Thursday, March 31, 2005

Some time at the Information Desk

The first hour of my two hour stretch today is done. I have a couple of research questions, and a library tour that stopped by.

I had one question about communications and energy. After a little cajoling and negotiation, I found out that what he really wanted was information about early communications technology. For instance, today we have cell phones and blackberries. He wanted information on what businesses did before the cell phones and the blackberries and other modern conveniences. So, the search was refined to look more at communications history and history of technology. We managed to find a few items dealing with early (by this I mean mid to early 20th century)history of communications technology. It was a bit broader than what he had in mind, which was within the energy industry, but I think he will be ok. The idea is that the more general concept will apply to his specific idea.

Then I had another student asking about teachers' aides. She wanted to write a paper arguing about the need to make them more available in classrooms, to hire more of them. A good search on Academic Search Premier and ERIC (databases) yielded some pretty good results. And then. . .

Seems like I am always finding out another gap in the collection, or a hole to plug in. Time working at a Reference Desk is often a good time for librarians to discover what kind of needs in terms of collection development the library has. You learn these through the questions and requests patrons bring in, and specially when it turns out you don't have something you think we ought to have. I just had a student ask for books on Michael Jackson, and the only item I was able to find was his autobiography Moonwalker, which dates from 1988, not exactly the most timely thing. Now, I know Jackson is not necessarily a priority academic subject, but I think we should have a bit more. Doing a preliminary search of other local libraries, I noticed one of the public libraries has some of the other biographies, but these date to 1994 or so. Sounds to me like I have to do a little shopping to see what current things may be available. The rub about celebrity bios is just that, that they are celebrity bios with a high time sensitivity. Once the interest is gone, the book will likely linger on the shelf until it eventually gets weeded out. Public libraries are not as sensitive to this since often they lease multiple copies of high interest low permanence title (think bestsellers like Harry Potter. They would order 20 copies or so, keep 2 or 3 permanently, then return the rest if leased for instance). If they don't lease them, they often sell them at the Friends of the Library sale. I can't quite do that, so I have to be more selective. Having said that, given the current interest, I probably need to make sure we get some more current items, at least one. I personally found this gap embarassing because Music falls under Arts and Humanities, which is my subject area, and I have bought a couple of things here and there on pop music. How the self proclaimed King of Pop eluded me is beyond me. However, I will try not to be too hard on myself. I am still fairly new in the workplace and still learning what is in my areas of the collection. And there was no A&H specialist before I got here. But enough of the mitigating factors (read excuses if you will). I will have to do just fill the gap. I think I still have some money left on that budget.

Well, by the time I am done typing this, my second hour at the desk is almost done. I was typing between patron requests, which is always a bit of a challenge, but certainly not the first time I write on the run. So far, the day is looking good.

End of March

This month seems to have flown by. It has only been a few days since I started this experiment with blogging, and it seems my interest is increasing. The hard part may be finding things to write about, or rather things to write about I would not mind if the rest of the world sees. There is the hard part. I have been reading other people's blogs, taking a look to see what they put on. It never ceases to amaze me how personal some people get in their blogs. Now, I don't have the type the blog that hundreds of people will rush and read, but still, some of the things I have seen, from a married couple struggling with infertility to high school students to political blogs to just old fashioned rants, just seem way too personal. Then again, the internet has this capacity to make people anonymous (though, I should point out not all bloggers remain anonymous. Some of them make very detailed profiles of themselves) yet very intimate with each other. Hmm, interesting.

At any rate, I made it to the end of the month, and I think I will keep going, a least a bit longer. We'll see where this leads. Maybe develop some writing ideas I have been itching to explore for a while. In the meantime, it is another day at work. Today, I will be at the Information Desk later in the morning for a two hour stretch. We have been busy, but it is the time of the year when students come in mostly to use the computers, so other than some questions of how to use a database, things are likely to be quiet. I do say likely because very often someone comes up with some interesting or challenging question that throws any sense of complacency out the window. And I like it that way. I would rather be working with a student than catching up on my reading or maybe this blog. Don't get me wrong, I like reading and blogging, but there is always a bit of time for that somewhere along the day.

Our library is in the process of searching for another librarian, a Collection Development Librarian to be precise, which is basically someone to coordinate our collection development and acquisitions operations. This includes maintaining and developing procedures for acquisition of library materials and developing our collection as well as managing the budget and a few other administrative functions. I know I am oversimplifying, but people can go and read the advertisement for the position if they are interested. At any rate, the deadline for applications was March 1st, so sorry if any potential librarian sees this at this point in time.

