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Mr. Mustache, another librarian blog

I am a reference librarian with experience in both the public and state government fields. I am doing this on a whim, sort of like the mustache I grew when I was 19 and still have in my 50's.

Name:
Location: New Jersey, United States

I am a state worker and a librarian.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wikipedia

The October 31 issue of the New Yorker has a good article on Wikipedia. Their articles have a very short shelf life on line so you may want to have a look while it's there.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Fred Syndrome

Most library staffs consist of two types. These two types are completely different in their work ethics and general attitudes on life. They are the Fred worker and the Sharon worker. Sharon’s outnumber the Fred’s numerically but the Fred’s have more political power. They can be men or women, paraprofessionals, or may possess MLS degrees. They dislike each other but in the end they need each other and the library inevitably needs both of them.

Today we will deal with Fred. Fred is the overachiever. The one who comes in early, stays late, and never takes a coffee break. Fred will work at home and come in on his day off to finish a project. Fred will spend his/her own money on supplies, if need be, and he makes the library director look good.

Fred is the audiovisual head who will come in during his vacation to show the Monday night movie. She is the Children’s librarian who buys her own supplies for her craft programs, which she assembles at home. Fred allows the library to offer services that it would otherwise not be able to offer. He makes the Library Director look good to the Board. When the Board says, “I don’t know how you do it, Sarah”, the Director knows it is because of the Fred’s she has on staff.

All is not paradise with a staff that has Fred’s. There are pitfalls. It is difficult for a supervisor to criticize an employee on a project he/she did at home. If she antagonizes Fred he may quit or just start working with library funds or at his/her assigned hours. Then the library director might appear to be less effective as an administrator.


Fred breaks union rules and is resented by the staff. A staff member who is financially strapped and is raising a family cannot do what Fred does and hates looking bad because of it.

Personal changes can affect Freds. Someone who didn’t have a life may suddenly have one. The Children’s Librarian who runs a popular Saturday story hour when she is not scheduled to be there finds a new boyfriend. The Saturday story hours abruptly end.

“But why did you end the Saturday story hours?” asks the troubled patron. “Funding cuts,” the patron is told.

Finally, when Fred leaves, his successor will be put in a terrible quandary. No one will tell his successor this, but eventually a patron will make a remark about a service that they miss. The new employee finds out that her predecessor spent his/her own time and money out of his/her own pocket. That’s why the craft programs were so successful.

Why did the book sale used to have such a good selection? The previous employee picked up books for the book sale on his weekends. Why were the tax forms always so well arranged? Because the former staff member used to fill up the tax boxes during his lunch hour. This blog seems to have a lot of references to food.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New York ain't the same no more


My father said, "New York ain't the same no more. His father said, "New York ain't the same no more. And his father said, "New York ain't the same no more."

I have been reading one of the library blogs I read and saw a criticism of some of the blogs that are both a little on the cynical side and promote negativity. Admitedly, there are more than a few that wouldn't exactly be described as boosterish and I suppose mine is one of those.

I know I hinted in one of my postings that children used to have more respect for their elders in the old days. When I was a kid, my parent's friends always said. "When I was a kid we had respect. Why if I had said half the things that kids say nowadays, my mother would have slapped my face." I heard that all through childhood and always felt vaguely guilty about all the things I was doing that I should have had my face slapped for.
Ten years ago I was at a party of people my age and someone in my group said, "When I was a kid we had respect. Why if I had said half the things that kids say nowadays, my mother would have slapped my face." At the time that scared the bejessubs out of me. It meant that I was finally an adult. It meant that I had become my parents, or at least that my friends had become my parents friends, which is even more scary.

Judging from the only documentary evidence I could find of children's behavior in the 40's, Our Gang, and teenager's behavior during that time period, the East Side Kids, I guess I will have to say that young people's behavior hasn't changed that much, except for the obscenities.

But the truth about work is that chronic complaining and bellyaching is the supreme pleasure of having a job. And talking about how things used to be better than they are now is a hard won pleasure that can only be gained with years of service to the profession.


At least now we know that such talk can frighten potential librarians in graduate school. Well, they'll find out anyway. Why in my day...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Technology

Technology is a double-edged sword. For the new librarian it is a wonderful thing. When I started as a librarian I had many advantages over my colleagues. I knew who David Bowie was. I knew how to fix a paper jam in the Apple II computer. I had used an OPAC computer in my life.

Many a lunch was interrupted in those early days. "Oh please, Mr. Mustache I know you are at lunch but we have been trying to get that computer to work for twenty minutes. The patron has to have her report ready this afternoon and the computer ate everything!"

I would put my cape on and come up to a weeping patron and her report which the Apple II printer had shredded and not only that but she hadn't saved her file. I would fix the jam, even find an earlier copy of the file and than walk non chalantly back down to the break room to my cold cup of tea.

But now, I find it is hard to keep up. I have tried. I am writing a blog, but I have yet get the hang of how to put it in RSS. I know what
Flikr is and have even downloaded pods and blogs. I like browsing Flikr but sometimes I wonder how many library patrons want to look at librarians eating chicken and potato salad on paper plates. And are they that fascinated with story hours featuring other people's kids?

