Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Library cell phone etiquette

Patrons will be glad to learn that the days of shushing loud people in the library are as long gone as checking out cassette tapes. However, the freedom to talk above a whisper also comes with the freedom to use your cell phone and we ask that you please observe proper library cell phone etiquette:

1. Don't turn your ringer off. Those signs that we have posted about switching your phone to vibrate are for entertainment purposes only, please ignore them.
2. Select the most annoying ring tone possible. I personally enjoy an old school telephone bell ring set around 100 decibels, but we also like hearing ring tones of popular music, unpopular music, and anything else that takes you a really long time to notice and answer.
3. Upon finally answering your phone shout, "Oh hey, (insert name here), I'm at the library!" This allows not only the person calling you to know your location, but also alerts everyone at the library that you know you're actually at the library and not Starbucks.
4. Forget personal space and stay mobile. You might be sitting next to a stranger who is studying for their MCAT exam, but by the time you're finished with this conversation they will probably move elsewhere giving you lots of extra table room. Also, it is good to tour around the library either browsing, making photocopies you don't want to pay for, using the ready reference bookshelf as a leaning post, going to the bathroom, or just wandering aimlessly while you talk on the phone.
5. Keep conversations long and not private. On hold with your credit card company for the next 20 minutes? Be sure to let everyone know your business! Other great topics to discuss on the phone include upcoming doctor appointments (especially ones for illness and infections), your probation officer, why you're unemployed, why you're single, what you're going to eat for lunch, and that bitch, Stacy. Never forget that what's going on in your life is important to everyone around you and think of these little announcements as live Facebook or Twitter updates for people you aren't friends with. This will also provide the librarians with something to talk about, mainly if your cell phone still has batteries and the possibility that you are only talking to yourself.

Have I forgotten anything?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pay no attention to the woman behind the desk

Due to a system upgrade, our card catalog has been down for the last few days. This means we cannot look up books, cannot place items on hold, cannot renew items for patrons, cannot check items in, and cannot tell a patron where they are on the waitlist for Eat, Pray, Love. OH YEAH, DID I MENTION THAT WE CANNOT LOOK UP BOOKS? Because if I forgot to say it in the last thirty seconds let me tell you again that no, we cannot look up books to see if they’re checked in here or at another branch, or even if our library owns that title.
Patron, who looks like a mildly intelligent man: Could you check the computer?

So this is what it comes down to: an undergraduate degree in English, a master’s degree in Library and Information Science, but apparently I’m just some unemployed volunteer that shows up here because the real librarian is the computer. I’m a hairless ape, but it’s the computer that has all the knowledge! Please ignore me and what I’m telling you, let’s check the computer!

Old woman who probably has never used a computer: Could you print me out a list of your current book club kit books?
Me: I’m sorry, but as I already said we’re experiencing a countywide outage with our card catalog and do not have the ability to check on items in the collection. If you come back tomorrow or maybe even check online at home tomorrow evening everything should be back to normal.
Old woman, gesturing to my coworker next to me who is helping another patron: I can wait and ask her. Maybe her computer is working.

When did people stop using their brains and give over to the idea that computers have all the answers to every single thing in life?

Patron with a “Guns Don’t Kill People” trucker hat: My cousin Clayton’s in the hospital?
Me: ???
Gun lovin’ Patron: My cousin, he was in a car accident yesterday, what hospital is he in?
Me: Uhhh…Was his accident local? Do you have another family member you can ask?
Gun lovin’ Patron: No, I can’t reach anyone on the phone. Can you look it up in the computer?
Me: !

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Self-affirmation, it's what's wrong with America

No offense, but your child is probably not going to be the next Da Vinci. They probably won't even be the next "genius" that does things like staple dryer lint to a canvas, but that's no reason not to build up their confidence now!

Last night we were short staffed (again) and I spent time covering the desk in the children's department. This is usually an ok job, the two biggest drawbacks are that every parent believes their 5-year-old is reading at an 8th grade level and wants book recommendations, and that the information desk backs up to the children's computer area. The computers in the children's department do not have access to the internet, but are preloaded with games. One game plays animal sounds as the child playing is supposed to click on the animal that makes that sound in order to move forward. I will admit that I'm a little disturbed by how many children click on the wrong animal when the sound playing is clearly a cat. What are these preschools teaching children if they think a sheep goes "meow"? Another "game" features nursery rhymes and songs with animated graphics -- almost like MTV for toddlers. So, it would be accurate to say that after an hour of background noise that consisted of nothing but "Row, row, row your boat" and "MEOW" on repeat, my brain started to feel a little mushy and I longed to return to the adult reference area. I actually caught myself nodding my head, tapping my foot, or drumming my fingers on the keyboard in time with "Row, row, row your boat" and felt as though the parents that witnessed this thought of me as some sort of idiot sitting in for the regular "normal" children's librarian.

