A Very Quiet And Organized Pandemic Response

Coming to you live from my lunch break, I am your COVID19 library correspondent. This is going to be short and quick because we are BUSY.

Public libraries want to stay available, but can’t stay open. Not only are libraries traditionally places where people gather to exchange germs, but the only reason to visit a library is to share technology and information, viz books, computers, cake pans. All of which will soon be/currently are covered in a thin, even film of germs. Think a creamy layer of delicious chocolate icing on one of those adorable library cakes.

Long story short: if your library is open right now, avoid using its physical resources please.

THAAAAAAAT SAID.

Libraries provide a suite of resources that can vastly improve your quarantine experience. I might try to write about this for Book Riot later, but frankly I’m still carving out time for writing these days and someone might beat me to it. So here’s what you can still get from your trusty library system:

  • E-books. Look up Libby or Hoopla on your phone’s app store. You’ll need your library card number, but if you don’t have it just call a library in your network. Most of mine are still staffing, they’re just not open. A resource like Safari (soon to be called O’Reilly for Public Libraries) is often available in-browser.
  • Movies. Consider Kanopy a good option, and Hoopla has a bunch of movies you should be able to borrow right from a smart TV.
  • Internet. Charge up your laptop or phone and just park yourself in your local library’s parking lot. I’ve heard rumors that a few turn off their wifi when they’re closed, but most of them couldn’t do that even if they wanted to for various technological reasons. If you park close to the building, you should be able to get a nice strong signal without ever leaving your car. If your library is an asshole library (they exist!) that turns off its wifi, drive to another one.
  • Language resources. Many libraries have language-learning stuff on their websites. Mango is popular.

Not enough? I get it, buddy. It’s not a lot compared to the usual suite of services. Check out your library’s website and see if they do video storytimes, YouTube videos, or other remote services.

That’s all, book buddies. I just finished The Goon: A Ragged Return To Lonely Street and it was stupid, dumb, and violent and I loved it. Also, it was fairly well drawn. Why was there just one woman who started sexy and then turned into a monster? Why did Goon reference sadomasochism when he was interacting with her? Might this say something about comics or people or monsters? I have no idea! On to the next volume.

I’m also playing Handsome Boy Modeling School (Affiliate link forthcoming, sorry, I’ve been crappy about that) and it has made my little butch face much prettier.


Lordy lordy, I’m out of public libraries

Fresh out. Clean out. Well, almost. I’m now a customer support librarian for a public library consortium, and who knows what’s next! I’ve still got that networking certificate humming along – should have that done by next year, actually. (God willing and the creek don’t rise.) After that, I’m probably going to start chipping away at a CS bachelor’s, focusing either on databases or development. What can I say? A girl can get a late start on her secret IT ambitions and still have dreams.

The past month has been something of a blur and rather than drop any balls, I set several balls carefully aside, as one might do with ornamental glass fruit or the skulls of one’s revered ancestors. The writing ball is one that I did set aside, but I’m hoping to pick it right back up. I know, for one thing, that Book Riot languishes without my scintillating listicle-writing presence. I’ve also been uncomfortably absent from the fiction-writing scene, and you know what? I think I’ll publish under my real name from now on. Look out, world!

I’ve got a few other pots on the stove, but I think I’ll let those boil over before I alert you about the terrible danger in which we will all, at that exact moment, find ourselves. This blog is going to continue to be (loosely) about librarianship, and cooking, and gardening, and sustainability, and most especially about computers.

I’ll leave you with this: it is STUPID EASY to accidentally make a new file in Powershell. Yesterday, I managed to make testfile1.txt, testfil1.txt, test1.txt, and all of the above without their file extensions. Then I tried to move a file named Massive Duck Attack.txt and discovered exactly why underscores are so blamed important. Let’s hear it for practice with the Rename-Item cmdlet! (And the humble underscore.)

Also, I’m reading Gideon the Ninth and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I also just finished Lives of the Monster Dogs and I think the book about stylish lesbian necromancers in space is less weird. Loved it, may buy it. Finally I’m listening to City of Brass, and so far, it’s fancy but predictable. I guess I could say the same thing about Gideon, but there’s a swordsdyke in that one so it gets extra points.