Now there is
Joomla! Suddenly I am struck with the realization that I may retire from the profession without ever having used it. I've looked at it but I can't quite figure out what it's supposed to do. And I used to be so complacent. I was the only person on the staff who had listened to the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Volunteering 2

We are a nation of volunteers. Volunteers teach adults to read, help senior citizens with their tax forms, deliver groceries to the home-bound and umpire Little League games. Parents with children in school know that they will have to stand in front of the supermarket two Saturdays a year, selling candies in the fall and wreaths in the winter, so their children can have uniforms for soccer and band. The amount of volunteering done in this country is quite impressive.

Soon to be part of every social science lexicon is Mr. Mustache's theorem on volunteering:

The pattern for volunteering is as follows. A small group of people set up a program to volunteer in one way or another. In the beginning all the volunteers are enthusiastic and the roster grows quickly. The people who actually take advantage of the service is relatively small in the beginning so it is a rewarding experience all- around.

Slowly word spreads. People who want to learn English are routed to the new volunteer groups. People who need someone to help them with their taxes are told of this new service. Slowly the group of people who want the service increases.

During this time the amount of volunteers remain stagnant and eventually starts to decline as the volunteers find that more and more demands are put on them and what started out as fun becomes a chore. Parents who sold candies when their older children were in high school feel they have already done their part by the time the baby of the family comes of age. Popular tutors realize they could get paid for what they are doing.

Inevitably, volunteers move, have declining health or have new responsibilities added to their lives and the pool continues to decline. At about this time the media writes about the project and more and more people request help as fewer and few volunteers participate.

The Mr. Mustache theorem on volunteering is that the amount of people wishing to volunteer to perform a service is inversely proportional to the amount of people needing a service. Hence, volunteering can never replace government-funded programs. Volunteering requires novelty. A paid worker will continue to work after the novelty is gone. A volunteer oftentimes does not.

The patron comes up to the Reference desk, ablaze in smiles. "I've been trying to get a tutor to help my aunt from Lithuania with her English for months. Finally my next door neighbor told me that the library offers learn English classes and tutors. And it's all free. I apologize for not coming to you first."

The Reference librarian hates this type of question. Although they had a good tutoring program last year, Jack Sullivan moved to Arizona, Cyndi has coronary thrombosis and Linda Jacqumeir recently got a job at the community college teaching English and has a new boyfriend that takes up all of her free time.


The Librarian raises his/her hands like a bird. All flown away like the birds he/she thinks but does not say. Into the rolodex looking for the usual suspects the fingers fly.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Volunteering 1

I have a few essays on volunteering. This, from the vault, is my first.

Public libraries, like hospitals, museums, and other agencies, rely on volunteers. There are volunteers who do their work faithfully and silently and deserve all the accolades. However volunteers should be selected with care and be treated with a certain level of firmness when needed. Because their skills and schedules come as a ready-made package, they pose some disadvantages as well as advantages. Here are some of the problem volunteers you will encounter in your career.

1) The volunteer who parks his/her car in a bad spot. Since the volunteer is giving freely of her time, he/she feels that one little perk, free parking, should be theirs. The attempt to accommodate this space sometimes results in staff members being “boxed in” or sanitation trucks being unable to pick up the trash.

2)The volunteer who comes in at a bad time. The staff member has a number of tasks that Sarah could do if only she could come in on Fridays. Instead Sarah comes in like clockwork on Monday morning, when there are no obvious tasks or staff to get her started on anything. Many a Library Director on an appointment filled Monday morning has fumbled around trying to find a volunteer something to do.

3)The volunteer who cannot shelve, use computers, answer a switchboard, or photocopy. Often this volunteer is given tasks like book selection since that is a task he/she can do while sitting at a desk.

4)The observant volunteer. This is the volunteer who likes to bring to the attention of the staff what are essentially minor problems that the staff has already noticed but has not gotten around to fixing.

5)The talkative volunteer. Volunteers do not wish to chat with each other. They prefer to talk to the employees. Often a tired staff member retires to the staff room meeting a volunteer who wants to pass the time of day when the staffer wanted to take a nap.

6)The volunteer who comes in on time. Volunteers and part timers sometimes make the mistake of arriving precisely when assigned, while the staff people they are working with tend to come in late. A children’s Librarian who sneaks in at 9:20 does not like having her volunteer wondering around the library at 9:10 in the morning asking if the Children's Librarian has come in yet.

7)The volunteer who makes too many copies.


8)The volunteer who drinks the last cup of coffee in the staff room.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Meetings




Librarians are highly communicative people and are constantly going to meetings. There are the national organizational meetings, the state meetings, and there are the county or regional network meetings. These meetings allow the staff to get out of the library, have a nice lunch, network for new jobs and gossip with other librarians. They also allow for a new source of complaints when one gets back and notices how much better off the people in other libraries are.

