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Advice for the Youngsters from Jaded Veterans

This list of advice from anonymous public library veterans has been making the rounds for the past month. Reading it, you have to wonder why anyone would go into the profession, a public library in particular.

broke down!

I decided to go ahead and call in sick at my cataloging job this past week. I had spent a few days in Chicago for spring break (woo hoo!) going to museums and one of the little tykes on a school trip infected me with some foul virus. Combined with all the stress of driving around Chicago and not eating any vegetables all week, I succumbed to the first real illness I've had since March 2001. I'm doing lots better today, but I'm guessing my significant other will soon take this opportunity to get sick too and want me to wait on him like he waited on me.

'Every working Day' Logfile Review

Or events, if you use Microsoft Windows.

Lets see, tally up the server machines I've got here, were looking at four servers log files needed to review. Two minutes a log file in a lame attempt to discover if anything is amiss, and problably about 4 log files per machine to look over. That is a grand total of 32minutes a working day. Is that really enough?

Shameless commerce division (Library Juice)

Rory Litwin of Library Juice fame, asked about posting a link to his libr.org shops, where he's selling t-shirts, undies and such, bearing the libr.org and Juice logos. If we had a "shameless commerce" category, I might have posted it, but then, would we be beholden to any vendor who wanted a free plug? Not sure what our policy is about such stuff.

the zero hour

Today I go in at one. After reading the not terribly descriptive (at least not descriptive enough to put my mind at ease) server documentation, I realized that a day and a half might not cut it to get this working. So I am going to ask that I have today to work on it as well. The way I figure is I can't really have been scheduled more than four hours on info and reference, and I should probably, at least on the reference time, be down and working on the server.

This involves a call at nine to ask them to "x" out the afternoon time slots on our soon to be defunct (oh god I hope) sign up sheet, so that I can get people off and get working.

I'd like to thank kctipton to bringing me back to my senses. After looking at the functionality of the software, and thinking about the big picture and how it's most consistent, I have decided the two seconds it takes to scan a card is just fine, staff and patron complaints be damned.

No, seriously, the reality of it is, we have a book budget, but no hardware budget. We take cards for the other internet terminals and the word processors.

Library card access lends some accountability.

The Time Access Console is a very limited program when it comes to the one time use numbers. We can't make reservations, for instance. All that the circ staff will be doing is looking at the screen to see what's available. So they'll be doing the reservations on paper, with the aid of the screen.

I am not allowing reservations further than the next half hour in advance. Why? Because people don't stick around and wait more than half an hour for their reservations. In the current set up, they sign their name down for an hour from the present time, get bored and leave, and then we're all confused about who gets that time slot.

I think I am going to have people sign in for a computer. If it's available, knock yourself out. If it's not, we take their name, library card number, and time the computer will come available. Then, when their time comes available, they come back to circulation and get their one time use number.

My thinking is if they don't have the one time use number in hand until log in time, they won't be as likely to a) take someone else's time slot accidently (or not accidently) or b) circle around the poor person on the computer trying to see when they'll be done so they can hop on immediately.

The circ staff is going to have some resistance because it's more work for them. It is. But it's going to cut down the conflict and unhappy patrons, I think, when it comes down to it. And it's not significantly more work. I guess I have to spin this not so much that it's a reduction in work as much as gain in efficiency and fairness.

And circulation will be doing, well, circulation duties, and librarians can do searching and help patrons, not spend time playing internet cop.

mail order diploma

My diploma is ready. Yay. I can't get into to town to pick it up, and I'm not going to commencement, so I had to stick an additional ten bucks in an envelope to fork over to Simmons so that I can get it certified mailed to me. I guess I would understand more if it was an overdue fine.

The kicker about the mailman here is I know he's going to fold it up and shove it through our mail slot. I know it. Perhaps I should put a sign on the door saying leave it on the back porch. I would have liked to have it delivered to work, but I feel funny about asking about that sort of thing.

I hope that Simmons puts it in a stiffy mailer. And I hope it's big. My diploma from college is about the size of postage stamp, and meanwhile, my husband's got his big impressive JHU and GW diplomas on the wall. My postage stamp from the state college did come in a leather case, though.

I've decided that even though I want to ask for library cards to use the internet, at this juncture, there's really no good reason to. I could do it if I thought we were going to get the card module any time soon, but I'm not so sure. And I suppose if I'm going to ask for cards, I should ask for a good reason. My fear is also that the email and Linux terminal will get fights, because they're the only ones that aren't going to be card only. Perhaps it's best to do this in stages. If we decide on the card module, and get the RAM so our server can support it, then we will start to put out signs and explain to people what's going on, so they can be prepared.

