Sunday, June 30, 2013

Live poetry interpretation delayed!

 So, in preparation for my live, on blog, poetry interpretation (to be done in penance for our massacred library poetry section) I went out onto the internet to look for a super complicated, hard to understand poem. I knew the poem should be on the shorter side as I would hate to overtax the internet with too many words. The internet is so delicate in that way bully monsters can be. I moused around for a bit and William Blake came up a couple of times as sort of a challenging to understand poet. So I went out and found this poem: 

Ah Sunflower

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poetry from the weeds

The librarians have been at the weeding again recently. We only have so much room for books and the new ones keep pouring in. And do you know how many books you can get at through one of those computers that are sitting where we might have had bookshelves once upon a time? A whole lot more than we ever have had or ever will have in our library, that's for sure! Not that I've ever seen anyone reading anything even resembling a book on one of those things. This makes me just a little sad at first, but when I understand that you can play clever little mind numbing games or watch bunnies eat dandelions on computers it makes sense no one is reading poetry on those screens.

Coincidentally what was it all those librarians were weeding? Poetry books! They were cutting through the poetry section like boll weevils through a field of cotton! Do they hate poetry? Actually, I don't know, but they sure don't love it enough to save a lot of it. Their little computer program tells them that some Pablo Neruda book has to go since no one's bothered to check it out since one of the Bush presidencies and off it goes to the book sales. No one sheds a tear.  Indeed, it's just me, getting kind of cross and sulky for a bit. But who am I to get all righteous? How much poetry do I read? I run into a Mary Oliver book while shelving in the stacks and I read maybe one poem all the way through. I don't even think of checking the whole book out. In fact, I think that's how I read every book of poetry; one poem and out, great, good, bad, one poem. Poetry is difficult, it requires attention. Half the time with a poem and with a poem's complicated, dense journey I don't know whether I'm supposed to catch it or eat it, fly it, pet it, run with it or just watch it.

Well, tomorrow is penance. I am reading a poem live, on blog. Some awful, wicked hard poem too. Right here, commenting and wildly misunderstanding it as I go, all to pay for all those killed poetry books, to pay for all the ink in my hands, all the books struck down dead while I whiled away my time reading Gerald and Piggie books.

Not that the Gerald and Piggie books aren't awesome, they are, but still, tomorrow...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Cultivating those useful relationships

When you have a lot of co-workers being friendly with them all is not necessarily the best course of action. It can be nice to be on amiable terms with everyone, which is not the same as friendly, but the best I am usually hoping for is to not be on overtly hostile terms with anyone. Mostly I manage this, sometimes I don't. Friendliness, the people I might chat with briefly, is in a slightly smaller subsection of that generalized amiability, and those relationships need to be considered on an individual basis as they're developed. How much do I want to encourage a relationship with someone who almost exclusively complains to me about mundane, boring and bitter things from their personal life? Do I want someone who is relentlessly inept to feel free at all times to approach me for help? How much distance do I keep from someone who can be ever so slyly and secretly mean, but is mostly friendly? What about, for instance, a very quiet, not very good at their job sort of person? Will they be happier if I don't talk to them? Would they like a little inclusion? A little help? I don't know the answer to any of these things. I try and feel my way through. How co-workers affect me can make a difference too. A clerk who is really terrible at their job, and we currently are carrying several of these, can have a truly negative impact on my day and my work reality. That may not be personal to me what they're doing, but it is bound to affect my natural sense of warmth towards them. Why wouldn't it? But sometimes different kinds of responses are appropriate towards them depending on their character and just how bad they are. Sometimes being chatty and friendly with one gives me a free space to insist they do better, at least around me. They may only do slightly better, but it allows for my own self expression, at least in the face of their annoyingness, without risking some kind of pointless fight. For others there's nothing for it but one "Hello" every three days and perhaps an occasional vague smile.

As the circle of job difference widens I can be a little less affected by problem workers and their problem personalities. There is a librarian who I wouldn't wish on any patron in the world, er, no, wait, I mean, who I would only wish on a very tiny selection of very unpleasant patrons, but who works in a sphere usually far enough removed from me that I could comfortably say a couple friendly things to her the other day. And I was rewarded for it! That afternoon, walking past the reference desk to shelve, she twice shared internet tidbits with me.  I was invited to a picture of a tree fallen on a car (interestingly, coincidentally, that night I would see that same sort of event played out all over my neighborhood!) and I also learned there, at her computer, that Kanye West's child would be called "North." Neither of these were immensely interesting, but it's nice to be included.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Making this blog even better!

At my last library in-service day I learned about U-X, user experience, as a model for library improvement. A couple of times since then I have written on issues related to this "U-X," but then, if you have memorized all 147 of my blog posts, you will know that.

"Oh" You ask "Were we supposed to memorize the blog posts?"

I laugh warmly. No, no, no. I mean, not word for word.

Now that that's all squared away I will touch up your memory ever so slightly by saying that the basic idea with user experience is to look at your services and environment from the perspective of the user, a sort of what-if-I-were-visiting-the-library-for-the-first-time thing. Anyway, I was thinking "Hey, what if I applied a little U-X to my blog?" That's how we ended up here. What do I like to see on a website, and how am I doing on my blog with me as a hypothetical user? Also, how can I improve?

1. I do not like to be faced with long blocks of text. I'd rather be eased into all that reading with pictures, headlines, sub-headlines, cartoons, optical illusions, flattery, and stoked outrage.

How am I doing?:

Really really really badly.

Plans to fix it:

Um, train the user to appreciate large blocks of text?

2. I love numbered lists. It makes everything so pleasantly buffet-like and easily digestible.

How am I doing?:

     1. Awesome
     2. Way high on the curve!
     3. Brilliant.

Plans to fix it:

None required!

3. I like when a post has interesting reader comments so that I can kind of linger in the world of the quality blog post I just read. I like the comments to be either
     1. What I would say, so I don't have to say it, or,
     2. More clever than what I can think of to say, or,
     3. All nice and warm and friendly, but if someone is mean I like lots of comments from different people ganging up to crush the mean commenter.

