Saturday, January 19, 2019

Library smell

No Tooth Faerie, no Santa, no Heaven at all. But oh Faerie of good smells, I believe. I believe.

I believe in you.

I did not call for you last week when my co-worker's son spontaneously vomited just behind the front desk of the library. Surely you were too busy wandering in the fields of new strawberries.

I did not call for you earlier this week when someone peed on the teen book shelves. What if you were cavorting in a grove of blossoming lemon trees?

I did not call for you yesterday when something backed up in the men's entryway bathroom and wafted out. How dare I interrupt your sacred Winter Dance of the Cold Pine Trees?

But today a person came to the library and SHE DID NOT SMELL GOOD!

She smelled like she had not washed in many months. 

She did not smell of sweat, or vomit, or pee, or poo. 

She smelled of death.


I do not like that smell. It makes me gag

I can live with pee.

I can soldier through poo.

I can endure vomit.

But I could not take this smell of death. 

It lingered. It swallowed up sections of the library until long after she left, and she moved around a lot! It settled like a dark green miasma. It fogged my precious library. It was horrible.

So I call on you, gracious Faerie of Good Smells. Hear my cry.

Turraloo ra loo ra O la ray!

Leave your fields of almond blossoms! (please)

Leave your gardens of yellow roses. (if you would be so kind)

Leave your French Chestnut Forest in the rain. (help!)

We need you.

We believe.

We believe, we believe, we believe!

Please, let believing make it so.

Friday, January 18, 2019

How I request replacement printer paper rolls

I had to order some replacement printer paper rolls from our Automation Services Department. Unfortunately doing this took not just much of the work time I had set aside for it, but it also spilled into, and completely overwhelmed my dinner hour.

I was going to write a blog post during that dinner hour!

Seeking to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear I have decided to share my requisition request with you here. My job is more complicated than you would think...

Description of problem:

Through a careful analysis by our supply coordinator it was determined that we were getting low on both the white and the yellow printer paper rolls. This suggested a trend (see chart below) in which we, at some point, would have no paper rolls. Without these rolls we would be structurally unable to provide our library patrons with a printed notice of the dates upon which their material would be due. Seeing a prospective breakdown in Library Operations a committee was swiftly formed.

I won't bore you with the complete details of what the committee of 11 members discussed over the course of six hours spread across three sessions, but a variety of solutions were put forward and carefully examined. These included but were not limited to:

1. Switching from printed slips of any kind to a fully Internet ready, email notification system.

2. The elimination of due dates and/or of any requirements for system returns of library materials.

3. Replacement and restocking of said printer paper rolls in an attempt to forestall running out.

In discussion among the committee no consensus was reached and so a vote was taken. Five members voted for option three, three for option two, and two for option one, with one committee member in the bathroom during the vote. And so the choice for option three was carried: We would replace and restock paper printer rolls.

As the vice secretary designate for the committee it is my role to put forth the official request that you deliver to us:

1 box of white paper printer rolls
1 box of yellow paper printer rolls

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Dear publisher, my many attempts

Dear Publisher;

Well, I throw my hands up. I don't know what to do anymore. I have written thousands of essays. I have composed dozens, possibly hundreds of letters to you. I have approached it from every angle. I have dreamed of being a famous author and applied all my skill to it. Nothing has worked.

I remain unpublished. I have no book deal. No publisher or editor has ever indicated the least bit of interest in working with me.

Allow me to just list the breadth of my different approaches:

1. Lying self-aggrandizement.

In retrospect doubling the number of MacArthur Genius Grants that I said I won was pointless.

2. Reverse psychology.

Oddly the only times I can reliably convince anyone is in my proposals that are attempting to use reverse psychology.

3. Bribery.

My lucky quarter and a signed glossy of myself apparently just don't mean what they used to to American Publishers. You do realize if you're not going to accept the bribe you have to return them?

4. Coercion.

Who was I kidding. I doubt I could convince your cat to like you less anyway.

5. Demonstration of a massive writing talent.

If only I didn't have the quirk where my massive writing talent only shows up in the thing I'm about to write.

6. Inclusion of a fake name and fake return address.

I don't know why I thought this would work. Actually, upon reflection, this one might have worked.

7. Respectful professionalism.

I kept nodding off every time I researched the best way to format my query.

8. Networking.

I know loads of people but most of them are semi-homeless loners.

9. Appeal to greed.

I'm not so sure the greed part didn't work. You probably just didn't believe we really could make an easy 20 dollars.

