Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monomania, On and Off

Before I left to do my MA in London, a dear professor of mine gave me a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë. The accompanying card suggested the gift was for amusement on the flight and, as we taxied away from EWR, I dutifully opened the volume and began to read. I think I managed about two pages before I set the work aside. The quality of Gaskell's prose or the subject was the problem, I simply wasn't in the mood for the work before me (and, recalling my nerves at the time, I couldn't have concentrated on anything had I determined what exactly I was in the mood for). So the book traveled with me to London, from London back to New York, and from New York to Portland.

Five years and roughly nine-thousand miles later, I finally pulled the book from a shelf on my "Victorian" bookcase and made it past the first two pages. When I was finished, I picked up Villette, long overdue for a re-read, and lined up Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for similar treatment. In my copy of Villette are scattered pencilled notes and underlining, remnants of the my first read through and the Great Project to Read All The Brontë Novels I Haven't Read Yet (GPRABNIHRY), undertaken in the Summer of 2004.

To find the aforementioned novels I had to paw through roughly alphabetized-by-author stacks of books (my bookcases are cheap pine garage shelving, so books are stacked horizontally in piles). In doing so I uncovered the bulk of my gothic novel project, the beginnings of the (sadly stalled) Dickens reading project, the Sarah Water Project (neo-Victorian and complete), the Great War collection (primarily poetry), and Victorian Women Poets (a course from my MA and almost entirely Broadview Press). Later that day I went to my "Non-Victorian or Everything Else" bookcase to find a novel for a friend. There's the quarter shelf of Atwood (though I'll refrain from buying her new one till it's out in paperback), the half shelf of Murakami, the long stretch of Harry Potter hardbacks, the Arthurian Myth/Joseph Campbell set (a course with the amazing Beth Darlington), and the Hemingway/Fitzgerald set, and my tiny Jane Gardam set (just now coming into print in the US).

My husband jokes that I don't know how to not do and he's somewhat right. I always have some sort of project going, even when I'm not in school, and the projects are often centered around reading. Or, if they're not specific projects, I will get into a mood where I sit down and just absorb a large chunk of something. When Fall quarter started to wind down, I ordered a ton of books on Dickens and Christmas - food, booze, stories and the like. I read them all in bits and pieces in between XML assignments and policy papers. I do the same with television or movies. I devoured all of Q.I. and Top Gear during a few wintry months (which also necessitated reading a ton of Stephen Fry's books and handfuls of the textual produce of Clarkson et al.). My husband and I, prostrate from the intense heat this past summer, watched all of The Tudors (necessitating a brief refresher on British history) and are now working through Mythbusters (I am just hoping that nothing in our apartment is blown up in the future).

My undergrad and MA are examples of this sort of highly localized and intense focus that is rapidly replaced by a new topic or subtopic. For a time I was going to be a Bronte specialist, then a Dickens scholar, and then I was determined to master the "scientific romance" and the gothic novel. While this sort of intense devouring of a topic can be intensely satisfying (and excellent preparation for any sort of trivia game), it does make me worry for my career in libraries. When I started my current position I felt most comfortable in technical services. After a year or so on the job my focus shifted and I began to feel that perhaps Circulation/public services would be the place for me. And now, another year later, I'm thinking that it is in fact technical services that is where I should be once this degree is over. Will my fascination with FRBR and MARC last till the end of this degree and beyond? What about the siren call of Interlibrary Loan and the exciting new ILLIad 8 interface?

Though my specific topics ebb and flow, there is still a shared thread throughout my reading/viewing interests -- Victorian, British, often reviewed by the Guardian, easily fueled by Powells and Netflix. What is the connecting thread in my library work? Problem solving? Service? I think this is a question that I will have to answer before I'm finished with my degree.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fuzzy and Grey

Grey seems to be the theme of the past few weeks. Though at the very second I type this the sun has decided to shine its face, for the most part the weather has turned to autumn in the Pacific Northwest - rain, rain, and rain. The reappearance of the rain is always so surprising to me, which seems an odd statement. I mean, I do live in Portland. Rain is kinda our thing (only slightly less so than Seattle, where it really, really is their thing). Summer visits Portland rather late and, as if to make up for its tardiness, stays on into the end of September. So though school is underway, the weather is still gorgeous, the sun bright and the breeze cool. And then, one morning, I wake up because I'm far too cold and it's dark and there's a hard wind and leaves everywhere. I stumble out of bed, feeling more than a little like Rip Van Winkle to see so sudden a change after so short a sleep.

Grey is the color of a scarf I'm knitting up for a friend. The Right Coast has suddenly grown even colder than here (snow in October!) and he needs something to help keep him warm. It's the easiest pattern ever (k2p2 rib) in a lovely soft merino and I can knit it while standing up and talking to people or while listening to lectures on information ethics. I'm a little worried I'll run out of yarn -- I only have two skeins in grey and one in green, so I'm wondering if I should put the green skein in the middle or asymmetrically at the end. Either way, I'm glad to be making something with my hands again. I somehow feel more productive in life when I'm producing something tangible. Concepts and understanding make up the bulk of my days and that's often difficult to represent, to have something to show for all the time I put in. But a scarf (or, last quarter, a stack of dishcloths) let's me know that I've been sitting and absorbing, twitching and learning.

Grey and fuzzy lines are a continual topic of conversation in my Information in Social Context class. We're talking a lot about ethical considerations and the tools available to us as information professionals. Since I spend most of my days in technical services at an academic institution, I never have to worry about people trying to ban books, children asking for things that might be inappropriate, officials trying to track patron computer usage. There are ethical considerations for sure - I do have access to sensitive patron information, for example - but I'm rarely called on to make a judgement, to provide definition to these lines as I almost always have someone else to refer to, a chain of command. Public Librarianship seems so difficult when I consider the type of careful balancing that must go on everyday. I think the friends of mine who are focused on the public side of the coin are amazing, especially those who are running in headlong, anxious to make a difference.

And now that I've written this, I'm off to check in on our Division referee seminar, where they are undoubtedly discussing the fuzzy grey areas of the rule book and the fencing phrase.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Borrowing in the Future

Last week, I had the chance to attend a day of the Northwest Interlibrary Loan Conference, hosted at a local college. Though I believe that I'll probably wind up focusing on cataloging and systems in my degree, I am greatly intrigued by ILL. At my last review my boss asked me what interested me the most about my job. My answer was problem solving. I love it when someone hands me a problem or a question and then sends me off to discover the answer. Now, this does lead to a fair amount of frustration, but the result is so rewarding. I feel in cataloging the problem I'm trying to solve is "How do I represent this [book, serial, website, pony, atom] in this system so people will actually be able to find it and use it?" What a great question! It means I need to consider the users, the world they're in, the library I'm in and the limits and requirements of our systems, the rules and suggestions that others have created, and then an end product. Admittedly I'm a baby cataloger (editing established MARC and downloading into a local system), but the possibility is there.

ILL presents a similar sort of challenge - namely how do I decipher what it is the patron wants and how do I get it to them as quickly and cheaply as possible. Sometimes that does mean "I'm sorry, you will have to go downstairs and use the paper copy we have". Or it means spending fifteen minutes waiting for the NLM catalog to load (does it seriously need to be that slow?). Sometimes it means that I'm recreating their citation searching. Few things in life are as satisfying as finding what the patron wanted freely online and then sending them an email saying "Here is is right now and it's free". There are judgment calls to be made too - do I try to send this out or do I use a supplier? Do I cancel this request or do we try to see if we can get it? It's constantly piecing the puzzle together, since for articles we have a longer workflow that means I'm checking copyright, our catalog, the need by date, and then OCLC itself before sending out the request.

The conference made me decide to stick more systems, because I realized how much work I can do there to make ILL better (libraries, please do your Local Holdings Records. You will save us all a lot of time, including yourself when you need to cancel requests for things you've never owned). Cyril's lecture on the IDS Project and the GIST form and the future of ILL was eyeopening. In LIS 520 it was suggested that we can and should view consortia borrowing and ILL as an extension of the library's collection. It's stuff that we can provide to the patron, so we've "collected it" for them. Leading to ideas on cooperative collection development etc. But what the IDS project shows is that we can increasingly move towards that global system Sam Sayre is constantly talking about. That project is what could bring me back to NY. A large group of libraries who have just decided that they're going to work more closely to improve their ILL borrowing. It's magnificent. And they've created such great systems (a connecting database of all of the ISSNs and holdings so article requests can be routed with little intervention). What's also fascinating is that this is really a sort of informal gathering of libraries, all with a clear drive and desire to borrow and share.

