Category Archives: sudden thoughts

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

The Mezzanine is Where?

I was really excited when the sign installers delivered a new directory totem for our library. It’s only about 46 years late. I am sure that most of your library buildings have some sort of quite obvious building directory near the entrance so that visitors can immediately get a sense of the layout to aid their wayfinding. For some reason our main library building never had a clear floor plan directory indicating all the major spaces. So better late than never. So I was really disappointed when the installers delivered the directory to our library and I observed that the mezzanine level was mounted at the very top of the totem – above the top third floor. It was that way in the draft design, and I clearly remember pointing out that it was in the wrong place. Well, anyone can make a mistake I figured, and the installers were really nice about it and they took the sign apart and re-ordered all the floors so the mezzanine was rightfully between the 1st and 2nd floors.

And then I thought, hey, wait a minute. While it’s not true that the mezzanine is always between floors one and two, a mezzanine is always located BETWEEN two main floors of any building (I checked a reliable source on such matters). So I’m picturing the guy/gal who is fabricating the directory and then putting the piece for the mezzanine at the top. Didn’t this person step back and ask “Hey, is there something wrong with this picture?”. It’s kind of sad when the professionals who make building directories don’t know where the mezzanine goes. Now what about our students who we constantly find on the mezzanine thinking they are on the second floor? We can only hope that if they become sign makers, they’ll have learned at least one useful thing in college.

World’s Tallest Library

I will usually take a look whenever the Chronicle has a story about a new library building (in the “Building & Grounds” section of the daily “Afternoon Update”). So this headline really caught my attention:

Ryerson U. Plans 21-Story Library in Downtown Toronto

What the…? A 21-story library building? Was that right? Have you ever seen, let alone heard of, a 21-story library building. I read the article twice but nothing about 21 stories. Further, the building, an addition to an existing structure, would be a 160,000 square foot facility. My current library is just slightly larger – at only 5 stories (one is the above mentioned mezzanine). Perhaps the building is on a very tiny piece of ground. The tallest library I’ve ever seen was 12 stories. Now when I read the story I noticed it mentioned how this would be a 21st-century library (Um, what century would it be? Maybe we should start going back to “state-of-the-art” library – or does “21st-century library” deliver a message we need to maintain?) Is it possible the writer meant “21st-century” and not “21-story”. I don’t know, but I did leave a comment asking about it. So far, no response. Maybe it’s right. Have you seen a 21-story library? BTW, a multi-room corporate library at the top of a skyscraper doesn’t count.

No Chip Off the Old Block

For my son’s birthday my spouse and I made the drive to Brooklyn for a visit and small celebration. Brooklyn is pretty great and we really like to walk through the different neighborhoods but given the cold weather that wasn’t possible. So we hung around his studio apartment (for which he pays a king’s ransom in rent). Now my son was never the neatest person but I always hoped my meticulous attention to book organization would rub off on him. As the photo below shows – apparently not.

This is how my son organizes his book collection - quite a system.

This is how my son organizes his book collection - quite a system.


So maybe the organization isn’t all that great, but at least he likes to read books – and he’s got good taste.

We’re Gonna Make It After All

Librarianship may be the only profession where we can have simultaneous conversations about how bright our future is and how we have no future at all. So if you were looking for a reliable sign that we may actually still be around just a few years from now, then look no further than a recent post by Female Science Professor. In this post the FSP asked her readers “What tradition or other general characteristic of academia would you like to see eliminated completely?” I scrutinized the lengthy list of comments in which anything and everything we hold dear to us in academia appears to be up for total extinction, and I was relieved to find that not a single one mentioned eliminating the academic library. What more do you need to know about our secure place in higher education. However, fencing teams and students should be worried.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Good Example of Having Presence

In a previous post I wrote about the important of having presence if you want to be a leader in or beyond your library, and if you want to be perceived as a leader by others. If you are called upon to deliver a spur-of-the-moment, extemporaneous explanation of why your library matters, and all you can do is sputter a few cliched, incomprehensible, overly technical or downright dull statements, your stature as a leader will be seriously weakened. Though the post communicated the importance of presence, it failed to deliver a good example of presence. Well, I just found one. Watch – and listen to – New York Public Library President and Chief Executive Officer Paul LeClerc in this video clip. Then you’ll understand what it means to have presence.