In-house meetings can be task oriented, departmental or staff wide. In the task oriented meetings a lot can be accomplished if the leader keeps the topic at hand. People attending these meetings should remember that it is not always necessary to inform everyone at the table of your knowledge on every topic.

Departmental meetings are often whining sessions with the agreed cause of most problems being the inflexible policies of the other departments.

The staff-wide meetings provide the best theatre because practically everybody attends them. I have noted, however, that the issues raised there are usually the primary concern of someone who is not in attendance. A staffer is rude to a patron. The staff is lectured on library courtesy. The staffer in question is off because he/she is working on Saturday. A staffer calls in sick five days in a month. The staff is lectured on the importance of attendance. The staffer in question calls in sick. I also have a theory that the person with the least amount of relevant information on a topic is the person who will usually have the most to say at meetings.

Critical meetings between the director and senior staff are the most important ones, since this is where many decisions are usually made. To allow for full attendance at such meetings, at least one person in the group will be donating unpaid overtime.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The End of the furlough

It has been in the news all day. State employees will be back to work, hopefully on Monday. It has been thrilling being part of history. A news story that made its way to the BBC World Service and probably Radio Havana. Being part of history means that I will be the star at all of the holiday parties I'm invited to this year. I can see it now.

Relative: Well, Mr. Mustache. What was it like being furloughed?

Mr. Mustache: Well it was strange. It started with the floods when all the office buildings were closed. Then came the furlough. Yes I'd like a slice of cheesecake.

Relative: Were you paid for your furlough?

Mr. Mustache: Yes and Yes, I'll have some more coffee. Half and half will be fine.

Relative: What did you do all day?

Mr. Mustache: Well I never knew from day to day whether I'd be called back to work the next day so I couldn't make any big plans. It was like being retired. I'd go to the park. Go to the public library. Take the train to Philadelphia. Rent a video. Go out for a falafel (There are good ones at the Olive Delicatessen in Princeton on Witherspoon). The monotony was broken up by a trip to the
Kutzville German Fair (worth doing, at least once) going to two farmers markets and seeing fireworks.

Relative: What did you get out of the experience?

Mr. Mustache: I never knew how many courtroom shows were on daytime television. I've learned a lot about life and relationships from watching them.

Relative: Were you happy going back to work?

Mr. Mustache: I'll say. It gets expensive being home all day!

Incidentally, a Mr. Mustache feed is now on Bloglines if you would like to subscribe and punch up my numbers a bit.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tips for the New Librarian

One of the books that is mouldering around on my C drive is a guide for new librarians. Here is one of the chapters (updated a bit):

Congratulations, you have your first professional position. Everything is new now and a blank slate, unless you have worked in the library before as a paraprofessional. Even then it is different because now you are in a leadership position. You are enthusiastic and should know all the new techniques and fads in the profession. Reading blogs is a good way to do this. You should know all about
flikr, podcasts, and all of your library’s databases. Your co-workers may think a Black Berry is a purplish fruit but you will be relied upon to be up on the latest technology and fads. Podcasting story hours, for example, is big right now. After a couple of weeks in the job you can take the quiz to see how you are doing in your new chosen field.

1) Who on the staff sells beauty products?
2) Who is the library gossip(s)?
3) What is the marital status of your co-workers?
4) What three staff members have special privileges?
5) Who calls in sick a lot?
6) How long are morning coffee breaks?
7) At what time do you really have to come in every the morning? (It is always a good idea to look like you’ve been there awhile when your supervisor walks through the door).
8) What is the best place to go for lunch near the library?
9) Who do you have to look busy around?
10) How do you do a keyword search on the OPAC?
11) What is the actual turn around time for new books from the original order to when they turn up on the shelves?
12) In what part of the collection does your library deviate from standard book locations?
13) Who is the staff member who will help you the most?
14) What library organization do you have to become active in?
15) Can you use your cell phone during the day?
16) How do you add toner to the computer printer?
17) How do you fix paper jams in the copying machines?
18) What patrons do the other staff members avoid?
19) What staff members do the other staff members avoid?
20) What is the closest to the in crowd in the Library staff?
If you know the answers to these questions you are on your way to being a successful librarian.


Librarian action figure from Archie McPhee :


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Of bagels and donuts

One of things I've gotten to do since working for a governmental library is peruse some of the economic reports that are out there on a variety of topics. One of the more interesting authors I've encountered is the Professor from the University of Chicago, Steven D. Levitt. His book Freakomonics has its own website. He writes about things the economics of abortion, elementary education, and the report I recently read, " White-collar crime writ small: A case study of bagels, donuts, and the honor system" ( American Economics Association, May 2006, v. 96 no. 2). This report proves what a lot of us have believed all along, namely, that people who eat bagels are more honest than people who eat donuts. So now you have a recommendation for your students who need to read an article in the economics field.

The college student with a syllabus




There are two disappointments in store for the freshman in college. The first disappointment is that the local public library will probably not have the books on his college syllabus. The second is that he won't meet the love of his life during his first semester at school.