How am I doing?:

I have come to feel that, except for rare circumstances and to answer direct questions, the comment section is not really for me. It is for my blog readers. So then, this is more of a how are you doing? Perhaps you will want to do a U-X survey of your role as blog reader.

Plans to fix it:

Not applicable.

4. I dislike being given any responsibilities as a blog reader. I don't want to be called to action or asked to donate to anything. I especially don't want to be told to do a U-X of my role as blog reader! I don't want to login or click on anything, and I want to read safely tucked away in my remote and cozy anonymity.

How am I doing?:

Well, clearly "3" was a low point and touched a bit of a nerve with me as a pretend reader of my blog. Hypothetical me is not doing a U-X of my (his?) role as a blog reader! On the plus side I make people click very little, login not at all, and consider contributing to absolutely nothing. I, as a reader, would like this. The occasional implications that it would be nice if I commented or that I should read certain books would be minor annoyances.

Plans to fix it:

I guess I could stop suggesting you do a user experience study of your role as blog reader. We'll start with that.

I guess that's all for today because I don't want to have too much text here! But I will say this in conclusion about my blog U-X study:

1. I learned a lot!
2. Only together can we make this blog perfect!
3. We probably shouldn't make this blog perfect.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The pre-opening time

I very rarely work pre-opening hours as I do today, and up shelving in Genre the sheer peacefulness goes some way to confirming my suspicions. My suspicions are, one, that pre-opening hours are super nice, morning people have it easy, and we night people should feel free to dump stuff onto the morning people because they have it so good in the library without patrons (yes, that's all just one suspicion!), and, two, the library, any library, is at its absolute best when you are all alone in it.

For the first I am aware that it is an illusion. As a human I find myself at times prey to erratic fits of thinking that what others nearby have is better than what I have. This kind of belief is actually so common I think it should have its own aphorism! It should involve lawns and be color coded for easy reference. If I were a famous, socially networked blogger I bet there'd already be a phrase like that, but no, not for me. Famous, socially networked bloggers have it so much better!

Oh, sorry, I digressed again, didn't I? I am afraid one day we will all wake up and find this whole blog was just one big digression. Oops, I think we better hurry on to the next paragraph.

Anyway, ahem, the fact is that pre-opening and the night closing have a kind of mirror quality to each other, like lawns opposite a fence, or sunrise and sunset. But I do like the quality in both much more than all the middle of the day stuff. It's all more peaceful and self-contained even if it can be busy. There's a kind of attention to it, self-directed instead of responsive, a sense of things being put in order rather than just maintained. Although perhaps in reality all the opening/closing stuff is appealing to me mostly because of its minority status. Most of my day is in the hurley burley, so the quiet touches stand out nicely.

As to the best library being the one you're alone in, well, I think it's simply true (or maybe if not alone, just with one person of great sympathy). They even made a Twilight Zone about it, that guy who just wanted to be left alone to read and then one day wakes up and everyone in the world is vanished. There is no trace of anyone or how they disappeared. But all the things of the world, and all the books are still there. He is very happy until he breaks his glasses. Those Twilight Zones could be pretty sad. Maybe he could stumble through to the large type section. It reminds me of the oldest of library jokes (and old jokes are rarely funny): 

This place would be perfect if it weren't for all the patrons.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Keeping you informed

A storm hit my city. My wife and I watched it from our wee, snug city cottage. The winds were fierce and it was fun and dramatic to see, but it seemed like just another bang-up storm like we midwesterners get sometimes. It wasn't. In 15 minutes the streets of our neighborhood started to fill with neighbors. Who knew there were so many people living in all these houses? They just poured out of them! Ick! But I guess they're all okay, really. Some of them are quite nice actually. Anyway, we went out too. The world was full of  "Wow!"s. Great trees, giant trees, old trees, huge chunks of trees had fallen to their deaths. Roads were blocked everywhere. Garages, cars, walls, parts of houses, were crushed. The views down all our long straight avenues were blocked and disordered with sudden new green and strange walls of trunk.

The prompt removal of a snapped in half, alley-blocking pine tree by an across the alley neighbor allowed me to go to work the next day, and, singing Bruce Springsteen's My City In Ruins while driving a complicated maze of a constantly blocked, alternate routes, I was keen to hear what all the media venues had to say about our devastation.

Not much, it turns out. Locally it was a story, but nothing that altered regular programming. I heard not a word about it on my drive as it fell between official news times. Nationally, well, if you don't live in these cities you probably didn't hear much of anything about this. But here, I believe, is what should have been the national headlines to announce this story:
Thousands of Huge Trees Slaughtered in Epic Storm!
Renowned Local Blogger Loses Internet!

The subtitle of that headline brings me to the mundane, informational and alleged point of this blog post. I have no internet. And whether it comes back in a day or two or a week or more is not entirely clear yet. I am currently having to post on the fly here, at work, on lunch. This makes it hard to polish things up all shiny, the way you deserve, and blog post publication could get a bit choppier than usual in the next week. If all this does happen, I think things will even out soon enough if we hang in there. We'll all get through this together!

Those trees, though, are dead forever.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Out past where the Dewey Decimal System Ends and a prize!

In the retrofitted book I told you about the retrofitted books I am working on to send out to the little free libraries of my city to do whatever mysterious or mundane things they might want to do. These books are sort of book versions of my blog here. I said also that I would soon post some pictures of some of what I have so far, and so that is what I am doing today! There's also a prize so scroll to the end even if you despise pictures and don't think they are worth very many words at all, but like prizes.

These are a variety of shots of covers, backs, etc.

I am offering one of these here books (from this series) as my second official blog prize!

The clue is:

Thursday's (real) daughter.

To win you need only be the first person to enter the correct one word answer in the comments of the next post I put up that has the name "Jasper" in it. This will happen in the next week some time.

Good luck if you want it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book titles I'd like to see.