I think psychologically it will help the staff, too. And god knows we all need psychological help. (Hee, of course I had to throw that in). I think there's going to be some resistance to having to learn a new bit of software, that the extra step of getting a library card might just push them over the edge.

What is scaring me is people seem to think this is self serving... Which even if I was going to deploy that module, we'd be over there explaining it all day. It's going to eliminate conflict, mostly, and eliminate the need for the reference/info person to be the one that has to get up every half hour and nicely remind people to get the hell off. It will eliminate people coming in with ten minutes left on the half hour and saying, "I was only here ten minutes!"

I expect some complaints to begin with from patrons who have a hard time limiting themselves. I will let you know if that really happens, though. I know I've had patrons from other libraries say that they liked their library's timer software, too. So go figure.

It erases cookies and history and cache, though. Dang! The systems librarian likes the timer software.

I am really nervous about this. This is the first big decision I've had to make, and it's a little unnerving. I hope it goes well.

Europe starting to wake up?

In the Washington Post's "World Opinion Roundup" column, Jefferson Morley cites some European reactions to the Madrid bombings that I found surprising:

Sociologist Emilio Lamo de Espinosa says Europeans have been dreaming. Writing in Le Monde (in French), Lamo says Europeans have thought they would be spared because they haven't supported the Bush administration's policies.

"When the Americans declared war on terrorism, many of us thought they exaggerated. Many thought terrorism was not likely to occur on our premises, [inhabited by] peaceful and civilized Europeans who speak no evil of anybody, who dialogue, who are the first [to] send assistance and offer cooperation. We are pacifists, they are warmongers. . . . . Don't we defend the Palestinians? Are we not pro-Arab and anti-Israeli?"

"Can we dialogue with those who desire only our death and nothing but our death?" Lamo asks. "Dialogue about what? The manner in which we will be assassinated?"

"The war against terrorism will be long and difficult," he concludes. "It was that cretin, President Bush, who said that." [emphasis mine--ChuckB]

This man has thought through the issue of Islamofascist terrorism in a clear-eyed way, and has concluded correctly that the Islamofascists will not spare Europe just because they aren't America. He has correctly perceived the implacability of Al Qaida and its associates towards all of Western culture.

Morley's column finds the Guardian taking up the same theme:

In London, the Guardian says "emergency security meetings across Europe yesterday signaled the deepening recognition that the 200 deaths in four trains blown up in Madrid on Thursday probably constitute more than just a domestic Spanish terrorist event." The leftist London daily says no European nation will be spared, no matter what its past stance on the war on terror or Iraq. [emphasis mine--ChuckB]

I would go further and say that 9/11, and Bali, as well as something like Madrid 3/11, would have taken place even if the U.S. hadn't invaded Iraq, or even if Bush hadn't been elected. Of course, the invasion of Iraq necessarily changed the calculations of AQ et al. in their choice of targets. It brought new problems, new demands, new reasons to attack here instead of there, but the first WTC attack, and the USS Cole attack, and the African embassy bombings show us that war was declared years ago.

Until the war on terror is over, the question will never be "Will they attack?" but rather "Where?".

R-ing TFM

So today and tomorrow and Monday morning I'm doing the ol' RTFM aspect of network software installation. The more I RTFM, though, the more questions are arising. Technically this is a upgrade, and I'm adding a module, but it sure sounds like I have to reinstall the whole server and client software. That just doesn't make sense though. It seems like creating tons of extra work for myself.

I am still playing with the card access system. The people on the nameless listserv are saying pretty much what I thought they would -- they're split down the middle. But from what I see, I have nothing to lose by asking to see a card and everything to gain. We will still have our terminals out that aren't card access, of course. No printing off them, unfortunately. Not until I can tweak them further.

I had a discussion with a supervisor about the direness of the hardware situation. In a home environment, the hardware could last indefinitely, until it was finally too obsolete to run anything. My husband's boss just gave up his 386 a few months ago. In the public environment though, hardware has the shelf life of milk left on a picnic table in July. Our new machines act wonky from time to time. It's no wonder. People log them out constantly, bang on them, shut them down improperly... I get testy when people (or anyone but me anyway) insults the machinery at the library. Considering what it faces day in day out, I think it's pretty remarkable we've still got some serial mice and P1 chips kicking around.

And I was never a Mac person, but am fast becoming one. For the love of pete, don't insult the Mac. OS X is a happy middle ground between Linux and Windows. Easy to navigate, somewhat easier to configure, and less than $130 for the OS.