This makes me reflect a bit because not that long ago I was the candidate for a library position. That was last summer, but time somehow flew by, and before I knew it, I was "an old hand." Actually one of my colleagues called me that not long ago. So now we get someone coming in, and I get to see it from the other side of the coin. I am in involved in the actual search committee, so other than meeting this person briefly during her campus visit and attending her open forum, my exposure will be minimal. But maybe I can feel a little for this person since I know what a full day of campus interviewing can be like. Unlike me, she is making a lateral move, namely she is coming from another library where she worked as a librarian to apply for our position. So she has the "experience" that job openings tend to always ask for. I was coming out of library school when I applied. It does not make things easier when most the postings say "at least 3 years of professional experience," especially for jobs that could be done by a recent graduate. There were openings that actually welcomed recent grads. I applied to both, but I had to be a bit more creative in terms of marketing my "experience." Since I applied for positions as Instruction Librarian (or Information Literacy, or a couple other permutations of the librarian that coordinates and conducts a library's educational programs), I could highlight my experience as a high school teacher and in college in addition to a degree in teaching. Actually very few librarians have formal teacher training and experience. This allowed me to "talk my way" into job offerings with the "3 year professional experience" note. My job requires knowledge of pedagogy and learning styles and other key concepts in education, and I had that. In addition, I did work in libraries in instructional roles, so even though I did not have the MLS when I was applying, I already knew the workings of a library. So, to those out there who may get discouraged if they see "you need experience," be creative. Look at your experiences and see how you may match them to what is required. Very often the so called "need professional experience" can be waived, so to speak, if other experiences more than make up for it. So, to all future librarians out there in library school, don't be discouraged. Do try to get experience working in a library while in library school, but also look at what other experiences you may have had and how they can be relevant or beneficial to the position you are looking for. Librarianship is a career that attracts many career changers. In fact, I was lucky to be with a very diverse group of classmates who had been lawyers, educators, in business, and so on. They bring a wide array of experiences that only adds to what they can offer.

Having said that, I am sure our candidate now had a bit of an easier time getting here because she has had time in another system. Then again, her position is more administrative. Mine is more hands-on. I coordinate instruction, but I do a lot of it myself, and I would not have it any other way. For her, she would coordinate, but each subject librarian then goes and does the actual selection of book materials. Administration is the one thing for now I stay way from. In ten years, who knows? I may want to work my way up to running a library someplace, but not anytime soon. Librarianship overall is very much like public education, maybe that is why I was attracted to it. It is like education because in order to advance you have to leave behind the work you love most. In public education, that means you leave the classroom to become a principal and eventually a superintendent. In librarianship, you move to become a library director (or dean if the place is big enough and you have a PhD). Great jobs I am sure, but they take you away from the daily work and the hands-on. At least for me anyhow, but as I said, in ten years, who knows? So, I have heard some vague things about our incoming candidate in terms of she works currently in a community college and as such, she "wears a lot of hats," meaning she does a lot of different tasks, which is consistent with librarians in small academic settings. It also tells me that her experience will likely allow her to fit right in with us since we also "wear different hats." Maybe we have more support staff for instance, but otherwise, she is used to a challenging and diverse environment, so she should be fine. So, I look forward to meeting her, seeing what she has to offer, and who we'll go from there.

Well, I may post more later, but for now, I have things that need to get done. By the way, I did finish that pathfinder I was working on, the one on terrorism. I went with the idea of making two, one for Iraq and Abroad, and one for domestic/urban/U.S. terrorism, which would cover not only 9/11 but other events like the Oklahoma City bombing and issues of homeland security. There is a lot of good information available, and the challenge is evaluating and seeing what is good for our students to have a headstarts. Down the road, we are redesigning our website, so hopefully we will be able to put some of these pathfinders, and others made by my colleagues online. But if not, I am toying with the idea of making an online portfolio. I already have a website I designed with CV (Curriculum Vitae. For those of you outside of academia, an academic resume), or rather had a website. Once I graduated I lost space on the IU servers, but I have the files to upload. So I could upload it to some new place, likely one of those free website places, and then add a place for works like pathfinders. We have servers here, but getting space is not as easy as it was where I came from. And making it a personal page, I may have s bit more leeway. We'll see. Anyways the idea of posting the pathfinders someplace may be that others can benefit from them as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Booknote: _Loosing My Espanish_ (2004), and a bit more