Okay, yes, this is a little Mad Magazine, but people who blog every day can't get all picky about their antecedents, and what's wrong with Mad Magazine anyway? They were never quite as good as my secret youngster heart wanted them to be, but they were okay. They were okay. What a glamorous set-up for a short list. You are going to love this!

So, um, book titles I'd really like to see:

I Went to Heaven and All I Got Was This Lucrative Book Deal.

The Last Garfield Book Ever

Lick me. I'm a Book! (A junior tasters library selection)

Catcher In the Rye II, The Complete Discovered Manuscript

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Who are you this time?

Yesterday a newly hired clerk/page for the substitute pool was being quietly trained in on the computers. I met her only in passing and whether she one day gets real, regular hours at my library or I barely ever see her again remains to be seen. But unbidden, when I saw her, I thought "Who are you this time?"

People, amazingly, all manage to be discrete individuals. You'd think after a hundred or so of them they'd just start repeating themselves. "Oh, that one." You'd say. "You mean I have to use a new name for them?" But even though that is not true and people unfold in infinite variety, everything unfolds in infinite variety, there is some weird place where it is true. There is, for instance, some quality of role fulfillment in a work place, over many years, to the people who have been there long enough, where even if a new person isn't some bizarre clone of some previous employee, they do echo them. There is some slot, some battle suit, some role that they step into. The commonality might be made up of a hodgepodge of often superficial similarities and the more that role, in the work community, hungers for a fresh representative, the fewer commonalities are required for a new employee to become the new "Mike" or "Betty" or "Vicki".  Do we need a new butterfly, a workhorse, a socially isolated manager's friend? Do we need a rabble rouser, a gung-ho type, a miss sleepy, a grumbler, a rule-hound? How about someone who gets into everything, or a screw-up, or an affable up to no good? You could be that person. It just takes anywhere from seven to fifteen shared traits and an open slot. Do you know how many traits you have? Thousands! Hundreds of thousands if we're willing to go into detail, and just nine medium small ones can make you the new Belinda. Maybe you care for your parents, work Belinda's old hours, have the same hairdo, have a similar sense of humor, are in your 50s, have an accent, can't work fast, are friendly, dress up, are always on the phone. Social cultures are like living organisms. They will eat you and try and assign you a role. If all goes well you'll be mostly happy with the one you get. Over the years you can put your own polish on it, reinvent it a little, even redefine a section or two, make it your own. And after five or 40 years, when you leave, there will be a giant venus flytrap in the place where you once stood, eager to devour any new hire that can vaguely fit all the social culture needs you left behind.

Friday, June 21, 2013

If I were king of the library, the 6th decree.

As King I have been revolutionary (everybody shelves), community oriented (the local library)  a defender of literature (the staff library),  a purveyor of the unusual (well, everything, but also The Useful, Strange, and Interesting Things Library), and an inspirer of the workplace (Pet projects). So if my next kingly addition or decree seems a little, um, frosting like, remember that there is plenty of good solid cake underneath (I'm not sure that analogy went the way I wanted it to, but... cake... frosting...hmm, if it can be an exceptional carrot cake, why not?). Whose frosting? Well, me and my co-workers frosting, but not frosting really, it's actually really fresh fish, because as King I am installing a sushi bar in the break room. Yes, a sushi bar.

Irresponsible you say (well, not you, more like them. You are fine. They bring up that sort of thing, and they do it like, all the time!). No no no I say to the "irresponsible" dig. Many nice tech companies have this sort of thing. The Pixar staff Cafe is supposed to be quite good and the Google Cafeteria is open pretty much all the time and is free, just for a start. Both of them are alleged to have fresh and healthful food. The twisted cultural rhetoric is that Government institutions should take inspiration from the private sector, but interestingly the inspiration they are supposed to take is usually a selection of the oxygen starving, autocratic, soulless elements of large and evil corporations. Well what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If we have to look at companies for inspiration why not look at the super nice things, if we can find them. I have found them. And I am putting in a Sushi bar!

But I am not unreasonable nor am I an imprudent spendthrift. We do hire a Sushi Chef, and maybe an apprentice sushi chef. If we have to lose a librarian and a clerk, so be it. I see a lean and engaged and intensely working staff who eats high quality Japanese food. We'll work all that out. The library sets up a good sushi bar/small kitchen area in the break room. It's on the hook for equipment, a start-up fund, and an ongoing stipend for some of the lower end basics. The fish/seaweed/other food costs are met on a pay, at cost, for what you eat basis. I am open to the idea of donations as an addition to cost coverage, and also to chef tipping. Here's some of what I'll aim for.

1. Six day coverage, some prepared food for off hours and the seventh day.
2. Yes, volunteers can eat there, as well as accompanied friends, family, guests and also off-duty staff, but eating there falls under the everybody shelves rule (see the first proclamation) so you will have to do a tithe of shelving.
3. No, it's not only sushi, but it will be healthful, moderately simple, and Japanese, and chef driven.
4. No, no cake. That was an analogy, and, interestingly, the ubiquitous celebration sheet cake so common to break rooms is the very antithesis of this endeavor.

If, like me, some little (or big) part of you thinks this is too absurd a dream for a large suburban library I think it is a reflection of how small our dreams have become in this country. We are having a sushi bar in the library!

So it is decreed, this day, etc. etc., the King.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fascinating self revelation

Oh, you thought when I said "fascinating" in the title I meant fascinating to you. No, no, I mean a fascinating to me revelation about myself and in relation to the world around me. I totally can see how this got all miscommunicated. Titles are so short! I am thinking that to you this revelation might be actually quite mundane. I suspect that you'll have known it all along but never mentioned it to me because
a. you don't know me
b. you just sort of figured I would know this since I don't seem crazy
c. you thought the shock might be too much for me all at once.

All good reasons. So I don't blame you a bit. And even if I did blame you I owe you one for accidentally luring you here under the premise that you would find this fascinating. You won't, at least I don't think so, and it was an accident, and, anyway, I don't blame you. So let's move on.

