poorly functioning shuttle bus system), and went to meet up with a friend from Chicago who was letting me crash at her place that night.

In retrospect I wish I'd stayed one more day. I missed some sessions that I really wanted to attend (e.g. the RUSA program on readers' advisory -- perfect for the paper I'm revising for publication!), and felt so rushed to do everything in the exhibit hall that it was a little stressful and probably more tiring than it needed to be. But overall I think it was a pretty good first experience. I owe a lot of that to the advice of the wonderful teen librarian at the Brookline library, who's been to tons of these things and spent about 40 minutes one day telling me what to do and what not to do. I only wish I had the money to do this every year!

Jul 9, 2009

Read Something! -- _Death In Spring_ (Merce Rodoreda)

("Read Something!" will be an ongoing series of posts in which I make public the readers' advisory notes I'm starting to keep on many of the books I read. I would greatly appreciate suggestions for other things to call this because I am very bad at naming things! ;) )

Death in Spring

(trans. Martha Tennent)
2009 (orig. published 1986 in Catalan)
150 pp.
Literary fiction


As a teenaged boy grows into a man, he struggles to come to grips with the strange, brutal rituals of his village and with his own increasingly marked sense of being an outsider. This dreamlike book explores love, desire, the individual's place in society, and the meaning of living.

Appeal characteristics

  • Pacing/Frame?: emphasis on language over plot
  • Pacing: plot moves very slowly
  • Pacing?: patterns and recurring images appear but are not explicated
  • Story line?: events themselves are often less important than what the narrator says about them?
  • Characterization: characters' emotions rarely shown; their actions are generally described without delving into their motivations (this goes for the main character too)
  • Frame?: heavy on metaphor and imagery
  • Frame: worldbuilding -- author creates a society
  • Frame: tone is heavy, serious; even somewhat depressing
  • Frame: first-person narrator
  • Frame?: most things are not laid out clearly for the reader; readers must be attentive, dig into the book, and think (and even then may not arrive at firm conclusions)
  • Frame: individual vs. society themes

Other notes

  • violence -- not particularly graphic, but often unusual and still disturbing

Similar titles/authors
  • W, or The Memory of Childhood (Georges Perec): similar building of an increasingly menacing and violent world with strange rituals; similar exploration of the darker side of human societies; similarly is meant to provoke thought more than tell a story; Perec and Rodoreda seem to both be interested in language (though Perec more in wordplay, Rodoreda more in evocative prose?); more complex plotting (there are multiple stories and part of the book is how they interact (or don't); faster pacing?; there is no central character in the main storyline of W

Jul 3, 2009

Surprise, I CAN do readers' advisory!

I've been getting frustrated with my readers' advisory skills. The ref desk is upstairs and the RA books are downstairs, so when I get asked an RA question Novelist and whoever else happens to be on desk are pretty much the best resources I have to go on. With most questions I am immediately and acutely aware that I just don't know of any other books that fit the patron's preferences (and that's when I remember to elicit preferences in an interview instead of freezing up and automatically heading straight to Novelist, eep). Most people seem to be satisfied with Novelist's readalike suggestions for an author, but I really don't feel like I'm providing the best service. It's frustrating.

Today, however, I actually got through one RA interaction in a way that made me feel proud! It was a young gentleman who came up and said he liked historical, intense novels like The Wave. Using the handy local school summer reading list as a prop, I was able to suggest some authors who I'd read as a teen and others who had caught my eye as I was weeding YA books earlier this summer (yet another confirmation that it is absolutely vital for librarians to work with the books themselves!). He also found some books on the list that looked interesting. Unfortunately they were all out!

But then the darling boy (and I really do adore him for this) mentioned Narnia. He had only read The Magician's Nephew (and I am restraining myself, with great difficulty, from repeating my mini-lecture (which he took in good humor) about the correct order in which to read the Chronicles of Narnia). The Narnia books are among some of my fondest memories (I still own my box set!). We popped on down to the teen room, found most of the books right on the shelf, and he asked me for my thoughts on the order he should read the books in, which I happily gave. Interspersed with all of this was some very pleasant chitchat about books in general and the Chronicles of Narnia in particular. He left happy, and I felt like I really had helped someone looking for readers' advisory for once.

It was a badly needed confidence boost. Now I feel that I am indeed capable; it's just that I need a wider knowledge base and better familiarity with the resources available to help with RA.