I started this book with a lot of good hopes and expectations, then again, I think a lot of us who read do that. The reviews I read on the book sounded promising, and some of the blurbs on its back cover featured remarks by authors like Eduardo Galeano, a writer whom I like since I read his Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina (available in English as well as The Open Veins of Latin America). In his blurp, Galeano wrote, "Did you know that language can be read and heard and seen and touched? That you can smell it, taste it? Try Loosing My Espanish?" Well Eduardo, guess what? I did try it, and it was disappointing to say the least. The book's plot is fairly straightforward. A high school teacher is giving his last lesson after the Catholic school he teaches in does not renew his contract. This is the result of a perceived indiscretion with a male student. The draw of the book is not this plot (for me at least); it is the fact that the protagonist uses his last lesson to give students a lesson about Cuban history and the experience of Cuban exiles in the United States. In the process, he intermingles anecdotes, reminiscences, and memories of his youth and his family. It has a little bit of stream of consciousness, and it is not a linear novel. Those are not traits in fiction that bother me; I have read some meandering pieces of fiction in my time, but this one seems to just go on and on and on with no apparent end in sight. And for a book of 325 pages or so, to seem endless is not a good thing. The narrator tells the story in a very conversational style that blends Spanish with English, which gives it a nice authentic sound for one. The main problem is the narrator seems to loose track of the stories, sometimes moves from one even to the other without any sense of transition. Unlike other stream of consciousness or other nonlinear narratives which often have a flow, this one lacks such a flow. A reader gets tired trying to find meaning in all the meandering, and I can only pity the poor students stuck in his classroom while he wanders on and on and on. The novel tries to convey the feeling of one listening to someone close reminisce about the past, but it ends up feeling for the reader like he or she is stuck in a classroom with a teacher who is a lousy lecturer trying to be funny but isn't. This is one book I do not recommend. However, if you choose to try it anyhow, its author is H.G. Carrillo.

A much better writer that depicts the experience of Cuban Americans is Oscar Hijuelos, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Any of his book would make a good choice for a light read with a strong sense of place. Reading Hijuelos is a pleasure. So far, I have read all his works except for his latest, A Simple Havana Melody, and his very first Our House in the Last World. I will have to write about reading Hijuelos sometime for he is a writer that I often recommend to people who look for good U.S. Latino writers, but I also recommend him for people looking for a good fiction writer period. Hispanic American writers, and those who write of that experience, are one of my academic interests, but also one of the fiction categories I favor. I tend to see myself as someone who likes any fiction that is not ordinary. So ethnic literature, things like magic realism, science fiction, some fantasy, pick my interest greatly. Mainstream fiction just does not do it for me, but I keep up with it enough to know what is good or not so as to make recommendations since I do some reader's advisory now and then. I don't do as much of it as a public librarian does, but enough to know that I need to keep up with what is available, even in romance, a genre I do not read in, but I can name some of the major authors and works. There is another idea for future posts, a little on reader's advisory. At any rate, I will be picking a new book soon to read.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Never a boring day (so far)

Since I got hired, and I started working, I have been able to say that there is never a boring day around here. Sure, there are some days that are slower than others, but I can say none are boring. I can only hope I will be saying the same thing years from now. For instance, this morning I am sitting at the Information Desk for a two hour stretch. I actually enjoy my time at the desk; I use the slow time to catch up on professional reading or other smaller items, and when patrons come asking for things, that is the best time.

Papers are starting to come due, so more students are coming in asking for help to locate articles. They seem especially interested in finding full-text articles from the databases they search, and very often this boils down to showing them the steps so they can access it. I had one of those requests today, another asking for places to find articles on economics. I would have likely interviewed her a bit further, but at this point she mentioned she wanted more along the lines of browsing to see what was available. When at the desk, I always go back to the basic principles of the reference interview where you try to figure out what it is the patron wants while they try to tell you in not so clear a way. I have learned that sometimes a librarian has to coax a patron to tell you what they want, which adds to the challenge.

At this point in time, I am also full of ideas of things I want to try out or implement at the library. Since I am a liason to the Arts and Humanities, it keeps me busy, and it means I have to work on developing those relationships with my faculty. Now, when last semester started, I had the good fortune of meeting with our only full time music professor, which allowed me to get a little profile on her needs for teaching and her interests. I have been able to meet a few other faculty members in other areas, much of it through my function as the Instruction Librarian. But I have still have much to do, at least I think so. *has to pause a moment to help a student locate an item on reserve*

