Thursday, December 20, 2007

Short questions...

What's the deal with teenagers sucking their thumbs? Or teenage boys wearing backpacks meant for little girls? Or people having a cell phone but still asking if they can use my work phone?

Happy Holidays everyone.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Evidence of a change?

I often wonder if the changes in everyday language usage is intentional. In this case, I don't mean giving a word a different, ironic meaning, but rather changing small words in a traditional phrase or joke to reflect the attitudes of the time. As an example, I was looking at Dogpile's joke of the day (which is very seldom ever funny) when I stumbled across this:

"When is a doctor most annoyed? (When she's out of patients)"

How long ago would it have been (When he's out of patients)? A decade,... more,... less? Is this joke told with a masculine doctor other places? If so, was there a conscious insertion of a female doctor? Does it make it any funnier or less funny? What is the reason for this change? Since we are the subject, when was the last time you heard someone use the word Doctress? Is the verbal separation of a profession by gender left now to the service industry alone? Sure, some people call them all servers, but there are hosts and hostesses and waiters and waitresses. When a woman presents a speech, why don't we call her an oratrix? Apparently, this change has been taking place for a long time,
leading one to think that this is not at all a modern invention to please the masses.

Now, to the real point. What about libraries and librarians? Are there major efforts to stem the stereotypes of matronly old ladies in glasses with their index fingers perpetually pressed to their pursed lips in the universal symbol of silence? Unfortunately, yes, there are. I say unfortunately because these efforts are being devised and planned by librarians, giving them no legitimacy at all. It's like if nerds try to tell you that nerds aren't nerdy anymore. It doesn't work without third party confirmation.

So now I task you (who I'm sure did not think there would be homework involved when you first started reading this) to go to your local library and look at the librarians. If they don't fit the stereotype, tell your friends. Spread the word.

On a slight side note, I do think it's time that the profession began actively reaching out to recruit new and attractive members of the profession. Nothing will help libraries nearly as much as a fresh crop of hot librarians! I shall be the first to call into the ranks of the beautiful people:

This is a message for all the attractive people who ever considered being a librarian. Do it. Sign up and start the hot librarian revolution! Everyone else, please encourage attractive people to study the library and information sciences. Together we can change the stereotype just like Dogpile changed the language of a joke!

Friday, November 30, 2007

As promised: The idiotic and Dangerous Nature of Hugo Chavez

"Chavez has told public sector employees that their six-hour daily average means they will leave early on Fridays after working normal hours the rest of the week.
He says the move will create 150,000 jobs, and compares his proposal with the current eight-hour workday. 'Those two hours mean getting home earlier, getting to see our children ... and that our children can sleep with the hope that a true fatherland is being built.'"

I thought about just ending the post here... but I figured more explanation was needed.

First, the math: If they are set to work an average of 6 hours a day, but work their regular 8 hours four days a week, doesn't this mean that they are already working 32 hours? And if so, in't that already more than an average of 5 workdays of 6 hours each? So, shouldn't they just take off Friday instead of going home early and earnng comp time? Right? Or am I missing something here? Do you think he just meant that fridays would be a 6 hour day and the workweek would go from 40 hours to 38? But I guess anyone stupid enough to vote to remove term limitations from the constitution will swallow anything!

History will repeat itself, only two countries removed to the north. Juan Peron tried all this twaddle in Arentina. Yes, Peron as in Eva Peron... as is "Don't cry for me Argentina!" Peron. But, also as in "the reason that the economy of Argentina went into the tanks both after both times he was elected into power" Peron's first term quickly became a dictatorship, ending in violence and exile. I'm afraid this is going to be the only way to restore justice to the people of Venezuela... and by justice I mean simply that a man gets what he works for and political affiliation does not earn him more rice and beans.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Apparently I am a Millennial

I am one of the first Millennials. I'm not quite sure I know what that means. According to what I've read, it means that I kick ass... right? Well, I already knew that! What I'm not so sure about is that it means other people between the ages of 8 and 27 also kick ass. I guess though, if I was to pin my hopes for the future on anyone, I would choose us over the Generation Xers and baby boomers any day of the week, and not just because I'm one of us and (as I just pointed out) I kick ass.

We are also called generation Y. I don't like this name, if only because it ties us to Generation X (also a name I don't like). Really though, I don't like it because I can see the "generation why?" or "generation y?" headlines written by people who think they're ever so clever. Really, though, I just don't like classifying people by birth years. It reminds me way too much of the Chinese Zodiac... where I'm a monkey by the way (which also means that I kick ass!).