Here is my revelation:

1. Other people are different than me.

See. I was right wasn't I? You knew this already! But this one actually throws me every time I figure it out, and I have to figure it out over and over because I'm always setting it down somewhere and forgetting where I put it. When that happens, as it so often does, I tend to think differences of opinions and in taste between me and other people are some kind of horrible mistake, and that one of us must be wrong. I am always hoping it's you, but just so long as it's someone.  But no!  Mysteriously it is not like that at all. People are actually different, no, I don't mean from each other, I get that one, but they're different from me! I don't think they even write children's books on this theme as it's considered too basic. I'll recommend some book to someone, friend or not, and it turns out they are indifferent to it or even dislike it. I play Cloud Cult's song You're the Only Thing in Your Way for a co-worker and they say "That's not bad." and stop listening after seven seconds. Oh, and people drop by my blog here. "Meh." they say and leave. I see one dusty footprint in the blog foyer. They poked their head in. Nope, nothing there.  Is my blog really not good? Are those horrible crazy people out there who hate all that's true and pure? Maybe, who knows, but mostly they're just different than me. All these people, all different than me. So many stars that I think the universe will burst.

God, I'd really like to remember it this time.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fixing the weather forecast

Today I am fixing weather forecasts, and when I say fixing, I mean making them how I imagine they should be as if I have been given the powers of some small god. In case you are wondering, I have not been given the powers of a small god (still waiting....), but this blog will suffice for the time being.

Before we begin perhaps you are also wondering what all this weather stuff has to do with books, libraries and clerking. I have 14 answers to this.

1. Weather is everywhere, even in libraries.
2. 551.63, 781.1 ARLE, 551.5, 551.525301 are among just gobs of books and stuff on weather.
3. Being properly prepared for weather emergencies is just good, solid clerking.

Is that 14 answers? No? Not yet? Well, I'm sure we must nearly be there and if I've learned any one thing from blogging it's that you've got to get to the point.

What was the point?

Oh, right, weather! Okay!

So here's the deal with weather forecasting. I have been noticing in the past half year, with multiple forecasts at my fingertips and 47 spiral notebooks of data I have collected, that professional forecasters are entirely wrong 38 percent of the time, sort of wrong 92 percent of the time, and either a little bit wrong, right only if you squint and make it blurry, or almost right but in a way that still causes you to get wet an astounding 242 percent of the time (82 percent plus 90 percent plus 70 percent)! All of this is just fine if you live in an area with no weather, but if you do live in a place with weather like, for instance, our Known Universe, it can be extremely important. How so important, you ask? Oh, you didn't ask. How did that question get in there then? Well, the important thing is that we don't have to answer it then. Whew, cause I have no idea.

I don't object terribly to the central part of weather forecasts. Mostly that can stay. What I want is variety, quantifiability, and accountability. For variety I'm thinking you can have your formal weather forecast that's your best science modeled team-based guesses. I like science! Then maybe you can have your two meteorologists get a little loose, intuitive and interpretive and not try and hedge their bets so much. Finally you can get a wide open, earth based guess from maybe a rotating hire, a witch or a homeless person or an outdoor explorer, someone for whom weather really means something. That's four forecasts right there. I think it gives a more appropriate variability to the weather forecast. Answering the "What's the weather supposed to be tomorrow" question with "It's going to be 92." is almost always a lie, whereas "They say it's going to be in the low nineties tomorrow but everyone's' intuition guesses keep going higher in a way that makes me trust the Witch's forecast of 102, so I'll be in the refrigerator if you need me." just feels more real. 

Quantifiability here means just say it. "High of 94 after a cool morning, it won't rain til after dark at which point we'll get half an inch. Also your oak tree will be split asunder by a bolt of lightning." Your "50 percent chance of rain" or your "scattered thunderstorms" mean nothing to me. If you need to say "I don't think it will rain but bring an umbrella" fine, but you'll win no points from me.

Now that we have things in quantifiable form we're all set to be accountable and this is the element I am especially keen on. Compare these two forecasts:
"Tomorrow it will be 85. There will be afternoon thunderstorms."
"Tomorrow it will be 85. There will be afternoon thunderstorms. In the last week though I have been wrong by an average of 11 degrees, and both times I predicted rain it failed to materialize. Still, I really think it's going to rain."

Last summer, a hot one, and I am not keen on hot summers, the forecasters spent about a month and a half under-shooting the temperatures, often dramatically. But with weather forecasting history is constantly erased, so the same obtuse confidence just sits there every day. Now, with the track record sitting in plain view, maybe all your scientific meteorologic models would keep spitting out the same stupid forecasts, but I think after a week of shame any forecaster would start aiming higher and higher on their guesses after they start having to appear as total failures on their own weather page. Having the homeless person be more accurate than you is not good for your career, but hiding from your own track record, while it tends to be publicly par for the course, is neither respectable nor helpful to those of us trying to decide on how thick a shirt we should wear.

And that's it for weather today. Wear a hat. Dress in layers. I have no idea what's going to happen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The retrofitted book

Recently I have poured out my heart to you regarding my overall marketing scheme for my blog. Briefly speaking my marketing goal is now to be ineffective, quixotic and odd, which, right off the top, are not your standard marketing goals, mostly because it is hard to work money into any of those approaches. I am also keen to be subversive and mercurial in my marketing- all lofty goals indeed, but admittedly slightly different than the sorts of things in marketing books. This is okay because I have found I don't much like marketing books.

Rather that getting all philosophical and political and bitter with this I will unveil my current marketing endeavor which I think expresses some of my new exciting goals. I am doing this because I am a real man of action! My current marketing endeavor is....