Until next time, boys and ghouls.


Diary of a Librarian: Voices Carry

I have a loud voice. Part of this is because I listened to a lot of obnoxious music in my twenties and now strain to hear a whisper or mumble when I’m standing next to a fan. Another part is that I grew up in a loud Italian family where the volume was permanently at 11, and that still seems normal to me. The final part is that I just have some lung power, man.

And I like to use it! Even when my voice gets unpleasantly dry and creaky, which happens every stupid time the temperature to moisture ratio of the room falls below sauna levels, I love to croak me out some Rage Against The Machine. If I hydrate, my range becomes fierce. I can whistle, too. All of this happens at top volume.

There are many reasons why none of it can happen in the library.

  • It’s loud. While the Nevins isn’t a silent library, patrons don’t want to hear me expound upon the lifespan of the lobster or serve some sick burns to the military-industrial complex. It’s not professional. Incidentally…
  • Even humming a recognizable, expletive-laden song in front of a patron is inappropriate. On the plus side, Hookers by Irontom has been stuck in my noggin for about a year now and resisting it has allowed me to achieve zen-like levels of self-control.
  • Misophonia. There are a lot of people with sensory issues, major and minor, who use the library. It is not fair to subject them to whistling, humming, or the scratchy crow voice I get when it’s both too cold and too dry for my diva of a larynx. In fact, generating pointless noise can make people ornery and hard to handle. Why would I want to rile a patron? (Don’t answer that.)

There’s another problem with using my voice at the desk: the patrons are right there. The patron computers are literally five feet away from my preferred computer station. That means that any conversation I have with a coworker (or another patron) is likely to be overheard, and with it, all of its sensitive personal information.

Secret, Hands Over Mouth, Covered Mouth, Mouth, Young

I’m a Gemini I made meatballs with tofu my hybrid needs new brakesmmmmmmfffffmfmmm

Because I’m a fairly self-conscious person, my initial worry goes along the lines of oh god, what if something I say offends people? This falls into the category of useful paranoias that I like to think has kept me out of a fair amount of trouble. I avoid all political and controversial subjects. When patrons want to talk, I try to steer the dialogue to library services or technology; when colleagues want to talk, we talk about pets, books, and kids. Intellectually, I know that I probably shouldn’t be saying anything to my colleagues when we’re on the desk together, but I feel the need to balance camaraderie and friendliness with circumspection. We only work well together if we’re on good terms, and that means being social, to an extent.

But privacy is still the best reason to watch your mouth in the reference room, and sometimes, the combination of the patrons themselves and the setup of a reference floor makes this difficult. Case in point: I once helped a patron who was looking for housing. They had multiple considerations and I struggled to find a solution that was right for them. We were working at a computer and there were other people around us. When the first patron became upset, another patron volunteered a personal recommendation for a housing counselor in the next town over. While this was very helpful, it also represented a potentially bad situation. Patron 1, who was in housing distress, did not want to talk to Patron 2, but not because they wanted to maintain privacy. Patron 1 had previously told me that they did not consider people of Patron 2’s ethnic group to be true Americans.

Train Wreck, Steam Locomotive, Locomotive, Railway

A bystander’s record of the subsequent conversation.

Luckily, the situation resolved without incident and everybody learned an important lesson about tolerance, prejudice, and how far off the rails things can go when patrons overhear your reference questions. I’d initially assumed that we needed to preserve Patron 1’s privacy over their housing needs, but when that privacy was breached, bigger problems became evident. I now think of privacy as a container that keeps all of a patron’s issues localized for a moment while we figure out how to handle their immediate issue. It’s wonderful that Patron 1 came away from that interaction with a broader mind, and I am still very grateful that Patron 2 was so patient and slow to take offense, but that conversation was a job for a consciousness-raising program, not a reference desk.

The real question is how we can mitigate eavesdropping in an environment where problems must usually be solved with computers and computers are necessarily clumped together. The kind of information that this puts at risk makes that anecdote above sound just delightful. People regularly describe their tax problems to me at the reference desk, and I have had patrons try to tell me their social security numbers. Many people come into the library for personal assistance with online job applications and end up discussing their home addresses, work histories, disabilities, and even conviction histories aloud. I try to seat patrons dealing with sensitive stuff away from others on the reference floor, but there’s no getting around it: when we’re full up, even a whisper is audible by whoever’s at the next computer over.