What got me thinking about furthering my outreach efforts to the faculty was an article I just read in College and Research Libraries News for March 2005. The title of the article is "The Must List." The article gives some practical ideas on how to enhance the liaison role. The author, Jessica Albano, writes that "the foundation of subject librarianship is being liaison to an academic department or school. The effectiveness of the subject librarian depends on the strength of his or her relationships with the faculty and students in the department" (203). I could not agree more, but one has to take into account that Ms. Albano is working at a larger research university where liaison work is usually much more focused. She is a Communication Studies Librarian. Me, on the other hand, work with Arts and Humanities, and Communication Studies happens to be one of the areas in the field, meaning I have to juggle a few more balls than she does when it comes to specialization. Not that I question her focused role, but as I sit here, maybe someone should write a bit more about us librarians in more general settings. At any rate, her article does provide some very useful hints and advice that any librarian can likely try out. The bottom line of the article is that a subject librarian needs to constantly communicate with his or her clientele, which is nothing I did not know already, and I am sure a few others know this as well. So, I think the article is one of those reminders that come our way every once in a while, the type of little thing that helps validate our practices while giving us a new idea or two. That is what this article does for me. I am not sure about her suggestion about "magnetic business cards so your contact information can hang in their office year-round" not because I think it a bad idea, but in my case, I am not sure I could get a bit of funding to do it. Not to mention, knowing how absent minded some faculty can be (and no, this is not just ragging, some really are, you should look at their offices if you can even get in them hehe), odds are they could lose even a magnet. She does give other little suggestions such as publishing pathfinders (see my other blog post on that), and making oneself available, something I do with my students every chance I get. But I liked her lines at the end of the short article, which I found both reassuring and inspiring. She writes:

"Subject librarians serve as a bridge between library and user, between collections and service. Nothing can stop a creative and proactive librarian from leading an academic library to fulfill its mission of connecting people with knowledge" (205).

I think all librarians serve as a bridge, not just the specialists, but those of us in a liaison role have a bit more of an incentive to do so.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Booknote: _The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2005_

Just finished reading The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2005 edited by Daryl Cagle and Brian Fairrington. I just picked it up on impulse upon seeing it on the new books display at work yesterday. As it is a light book, it took me no time to get through it. Since last year was a political year with the U.S. election and other topics, a lot of the cartoons dealt with that, but there were also many others dealing with a variety of topics. Some of the ones I liked most, maybe because they bring nice memories, were the ones drawn as tributes to dead celebrities such as Christopher Reeve and Rodney Dangerfield. The book was amusing, but it also brought back memories of the last year. If anyone is looking for a quick light read, regardless of political beliefs, for there is something in here for everyone, this is a good book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Books changing lives...? (or yet another writing prompt)

Recently, I got an e-mail from the listserv at my old library school. It was a general message from the SLIS Network. Anyhow, the message was as follows:

>>SLIS would like to hear from its students and graduates about books that have changed their lives.

If a book has significantly altered your life, personally or professionally, please consider telling us about it for an article in the fall issue of the alumni magazine, SLIS Network. Let us know how and why reading the book has made a difference for you.<<

Then they give the usual instructions of what to put in the subject line and request a paragraph of no more than 75 words "explaining how/why reading the book changed you." As a writer, and a reader, it is the type of reflective exercise that is hard to resist. It is kind of like that party prompt where someone asks which books would you take with you to a desert island if you had a choice, which seems kind of impractical because if you are shipwrecked, you probably won't have a choice of reading material, assuming you even salvage any reading material. When people ask that question, I think I like to imagine it more in terms of me going to a retreat or a sabbatical (there is wishful thinking, a sabbatical, ha), a place where I choose to go to get away from it all. In that case, I have a few titles in mind, some of which are listed in my favorite books list on my profile.

At any rate, I think for this prompt, I will send them a note choosing Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. I have my reasons for that choice, besides the fact that it is a simple, yet very good book. I got my job last summer; I started in mid August of 2004 after what turned out to be a grueling summer of travel and job hunting. There is a lot of talk in the library profession about how a large number of older librarians will be retiring soon, leaving their jobs open for younger folks like yours truly. Don't you believe it, for it is not quite as simple as that. For one, like many other professional fields, including education, when a vacancy occurs, very often the workplace chooses not to fill it, instead spreading the workload to others left behind. Of course, the powers that be call that "increasing productivity." (Others might call it "exploitation, slave labor, etc.," but we won't go there now). What that little fact translated into for me is that I had to "pound the pavement" quite aggressively. I graduated in May of 2004, and I was sending out resumes and applying for jobs since January of 2004. Note that I mentioned I started my new job in August of 2004, 8 months later. I was one of the few lucky ones. I know some of my classmates who had to go on much longer on their hunt, although given the strain the process put on my life, I did not feel that lucky. I do feel lucky that I got a good job.

