Friday, December 11, 2009

break time!

It's the last week of classes? Whoa. Uh ...

Whoa. When did that happen? It feels like only yesterday that we were schlepping a few tons of lemonades and goodies outside to greet the arriving freshmen and their families and doing our best not to sweat too much. Now here we are in December, it's the last week of classes, and pretty much everyone who matters on campus (i.e., students) is in the process of slowly slinking off to their respective holiday destinations. Of course, we've still got finals week, but who cares about those?

We survived!

I have to admit that this was my first full Fall semester. I arrived last November right before Thanksgiving, so honestly didn't see much of the onslaught all the other Library staff had just gone through. They warned me all through the past year, but honestly ... how busy could it possibly be?

I feel stupid. And tired. But good! We saw a lot of students in here over the last few months, taking full advantage of what we have to offer. We spent a few weeks bugging students, faculty, and staff alike to share their feelings about us, with interesting results. It seems people appreciate having us here, but are dubious about the building itself, which is a bit like an old warhorse that can't tell left from right (just try finding the bathrooms around here ... ). Not an unfair assessment, but the Fall semester has, so far, left us feeling pretty good.

Before I go on to describe what we'll be doing once the semester officially ends, I just had to plug another fantastic English book after last week's Origins of the Specious: Word Nerd.

Unlike Origins, Word Nerd's not a narrative text; it's actually a lot closer to an actual dictionary, albeit one that discusses surprising definitions and word factoids. For instance, did you know that the word "absurd" comes from Latin? Ab- is a prefix meaning "completely," while -surdus means "deaf!" Apparently, the original sense was "deaf to the truth" or "deaf to the voice of reason." It really makes sense -- in those times, the vast majority of the population was illiterate, so tradition and, in some schools, education were passed on orally and retained strictly by memory. The ability to hear had a much bigger premium placed on it in that era than in our highly-visual times, so someone who could hear but refused to listen was seen as contravening prevailing norms -- hence, "absurd."

Mostly, Word Nerd's great for people who like esoteric words, like "pelage" for the "fur, hair, wool, etc., of a mammal;" funny usages, such as "cube" for "an extremely conservative person;" interesting origins, such as "urchin," which originally meant "hedgehog," "goblin," or "elf;" and plain useless stuff, such as knowing that "hesperian" can be used in place of "western," along with "boreal," "ortive," and "austral," for "northern," "eastern," and "southern," respectively -- but only if referring to the act of rising in any one of those directions!

It isn't the kind of book you'd actually read for pleasure, but it's pretty fun to skim through for word nerds, appropriately enough.

So what's happening with the Library and your librarians over the winter break? Plenty.

The Library
We've been busy getting people to take surveys so we can check up on how we're doing and figure out what people want this year. There have been a lot of results, so we'll be spending the break on getting those results together, figuring them out, and deciding how to respond to the feedback we've gotten so far. We'll also be planning our outreach to various groups before and during the Spring semester.

We'll also be losing one of our librarians next summer; Jane Rutherford is retiring. It's an exciting time for her! It's also an exciting time for those of us who are still going to be around; it's a great opportunity to reassess our priorities, examine how we're providing our services, and figure out how we can best meet everyone's needs in response to the changes that are going on around us.

We'll also be hard at work writing LibGuides for new courses as well as new and old resources. Last semester saw some strong LibGuides usage, and we're looking to build on that.

Diana Gates
Diana has three major projects for the Deaf Collection, which includes everything deaf-related. Out-of-print materials and foreign materials are going to be a big focus. She's also planning to continue the hunt for deaf people from the past and finding publications or productions to add to the collection, one of her favorite parts of the job, although it can be time-intensive. Another project involves contacting deaf schools to obtain copies of their yearbooks to fill in gaps in the collection. The third project is deciding which of 3000 u-matic videotapes should be preserved and transferred into digital format. And, of course, she plans to prepare for a new semester and focus on other tasks involved.

Laura Jacobi

Cleaning. Laura will be doing a lot of cleaning. Her files, the Service Desk area, the Library's Web site, call numbers 360-369 (social problems and services), and our standing orders, which are essentially things that we get on a recurring basis, like encyclopedias, almanacs, directories, and bibliographies. Many of those are updated yearly and keep our Reference section full and up to date. However, these days, those items don't see much use, so we're reducing the money we spend on these and applying that money to other, more heavily-used services.

Laura's also responsible for scheduling librarians on the Service Desk; when the holiday period rolls around, people start taking time off, and things can get hopelessly complicated between all the subs, changing hours, and varying levels of student use. This necessitates making a new schedule from scratch once everyone's holiday plans are finalized. In addition to that, of course, we've got a whole new semester coming up, and individual librarians' schedules can change depending on new weekly obligations, student assistant availability, and operating hours, so an overall schedule for the Service Desk needs to be written for that, too. No shortage of stuff to do!

Jane Rutherford
More LibGuides, plus, as the Library's resident Web-based potentate, she'll be spending the break working on the Web site. She'll also be planning out a big meeting with the faculty in one of her departments to discuss the curriculum and materials to order. Through all of that, she'll also start the process of cleaning out her office, transferring data from her old computer, and generally getting ready to retire.

Patrick Oberholtzer
Patrick plans to order new items for his subject areas, which seem to be multiplying, in addition to weeding older, outdated books from his parts of the collection. Since a lot of what he does relates to math and the sciences, this seems like a good idea! He'll also be meeting with faculty in different departments to discuss changes in the curriculum and work on some LibGuides (one of our big projects for the break) for History & Government.

In January, Patrick's also heading to Boston for the ALA Midwinter Conference, an event eagerly anticipated by librarians everywhere. Unless, of course, it's in a place like Boston in a month like January ... but it's still exciting! He plans to attend workshops on assessing information literacy, next-generation catalogs, and providing reference services in the digital age. He'll also be trolling the exhibition floor for any new products and databases for the Library, focusing specifically on stuff relating to developing countries and biology.

Jim McCarthy
What am I doing? Mostly drinking rum-laced eggnog, dodging snowflakes, and looking for holiday-themed videos of kittens on YouTube.

Okay, maybe not. I am visiting my family for Christmas, though -- spending a few days in sunny Florida is, I think, just what the doctor ordered! I'll also be checking through my files, looking for missing books in my subject areas that may need to be replaced, getting ready to undergo another big weeding project from the parts of the collection relating to English and Linguistics, and writing LibGuides for some classes and the Literary Resource Center, a terrific database focused on literature and all related pursuits. It's seen a surprisingly good amount of use already for something we've only had for a month, but I plan to promote it to faculty and staff over break, along with a few other databases that should be used more heavily than they are. There are also a few existing guides that need to be revised, updated, and expanded.

I'll also be working on ordering new stuff, talking with faculty about shifting focus to certain parts of the collection, and doing a little work related to the Library's Web site. More on that later. Also planning out a few new displays for the Spring, and possibly setting up a few fun workshops, both early in the semester to get people's minds off the winter and later to help with the stress of getting ready for graduation or plain old all-around school-related stress.

Oof. Students are lucky. They get a whole freakin' month off. Still, we're better off than most corporate drones -- only in academia can one get at least a week off every year without cutting into their vacation time! We're all looking forward to the holidays and getting started on the behind-the-scenes stuff that we don't usually have time for in the middle of the semester, and when everyone comes back in January, there'll be some new stuff to look forward to!

Heck, it's the end of the semester. No Question of the Week this week or next. If you're leaving early, enjoy your break; if you're sticking around for finals, good luck!

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