If I had my druthers, we would have a sensitive services area. It would contain two or three booths that close tight to mitigate or eliminate noise. There would be a computer in each one. You’d sign each booth out for an hour at a time, and once you were in, you could go to town. Scream at your insurance agent on your cell phone. Relay your social security number to whosoever you please. Call in a librarian and talk about researching your extremely personal illness or finding a lawyer to help you with your divorce or immigration.

“Telephone” booths are expensive nowadays, but there are DIY options for sound-dampening areas. (Personally, though, I’d spring for something with see-through windows, regardless of price. Safety first!) There could even be a specific laptop that patrons sign out when they want to use the phone booth so that regulars aren’t tempted to co-opt it for their Facebook-surfing needs.

Screenshot from 2020-01-07 12-54-47.png

Would people misuse a telephone booth? Obviously. Even if it’s in plain sight, couples will go in there, gamers will camp out to play Warcraft, and people suffering from paranoia will insist that it’s the only place they can safely check their email. But every privilege a library provides gets abused eventually. The point isn’t to keep services away from the 2% who will take advantage, but to make them available to the 98% who need them.

After all, as experience proves, I’m not the only one with a voice that carries.

Featured image from Room.com!


Diary of a Librarian: #NewYearGoals

2020! Woooo!

The concept of decades and years and minutes and hours and stuff like that are all human and based on Earth-specific metrics, like our relative gravity and the speed of our planet’s rotation. Making New Year’s resolutions is as arbitrary as marking this particular day as the first of the year. But when you get right down to it, a lot of human aspirations are arbitrary. Take money. Once you have enough of it to satisfy your personal standard of living, you’re not really going to improve your life by adding more. In fact, you’re probably going to make yourself a bit more miserable because it’s not money that you actually like, but having a challenging goal.

Nevertheless, even the zen-est librarian jumps and hollers at a job that offers a raise. I’ve done it myself! In fact, this attitude led directly to the single biggest kerplunk of my career. I believe that I was too focused on achieving a goal – making more money – and not focused enough upon getting a job where I actually enjoyed the day-to-day.

At my current position, which is not a kerplunk, I experience a rush of happiness when I complete a task, followed by a steep dip into dissatisfaction when I realize that there’s nothing left to do. This spike and dip pattern zeroes itself out. I might successfully help a patron retrieve a password, but then there are no more patrons for a long time and I risk becoming bored. (Boredom! My eternal nemesis!) However, having a steady project, like running a driver update schedule on all of our staff and public computers, keeps me busy and gives me a running sense of accomplishment. Occasional setbacks are inevitable and can be frustrating, but the process is, on the whole, more satisfying than reaching the conclusion.

Musician, Person, Guitar, Song, Rock, Jazz, Concert

THE POINT OF THE JOUUUUURNEEEEEEYYYYYYYY / IS NOT TO ARRIIIIIIIIVE!!!

I’ve noticed this before while hiking, reading, writing, whitewater kayaking, fighting, dieting, roller derby bouting, and gardening. Obviously we need goals for the purpose of motivation and actual productivity; there’s not much point in tenderly caring for a tomato crop all year if you’re not going to get some nice juicy beefsteaks out of it. But is it possible that this is one of those little evolutionary tricks that nature has played upon us humans for our own good, like our desire to consume mass amounts of sugar and sit on our asses all day? Is it possible that this is a trait that is no longer as useful as it would have been when we were, say, running down antelopes over the course of several days?

That’s why, for this fun but arbitrary annual counter, I’m going to make an arbitrary adjustment to new Year’s tradition. Instead of resolutions, I’m going to make adjustments to my life and process that I will maintain going forward. Personally, this will involve a whole lot more walking and biking and a whole lot less buying new stuff. Librarianwise, it’s all about the tech with a big dollop of self-care.

