2010: Week 32 Blots

BLOT: (15 Aug 2010 - 10:37:36 PM)

Unfortunately, not exactly an atypical virtual reference exchange, or: Why e-ref needs reference interviews, too.

To protect the, you know, innocent: I'll go ahead and change names around to SQ (student with question) and OL (other librarian). Now, let me tell you about a virtual reference exchange that I picked because it highlights one of the dangers of the field (specifically, one of the problems with virtual reference). On Friday, I think, maybe Thursday, SQ sends us a virtual reference "question" that lists a lot of facts in a case but has a blank where "holding" is supposed to be. The subject line was something like "Need a document". OL sends SQ the basic steps to looking up the case through LexisNexis. A day or so later, SQ responds—by replying to the e-mail sent from OL—with a follow-up e-mail that says something like "Why haven't I received any help on this?" My first response was to say something like "Um, notice the help you received, that's the help you received," but what I did was basically restate what OL said, in greater detail, and asked "Didn't you follow what OL said?" I'm thinking, now, that SQ is needing helping understanding the assignment, so I point out that they are going to have to talk to the professor about that, but I try and take a stab about what they were confused on.

I get another response, saying that SQ can't pull up the document and then links to a subpage to their class website (something non-students can't visit). Either SQ is actively fishing for me to answer the assignment, is actually having trouble pulling up a class page and for some reason thinks the library should handle it, or—somewhere along the line—another question has been asked that I am not catching. I point out that I can't see the subpage, thinking maybe the subpage is saying something like "Find these documents" and then, through another quick exchange, point out that we do not have access to Westlaw. This morning, SQ sends out another e-mail with a second court case write up attached, asking for that court case document, CCs the professor in on this, and makes no mention to any of the original questions or the original case.

Including the original question, submitted through our automatic database, this gives us about five missives with SQ: (1) Court case listing minus one section, (2) a claim that we never responded sent via reply to our response, (3) a claim that no, the instructions did not work and this time some document I can't access is linked to, (4) a question about Westlaw, and (5) an e-mail to us and to professor in which SQ seems to be asking for the court case that is attached to the e-mail, already. The initial court case is not asked for after the first submission so I have no idea if SQ has moved on. Why a court case that seemed to be in hand was needed? I don't know. Why SQ said there was no response to the initial query when it was a reply to our response? I don't know.

Had this been at the desk, then it would have been a bit different, because it would have been much easier to just go "What specifically do you need?"—which was asked via e-mail but never answered. Also, it's easier to do a reference interview at the desk. This is where I sit the student down and go "What do you need done? What have you already done? How does this fit into the overall scheme? Have you tried this? Do you maybe mean this instead of that? Are you sure that this will work as a resource?" and so forth. Virtual reference's top two problems are a confusion about what it's for* and its inability to handle reference interviews. I have done an experiment where I routinely ask "Well, what do you mean by this [vague, incomplete, possibly complete but up to interpretation] question?" and, the vast majority of the time, say 95%: I get no response. None. In person, this is the equivalent to walking up to a reference librarian, saying something like "How do I look up statistics on general usage?"; the librarian asking "What do you mean by general usage?"; and then walking off without a response. If a basic, "Well, what do you mean?" question gets no response, what hope would a more complex series of questions, designed to find out exactly what is needed, have? I don't know.

But somehow, the above system doesn't work. About one in twenty students lets us know if the advice was helpful or not (almost always is, but maybe about 10% of the time they are still confused, usually over misunderstandings of things). If we ask follow-up questions, this number doesn't budge. You know, though, I think it might be worth it to work out a standard "interview" that is sent along, anyhow, because those that do answer might answer more clearly. Look at the SQ up above. What did SQ need? I have no idea. It first seemed like a case. Then it seemed like maybe another case. Now it seems like some document about a case? Maybe the student was wanting a "cheat sheet" about the first case (the second case had some specialized mark-ups) and doesn't quite understand that cases don't come like that?