But the GIST request form - which lies on top of the standard Illiad request form - is what really set my mind spinning. With this form, the role of collection development goes straight into the hands of the users - a frightening thought at first. This isn't the librarian mulling over suggestions or making educated guesses as to what the library needs. When a request is brought into the system, the library can decide to request or to buy - depending on which seems to be the cheapest option or the best for the library's collection. ILL and Acquisitions merging together into a larger workflow, which is entirely intuitive if you do work off the assumption that both are just workflows for bringing material into the library's collection and thus into the hands of the users. This blows my mind because it's one of those things that appears obvious, but that I couldn't have thought of in a million years. It is an act of faith and it is brought about by the idea that libraries are weeding at an incredible rate, so the cost of used books will be negligible for awhile.

I'm already starting to wonder how I can insert myself into this transition in the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Piling it on...

Looking at my desk at home and at work, one wouldn't necessarily get the impression that I'm the type of person who likes organizing for a living. I have plenty of folders (plain and hanging), a board for pinning notes, a brand-new filing cabinet, and binders a plenty. And yet, especially mid-quarter, you can't move more than six inches in this room without tripping over several piles of readings, class notes, or project drafts. For someone in an online program, I do a ridiculous amount of printing (enough to justify purchasing a laser printer for home). This comes primarily from my inability to adequately interact with text on a screen. I cannot digest or remember an online work as well as one that I've held in my hands, despite my best efforts.

This reliance on print feels like a personal failing in this digital age, something that marks me as a non-native, like a slight accent or a penchant for mayonnaise on fries. Full-text databases and electronic reserves are dear friends and providers of such joy, but once that PDF hits my desktop it must be printed. I must have paper in my hands when I read, and I can only partially blames my eyes. Primarily, I need to be able to viciously underline or thoughtfully circle portions of the text as I read. My marginalia is the essential component of studying as it's where I first start to work out my thoughts, where I mark down questions or issues. I fully realize that technology has advanced to the point where I could do that on the screen. A fellow classmate once spoke about a program he used to mark up and edit PDFs of readings, a program that allowed him to deface and edit a page just as I do. Though It's rather telling that I've no recollection of the name of the program nor have I downloaded it. I seem determined to kill trees and stub my toes on my final projects till the end of this degree.

This penchant for paper and the inability to keep it all neatly organized isn't a unique trait really. Upon further consideration, I'm not sure if I've ever met a librarian with a well-ordered desk that is nearly free of paper. I've heard more than one tale of librarians facing off with the fire marshal or losing work among their teeming stacks of printouts. This situation, I believe, stems from the nature of the job itself. Though as a whole the field if moving inexorably toward the digital, librarians seem to tear through a ton of paper a day in the form of reports, bib records, work flow sheets, scraps of magazines for ordering, and meeting notes. Yet it doesn't have to be that way. There are scanners, wikis, shared directories and other tools, but many of us, myself included, balk or give myriad reasons for preferring to pass around a sheet of paper instead of logging in and working from there. All librarians aren't paper hoarders, but I think that many of those tools lack something, some sort of flexibility, that paper still provides.

I was reminded of this need for paper yesterday when I installed a file cabinet next to my desk. The point of the purchase, and subsequent hell that is building an Ikea product, was to combine two plastic file boxes and two cardboard boxes of paper into a single, organized space. While sorting through one of the boxes of paper, I re-discovered an article that touches on the endurance of paper in offices.* The article describes a study on how people go about organizing their browser bookmarks, and how deeply contextual and varied this process seems to be. What stuck with me from this article was their discussion of how grounded we are in paper and how difficult it is to move conceptually from paper to a digital environment.

The spatial aspect seems to be one of the biggest obstacles in moving to a fully digital office or digital world. I make piles not just because I'm too lazy to file everything away (though I often am), but rather because the piles need to be there. I need to see that pile of bib records on my desk so I remember to deal with them. I love that people's piles often have a sense of methodical madness to them. My papers and projects are developed from stacks of articles that are sorted by topic or the order in which I'll use them. That's not really going to help anyone who might come upon the stack, but to me it makes perfect sense. (This why I envy literary biographers who pore over boxes of idiosyncratic piling, and not just because I'm nosy. I desire the sort of psychological insight and patience it must take to find sense in a pile of manuscript pages.) That personal aspect is also what makes shared filing systems so treacherous. Without something as strict as the AACR2 in place, who knows where anything will wind up because odds are that in Circ we'll call something by three different names or have a different view on where an item falls in a process.

Obviously this is something that systems and software folks are keenly aware of, so help is on the way. But until then, I'll buy another box of paper for the quarter.

*Gottlieb, L. and Dilevko, J. (2003). Investigating How Individuals Conceptually and Physically Structure File Folders for Electronic Bookmarks: The Example of the Financial Services Industry. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 54(2), 124-139.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Writing Again or At Last

Since I was old enough to read, I wanted to become a writer. Well, that's not necessarily true. Since I was old enough to read I wanted to be surrounded by books and by words. I loved (and still love) becoming lost in a book, being completely absorbed by a novel. I like having the author's syntax still stuck in my head. I owe an entire vocabulary of outdated and unpronounceable words to the Victorian novels I devoured in middle school (vocabulary which has proved useful in academic papers and the SATs). Books kept me sane in a small, salmon colored room in London, during my commute across town, and through now 9 years without cable. I believe it is the natural impulse of a reader to want to cross over into creating what she loves best. So, for as long as I can remember, I've kept journals, dribbled out poetry and essays, and chose schools and classes that demanded an intense interaction with the written word.

Writing is, unfortunately, much harder than reading. Or, at least, I find it more difficult. Thinking it over, I'm somewhat convinced that this is partially because I practice reading more often than I practice writing. The professor I had for the short story class I took a few summers ago at UP adores John Updike. When he taught the class story "A&P", the professor related how Updike treated writing like a job. He rented office space, sat down to write at regular times, and thus produced nearly a book a year during his life. It seemed strange to me at the time that writing would be like any other occupation or craft. While I cannot count the hours I've spent playing scales or repeating footwork patterns, the idea that writing would have to be actively worked at still seemed strange. I suppose I felt that writers just sat down and did, that they had some sort of idea in their head and applied pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and a novel emerged. Naive, I know. And that image of Updike walking up a flight of stairs, unlocking a door, and ceremoniously sitting at his desk and beginning to write has stuck with me ever since.

Not that I necessarily know what to do with it. Despite halfhearted efforts to work through The Ode Less Travelled or to set aside time to work on this blog, nothing has materialized. Again I find I must contradict myself as soon as a sentence emerges. Nothing has materialized in the form of something that could be submitted to The New Yorker. However much has materialized in the way of message board posts, literature reviews (which I find strangely and immensely satisfying), final papers, presentations, and reviews. I can even now say that I have an article "in press". What in earlier degrees had been a constant source of anxiety and dread is now a somewhat pleasureable requirement.

This requires some explanation. A naturally neurotic person, my anxiety problem came to a head in my senior year of undergrad. Under the combined stress of being a senior in college, two break ups (one of the relationships having lasted nearly three years), and trying to apply to graduate school and determine my future, I found I could not write. I had always been a procrastinator. The fear that something wouldn't come out perfectly or to mine or other's expectations kept me from really working on something until the last minute. I needed the fear of a deadline to kick me over the edge before an essay would flow. I learned to edit as I wrote, printing out drafts when I started to lose steam and tearing them up with pen. At my worst (or best, depending on your perspective), I wrote two term papers in a single 18 stretch (over 12 pages each) and aced them both.

