Thursday, July 24, 2008

Writing, Writing, Writing

Lots of writing projects, and my wee brain is a bit friend with them all, and trying to keep myself straight.

First: I am attempting to draft a short paper for the Internet Librarian proceedings. I can't help it, Rudy practically dared me when she said it was a timesuck and that very few people included them. I have about half of the eight pages done (doesn't sound like a lot, but some of the research I need has been tough to find). I'm hoping to shoot a draft over to Rudy by the end of next week on that one, since it's due August 22nd. I doubt we'll worry about putting our slides in there, since they'll be made available online later, and the slides are likely to change since the presentation's not until October anyway. one of Rudy's concerns was that a paper written now may not reflect exactly what's going on come October...I absolutely agree with her, and would find it shady if anything someone wrote up on technology in August *was* the same after a few months. but the live presentation can have those edits and changes in it while the paper can be static. Am I really just leaping on the chance to be included in proceedings and count that as a publication? Maybe. Don't judge me, it's still useful information.

I need to get on the ball, work up an outline and email Josh Hadro over at Library Journal about an article he'd like to see out of me and Laura Carscaddon in the near future on Twitter/Friendfeed as a technology in service of professional development. I'll likely start a short outline tomorrow and send it out to laura & Josh and really bang away at that next week in addition to the proceedings paper.

There are a few other academic articles I'd like to get written - on reaching under-skilled undergraduates, on helping faculty develop "actionable assignments" that utilize library resources (the fun ones, like videocameras, digital cameras, and digitization stations), and on how academic librarians can aid universities with student retention. (I realize this is all very ambitious, but it's what I'm interested in.)

There are another few non-academic articles I'd like to write as well, but those are *all* on the back burner until I get some oomph, and until I get some academic stuff written and published. Oh Tenure, ye jealous bitch. How ye stifle my creativity *grin*

Other projects: I'd like to develop plans for a workshop for faculty run by the library that teaches a small cohort about new technologies as well as ways to integrate them successfully into classroom teaching, and maybe connecting them to info literacy and research skills. That won't be a possibility until next summer (or maybe spring break...hmmm) but it'd be nice to have a pitch for my boss written up and well-planned. I would also like to research, develop and pitch a plan to teach a for-credit information literacy and research skills course. Our university would be the perfect spot for it, with our poor retention and under-skilled incoming student demographic, and I think it would help the students tremendously if they had a resource like that under their belts. It will go over with the university like a turd in a punch bowl, I'm certain, but I'm dying to go for it anyway.

Back to the writing: I'm currently revising a poetry manuscript I'm hoping to get published before I'm old and gray, but that's not related to my tenure bid, just another project on the writing front. There's a second poetry manuscript as well, but it's even worse shape than the first one, and it'll have to wait until I can give it some TLC before it's allowed to see daylight. Any of you librarians with a creative streak, if you're interested in helping me out with providing criticism on the first manuscript, it'd be welcome. if you don't know where to ding me, shoot me a comment and I'll find you.

And then there's the writing required for my MFA work (I'm halfway done with my second semester - huzzah!) which will require another 30-odd page packet this weekend. happily, my MA classes don't kick in until the end of August, which will add another poetry workshop and a class on Critical Theory to my must-write-for list.

To top it all off, my magickal writing pen has garnered me an an interview at my local Radio Shack tomorrow, since the Guardienne is in serious need of some cash flow. (Particularly if I'm going to make it to Internet Librarian. Dear State of Tennessee: providing funds for travel, but only disbursing them as reimbursement puts undue strain onto your new faculty members. No love, Guardienne.)

I feel somewhat gratified that I finished three book chapters earlier in the summer, but until I actually see those suckers in print, they count for nothing. Which freaks me out with worry that I've got nothing to show publication-wise, and my one year anniversary here in my first professional position is August 6th. I don't want them to think I'm a slacker (not that they do - my coworkers are all lovely. Except Griffey, who has too much facial hair to be called lovely - we'll call him wonderful), and I feel like I need to get something useful/scholarly/respectable churned out quite soon or I'll turn into a Library Leper.

So, that's the report on the goings-on from here. I'll get to the "Day in my Library Life" meme eventually, I promise...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Intarweb Fail Leads to Happiness

I spent this weekend at home completely sans-internet. My Dell desktop (circa 2000) is in its final death throes, and I inadvertently left my work laptop at work on Friday afternoon. I returned to my apartment - which was covered in the books I had shipped myself from ALA, books and paperwork related to my MFA stuff, and the kitchen, let's just say the kitchen table is where I toss all my crap when I walk through the door. I've been needing to tidy up for weeks, but it's tough to concentrate on something like that when my IM is always bleeping, and my Gmail needs checking.