Virtual reference a growing field, and one I am glad to be part of, but somehow the information flow will have to change. We need a way to change it so students like SQ get what they need while students just e-mailing us to find out hours don't have to fill a complete form to get them.

* We get medical and legal questions (not in the course of a class, mind you, but things like "How do I sue my neighbors?"), people ask us to proof-read their papers, to intepret what an assignment might mean, and people send in general knowledge questions ("What's a dietician?" "What does [insert word] mean?"). As many as 10% of queries are, to some degree, trying to coax us to do their homework. If that sounds surprising, another 10% (if not closer to 20%) are questions about bookstores or other libraries.

TAGS: Librarianism

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32
BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (13 Aug 2010 - 11:46:40 AM)

Huntsville, AL's Kaffeeklatsch has a Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle program

I got this in an e-mail from Kaffeeklatsch (coffee/tea, as in bulk and accessories, shop downtown in Huntsville, highly recommended place if you haven't been there) and I thought I would pass it along.

For many years, we have been reusing and recycling corrugated boxes required for shipping our coffees and teas. If you have received a UPS delivery from us, you might have seen our green "Reuse and Recycle" sticker. Recently we filled two large car trunks with the boxes that couldn't be used for shipping, and we took them to our local recyclers. Some of our customers bring in our Kraft shopping bags that feature The Kaffeeklatsch logo, and we are happy to reuse them. We are now offering an incentive to local customers who bring in our custom-printed shopping bags clean and in good condition. Receive a 40-cent credit per shopping bag towards your purchase when you bring in those bags to be reused.
We are now making an effort to include "Reduce" in our "Reuse and Recycle" program. A few folks have been bringing their own glass jars to be filled with coffee or tea rather than using the pound and half-pound bags that we provide. This step saves paper, as well as the logo labels that we use and will reduce packaging materials. If you would like to bring your own glass jars, we will be happy to fill them and provide a label to identify the type of coffee or tea. Please be sure they are clean and dry and have a good airtight seal.

For more information, you can hit up their website.

TAGS: Huntsville, Al

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32
BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (13 Aug 2010 - 04:12:07 AM)

The fate of True Librarian Confessions: Librarian versus Writing. How frustrations and delights over library school created a foul-mouthed other me...

A little over a year ago, late June 2009, I penned a short short story (only maybe 2-3 printed pages, possibly longer if you like big type) called "True Librarian Confessions: Librarian versus Zombie". In it, an unnamed librarian, roughly equivalent to me but with some changes, wakes up in a strange house after a massive drinking binge, finds zombies in the basement, and burns down the house. It was obscenity laden, and very much so a product of the frustration meets elation I was feeling in the second semester of grad school. The classes were long (summer classes met four or five hours, twice a week) and some of the conversations had nose-dived passed the boring and tedious into the potentially mind-rotting, and I had to get it out. So, this couple of lines were written, and it went from there:

Wake up with bad stomach cramps and a headache, sweating, face down. Stomach churning. Arm asleep. Book by Harold Bloom in hand. How to Read and Why. Also known as Bloom spoils all of his favorite stories while namedropping Shakespeare. Subtitled: A lot. Page 246. Bloom's talking about Miss Lonelyhearts. My eyes are to washed out from tears and pain to focus on the page, so I don't actually know if Shakespeare is mentioned on it. 246? No way I got that far along. I must have been skipping around.*

"Zombie" wasn't the first TLC I had planned to write. I think "Librarian versus the Gay Mafia" must have been, or "versus the Ghost of Charles Dicken" (a running joke of titles is that the enemies were always presented singular, though in some cases this meant dropping the "s" off of already singular words). It wasn't meant to be the last. In fact, the next week was supposed to be "versus White Supremacist" in which the night librarian had to fight off angry Klansmen who were pissed about a short story he wrote in college, a story involving the daughter of a Black Panther marrying the son of the Aryan Nation**. The initial version of this involved him jumping, with the chair he was tied to, over a railing and smashing him and it but getting up out of the wreckage and slugging his way out.