S-S-L-L-L-O-O-O-W-W-W D-O-O-O-W-W-W-N-N-N

In a recent post I pondered the value of powering done, whether for days at a time or even just an hour here and there during your day. Thanks to colleagues who shared their ideas for or experiences with powering down. For those interested in exploring additional ideas for how to slow down I recommend taking a look at the latest issue of Good magazine which is titled “The Slow Issue“. It contains a series of articles that explore the value of living life at a slower, sometimes “off the grid” pace. If you only have time for a quick look, try “Hurry Up and Wait” in which several futurists share why they think slowness might be just as important as speed to the future. If you are still not sure what it means to slow down, maybe you need to watch this video.

What’s Your Semester Plan?

And speaking of time, have you given thought to how you want to use your time this semester, especially if you want to position yourself to do more writing or proposal preparation? It definitely helps to have a personal plan for what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get it done. If you find yourself continually challenged to begin projects or complete them, a plan with specific goals may help. What works for me is something similar to what Kerry Ann Rockquemore offered in a column that advocated semester planning for faculty. What it comes down to, I think, is setting some realistic goals for yourself, setting the priorities, committing to a daily routine of writing and reading – and scheduling it, and working with a partner if you need the support. Have a back up plan. That way if project A drags to a halt for some reason you will have Project B to shift your energies to – and it’s less likely you’ll drop the routine to which you committed.

Keep An Open Mind About The Skills We Can Use

The Library 101 project received a fair amount of attention, but I felt no particular need to endorse or condemn it. Personally, the project does not resonate with me. If its creators enjoy the project and other librarians find it of value, that’s all good. Along with a video, the creators provide a list of Library 101 skills. That list includes some useful items and some questionable ones. Again, no one is forcing this on any of us. It did come to my attention that the mention of HULU as a recommended “skill” for librarians was the object of ridicule. When I heard this I was somewhat skeptical myself. But recently our Media Services Librarian gave a workshop for our campus community on finding and using video resources. Many resources were identified, and I was surprised to see HULU among them. After all, who doesn’t know about HULU, and isn’t most of the content television shows? Turns out most of the faculty there didn’t know about HULU. I learned that HULU has content with educational value. Whether it’s Jon Stewart interviewing a political figure or popular author or providing access to a classic film or short feature (yes – you do have to watch some commercials), faculty thought that HULU had content with value. We also learned some tips and tricks for making better use of HULU. Turns out there was something worth learning here after all, and that it took a skilled librarian to share that with faculty. It pays to keep an open mind to new possibilities.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Cooperation or Duplication

Here’s an interesting project from a few libraries out west that have decided to cooperatively build a library of video instructional tutorials. So far the tutorials cover the usual things, such as popular vs. scholarly journals, why you need to cite sources, and how to develop search terms. The Cooperative Library Instruction Project makes sense because why should every library be creating its own tutorials. Why not just have one generic tutorial, not specific to any library, that can be locally customized for use by many; wasn’t that the point of TILT. That saves time and faculty could also be directed to the site for incorporating the instruction into their courses. But isn’t the idea of sharing academic library tutorials the whole point of ACRL’s PRIMO repository of instructional materials? And why create new tutorials when there may be perfectly good ones out there? For example, I think this tutorial on scholarly versus popular is quite satisfactory. Why wouldn’t the cooperative include this rather than create a new one? Isn’t that the point of cooperation – not to reinvent the wheel? All that said, take a look at the Cooperative’s tutorials. You might prefer them to others you’ve tried.