Always Be Studying

STUDY FOREVER! My role at Nevins Library has recently involved an uptick in downtime, and that’s not great for me. I like to be doing something every minute of every day. Otherwise, I get bored! (BOREDOM! My eternal nemesis!) Luckily, the library’s new computer use policy allows staff to participate in educational activities when not otherwise engaged. With the shelves still gone, we have relatively few patrons visiting us on the reference floor, and that means tons of study time.

I intend to work through the Meyers Comptia A+ Certification Study Guide until I’m ready to take the test, then clamp right down on Python and maybe Swift. If I could eventually get a custom iPhone app for library computer maintenance tracking out of this, I’ll be exceedingly happy.

Comptia A+ Certification All-In-One Exam Guide, Tenth Edition (Exams 220-1001 & 220-1002)

Truth in advertising!

Ticketing

I’m making some adjustments to how I handle low-grade IT problems, which are the only grade of problems I’m currently qualified to solve. I’m de facto IT at the Nevins Library, which was a major impetus of my desire to learn more about computers before I realized that I’m really quite talented at computers.

I recognize that I’m not a “real” IT person yet – the library contracts with someone who has a complete CS education and commensurate experience – but since I’m the one staff members call to unjam copiers in situ, I want to keep track like the big kids. I’ve already started a receipt and ticketing system based on our shared staff server. It’s very, very simple, because it’s literally just a Word and Excel document pair that I fill in by hand after I deal with a tech problem.

ink bottle on desk

Ticketing System v1.0

Someday I’ll learn to automate it, but for now, it seems to be working OK. My goal this year is to make writing a ticket as natural a process as responding to a tech problem in the first place.

A Little Insulation

I come down very hard on myself. This is a lifelong pattern and it disturbs the people around me. I don’t enjoy it, either. If I knew why I do it, I’d stop! It comes across as unfair and uncomfortable at best, which I know because good friends have leveled with me. I’ve also come to believe that this bad habit may strike people who don’t know me well as manipulative. This alone makes me want to modify this behavior because I am, in fact, a painfully earnest person.

I believe that I’ve improved upon the self-hatin’ since I first realized that it was such a serious issue, but I have a long way to go. (My sense of humor in particular goes a little too far past self-deprecating.) I think that the solution is to treat this tendency like an anger problem: when I have feelings, I’ll step away for a few minutes until I feel better or get distracted.

Here’s to 2020, folks. May your libraries thrive and your patrons throw away their own food.

Featured image from Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash!


Diary of a Librarian: Just Keep Learning

I passed my Intro to Hardware class this month. Hooray! Astonishingly, I loved every minute of it. That’s not to say that it’s not dry as heck – it is, it totally is – but it’s dry in a way that I like, if that makes sense. I got to make up little rhymes about the number of pins on DDR3 double inline memory modules. (The DDR3/Has two-forty!/Dee dee dee! I’ll take my Grammy now, thanks.)

I liked hardware so much that I was sad to see it go. I had the same feeling after I passed the databases class earlier this year. This stuff is fun. I’m really lucky that I’ve had this chance to discover that I’m good at this thing that I sort of wrote off previously. My library is lucky, too, if I may say so. Based on what I learned in this class, I instituted version control and now do a nice double-check on my favorite driver update software, Dell Command.

Furthermore, I’m not letting it go. Using the library’s stellar Safari online resource, I’m studying for the CompTIA A+ exam. My target is to pass it this summer. Meanwhile, I’m learning as much from my study book, which features the snoozingly generic title 
Comptia A+ Certification All-In-One Exam Guide
, as I did from the class. The author, whose name is actually Mike Meyers, has a knack for making RIMMs and DIMMs engaging (can you guess what chapter I’m on?)

Comptia A+ Certification All-In-One Exam Guide, Tenth Edition (Exams 220-1001 & 220-1002)

RIVETING LITERATURE! (Actually.)

If you want to bone up your tech skills, this particular book could absolutely take you from neophyte to adept, no class needed. It’s 28 chapters of gold, plus links.

I’m also lucky that the library is helping me accomplish this goal by assisting with my community college tuition. They believe that if my skills improve, so does the library’s resources. I’ve talked before about what I think modern libraries really need in terms of skills and I stand by my observations. Part of a librarian’s job should be continuing education and employers should be supportive.