There were two problems. (a) The vulgar intensity of the first one, in which a hung-over librarian punches a zombie in the face before setting rum on fire and burning down a house, was kind of hard to replicate on a weekly basis without working up to it. TLC was like a stage play, improvised and acted on the page in borderline stream of consciousness narrative, with me playing an angrier and less settled version of myself*** fighting bad media stereotypes—the Gay Mafia were going to demand "protection buggery" from the library with the library claiming it was already pushing the Gay Agenda and should be paid in full—and classic monsters. (b) Second, a series of twelve stories about a man punching wildly and fleeing has a charm, but doesn't quite get the writing goat up. Sure, the "versus Charles Dicken" story was going to be about how Dickens actually wrote the ending to Edwin Drood but the publisher didn't put the remaining parts out there because "he [the publisher] was tired of all the damned coincidences", but by the time I had established the mythos of the world enough to go more meta-literary, there would have fights with all sorts and little flair left. "versus Zombie" retained the most charm as an standalone piece.

Over time, though, I have been thinking about the "versus White Supremacist" one and expanding it, adding more flavor and background. Rather than one story, he wrote about an entire town, which completely and coincidently turned out to be true (with small details excepting) and the town is pissed about it, and the Klansmen are pushing them into action because of his long forgotten short story. The zombie episode will be folded back into the front of the book. It was meant to be, technically, a three parter. Turned out he had a drunken fling with a local witch (local to him, separate from the town) and she had brought back loved ones from the dead to answer questions. She wasn't able to summon just spirits, so had brought back whole corpses which she then would hide in the basement to answer questions through a microphone set up. By burning down her house and destroying said loved ones, he royally pissed her off. I'm going to blend those stories in to him being hunted in this small town and then she comes along trying to save him from the townspeople just so she can get her revenge.

Then, in some long distance backburner, I'll set aside the ghost stories to be something like "Librarian versus the Ghosts of the Writing Dead" and work that out, with the other ones ("versus Gay Mafia", "versus the Robot of Death in the Cave of Mystery"—which was talked about in "versus Zombies" as the episode where his brother died or was lost—, etc) as bridging short stories or somehow, and I don't know how, bent back around to somehow fit into one really weird narrative.

Anyhow, just wanted to get these ideas down so I have something to work from. By the way, since the work will be longer, he won't be able to keep my [unstated] name, so he will become Damon Wyndham Graeme: the night librarian.

* Actually inspired by a real-life event. I woke up one day, after a night of drinking, and had been reading Harold Bloom.

** The reverse of genders-to-races would seem to just too stereotypical.

*** The story went that I went to library school immediately, and so missed out on meeting my wife and so forth. Meaning that by getting my life together sooner, I missed out on some emotional growth and was generally lonelier.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32
BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (12 Aug 2010 - 04:13:58 PM)

I've been having a serial dream, apparently: The Bags 'n Books Dreams

My last dream of the night started out on a bus. It was a school bus, old and beaten, like you'll see in rural districts: unattractively pitted yellow with a three four digit code—unnecessarily specific for such a small town— windows that you pull tabs inward and they drop down half way, seats that go up about a full fifth-grader's back but only three-quarters a senior's. A relic, but still practical when it comes to a school district saving money, getting that last few thousand miles on it, hoping next year's budget carries through. This one had been fitted to be a for-pay passenger vehicle, though I suppose it could have been a school bus some of the day and a for-pay vehicle the remainder. I was riding it to work, with my old tan-and-black book bag (contents unknown, though a small but heavy lump at the bottom was mostly surrounded by empty).

It pulled up at a corner of two country roads. A corner that had been built up some and then left to rot. If you grew up in a small town, you probably know the sight. A gas station. Maybe a garage. Something that could have been a general store and something else whose purpose you can't quite nail down: a white brick building with peeling paint and a sign that says something like "Terry's!" Now all of them are closed except maybe the garage putters along, surrounded by relics, taking over their parking lots and relying on word of mouth in a small town to insure everyone that yes, they're open. There were some buildings like this running down the perpendicular road. Off, catercorner and across the intersection were fields and grown up lots. Over to the right, a grassy area whose trees had been cut down but whose market-value was still in doubt, waiting until someone inquires at which-ever local lawyer or banker also worked as the area's real estate mogul. And there, between the dead businesses on the left and the unfilled field on the right: was Bags 'n Books*.

