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


Diary of a Librarian: The Skills We REALLY Need

Hello, friends! It’s nearly Thanksgiving, so I’ll keep this short, sweet, and to the point. We librarians need to edumacate ourselves.

I’m not talking about increasing our focus on reference or becoming better at beeping the books. That’s the old way of thinking about specialties. These days we need to develop new skills, and that means continuing ed. Let’s pay librarians’ tuition and send them to school to develop some useful new skills! These skills don’t have to be specific to each staff member. Someone could develop two specialties or even triple up – this, after all, is libraries.

Here’s what I think we need the most right now.

Education Librarian

We’re as much teachers these days as anything else. Patrons want to learn how to download apps and use Excel. The problem is that, aside from school librarians, we generally don’t know how to teach.

The education librarian would coordinate learning events in the library and, when necessary, instruct other librarians on how to be good teachers. When someone declares that there should be a Coursera run in the library, it’ll be the education librarian who figures that out.

Internal Communication Librarian

Librarians tend to be free spirits. Individualists. A herd of cats, you could say. And that’s great! Except it also isn’t. It also means that we trip all over each other in a group. Enter the internal communication librarian!

This person takes business classes and then manages meetings, makes sure that everybody knows what’s going on, and generally makes sure Person X talks to Person Y about Person Z’s project. Maybe they’d run an internal staff blog detailing the library’s news.

Outreach Librarian

A lot of places already have this person – my place does. But too many do not! Some librarians need to take marketing classes and become library bloggers, social media experts, and advertising mavens.

IT Librarian

That’s me, guys! The IT librarian might come in with some IT background, but they could also get training as they work for the library. They don’t have to be hackers or whatever, they just need to know something about a motherboard and be ready to talk the lingo to tech support.

The IT librarian could double as the cybersecurity librarian. They’d track the institutional passwords and explain to everyone why they really do need to change every 60 days.

Elder Librarian

Seniors have particular needs. Sometimes, these involve mobility and vision accommodations that most of us don’t think of before they happen to us. At the same time, they’re big-time library patrons. Why not specialize a librarian to them the way we do with teens?

Graphic Designer Librarian

Libraries aren’t not going to need to do outreach in the future. That outreach isn’t not going to need to look good. Why not train someone to be the library’s professional artist?

This shouldn’t require an art degree, just a willingness to learn. The graphic designer would make clipart, zshuzsh up promotional materials, and keep library materials on-brand and looking neat.

Betabrarian

We need librarians whose job priority is to watch for trends in the profession and in the wider world, and then test them out to see if they could be useful in a library context.

They should go to every conference, collect every business card, and build a weekly situational report for their institution that includes new social factors (“OK Boomer,”) new tech developments (foldable smartphone,) and the results of their own R&D. For example, maybe this is the person to test NFC stickers in the library.

Special Needs Librarian

There are a lot of possible applications for this kind of expertise. Are libraries overwhelming environments for autistic people? I have no idea! I’m not autistic and have no training in that area. Are children’s books available enough to adults who read at a low Lexile? Once again, it’s a need that exists and we might be able to meet it if we train someone to be an expert on the topic.

Linguist Librarian

This intrepid person’s job will be to learn languages. They should come into the library with at least two, but over the years, they will learn more. The library will send them to school to learn Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin, and anything else that could possibly come in useful. It won’t be their entire job, per se, but it’ll be a big chunk.

 

Now I want to hear your ideas. Comment with the librarian specialization you think we need right now! If you think librarians already have enough going on in their lives without more stupid school, comment about that too.

Happy travel day, library friends!

Special thanks to this awesome dude for our featured image!——-> Dollar Gill


Diary Of A Librarian Addendum: When Hardware Strikes and Apology to SupportAssist

If you’re a reader of mine, then you may remember this post about how much I hate SupportAssist. Or this one, about how SupportAssist failed me for the last time.

I would like to apologize to SupportAssist. I slandered its reputation for a problem that it did not cause.