I actually rally against some of the things that I'm told are characteristic of my generation. For instance, I do not believe selfishness is a problem. I think it's the only viable solution. I'm also not group oriented. Let me do my job, and you do yours... and let me tell you how to do yours better... and let me get upset whenever you don't do it that way and it fails miserably. Anyway, I wouldn't say all Generation Xers are the same, and not all Baby Boomers refuse to age gracefully. (I still do, however, blame Baby Boomers for almost all social problems present today. What a bunch of whiny babies!!!)

Speaking of babies, my son (Winston Grey Smith) is just over 2and 1/2 months old today, which is why the blogging has died down considerably. There are more planned, so don't worry. In fact, if my lack of blogging caused you any worry at all, you should probably check with someone about how your life is going. Soon I will cover such topics as "noise" "the evils of president hugo chavez" and "despite my current status as a member, why I don't like the ALA."

Sorry this one wasn't very library-ish, but the new one's will tie in, I promise.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A History(?) of Government Spending

I'm borrowing information for this blog. After you read this, which you should, think over the last line, and then remember that my explanation is one of growing laziness. We let people know that they didn't have to do as much as they thought they did, and they liked it! It's like when I came home from school with the first "C" I'd ever gotten (8th grade algebra- I still think homework shouldn't count as a grade!) and didn't get in trouble for it. I never worked hard to get an "A" again in high school.

By the way, let me formally state here that I think high school should become an accepted compound word, and I should be able to spell it "highschool" if I so choose.

Anyway, read on about the history(?) of government spending.

"Government Spending

by Gordon Tullock

In most countries government spending has grown quite rapidly in recent decades. Chart 1 shows U.S. federal spending as a percentage of gross national product from 1790 to 1990. Chart 2 shows Sweden's central government expenditures as a percent of GNP. Although not many countries have such long data series, these countries apparently are typical. As the charts show, the central government's share of the economy was remarkably stable for nearly 150 years but grew quite rapidly throughout the latter two-thirds of the 20th century.

U.S. Government Spending
Chart 1. U.S. Government Spending
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Swedish Government Spending
Chart 2. Swedish Government Spending
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In the past, government spending increased during wars and then typically took some time to fall back to its previous level. Because the effects of World War I were not totally gone by 1929, the line for the United States from 1790 to 1929 has a very slight upward slant. But in the second quarter of the twentieth century, government spending began a rapid and steady increase. While economists and political scientists have offered many theories about what determines the level of government spending, there really is no known explanation for either part of this historical record.

The data contradict several prominent economic theories about why government spending as a percent of GNP grows. One such theory is presented by British economists Alan Peacock and Jack Wiseman, who suggest a "ratchet effect." If a war, say, raises expenditures, expenditures after the war will not fall all the way back to their prewar level. Thus the name "ratchet effect." This theory cannot explain the long period of stable government expenditures before 1929. Nor can it explain the steady growth since 1953.

The "leviathan" theory holds that governments try to get control of as much of the economy as possible. Obviously, the leviathan theory is inconsistent with the early decades of stable government spending. Moreover, this theory also would imply sharp increases in government spending followed by leveling off when the maximum size of government has been reached. But this is not what we see after 1945. Wagner's law—named after the German economist Adolph Wagner (1835-1917)—states that the growing government share of GNP is simply a result of economic progress. Wagner propounded it in the 1880s. However, the forty years of stability after that time would seem to rule out his theory.

Another theory, propounded by William J. Baumol, is that productivity in the private sector increases, but public-sector productivity stagnates. Therefore, says Baumol, for the government to maintain a suitable level of services per person, government spending must grow as a percent of GNP. Even granting his view of relative efficiency, Baumol's theory certainly does not explain the nongrowth of government spending before 1929. Indeed, all theories of growth to date fail to explain either the many early decades of stable government spending or the growth of government spending after 1953—or both.

The relatively smooth growth of government after 1953 is particularly hard to explain. We would anticipate that if the government took on new responsibilities, government spending would rise sharply and then stay level after these responsibilities had been fully absorbed. But in fact, spending did not rise sharply, nor did it level off.

Considering what governments spend money on may help. Government spending on so-called public goods, national defense and police, for example, is sometimes blamed. But American military expenditures have shrunk as a share of the GNP—from 13.8 percent in 1953 to 6.3 percent in 1988. Spending on police is mainly a local expenditure and, at under 1 percent of GNP, is too small in any event. Expenditures on most other public goods have also grown slowly. Of the 1991 federal budget, 43 percent is direct benefit payments to individuals, 14 percent is for interest, and 25 percent is military spending. This leaves only 18 percent for general public goods. Further, two-thirds of the remaining 18 percent is grants to local governments. This leaves only 6 percent for the rest of the federal government. Clearly we must look elsewhere.