However when faced with my undergradute thesis, I found I couldn't get the fear to push me over the edge. I felt absolutely terrified. I could read and outline, but at that time in my life all I wanted to do was to be left alone and to sleep. When I did manage to pull words into setences and then into paragraphs, I became disgusted by the effort and would delete it all. Happily the counsel of an advisor and the loving intervention of two friends who discovered me hysterial in the reserves room of library allowed for a week long break from school when, finally over the edge, I pulled together something like a thesis, passed, and graduated. My graduate thesis was a trial on a similar level. Admittedly here the research was much better and the writing flowed faster the second time around, but I'm still not terribly happy with the final results nor the final few all-nighters to pull it together. I still had not learned how to draft nor, most importantly, how to write without the pressure of fear.

Writing without fear would come after a couple years of talking with a therapist, settling down into a new life in Oregon, and figuring out what I was going to do with myself. The writing assignments I took on at work helped greatly. Those assignments provided a fair amount of structure and control in terms of topic. While analysis was often welcome, the driving force behind the projects was clarity and concision. I learned to make my writing tight and engaging. I learned not only how to draft, but how to put my work out there for my peers. My coworkers and boss actively read everything I wrote (or most everything). This past quarter I exchanged reflection papers with a classmate in a peer-editing scheme, something I would have never contemplated 3 or 5 years ago - mainly because I would never have gotten something written far enough in advance to allow for it!

While I am very proud of the work I have produced in my MLIS program thus far (proud enough to post portions on my web space), I still want to be writing other sorts of things, particualarly essays. I want to learn how to set aside time for writing for pleasure just as I've set aside time for writing for work and for school. This is a sample of what I want to create and, though it's taken me nearly a week to finish it, the sort of thing I want to put up here at least once a week from now on.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Internet - The Greatest Procrastination of All

Last week a friend on Facebook linked an interesting article by a writer who went a full month without using the Internet for anything. In this age such a venture seems absurd as we're all increasingly Internet reliant. Having continual access to Google can be a boon. For example, recently some friends visited Portland and during the entire time we were together they were never separated from their iPhones. I appreciated this continual link in that we easily and quickly located tapas for dinner (link to place). However, the younger of the two spent a ton of her time interacting with her screen instead of with the people around her - texting and messaging and emailing. It's interesting to me that such a powerful convenience tool can so easily become the greatest time suck of all.

This time suck wasn't so much of a concern for me when I used my old computer. The thing was cranky, clunky, and crashed within minutes of loading a YouTube video. Between that and the fact that I found myself tired from staring at a computer screen at work all day, I rarely logged on at home. And I accomplished so much. I read constantly (averaging about 3 books a week, even when my daily commute was reduced). Since this was before I could stream Netflix through the XBox, I rarely turned the TV (okay, except between 6 and 7 pm to watch the same 5 repeats of Family Guy). I wrote letters, cleaned the apartment, cajoled my husband for a fencing lesson etc. I never felt particularly bored and I continually got stuff done.

This all changed this past September when I started my online MLIS program and started spending a ridiculous amount of time on my new laptop. During the quarter I always have a browser open and am continually logged into MyUW so I can listen to my lectures, turn in homework and post on the boards. I have chat open for group projects. Now a person with reasonable self-control would probably be able to leave only the necessary windows open and power through their work like a champ. But I am not a person with reasonable self-control. I am also easily distracted. Eventually I found a way to work on my computer without checking Facebook every three minutes, but it was difficult and resulted in only going online to do the work I have to do and then putting the laptop to the side while I read or drafted my assignments. If I have to write or use the laptop for an assignment, I have found the little switch that turns off the wireless signal to be the greatest invention of all time.

This putting aside the distraction isn't possible at work as I cannot do most of my assigned tasks without an Internet connection. I need it to edit records in our ILS, to update holdings in OCLC, to run ILL requesting, and to edit documents on the shared network folders. When in Circ I need to be monitoring email accounts as well. So unplugging at work isn't really an option. At work what needs to happen in that I change how I interact with the Internet. I find that in order to be productive, I need some sort of background noise. When I'm really in the midst of something, I easily tune things out, but I seem to need something to jump start it, a louder background to react against. It's probably because I grew up with a twin sister in a family of loud New Yorkers that today I find I cannot even do class reading in utter silence. I have been known to do laundry just to have the sound of the dryer running for white noise. It's pathetic.

But when you're sitting in a technical services office, laundry isn't an option and internet radio is too tempting. So the challenge has become to create background noise without the Internet. This is why for the past couple of days I've been cranking out my weeding projects to the sound of Little Shop of Horrors, Sunset Boulevard, and other choice items from our media collection. It's working somewhat - I am finding myself more focused, but also more in need of regular breaks. I'm not sure if I'm necessarily getting more done but I feel like it because the moments of focus are longer and deeper.

I'm still intrigued, though, by the idea of walking away from the Internet for a month, or at least limiting my interaction heavily. Work email whenever, but personal email, Facebook, and reading only at certain points in the day (before and after work, for example). Could I manage that for a full week? Next Friday I leave on vacation and that might be the perfect time to attempt something like this. I might get more reading or writing done. I might be just as lazy and bored. But, until I remove the great procrastinatory variable, I'll never know.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

For Alex

Funeral Blues
W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Heat Wave

This has been the strangest year or so of weather here in the Pacific Northwest. After being snowed in for over a week in December, the earth now decided to throw a week of 100+ degree weather our way. I think that the earth really must have meant to send all of that to my family in New York, since they seem to have a lot of chill nights and rain. If someone could set this straight for me, that would be excellent.

Of course the week of unending heat would be the week that AK returns home from his camps out East. He's off this week, so instead of running around with small children in AC'd glory, he'll be at home cleaning and fixing up his class equipment. I am sure that he is more than excited at the prospect of spray painting in the sun.

Though I'm now slothfully draped on the couch with a fan focused directly on my back, I've actually been rather productive in the past few weeks. I've knitted more than I expected (on the third scarf of the summer, since I seem to have sworn off sweaters). I'm in the middle of several excellent books, though I simply cannot bring myself to finish To the Lighthouse. I'm not entirely sure what's cause this blockage. Maybe I'm not in the right mindset for Woolf at the moment or maybe I screwed myself by devouring Orlando before I tackled this novel. Either way, it's staring reproachfully from the top of my active bookpile and I'm starting to feel just a tinge of guilt about it. The book directly to hand is Zamyatin's We, which I ordered on Summit after finishing 1984. It's beautifully written and thus far the plot is fairly compelling. I'll write up a Goodreads review when I'm finished. I think I might re-read The Dispossessed after that, to finish out the dystopia trilogy. That is, if I can put aside Woolf for just a little bit longer.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Challenges of Composing

Though I only officially spend two days a week in Circulation, I tend to be assigned anything that has to do with developing documentation on all of our policies and processes. This is probably because I once volunteered to re-write some portion of the Circ Manual and soon became the victim of my own success. Not that I really mind the writing assignments. Truth be told, they tend to be my favorite part of the job. Despite this affinity, it took me some time to realize that writing documentation for a department is vastly different from the sort of writing I specialized in previously. For example, think about both a piece on creating and checking patron records compared to an essay on Robert Browning and Florentine Portraiture of Women. The underlying purpose of both works is identical - the writer is attempting to convey some idea or concept to the reader in as clear and concise a manner as possible. However, when the execution of both works are examined, the differences are rather pronounced.

In my experience, documentation requires a tighter hand and a terser voice than an academic essay, at least more so than the essays I created. This is perhaps due to the lack of persuasion needed in documentation. In documentation it is not really necessary to get the reader to agree with an argument because it's not necessary to really argue anything. Documentation reflects an established consensus. In my work, documentation is composed and then approved in meetings, so everyone is on the same page. There are also procedural constraints - essentially, this is how we create patron records because of how the system works so it doesn't matter how much anyone hates having to remember to type all the zeros into an ID number.

Because rhetoric isn't necessary in documentation, the piece is more to the point. This tendency to concision an unbelievable challenge for me as I have always been a wordy writer, as this sentence amply demonstrates. Put simply, I babble. I brazenly defy Strunk and White's call to "Omit needless words", relishing melodic though not necessarily pertinent turns of phrase. Even worse, a brief survey of essay titles from my first two degrees demonstrates a shocking affection for alliterative titles. When writing academic essays on history or novels - where story is paramount - this wordiness can be easily integrated and can even be a boon. But when the purpose of a piece is to help a new and harassed Circ Supervisor figure out how to create an alumni record on a weekend when the alumni office is closed and when the impatient patron at the desk, who forgot their alumni card, really wants to leave with their books, this predilection will only earn the author their co-worker's ire.