But I digress. The game I had the most problems with was an art themed game, where children were encouraged to "color" a black and white picture using computer paint tools. I watched as one little girl nicely (though drab with the color choices) colored in a picture of an elephant having a picnic. After a few minutes, her father came to collect her and she left the computer game playing, where another girl approached the computer and sat down, her mother almost collapsing in the chair next to her. I was curious to see if this little girl would start over with a fresh drawing to make her own or if she would change the colors and improve on the work done by the previous artist. Of course neither of these things happened.

The first thing she did was select a black crayon and with violent movements of her hand on the mouse, she raked a black streak back and forth across the picture before concentrating on creating a black hole where the elephant's picnic blanket had previously been. It was at this moment that the computer decided to pipe up with its automated positive reinforcement, "Good job!" At hearing this, the little girl gasped and turned to her mother, "It said I'm doing good!" she squealed, meanwhile I thought, "Hmmm, you really think so?"

Confident in her skills, the little girl then selected the paint tool in a shade of baby poop brown and proceeded to click randomly all over the screen, filling the sky, the grass, and the elephant himself with the offensive color. As the pièce de résistance, she decided to employ the "sticker" function, where the child selects a graphic from the toolbar to enhance their creation. This little girl chose the basketball sticker (which makes a "bloop!" sound everytime it is used) and continued to cover the landscape with basketballs (bloop! bloop! bloop!) until only the elephant's poo brown head peeking out from the black hole, surrounded by basketballs could be seen. The computer decided to chime in, "You're a great artist!" here and the little girl beamed in repeating this well deserved praise to her mother.

Ok, I know the above makes me sound like a total bitch and it's not like I would want the mom to actually say to her daughter, "No, that sucks sweetie," but pumping her up with delusions of grandeur is acceptable? Why must we all be special unique snowflakes who never do anything wrong?

My parents grew up in a time where children still served utilitarian purposes, and therefore thought it was important to instill a belief in brother and myself that we were amazingly talented and special children. The end result? My brother and I have not always had the easiest times, carrying on as if our shit didn't stink, all because our parents had written "some pig" in the Charlotte's web of our lives. A public booing during my 5th grade solo was enough to end my poorly conceived musical career, while my brother spent six years at a party college, touring different majors because none of his professors could see him for the radiant ball of creativity that he was. Even today, with my Lisa Simpson type personality, I find myself suffering from praise withdrawl from my superiors and fantasize about some alternate reality where the president phones the library with an emergency request that I perform on Broadway. After a lifetime of thinking one is special, how does one cope with the truth that one is, at best, ordinary?

I ask this question, partly because I feel our society is so self obsessed, but also because every teen sensation that comes along is apparently the second comming of Christ: not only is Paris Hilton a lucky individual who will inherit wealth, but she is also an amazing author, actress, and has a star quality singing voice! I am disturbed by the child who cannot recognize that it is a cat who meows, but also by the fact that this child will most likely grow up believing they will get their own tv show and recording contract.

So I ask you, the reader, to do your part. Go out today and tell someone that their drawing is ugly, that they can't sing along to that song on the radio, that they have the bone structure of an accountant. Let's do our part to destroy what's destroying this country: positive thinking! Please take someone aside and tell them that they are not a special snowflake, unless that person is me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If you lived here you'd be home now

According to the police, a man lived in a NJ library for nearly two weeks. The homeless Charles Jones Jr. had been living in the basement for nearly two weeks and taking food from the staff break room, which, anyone who has ever worked in a library knows, is an endless supply of unwanted Hydrox cookies, stale leftover chips from birthday parties, and old Halloween candy/vacation candy like salt water taffy. The jig was up when Charles was caught peeking out of one of the library's basement windows.
Peekaboo! (Not Charles Jones Jr.)