Overheard on the Quiet Car

I recently took the Acela to Boston, and was able to get on the quiet car for the 5-hour ride back to Philadelphia. I couldn’t help but notice the conductor’s announcement: “This is the quiet car. There is no cell phone use allowed. All conversation must be kept at a whisper. In the quiet car we like to keep a library-like atmosphere.” I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing it’s been a while since that conductor visited a library.

Does This Mean They Liked Me?

It used to be that when you made a presentation at a library conference or symposium you’d get a few polite “nice job” comments after the talk, and if an attendee really enjoyed it he or she might send you a note afterwards – just as a token of appreciation for a job well done or to follow up with a question or two. Times have changed. After a recent presentation, when I next logged into my gmail account I saw I had eight new followers on my Twitter account. Now, I don’t know for sure if they all attended my program, but at least one or two of the names looked familiar and it seemed more than just a coincidence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m just not sure quite what it means. I’m guessing this is the contemporary way of signaling that someone’s presentation resonated with you. It’s kind of interesting in a way. In the old days we just exchanged notes and had it done with. There’s something more permanent about following someone. Sure, you can always stop following, but how often does that happen. It’s a commitment. It’s flattering (I think), but on the other hand I feel like I”m going to disappoint these folks because my tweets are far from stimulating and are rather few and far between. Perhaps I need to pick it up and deliver more. Ah, the pressures of modern life.

News for ALA Swag Whores

Heard something interesting on the radio today. The simple pen is no longer the number one swag item being given away by corporate exhibitors. It looks like 2009 was the year of hand sanitizer. That’s right. Exhibitors have replaced their cheesy pens with little hand sanitizer bottles emblazoned with their corporate logos. So if your main reason for going to ALA is to stock up on all the pens you’ll need to keep your family and friends well equipped with writing instruments for the year, you may be disappointed in 2010. Then again you could become everyone’s go-to-guy/gal for hand sanitizer. I will be looking closely for those truly savvy vendors who put two and two together and think creatively when coming up with swag that will keep those librarians coming back for more.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Best Time to Write

Occasionally someone will ask me about my writing routine. How do I manage to write regularly? The most immediate thing that comes to mind is having something that really inspires you or gets you thinking, and that you feel compelled to write about it so you can share your ideas with colleagues. Having a steady stream of material to read is also important – and not just library literature, blogs and tweets – but resources from beyond this profession that will expose you to new ideas, stimulate your curiosity and inspire you to apply new ideas to your current situation. The one other thing I’ll usually mention is creating a writing routine and sticking to it as best you can. That usually means identifying both a time slot and a place for your writing. I used to be able to write reasonably well both morning and evening. In the past few years I find myself getting mentally tired by 10 pm, and at that point trying to write is nearly pointless. It may take me 15 minutes to write two sentences, and often I end up changing them in the light of the morning. That’s a huge time waste. So I’ve been shifting more writing to the morning when I have far better productivity. But I didn’t know that research suggests that the morning is the best time for regular writing. Peg Boyle Single, writing for Inside Higher Ed about dissertation writing shared the following:

Experts more often engage in deliberate practice during the morning; research has supported that we have the greatest capacity for sustained, engaged and demanding cognitive activity during the morning.

I agree that it can help to look at writing as a form of deliberate practice where the more frequently we engage in it at a regular time and for a regular duration of time, the more we increase our skill and output over time. It’s always a delight when the research says “you were right all along” (but it’s all right to conveniently ignore when it says you were wrong). I’ve been getting some good ideas from Single’s series of advice columns for dissertation writers. No matter what you are trying to write, you can find some ideas to help you do it better.

We Need One of These For Library Writing

In case you missed it the University of Chicago Writing Program created the academic-sentence generator for those of us too lazy to write our own incomprehensible, pompous academic gibberish. I only wish someone would come up with one of these for library stuff. Here’s an example a random academic sentence I generated:

The emergence of pop culture carries with it the invention of power/knowledge.

