Archive for the ‘True Librarian Confessions’ Category

So I had a Lord of the Rings-themed dream last night that involved my workplace. First, I dreamed that my co-workers in the University of Arnor Archives were working while singing “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold.” Since we essentially work in a tunnel/cavern environment, singing dwarf songs made a certain amount of sense. Then I dreamed that the department head insisted upon sharing the psych evaluation of one of the reference librarians with me. That was much more bizarre since a) we don’t have psych evaluations and b) I’m too far down in the chain of command to see those kind of personnel documents. For comparison purposes, that would be like Saruman sharing Grima’s psych evaluation with Merry and Pippin.

As I was pondering if my department head had definitively lost his marbles, I woke up. I’ve been re-reading the Lord of Rings trilogy so maybe that explains it.


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For librarians and archivists, the scariest part of the first Lord of Rings movie was not the Nazgul, the orcs, the Balrog, or the Eye of Sauron. It was Gandalf threatening the longevity of priceless, one-of-a-kind documents by holding them next to open flames and eating and drinking while reading them. One little mishap and–poof–Isildur’s account of the finding of the Ring of Power would be lost forever.

I’m not letting the Steward of Gondor off the hook here either. Notice that the archives is completely disorganized. My fingers just itch to get in there and start straightening the place up. You can file that under “you know that you’re an archivist when …” :-). Notice also how the archives seems to be at the lowest level of the building, leaving it open to water damage, which goes to show that even in Middle Earth some realities of archival architecture remain the same.

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The Arnorian Native Language Archive has relocated to our building and, to accommodate them and their patrons, some bookshelves in the stacks had to be moved. Moving the shelves revealed some tatty carpeting underneath so new carpeting was requested.  This morning one of the library admin assistants sent out a memo letting the rest of the staff know when the carpet layers would be in. Unfortunately, she transposed a few letters in the Language Archive’s name so ANLA came out as “ANAL”. I suppose it was inevitable that the “ANAL” and the “ORAL” History offices would wind up next to one another ……

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We’ve attached our reel to reel tape player to a new computer terminal and we’ve noticed a problem: while the sound is recording, we can’t monitor the reel as it plays. We’re getting nix through the headphones, nothing, and no matter which sound levels we adjust, it’s still not working. After what must have been a half hour of cursing and calling on the God of Technology to blight all  infernal devices, we discovered the problem: the input monitor button on the Roland Duo-Capture audio interface (a kind of mini-soundboard) hadn’t been pushed in. Stupid button.

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A sign next to our library’s public Internet terminals advises our patrons that these computers are for educational and research purposes only and cautions against lengthy recreational and gaming uses. “Other students need these computers, too.” Below that someone had scrawled “Satan needs it more.”

Apparently, the Internet connection to Hell is down.

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If you’ve ever received an overdue notice on your library materials, then you know how they usually read. At best, they are dry and institutional. At worst, depending on how long you’ve had those materials, they become more bellicose and eventually threaten legal action.  I’ve been a librarian for over twenty years now and no one to my knowledge has ever admitted to composing the language that’s used in these notices. They are written that way because, well, that’s the way it’s always been.

After the patrons complained about the unfriendly tone of their overdue notices, the good folks at Kotzebue Public Library, in collaboration with my friend and colleague, Lisa S., came up with an innovative way to solve the problem. Kotzebue, if you don’t know, is a small community on a spit of land in Northwestern Alaska.

Below, reprinted with their permission, is the text of the overdue notices the patrons in Kotzebue now receive:

Daily Due Date Reminder (sent out via email only)
We thought you might need a friendly reminder that your library books and/or dvds are due back in the library in 3 days. If you need to keep your stuff a little longer call us at xxx-xxxx.  Thanks.  :0)

1st Overdue Notice
Hey, we’ve noticed that you have overdue library books and/or dvds. How about returning them so you can get new ones and others can look at yours? Or call us at xxx-xxxx to keep your things for a little longer.

2nd Overdue Notice
Okay, so this is your second notice reminding you to bring your library books and/or dvds back to the library. It’d be awesome if you’d return those things now. You’ll get a little something if you do. See you soon? Great!

3rd Overdue Notice
Now you’ve really done it. This is your third notice reminding you to bring your REALLY overdue stuff back. How about it! Step up to the plate and do the right thing. People want to look at that stuff you’re hogging.

Patrons liked the new notices which have been a big hit. Thanks for Lisa S. and Stacey G. for sharing this story with me. Any time you can make patrons laugh about their overdue notices, you are building goodwill for your library. And that’s what it’s really all about in the end.

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Robert Redford in “The Horse Whisperer.”

And the award for “Librarianship Above and Beyond the Call of Duty” goes to my colleague, Rose, who successfully averted the nuclear  meltdown of one of our more “labor-intensive” grad student researchers. It happened like this.

Said grad student–let’s call him “Chip”–was working hard to put the finishing touches on his master’s thesis before the looming graduation deadline. Generally speaking, it’s a real pleasure for library staffers to work with master’s and doctoral degree students. There’s a special thrill you get when researchers that you’ve helped break new ground, bringing to light things that have been saved, but forgotten and revealing them anew to a wider audience. Their projects are usually interesting, they don’t need a lot of hand-holding and they are typically grateful for our help.

And then there are guys like Chip. Chip, named after the chip he carried around on his shoulder, wasn’t a bad guy, but he was one of those fellows who goes around creating his own problems.  From the get-go, he needed a lot of hand-holding and we bent over backwards to help him out.

Chip’s problems really weren’t that different from any other grad student, but he made things worse for himself by treating the tedious hoop-jumping that’s part and parcel of the graduate school experience as a personal conspiracy against him. Why were there all these requirements? Why was he being oppressed? The university was an oppressor!

It’s true that University of Arnor has a well developed bureaucracy and that bureaucracy can be quite oppressive, but the red tape lash falls equally on the backs of the faculty and staff as well as the other grad students. Chip was being treated just like everyone else, but he didn’t seem to get that.

On the particular day that Rose earned her Merit Badge, his thesis advisor (and my boss), Bill, had asked Chip to make some minor editorial changes on his thesis. Among other things, Bill wanted Chip to add the accession numbers of the interviews Chip had used to his citation list and to make sure that he had signed permissions for an unreleased interview he wanted to use. Modest and usual requirements and, in the case of the release, something that should have been done a year ago, but instead of buckling down and making the necessary changes, Chip developed China Syndrome. His e-mails to Bill and me went from whinging to downright insulting. We were both ready to clout him ’round the ears with the MLA Style Manual and feed him into the paper shredder.

Luckily for him, Chip picked up the phone, called our colleague Rose, and wailed out his tale of woe. Rose took the time to calm Chip down, shared stories of  her own grad school struggles with him, deduced that he had completely misunderstood what Bill was asking, got him the paperwork he needed to fill out, poured oil on troubled waters, and in general set his feet once more on the path of righteousness. Once Rose had talked him in off the metaphoric ledge, Chip was embarrassed by his bad behavior and apologized to both Bill and myself.

Chip successfully defended his master’s thesis–an excellent piece of work, by the way–and was profuse in his gratitude to Rose and the rest of the staff.  He’ll be marching with the rest of the students at this year’s graduation and it’s due to Rose.

Rose would tell you that she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Was any of that street corner counseling part of Rose’s job description? No, it wasn’t, but she did it anyway because that’s the kind of caring professional she is. She’s an archivist who’s willing to go the extra mile to make sure that Arnorian students succeed. The university ought to give her a medal, but they won’t so I’m giving her one now.

Roz, we who are mere gladiators in great information arena, salute you!

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