Archive for September, 2009

Five Questions to Minimize Your Possessions

September 15, 2009 11 comments

I’ve been doing my best to be a minimalist for the last four years.  Most people don’t know this about me, but they do notice the results.  My friends have made comments ranging from how quick helping me move was to how does a librarian only have around 200 books of her very own?

Recently a couple of friends have told me they would love to have the organization and ease of care that comes with owning less random stuff like I do, but they don’t know how to accomplish it.  I’m actually going to be helping one of them out in person, but I thought given American’s propensity to be packrats, perhaps a blog post of my techniques might be useful to other folks on the interwebs.

In order to minimize the stuff you already own, you of course will have to sort through it.  Allot yourself plenty of uninterrupted time to do this.  Have trash bags handy for junk and boxes for donations.  I recommend doing the sort as close to trash day as possible so you can get the junk out of your house asap.  Here are the questions I use when evaluating whether to keep something:

1.  Is it actually junk? If it’s a piece of clothing, is it torn/stained/beyond repair?  If it’s a game, is it missing pieces?  If you think you can repair it, stop and think if you actually will.  How long has it been waiting to be repaired?  If it’s going to take you more than a week to get to it, toss it!

2.  Do I need this? By need I mean need as in I’ll have to go naked/starve/will lose my sanity without this.  I count clothing, bedding, and things that help me relax under this category.

3.  If I don’t need it, do I have valid reasons for wanting it? or Am I only keeping this for sentimental reasons? Things that are ok to want for sentimental reasons:  a picture, a letter.  Things that are not ok to keep for sentimental reasons:  that piece of ribbon your girlfriend tied around that bunch of flowers she gave you one time.  The key behind this logic is the minimalist mantra of quality over quantity.  You won’t lose the memory of her giving you the flowers if you throw out the ribbon any more than you did when the flowers died.  It really is just a piece of ribbon taking up space and how often do you really look at it?  In contrast, a stuffed animal she gave you that you snuggle periodically is a quality reminder of your love for each other.  See the difference?

4.  Are there negative emotions/memories attached to this item? Even if an item is useful and in good condition, if every time you see it you remember a negative experience or emotion, you shouldn’t keep it.  It just serves to bring a negative vibe to your household.  Maybe you dread opening a particular drawer because that item is in there, or a lovely painting is on display that everyone likes but you feel badly looking at it.  These are simply not worth keeping.  They aren’t improving your quality of life; they’re bringing it down.  This goes for items that predominantly bring negative emotions/memories, not that have a minor one attached that you rarely think of when seeing it.

5.  Is this a quality item? This is my final sorting step, and one that has really helped me keep items I’m prone to collect down to a reasonable number.  Remember that your possessions take time to maintain.  Items that aren’t as high-quality to you will prevent you from enjoying other items as much.  My book collection is a good example of how quality vs. quantity helps to minimize possessions.  I only keep books that I either loved or want to have around to loan to people.  Yes I love books in general, but my collection is a reflection of me.  I want to look at my bookshelves and know that I only kept around the ones that are truly of quality to me.  Otherwise it’s just collecting for the sake of collecting isn’t about the enjoyment received from the item.

After you’ve finished sorting, bag up the junk and get it out of your house.  Take the boxes of donations to the best places for them to be used.  Now you are left with only things you need or that truly bring more happiness to your life.  Put everything left away.  Don’t be afraid to reorganize as you go.  You’ll have much more free space and new ideas may present themselves.

MLIS Programs Need To Be Revamped

September 11, 2009 4 comments

I’m a big fan of education, really.  I wouldn’t have acquired a BA in not one but two majors, not to mention carried a minor, if I wasn’t.  I’m also pursuing my Masters and am a big advocate of the need for public libraries so the populace can educate themselves.  However, I have to say, the graduate programs in this nation have some serious issues.  Of course, the education in general in this nation have some serious issues, but that doesn’t excuse the graduate programs.

Even though I was irritated by the irrelevance of some assignments/requirements of my BA programs, this was definitely the case for only a minority of my requirements.  I’d say it probably around 20% of the overall requirements had zero benefit to me.  That is so insanely not the case in my graduate program.