Ha! No. Not regular books like they sell in bookstores or online or whatever. I'm not falling for that whole publishers' scam thing. You know the one, where you query and send out a manuscript and some publisher accepts your book for publication. And then they edit it, and they market it and send you on book tours. You get a few stellar reviews and, bam, suddenly you're on the New York Times bestseller list and checks start rolling slowly in. You come in second for The National Book Award, but you win the Pulitzer. The book's options are bought. It's about this time you quit your job clerking and finish your second book, also a huge bestseller. You buy land and build a really nice house on the beach in North Carolina or something. They make a movie of your first book that wins several Academy Awards. Your third and fourth books aren't huge, huge hits, but cement your reputation and have some passionate devotees. There are a couple more movies, a few more books, and a sort of graceful long half-retirement as a national figure and great man of letters, or at least pretty good person of letters. As you get very old you might pop off an irascible essay every once in awhile on especially important current events that reminds everyone how great you are. And then, finally, after your long career and happy life, you die in your beloved North Carolina or whatever home. There is a surge in your book sales but you can't appreciate it because you're dead. Your publisher rakes in money, but you face oblivion. And if your books are remembered for a hundred years they are forgotten in a thousand. And if by some fluke, your books aren't forgotten in a thousand years, well, who cares? You are dead.

Nope, I wasn't born yesterday. Not falling for that one. I like living, thank you very much!

So, these books I am talking about I have already been working on. The first set is of ten. These have hand painted covers, are retrofitted into old books missing pages or being discarded, and are, loosely, a book version of this blog. The title of them is From Out Past Where the Dewey Decimal System Ends (except for one copy I forgot to put the word "system" in). Eight of these books will be released into the wild. They will be placed in "Little Free Libraries" throughout my city in order to experience magical kismet in accidental meetings with readers on the hoof, or maybe they will be ignored or rained on or whatever. It's out of my hands at that point. Two of these books don't venture off to the wee, front lawn libraries. They are instead prizes for my blog! One was already won in sort of an "Easter egg"  hidden contest (it required close blog interaction). The other prize book is yet to be awarded, but I will announce the parameters of that contest soon. This one won't be a hidden contest, it'll be a bit more clear, so stay tuned. Hopefully by tomorrow or the next day I will manage to post some pictures of what these bespoke books are so you can see whether you want to haunt my blog every second in breathless anticipation or whether you're now free to turn off your computer for good and perhaps sell it for seed money to begin making the 28 foot, seaworthy sailing vessel out of hand planed wood that you always dreamed of making. I think either path you take would be good. Follow your heart.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Old Man

There always seems to be one little old man that I really like. Just one at a time, at any given time in my career. He's in almost every day, making his regular library rounds. There's a touch of tragedy and pathos to it because he's always very old and frail. Often there's a walker involved. And, generally speaking, this sort of old man struggles to cope with nearly everything. But he's plucky too. And I worry about him a lot when I realize I haven't seen him for a week or two, especially since these guys tend to be more on the five-or-more-days-a-week side of things when it comes to library visiting. I've lost quite a few of these guys over the years. Sometimes I know what happened, sometimes I don't.

I haven't seen my current guy for a couple weeks, but D. said she saw him a few days ago. I don't think it's quite right to tell you his name, and I've tried to disguise him up a bit, but it doesn't matter, I don't think obscure bits of the internet like this are part of his life, and I mean not a bit of criticism here, and as to name, I've come to think of him as Mr. Magoo.

 Mr Magoo was famous for his poor eyesight, his misunderstanding everything around him, his oblivious, cheerful persistence, and a kind of optimism in his confusion that always saw him through. This guy's eyesight is actually just fine, but he expresses those other qualities beautifully. He moves incredibly slowly with his intensely used cane. Interactions with him at the desk are almost theatrical in their turtle-like, bumbling pacing and take five times as long as the same thing with anyone else. He likes non fiction DVDs and cookbooks. The cookbooks always seem to be from the 80's and have to do with casseroles. He talks to me happily, with gusto. He would eat pasta everyday, and he tries to make these recipes, but they're difficult. His homebound older(!) sister doesn't like pasta as much as him. He doesn't hear what I have to say very well, so I mostly listen. Once he had to pay a fine and he slowly took out his wallet and paid with a cartoonish stack of hundred dollar bills. He all but handed me the thick, shedding wad in a take-what-you-need way. It wasn't like he was a mobster, just, he had the money, and working out the specifics of it was too much detail for him. The line forms up as he chats about pasta. When he does it sounds like a new kind of food he just discovered. I always feel bad when I have to gently pry him off the front desk and send him on his way. I don't think he really knows about the line behind him. His vision is so bent down and in front. He heads off to the DVDs. Sometimes I get a little stressed out watching him, seeing all the peril he doesn't seem to see himself, but his vibe is all truly everything will be fine. And I find his apparent lack of self-consciousness both alien and instructive. I don't know him at all, but I like him more every time I see him. And I always hope he'll be back.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My take on famous book quotes

Hi, I have selected some book quotes for you today, but I have annotated them to make them easier to understand.

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.    –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I would be way too shy, and feel too silly asking. Did Ralph Waldo do this really? I get this weird vibe here that Ralph Waldo had not yet met any person who qualified, almost like, "If there is a man of rare intellect I sure haven't met him, but in case he's out there, you know, hypothetically speaking, I would ask." Of course, in another direction, it always seemed to me Emerson was super smart, so perhaps he just liked people to ask him what he was reading and was cleverly fishing. I bet it worked, and he regretted it.

I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it.      –Woodrow Wilson

Totally why I didn't vote for him! Well, at least Taft didn't win.

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.  –P.J. O’Rourke

So maybe not quotes about books?

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.          –Haruki Murakami

But what about this quote:

      No two persons ever read the same book.   –Edmund Wilson

I'm all confused.

There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.       –Elie Wiesel

He was explaining his short books I guess. More power to him. Originally my comment here was thousands of lines long until I reduced it to just these three immaculate sentences.

The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book.  –Northrop Frye

That is until I invented a book with a built in kitchen timer! Yes, check it out at my new clerkmanifesto store page (coming soon!) .