So what does a useful piece of documentation look like? This will certainly vary between different organizations and their particular information needs and styles. Below is what I do to make documentation better for me and my coworkers.

1) Keep it Visually Simple: By this I mean no dense blocks of text. Think of the difference between a reference book and a monograph.* A piece of documentation should be easy to browse. The reader should be able to pick out the portion of the process or information they need. Formatting is key here - setting out important details in bold or providing numbers for long sequences of steps. I often begin an entry for the Circ Manual with a short preamble that details the purpose of the documentation and/or the process or policy it describes. For longer processes, such as consortia borrowing, I might also include a paragraph that is a general overview of the entire process. From there I'll get into the step by step way to carry out the desired task. I make sure that the steps are numbered and well spaced so that the reader can follow along easily on the screen or via a printout.

2) Know Your Audience: Departmental documentation is used by both full-time and student supervisors. This means that as I writer I need to consider the reader's learning style, job responsibilities, and comfort level with technology.

In terms of job responsibilities, I mean what sort of procedures the reader can be expected to carry out. For example, a full-time Supervisor can and should be comfortable looking up the status of an alumni in Banner before creating a record. However, Student Supervisors do not have Banner access and cannot verify patrons this way. If the documentation leaves the reader lost or at a dead-end, it's ineffective and needs to be changed. The documentation should provide work-arounds or alternatives. For example, is this a dinner break and can they ask the patron to wait or is it during normal business hours and is there someone else on campus they can contact?

In addressing comfort levels with technology, I tend to err on the side of overly explaining. While it's not the point of "Place your dominant hand on the mouse and move it laterally to the Start button...", I do try to break a process down thoroughly. Those who are more experienced can easily skim and pull out the basics and those who need the full click-by-click can follow along. If writing documentation on a process that involved technology of any sort, I like to provide screen-caps. I've never thought of myself as a very visual person, but I have found that seeing that my screen matches the documentation can be comforting and can help when things get a little complicated. By this I mean I can sometimes condense steps by saying "Make sure your screen matches that below" instead of trying to verbally describe how a menu should be formatted. But I also try not to go overboard. My rule is that if there's a significant change in the menu or something else pops up, you make a new screen-cap. Otherwise, a short sentence will suffice.

Variations in learning styles can be difficult to address. But learning styles I mean realizing that people learn differently and thus expect different things from their learning materials. I don't think it's necessary to follow something like 4mat slavishly to ensure that your two page summary on shelving is absolutely inclusive (though I recommend giving it a read to get a better sense of the cognitive differences out there in your readers). Instead, keep a critical eye on your work and ask if the readers will find your work easy to understand. Is your vocabulary and terminology at the right pitch? Are you including enough visual cues (or too many)? Are you giving enough examples to help reader's apply the procedure? Additionally, I've found that giving a rationale for a process will often mean that it will stick with people more. By explaining that all of the zeros in a patron's ID number are necessary to allow uploads from Banner to overlay properly and prevent duplicate records, that bit of information might stay more firmly lodged in one's brain (and make record clean up all the more easier for me).

3)Date Your Footer or Indicate Edits: This is a pet peeve of my boss and one that I've come to take on myself. In order to make sure that the most recent, and thus most accurate, version of a piece is being used, note the footer with a "Last Updated" section. Do NOT use the auto dating function in Word. That will change the footer every time you open the document. Make it a habit when editing to change the footer and add initials if necessary. If using a wiki, this is an unnecessary step (which is one of the reason's why I'm longing to move our documentation to one!). If your department is a fan of track-change in Word feel free to use that (I am not and since I am often the only person editing the documents, it's not really necessary).

This is all I can think of for now, but I hope to add to this in the future!

*Bates, Marcia J. "What Is a Reference Book: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis." RQ 26 (Fall 1986): 37-57. I have read this article at least twice in my program already and it's still pertient.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A slight trim...

When I was small, my mother would let mine and my sister's hair grow out during the summer. We'd go running around outside with white blond ponytails that never seemed to stay up or free of twigs and tangles. Before school started in the fall, my mother would take us in to get the three months growth trimmed into easily manageable bobs. The first woman who cut our hair, a friend of the family, would sweep up our fine blond scraps and tease us by saying that they should be used to make Barbie dolls. For the next fifteen or so years, my hair followed the same pattern: start with a bob, grow it out until the knots or length becomes intolerable, chop back into a bob. There was a brief dalliance with "not quite a boy" cut towards the end of high school, but after that initial cut I could never seem articulate what I wanted. Thus the bob reigned.

This pattern remained unbroken until a November Sunday in London four years ago. Frustrated by the lack of water pressure in a fifth floor bathroom and the state of my greasy hair, I walked into a salon near Paddington Station and asked the taciturn Russian stylist to chop it all off. She gave me hair that was short, spiky, and slightly terrifying. But it's also exactly what I needed during a new grad program in a new country. I couldn't hide behind hair that was only half an inch long. I was out there, for better or for worse.

Back in the States, my hair returned to its former pattern, primarily at the behest of my husband and his preference for "girl hair". I've moved between bob, angled bob, nearly shoulder-length, and back to bob over the past four years. Recently I felt the need to chop it all off again. My current emotional state flows between relaxed with a novel to neurotic and up all night with a laptop wondering why I cannot seem to channel this continual creative urge. I started falling back into old habits of avoidance (my primary procrastination manifestation). I started to hide from people and emails. I needed to change something and, honestly, a haircut is the fastest solution. It sounds trite as hell - the image of a girl with a tear stained face slipping into a salon while simultaneously erasing a boy's phone number from her phone comes to mind - but it works. My hair is shorter and I feel more ready to take on world.

It's funny how a new haircut can bring about that sort of change, that the simple application of scissors can suddenly increase ones confidence and internal sense of badassitude. This past Sunday I walked back to the bus with funky cropped, chopped hair. The stylist spent a good fifteen minutes inspecting my hairline, my face, the texture and fall of my hair. She worked to "open up" my face, broadened the bangs, and essentially razored off the rest. I missed the tug of the razor, the sudden exposure of the back of my neck. I love the feeling when, washing newly short hair, my hands go too far back, searching for all of the hair I left on the salon floor (and, as my stylist complained to her coworker, in her shoes and her shirt).

Since I'm blind as anything, the process of the haircut itself was a complete mystery. In a way, I've grown used to this and rather prefer it. Instead of staring at myself in the mirror, a hated activity to start with, I close my eyes and try to see if I can feel how the haircut is going. I notice the weight of my hair start to subtly shift while watching handfuls of the stuff fall to the ground. After all these years I've developed a pretty good sense of what the final product will be before I can see it properly. However when I put on my glasses this time, I admit to being shocked. It's been so long since I've gone this short. It was strange to see my face in the center of that hair, all the trendy angles and my bright red face staring back.

I'm out there again and I think it's exactly what I need.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


During the summer between seventh and eight grade I went to what I fondly refer to as nerd camp. Imagine a college campus filled to the brim with overachievers from all over the country, all eager and energetic despite the moist heat of July in Pennsylvania. This was bliss. Since my math scores on the SAT weren't high enough to qualify me for any science classes, I signed up for a class on writing. For you see, when I was younger I wanted to be a writer.* This is perhaps the natural inclination of any bookish child. I believe the severely bookish wind up wanting to either create the works that bring them joy or want to surround themselves with the works that bring them joy. This does not necessarily mean that every writer or every librarian was once a severely bookish child, but it's probably more likely than you think.

The woman who taught my course is now a full English professor in her own right, information provided through the divine intervention of Google. My TA, however, seems to have disappeared as all I can remember is that her name was Eliza. Just Eliza. She was barely taller than me, with a slight frame, short brown hair and glasses. I want to add in a bandanna and cargo shorts, but I have a feeling that they've been added to my memory after the fact. Really the only distinguishing feature that my thirteen year-old mind has retained is that she was the first woman I ever met who didn't shave her legs. I remember workshopping an essay with her out in the stairwell during a nightly study hall. Perched on the wide windowsill against the black panes, she pointed out phrases on my looseleaf essay. I have no idea what I wrote or what she said, because it took all my effort not to stare at the long dark hairs on her thin pale legs. I sat across from her on the cool stone steps, nodding where appropriate, marvelling at how she must be either incredibly brave or incredibly crazy. Or so it seemed to my thirteen year-old self.