My graduate program is a Masters of Library and Information Science.  This is a profession requiring certain skills different from say a Masters in History with an eye toward a PhD.  This is more like, although not nearly as difficult as, med school.  We need to acquire knowledge that can then be utilized on the field, so to say.  The thing is though, unlike med students who spend a year or so hitting the books then hit the field, most MLIS students have already or are currently working in a library.  Thus, by the time we get to a reference class, for example, many of us have already logged hundreds of hours on the reference desk.  You really don’t need to explain to us how to conduct a reference interview.  It would have been nice if that had been explained to us prior to being thrown behind a reference desk, yes.  That’s just not the case though.  We learned on-the-fly how to conduct a reference interview and wasting three hours of our precious little free time being told how to do it is just incentive to bang our heads on said desk.

Of course there is value to graduate school.  My job never took the time to help me take apart a computer and put it back together again like my technology class did, for example.  This, however, is the vast minority of graduate school.  Most of it winds up being busy work, because we already learned it on the job.  Yet we can’t claim to know it officially because we don’t have the little piece of MLIS paper.

I place value in the MLIS.  It’s supposed to be there to show that we have the special skill set we need to be the best librarians we can be.  Yet, in most graduate programs, that isn’t the case.  They waste time explaining the reference interview to us instead of helping us understand how to create studies and get published in scholarly journals; something that is necessary for many librarians to advance in their fields.  Instead of discussing innovations, we waste time going over old, out-dated management strategies.  It’s mind-bogglingly frustrating to a young librarian, and worse it’s stagnating the profession.

I repeatedly see students who have near to zero understanding of technology, Web 2.0, or even just of where their patrons will be coming from breezing through courses that should be difficult.  These graduate programs are granting the MLIS to people who, frankly, are not qualified to be a great librarian in the coming decades.  Sure, they’re qualified to be average, but shouldn’t our graduate programs be assisting us in becoming great?  I don’t want to hold a degree that denotes averageness.  I want my degree to be proof that I am a great librarian.  I want my graduate program to challenge me.  I want to come away feeling that I learned something valuable that I can then take to my library and utilize to improve it.  I don’t want to come away from my program feeling that it’s just me wasting my time demonstrating that my job already taught me how to do these things.

Graduate programs are valuable, but they need to understand where students are coming from.  Most MLIS students have some to a lot of experience in a library.  The coursework should address the things we won’t learn on the job, as well as future innovations and skill sets we will need to advance in the field.  They shouldn’t consist of busywork.  Yet, I’m practical to the core.  I know I need my MLIS to advance in the field, so I will continue to complete my busywork and attempt not to bang my head on my desk too often….or at least pad it with bubble-wrap first.

Categories: Librarianship

Book Review: The Glass Castle By Jeannette Walls

September 10, 2009 2 comments

Jeannette Walls, a successful writer for MSNBC, hid the real story of her childhood for years.  In her memoir she finally lets the world know the truth.  She was raised by an alcoholic father and an incredibly selfish artist mother, both of whom were brilliant.  Yet their personal demons and quirks meant Jeannette was raised in near constant neglect and also suffered emotional and some physical abuse.  The memoir chronicles her changing perception of her parents from brilliant counter-culturalists to an embarassment she wanted to escape.

Jeannette’s memoir is incredibly well-written.  She manges to recapture her young perceptions at each point in the story from her idolization of her father at the age of five to her disgust at her mother at the age of fifteen.  Often memoirs about bad childhoods are entirely caught up in the writer’s knowledge as an adult that this was all wrong.  While this is most certainly true, it makes for a better experience for the reader to almost feel what it is like for a child to become disillusioned of her parents.  Children naturally love their parents, and abused and/or neglected children are no different.  It is just for them instead of just realizing their parents are human like children from normal families do, they also realize that their parents screwed them over.  Jeannette subtly and brilliantly presents this realization and all the pain that comes with it.  She doesn’t want to believe her father would endanger her when he’s drunk.  She doesn’t want to believe that her mother makes her children eat popcorn for three days straight while she herself pigs out on all the king-sized chocolate bars she can eat.  Yet Jeannette cannot escape the facts.