10. Never say die relentless "wear 'em down" persistence.

Do you have any idea how much postage my "One query a year" campaign cost? And what's the point anyway. It's all hopeless.

So now you see. I really have tried everything. Well, I mean, everything other than actually sending the letters instead of imagining sending the letters. But at some point a person simply has to say...

enough is enough.

Yours in the abandonment of all hope,

F. Calypso

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


This year my wife and I are going to Florence. And as i peruse the raft of guides to this city crammed with art and beauty it is difficult not to be overcome by all that Florence has to offer. Everything is so compelling and amazing and interesting and appealing and recommended that my limited choices begin to seem impossible.

That is when I turn my attention to Bistecca!

I gleefully don't care about Bistecca!

Everyone should try Bistecca. It is the classic dish of Florence. Every single guidebook brings up Bistecca as often as possible. I don't know why exactly. It doesn't sound that great, but then I have found that very little Italian food sounds good in the guidebooks. I read a lot of descriptions that run something like this:

"Chef Venucci brings these contemporary Norwegian sensibilities to classic Florentine cuisine. His delicate handling of razor thin slices of sheep spleen, layered with parsnip new pickles, will convert even the most timid American diner to this beloved Florentine slaughterhouse floor cut."

Bistecca is a pretty simple dish though, and once you get past the mundane dead animal aspect, it is not conventionally gross, like, say, a spleen. Here's my understanding of how you make it:

Slice a Tuscan cow in half. Cut a two inch slice from the inside of the "headside" half. Peel off the skin. Hang it up for a few weeks in a cool dry place. Throw it on a wildly hot grill for half a minute, being careful not to really "cook" it. Serve it oozing off of a large plate. Two can share.

I'm not saying I wouldn't try it, just, I could live very comfortably with it all just not working out for me. After all, there's so much sheep spleen to sample, and Michelangelos, and maybe a bit of gelato.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Gray day reading

I'd like to begin my comments today with a little joke. Don't worry, it's not funny.

Wait, you mean you'd like for the jokes to be funny? Weird. Well, I wish someone would have mentioned that a couple thousand blog posts ago. I'd probably be famous by now!

Here's the joke:

What do Right Wing Pundits and Weather Forecasters have in common?

No matter how many times reality proves them wrong they're still asked back.

And so a morning that was supposed to be partly cloudy and free of precipitation dawned and instead it was buried in clouds, drizzling heavily, and impossibly dark. Being unseasonably warm for January here in The Twin Cities just meant it was damp and cold. It was one of the bleakest days I have ever seen.

So I walked to work because I had to. The wee birdies cowered into themselves. The squirrels seemed a little depressed, for squirrels, and the geese sat on the river ice and refused to move. The cars all had their brights on though it offered them no help. The fancy river houses were all abandoned; dark, cold, and impeccable.

But every once in awhile I'd see some warm light on in the corner of an attic, or an encouraging glow in the middle of a dark apartment building, and I'd long to be at home, curled up on the sofa with my wife, with a pot of terribly strong french press and cream at hand, endless chocolate croissants, and, essentially, a large stack of almost impossibly good books.

Books, books, books, books. On such a day as this I sure would like to laze about reading books.

But I can't. I have to work at the library. Making it possible for others to do so.


Monday, January 14, 2019

History hullabaloo

Today my library is swarming with teens! We are having a History Day Hullabaloo which means, and this might get a little technical, my library is swarming with teens!

It's not so bad. In my experience library teen rooms draw a rough crowd. Mine certainly has. It's noisy. There are lots of social events in there. And it's an easy place for shitty parents to dump kids they don't want around. I have always been aware that if I were a teen the teen room is the one place in the library I'd have avoided like the plague. I wouldn't have avoided the library, just the one room in it that was supposedly for me.

But despite knowing all this, today's History Day Hullabaloo, a day where hundreds of thousands of teens are compelled to come to my library for some kind of major school project, has been something of an eye-opener for me. "So this is what an average cross-section of teens looks like!" I exclaim. Why, they seem very nice! None of them are shoplifting from the coffee shop or knocking over the old aged pensioners. They're just like other people! It's so different than... usual.

My mind had been clouded by my experiences with our normal denizens of the teen room.