It is frequently asserted that the government spends much in helping the poor. Although the government does do so, the bulk of all transfer payments go to people who are relatively well off.

Economists trying to explain government spending have recently attributed it to special interest coalitions lobbying the government to transfer wealth to them. The term economists use to describe such lobbying is "rent-seeking." Rent-seeking certainly has grown. The farm program, for example, did not even exist in 1929. It now absorbs about $30 billion a year. The elaborate water control projects in the West cost the general taxpayer a high multiple of the benefits to the relatively small groups of beneficiaries. Both are the result of rent-seeking.

"Rent-seeking," therefore, may explain the long, more or less steady rise in government spending as a fraction of GNP. Political rules may limit the government's ability to hand out money to more than a few new pressure groups in each session of Congress. If so, we would expect the long, gradual increase in government spending that we observe. It cannot be said, however, that the data prove this particular theory; in fact, it cannot even be said that this particular theory is a very good one. It certainly does not explain the long level period from 1790 to 1929.

The bottom line is that governments have grown in recent decades, that they did not do so earlier, and that economists do not really know why.

About the Author
Gordon Tullock is a professor of law and economies at George Mason University. Together with James M. Buchanan, he pioneered the field of public choice economics.

Further Reading

Baumol, William J. "The Macroeconomics of Unbalanced Growth: The Anatomy of the Urban Crisis." American Economic Review 57 (June 1967): 415-26.

Borcherding, Thomas, ed. Budgets and Bureaucrats. 1977.

Higgs, Robert. Crisis and Leviathan. 1987."


Monday, October 1, 2007

I Might Actually Pay Myself to Work

It's true, I might actually pay part of my own salary, isn't that a little silly? Now, I don't live in the city where I work, so my property taxes don't go to paying my salary, but what about my federal income tax that trickles down in the form of grants and other such things?

It's not just librarians either. What about teachers who live in the district where they work? Or firemen, or cops, or environmental investigators, or G-men? Doesn't this seem like a massive hemorrhage of money? Why should someone who's salary is paid for through income tax, have to pay income tax? They (or rather, we) pay our taxes so that someone else can tally them up (and get paid to do it!) and then give them back in the form of wages. Surely it would make more sense to simply not take the money out in the first place, and adjust our wages accordingly.
How hard would it be to discover how much money a government worker is paying themselves and get rid of it. It's a wash. Actually, what should be a zero sum game is not. Am I alone thinking this is extremely inefficient?

In relation to libraries, I'm just wondering how much money could be saved (here to be read as "spent on other expenses") if we take out the cost of this middle man. Unfortunately, I'm not good enough at math (here to be read "I'm much too lazy") to figure it out. But, on the surface, doesn't it seem to just make sense? Anyone?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

My Take on Fines (and why we need something better).

PEOPLE ARE STEALING FROM THE LIBRARY! Everyday, in every library across the world (maybe a little exaggeration there) people steal from the library. Seeing as how you pay for and are a community owner of the library, they are, by extension, stealing from you! Why are you putting up with it?

As I've mentioned in my other post, libraries have fines as a method for ensuring equal access to public materials. If you damage a library item, you have to pay for it. If you lose a library item, you have to pay for it. If you are late bringing a library item back, you have to pay for it... maybe, sometimes, depending on who's working that day and what the item is and how many times you've returned other materials late. Oh yeah, and if you smile or have good bartering or lying skills. Now, I don't think these fines work. Let's examine two reasons why.

First, it is extremely hard to explain to people why they have to pay money when they turned a book in late if no one else wants it. On top of that, often all they had to do to save money was call or go online and renew the item. The theory behind this is very philosophical, and hard to wrap your head around. The practical side of this is just plain silly. These are the fines that I have no problem waiving.

Second, once patrons reach a fine level that prevents them from checking out (or rather they must pay more money than they are willing in order to check out) they simply quit coming to the library to check things out. Someone with a $30 fine will probably just let that sit and nothing will ever come from it until many years later when they need the library again. In these cases, often times this fine is waived due to age and lost information from every new records management system the library has used over this timespan.

Neither one of these are stealing, though the second reason often coincides with library theft. When I did mention stealing before, admittedly much like a local news broadcast will lead with how the dirt on the bottom of your purse could kill you, I was a little misleading. Let me define the theft of which I wrote. This is not the "shrinkage" that retail stores deal with. This is not shoplifting and pocketing of DVDs and Cds that bypass security and simply disappear. Instead, I mean people check out items and never bring them back. Most libraries have those patrons with hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of fines for "lost" materials. In my book, whenever someone borrows something and never returns it, they stole it. This is the type of theft that goes on everyday, and no one seems to care!