Are we not like two volumes of one book?                –Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Twins! Oh, no, not twins, a romantic, I see. And I love this...  —Ne cherchez pas à vous enfuir, ni à sortir de mes genoux; car vous êtes devant Dieu quand vous priez avec moi.

and this of course, which most of you will have memorized

«Oh! bonjour! dit l'enfant, qui se souvenait d'elle;
Je t'ai vue à l'automne; oh! bonjour, hirondelle.
Viens! tu portais bonheur à ma maison, et moi
Je voudrais du bonheur. Veux-tu m'en donner, toi?
Jouons.—Je le voudrais, répond la voyageuse,
Car je respire à peine, et je me sens joyeuse.
Mais j'ai beaucoup d'amis qui doutent du printemps;
Ils rêveraient ma mort si je tardais long-temps.
Non, je ne puis jouer. Pour finir leur souffrance,
J'emporte un brin de mousse en signe d'espérance.
Nous allons relever nos palais dégarnis:
L'herbe croît, c'est l'instant des amours et des nids.
J'ai tout vu. Maintenant, fidèle messagère,
Je vais chercher mes soeurs, là-bas, sur le chemin.
«Ainsi que nous, enfant, la vie est passagère,
Il faut en profiler. Je me sauve.... A demain!»

Keep reading books, but remember that a book is only a book, and you should learn to think for yourself.     –Maxim Gorky

Or, failing that, use famous peoples' quotes.

A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands. so the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion.   –Umberto Eco

Okay, fun is fun, but this is just fanciful. A. These Librarians weed books like maniacs. B.  Really, just say "her" with the librarians if you have to choose, and C. These book things are super tough, not fragile, you should see how I toss...  oh, wait, he's probably talking about libraries in Italy with 600 year old books. Yeah, uh, hmm, well, our books from the late 1960's still hold up pretty well.

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.      –Marcel Proust

Wait, when he says "we" does he mean him? Or me and him? Because if it's me and him I am pretty sure the summer days I spent catching lizards when I was seven were slightly more fully lived than the book days.

Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.            –George Bernard Shaw

 What, am I supposed to be snarky about this? I can't. It's just so sensible. Every time a kid leaves our library with a garfield or berenstain bears book my stomach is queasy.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.        –Abraham Lincoln

So why didn't you just give us the original source for this, huh? Not so sure now, are you Mr. fancy President?

One always has a better book in one’s mind than one can manage to get onto paper. –Michael Cunningham

He must mean better blog post in mind. What century is this guy from?

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.      –C.S. Lewis

You should totally talk to George Bernard Shaw. I think you guys would really like each other.

A good book has no ending.          –R.D. Cumming

And neither does a good blog post...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Notable Random Library Facts

Today is an assorted collection of notable library facts that I've made up. Did I say made up? I meant to say closely observed. Made up, huh, what was I thinking?

1. It takes 11 minutes for a sobbing child to cross from the children's room to the exit doors.

2. The unpopular books are happier than the popular books.

3. People do not come to the desk and take care of business when there is no line. This is because they are half-thinking that they will be able to go to the desk at anytime and get help with ease. However, when there is a line, they immediately join it. They feel like they better get it taken care of right away since who knows how long it all might take.

3. Reading a long string of numbers to someone at exactly the right pace is a rare skill that can neither be taught nor learned.

4. Ninety-eight percent of all patron computer problems can be solved by randomly clicking on things and soothingly muttering the string of incantational words "lower coefficient of resistance."

5. The true purpose of library books is not to be read by people, but merely to visit their homes.

6. If it's very quiet at the front desk and a patron you really like comes to see you for a chat it causes your co-worker to suddenly have to go to the bathroom.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Some library books are more equal than other library books

Are library fiction sections snobbish? Oh yes, completely! A huge amount of it is accidental, inherited, and unconsidered. Some of it, despite "Librarian" being an apparently female dominated profession, is sexist, and basically all of it is expressed in fiction vs. genre, and in the breakdown of the genres themselves.

Of all the genre sections Romance best expresses the bulk of these library class issues. Did you know that the romance section is not really the romance section? It is the "We will do everything in our power to only put crappy books in this section" section. Yes, there are lots of romance books in there, and, increasingly SF/fantasy, and I think even some westerns and mysteries, but always, only, the ones of any of those that are considered to be sort of crappy. If a romance book has any vaguely positive general recommendations, any notable wide world popularity, if there's a proper movie of it, if any other genre wants to claim it for its own, then you can be sure it will never spend a second of time in the romance section ghetto. Do I read romance novels? Sure I do. There are some wonderful romance novels. Are they in the romance section? Of course not. There is a little part in one of the fabulous Adrian Mole books, by Sue Townsend, where, if I remember correctly, Adrian gets fired from a bookstore job because he insists on putting the Jane Austen books in the romance section. Exactly. Here is an almost random selection of romance novels I just happened to run into in the fiction section while shelving there:

Gone With the Wind (not romance because it's historical, mmm, ha, no, maybe because the ending isn't happy enough?)
Pride and Prejudice (should I move it over?)
Bridget Jones Diary (because it's clever?)
The African Queen (an adventure novel! By an adventure writer!)
All Nicholas Sparks books (because he's a boy writer?)
Wuthering Heights (because it would be difficult to relabel? Because the author would be really pissed to be dumped with all that Jane Austen crap?)

The Science Fiction/Fantasy section has over the years accrued more respect, but the hard core literary classics are still kept safely in Fiction (1984, Brave New World, Metamorphosis). New Science Fiction/Fantasy is still sent to debut in fiction if it hews to the "real" world enough and has literary pretensions. Lev Grossman's Magicians books are currently in our fiction section, whereas Jasper Fforde started there and was a while ago demoted out. Bits of Ursula K. LeGuin are mysteriously over in fiction, like Lathe of Heaven, in what I would call the Magical Realism effect or the not too technologically different future effect. If you can get fifty percent of the book to be sort of in our world and you have a good reputation as a writer you might be able to keep a toe or foot in fiction especially as you can claim a link to some of the above mentioned classics like Metamorphosis or 1984. Horror is an unofficial genre at my library so it just goes in fiction. I suppose you could argue Kafka is horror genre, but I'm guessing if horror was sent off to SF/Fantasy Kafka would still stay in fiction. So would The Road by Cormac Mccarthy, but all the Stephen King would be shipped off with enthusiasm.