In other library news, we’ve seen the usual flood of junk food into the circulation area this year, but Reference got something more. The other day, a patron came up to me and tried to give me a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble. Naturally, I had to decline – municipal ethics training is very explicit about the nefarious gift, second cousin to the infamous bribe. The last thing you want is bribe-brarians! But this patron was insistently grateful and bless his heart he was going to give me fifty bucks.

Eventually, I asked for guidance from my boss and we figured out that we could just turn the card over to the person who was ordering books for the department. I accepted it and handed it right over to my superior, no muss no fuss. That’s two books our budget isn’t going to have to cover! Thanks, patron!

So happy holidays, everyone! The days are getting longer, another year is coming with all of its tantalizing opportunity, and our families are eager to hear about anything except the weaknesses of the Dewey Decimal System. Make sure and tell them about it in exhaustive detail.

Featured image by Hannah Busing


Why Do These Books Make Fun Of Their Patients?

I’m not sure I have much of a sense of humor. C’est la vie; we can’t all be great at everything and I already have a pretty nice array of skills. I’ll take “Intuitive Computer Ability,” “Didactic Flexibility,” and “Cookie Baking” for $600 apiece, Alex! You can have your good sense of humor – I know how an ALU works. But I feel I have to mention this little thing about humor because it’s possible I’m just not getting the joke in this particular case.

This is the case of the medical memoirs that make fun of their patients.

I first ran into this in A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard. This is an account of an average man’s descent into the nightly hilarity known as people in severe, traumatic, and life-altering medical crisis. Parts are poignant, but what I remember most about the book is how entertaining Hazzard’s voice was.

A Thousand Naked Strangers : A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back

And why not? It’s a piece of consumer literature. It’s made to sell, and stories about people desperate for help are just riveting. And, according to Hazzard, sometimes very funny. Like the poor man who misinterpreted a paramedic intervention as an alien abduction. A riot! I admit I was captivated.

And deeply disturbed. Sure, the names were changed, but these were real people who could easily recognize themselves from this account. If nothing else, their anguish and bad memories had become fodder for some random writer they’d encountered in a previous life, someone they didn’t even know. Did he track them down and ask permission? Did he pass on any royalties, or even let them know that they’d be in his book?

I can’t find any evidence that he did.

Hazzard is a way more successful writer than I am. Moreover, he’s not a librarian, and librarians tend to be hyper-aware of patron privacy. That’s not to say that we don’t have some wild patron stories. I myself have a few absolute cookers that I wish to goodness that I could share. But I can’t – those are people, not fodder for my ego and my writing career. Their foibles, fallacies, addictions, heartbreaks, joys, hopes, and loves are not mine for the writing. And I’m not even in medicine!

Now, I’m running into the same issue with
This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Medical Resident
by Adam Kay. I got this as an ALC from Libro.fm earlier this month, but apparently, it’s been out in Britain since 2017. While Kay focuses on lampooning himself – and sometimes dragging other doctors – he also does the obligatory patient-put-something-up-the-butt thing. Because patients! Aren’t they wacky? Isn’t it funny? Isn’t it?

This Is Going to Hurt : Secret Diaries of a Medical Resident

Maybe I’m suffering from a terminal case of not-fun, but I’m past the point where I can stomach these types of memoirs. I had to stop listening to Kay’s book two hours in because I found myself sympathizing more with the misinformed, confused, and guilty patients than with the snarky ex-doctor. While I’m glad he was able to make something good, or at least satisfying, from a job that was apparently stressful to the extreme, I also wouldn’t want this guy treating me – ever. The thought of becoming fodder for a clever punchline about the craaazy doctoring life chills me, and I felt increasingly guilty about my sudden knowledge of his hapless ex-patients. Because what non-medic among us hasn’t gone to the doc for something stupid? God help me, I will use my inhaler every damn day if it means that I don’t have to risk the UrgentCare guy writing a side-splitting account of my annual self-inflicted need for an emergency nebulization.