The only punishment these thieves receive is to limit them from using library materials at home. They can still come in and read our books, sit in our chairs, use our restrooms, check their e-mail on our computers, etc., even though they stole from us and we know it! This is really why fines don't work. We need to treat these people (ok, only those that don't pay for what they've lost. Many of these people will pay or replace the item.) just as if they stuck the DVD in their backpack and bolted out the door. They are theives, plain and simple. Why doesn't anyone see this?!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Oh, Venezuela!

The people of Venezuela have recently taken steps to pull themselves up to the level of rural, depression era Kentuckians who "were living lives similar to their ancestors, with no indoor plumbing, electricity, telephone service or radio access."

According to the BBC's story, a University in Venezuela is providing library books to the mountainous farming villages via pack mule. If you follow links, you would already know that this is not a novel idea, as the report claims, but a direct theft from Roosevelt's alphabet

This isn't the funny part though. The best part is that there are plans to put laptops on the mules! Way to go Venezuela! Fight the image of your land as a third world country by putting computers on mules! I actually laughed out loud when I read this. I have no doubt that is program is backed and promoted as a successful vision by every idiot in charge of the country.

I can't help it, but isn't this putting the cart in front of the... well, mule? If you want internet access, BUILD A BUILDING! Forget delivering new technology via the domesticated animal. If you want to leap into the 21st century, you can't drag big parts of the past with you. If you can afford wireless internet modems in the banana trees (that's not a joke either, read the story!), then you can afford a small hut to put the computer in.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why do we hate Snitches?

Well, why do we hate tattle-tales?
It would seem as if they perform a function that benefits all of society. The informer. The stool pigeon. The rat fink. None of these conjure tales of heroism, community service, or courage. Why is that? I feel no differently than most when confronted with these people. Why do I want to punish the kid who comes and tells me that his friend (?) is bypassing our computer reservation system to his advantage? Why do I, deep inside, say "good for him, he beat the system!"
Why, in movies, do we cheer for the bank robber, and loath the coconspirator who prevents the money from falling into the wrong hands?
Libraries, or at least public one's, are rife with such stoolies. Having to deal with them every day, I think I've formulated and answer. Personally, I hate these little snitches because their motivation derives completely from a selfish sense of injustice. They don't tell on someone because they are doing something wrong. They tell on someone because they don't want them to get away with something they got caught for! If they can't do it, no one can. This is the motivation of the tattle tale.
There is also the motivation of reward. They think if they inform then they will be rewarded. Often this is the case. I'm not sure how I feel about these people. I think I can understand this a little better. This, however, is not the motivating factor behind the library tattler. The problem with these tattlers is that the temptation, once a level of trust is established, can lead directly to unfounded accusations.
If I were to waive fines for those who told me of rule infractions, I know that it would take no time at all for lies to be told for personal gain.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the underlying feeling in society when it comes to informers. Either they are selfish crybabies who don't want anyone to have fun if they can't, or they are lying cheats who will make you look bad for a buck.
Now that I've pegged down my view of the problem... anyone got a solution?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The G.A.P. is back!

The Great Ape Press is back with a new look. In fact, I'm putting out an open call for anyone who thinks they can design a better one to send it to me. I won't pay you... but I will be appreciative!

Also, send them your stuff. They can be contacted at greatapepress@hotmail.com

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What a Great Show

I got this new phone a little while back, and I've been bragging about it ever since. Now, it's not an I-phone or anything, but it was completely free to me and it does a lot more stuff than my old one. One of the great features is that it has MP3 capabilities in conjunction with a Micro SD card slot. What does this mean? It means that I can listen to my phone. Nothing too terribly new, I know, but I just finished using it to listen to the greatest radio program of all time whilst getting my morning work done.

For those of you who haven't yet experienced This American Life... I cannot explain what you are missing. Enlightenment awaits you, don't let it down. I know it won't be too long before you're subscribing to the weekly free podcast because you have to work on Saturdays at noon.

Anyway, my point is that TAL and my new phone are like chocolate and peanut butter (for those of you who don't know, I believe this is man's greatest accomplishment... ever!)

I'm really hoping that my library gets the show on DVD!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I've been successfully saddened

Warren Ellis's latest blog post includes a picture that makes me cry on the inside. I can only hope that these people were paid, and paid well, for this.

I would like to spend time explaining the reasons why people who do this type of thing depress me (like they are living in a fantasy world in order to escape the harsh realities of their existence, and that it's all one big lie, etc.), but I'm almost too sad to go on...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Libraries of the FUTURE...FUTure...Future...future

I would just like to say that Olive Software is awesome. I have no idea what it costs, but it can singlehandedly transfer a brick and mortar library into an online oasis of information. The way it translates into XML is so brilliant that I cannot possible understand how it's done.
It can create immediate online content out of archived materials, fresh from the printer newsletters, and anything else you can imagine. What if that archive of transcribed oral histories could be key word searchable? Or the hard copies of computer files that no one can access due to outdated formats? I'm sure you can all think of great applications for this...

