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Month: June 2007

Lazy Summers

Throughout each school year as I run crazily from meeting to meeting, class to class, and project to project, I keep a little list of all the projects I want to do over the summer. And during the academic year, this seems to make perfect, logical sense. Summer shimmers out in the distant regions of my imagination as this expanse of unscheduled time just waiting to receive these projects into its outspread arms.

Then summer arrives. Classes let out sometime in the first half of June (This year graduation was on the second weekend of June), and then it takes us all until the end of June get ourselves back on our feet. During this first half month of the summer, our fiscal year ends (read “we panic and run around getting facts and figures nailed down so invoices can be issued”), we have our end-of-year all-staff meeting, we realize that in the mad rush of the end of the year there are still hundreds of emails buried in our in-boxes, and the piles on our desks have become so entrenched that we don’t even notice them any more… they are the decor.

In July an academic summer camp or two comes through, so we teach classes for those kids. And any real projects we wanted to get done must also happen during this month because next comes August, and August is crazy busy.

In August we meet with new faculty, host a picnic for faculty and academic staff, design and print our new editions of trading cards, plan for new-student week, start learning of the classes we’ll be teaching when school begins, get ready to facilitate common reading groups, and generally get by on very little sleep and a lot of adrenalin.

So what do I have on my list of summer projects? Well, just a few little things:

  • Learn our new database and add them to appropriate subject guides for my disciplines.
  • Update all links everywhere on our site for our new MLA International Bibliography platform.
  • Clean up and update my disciplines’ EndNote filters and styles (and build an output style for a department on campus that have come up with their own citation style).
  • Update all my subject research guides (especially two that I’ve hardly looked at since I arrived here two years ago… yikes).
  • Learn how to support two new faculty who are coming in with very different research areas and needs from anything we’ve had on campus to date.
  • Develop a working knowledge of which journals are important to my area studies, and which databases are the best starting places for each of these somewhat interdisciplinary majors.
  • Become a better music librarian (yeah… really, this is jotted down in my notes… wish me luck).
  • Work on the MnObe group that’s envisioning the future of the library catalog for liberal arts schools in Minnesota.
  • Explore the possibility of a workshop offered jointly by the library and the WAC program on campus on the theme: Writing from Sources… What makes a good research assignment?
  • Read Common Reading book and come up with ideas for the library exhibit that will use this book as it’s theme.
  • Write up a couple of Moodle guides that people have requested.

Besides this, there are a couple of pretty gigantic department-wide projects that I might explain later. And yes… this is what I hope to accomplish in July. I think I’ll need two or three clones of myself. But since I don’t think “Clones of Iris” are listed anywhere in the library budget, I’ll probably have to content myself with prioritizing this list and only tackling the more important items, which is what I did last year, which is why some of these are left over from last year’s list, which is why I fear that I’ll go through my entire library career with a few of these things perpetually on my list of summer projects. Maybe I should get stationary printed with those things permanently printed in nice, neat bullets.

At times like this I remember that when I took this job (coming from a non-professional position in a very small library where everybody did everything), I worried that I might get bored with “only” reference and instruction duties. Heh.

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Appreciation

Every year, the Dean of the College sends a small note of appreciation to each academic staff member on the anniversary of the day they started working here. It’s a sentence or two on letter-head note paper, signed by the Dean, and expressing appreciation for that staff member’s work over the past year.

And by all reasonable standards, this shouldn’t be something to get so excited about. And yet, as my anniversary approached I found myself looking forward to getting that note. It’s funny how such a small thing can be so heartwarming.

Of course, it helps that I really like our Dean. He interviewed me before I came and has always done and said those small things that make me feel he actually knows and cares that I exist. But beyond that, I enjoy being part of an organization that takes even a small amount of time to pat people on the back and thank them for working hard. It really is the small things that make a difference.

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Late on the Uptake?

We’re having our mid-meeting break at the moment (all-staff meeting from 9 to noon, followed by lunch and a photo). But I wanted to share my favorite quote of the day. It came from a co-worker, who quoted a speaker he’d heard at the Frye Institute.

The library is pregnant with change. In fact, it’s nine month’s pregnant, and it’s in the delivery room. And the library has just decided it’s time to go out and buy a pregnancy test.

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But… What do you Do, Exactly?

I attended a cook-out this past weekend and had a wonderful time sitting around in lawn chairs talking, listening to others talk, or listening to the breeze whenever we all fell silent. The gathered group was actually comprised of two sub-groups: people who work at Carleton with one of the hosts and people who don’t work at Carleton but are cool and interesting anyway. By chance, I ended up spending most of my time sitting with the latter subgroup, and twice the Dreaded Question came up.

The DQ, as I like to call it (since I am a librarian and am thus compelled to make acronyms out of any phrase of two or more words), is only slightly less difficult for me to answer than that ubiquitous question: “So… where are you from?” Every time that omni-present conversation opener rears it’s ugly head I have to quickly assess whether the person wants to know where I was born, where I spent my early years, where I spent mostly of my time, where I’m mostly recently from before moving here, or if they just want to know where around here I live. The only thing I know they don’t want to know is everywhere I’m from. It’s very complicated.

But I digress. The DQ, as I’m sure you’ve guessed from the title of this post, comes just slightly after “Where are you from?” and it’s inevitable follow-up, “What do you do?” It’s the thing that comes after you say, “I’m a librarian.”

First there’s the instant smile and the comfortable “oh, that’s nice.”

Then there’s a pause.

And then comes the kicker: “So… what do you do, exactly?”

Long days at the office, dashes across campus to help professors conquer research emergencies, days spent agonizing over classes and preparing for student appointments, weekends spent “catching up,” and hours at the reference desk all flash through my head. But there’s not much that’s coherent, not much that I can latch onto and say “This. This is what I do.” So I rambled both times about working through research processes, sources, and analysis with students and faculty, teaching classes of students before they start out on research assignments, working with intellectual property policy on campus, and sitting at the reference desk several hours a week. We got into how the internet has changed this job in recent years and explanations about why people need a degree to do this job. And then people moved on to talk about a bar somebody liked, the neighbor’s dog, and how much money farmers can make from growing mint.

And maybe that’s ok. I have very little concept of what the woman next to me does all day even though she explained it, and her fiance told me the job is eating her live. Maybe there really are only a handful of jobs in the world that we all know and understand well enough that we don’t have to walk away from newly met people and wonder how they fill their time. Besides, maybe it’s more interesting to work in a job that has so many disparate parts to it, each one with it’s own challenges and rewards.

It’s also gratifying that people actually ask what I do rather than jump to the conclusion that I must shelve books all day. I never ask a lawyer what he or she does all day because I think I know. But I don’t, actually. And it’s only since my cousin became a lawyer that I bothered to find out that there are many branches and specialties in that field. Maybe having people assume our jobs have been usurped by Google is the best thing that’s happened for this profession in a while. Maybe now they’re curious about what happens when we aren’t sitting at the reference desk.

So as much as the DQ is frustrating and unsettling, maybe it doesn’t need to bother me any more. Maybe I can learn to love it as much as I love having people ask me what kind of dog my family’s mutt is, or what ingredients go into my soups.

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