What would I do? I think it would be nice to admit that there's an ideology issue going on here. I personally like gutting the idea of "Classics" and just sending the genre ones to their genre a la Adrian Mole. I'm all about that kind of snarky democratization. And I think that's the best way to fix the slap in the face that is the Romance section. Yes, genre rules can be very murky, but they would be more manageable without the unconscious and conscious conceptions of good, and literary, and classic. In the end, I think, either accept the idea of genre and it's usefulness to the library browser, or get rid of it all together. It is, after all, all just fiction, and it all could be shelved strictly by the authors last name. Don't make me do that.

Maybe other libraries do it better than my own. It wouldn't be hard. If someone out there has Pride and Prejudice in the romance section it would make me, and Adrian Mole, very happy.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to market your blog!

When I started this blog my goal was to have one billion regular readers. I was not exactly clear on the marketing methods I should use to get to this goal. The least uncomfortable marketing method I was able to find was to tell most of the people I knew about my blog. I don't actually know very many people, but after a few interactions of this sort I would still have to go into a cool dark place, take loads of deep breaths, and sing softly to myself. I'm pretty sure I ran out of people to tell about my blog before the strain of telling them shut me down, but it was touch and go. After that initial marketing onslaught and its attendant recovery period I dabbled in a few low level and truly nauseating small marketing experiments and formulated plans for larger ideas. These ideas never failed to give me a great feeling of joy and serenity whenever I abandoned them.

Throughout this time someone, rarely, would mention me on some kind of social network somewhere and I would get a sudden influx of one or two hundred views of my blog. First of all, if you're out there right now, and you did that, thanks. That was very nice. And I have to say that other people mentioning me, as a marketing plan, is pretty nicely low on the uncomfortable meter, meaning that I think I can work with it. But when you consider  a situation in which I do absolutely nothing and then have 200 people come check out my blog, and it still causes me to have a slight panic attack, well, it sort of calls into question the one billion goal. So I was thinking of maybe slightly revising my goal. However I am wavering on just what the new goal should be. Definitely less than the one billion regular readers. The question is just how much less. The range I am currently working with is somewhere between working towards having two more regular readers than I currently have and working to have one fewer regular readers than I currently have.

This has a few really nice advantages. One, it sets the bar very low. Sadly many of the places I go on the internet are heavily visited, high traffic places. All the internet roads funnel you to the 16 lane super highways and it can be very hard and challenging to find your way to the tiny, narrow mazes of strange back alleys. Did you know that you are currently in a dark narrow back alley of the internet? Watch your back! Just kidding, it's more like a narrow back alley of an old European city here, where they have eliminated all crime except children pickpockets. Anyway, all these popular sites, under my old goal, would just make me feel jealous and unsatisfactory, but with my new goal I can instead feel cozy and European.

Another advantage with my new goal is that, roughly speaking, at any given time, I have, on the whole, met my goal. And if I insist on getting all technical about it (and I usually do insist) I will always at least be ever so close to meeting my goal. Depending on where in my goal range I decide to land I can meet my goal at any given time by some stray person in Ireland stumbling onto my blog and liking it, or a friend mentioning it to a like minded friend, or, in the other direction, by alienating just one reader by happening to hit a sore spot while making fun of axe murderers, or marketing. Of course, to get very, very technical about it (I am less keen on doing this)  I can never actually meet my goal, I can only meet it prospectively. But I have a strong prospective bent anyway and feel this being always a sliver removed from my goal will be like a homeopathic remedy to prevent complacency.

I think the best benefit though to my new marketing goal is this: every time I get that urge, that terrible urge, and start musing on some nauseating idea to bring throngs of viewers to my nice back alley blog I will have to say "Whoa! That is way off the charts! That could bring as many as 14 new viewers!" and I won't be able to even remotely consider the idea further. Indeed, the only marketing ideas it will be anywhere near okay for me to consider will be small, strange, idiosyncratic, quixotic and surreal ones, which, in happy coincidence, are the only ones I would ever want to do.

So, do I recommend this marketing plan? Yes, wholeheartedly, I recommend this marketing plan to everyone and anyone. I think it is worth considering as a way to market everything. It's worked for me. And it's worked for my blog. After all, you're reading this, and you are a whole world, yourself.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My journey to the land of slow and steady

Yesterday, as part of my testing the adage "Slow and steady wins the race" I had to work at a strictly slow and steady pace for a half hour. I think of myself occasionally working at a slow and steady pace, though it is not my normal mien. But this half hour was a bit of an eye opener. I guess I've never worked that way in such a committed fashion before. My heart was pounding. My whole body tensed, relaxed, and altered. My mind whirred and floated. It was a thrill ride, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with you here.

The first thing I noticed was the cozy feeling of impervious safety. No one can say you're not working when you're silently moving along like this. No manager can think you are goofing off, no hostile patron can think ill of you, no camera or co-worker can catch you inappropriately (gasp!) reading (or writing!). It's a little cocoon of doing the right thing. Though I was only being, at the absolute best, mildly productive, I looked like I was supposed to look, and so I became agreeably invisible.

The second thing I noticed was how easy it was. I didn't get mad at little interruptions, there was no such thing as interruption. I never had to work hard, plan my next moves, use a lot of my brain, justify or calibrate when I worked and when I didn't. It was just one thing at a time, no decisions, no complications. Actually the hardest thing was just staying in that space, not going faster, but not doing other things too, not zoning out or giving in to curiosity.