It was a single story, old country house sort of affair. Wooden inside and out. Half-porch bordered by a jutting room to the left, making the whole building look like fat apostrophe dangling above the road. A sign which was much newer than the building dangled overhead, somehow attached to the roof, in that way that old buildings get appropriated for new businesses wherever real estate prices outstrip the ability of small-timers to pay. It was probably white once, or some generic pastel yellow, but now mostly gray. Sunbleached to remove the color; the long slow boil of humidity adding some back.

As I got down, I immediately remembered that I had forgotten by bag and asked for them to hand it to me through the window, which they did. The inability to return to a spot left is common in my dreams, but this is the only case I have it in this one. Then I went inside. The purpose of the building is unknown, but I knew that I had worked there for some time, but irregularly. It seemed to be something like a bookstore or a library, but only had a few books at the best times, a dozen dozen spread over three or four rooms of shelves. It was a place where people could read, could talk about books, but it was sparse old wood and little furniture. Outside, it was early morning and felt like early Fall, late summer, the first whiffs of cool. Inside, the decorations where pastels, paper from long rolls, cheap ruffled borders you get in primary colors from teacher-supply shops. It was a kid oriented day, some special day, possibly a back-to-school sort of deal, possibly a book fair. The old BnB seemed to have even fewer books than it normally did, though.

I remember asking someone where do I put my bag? To explain the confusion I mentioned that I had worked there in the past but maybe it's been a while. I get that situated and then go about my day, which was mostly nothing. People start coming in, none of them seem to be kids in contrast to the decorations, and the dream ends only a few minutes later after a discussion about politics. An old class-mate of mine asked how I had voted and I told her (and this is not true, but in the dream was both true and a source of pride) that I had been for years straight-party Democrat in all local elections and she was quite happy to hear it. We were standing by a decommissioned fireplace, the sort you see in gouged out and retooled buildings like this. Talking. Being friendly. She somehow represented the people who ran the place. And then, about the time I was explaining that I only vote straight-ticket in the locals, and in the nationals I...

...woke up. Which is how I was able to piece together that I had dreams about this place before. I had been a slacker in those dreams, coming in but spending much of the time reading the books instead of working. Maybe even avoiding people. There is always the impression that is, to some degree, busy—much too busy to be so devoid of product and surrounded by the husks of a town—but I was always in the rooms away from the crowd. This is part of the reason I don't know what exactly the business is. I have been avoiding it. In the dreams involving it, the place has been a series of sense data surrounding an idea, impressions without death, text on a page without context or meaning. About the only other thing I know is the house that was and the business that now is has more rooms than spotted at first glance. Looking to be only two, maybe three, rooms deep and two rooms wide from the outside; it actually goes at least four or five back and gives the impression of more. Oh, and it doesn't have hallways. Every room is accessed from other rooms unless you count what is kind of the large "central" room past the opening room (the smaller room I tend to walk towards is off to the right of it).

How weird is that? To have a series of dreams about a single place, roughly telling a story that goes nowhere, but never having really strong definite anythings?

* This, of course, could be my subconscious telling me it is time to run off with Katie and open a combination bookstore and knitting outlet, though all other indications seem to indicate that business will not be super swell.

TAGS: Dreams

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32
BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (11 Aug 2010 - 02:44:52 PM)

Catching up the past weekend through today...