The reader at this point may be asking, "so, what about the book?" Well, I am getting to that. Maybe I should post some of my personal journal entries on the job hunt, you know, to help out others getting ready to look for work in library science, but that may come later. In retrospect, I think I had a bit better odds of finding work in a timely fashion because I was willing to relocate. However, this meant that I applied to various places. I got a few interviews, which meant I had to do some serious plane travel. Now I hate flying. Not because I am afraid or other such nonsense. I hate flying for the simple reason that airline service is the worst service you can get. Their total disregard for passenger comfort is appalling, and this does not include the ridiculous hoop games you get to play with airport security of taking your shoes off, and so on. I don't mind the security. I have learned to take my shoes off by now (wear easy shoes), empty my pockets, and put anything extra in the handbag or the luggage. It's when you get to the plane, they cram you in that seat like another piece of cattle, and they don't even feed you. Needless to say, with all the travel I did this summer, I have had enough plane travel to last me a lifetime. As far as I am concerned, the airline industry can go broke. Not because they can blame it on 9/11 or other excuse, but because their service is lousy to put it mildly. I provided service with the bad attitude and conditions airlines do, I would not be in my job very long. I am driving everywhere. And if I ever get the urge to go to Europe, I am taking a ship if I can help it. I know, wishful, but I can dream.

So, to the book. Those of you who fly know you can spend a lot of time in the airport. I had to take connecting flights, and those who arranged them for me this summer did not always pick the most expedient times or connections, so I did linger at airports more often than not. I always like carrying a book or two to read for those long lingering moments. However, you can only sit still so much at an airport, so you get to pacing after a while. I picked up my copy of Coehlo's book at one of those airport bookstores. I can't recall where now, but I know it was on airport waiting to take the final leg of a flight back home to Indianapolis so I could go home. My mother is a Coehlo fan, and I had recently bought her a copy of another Coehlo book. I went into the store to browse, and I found a nice paperback copy of the book, is Spanish. Coehlo is Brazilian, and he writes in Portuguese. Since I know Spanish, I preferred to read a Spanish translation to an English one, reasoning it would be much closer to the original. At any rate, the copy was there, and it was not terribly expensive, even for something sold at an airport. So, I bought it. I remember it was a four hour flight home, give or take, plus I still had about an hour to wait at the airport, give or take. So, I sat down, and I opened the little book, and I began to read the fable of the young boy who decides to go after his dreams and search for the alchemist. The book was an easy read. Its simple language was beautiful and lyrical, a pleasure to read. I found myself not wanting to put it down once I started it, wondering where the journey would lead the young boy. His journey was, and for me still is, an inspiring journey. Many times he could have chosen to settle down, but he always moved in the search of his dream, his personal quest. The book spoke to me while I sat in that airport and while I sat in that cramped couch seat on the plane. I had an epiphany. I realized that all this time, through all the stress and aggravation, in spite of the long trips, the grueling interviews (I had a really bad one at a certain southern school I will not name now), I was in the pursuit of my personal quest. Or, as Mr. Spock told Captain Kirk, I was pursuing "my best destiny." Those of you who are Star Trek fans know what I am referring to. I found the book at the time when I could most use it, at a time when I needed a little inspiration to go on. The hunt was taking a toll; I had to find a job before my lease ended, and I had to move out. And then I read that book; I was enthralled by it, I saw so much of me in it, found reassurance to pursue my own dream, to learn to become the wind (this last will make sense if you have read the book; if you have not, read it). I knew then that I would find my bliss, that I would get a good job, even if I ended up cutting it close. Because this was my personal quest, my personal destiny. I had done other things I liked; I enjoyed teaching very much in high school, but that was not quite it, there was something more. And in my case it took me quite a while to find it (there is another story, how I got to library school). Because it may take you time to find your personal quest, but once you do, you must pursue to know happiness. And this little book, with its simple message delivered in a simple yet moving fable did it for me.

Of course, I am not sending this rambling note to SLIS, but I will send them Coehlo's book and a little note explaining how it reassured me and helped me on my quest to become an instruction librarian. Because, contrary to what many say, about those who can do, and those who can teach, in reality, it is the other way around, those who can teach, those who can't, do whatever else. Remember that the next time you hear some legislator or business person say that this or that will fix the schools. Remember that they have never stepped into any classroom, and they would not dare to do so, and, if they did, my bet is they would not last five minutes. So, I will look over this, and I will make a small note and send it. And we'll see what happens. If it gets chosen, I will try to include the link here for others to see. If not, well, it was a nice little excuse to do a little writing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Booknote: _Friday Night Lights_

I finished reading H.G. Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights (1990), the one they made the movie out of recently with Billy Bob Thornton. I will say upfront that I have not seen the film, but having read the book has made me curious, and I will likely go get the movie. I am the type who prefers to read a book first before I watch the movie it was based upon. This is not always possible, but it is what I attempt at least. For instance, I watched Silence of the Lambs first before I read the book. I love the movie still; I think Hannibal Lecter as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins is quite compelling, fascinating even. The book is quite different from the movie, and I know that movie adaptations certainly do not catch every nuance in the book. Hannibal is another example, but I will leave that for another post since it seems I am starting to disgress.