The last big thing for me is how it illuminated some of my co-workers to me. Mostly it allowed me to see more of why they would work like this. I was struck how they could feel that complete fulfillment of duty in working like this. I could see how mild effort and lack of tension could be a reasonable way to go through the day. I could even catch a strange, alien glimpse of what it might be like to trust authority. This is how the whole rule based, hierarchical structure is set up to be satisfied. These are the exact job tasks to follow. They are all there for a good reason. No struggle, no reinterpretation, just, your job, as is. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Of course, I don't think any of my co-workers are all the way over to any of this, but some are part way. And it was a taste of it for me. Strange, soothing, sleepy, and maybe just a little disturbing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adage Testing: Slow and steady wins the race

Recently I have begun a series here where I run tests on old adages to see how they work out in the real world. The first one, down a couple posts from here, tested whether you can judge a book by its cover. I won't give away here whether you can or not in case you haven't read it. Today we are testing whether "Slow and steady wins the race." I've discussed this issue in my blog a bit before, but that was discussion. This is science!

The ground rules:

1. "Slow and steady" seems pretty clear, but race against whom or what is more of a question. Traditionally slow and steady's rival has been taken to be "fast and erratic" as per its source in Aesop's Tortoise and the Hare, so I am going to go with that approach for slow and steady's opponent.

2. Since clerkmanifesto is a one person operation I am going to have to compete against myself. I will take two half hour segments of shelving. For one I will shelve at a sedate, but relentless, pace. For the other I will shelve more how I usually shelve; reading, writing, speed bursts, spacing out, rage shelving, etc.  As I believe all the shelving is pointless if it is not done well, fixing problems as I go and doing light straightening, I will be shelving under both modes to the same (hopefully high) standard. In the end I will tally which half hour got more items shelved.

The race and the total:

I started with slow and steady. I had one cart in order. It was full, but with a bit of give on the second shelf. Not being a huge part of my nature this was a strange way to work and I had to really concentrate. At the end of the half hour session I had shelved all but nine books on the cart.

Later that day I shelved a strictly timed half hour in my usual fast and erratic fashion. My cart was approximately the same as for slow and steady- maybe a touch more tightly full, but we'll count it equal. Even though this is how I usually shelve it was a very self-conscious process. I found I had to balance my knowledge that it was a "race" and accept that I was trying to beat slow and steady's amount (which I feel was more of a fixed amount, race or no. Slow and steady is slow and steady). But I also wanted to make sure I recreated the erraticness of a non race situation too. So I did a bit of writing in there, took a break, and I read a bit of a book. In the end I finished the cart six minutes early and used it to write this. I am currently just a minute or so past my half hour.


No. Slow and steady doesn't win the race. It loses. An adage more like "Slow and steady gets more done" may have merit, but we're not testing that here. In a race it's not even close. Frankly it was so lopsided that while shelving "fast and erratic" I was tempted to lay down and take a nap.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Blogging from Librarypalooza: The teen reading program kickoff!

Today I am live blogging (meaning actually delayed blogging) from Librarypalooza, the teen reading program kickoff, where the library has reopened in the evening to host a concert of two high school bands and one official semi-famous local band (they have t-shirts). What follows are my notes written as it happened:

First band is a seven piece jazz instrumental band called The Flappin' Jacks. Mostly horns.

Song Highlights:

Sweet Caroline. I did not know 15 year olds were familiar with this, but as soon as the band mentioned this song several teens went "bop bop bop".

Yesterday. One of the very young cable TV people, possibly a teen intern, (yes, event is going out live on local cable!) immediately perked up with this song and danced around to it while continuing to film in his Beatles t-shirt.

Rock Around the Clock. Described by the bandleader as a kind of an older classic, it caused 2 seniors (no, not high school) to get up and theatrically swing dance with each other on the open dance floor. The strange, but distinct "Lawrence Welk" vibe hits its peak at this moment.

Later compositions open up and I oscillate between being tortured and charmed. I am just one person though, whereas the audience is very enthusiastic. An "Improv in F" is next... They're jazz musicians, they are 16 years old, six horns, drums, a guitar. I will speak now no word against them.

After the first band a small drawing was held for the choice of a prize from the 3D printer. The winner was a 35 year old regular patron. As the teen librarian says, a former teen.

I will go stand with the teen librarians now.

Went over. Talked with one for a bit about the band auditions until he left. Realized I was now standing alone. Tried not to take it personally.

Still trying...

New band. Folk. According to previous conversation they are supposed to be able to sing in tune and play in 4/4 time which clinched the audition for them. I can do neither of these things so I should be impressed.

My co-worker at the circ desk deftly gave a dog sticker to a little girl who I think was just starting to boil. Co-worker wins coveted gold star award for the night. I will now aim for bronze.

Summer Ghosts, a boy/girl duo, are in tune. They play highly synchronized guitars. Had to check out a book on Jack the Ripper for a patron. It was the first time in decades of library work that me and the patron had to interrupt our interaction to applaud.

Young woman in Summer Ghosts has a really good voice. No, I mean really good.

I heard the sound person they hired for this came cheap. I have a theory why he is cheap. It is because he plays the worst in between band music I have ever heard. Currently is a bland cover of Across the Universe that even the Beatles t-shirt cameraman does not seem to be enjoying, and this is as good as it's gotten.

Summer Ghosts are adding a drummer and bass and plugging in a la Dylan '65. I am tempted to yell "Traitors!"

Interesting and really good drummer, vocals and guitars sadly buried in the mix. They are now fixing the sound levels at the instigation of the band. Good for them! Well done!


Lots of scattered, all ages except teens dancing.

Last band is The Bad Bad Hats, a local band, not a High School band so needing no kid gloves. One wrong move and all my withering criticism will...

Oh, they're very good, quite good regardless of what the 4 year old who walked by holding his ears thinks. Four year olds don't know everything! Some of them just don't like loud noise! Actually The Bad Bad Hats are great.  I'll put a link. It's their free ep, but you can just hit their play button. Here.

Okay, got to clean up and get home. Thanks for coming. I'll be here blogging, like, every single day cause I've been seized by some strange, internal vision. Come again over and over forever to see it all play out!