Wait a second, I am not selling this, I promise. I just don't know of anything else that does exactly what this does. If you know of any, please tell me.

Oh yeah, the answer to the BLOG of TRIVIA is... the item pictured is the first working transitor, manufactured by Bell Labs in 1947. Pat yourselves on the back if you knew that already.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tag, you're it!

In response to a fellow librarian blogger... I have set the challenge of discovering what makes the item pictured here so special? What is it and why is it special? Tell me and you'll win the pride of knowing that you knew it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Soon to be different.

My wife, when I told her what the last blog was about, said (and I'm paraphrasing now)"Don't you want to write a blog about how impending fatherhood is crushing down on you?" I asked what would happen if that was all I put in the blog... She said she would kick me. She doesn't lie about kicking people, so I decided I better add to the blog.
Last night I helped out at the midnight release part for Harry Potter: Book Number 7. Personally I think this would have been a better title, mainly because I think it's easier to sort series on the shelf whenever they are simply numbered... none of those crazy alphabetical SNAFUs to deal with. Anyway, I thought about my child (due after the first week of September) quite a bit last night during the event.

This is going to sound really bad, so I'm warning you all now.

I hoped that my kid (of unknown gender) wasn't like many of the kids there. I want my kid to read, to be a reader, but not to the fanatical level of some of the people there. There were normal people, sure, but the ones that really stick out were the dorks, nerds, geeks, and... well, you get the point. It wasn't just the kids either, the parents and staff were just as bad. MODERATION is the key in all aspects, and dorkiness something that requires constant vigilance and dedication to moderation. I guess I'm saying that the thing I'm most worried about when it comes to being a new father is that I really don't want my kid to be a dork. I don't want them to be someone that I wouldn't like now if I met them on the street.
I know that people say, "You're going to love them no matter what, because they're yours," but I want to like them too. This might be a common fear, but it's one I have nonetheless. There, I have blogged about impending fatherhood and my fear that my child will be someone I would have made fun of if we were contemporaries.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tragedy of the Library

So, the water was shut off at work yesterday for about four hours. Those hours weren't so bad for me because I didn't have to "go," but I know what it must have been like for those who did. This got me to thinking about something I've been fleshing out for a while now. I'm not going to explain the thought process that connects this to the water being out, because I'm not sure I can. To name it, the thought I thought was of how the public library is the perfect example of the modern day Tragedy of the Commons.
For those of you who cannot follow links very well, the Tragedy of the Commons, in a nutshell, is the fate in store for property and resources shared equally by all citizens. In Europe, sometime well before anyone who bathed regularly lived there, cities and towns had grazing land set aside for use by everyone. Because anyone could use it, and everyone shared the burden of price but not the rewards of the sale, those to whom it was most profitable grazed cattle with abandon. In other words, they didn't pay for it so they didn't care. Today, it is not the grass that is being treated with disrespect, instead it is information.
Sure, everyone pays for the library. I'm going to ballpark a figure of a couple of dollars a year for this cost, and that's a pretty generous guess. For this paltry sum, everyone has access to free movies, books, music, databases, internet access, air conditioning, heat, restrooms (there, that's how it's connected!!!), chairs, newspapers, help, and someone to talk to (not to mention in-house entertainment, education, default babysitting, and historical preservation). However, since the cost is so low in exchange for the return, those who need it most use it most, and no one values it.
To combat this, libraries generated fines and fees to minimize and punish abuse. The current trend in libraries, however, is to do away with those mean ol' fines (which, honestly, weren't that effective anyway). With every fine amnesty day, the library damns itself to the muddy ruins of the commons. My previous blog about DVDs illustrates this point clearly. Why should someone be careful when handling something if it's owned by the library? Regardless of what you're thinking right now about how you don't think that way (and I know you are), others DO, consciously or not. This, not to be too redundant, is actually what ensures the tragedy of the commons.
This is also why libraries draw the freaks and outcasts of society (plus the homeless), but that's another blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sorry, This One's Not Really Library Related