Friday Night Lights is a very interesting book. On the cover of the paperback edition I read, there is a blurb by David Halberstam that describes the book as "a remarkable book, fascinating from start to finish, full of surprises." While I don't totally agree with the whole quote, the book certainly is remarkable and fascinating, though I found it a bit predictable at times, like most sports stories tend to be in terms of knowing who wins and who loses what games and when. I won't put in any spoilers in the hopes that people who have not read it go ahead and read it because I think it is a worthy book. It is not a book for the faint of heart or those who are too involved in political correctness.

In terms of its pace, the book moves along steadily. One of the things that makes the book interesting is that it is not just a book about high school football. It is also a book about a small town in Texas, the town of Odessa, a town that grew and suffered with the vicissitudes of the oil booms and busts of the 1980s. By the way, in the process of reading about Odessa, the reader also learns a bit about how the United States was back in the decade of the 1980s. So, the reader gets a bit of history as well. High school football is king in this region, and people live for it quite literally, sometimes to the detriment of other important things. This is another thing that makes the book so compelling, reading about the town and its hopes as carried by the local football team. The book does have a bit of ugliness to it as well, if I can put it that way. The book was published in 1990. The author spent the 1988 football season with the Permian Panthers. In his afterword, which he wrote ten years later as a reflection on the past, he describes the controversy the book sparked. The book is very honest, often brutally so, about the obsession the town has over football and its team, and the way that young lives are often literally destroyed as a result. The author also presents the sacrifices the student players make, often at a very high price, and he does so in graphic detail. Needless to say, the author is pretty much a persona non grata for many in the town. In the afterword, he wrote the following, which I think catches the essence of the book:

"Over the years I have been accused of betrayal, and sensationalism, and taking information out of context, and misquoting. I am not surprised by these accusations, nor I am troubled by them. When I first arrived in Odessa, I anticipated a book very much in the tradition of the film Hoosiers, a portrait of the way in which high school sports can bring a community together. There were elements of that bond in Odessa, and they were reflected in the book.

But along the way some other things happened--the most ugly racism I have ever encountered, utterly misplaced educational priorities, a town that wasn't bad or evil but had lost any ability to judge itself. It would have been a journalistic disgrace to ignore these elements.

The book is fair and true. It was never intended as a diatribe or an expose. It was written instead with enormous affection and empathy, because as deeply troubling as the overemphasis was on high school football, those games were, and always will be, the most exquisite sporting events that I have ever experienced."

That is the ugliness I referred to earlier, the racism. The author shows it in all its raw and terrible form, and it's juxtaposed with great sequences of the games. Any sport fan who likes to read about good football will enjoy this book. My feeling is that the movie probably emphasizes the action sequences, since they are quite good, but I will have to see the movie. When I see the movie, I will let everyone know. However, the book also is strong in its depictions of misplaced priorities and how students are affected, often in a very negative way, and I am guessing the people in Odessa did not appreciate having their little secret exposed. But it is not something unique to Odessa; many small towns live for the Friday Night Lights, though this town seems to really carry it to an extreme.

I mentioned in my profile that I was a high school teacher. I taught in a public school in Indiana, and those who know about Indiana know that high school basketball is king over there. The school I taught at also happened to be one of the powerhouses in its region when it came to football. In fact, I had football players in my classes. And while the pressures to make sure they passed their classes so they could play were not as extreme as those the teachers in Odessa experienced, I was exposed to such pressures in more subtle ways, especially since I was not the type to teacher to simply pass a kid because they played a sport. Having said that, the culture at the school I was at also valued their academics, so my players tended to be pretty diligent about studying and getting their work done. Not all of them, there is always the one who wants to coast, but overall I was fortunate when compared to the teachers in Odessa that the author describes. Being someone still interested in education issues, that aspect of the book at times angered me and disturbed me, and I get the feeling it will stir feelings in other readers, especially parents of teens who may become involved in high school sports, or any other extracurricular activity for that matter. It may force them to question what it is they really want for their children.

So, I strongly recommend the book for all readers. I think mature young adults will find it interesting since it depicts the high school experience quite well. I think adults will find it interesting for reasons I have mentioned and because overall it is a good read.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Creating a Pathfinder on Terrorism Topics

One of my duties as an Instruction Librarian is to create educational materials for my students and the university community. The Freshman Composition classes happen to be one of our biggest clients in terms of library instruction. Their research papers are often based on current topics or social issues; the classes often have readers like Censored 2004 or Race, Class and Gender. When I get quite a few requests for library instruction geared to a particular topic, I say to myself it is time to create a pathfinder for it, a resource that will provide students with a guide to resources the library has available on their topic as well as ways to find information. Since I have done a few Bibliographic Instruction (BI) sessions where the students are writing on some topic about the war on terror, I figure it is time we make a resource to assist them further.