The only other distinguishing feature of Eliza (though, again, not one that's helpful in tracking her down) that I can recall is her favorite word: sluice. Our teacher asked us all to come up with our favorite word and I can still recall the slight smile on her face as Eliza drew out the sound of the world: "Slluuuuuiicceee". She had to define it for the class and I scribbled it down in the corner of my ever-present notebook. I still haven't forgotten it.

I hadn't really thought of Eliza, her legs, or sluices in years until today, when I came across this article. Here poets were asked their least favorite words. I have to say that I'm not a fan of "pulchritude" (also because I'm fairly certain I would butcher the pronunciation), but am guilty of using "chillax". The words listed in the comments are variously heinous and innocuous. Spatula? Really? I laughed at the continued hatred of moist. A friend of mine cringes terribly at the phrase "moist oyster", which is unfortunate as she lives in New England and cannot conceivably avoid either word.

The word I shared as my favorite all those years ago is, like Eliza's last name, forgotten. Today I am leaning towards inscrutable, but that's apt to change as nothing can have the same staying power as sluice.

*I also wanted to be a nun (wore suits and played guitar as far as I could tell). My father suggested lawyer since "you like arguing with me so much you might as well get paid for it".

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Summer Loving

The longer, brighter nights seem to get away from me faster than their shorter, darker friends. I come home from work brimming with excellent intentions and suddenly it's eleven at night and I'm still dancing around the house to my iPod instead of focusing on Virginia Woolf, my knitting project, or this blog. This, dear readers, is the true devilry of rock and roll - its procrastinatory powers.

I've been torn about what to put in this online space - the daily ramblings of The El-Jay are effortless, but this should be more of a thoughtful space. So I present something rambling and thoughtful: a play-by-play review of the new Tori Amos album.

While I love this album, it's more erratic in sound. Maybe I don't mean erratic, but rather eclectic. She's all over the place with sounds both old and new, in tone and mood. This could be an extension of the Doll Posse personae as well. I suppose that there's also the thematic linkage, though I tend not to dwell much on the lyrics during the first few times in an album. I am the sort of person who can spend years listening to a song, content with fuzzy lyrics or meaning (think early R.E.M.), and then will become utterly shocked when I actually figure out what's going on in the song. Suffice to say, my reactions here are more about the gut, the initial sound and flow of the tracks and the snippets of lyrics that I catch. The over analyzing of the lyrics are definitely more of an El-Jay pursuit.

Tori Amos -Abnormally Attracted to Sin

1. "Give": Dark from the start, feeling bits of Choirgirl here. She's stripped her sound back down again. It's focused without feeling too sparse, which leads to a greater sense of richness. Not rocking head bobbing, but a sort of swaying is provoked here.

2. "Welcome to England" : I completely understand why this is her first single. The more electronic stuff of late, but the lyrical flow and pulse of Venus/Scarlett (the two albums that I play the most). I am always a sucker for a gentle application of acoustic guitar with her strong piano rhythm. You can actually hear her piano here, which I want to say has been missing before ADP, but cannot be bothered at this point to go and research that. Call me on it if you can. This track is my favorite thus far. Also, "You've gotta bring your own sun...." See, the catchy lyric!

3. "Strong Black Vine" : Hi, Metallica circa S&M called and would like their sound back. I am too busy waiting for James to start singing to focus properly on this song.

4. "Flavor" : Bonus points for avoiding pretentious British spelling. There's the same atmosphere here as in "Give". A rolling, pulsing that could easily be monotonous but which she seems to make work. Atmospheric without making me fall asleep.

5. "Not Dying Today" : Okay, and now I'm waiting for... TMBG? Paul Simon? But it's working.... Okay, with the talking sing-song, I am totally heading to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, TN. It's the underlying, continual throbbing that puts it in the Simon category for me. Bonus Gaiman reference? I still like this though. Playfully funky, if we're looking for the soundbite.

6. "Maybe California" : Just Tori and the piano/strings, as basic as it gets. I am somewhat underwhelmed by this track. Ridiculous after praising so much of the "OMG, piano!" of earlier tracks. I am writing this after listening to this track for the third or fourth time and my initial prediction of "I will probably grow to love this song" is so far pretty dead on.

7. "Curtain Call" : Loving the piano rhythm from the start. Good energy, good build. The darker songs have these ostinatos that just carry them through. Solid song. Strangely

8. "Fire to Your Plain" : My gut flipped when I heard the opening as I flashed back to the "... the power of orange knickers..." Slightly bizarre, but enjoyable. Could this be a perky Tori song that doesn't involve zebras?

9. "Police Me" : Getting back to the "noise", but this is an effective application of it. Interesting switch up to that, what at least feels to my mind, 60s syncopation. I'll keep listening to it, but it's not a favorite by any stretch.

10. "That Guy" : Somehow the sort of quirky that works for me. Nice swing. Gorgeous orchestration with just enough of a slant into the minor to give it some character. Third favorite song on the album after "Dying" and "England".

11. "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" : I never seem to care for the title tracks on her album, so my lack of amazement here shouldn't come as a surprise. I do like "impeccable peccadillo". Musically, I think she's trying to do too much here and it makes me want to skip on to the next song. On this listening, I sorta feel this would make a good James Bond theme. Or am I just insane?

12. "500 Miles" : So the Pretenders immediately come to mind, which really isn't the fault of the music, but rather the title. This song is... adorable. And I mean that in the best possible sense. It's about as twee as Tori gets, which I appreciate. She's helped away from the edge by the strong drum/rhythm line. "In the land of the midnight sun, I lost myself..." Am I still too hung up on the idea of sun (or the complete lack of it today in Oregon)? In the running for favorite song of the album.

13. "Mary Jane" : The evil step-sister of "Mr. Zebra". I sort of wish Horowitz was alive to cover this. I am trying to ignore the forced cadence on the lyrics. Otherwise, quite excellent.

14. "Starling" : Ummmm, oookaaaayyyyyyy. Well, it's growing on me. Still growing. Check back in a few weeks.

15. "Fast Horse" : Yes to guitar and piano joined in such a manner from the off. "Girl, you got to find you the man who something something Dark Side". No, that's not it. I am sorry, I am too busy dancing around to this to type properly.

16. "Ophelia" : I am a bit wary of anything purposefully directed this tragic heroine, but Tori seems determined to prove me wrong (also, see the above note about not really paying attention to the lyrics until much further along). Gorgeous, intricate piano work. Rich vocals. A win for me.

17. "Lady in Blue" : Slow and soulful start. An uncomfortable atmosphere - meaning that I'm feeling slightly unsettled here, instead of pulled into the swaying bliss of some of the songs above. Ah, and now she kicks up the energy and the piano and I am fully invested in the song again. I guess this album neatly illustrates my limitations as a listener. There's also a sort of cadence here, a sense of wrapping up. But I have been listening to too many musicals of late, so that could certainly be a side effect.

To sum: a solid album with moments of excellent and only one song that I can't be bothered to listen to. Well played.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Still Alive

So yeah, in the midst of fighting through LIS 530 (which I conquered admirably), end of year for UP, the worst allergies of my life, two friends having babies and now packing up and sending AK off on his month long Great Summer Camp Trip, this blog has fallen to the side. I suppose part of the issue is that I barely had the time to think about anything that did not relate directly to either instructional theory or languages of description. I know I had this particular screen pulled up more than a few times in the past month, but nothing ever emerged. Besides, Facebook is a much faster and more effective way of expressing the frustrations and the joys of the quarter as everyone else who is suffering or celebrating are equally surgically attached to their laptops.

So the quarter is over and I am still alive and still seriously contemplating cataloging as a future. Apparently LIS 530 has a bit of a reputation for turning people off the idea of cataloging, which having survived the class I completely understand. I am drawn to cataloging through a combined desire to put everything in order and to make everything easily discoverable for the patron. But when you start thinking about not just how to put a MARC record together, but the years of thought and theory that informed its creation, your head wants to explode into tiny pieces. And this is after you've spent three weeks trying to wrap your head around the distinction between the manifestation and the expression of a work in FRBR. In my paper for LIS 500 (sort of a glorified "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up" essay), I wrote about wanting to follow my instructor's call to be a tool builder instead of a tool user. I'm quite naturally the latter and balking at becoming the former. Not so much balking as that I do have doubt that I'll ever have the skills required to do that sort of work. But I'm only through the first year and not yet in my tech heavy classes, so we'll see what comes.

