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: 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.


Diary of a Librarian: Dum-dums for Patrons

If you’ve ever worked at a library service desk, then you absolutely know that patrons can be surly, rambunctious, problematic, inappropriate, and rude. Any patron can become an issue – I’ve personally had the most trouble with older, wealthier people – but in some cases, the issue is obvious: hanger.

Hanger is the pernicious emotional combination of hunger and anger that manifests when your blood sugar level falls at the same time as your email fails to load. When I see it in the library, it’s usually in kids and homeless people. There aren’t any eateries nearby and the city itself doesn’t support any shelters that I know of, so it stands to reason that these populations would be the hangry ones.

However, the weeks surrounding Halloween have been blessedly free of hanger-related orneriness. Why? Because we put out a festive seasonal candy dish.

The candies weren’t what you’d call choice. Most were the small suckers the kids back home used to call dum-dums [edit: this is, incredibly, what they’re actually called] and hard candy a la Werthers. My awesome coworker, who is nice to the point that I want her to give a librarian master class, added a bunch of leftover fun-sized chocolate bars today. However, even hard candy disappeared at a steady rate. Who took it? Our homeless patrons, that’s who! Teens and kids as well. Once dined, their dispositions and our patron interactions noticeably improved.

So here’s my proposal: let’s keep the spirit of Halloween alive all year long. Nobody’s going to clean us out of dum-dums. They’re sucky candy in multiple senses. Let’s stock them at the reference desk 365 days of the year! People could take as many as they’d like from a freely available bowl, although I suspect they’d only take two or three at the most. Nobody’s going to try to survive on dum-dums, and it takes a while to eat one. That’s ten-ish minutes when the patron is not immediately in want of food and therefore irritable.

Honestly, I might buy them in bulk with my own personal money. It’s not like this is caviarWe’re re-opening the reference floor soon and we’ll definitely see our foot traffic increase again. I’d like to see our patron interactions remain as positive as they have been with our regulars these past few months.


Diary of a Librarian: The Charging Cord Blues

I’ve had a lot of burners on the stove lately. In addition to the biggies, which I won’t discuss because they will bore you, I must keep my Libby-based digital audiobook stash fresh. This means zooming through The Cuckoo’s Calling at 2.5x normal speed so I can read whatever’s just downloaded from my holds list.

The things that stress out librarians.

Also stressing me out is the cost of replacing our charging cords. At my library, we hand out charging cords in exchange for a collateral ID card. Usually, the people who need charging cords are kids, and usually, they don’t have any ID on them.

What am I going to say? No, foolish child! Go file for a state ID and then come see me about this $30 cord after a seven-to-ten day wait for shipping! Ugh. Obviously I let the kids take the cord, and they’re generally pretty honest. I have them write down their name and phone number just in case they forget to bring the cord back, but that would be tough these days. I’ve figured out a way to wire a laminated tag to the plug housing in such a way that it can’t be gotten off without breaking one of the wires.

From now on, any disappearances are definitely theft. Conceptually, disappearances might have been happening before now, but one cord looks very much like another and we’d incorporate enough found cords into our little collection that our supply remained fairly stable. Not that it’s not theft to swap out your busted cord for our nice one. I wouldn’t be 100% surprised if this is why our cords have been aging so fast, because they have been aging fast. One day, the cord is brand-new; the next, it will not charge for god or country.

On the other hand, we also get cord donations occasionally. I’m fairly sure that these are well-meaning, but it results in a couple negative eventualities:

  • The used cords become busted cords more quickly anyway, and since we don’t know the cord’s age we can’t really guess when that will happen
  • We end up with irregular and off-brand cords that don’t work as well as quality ones
  • As bad as lookism is, it’s nice to have a consistent brand, and a random hot green cord disrupts our branding game
  • We always have a ton of Android cords and never have enough iPhone cords.

We’ve flirted with the idea of getting dedicated charging stations for the library before, and although they are fairly expensive, I think they’d solve some of the squirrelly minor issues with lending charging cords. Now that we’ve got to revamp our entire reference floor anyway, it seems like it might finally happen. That said, I sincerely hope that we get one for each floor so that people don’t have to glom onto just one unit.

We’re going to have to be conscious of replaceability if we go with a standalone charging unit a la conference or mall charging kiosk. The other reason that our cords might be aging out so fast might have to do with how patrons are using them. As usual, the root problem is data collection. We don’t really know what the patrons are doing to our equipment, though the imagination paints some interesting pictures, and if we don’t know that, we don’t know nothin’.

On the other hand, we could just gin up some shoeboxes with power strips inside. Added bonus: we could decorate those any way we wanted. Housing options are essentially unlimited. We could use a bread box, a basket – god, one trip to A.C. Moore multiplies the possibilities. There are myriad ways to hide a bus. Maybe we could borrow a few extra dollars from the replace-iPhone-cords discretionary fund for security measures. I figure a few wall anchors, some tastefully disguised chicken wire, and a padlock ought to do the trick.