When I was a teen we didn't have teen rooms in libraries. That is something I don't look back on in horror. I was okay with that. We barely even had teen literature back then, which is actually something I do look back on in horror. I was forced to read adult literature! They were still experimenting with teen literature. And though S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume weren't hugely to my taste it all worked out in the end. But I don't even have to go back all the way to my own teendom, which was iconoclastic anyway. I can just go back to when I started working in this library. There was no teen room, there was just a single row of books, on the flip side from the romances. And there was a chair.

"Sorry Sir, I'm afraid you can't sit there. That's the teen chair."

Those were the days.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ancient libraries and their cruel methods

I work in what I like to call a near urban library. There are advantages and disadvantages to not working in an urban, downtown library. 

An advantage, for instance, is that someone peeing all over a section of our shelving is more of a special occasion than just a routine issue.

A disadvantage is our lack of history. Oh, we have a little history, like the pub that once preceded our library and sent ghost fumes of beer into the stacks in the seventies and eighties, but nothing to get really excited about.

This morning a library return came through us and it was not the kind of material we get to see very often. It was a book belonging to the Minneapolis Athenaeum, which in itself is a strange historical library artifact from the mid 1800s that now exists as a partner in the Minneapolis/Hennepin Library system. The book we got wasn't that old, but it was certainly far older than our library system. The first checkout stamp on it was from 1938, but the pocket that held the due date card was where the real fascination lay. It included all the library's rules and threats:

"Any person who shall mark, mutilate or otherwise injure this book, is liable by law to a heavy fine, or to a term of imprisonment, and in addition is liable to the Library for its full retail value"

I love that. A little underlining and bam, you get a couple weeks in prison, or a hundred dollar fine, and you still have to replace the book, which back then could run you, oh, maybe $2.50, which was a lot! It was still the depression.

Nowadays we have downtown libraries going as soft as possible. One near here is giving up late fees altogether. They don't want to scare anyone off from reading for fear there will be no one left. I have heard that the Seattle downtown library was designed with homeless people as a major constituency. And don't get me wrong, I'm all for it. I love a kind of casualness and humanity in our institutions. I'm delighted we're all circuses and carnivals in the library these days. It's a relief that our library materials have, through the changes in the market and in the ubiquity of media, come down from a status near to being holy relics all the way to one where they're, at best, faintly desirable under particular conditions, mainly if they're brand new.

But sometimes I see a family messily breaking out a picnic in the kids room, or some guy bodily seizing control of the copy machine for the rest of the day, or a couple of teens raging a pitched battle across the library, or a patron loudly conducting business on their cell phone, or a shelf is reported to smell of pee, and a faint feeling of yearning comes over me. Sometimes a book comes back and it has, yes, underlining, underlining!, and I get a little wistful for the olden days, brutal as they were.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Three star library

The 2018 Library Journal Star Ratings for Libraries is out. It has probably been out for awhile, but I only just noticed. You see, I sort of accidentally stepped in it and thought "What's that smell?".

Sorry, that was a little strong. I was actually just sending the magazine in transit somewhere, and since I always have hated the Library Journal Star Ratings I took a look at it because I occasionally like to hate things and I wasn't near the Internet at that time.

Boy, don't get me started on that Internet!

Now before anyone says "Aw, it's just sour grapes because your library only got three stars!" I just want to say, hey, we discuss things respectfully around here and there's no reason to bring that kind of tone to this discourse!

Oh, right, I did just compare Library Journal's list to dog crap, but I apologized!

So let's keep it clean everybody.

Anyway, yes, my library did get three stars, which is not four stars. And it is definitely not five stars. But there are a lot of caveats I'd like to point out about this.

1. Being on the list itself is already supposed to be a triumph. Most library systems across America have no stars at all!

2. This is for library systems. I can't help it if my "Jewel of the System" library is being dragged down in aggregate by other libraries in my system that are run by lunatics.

3. I don't take any offense. I guess in reality we probably are, fairly speaking, about a three star library.

4. And this is the super important one, actually it's the only important one: This is a terrible way to measure libraries! It's all data, data, data, and not even that much of it. It's all about how many visits per capita, how many checkouts, how many e-book checkouts, computer use, and program attendance.

Now I'm not saying this data is useless in measuring the quality of libraries, but I am saying that everything they do use is worth maybe three percent of judging a library.

Do you know how you can get the other 97 percent?

Here, let me present an analogy. Let's say you are one of the biggest food and restaurant magazines in the country. You want to name the best restaurants. So here's what you do: You find out who has the most customers per table. See how much butter they use per customer. Find out how many items they have on their menu. Add it all up, best restaurant!

Or you can go and eat there.