So, I restrained myself. I hit the gym and the grocery on Saturday and did not go to the office to get my computer. Some of you will understand the restraint I exhibited there. Instead, I went home, showered, played with the dogster, tidied, read Envy the Night (yes, that's right, I have an Advance Reader's Copy. Thank you, ALA vendors), and saw The Dark Knight (which was fabulous). Sunday, I hit the gym again, and also managed to read Once Were Cops, which was intriguing, Final Theory, which was a lovely romp through unified field theory and terrorism by Scientific American columnist Mark Alpert, and First Daughter, which was a quick read. I also read The Last Patriot, which had an intriguing premise, but (imho) a poorly executed conclusion.

Yep, you read that right. Yesterday I plowed through four books. It was awesome. I didn't have the internet around to distract me (though I did stand up at random moments when I felt the need to MapQuest a location to see where it was in relation to D.C.) and I reverted to my usual domestic, book-nerd self. I didn't feel the need to see what was going on in internet world (well, not too much), and I felt free and unfettered simply by not being tied to a monitor by my eyeballs. I also felt relaxed, which is not a word I would have used to describe myself in the past few months. Being unplugged gave me the mental downtime I needed to simply breathe, unclutter my space (which does wonders for my state of mental health), and stop feeling like I need to know exactly what is going on in the blogo-friendfeed-CNN-osphere every moment of every day.

It also gave me an excuse to call my people on the phone and hear their voices, as opposed to using the lazy instant message way that I am usually guilty of. It was nice to hear friends' voices - a real laugh is better than any emoticon. Without the laptop in front of me, I could give my full attention to everything I did (the dog attests that his bellyrubs were much closer to satisfactory). It felt like I had washed my brain of the ADD tendencies I've developed since starting my first professional position. Those tendencies are necessary for survival, I think, in a world where interruptions are constant and unpredictable, and there are always more irons in the fire than you have time for, and fewer resources than you need. But the weekend not dealing with that? Lovely. Just lovely. Except for weekends when I need to get papers written, or when work-stuff absolutely must be brought home, I do believe I'll be leaving the lappy in my office more often.

Monday, July 14, 2008

David Copperfield Fail

I was just informed by a good friend of mine who loves her literature that when you type "David Copperfield" into Google, the first few results are the magician, and not the novel.

We are pretty certain this means that the end of civilization as we know it is imminent. How utterly depressing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Customer Service - From Both Sides of The Desk

Something happened today that has me thinking about customer service. It's rarely a topic I address, since (and I realize this sounds a bit harsh) you either provide excellent customer service, or you don't. If you don't, there's something wrong with your organization, and you need to deal with it. 'Nuff said.

Now, I say this as someone who has managed people in various capacities (Dunkin Donuts and Coldstone as well as libraries), and to be quite honest, excellent customer service really looks the same everywhere, whether you're at a reference desk or schlepping deep-fried dough and coffee across a counter. It's a smile, a genuine interest in helping your customer/patron/whomever, and a collegial atmosphere that prevents an occasionally tedious job from becoming horrible. A good work environment usually leads to better customer service.

The reason I'm thinking about this is that I've been looking for a second job. (No, not leaving MPOW, love it there, but things at home are a wee bit tight.) I've applied around town in the past few days and not thought about it much. When I worked on my MLS full time, I also worked a full time and a part time job; the past few years of having only one job has felt sort of like a vacation. Today I worked up the nerve to apply at my gym, where I know they're hiring for the front desk position (and the gym is open 24/7, so I can get some hours that don't interfere with librarystuffs). Thinking about it, I was struck by the fact that every single employee who works at this gym is always friendly. The front desk greeting is *always* enthusiastic, and the personal trainers, salesfolks, and everyone else chat with each other as they pass, give encouragement to those of us struggling under our personal trainers' tutelage, and generally appear happy to be on the clock. That's what gave me the nerve to apply to work where all the beautiful people are, really - it seems like a great environment. (Not to mention that it is far healthier than flipping greasy burgers.) And there's nothing that makes me happier than a good work environment - it's very attractive. On the flip side, there's nothing that makes me want to throw myself in front of a bus more than a bad work environment. And I'm not much willing to sell my soul on that count - it turns me into sort of a shitty person in a permanently shitty mood. (Luckily, I know myself at least this well.)

A second encounter really had me appreciating the idea of customer service - but not just the kind you see behind the counter. I frequent a nifty restaurant called Qdoba - it's a chain, specializes in Mexican, and everything is made fresh on the premises. It's wonderful. And since it's right down the road, I get in there a few times a month. They don't have much turnover (which amazes me, after my experience in chain restaurants), so I know (in the way you know friendly strangers) Lindsay, the young woman who is always smiling and asks about my day, as well as the young guy who wears glasses with yellow lenses, his visor, and a huge smile, even at the busiest lunch rush and in front of the crankiest customers. I chit-chat with whomever is fixing my burrito, and they send me on my way with scrumptiousness in a bag. A good deal.