That’s not to say that SA isn’t a ridiculous piece of badly programmed junk. It totally is! This past Wednesday, it merrily failed to update any applicable drivers on our public computers, which is fine because the infinitely superior Dell Command Update does the same thing. But in the particular case of Computer 43, SA’s problematic nature had been compounded by a bad motherboard. I hope. Because 43 hasn’t frozen since receiving a new one yesterday, so maybe, if I don’t tell any lies before Christmas, the real problem won’t end up being the hard drive or the processor.

I’m currently taking a hardware class, so I’m enjoying the intellectual challenge of identifying what exactly went wrong. Was it the BIOS chip? The CMOS? Oh the acronyms that could have gone wrong with the motherboard! It now makes perfect sense that freezing could indicate a motherboard issue – I already knew that BIOS or UEFI can cause that problem if they don’t update correctly. It makes me wonder if I ought to have tried flashing before calling in the warranty, but c’est la vie. The computer works and that’s sufficient.

It’s a little annoying that I can’t House my way to a magic diagnosis based on the evidence, but I’m still a nascent techie in many ways and I’m not going to go too hard on myself. The main thing I’m learning from my experience as a tech librarian is that if something’s only going wrong on just one computer, I should at least consider the possibility that it’s hardware-based. This kind of thing has happened a couple times before, not necessarily with SupportAssist, but in a similar pattern. (Problem on one single computer, fix software, problem persists, switch hardware, problem solved.)

I did think it was funny at the time that none of the other computers were freezing, but I chalked it up to SA being so wonky that it was actually inconsistent across units. Apparently, SA is the red flag to my bullish IT style. A diagnostic startup scan didn’t catch any problems, either, so now I know that can happen. And I need to be aware of my software prejudices, apparently.

I’m not sure I would have done anything differently if I’d guessed that the problem was hardware-based, but I still would have felt better knowing. If nothing else, I could have prepared the staff for the possibility that the computer would continue to freeze even after the apparent software problem had been managed.

If I wanted a secondary lesson, it would be that a library technology professional’s job is mainly to communicate. That means understanding enough about the computers to explain ongoing issues in a way that both makes sense and is not scary as well as developing the ability to interface with customer service in a way that works for everybody. I do think that I’m improving. I’ll say that 50% of the reason for this is that I’m in school and actively learning about computers. Knowing a bit, while remaining humble about the vast sea of knowledge to which you do not yet have access, seems to be key to a good working relationship with tech support. I’m also continuing to grow and mature as a person and a professional, which is causing my communication skills to improve anyway, and librarians as an industry are steadily becoming more tech-savvy, although we’re still way behind where we need to be.

For now,  we have a new motherboard for good old 43 and everything seems ducky. No freezes yet. I’m almost ready to sally forth next week to a long Thanksgiving vacation with full peace of mind that this computer’s got a working motherboard.

Let’s hope it was just the motherboard.


Diary of a Librarian: Windows 10 Is Still Free. Also, more SupportAssist.

It’s true. If you have a Windows 7 machine, you can still get an upgrade for free. It’s legal, too. Go to the Microsoft website at this link and download the media creation tool. Run it. Do it now before the 7pocalypse arrives in January!

And don’t take it from me. Take it from ZDNet.

In bookish news, I’m still working on Part 3 of my DHALGREN review. (Part 1 is here.) I might have it up tomorrow, so grit your teeth and hang onto your harmonicas. For now, join me in the sweet, easy, fun library life, where we skip through fields of aahhhh who am I kidding SupportAssist did another crazy thing today.

This time, I had a computer (One! Single! Computer!) on our staff network freezing at odd times. It started yesterday with freezes that happened closer and closer to startup and did not respond to ctrl+alt+del. I crashed the poor thing and performed a system restore, feeling very technological and cool. That seemed to solve the problem.

AT FIRST!

It didn’t take long for dear little Computer 43 to fritz out again. Today, it froze after a restart, and then during a diagnostic scan. I called uncle, and Dell, too.