Not too shabby. Then again I seem pretty capable of constructing library jargon gibberish quite fine on my own.

Final Word on Neem Essay

Academic librarians have had quite enough to say about this essay, with the majority offering a negative critique or condemning it and a minority suggesting that we are somehow responsible when faculty disrespect us and don’t understand what we actually do. Just two thoughts on this. First, if you or I wrote an essay in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed that communicated a completely contemptible view of the faculty, do you think they would be suggesting on their blogs and discussion lists that faculty needed to do a better job of helping librarians to understand them. Pretty laughable. More likely, you or I could write off ever having any chance of being hired at a college or university in this country ever again. Second, the next time a member of the faculty publishes an essay like the one by Neem I think the best thing we can do as a community is just to ignore it. No comments. No discussion. Just a huge deafening silence. I think that would be the best comment of all.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A New Courseware Trend?

This news item caught my eye. It announces an agreement between Blackboard and NBC in which the former will now offer access to the latter’s content. It states:

Blackboard is providing academic users with access to historical multimedia resources from NBC Learn. The two companies today announced that that they’ve inked a deal to make historical and current events materials from NBC News accessible within the Blackboard Learn platform. Through NBC News Archives on Demand, college and university students and faculty will have access to thousands of video and audio files, as well as textual materials, covering a wide range of topics, from politics to health.

The details indicate that there is only a free building block that enables access to the NBC News Archive. There is a fee for the content. But we’re already paying hefty fees for access to text and multimedia news content found in any number of library databases. I wonder if this is the start of some sort of trend where content providers of all types, including the traditional library database producers, will seek partnerships with Blackboard and other courseware vendors to integrate their content directly into the product. That would raise an interesting question about who would pay for it, and what access options would be possible. To some extent, academic librarians are working to integrate the library content into courseware. Perhaps this just takes it to the next level. The question is, as the traditional campus negotiator for and provider of research content, how do we fit into this scenario?

How Do Your Meeting Rooms Smell?

I had to chuckle when I came across Acadamit’s advice to new colleagues to avoid meetings scheduled for the campus library:

Do not attend any meeting being held at the library. Those conference rooms always smell mildly of piss, the chairs are uncomfortable, and the coffee shop makes terrible coffee.

Our stacks supervisor once reported an oddly yellowish, wet stain among the book shelves that gave off a quite foul odor. We wondered if a student had brought a dog into the library or whether someone’s small child had an accident of some sort. We never did unravel this mystery. But as far as library meeting rooms that smell like a rarely traversed subway concourse (you city dwellers know what I mean), that’s a new one for me. Better perform a smell check on your meeting rooms – and keep a bottle of Lysol handy just in case – or a container of your cafe’s coffee. That might make a pretty powerful disinfectant as well.

ALA DIS-Connect?

A colleague with whom I serve on an ACRL committee made an interesting comment about doing our committee work on ALA Connect, the relatively new community for ALA members. While you can find and link with friends or create you own sub-community (like this one for ALA members who love cats) most of my interaction with the system has involved committee activity. On one hand the system succeeds because it does provide a platform for communicating with fellow committee members. There’s no need to set up an email distribution list; just post your message and it goes to all committee members. If you have a document to share, you can upload and attach it to your message. If fellow members want to reply, they need to log in to Connect. That’s what my colleague pointed out. We were pondering why so few of our fellow committee members commented on a document we shared. He pointed out that when he served on the committee two years ago, there was great interaction on the committee with lots of exchanges. Now you might say that a different set of people will respond differently. Or you might say that creating a barrier, such as having to log in to ALA Connect anytime you want to add your voice to a conversation, could potentially reduce committee discussion. I did point out that all members get an email with a direct link to the committee community, so it’s not that hard to respond to a colleague. Still, you need to log in first, and then you can reply to a posting. That’s not much of a hurdle to jump, but it might be just enough to discourage someone’s desire to connect. What do you think of ALA Connect? Has it impacted your participation for better or worse?