The topic at first sounds easy enough. After all, you can't turn the news on TV or read an online news source without coming across it, right? Well yes, but the War on Terror may seem like a simple topic, yet it has all sorts of ramifications. For example, do students just want information about the war in Iraq? That topic itself could take one pathfinder. Do they want information on September 11 and on Homeland Security (the agency as well as the idea of securing the homeland)? What about other areas of the world such as Afghanistan? North Korea? Iran? The more I think about it, the more complicated it can get. However, I have learned by now not to make things more complicated than they have to be. Most of the students working on those topics are interested in the situation in Iraq now, so I will likely focus my attention on that area. If I do that, we can provide some background information on the country itself, books on U.S. policies and practices for the area, information on the current situation, etc. Pathfinders often include websites, which a librarian like me will take the time to at least look over and evaluate before including them. And from an initial search, I see there are many choices. As for books, we actually have some pretty good holdings in our collection.

Another option may be to make a more general pathfinder on the topic of terrorism and maybe a smaller specific one on the war in Iraq. I think there is a lot of good information available that students and patrons should know about. But we'll see. For now, I needed to bounce some ideas, and this place seemed a good place to do so. Now that I have some ideas, I think I can get back to actually making the pathfinder.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

File under "things they don't tell you in library school"

The university I work at is on Spring Break this week. We are a commuter campus, so we still have quite a few students who come in to get some work done since they have assignments due next week. Overall, things have been slow in the library. Our Assistant Director for Reference Services has proposed that we do some tidying up of our Reference Office area. In theory, not a bad idea as the place could use a little sprucing up. In practice, it became a handiwork project. I don't recall anyone telling me during job interviews that manual labor skills would be required. Not that I am afraid of rolling up the sleeves and getting some work done, but putting up window liners and such was not something mentioned in library school. Either that, or I must have missed the session in the basic reference class where they said "and by the way, you may be called upon to do various office improvement projects." Hmm.... It should be noted that while she brought in some cleaning supplies, the AD for Reference Services actually took the week off, so she is not here to see the progress. I am not saying she intentionally ducked away or such after setting us up for the task, but again, hmm....

At any rate, things have worked well so far. Our Reference Office is located next to the Reference Area, and it is walled like glass. The sensation is pretty much akin to being in a fishbowl, and more often than not students will wave at you if they make eye contact when they want attention. The privacy other academic librarians would enjoy at a larger institution of a small office, or at least an enclosed area is not really an option here (we have severe space issues, but that I can write about later). So, in attempt to address this lack of privacy along with making things look nicer, our AD suggested we try this glass liner she saw at one of the chain hardware stores. In addition, our Interlibrary Loan Paraprofessionals had an array of old posters on the wall, and in one case, an extensive array of family photos that had accumulated for years, that it was decided had to be at least trimmed. Actually, it had to come down; the pictures would not be trimmed. The Interlibrary Loan Librarian, who supervises them, went around, cajoled a little here and there, and got their cooperation (in the case of one), or at least a path of least resistance (in the case of the other, who nice as she is, can be a bit on the grumpy side. I think serious would be more accurate. You rarely see her smile, but when she does, it is a nice sight to see). For the lady with the photos, I heard she had them for over a decade at least. They were pretty much taped up, one next to the other, and I am sure there was some rhyme to the madness in the placement, but I can see where they would look cluttered to visitors. Being someone who likes stories, I could not help but wonder what stories were behind some of those family photos, what special occasions did they commemorate? Her work area is on the outside wall of the inside office the Circulation Librarian now occupies. She had placed her photo display over the glass of the Circulation Librarian's Office. So likely, that was part of the issue for the Reference AD to want the photos to come down. However, to keep the privacy, we would line the glass with the frosted liner, making for a nicer, neater look. The ILL Librarian did offer to buy for her a nice scrapbook, or a nice frame, to put them in, so we'll see.