I have no idea why Doraemon is offering this well known phrase of customer service, but it was the best image I could think of to illustrate this blog. I want to talk (type?) for a little bit about what motivates people to do their jobs. That's not really it though... I want to talk about what should motivate people to do their jobs well.
I was at a team building class a few days ago, mainly because I got paid for it, but also to learn a little bit more about effective management. During the class, a member of the group regales us with an anecdote about how he gave great customer service to someone who, unknown to him, was in a position of great influence. Long story short, the moral was: "Always give good customer service, because you never know who you might be serving." I think this is a horrible way to think and a horrible thing to teach people.
You should always provide the best customer service, that is true. My argument is that FEAR should not be the motivator. This is the idea behind secret shoppers. I have no problem with the library using secret shoppers to gague the true level of customer service, but I do have a problem when they tell us to always give great service because it could be the secret shopper. I don't care if it's the mayor, assistant city manager, director, or resident of the local shelter; I give the same level of service to everyone. I don't do it because I'm afraid word might get back to my boss that I did a subpar job. I do it because it's my job, and I take pride in my work.
I am finding, more and more, as I meet more people that this seems to be an uncommon driving force. It is true that I wouldn't do what I do if they didn't pay me, but since they do I think they're entitled to the best I have to give. I couldn't live with myself if I end the day knowing that I left something on the table... well I could live with myself, I just couldn't sleep well. My question is, where are the others like me?
I know some, I'm friends with them. I work with some of them. I live next door to one. Are the others missing a gene, or lacking that elective class that we all took in highschool called "Work Ethic: How to be Considered Employable by Spencer." Perhaps this is what we need. Education on the importance of work ethic. I've been considering writing a book lately for managers with hiring duties on how to spot employees that have it... that one's still kicking around in the old noodle. Seriously though, think about how different things would be if we found a way to identify people with such work ethic and weed the others out of the workplace... or better yet, instill this value in everyone before they get into the workforce!
It makes me wonder what those people that just don't seem to care tell themselves at night... or if they think about it at all. Now, I've had crappy jobs. I used to make bathtubs for trailer houses, I waited tables, I bussed tables, I made fried chicken for PopEyes, I've sifted through garbage to find accidentally discarded forks... anyway, my point is, I didn't want to be there most of the time, but I made a deal with them that my time was their's in exchange for a predetermined amount of money and a few stipulations. Once the deal was struck, nothing made me stay with it. I had no contract. I just lived up to my word.
I know I'm not really special in this respect, and I didn't mean to imply so. I could have used other people as examples; it's just that I'm most familiar with myself. I'm just wanting to offer this advice to those out there who wonder why they don't get ahead, or pay raises, or praise, or anything. Regardless of how well you think you do your job, look at what motivates you to do it. Do you work out of fear of being fired, or fear of anything really? Or do you do it well because of pride and work ethic? I'm going to bet, if you look at it honestly, you probably do it out of fear. If not, you have a horrible boss and should quit right after you get another job lined up.
Sorry that this wasn't about the library. It's just my two cents this time.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Problem with DVDs.

I was watching Apocalypto last night on a copy that I had checked out from the library, after months spent on the waiting list. Everything is fine, no skips or jumps, until 1 hour and 8 minutes (+/-) into the movie. Then, the DVD stalls, skips ahead 1 minute, stalls again, skips ahead 20 minutes, stalls again, and skips ahead another 30 minutes. This process took about 30 seconds. Luckily, I was able to remove the disc, clean it, and finish watching to movie without any more problems. This is not always the case.
DVDs are too sensitive in their current form to provide a shelf life that justifies their cost to the library. Sure, they check out exponentially more times than most books, but only if they find a way to escape the scratches. A library with, many times a day, check out a DVD that cannot function fully and properly. Would they check out a book that is missing pages? Or completely water damaged? No. The difference is that library staff can much more easily spot books and other media that are damaged, whereas detecting damaged DVDs is more art than science. Also, it seems as if patrons have come to expect nothing more from their library (beggars can't be choosers?) and fail to inform staff of inferior products and services. Again, they don't take this same course with books. What makes DVDs so different?
First of all, patrons probably understand the fragile nature of DVDs much better than they do of books. I'm sure they own many DVDs scratched beyond playability. Also, libraries can purchase books with special bindings intended to put up with wear and tear of library use. Library format DVDs (to the best of my knowledge) do not exist. Perhaps the material used to make scratch resistant glasses should be employed to make scratch resistant DVDs. This would make them more expensive, but at $29.99 now, would twice the price for 4 times the life be a bad deal?