Well, first things first. Turns out that Miss Dry Erase Board was, indeed, a hoax. Unless that second link is the real hoax. Hoax or not, I assumed the hopa/hpoa and some of the personal attacks to be indicative of issues with her statement. I did not immediately assume it was all false, per se, in the same way that we all talk made-up shit about our bosses and not always do our bosses deserve it; but if she was essentially broadcasting her need for a job and this was her way of bringing attention then saying things like "I broke into my last boss's computer" is exactly what you want to avoid. Which means she would either be an idiot, naive, or so vindictive that she failed to notice herself telling future employers that she will do the same to them. I also didn't realize it was posted to theChive (similarities to theOnion might be more than coincidental than the name), I just assumed they had re-posted it.

Now, to move on to life as I know it. I said a few posts back that over the past week and this one, I had planned to read 5 books. I have now finished 3 of them, and have two or three more started but kind of stalled. Not sure why. I've read something like 10 in the past month and my brain is kind of tapping out. My plan, though, is to finish another one tonight (or at last notch the crap out of it). This would give me a four day window (Thursday through Monday) to get the other one out of the way. Which should be doable. I'm also thinking of throwing a few graphic novels and some short stories into that mix.

Now, to life past, present, and future. On Friday, Sarah and I met Jonathan (my nephew) at Beauregards for his "one week early" birthday. After eating we came back here and just goofed off (mostly involving Liberty City Stories) for a few hours. He works, like his dad, on off-shore seismographic studies so should have went back to sea today. Hence why we did his birthday early.

Saturday was contrasted to the heavy food and loudness of Friday by Sarah and I first heading to the park for lunch. We bought tomatoes and cucumbers, some bread and kippered sardines, and made a picnic of it. The tomatoes and cucumbers came from the farmer's market behind Krispy Kreme on slightly-north Parkway. I don't remember what it is called, but I really like because there are three or four farms represented by separate areas, and sometimes the tomatoes for one will be perfect while the other will have superior peaches. Comparison shopping within a single unit. The day at the park was almost perfect, minus two minor quibbles: there were groups of parents taking their kids out and either letting their kids run around kind of unwatched or so obsessed with taking pictures of their kids that they kept posing whole family units around them; and there is enough construction near the park to kind of spoil the mood now. We sat down near the bridge on the spring-side and watched the little wood ducks and koi/carp/gold-fish hunker down under the bridge to stay cool. That night, we went by Jamo's and got some dolmata and various other appetizer sized vegetarian dishes.

I don't remember much about Sunday besides we went by Lone Star and got steaks that night, and then went walking around Madison Square Mall.

The past couple of days have similarly been boring. Sorry about that. About the highlight of the day was going by Viet-Huong and getting a "special dinner" which was this rich, spicy broth in a metal pan that was over a little cook-stove. As the stove kept the broth boiling, you would dip in raw meats and veggies from a plate beside you and let it cook and then would scoop in some vermicelli and seasoning and broth and eat it as a soup. We got the "small", which was enough for up to about 3-4 people, depending on how much meat/veggies you wanted. We had half our broth left over at the end, and most of the ingredients eaten. The thing was only about $22.95, which would be actually economical if you had three people eating and even with two is only slightly more than getting a couple of claypots. While eating it, several people asked what it was. One actually came up to us and asked. A few would flag over the waitress. A couple would just wonder out loud (loud enough we could hear, so maybe they were hoping we would pipe up). Then we went over to the Nook and had a couple of Straight to Ale's Lily Flagg Cream Stouts (excellent dark beer, by the way, if you like them thick and creamy over bitter).

Now, the next few days are going to be more of the same. Alicia should come in Friday afternoon to spend the night (and part of a weekend, not sure how much). In exactly one week I restart college after my summer break and I'm nervous. I have 9 hours this semester (which is full time for grad school, I guess). I'm not sure why it makes me nervous, but frankly I get like this at the start of every semester. I'll return to work on Monday night, presumably (schedule isn't out yet, but I don't see why not). After I get back, I'm going to go do some more work on policy and procedures for virtual reference. Outside of that, life should be continuously boring for a bit, and that's cool with me.

