A couple of weeks ago Bryan Garsten came to give a convocation speech here. The speech consisted primarily of a tale of several conversations in which his cast of semi-fictional characters hashed out what they thought college was for. But before he began that tale, he started with a beautiful little metaphor.
Arguments wear clothes, he said. When you bring an argument out into the world, it should be clothed for the appropriate occasion. There do exist argument nudist colonies, but in the end these remain on the margines. Appropriately clothed arguments, on the other hand, have power and sway in all areas of society.
I’ve had the more standard stress dreams, the ones where I’m supposed to teach but have no idea what or where and I’ve missed most of the term already, the ones where I’m supposed to take a final for a class I don’t remember enrolling in and have never attended. Last night I had a new kind of stress dream.
The library’s heavy duty stapler had died under the constant stress of massive eReserves printouts and student frustration. The library had decided that handing out large paperclips was the better way to go considering the expense of a new heavy duty stapler and the amount of time we spent fixing it every week. Then we got an email from a (fictional) history prof on campus who had forgotten that librarians might be on the all-campus email list and had sent out a passive-aggressive plea supposedly behind our backs asking for the campus to chip in and help buy a heavy duty stapler. (Man am I glad this guy doesn’t actually exist.) This prof hinted that the library must not care much about the history department since our decision hurt them the most. He also said that only one model of stapler would do and that he intended to collect the money and then hand it over to the library so that we could make the purchase.
When we looked into it, it turned out that this model of stapler was discontinued (and yet we knew we’d have to find one anyway). Not only that, but the staples that it required were only available in small quantities at auction, and each set of 100 staples came in its own display box, much like the little boxes watches come in, with the staples hanging from a display stand. As you would imagine, the staples weren’t a bargain.
At this point, I woke up in a cold sweat.
I’m finding it harder and harder not to tune out on ebook topics. It’s all too broken and I can’t fix it.
“How do I use an ebook,” one of my faculty asked me this week. “I see them listed in the catalog, but then what?”
Turns out he has and loves his Kindle, but library ebooks are impossible. “Well, you see,” I start explaining, “You have to use it on a browser because this particular kind of ebook comes from EBSCO, which doesn’t work with your Kindle, and which doesn’t actually work with YOUR browser because EBSCO uses its own PDF reader that doesn’t work with Firefox on a Mac unless you download this extra plugin that you haven’t downloaded yet because otherwise yes, you’ll have to download single page by single page and open them in Preview. So let’s go find that, and now we have to restart your browser, and shoot… it’s still not working. I wonder why. I’ll look into that for you. For now why don’t we try it in Safari. So yeah, now we know that if you go to Safari, and be sure to log in for off-campus access, and THEN go to the catalog and find your book… shoot… it checked that book out to your other browser that wouldn’t open the book. So you’ll have to wait until tomorrow and then use Safari and log in for off campus access and find the book in the catalog and click the link. Then it should work.”
But this is not actually my definition of “work” unless you mean the kind of work that people pay you to do. But no, this is the kind of “work” that I pay for, and that still isn’t easy or fun, even though he owns an ebook reader he loves.
Try as we might, we can’t get chat clients to connect to meebo, which means we’re having a rough time staffing our MeeboMe widgets. It worked until sometime earlier this year, and then I spent most of the summer thinking I had done something wrong and trying things here and there to fix it, but now it turns out my co-workers are having the same problem. Any ideas? Or is it time to start looking for a new service to host chat widgets?
This summer has been a summer of Big Thoughts at work. We’ve been writing our departmental self-study, summing up our present and laying the groundwork for our future. We’ve been grappling with a major project that’s requiring far more thought about everything from logistics to philosophy than I’d anticipated. We’re writing two articles and a college report based on that project, each of which has thwarted us at nearly every step. (And if you’re one of the people who’s waiting for manuscripts of these things, we’re sorry. Really we are. We’re working on them.) Our campus IT department is restructuring, which means that our public service collaborations with them are restructuring, and I’m the library liaison to those things. A new building with a new kind of collaborative learning space is opening next week, so we’ve been thinking big thoughts about how best to balance our enthusiasm for the new service potentials with our capacity to do it all. And somewhere in there, in bits and pieces, Steve and I are working on a book.
And somehow this whole time it’s like I’ve got some sort of mental block. It’s like I can approach that point at which thoughts fall into place and a framework emerges, but I can never quite get there. All the component parts are lying there in a heap on my mental floor, and I can’t seem to disentangle them enough to pull one out, turn it this way and that, and watch it map itself onto the final structure. And so I’m left with a fragile jumble of interesting facts and ideas and a growing sense of frustration and failure.