When I went in yesterday for an application (okay, and for the chicken soft tacos), I chatted with Lindsay, who beamed when I asked for an app, enthusiastically said she'd look for it when I returned it and send it with a recommendation to her boss. I didn't think too terribly much about it yesterday, other than to be gratified that she was so all-fired nice. When I went back this evening to turn in the app (oh, god, okay *and* for the steak soft tacos), Lindsay and a couple of the other behind-the-counter folks I recognized were there. She said she had told her boss about me and to be looking for my application, and they all seemed genuinely excited that I'd applied (to the point of saying they looked forward to working with me! Yay!)

To be honest, there was no need for them to be enthusiastic about anything. I fully expected them to take the paper, toss it into some back office, come back, bag up my food, and send me along with a smile. Maybe that's what I'm so impressed by, a team willing to go above and beyond for no apparent reason other than that they enjoy their work and want it to reflect well on them. It calls to the blue collar roots my dad planted firmly in my soul (not that rich folk don't also take pride in their work, of course). It is a *choice* to decide to recognize the faces that come in on a regular basis - I know, I've been there. It takes even more effort to be cheerful when you're sweating your ass off because you're roasting the chicken and toasting tortillas even as you're serving because you're short-handed. And any place that can cultivate that kind of service in its team is a place I wouldn't mind spending some hours of my time.

The other thing that made me think of customer service from the customer's side is this: if I hadn't engaged the staff on my admittedly frequent visits, if I hadn't made an effort to be friendly, if I hadn't commiserated, rolled my eyes, and made fun of the customer before me who was an assmonkey for no reason to the staff, would I receive the sort of friendly greeting I get? I don't know. Perhaps they're just that good. But it takes something else for them to remember me as the 'book lady' and know my favorite dishes and to make me feel like an individual. And as someone who has worked a service desk in multiple industries, I know that a pleasant customer who is also a regular is a pleasure to work with. I think in our haste to train ourselves into providing great customer service, we often forget that the customer has a little responsibility to be nice, too. At worst, it doesn't hurt anyone. At best, you develop some shallow friendships that may come in handy later.

So, remember to be nice to the overworked, overheated person who is fixing your burrito, and to the person who gives you an enthusiastic greeting at the door when you walk into the gym. or Wal-Mart. Or wherever. I promise they're not being paid enough to be that sweet to you - that's pure effort on their part, and you should appreciate that. They are improving your day with simple, genuine niceness. Be kind and offer the same. It costs you nothing, and it might surprise you how pleasant it is to simply be nice.

Perhaps this is only a revelation to me because my default mode is 'relatively crabby.' (Unless it is early morning, when I am actually in 'speak to me and die' mode.) Maybe it's because simple manners seem so rare nowadays when folks throw their venti latte mocha whatcha-have back over the counter while still yammering on their cell phone and ignoring the human serving them. Either way, it's been a breath of fresh air, and I'm rededicating myself to practicing my smiling more for those I help.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign....

I decided that if I get to do a presentation that requires some sort of slides, I will *not* be a failbucket and read from the slides. In fact, I will only use pictures as cues (which I tend to do anyway). In even more fact, I am trying to convince myself to only use appropriate lolcat and failblog pictures. (Heck, every audience loves some amusement.

In that vein, expect to see this pic in at least one of my IL08 presentations:

fail owned pwnd pictures

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Improvements for ALA Annual: Suggestions

A few things I've been thinking on the flights back to Chattanooga from Anaheim today.

One problem with having everyone submit their programs by the end of July for next Annual? Things get stale. If I had to sit through one more talk on how someone implemented a Library 2.0 program I was going to scream. Very few of those had anything new to say about it - if there's no new spin, it's just rehash. I'm not into hash of any kind. Hot Topics and Trends type programs are great, but the rest of the programming suffers a bit.

The in-between time. Morning programs ran from 8:30 to 10:30, and then the next program sessions began at 10:30. I don't know about you, but I am not made of magic. Even ten minutes would have been appreciated so that we could have attended more programs per day. Of course, this could be a ploy to give us downtime so we can troll the exhibits and be wooed by vendors. (Props to the Ibis guys for the flying monkeys. Those were a *huge* hit.)

ALA should really require presenters to sign contracts swearing that they won't read their PowerPoint slides, on pain of death and/or being bludgeoned to death via rotten vegetables by their audiences. Or perhaps ALA can hand out kazoos in the ginormous Bag O Goodies they give out so audiences can give melodious raspberries to those who commit such heinous crimes.

I really enjoyed Annual - I had a great time, I made it to some fabulous programs, and I appreciated the opportunity to attend. I just think with a few small tweaks, it could really be improved. And given that so many people blow their entire year's worth of professional development funding on this one conference, if we can find improvements that can realistically be made, we should figure out a way to do it, n'est-ce pas?