Si Vales, Valeo

TAGS: Me in 2010

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32

BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (10 Aug 2010 - 01:50:48 PM)

Fun but quick "read": girl quits, reams boss, via white-board photographs

This has the all the makings of a brief Internet phenomenon (we have now entered into a post-meme society, where ideas and fads are proactively slotted into meme-slot rather than developing naturally, and therefore retain no staying power): cute girl doing something feisty in an innovative way. She is quitting, via phtographs of her holding a whiteboard, and taking her boss to task for his bad breath, mis-use of company time, and calling her a HOPA* (which she takes to be him calling her a Hot Piece Of Ass—HPOA—but I don't know). It's cute, takes about 30-seconds to flip through, and gets in a jab at Farmville. What's not to love? And sure, this is a one-side conversation, maybe his breath is just fine and she really hates the smell of clean breath...at any rate, click the pic below to read the rest.

LGT: TheChive.com

*: Strangely enough, hopa is something like street slang for a half-Japanese person, but I don't her boss used that. I wonder if he said "ho-pa" or if he said "ech oh pee ay"?

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32

BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (10 Aug 2010 - 10:35:13 AM)

Project Gutenberg: The Chemistry of Plant Life by Roscoe Wilfred Thatcher

This morning, The Chemistry of Plant Life by Wilfred Thatcher showed up in my Project Gutenberg "new books" feed. It's a 1921 McGraw-Hill book dealing with plants and various chemical compounds (how they effect plants, how they come from plants, etc). Not a whole lot of illustrations, but quite a bit of chemical formulae. If you want a copy, click the aenidin, below:

Kind of interesting to see them still working out some issues in 1921, while having such a wealth of information otherwise. For instance:

But there must be some influence other than response to environmental conditions which controls the vegetative color in plants, since shrubs, or trees, which have green, yellow, red, and purple leaves, respectively, will grow normally, side by side, under identical external conditions of sunlight, moisture supply, etc. The hereditary influence must completely overshadow the apparent normal self-adjustment of pigment to energy-absorbing needs, in all such cases.


BY WEEK: 2010, Week 32

BY MONTH: August 2010

BLOT: (09 Aug 2010 - 03:21:37 PM)

First day of first real vacation since, I don't know...

This is the first day of my first real vacation in a bit. I guess, if by vacation you mean (a) a period of time of rest that occurs when your general situation tends to involve work and (b) not due to illness, this is actually my first vacation. After my dad died and the debacle that was the end-term of my time as Book Gallery's manager, I took about a year off, plus or minus. Prior to that, there was the year off of school circa 2001, which was mostly spent doing little but odd jobs. Since starting as the night reference librarian (only two of the words are part of the official title, but I like all three) at UAH, I have had three or four downtimes due to between-semester breaks, where the library is not open at night and so I only have piece-meal shifts. This, though, is a little better. I won't be getting any piece-meal shifts, or showing up to any meetings, or doing any e-ref. I'm sure I'll do this or that throughout, but in general the only reason I have to go the library is to return a book. It's an interesting feeling. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself.

I will be returning to work and school next week. I'll work Monday and Tuesday nights and then, Wednesday and Thursday, start classes. Then, on Friday, I'll be going down to my first weekend at Gadsden for the semester. Let me double check that, though. My classes this time are a required course whose title escapes me, probably a journal library resources course. Then I have a course on virtual reference, which has become more and more the theme of my work and is likely the general offshoot I will be taking myself in professionally, if available. The last is a library instruction course, which I am unsure about but in principle I like.

For this week, then, I'll be mostly reading (I have a book called The Fly I am reading, which is in no-relation to the movies of the same name, as well as an audiobook called The Lowland Rider and there will be one other at least but not sure what), playing Liberty City Stories, and watching random bad and good movies and Doctor Who episodes. And resting. I imagine the week will be similar to the last in that I will be away from Twitter, Livejournal, and my cellphone most of the time but I will try and make an effort to be a little more digitally-social this week (last week I would go two or three days between e-mails, which is extremely rare for me). I'll probably make a post about this past weekend later on tonight, but for now I'm going to get some caffeine and do the audiobook thing for about half an hour.

Me in 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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