Had things gone according to plan, I would be joining others in the start of the summer quarter. My one credit class was cancelled (along with the only other 1 credit I haven't taken) leaving me ineligible for financial aid. I was upset when the possibility of cancellation was first announced. But after thinking about it and looking back on 9 months of continual motion, the idea of sitting on my butt reading and catching up on errands and life for three months seems almost too good to pass up (even if AK will be travelling for a good third of that time). I'm still on track for graduation, so all is well. And I've already read two full novels and am nearly paralyzed by the amount of choice before me. Bliss.

Not much else to report. Today I accompanied a friend to her old lab at OHSU and helped her pitch failed mutant strains from her Ph.D work (little tubes of cultures and naphthalene that I helped her set up over a year ago). In tow was Mr. Rowan, her month old son. I danced him to sleep in the middle of a restaurant today and my right shoulder is yelling about it still. There are twins on the Right Coast that I have yet to meet but cannot wait. I am deeply unsure about having kids, but until I make that decision I am more than content with spending time with other people's (and then handing them back when they start to have a fit).

And now, to sleep.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Purpose Statement

This quarter features more of those "Why am I doing this??" moments than the previous two. First quarter I was too overwhelmed to really think about what was going on and last quarter was a rather relaxing stroll through reference and statistics. LIS 530 is proving to be challenging - mostly the thrilling sort of challenging with spikes of the terrible challenging that makes me anxious and unable to sleep. Some of this is surely latent gifted child syndrome ("Everything was easy and perfect when I was 11 and, despite my brains, I can't figure out why it isn't now!"). Some of this is that the professor for 530 intends us to struggle, to not dance straight into perfect quiz scores. I appreciate this on an intellectual level and am left kicking my feet and pouting on a five-year-old level.

While finishing a paper, working on a quiz, and trying to plan out the next step of another major project, I kept thinking about all of the other things I could be doing at that exact moment if I wasn't in school. A late weekday afternoon featured running, reading novels, knitting, bringing the house up to a state slightly above hovel, and fencing. When I wasn't in school I had vacation time and money to spend to go on vacation. I didn't have to worry about tuition rates, Internet outages, or due dates.

Oh, due dates. My eternal nemesis. How many hours did I spend avoiding you with the vain idea that I "produce better when I'm under the gun." Now that I am officially too old to pull an all nighter, I hate due dates even more because I have to work ahead of them. I am much, much better at organizing my time than I was as an undergraduate or in my first grad program, but I still find myself overwhelmed. All I do is school and I'm terrified that in the future all I'll be able to do is work. Is this something I love enough to want to do it all the time? Most days, yes. I am a big fat nerd about most of this stuff and love when I can see what I've learned playing out at work. I know that what I want to do won't necessarily take the absorbing fanaticism that an English PhD would have required (unless I manage to become that cataloguer). Is this what a career means? Will I have to live and breathe it or is it that I have a tendency to live and breathe whatever my goal of the moment is? My history shows an ability to hyper focus with abandon...

I'm not sure, and I have a lesson plan to write and 8 readings on indexing and cataloging to get to...

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Since LIS 530 tried (and failed!) to completely destroy me, and because today features some Portland gray and continual reminders of my favorite graduating seniors, I present a list of what remains awesome:

*Maria'n'Stephen'n'Phoebe'n'Alicia'n'Jennifier(x2)'n'Claire(x2) - the best iSchoolers around

*Charles Ammi Cutter - librarian, cataloger, badass


*Barnaby Rudge (I honestly didn't think I would be loving this as much as I am)

*Possibility of visiting EDDS in August and the sticky horrible beautiful mess that is a New York summer

*Boston holding it at 3-3 after going into triple overtime AGAIN

*The Triangle Offense


*The bus mall returning to 5th and 6th

*Three day weekends

*Going to the eye doctor on Monday (which means Health Care)

*New student supervisors to train (though I will miss my girls like whoa)

*The rain that washed away whatever it was that sent me into a Benedryl induced coma yesterday

*Sarah Waters at Powell's on Monday

*The Customer Service lady at Toyota Financial

*That boy who hangs out with me


So FRBR, ARCS, MARC, IFLA, dc:, 4MAT and the Portland NAC have eaten my brain and my time. I haven't had the time to create a coherent, non-work related thought in forever.

Well, except about Phil Jackson.

Growing up, the only professional sport my father seemed to care about was hockey (we watched the Super Bowl too, but only because it featured Buffalo wings). Though my father and I were both born on Long Island*, we loved and cherished the New York Rangers. I will never forget that magical season when Messier, Graves, and Richter broke the curse (especially since I spent years being furious at my father for not taking me to the victory parade).

Over ten years later, I find myself living with a man who adores not the blood, speed, and beer of the NHL, but rather the narcissistic drama of the NBA. My father loathed professional basketball, so it was never on home. Until I met AK, my knowledge of the NBA began and ended with Pat Riley's pompadour. With great pleasure, he patiently explained the rudiments of the game during the Laker's failed attempt to take the Championship from the Pistons. He waxed poetically on the tactics, the rhythm, the movement. And then he wised up and just handed me Phil's book, Sacred Hoops and I was hooked.

I don't want this to be an essay on "How a girl learned to accept her husband's interest in sports, even though sports are icky", because that's a patently untrue assertion. Sports are for anyone, both in terms of who can compete and who can watch. The four greatest baseball fanatics I know are women (just as the biggest romantic I know is a man). It's for everyone. Period. Besides, I've always enjoyed watched professional sports because it provides all I want in entertainment: drama, complexity, and an excuse to yell at the screen. Perfection.

So even though I won't get the chance to see the Blazers take on Phil in the Rose Garden, I'll still be watching... if only to watch Kobe pitch a fit like the brat that he is.

*This is important, because New York has two other teams: the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders. Once a coworker had Rangers' tickets he wasn't going to use and didn't think to pass them on to my Dad because he assumed my Dad was an Islanders fan. Heartbreak. Also, we hate the Devils and the Penguins.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Maybe Not...

I'm beyond a bit late to the party for this, but the newest song on repeat of the moment.

Look for the Bathroom version of "Some Fantastic". Excellent.

Today was ridiculously bright and sunny and warm, so very little was accomplished in the way of work. There's been running and cleaning and laundry and a flurry of posting to the message boards, but I've yet to work on drafts of anything. AK and I took a long walk after the sun went down and the topic turned to places we could eventually move. While we both like Seattle, we agree that we need some place that has more sun, not less, than Portland. He will continually lobby for San Diego, which I think is still too expensive a place to live (even with the housing market bottoming out). The iSchool is pretty heavy on the Australian connections, so maybe that would be a possibility. Unfortunately my knowledge of Australian fencing begins and ends with an expat who fences at NWFC, so some research is in order.

Since my sisters came out to visit, I've been thinking a lot about the East Coast. I don't know if I could ever live there again. The Hudson Valley is unrecognizable to me now. Public transport is nonexistent outside of a major metropolitan area (essentially anywhere except NYC and Boston). The energy is different too. As much as it pains me to admit it, I don't know if I'm cut out for East Coast living (or at least southern New York/Tri-State area living). Right now I can't think of anywhere I'd want to be other than Portland, but unless the state schools find money and people start retiring, I'm not sure of the job prospects. Economy, you have three years to get it together!

I never thought that this would be a place that I would be reluctant to leave.

The Return of Running

Before grad school started up, I was on a running regime of almost 20 miles a week - typically two shorter runs during the week and a long one on Sunday mornings. I peaked on a ten mile run in the blazing heat and decided that really a half-marathon would be my breaking point. I had planned on keeping up my running when grad school started with the idea that simply grabbing my shorts and sneakers would be a quick and easy break from the grad school grind. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case when I discovered that 8 credits a quarter (if broken up into 4 courses) made me insane and overloaded. After surviving Fall Quarter, I had plans to run again, but the Snowpocalypse of 2008 hit and kept us buried until well after the start of Winter Quarter. And I didn't run during winter quarter because I'm lazy. I get home from work and spend an hour making dinner, paying bills, cleaning up the place, or sitting on my butt not doing anything after working all day. Then I plunge into homework until 10 at night.

