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Month: December 2007

Quite a Year

It’s been a strange year. It’s flown by like no other year I can remember, and yet more has happened than in any other year I can remember. Here are some of the stand-outs, in the order I thought of them:

  • My best friend fell in love and moved just about as far away from here as she could get and still be in the U.S. Then she got engaged.
  • The Library Society of the World got started and is now pretty much the cornerstone of my social life (sad, I know, but these people are amazing and I’ve made some wonderful friends).
  • Swing dancing re-emerged as a hobby.
  • My library survived consultants and reorganization (very minor reorganization, but it entailed many meetings and some uncertainty anyway).
  • I totaled my car and bought a new one, which also introduced me to the new experiences of dealing with insurance companies, negotiating with car dealers, and making car payments.
  • My computer died and so I bought a new one… and learned Vista and Office 2007 in the process.
  • Librarianship and my place in it started to make more sense. Most of the time, I’m even reasonably competent now, which is great!
  • My sister graduated from college.
  • My youngest brother started ask my librarian-self for help with his research… and got a healthy dose of my sister-self’s help into the bargain.
  • Twitter happened. ‘Nuf said about that.
  • I wrote a chapter of a book with one of my co-workers and discovered two things: that she and I work very well together, and that chapter writing is a pain in the neck…. and inordinately time-consuming.
  • I figured out how to direct a vocal choir, and started directing the college handbell choir.

Meanwhile, what with all this stuff going on, I’ve had an increasingly hard time writing. I haven’t kept my paper journal, haven’t written here very much, haven’t written in any of the places I normally wrote before. Currently I don’t know what I think about that. I’ve been staring at the screen trying to think of something coherent to say about it, but I can’t seem to find my way through to a complete thought. All I know is that I hope this changes, and soon. And I hope that I can manage my workload and personal life such that writing becomes the seamless part of my life that it was a year ago.

Meanwhile, I’m going to kick back and enjoy my last Sunday before the beginning of Winter term. Fall Term took a lot out of me, and I don’t think I’ve completely recharged my batteries yet, but Winter Term waits for no librarian. And I’m actually kind of excited about the coming term. We’ll begin with round two of trying to hire a social sciences librarian, and there are some really interesting classes coming up that I can’t wait to support.r

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The Guide From Hell

Researchers of Jazz are probably familiar with Lord’s Jazz Discography. It was one of those behemoth reference works that started had ambitions of several dozen volumes containing the most comprehensive collection of information about jazz recordings ever compiled. And they did publish volume after volume. But for some reason, our library stopped collecting after the middle of the Gs, and now the following volumes are out of print. This makes any kind of research rather difficult unless you happen to want to study an artist who’s name begins with A-Gha. Meanwhile, there are a couple of classes offered every Winter term that could really use this resource, if only it spanned the entire alphabet. You can imagine the frustration.

Well, this year, Lord finally came out with a web version of this resource. It wasn’t very expensive, and it made a familiar but unusable resource suddenly usable, so we snatched it up as soon as it hit the interwebs.

Unfortunately, the designers of this unique resource had never heard of interface design. I could go into details, but it would just make me cry, so suffice it to say that it’s almost unusable unless you’ve either designed the thing or worked with somebody who knows how to tease information from it’s unwilling and moody navigation structure. What’s more the “Help” spends more time describing 13 different types of screens you may land in at any point, the space-saving techniques (only relevant to the print version, by the way, but carried over nonetheless), and the wonderfully flexible numbering system that makes this whole dynamic index work without page numbers for reference… it spends more time on these kinds of things than it does on actually navigating the system or explaining that things like phrase searching are impossible. (I only wish I could make things like this up…)

Clearly, the professors and students who will be using this in 2 weeks’ time will need more than that as they begin their research, so I decided to make a user guide before announcing that we’d acquired the database. This guide would give enough information that the click-phobic could click away without worrying that they’d erase the database, and it would be pared down enough to fit neatly on the front and back of a piece of paper (or else nobody would look at it, and it’d be that much wasted effort). Well, I’m pretty good at figuring out systems, so I budgeted a day an a half for this project: half a day to figure out the system, and a day to design the guide.