I avoid calling Dell because my customer service experience with this company is extraordinarily spotty. Sometimes they’re super-on. Other times, their technicians make little pew-pew noises when they think they’re on hold and then delete networked printers willy-nilly over my strident objections. This time, I was lucky. My dude figured out that SupportAssist had been causing the system to freeze up at a deep fundamental level.

via GIPHY

 

Part of the reason for this was that SA has two versions. One is a Windows app and the other is a Dell app. You can get the Dell app from the Dell website. You can get the Windows app from the Windows App Store. That one appears to be buggy. It may also be either advertising itself very aggressively or chronically reinstalling itself on some machines. This actually explains a lot about how my library’s public-facing machines have been behaving.

So he uninstalled SupportAssist, although it took him a couple of attempts, and suggested that we not use this Dell-origin piece of wrecknology anymore (thanks, Christine, for this situationally perfect word.) I’ll be passing his suggestion along. If I never had to lay eyes upon SupportAssist again, I’d be happy. I’m now 14% sure that this is how God intends to end the world.


Diary of a Librarian: SupportAssist Is The Root Of All Evil

Technically, I’m a technology librarian. That means that I know kind of how to make the computers behave themselves under ideal circumstances. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, I can either call tech support and spend hours on the phone or gracefully give up and text our IT contractor. However, there’s a decent handful of problems that I can manage on my own.

In a strictly professional sense, SupportAssist is one of these. However, I am not emotionally qualified to handle this cringingly horrible piece of Dell bloatware. Every time it does a new weird thing, which is about once every other week, my heart falls.

Even when SupportAssist is working correctly, everything about it is annoying. For example, when it’s processing, it flashes three little waiting dots. One two three. Right? Dot 1 flashes and goes out, dot 2 flashes and goes out, dot 3 does the same, then repeat. Right? RIGHT?

WRONG.

SupportAssist’s first dot flashes correctly, but the second and third flash together. Simultaneously. Every. Single. Time. Even though it’s a stupid superficial thing that doesn’t matter at all, the obviousness of this bug galls the hell out of me. It looks so bad. Also, if your intuition tells you that someone who missed that glaring issue might have missed others, then give that intuition of your a big wet smack on the lips, because it’s a winner.

Problems with SupportAssist abound. I could schpiel on for days about the nonsense I’ve endured with this damnable program, from times I’ve tried to remove it (it reinstalled itself) to times I’ve tried to update it because it was being an enormous heckin’ vulnerability. (Incidentally, during that fascinating episode, SupportAssist actually refused to install. What a world!)

For the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to stop SupportAssist from forcing popup notifications on our patrons. These are just update requests, but they require an admin password, and patrons, skittish darlings that they are, aren’t equipped to deal. Anyway, making any change to these computers requires turning off our disk imager, DeepFreeze, before I make any changes. There are a couple of restarts involved. The process is a bit of a slog, but it’s worth it because DeepFreeze is a great piece of software that keeps everybody’s filthy data off our nice clean library machines.

So I’m not sorry that I’ve been unfreezing and freezing our DeepFreeze clients for the last month, trying to figure out how to make SupportAssist stop yelling at our patrons. That’s just part of the game. I’m also thrilled that our IT consultant figured out a lasting fix – yay! What maddens me is that today, when I tried to apply said fix, I discovered that the issue had begun because SupportAssist had either a. tried to update itself and installed a bad version; b. become universally corrupted on all computers and decided to watch the world burn instead of working; c. decided to ask the user before updating its own bad self while also not being capable of doing that because it was too broken; d. all of the above.

I’m going to go with d. Somehow, it’s d.

That meant that I had to reinstall SupportAssist on each machine just so that I could tell it to never notify the user about its need for updates, driver or otherwise, ever again. It took…a while. I spent a lot of time watching its little waiting dots.

On the bright side, it does seem to have worked. As a certain TV hero once said, I love it when a fix comes together, at least long enough for the program to un-toggle it and/or go wonky so that I have to go back in and start all over again.

Until next month, SupportAssist.