This memoir is also different from other bad childhood memoirs in that Jeannette never loses compassion for her parents.  As her awareness grows throughout the book, she also struggles to understand how her parents ended up the way they did.  [Spoiler Warning]  A particularly moving scene is when the family goes to visit Jeannette’s father’s mother in spite of his protests.  Jeannette walks in on her grandmother claiming to be mending her brother’s pants while they are still on him, but actually groping him.  Jeannette’s reaction, after saving her brother from the groping, is to wonder if maybe this is why her father drinks so much.  Maybe her grandmother did the same thing to her father, and there was no one to save him.  Maybe these are really the demons he is fighting.  To realize this, to even care about it after everything her father has put her through is truly remarkable.  [End Spoiler]

Jeannette is an excellent writer and an incredible human being.  Readers will be astounded not only at her unique, messed-up childhood but also at how she overcame it and simultaneously maintained sympathy for her parents who so wronged her.  Jeannette is an inspiration in multiple ways, and her memoir is definitely worth the read.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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The Librarian Stereotype War

September 8, 2009 8 comments

Currently there’s a war going on between the “traditional stereotype of a librarian,” aka shy quiet ugly old maid with glasses, and “the new stereotype of a librarian,” aka tattooed digital-savvy hipster.

To both sides, may I just say: enough already!

To the librarians/whoever who are pushing the young, hip librarian stereotype: You are just making us look desperate.  You are making it look like we know we’re irrelevant, and we’ll do anything to try to keep our career in vogue–even getting a tattoo!

To the general public who still believe the old maid librarian stereotype: You are just demonstrating how few real librarians you’ve ever known.  You’re also missing out on all the intelligent, sexy librarians.  Think Tina Fey for an example.

To everyone: Librarians are people just like anyone else.  As is the case with most stereotyping, some of what is being said is true, but not all of it.  Yes, librarians can tend to be a bit *gasp* nerdy.  We are the purveyors of knowledge, so that’s not surprising.  However, we’re a bunch of individuals.  We have our own personalities.  For every hipster librarian there’s a librarian who can’t stand hipsters invading her farmer’s market.  For every grouchy older librarian there’s an older librarian leading a high-tech storytime.  The only thing that I think could be said to be universally true about librarians is that we love educating ourselves and we love providing you with the resources to educate yourself.

Finally, to my fellow librarians: Can we please just stop debating about the library’s image and what a librarian is and just go out into our community–whether a city, a hospital, or a university–and do what we do best?  No more debate will be needed when our community is well-aware of our existence and that *gasp* librarians are people.  Who’d have ever thought it, eh?

Book Review: Vow of Silence By Robert Laughlin

September 3, 2009 1 comment

In an alternate universe, Karlan escapes the drudgery of his family’s farm by moving to the nation’s capital when it is discovered he is one of the few possessing a memory strong enough to join an elite group known as Datists.  Datists, utilizing memory techniques, are responsible for all knowledge in this society that has not discovered writing.  All goes well until he is assigned a specialty that wreaks havoc on his humanity.

When I first started reading this book, I was immediately struck by how much the story-telling style reminded me of European literature in the 19th century.  Less action-oriented, it is much more prone toward introspection, like Frankenstein or Dracula.  I enjoy this writing style as much as I enjoy the more modern style, so it was nice to see this in a new novel.

Laughlin does an excellent job of making the reader sympathize with someone who goes on to essentially lose his humanity.  He turns Karlan into a monster, yet the reader, instead of being horrified, understands why Karlan does what he does.  Making your main character an anti-hero is difficult to pull off, but when done well goes far in making the reader ponder things she might not have otherwise.

[spoiler warning]
I also was surprised and appreciative of the fact that Laughlin gives Karlan a chance to win back his humanity, ironically by causing a revolution by not doing anything.  Even though Karlan is left essentially alone and broken, he gets to see the revolution he helped cause transform his oppressive society into an engaging one.
[end spoiler]

Unfortunately, Laughlin’s writing style is not entirely consistent throughout.  Some passages are more engaging than others.  While most of the book flows well, parts of it drag.  This is Laughlin’s first book, however, so hopefully this will improve with time.

Vow of Silence is published by an indie publisher, Trytium Publishing.  This is not the same as being self-published.  Laughlin still had to sell his story to them and standard contracts are still involved, but it does mean that they don’t have as many resources as mainstream publishers.  This means that the binding isn’t as strong in the book, and the type-set is a bit odd.  However, I doubt that a mainstream publisher would have given this work a chance, and it is a great story.  I encourage you to buy a copy and support indie publishing if you are interested in reading the book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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