Our enterprising Interlibrary Loan librarian went out and bought the rolls along with the necessary items to attach it. The item itself is called "Privacy Frosted Window Film." It comes in rolls of various sizes that you can cut to the size you need for the surface to be covered. This is how it works. It is a film that is placed over glass, and it gives glass a "frosted" effect. The result is a frosted glass that actually looks quite nice, and it adds some privacy since the students can't look in as easily as before. Then again, we can't see out as easy as well (is this something to be concerned about? hehe). On the outer walls, we have placed some of the liner on half of a glass wall, so the upper half is still transparent. The effect is that the ILL Librarian, who has the desk closest to the glass, will now have some privacy and a sense of a "real" office. The whole contraption gets a bit messy and sticky, but once you cut the liner to size and set it up, it works well. It does require a bit of muscle. The way it works is you clean the glass. Then you spray a solution to it, wetting the glass, and then you apply the liner after you peel its backing off. It adheres to the glass, and then you have to "squeegee" it to the sides so as to get out any air pockets. It is the "squeeging" out part that requires a bit of elbow grease. For the half glass set ups, two people could work. We also did one of the windows of the Circulation librarian's office. Now, she has an office inside our area, so it was a larger window we did on one side, and that required three people: one spraying, one peeling back the liner and one "squeeging" what was already placed (that was my job). I have to say we made quite a little team as we put up the liner. At the time though, as I was smoothing one end, the Circulation Librarian was spraying the solution on the other end as the ILL Librarian was placing it, which meant I was getting sprayed during the process. I don't think the solution is lethal, but I would definitely recommend washing hands when one is done using it, and avoiding it fall on the eyes if possible. And as I sit on my desk now, and I turn in my chair to look at how nice it looks so far, I have to say it was worth the effort. The ILL Librarian needs to do at least one more half glass panel on her side, but we may end up doing most of them. We'll see.

Then, there are the sign holders we recently bought that we have to hang up. We even bought a laser level to help make sure they go up straight. But those sign holders are another post. The lesson for all you future librarians out there, it would help if you know a little bit of home improvement and similar skills. You never know when they may become handy.

The first post

I suppose we have to start somewhere. Making a blog is one of those things I have been meaning to do for a while now, but I never quite got around to it. One excuse was that I would not have the time. Another excuse was that I would not have anything to write about, let alone anything interesting anyone would want to read. I am sure I am not the first one to have such thoughts when it comes to blogging. Then again, they are the thoughts a writer often has about his craft. I know because I am a writer myself. Oh, I am not someone who is famous or such, but I have done some writing here and there academically and personally, so I have an idea. At any rate, I attended a small workshop yesterday about blogs. The presenter discussed what blogs were, how they can be useful for everything from putting up pictures of the family dog to educational practices. After the workshop, I figured I would finally give it a try, so here I am, my first blog.

It may be my first blog, but it is not certainly my first writing. As I mentioned, I have done writing before, and I continue to this day to keep a personal journal. I don't write on it every single day; work and daily life kind of prevent that, but I write often enough to practice and put some ideas down. I am hoping this will be an extension of my writing. Or maybe, blogging will be a new way to explore writing and develop ideas, maybe find a small epiphany here and there once in a while. And if anyone out there actually reads it, well all the better. So, what can I write about?

For one, I can write about books. Not just because I read a lot, which I do, but because I am an academic librarian, so I am exposed to books as well. I have the good fortune that I get to see the new books that come in first before we put them out to the public. I get to pick and choose books that may interest me, so I have a small stack of books to read on my desk, and I am always reading at least one or two books at any given time. I think you have to have things to read based on your mood. Very often then I have a fiction book and a nonfiction book handy. So for one, I am thinking this blog may contain musings and such about what I read.

I also take small trips now and then. I think I inherited the "gypsy" spirit from my father, who enjoyed very much to get in the car and drive, see where he got, you know, no particular place to be? I like that. I am the type who would rather drive than fly. The fact airline service just goes from bad to worse I am sure does not help to maintain that preference. But the main reason I prefer to drive is that I can pull over and look around. If I am on a highway, and I see a sign for the local Museum of Pickles (I just made that up, but I would not be surprised if there is such a thing), I am liable to pull over and take a look. I like hitting the road now and then just to see what is out there. So for two, this blog will likely feature some more musings about the little places I visit now and then.


. . .I just got pulled from my desk. It is St. Pat's, and the staff at Technical Services are having a small gathering with plenty of food. So I just left for a few moments to get some. But as I sit at the conference table back there, and I look around the table, I see it is not just about the food, which is good. It really is about the company, about being together, about taking a little bit of time out of the workday to simply relax a little and realize it is going to be a good day. So, our newest member of Acquisitions brought in some homemade breakfast burritos, the Cataloguing Librarian brought a nice cake, someone else brought donuts, and plenty of orange juice and milk to go around plus a plate of fruit, and as the line goes, "a good time was had by all." Some of them talked about last night's American Idol. I was never much for reality shows, but then again, all I have to do is sit back and let them talk. I find out all I need to know in a more relaxed way than watching it. And we look around, and we see who is wearing their green, seeing most of us are.

Well, I probably should get back to work, get a few things done. On the upside, a big meeting we had was canceled. Not upside because the person running the meeting is out sick, but upside since we won't have to sit through a two hour meeting. It is going to be a good day if things up to this point are any indication. And I am looking forward to writing on.