I had a patron tell me that in the OS wars, Windows was the lesser of two evils. I wanted to remind him that there were, ahem, more than two operating systems out there.

Anyone else psyched about the 2.6 kernel coming out in the form of SuSE 9.1? I've wanted to compile and play with 2.6 since it came out several months ago, but I'm too scairt of screwing up the ubercomputer. I'm still too newb to compile my own kernel. So yes, all you cool Linux people I totally want to be one day will say, "Jeez, chick, 2.6's been around for ages..." I know. I just wanted it in the Linux flavor of my choice. I heard SuSE 9 Pro didn't run real well if you used the experimental 2.6 sent with it.

I saw road atlases in the supermarket today and felt compelled to pick them up and look at them. I think, with the roads around Boston changing almost daily thanks to the Big Dig, it might be time to just trash and buy all new ones. I hate people coming in for directions and heading directly to MapQuest. MapQuest stinks!

Librarian Wannabe

First entry...hmm...well I'm currently emloyed as an IT drone for a large insurance company, but I've decided to change careers, for a variety of reasons I'll explain later. My current plan is to become an academic librarian, specifically doing IT stuff at a Library.

I've applied to go to the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I'm currently waiting to see if my applicaton is accepted - wish me luck!

Stress and burnout in library service / Janette S. Caputo

The "interesting" thing is that this title is in my library, the STM library on campus, rather than in the social sciences library. I wonder if this is related to a perceived need in my library back in the early '90s when the book was published.

Some choice bits include

Libido: A decrease in libido also frequently accompanies high levels of stress.... Because of social conventions and concern about job security, satisfaction of sexual needs is likely to occur outside the library workplace....(p 92)

and

tearing down the Berlin Wall @ your library

Today I withdrew some atlases from the collection. Goodbye, thirty year old atlases. Goodbye, East and West Germany. Goodbye, Soviet Union. If I held on to them a few years longer I could have just pencilled in the word "historical" on them. No one would have known the difference.

There are a few I am sorry to see go. The Atlas of Africa, for instance. It's a good thing to have, and I'm having a hell of a time finding a replacement, but a forty year old map of a rapidly changing continent isn't terribly useful.

I need to order more atlases. I have a few trickling in, but I feel like we have gaps in coverage.

An argument for timed access software (discovery of link thanks to Librarian in Black): this little article from CNN that tells of a kid that went batty when dad turned off the game. This is what I fear some of our patrons will do when you tell them their time is up.

I downloaded the documentation for the timed access software, and now have to really buckle down and think hard about some things. My direct supervisor said she didn't want the librarians managing it, which was my first instinct. I mean, logically I would have it at reference. Now that I see the interface, I think perhaps it wouldn't hurt to have it at circulation. The only trick is printing off the one time use numbers. There are no printers at the circ desk. So I have to see what I can do to print them off easily. I am thinking perhaps trying to network the nice printer in the professional's office to the console. Either that, or I can physically haul a printer out and hook it up on a given day of any week. Or I could install the console on another terminal as well, and print from there. I think.

I'm also grappling with the library card issue. Technically, with this software, there's no reason to have them present their library card, except that we make them present their library cards for the one hour terminals and the word processing terminals. I say we should be consistent one way or the other. I like the idea of presenting cards, but the staff is split about fifty fifty on the issue. There would still be cardless access, it just wouldn't be whiz bang cool cardless access. Unless you're a geek like me that thinks Linux is da bomb.

Da bomb. I can't believe I just said that. That's the kind of day it's been.

I've been scheduled lightly on reference and information this coming week so I can devote some time to getting this puppy up and running (and getting some training manuals under way.) I am going to be one busy librarian this week. The very nice people at OCS swear up and down installation is easy. I do have to say they've been more than helpful in answering my questions as we go into the demo period. Let's see how the config goes. The network is basically all together now, at least. I just have to plug the circ computer into it. And get memory into the circ computer. That might be a Monday night thing.

I am worried about our feeble little once unfiltered terminal that can't seem to get up the gumption to recognize more than 32 MB of RAM. I don't know if it can take the network programs. We once had the printer software set up on it, so I guess it can handle that. But today it was complaining to me about lack of memory.

Today the woman at circ's daughter came in and asked how writers just know all "that stuff." I told her that's because there are good librarians behind them.

What is News?