The real solution, of course, was murdered by the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I don't want to sound all crazy about works of art belonging to the public and all, but libraries have proven to be an exception. Legally, libraries can reproduce DVDs in order to keep the original copy in the "archives" and circulate the duplicate. If this was the case, as soon as the duplicate is damaged, libraries could throw it away and replace it immediately at very little cost. Though this is legal, it is illegal to even own a machine or software able to bypass the copy protecting encryption (even in the most basic and useless forms)that is standard on nearly every DVD produced. It is actually illegal to even attempt to find out how to perform such a bypass.
What I guess I am saying is... I don't know. I hate it when I can't watch a movie I got from the library because the same format that gives superior picture and sound is too fragile for viable everyday use. It's not a matter of treating them better when you check them out (well, it kind of is... but that's another blog entirely). It's a matter of a library buying something they expect to break, with full knowledge that it won't last long, simply to have it. What a waste of money. Want to read another blog? Go back to the start of this one and replace the "DVD"s with "paperback books."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Two Types of Librarians (Of Which I Have NEVER Met Either)

In an effort to fully flesh out the classification of the different human elements found in public library service, I have decided to define types as I identify them, leaving the complications associated with establishing an in depth system to the side for a moment.

I decided to start with two types of librarians, which I am lucky enough to only have witnessed at other libraries and never had to work with...

The first group are known (by me) as the SQUATTERS. They want to stay where they are and not change a thing. They have spent years of their hardest work (?) to prepare procedures and a corporate culture that ensures no change is possible. They only thing that will dislodge them is time combined with a concerted effort by their successors. The squatters were not always this way, however. They used to desire to change, to do things their way. At some point, they realized that this isn't all it's cracked up to be, and they found, magically, that the spot they were in at that moment was perfect. They then spend their careers trying to keep it that way. They kill innovation via the informal filibuster. They also know every detail of every policy, either because they wrote it or they don't like it. Ironically, their e-mails can often be identified by extremely ornate backgrounds, fonts, theme music, and other HTML goodies.

Go figure.

The other type to define today are the
IDEALISTS. These folks are either fresh out of library school, or have recently been reintroduced to the public sector. They expect a library to function smoothly, with rational thought at the reason for rules and policy. They are still blind to the reality of their positions as babysitters and movie finders. They are still waiting for the opportunity to enlighten the masses. They wait so long that helping some high school kid do his homework by showing him how an index works actually passes as a victory.
Librarians can remain idealists forever. They can also, after years of fruitless struggle, morph into a squatter. A third option is that they ride the belief that they can make a difference all the way into a management position. This is how they become the nemesis of the squatter. Once in management, they find that they are too busy listening to the complaints of squatters and the ideas of the new idealists to get anything done other than scheduling.
The other option for idealists? Complete burnout and profession change.
They can be identified by the tired smile on their faces and the frustrated tone of their e-mails.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Inner Workings of the Public Library Part I

The Life Cycle of a Public Library Book

I have taken it upon myself to detail the life cycle of a public library book in order to form a response to a frequently asked question: "Whach yall do wit dose ode books and stuff?"

If a library book were alive, its point of conception would be what is known as the ordering phase. A librarian is courted by publishers and vendors via trade and advertisement publications. With the gloss of the cover like a twinkle in the eye, the black and white pictures of the book like a lover's promise, the publisher's review like a boastful suitor's speech, the librarian cannot help but fall in love.
(Much like real life, however, the librarian can order a book simply to fill a need. The resulting purchase is usually made after the librarian is met with selection list lacking anything better. In fact, this is much more often the case... at least with library books.)
The next stage is known as processing, or, sometimes, pre-processing. This is the equivalent of a naming ceremony, the confirmation, and the circumcision. The book is stamped with the name of the library to ruin its chances at ever being considered valuable. Thus a promising first edition is forced to serve the public good. A security device is installed, and a sticker to aid location is attached. The book, freshly aware of its place in the library, is now ready for introduction to its public.
From here the book can follow along two very different paths that lead to a shared end. The path of the unpopular book is one of dust and inertia. Occasionally someone will check it out, but not enough to warrant the shelf space it occupies. This book will be "weeded" due to limited number of checkouts. An alternative to this would be that the books inertia carries it in obscurity until someone notices the information it provides is outdated or proven incorrect. Then it is weeded.
The second path is one of extreme popularity. The book actually checks out so much that it needs to be removed from the collection, often before most patrons even know the library owns it. This counterintuitive measure must be taken. Books that check out at a higher than average rate are likely to be damaged through use. Broken spines, loose and missing pages, water (coffee, urine, kool-aid) damage, eaten by a dog (baby), stolen, vandalized, or other forms of destruction await these books. Since most of these titles are ordered in multiples, these books are weeded and often not replaced. Not thanked for their sacrifices, these books disappear quietly, with little more than a gasp caused by their condition as a eulogy.
(I shall not attempt to judge which is the more depressing path. Instead, I will find solace in the fact that books are inanimate objects that possess no feelings or desires whatsoever.)
After the book is weeded, it again finds itself on one of two possible paths. The first path is reserved for books whose condition may allow them further service. These books are typically sold for pennies on the dollar to help fund the library. One final sacrifice for those who didn't already give everything to their duty. You can find these in "Friends of the Library" book sales. If you buy a book that has a library stamp on it, paired with a "withdrawn" stamp, this was its past.
The books that are too broken to sell for two bits are recycled. By recycled, as a matter of remaining truthful, I mean thrown away. These books are usually deposited into black, thick trash bags so that no one sees them during their final journey. For some reason, people can get upset when they discover that their library destroys books. (I believe I have explained enough so that it is understood that the library doesn't destroy books, it simply removes books that have been destroyed.)
The vacant shelf space left by these books must be filled, which brings us back full circle.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

