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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
National Novel Writing Month is proof positive that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will eventually work your way out of whatever task you’ve got before you. I believe that’s the actual point: to give writers confidence that they can, in fact, move forward with whatever they set their minds to.
This hasn’t been how I’ve NaNo’ed. Personally, I have no trouble setting down words – between my various writing clients, I’m sure I near 50,000 words a month at the best of times. If anything, my main struggle has been to focus on one single piece for thirty days. This November, I didn’t even try. Between growing this blog (hello hi how are you,) writing for Book Riot, and ghosting for persons redacted, I barely got my cathartic political battle royale off the ground. I did write the particular scene that I wanted, which made me cackle with glee at my own cleverness before I consigned it forever to the fire.
Beyond my unattractive tendency to be amused by my own work, I need to burn at least some of what I create in order to stay happy as a writer. There are times when writing is like riding a bicycle in the sense that it’s an empowering exercise. Then there are times when I’ve been pedaling so long that I begin to flag and worry primarily about where I’m going instead of taking joy in the action. I love a chance to enjoy the process of writing without having to worry about producing something good, or useful, or even saleable.
November, increasingly, has been my opportunity to write drivel. And I look forward to it with tremendous relish.
I don’t research and I don’t edit. I don’t worry that nobody will buy my work or that an editor would hate it. Nobody will ever see my NaNo writing. It won’t impact the rest of my career in a negative manner and my mother will not be ashamed of me. It’s true freedom, and it’s the delete key that caps it off. I don’t think I’ve ever kept one of my NaNoWriMo novels, even during those years when I’ve been able to focus hard enough to generate something coherent.
As a result, I tend toward bizarro fiction for NaNoWriMo. It gets weird. Gory, too, usually. I’ve had characters trapped in an enchanted Target with bloodthirsty love gods. I’ve had the Judeo-Christian deity Yahweh transformed into a rubber ducky and smiting people for their bathing behavior. I’ve had politicians cannibalizing each other. My hard drive is a bloody, disgusting mess in November, and then December wipes it clean. I’ve always admired those writers of extreme sci-fi, exemplified by Carlton Mellick III of Satan Burger fame, who fly their freak flags from the highest pinnacle. That’s commitment. It’s never been what I wanted, but it sure is fun to moonlight.
For my own part, I’m coming to realize that writing isn’t a monolith. Pieces that I write for fun and never publish are valid as personal entertainment, as writing that I do just to blow off steam and because I enjoy the craft. Listicles that I labor over, articles that I research, and book reviews that I blitz through don’t need to be as precious to me as the time I spend making something that I like just because. I could send a billion ghostwritten biographies out into the universe without once thinking of them as my precious babies, without ever considering them again at all except as points on my portfolio and solid pieces of work. But when I junk a NaNo novel, that’s the apex of my year. I never forget the joy of writing something redonkulously dumb, scrapping it without concern, and moving on with my life.
I have never felt the need to polish or publish my NaNos, not from this year or any other. I technically won the word count and I did have fun writing about someone whose name rhymes with Ditch McDonnell barbequing and heartily enjoying the roasted rump of someone whose name rhymes with Ronald Dump, but I’m equally comfortable not continuing the story. It was never meant to be completed or shared. That’s not what NaNo is about – for me.
In fact, there are a lot of successful novels that have come out of National Novel Writing Month. I did a whole bit about them over at Book Riot. I think that’s wonderful. At the same time, I’m not sorry I’ll never be one of them. I’m a rebel, baby. Someday I’ll write a serious novel, but it sure as hell won’t happen in November! The point of my journey is just to get some invigorating exercise.