Well, it's obviously different things to different people. Today the big news is how a cast member of the 'reality' show The Apprentice is accusing fellow cast-members of calling her names. A completely artificial grouping of heretofore unknown and not very likeable people cast together for the purposes of so-called "entertainment" and one calls another a name. The headline is repeated from coast to coast. What am I missing here?

when I talk tech, people's eyes glaze over

At least, in person, at work. I think I explain things better, or at least I am clearer, in print. I can think about what I'm going to say. Public speaking at any level is not my strong point. I can do it, just not my strong point.

I was talking in a staff meeting yesterday and just got the feeling that I was sounding like an adult in a Peanuts cartoon... "Wonk wonk wonk wonk wonk wooonk." I could pick out the two people who actually knew what the hell I was saying.

I have a very specific list of things I want to get done today. Since today is Friday, we're conveniently half staffed (sigh). I want to pull some of our old atlases, since the new ones have started coming in. I want to download the documentation for the timed access software. I have to wait till Monday to actually download the exes, being that they're updating this weekend.

I think the best plan for signing people up for the computer is the simplest. A list with name, computer number, library card, and time they signed up for. Very similar to what we have now, yes. Except they have to go through the added step of going to information, and they have a strict half hour limit. This will help information (and reference, when reference is there) keep an eye on who's over there. It will also discourage people who just pop on for two minutes. They can use the email or Linux terminal.

I am debating about the presentation of the library card. I like the idea. I want a number if something gets damaged and the next person reports it, you know? Not saying that things are intentionally damaged on a regular basis, but these things are time consuming and expensive to fix. That, and there will be a way to check if little kids using the computers really do have mom and dad's permission. Right now they can jump right on with no check (at least, downstairs), and that bothers me.

So today I make signs saying we'll have downtime next week (the staff is overjoyed... the internet is a point of disgruntledness among us) and that the system will be going card only. I've got to talk to the assistant director about this, though.

I like public librarianship. It certainly is a challenge. I worked retail for many years through college, and I think that was great preparation. I knew there was a silver lining in all those years of retail.

I had an English teacher in high school, who I adored, who reminds me of a certain administrator in our library. Same mannerisms, same sense of humor and justice. I feel quite at home.

To Library School or not to Library School?

OK, time is ticking. I am strongly considering working on an MIS (or is it MLS? I forget) through the U of North Texas web-based program. I've started the application process, but I have a lot to go. I got great test scores last May, and I am pretty sure they'll accept me as long as I get my bazillion transcripts all mailed in :(

Illiteracy Advocates

For some reason librarians and cats are thought to go together. I never really understood why until yesterday. The reason finally dawned on me last night while I was lounging on the couch trying to read. Dogs are illiteracy advocates.
I have two of the little canine angels – a pug and a rottweiler. I can sit and watch a movie, type away on a laptop, or write a letter to my granny, and they are content to do their own thing. But, as soon as I take out a book – Watch out! They go into the anti-read mode. Here are some of their favorite techniques:

Beware of E-Books that go bump in the night!

A blog entry from Tegan describes the joys and perils of discovering e-books available through her local library late one night. Unfortunately, the book in question was Neil Gaiman's Coraline, so Tegan did not sleep well. However the entry and its comments provide some interesting perspectives on e-books from readers.

Outreach, Cheers-style

One of my favorite types of reference question is the bar bet. You pick up the phone and are asked a trivia question. In the background, there's a jukebox or a tv, and the sound of clanking glass. Usually, the patron is in a pretty good mood and thinks you're a goddess for being so smart and efficient for telling them that no, Marilyn Manson was not the geeky sidekick on "The Wonder Years."

Yesterday, I got such a call--a real easy one: "Who directed Forrest Gump?" My standard line, which I offered yesterday, is "you know, it's customary to tip a librarian 10 per cent of any wager made in a drinking establishment." Often times, you'll be invited down for a free beer and everyone chuckles and no one expects the librarian to actually show up. The offer was made yesterday and since it was St. Patrick's day, I said I'd think about it. About 5:15, one of my colleagues announced that I had a phone call, and that it was really loud in the background. It was the Forrest Gump patron, wanting to know where I was. Since the bar was on my way home, I decided to stop, IF I could find parking, which I figured was not likely on St. Pat's day after work. Lo and behold, there was a parking spot right in front of the door, so I parked and went in.