As a librarian, granted a pretty inexperienced one, I have discovered quite a few things about an entrenched bureaucracy recently. More on that later... I think we need a little background info first.

I graduated with my MIS in December of 2006. Since that time (and a little before) I have been working in a large public library system as someone near the bottom of the totem pole in my caste. For those of you who are unaware, the library professions are separated into 5 very segregated classes. While each class definitely has subgroups (which I am currently working on classifying fully)they are so segregated that I shall, from now on, refer to them strictly as castes. They are listed in order of salary, greatest to least.

(the descriptions below are solely stereotypical, and should be treated however you desire)

The top level caste is known as administration. Perhaps they were librarians once, but they are no longer. Not that this is a bad thing. The function of this caste is to herd the other castes toward the goal, or mission, of the library. There are many other, dirty, nasty, sweaty responsibilities too, but since I don't understand almost anything that they do, we shall just leave it with the generalization that they run the library.

Next are the librarians. Members of this caste vary widely in age and responsibility, but share certain characteristics. You can often find them in meetings. They can find you what you need if they want to. This is not to say that members of the other castes are unable to do this, but more along the lines that this is what this caste does. There is also programming, reader advisory, babysitting, etc.; but, mainly these are the information seekers and disseminators. It should be mentioned that, as we speak, this caste is involved in a civil war of sorts. The future of this group hangs in the balance. On one side sits that "old guard" who might not actually want to help you anymore. The information you want to find might exist in a medium that was invented long after they stopped keeping themselves up to date with current trends. They have, rightfully so(?), earned their pensions and want to be left alone (or talk about books with their chronological peers). Pacing up and down the other side of the divide are members of the "cult of technology". These librarians want to overhaul everything so that patrons (that's what libraries call customers and the homeless) can get at everything they need to know without getting out from in front of the public access computer screen. They are the Gods of the Diest's library. They hope to set things in motion, tweaking once in a while, and watch the beauty of library life as it unfolds. "The more the patrons can do for themselves," this group says, "the more time we can spend doing important things." These important things seem to include figuring out other ways for patrons to help themselves. Of course, most librarians fall in between of these two sides, but what group isn't defined by it's extremes?

The third caste is made up of Clerks. Clerks check out your materials, take your fines, complain at you for leaving disc 2 of that platinum special edition DVD in your player when you returned it on time. They are also the ones that, probably, answer the phones when you call, and relate your situations to management. This group can hold a lot of power, and they're not afraid to use it. They, generally, do not help you find something, unless you just returned it, or you never really returned it at all and you're trying to fool them. They don't like things to change, and can often be found explaining how past procedures are better than current ones.

The 4th caste's members are known as paiges. They do not page people. They do shelve books. They shelve the heck out of books. Good paiges make clean, nice and easily navigable libraries. Bad paiges make libraries where nothing can be found, and is often still in the back. They require no special training, education, or experience. I would like to call them the unsung heroes of the library world, but too many of them would be too quick to point this fact out themselves. Smaller library systems do without this caste, adding their duties to those of the clerks, or subsisting with work performed by the next, and final, caste.

Finally, there are the volunteers. There are two main types, both of which should be on the endangered species list. The first type is court ordered. These are people who have to perform some sort of community service, and would rather work indoors at the library than scraping gum off of toilet stalls at the rec, center. The second type are far more uncommon, much more rare than anything you can order at your favorite steakhouse. These are the volunteers who are actually volunteering their time, not giving it in exchange for something else. Volunteers can be amazing or horrible. They can save you money, or waste your time, do the things no one else will, or do nothing much at all. They are the great gamble in the library, or they would be if they cost anything.

This is the underlying nature of the society of public libraries. The constant push and pull between these groups, caused somewhat by the extreme, nearly impenetrable, caste system, has led to the state of public libraries today. I'm sure I'm missing whole groups of people who will feel extremely left out and offended by the fact that I don't realize that the library wouldn't function without them.

Soon I will enlighten you on the way that libraries actually work (or rather how the interactions between these caste members and the public allow the library to float along with no end in sight.)

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