Whenever something like this happens, people will ask, "How could this happen? How could anyone not notice?" and I am here to say, yeah, it happens. You stop noticing some things when you work a routine job. It isn't even like the homeless are sneaky either, you just get used to seeing some of the regulars there that sometimes at the end of the day one forgets to make sure that they all go out.
While I do not work at the NJ library where this took place, I did once work at a library that had an incident where one of our homeless regulars spent the night in the library (luckily, not during my shift). He had been watching Gone With the Wind at one of our viewing stations and fallen asleep, making him unable to hear our closing announcements, I suppose, and probably all the lights being turned off didn't help wake him. The next morning he was still there in the same chair, awake, but afraid to move because he was worried he'd set off an alarm or get in trouble. The whole thing was more of an embarrassment on the library's part than anything else. I think we bribed him with some Hydrox cookies not to tell anyone that we were locking people in the building...
As a child, I used to fantasize about getting locked in the library overnight, or as a teen, locked in the library with my secret crush. As an adult who now works in the library, I can honestly say I'm pretty much cured of that fantasy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What is it that you do?

No one likes to be pestered about what they do at work all day, but if it's coming from your boss it can't be a good thing.

We've been having regular staff meetings lately do deal with the downsizing of staff and some of the new job roles we've had to take on as no one new is going to be hired under our current budget. Today I met with someone from admin to go over what it is I do exactly, and while I felt good about the meeting going in, I wasn't feeling to great about it afterward.*

Big Boss: It says here that you run the Night Knitter's group on Tuesday nights?
Me: Well, I don't really run it, I mean I don't knit, I'm not like, the presenter.
Big Boss: You aren't the presenter? But it's still your program, right?
Me: It's not really an official library program, it's more like a community group. I mean, I book the room for them, I help...uh organize it.
Big Boss: You help advertise it?
Me: Uh, I put their meeting notices on the bulletin board.
Big Boss: (looks grim, writes something in file folder) Now, I read that you input all of the program descriptions into the computer - that's impressive!
Me: Yeah...actually, everyone types in their own program descriptions but I go through and "lock" each item when they're finished.
Big Boss: Oh, so you proofread what they enter?
Me: Usually, if I have time. But normally we cut and paste from previous events, like the storytimes for example, so nothing changes. It doesn't really need to be proofread.
Big Boss: So why doesn't everyone lock their own description? Why do they need you to do it for them?
Me: Uh...I guess they usually forget?
Big Boss: (writes something in file folder)
Me: Oh yeah, I also update the library Facebook page!
Big Boss: (avoids eye contact, writes something in file folder)

Yeah, it was that painful. Despite the fact that I spend several hours at my desk doing real work, after this meeting I felt that it would be perfectly justified to fire my ass because from this info session it sounds like I might just be sitting there picking my nose and playing Farmville.

*Specific details have been changed to protect certain individuals. (ahem, me)

Death of the book projected (again)

X-Posted to Closed Stacks

In his 1979 book, The Micro Millennium, Christopher Evans predicted that due to electronic media, “the 1980’s will see the book as we know it, and as our ancestors created and cherished it, begin a slow but steady slide into oblivion.” The book “as we know it,” aka the physical book managed to survive the 80’s (in your faces Betamax, IBM’s PCjr, and New Coke!), but just last month Amazon reported that e-book sales for its Kindle outsold hardcover books. Could it be true? Has the death knell for the book arrived?
book tombstone
First of all, while I concede that sales for e-book readers are on the rise, let’s not kid ourselves either, Amazon, the creator of the Kindle, are the ones who released the report but do not release the actual Kindle sales figures. They also currently represent 50% of the market share for e-book sales so they want to look successful. However, now computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte is starting to put the nails on the coffin, placing the death of the physical book sometime in the next five years.
At a tech conference on Friday, Negroponte pronounced the physical book dead and acknowledged that the death of the book was not something the public was ready to hear (maybe he should’ve told us the book ran away or went to live on a really nice farm, like my old dog). To soften the blow, Negroponte referenced the film camera and music industries, their physical formats dying but the concept living on in digital format. “It’s happening. It not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in 5 years,” Negroponte was quoted as saying.
If so many are choosing e-books over the physical book, perhaps the writing is on the wall and it is time to start mourning the death of all print media. Print news got just a little bit deader as it was reported that the American public would not support a monthly tax to help the struggling newspaper industry. I suppose this makes sense as we didn’t do anything to prevent television taking over radio’s dominance and the government didn’t help bail out the Victrola industry.
But five years? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Copyright will certainly make the journey interesting as will the differing formats of the competing e-readers, but I can imagine like any previous technology battle one will end up prevailing, yet who will it be?