HA!

I’ve now doubled that time and have only just figured out what it is that I’ll need to do tomorrow to finish up the project! I was not prepared to spend an entire day clicking on everything in sight to see what it did or didn’t do. (True fact: underlined things are not links, regular type is usually a link if it’s a name and not an abbreviation or a number, and the only glossary for the abbreviations that litter the screens is hidden in the “Help” section.) Even after all this time, I still had to educated myself on the history and conventions of the recording industry in order to make sense of the various alphanumeric codes that can accompany any given recorded tune. These things were not included in the “Help” section, by the way. I was not then prepared to spend another entire day trying to create a design for the handout that would distill the craziness down to easy steps and concepts. Today I spent every possible moment trying to make incredibly complex navigation structures seem less overwhelming through manipulation of font and color.

Hopefully I’ll finish this crazy thing tomorrow. But even so, I know that I’ve made this guide for an audience of professors and librarians. There’s no library or search jargon or anything like that, but it’s not nearly as task-oriented as a student would like. As soon as I hear about the assignments that students will receive, I’ll have to evaluate their needs and write up new guides.

Meanwhile, I’ve systematically erased from my whiteboard all the other projects I’d wanted to get to this week, leaving only the few that absolutely MUST happen. And one of those I’ll be doing this evening as I watch something brainless like Project Runway.

… And people wonder what we do when school’s not in session…

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Totally Engrossed

Ever since graduate school, I seem to have lost the capacity to read for pleasure without great effort. It’s the only thing I regret about my education.

Until entering college, reading was a huge part of my life and my education (and in my case life and education were even more closely related than most people’s because I was taught at home until college). My mom had a degree in literature, and my dad was well versed in the classical history and literature, so I was well steeped in books.

Then I got to college. Suddenly, reading was “assigned” rather than suggested. But I got through it. Every summer I’d take the first two weeks of summer break to read what I termed “mind-candy”… that stuff that’s fun and engrossing but has very little literary merit. That’d kick-start me into loving to read again.

Studying literature in graduate school was fun. There were so many nuances, so many implications, so many connections, so many EVERYTHING, and all the people in my seminars came to class ready and able to discuss our readings in depth (which had decidedly not been the case in undergrad). But there was so MUCH of this reading (3-5 books every week, plus all the other work of graduate school) that I began to associate reading with a tiring activity, something to be gotten through before I could get to the analysis part of things. That was the first fatal blow to my ability to read for pleasure.

The second fatal blow came when I moved away from my family. I was just too raw and vulnerable to open myself up to the fundamentally empathetic experience of reading.

I’m still mostly unable to read at home. I don’t know why that is, but it just never seems to happen unless it’s a very special book (and I’m apparently VERY picky about what makes a book special). But I’ve begun to set aside at least an hour every Sunday at a coffee shop. And there, devoid of the pressures of Things To Do or the siren’s call of my laptop or TV, I’ve rediscovered the ability to read.

And this week I’ve found The Book, the one that reminded me that amazing writing still happens, still stirs the deepest corners of my imagination, and still tugs at my thoughts when I’m prevented from reading (like when I’m at work but would like nothing more than to close my office door and snuggle in a corner with that book). Even better than the joy of experiencing this book is the joy of proving to myself that I haven’t been deluding myself into remembering a power that never existed.

P.S. I’m assuming that since you’re most likely a librarian, reading this, you’ll probably also want a reference to the book itself. Well, I don’t like to recommend books that I’ve really enjoyed (an aversion that started when working in a bookstore, ironically enough), so I’ve come up with a workaround. Here is the short list of my 7 favorite books. It’s one of those.

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