This is not to say that I've been a complete schlub the entire time. Yes, fencing had to give since AK coaches almost every night of the week and making it to an OFA practice is nearly impossible for my schedule. Almost every day I take a long walk, at least half an hour. I'm a twitchy type of person and I have to move. This is especially true when too many large projects are looming or the message boards look intimidating. I must move.

But I've been feeling the need for something more, for a proper sweat. I miss the pleasant exhaustion that follows a good workout. I miss feeling lean. So when a book on beginning running appeared on the new book shelf at work, I checked it out. There's a 14-week program in the back for people who are no longer beginners (you could run a 5k) but who aren't exactly out there on a half-marathon track. This morning I began session one of week one with a quick cycle of speedwork. It hurt only slightly (mostly my lungs). I absorbed so much wonderful sunlight and now I'm here on my bed, still in the sunlight, and ready for a day of laundry and literature reviews. Though listening to the birds and the stream outside my window, I'm a bit loathe to add to the background the thumping of the washer. An excuse? Perhaps, but at least I moved my butt today.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Access and the Supercatalog

There's a lot running through my head at the moment. My husband and I bought a proper used car, my family is visiting me on this coast for the first time ever (I have a younger sister next to me on the couch reading Coraline and asking me "What does this word mean?"), and the new quarter is currently destroying and rebuilding mental concepts.

I just finished an article* by Cerise Oberman on the supercatalog and the "Cereal Syndrome" that many patron face in light of this massive increase in information. The cereal syndrome is essentially the issue of "more being less". Consumer studies showed that an overwhelming selection of goods in a store can actually lead to an increase in anxiety among shoppers, instead of a sense of pleasing bounty (190). This information overload and the anxiety that it brings is increasing prevalent in the library world, as we are adding more and more resources and databases and things to the catalog.

Oberman, writing in 1991, spoke of the creation of a "supercatalog", a "totally integrated information network" (190). I believe this is nearly embodied in entities such as WorldCat Local. One search and, at least in my library, you receive hits in the UW libraries, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, and everything that anyone has cataloged and affixed a symbol (like Harvard and their reserve articles....). That is, quite simply, a ton of stuff. Students need to be taught to think critically in order to slog through a multiplicity of hits, databases, and other resources.

While I deeply appreciate Oberman's proposed methods (grounded in my dear Kuhlthau), I think she missed one vital part of instruction, namely evaluating access. Oberman alludes to this in her first point on the online environment, namely that students should understand the function and purpose of the catalog. In doing so, students should be taught how to get to the materials they're locating, once they've figured out that the material is appropriate for their needs. At work we talk a lot about how students just want to click one button and have the materials appear, but right now that's not feasible with current catalog functions. Students have to decide if a material is local, in Summit, or in WorldCat. They then have to decide if they want to order it, how to order it (there are two different logins students have to use to order materials) and then how long it will take/how soon they need it. At work we try to provide good customer service by getting things as fast as we can, but often students shoot themselves in the foot by not understanding how to locate materials. If students order on ILL a book in Summit, we're going to cancel the request and order it via Summit, but they have to sit and wait for an ILL person to look at the record and run the search. If they pick a record with 3 holdings, they should maybe emotionally prepared for not getting the materials or should seek out new resources.

I suppose I'm wondering if this is a burden that should be on the student or that should instead be on the catalog developers. I think the question should be not can we make the catalog one click, but should we make it that way? As long as students have to rely on courier trucks and the US Postal Service to ship books and materials, information will not be instantaneous. Should we leave students with that impression of immediacy or instead teach them about the limits of the system? While it might not make us feel that great about our product, it's a valuable piece of information for students who need to make quick and important choices about material selection.

*Oberman, C. (1991). Avoiding the Cereal Syndrome, or Critical Thinking in the Electronic Environment. Library Trends, 39(3), 189-202.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I should probably be finishing the last lecture I need to listen to for class tomorrow, but I'm feeling rather excited and alive at the moment, so it's best to write now. I'm typing from a table at the top of my hotel, looking out on the university. I spent four excellent hours this morning in class for LIS 560 (Instructional and Training Strategies for Information Professionals). My professor is as excellent and articulate as I remember from my first quarter. Once again, I'm happy that I have some knowledge to help me ground the material, though in this case I'm relying on what my husband does for living --teaching-- instead of library experience. Throughout the lecture and discussion this morning, I kept noting bits that I wanted to share with AK (either because he might be keen to know something or because I was learning something he'd already discovered and shared). Because the 560s tend towards youth services, I was a little hesitant about this course, since working with children is not anywhere close to what I want to do for a living (I know my limits). so I'm glad that I'll be able to come away with something that will help me in my training of students or future job talks.

But I'm just as glad that I'll have a better sense of what it is that AK does. Yes, he gathers up small children and adults and teaches them to fence, but he's never just stopped at that. He's always considering how to approach the material, how to best present the material and engage the student to both make the class enjoyable and to make better fencers. He's truly interested in the pedagogy of fencing, not just how to best win a touch. While he always has a plan for his class (6 week intro versus 1 week camp, epee versus saber etc.), it's never exactly the same. He's always considering his methods, looking at how to change and improve what he's doing. And while I think it's possible to chalk some of that up to his need for constant creativity (which isn't necessarily a flaw), a great deal of it comes from just wanting to do it better, to give the students a better experience and more knowledge. Since I've often been placed in the frustrating role of guinea pig when he's trying out some of these theories (which can be good or bad, depending on the idea... and on my mood), it's nice to think that I'll finally have the perspective from the other side of the piste.

After class and lunch with the awesomest workshop group ever, I visited with my advisor. Since this is the last residency ever, I wanted to touch base with her about my future, something beyond the core courses. We had a great chat, which is why I'm feeling somewhat pumped and excited about the future. We discussed how I could gain perspective of the field outside of the academic library world. Academic libraries, especially small liberal arts colleges, is the bulk of my library experience, both as employee and user. When I have to think about a career that doesn't involve becoming a systems librarian at a similar institution, I'm blocked. I really don't know my options yet. Really, that's because I'm still new to this field as a professional and I haven't yet developed the skills that will dictate my options. She feels that once I get through the beginning 530s I'll have a clearer sense of where I'm headed. The idea of doing a directed fieldwork in a similar, but non-academic environment was proposed. If I could track something down, that would be perfect - building skills and an idea of where I'm headed all at once. After that we just chatted about life and the world and other tangentially related topics. She's a very cool person and I hope to find the excuse to get up to Seattle again, if just to talk with her.

So now I'm back at the hotel, in the middle of the aforementioned lecture. The lecture and my meeting this afternoon lead me to think more on why I'm attracted to the organization of information. It's more than just a compulsion for order - I have often seen offices of catalogers that do not bespeak of a mind geared towards controlling chaos. Before I followed the path of Victorian Studies, I felt very drawn to the sciences, especially chemistry. I loved the precision of it, certainly. What I really loved was how you could write things down, how a simple collection of words and numbers could tell you so much. Entire reactions, creation and destruction, in a single line. If you could read it... Making things useful, making things accessible and easy, even if on the back end they're terribly complicated, is a lot of what we're doing now in libraries and a lot of what I want to do. There's so much possible data, but how do you get to it and how to do you render it in a way that people or machines can do what they need to do? That's the sort of question that I find interesting, though I doubt my ability to answer it. Well, at least my ability at this point in my career. But the question will still be there in three years.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Third Verse Same as the First...

Tomorrow I work a full day and then take Amtrak north to the final MLIS residency. While I'll certainly miss the inherent decadence of a forty minute flight to Seattle, I'm not missing the cost of a last minute ticket. I'm still hoping to get some funds from the travel scholarship, which would make my life so much happier and easier. We'll see.