I pulled up a barstool and told the bartender that I was the librarian come to claim her free beer from Bob. She crossed the bar to tell Bob that the Librarian was in the house, and I was waved over. Bob called out to everyone in earshot that the Librarian had arrived, and I was Queen for a Day. Apparently, there had been a wager placed about whether or not I would show up. About 6 people gathered around to meet me and shake my hand, including the owner. A beer appeared and I got to talk about the library and being a librarian. Everyone told stories about librarians they had known and loved, and Bob, the original caller, appeared to be a bit of a library wonk, wanting to talk about databases and search strategies. I think he was trying to tell me about a federated search interface that he uses at the University library. I nodded in rapt attention, not having heard the word "Agricola" used so much in my life. He also extolled the awesomeness of CDC.gov and I clued him into IMDB.com. When I mentioned that I had just missed the boat on a job at the University library, Bob and his buddy, a university electrician, told me to keep trying, and said they'd put in a good word for me with "the gal who's probably 4th or 5th in charge there." Right as I moved to leave, another Leinie Red appeared magically before me. I took a few polite sips and thanked everyone, but said that I turned into a mom at 6 p.m. Some gnarled septugenarian sipping from a can of Falstaff patted me warmly on the back and told me to come back any time. What a hoot! And such nice folks.

Time Traveling Librarian

I came across this book about a time traveling librarian from Chicago. The book is called, "The Time Traveler's Wife" Book can be found here.

it's after me

There was a patron that came up to me yesterday, a regular... Not particularly a problem patron, but one of a group of kids who does have the tendency to be a problem from time to time... not because they aren't generally well behaved, but because they cluster. What did she have in her arms but a copy of the aforementioned The Innocents. The book is chasing me. She of course didn't take it out, because the book is only staying in the library to show up in weird places and otherwise freak me out.

I think I have worked out a solution to the timed access dilemma. I think that librarians and circ staff should share the duties. Circ staff will register, and librarians can do any administrative tasks that come up on the console. That leaves information free to do information, and circulation free from having to learn the software. This will also lend credence to the card only restriction.

Personally, I think it's silly the computers aren't card only. I might have a hard time convincing some people on the staff otherwise, though. I mean, true, you aren't physically taking the computer out of the building (well, some people have tried, before my time there, I guess), but there's a lot you can mess up on a computer. And arguably, it's just as if not more expensive and involved to fix it than a book.

I do wish we had the finesse of the Horizon integration with the demo software we're trying. It takes 256 MB RAM to run the software and another 256 MB for every 250,000 users. How many card holders in the consortium? God, I'd say at least a million. RAM is essentially cheap, but tack that on to the $1000 for the integration, and that's still scraping by on bare minimum.

I was told by Boston that their system runs appreciably well but is still slower than they'd like on their server. Considering that the computer on my desk right now has the same specs as the server at our library... Well, you get the picture. I could run an internet cafe out of my backroom.

Robert Bork criticized

Catching up with The Remedy tonight. In the middle of an interesting post ("Saving the Republic, Killing Freud") I came across a strafing of Robert Bork, the Reagan Supreme Court nominee who was not confirmed. Of course that seems odd, coming from a conservative blog, but it is worth paying attention to.

One occasion for the posting is an essay by Colorado State Senator John Andrews on the possibilities and difficulties of preserving the American Republic. I haven't read the essay, so I am relying on Claremont blogger Thomas Kranawitter's discussion of it. Kranawitter:

[Andrews] writes, "today's constitutional conservatives agree that these republican checks upon democracy are justified by the unchanging moral order of the universe itself." Some, perhaps many, conservatives believe this. But not all. And not many of the most influential conservatives.

For example, later in his essay Mr. Andrews cites a recent book by Judge Robert Bork that chronicles the moral bankruptcy of courts around the globe. But Bork himself has lent his authority to undermining moral right, arguing in his The Tempting of America that there is "no principled way to make [moral] distinctions," that we "put such issues to a vote and ... the majority morality prevails." Can one imagine a purer defense of unmitigated democratic moral relativism? For some unexplained reason, Mr. Bork rejects moral relativism only when it is issued from a court bench, not when it comes from a popular vote.

Fellow conservatives, take note: if Kranawitter is correct, Bork believes that there is no principled way to make moral distinctions, and that sheer democratic force is the way to decide such questions.

That scares me a great deal, and I hope it scares you as well. Fifteen or so years back, when I was much more apt to read The Nation than The National Review, I picked up a copy of the latter (I think I was a para-professional doing reference in a public library branch) and found an article on Bork and natural law. The (conservative) author was of the opinion that it was a good thing that Bork hadn't been confirmed. He cited Bork's own writings to show that Bork denied the notion of natural law. The author ended the article by suggesting that Bork's silence on the Declaration of Independence (our nation's founding document, which affirms natural law and reasons from it) ought to raise serious doubts in the minds of conservatives about Bork. I'm inclined to think he was right.

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