Moreover, who among us hasn’t been written off by a medical professional because the physician assumed that we were histrionic idiots? These memoirs are about meds being smart and the rest of us being, if not outright dumb, then certainly passive. The arrogance from which many docs suffer is really a symptom of an overclocked healthcare system, the objectification of a real human and their real suffering by the inevitable overworking of qualified medical professionals. It’s sad that good people get worked into the ground like this, but it doesn’t excuse the dismissal of patients as numbers, symptoms, or, worst of all, problems.

I can’t help but see Kay and Hazzard as contributing to the problem from an oblique angle. They’re objectifying people who are already vulnerable to becoming numbers by packaging them as good stories. Anonymization is beside the point – and anyway, I’m not sure how anonymous a story can be if it features a unique medical ailment in a particular location, like Atlanta or Scotland. The point is that these folks are being commodified because they were sick once. The sickness is their defining trait, and even in Hazzard’s book, which claims that “we’ll…learn from [patients]” in the course of his book, it’s hard to see them as anything but a case.

As I write this, I wonder about another medical memoir, Atul Gawande’s
Better : A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
, a book that received widespread approbation and glowing reviews when it came out in 2007. I haven’t read it. After beginning – and dumping – Kay’s book, I really feel that I ought to. This is how reading binges start, and I’m scared of where this one will ultimately take me. Here’s hoping that Gawande’s book lives up to its good name and redeems literary doctors in my eyes.

Better : A Surgeon's Notes on Performance


That Was An Intense Move

OK. After two weeks, we finally have the Internet again.

I am far, far behind on all of my writing. Aside from the burden imposed upon us by the lack of Internet, much of this has been because of the new responsibilities of homeownership; there is a lot to do around this condo to bring it up to the standards that my wife and I prefer. We’re particular about things like a properly watertight basement and having a place to hang a towel in the bathroom, so we’ve been doing a lot of drilling, mixing, pointing, and mounting.

The original sea of boxes has shrunken to a mere puddle. Better yet, our cats have forgiven us for moving to a place easily twice as large as our last apartment. Alas, they are immune to otherwise logical arguments about value appreciation and equity.

This place, the first that either of us has ever owned, is already starting to feel like home. Much of the reason for this is the fact that we’ve successfully screwed our two six-foot bookshelves to wall studs, ensuring that they will never topple over like the tower of Babel and crush us with words. Even so, we find that we don’t have nearly enough space for books.

This is not a decor issue. Bookshelves are Serious Business. Many of our books are still in boxes and need homes pronto. We are, of course, scouring Craigslist and the local thrift stores, because buying used is eco-friendly and ideal. Meanwhile, a little more box time won’t hurt our booky buddies’ feelings. There’s time.

Other things I have learned in the course of this move:

  • I do not value my single-issue comic books anywhere near as much as I value the ones I can just read. This even goes for my Saga issues, which I gobbled with relish back in my profligate youth. It’s the reading experience that I care about now, not a. getting them first or b. collecting them, or even c. someday selling them for a profit. Trades are better for that. I’ll be letting my issues go. (And my issues with issues, too. Life’s too short, you know?)

  • YouTube can save you thousands of dollars on home repairs.
  • Everything you need, from electronics to picture frames, will eventually turn up at a Saver’s.
  • There are only a certain number of things you can handle in your life at once. When you reach your load limit, something will give and you won’t necessarily be able to predict what. When my wife’s mother became critically ill last year, I dropped a class. This time, I dropped the writing ball. Aside from the factor of our lack of Internet, it’s a good object lesson in stress management.

Part of the reason that I’m getting back into the swing of things with a personal blog post is to shake off the rust. But now that I’ve done that, I’m off to bang out an article that my fantastic editor at Etekly has already been amazing about because HOLY CRAP is it ever late. Book Riot, too. My god. May the heavens forever bless lenient editors.

One more thing: I’m experimenting with affiliate marketing on this here blog, and I’m 100% aware of the problematic nature of buying new. Sometimes you have to, but I’d rather promote high-quality thrift. My hope is that people will opt for the “used” option when they click and buy. Meanwhile, I’m working on a new affiliate program that centers more on consignment and reuse. Hard fact though it is, your girl’s gotta eat. Stay tuned for the changes.

It’s good to be back.