In anticipation of residency I'm trying to ease myself back into a work cycle. It's amazing how easily the concentration and time management muscles atrophy with the slightest break in practice. Both my courses don't look terribly difficult, though I'm sure they'll be plenty challenging - I'm naturally nervous about them, but there's none of the abject fear brought out when I first read the Information Behavior course site. The only reading I've done so far is on metadata, which is a term that I admit I've thrown about with much abandon and very little understanding. While some the reading is floating in that nebulous philosophical area above my head, much of it is interesting on a practical level. I suppose that's what I find so attractive about cataloging and the like - how do I take this stuff and arrange it so people can find it and use it? I love the idea of making things easier to find and thus easier to use, be it by helping to clean up authority records in the catalog or updating a patron record.

One article*, which is an overview of metadata schemes in the library and museum world, there was a brief discussion about user-created metadata. Particularly in small communities (hobbyists), the shared understanding and, most importantly, shared language can be a boon for tagging. But, as I've seen in other studies, the lack of control can be an issue in terms of accuracy. I know of colleagues who dislike the idea of user tagging in a library catalog, not out of a sense of "Keep off my lawn, you crazy kids!" but more from the the realization that what is added might not be all that useful. A value-add should add value, not clutter things up. Getting a good base support of users to tag can be a challenge. An empty catalog doesn't spur on participation (if no one else is doing it, why should I?). While I know that I could probably hunt this down, doesn't anyone know of a successful user-tagging projects within the confines of a library catalog?

When read the article I was struck by the underlying calling for expertise. This shouldn't be shocking as the article seems geared towards nascent professionals. The idea of arrogance connected with expertise, the "I know what the user needs better than they do" has reared its controversial head in a number of my classes so I suppose I'm a bit sensitive to it. Is metadata a place where the user doesn't belong? At least, not directly. Clearly metadata and other features of the organization of information exist to serve a user based, which must always remain in the back of the mind. But I'm left wondering if you achieve the ultimate metadata goal (according to the article I read) of "rich, consistent, carefully crafted descriptive metadata" without some level of expertise and thus control. Does the creation and maintaining of the swarm of information surrounding information demand professional control or does it demand the creation of a controlled system that can be used easily by nonprofessionals (like Dublin Core)? How do you balance it all?

I doubt this is something that can be answered in ten weeks, but it's a start of something...

*Gilliland, A. J. (n.d.). “Setting the stage.” In Introduction to metadata: Pathways to digital information. Online Ed., Version 2.1. Murtha Baca ed. Available:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nicholas Hughes

When the news of his death appeared in my news feeds, I was saddened to hear of it. I felt that his sister certainly didn't need any more death in her life. I also realized that it was the first time I knew anything of the man who so neatly absented himself from the poetical spotlight of his family.

But, his death wouldn't be news unless the obituaries turned to recounting the death of his mother, his father's mistress, and his father. Judith Flanders says it better than I ever could:
Yet the "curse" idea is repellent. Repellent to those afflicted with depression; repellent to those whose friends or family have been so burdened; even repellent to lovers of poetry. Sylvia Plath killed herself after many years of psychological instability - she had attempted suicide in her teens, had undergone ECT. Her marriage had broken down, she was living with two small children through one of the coldest winters for decades. Like all too many others, before and after, in a desperate moment, she killed herself, having first carefully set out bread and milk for her two toddlers in their cots. That she had just written some of the great poems of the twentieth century is neither here nor there. She was a great poet, and a depressed person. She was not a great poet because she was depressed; she was not depressed because she was a great poet.
He was a professor who, according to the University of Alaska website, was well loved and dedicated. Let's remember that instead.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Food that You Eat

I wish I had an excuse for not posting over this somewhat relaxing spring break. Well, I have scoured areas of the apartment never before scoured (you know you have some sort of compulsion issue when you're using toothpicks to get at grime on a part of the stove no one will ever see). Break usually means reading, and I have been devouring books as best as I can (including an autobiography of a woman bullfighter and some Sarah Vowell).

I just finished Mark Bittman's latest, Food Matters. Bittman is the only reason I even bother with the food section of the New York Times. His How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian are staples in my kitchen. His recipes are simple, delicious, and come with handy sidebars on the variations you can do with dishes (which has lead to some successful "toss some stuff together and call it dinner" meals of late). In Food Matters, Bittman argues for a new approach to food and what we eat. I've known since I was seventeen and reading up on vegetarianism that the commercial meat industry is pretty heinous towards the environment. I know that the Food Pyramid developed out of marketing for the beef and dairy industry (even wonder why those sources of protein get to hang out on their own?). I try to avoid HFCS, and have all but banished white bread from the house (except for the occasional homemade baguette, because really bread doesn't get much better).

Bittman presents all of this, and more, in his defense of a better way of living. That's what I like most of all about this work, which is a type of diet book. He's advocating for a lifestyle change. It's absurd to think that a few weeks of something odd will leave you skinnier and healthier and able to go back to your old eating habits (I remember my parents going on that odoriferous cabbage soup diet years ago and my father dabbled in Atkins until the kidney stones hit). To improve your body, you have to improve your diet, which means long-lasting change, not just abstaining from sugar until your next weigh in. Bittmans' approach is interesting - essentially you bulk up on the veggies and plant matter, remaining vegan (or so) until dinner, when you can eat as you will. This approach makes sense to me, though I'm not sure how to work it around my own weird eating schedule (breakfast late at work, lunch as the primary meal, and dinner made primarily to produce leftovers for lunch). Vegetables and fruit are full of all the good stuff we need to survive, and are what our meat-poor ancestors lived on for centuries. Meat used to be flavoring, not necessarily the focus of the meal. And somehow along the way, with subsidized farming and a booming fast food industry, that idea was lost. Vegetable production (even the megafarms) is less harmful to the environment than meat and, in this crazy town of Portland, I have plenty of local and sustainable produce options available.

Though I think I might be hard pressed to give up on dairy as a whole (I love plain, nonfat yogurt and I'd honestly rather go without cheese or milk than head towards the soy), I think I could easily live like this, and live happily. However, food is a complicated and delicate subject in my house. I live with perhaps the pickiest eater on the planet. Imagine a typical four-year-old boy - big on the burgers, Cheerios, and pizza, and not so keen on much else. Now imagine he's grown up and can use a stove by himself, but is usually too lazy to do so, but has a car and knows where to get what he wants. That's my husband. I love him more than pretty much anyone else on the planet. He's intelligent, incredibly kind, and fun. But his diet is appalling in general, and in particular for a thirty-five-year old man.

When I was newly married, my mother passed on this bit of wisdom: if you love each other, you'll only fight about money. Well, in this house we rarely fight about money (Lego budget aside) and more often come to verbal blows over a 24 pack of Coca-Cola and Wendy's bags in the foot well of a car. As the using a toothpick to clean a stove incident might suggest, I am a touch on the neurotic side. Since my fencing has decreased to almost nothing and my running is a twice weekly affair, I've had to abandon my "I'm an athlete and I can eat whatever I want" attitude towards food. I've mostly vegetarian, bring lunch everyday to work, and try my best to eat something other than coffee for breakfast. I read food labels carefully (which is why there are two boxes of Girl Scout Cookies stashed in the freezer, since I discovered that two cookies filled about half of my daily saturated fat intake) and have been trying to cook more for myself and the husband. This is still a challenge. Tonight I feasted upon roasted beets and a tomato and red lentil soup (spiced up with cumin and garam masala). The husband might have a large bowl of plain pasta (no sauce... ever) or, if he's feeling adventurous, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the ubiquitous can of Coca-Cola. While he recovers from a late night of coaching I will be in bed, imagining that I can hear his arteries hardening and his blood sugar rising.

I know he's not going to drop dead in the next week, but I can't help thinking about what his intake of red meat and ultra-refined carbs will mean for the future (for both his body and the environment). I've managed to change in whole-grain pizza crust and whole-wheat/seed packed bread for sandwiches, but I can't seem to do much else. Yelling is ineffective, as are carefully placed articles on the amount of sugar in soda and the recent study on the dangerous of red meat. But I believe my husband isn't alone in this resistance, that his diet mirrors that of hundreds of thousands of other people in this country. How do you shift a country where the American Dream is celebrated by a steak and potatoes and washed down with cola? At times like these, I feel that I'm just a liberal urban hipster jumping on the next great alternative thing that will soon appear on Stuff White People Like. But it still remains that we are, inescapably, what we eat.