Reader's Exchange

September 2011 - Posts

All hat and no titles

"What are you, Queen for a Day?" 

The customer was puzzled.  Granted, my accessory choice for yesterday--a silver plastic tiara--may have been ill-chosen; other responses included "Aww, is it your birthday?", "Theeeere she is..." and "OK, Your Majesty, I've got a reference question."

On the other hand, Monday's selection, a multi-colored baseball cap surmounted by a tiny frog hoisting a large propeller, was uniformly well received, especially when I moved and the propeller commenced twirling. 

Of course, none of the headgear modeled by library staffers this week would have looked appropriate unless you knew that this is Hats Off to Libraries Week.  Co-workers inventoried their closets and emerged sporting Continental tweed numbers, elegantly fashionable chapeaus, vintage and team spirit toppers, camouflage, a chef's hat, and Western lids, for starters.

Extra effort was required, not just to procure a week's worth of headpieces, but also to brave the startled gazes of patrons who are unaware of the campaign and understandably conclude that you are just really eccentric.  Rewards for hat-wearing this week were manifested in grins and delight from customers who appreciate the entertainment value, not to mention the energizing opportunity to step outside one's customary persona.

Cat in the Hat readingAnd speaking of breakouts (as in comfort zones), the next hat I'm considering for try-on is that of Author.  If I can fulfill the goal of National Novel Writing Month--producing a 175-page novel in thirty days--I'll be very proud indeed.  Not of the content, however; I can tell you right now that the NaNoWriMo webpage prediction ("Make no mistake.  You'll be writing a lot of crap") will apply to my manuscript.

It's the outrageously impractical pace of production that appeals to me.  To achieve the 50,000 word goal, I'll have to churn out several pages every single day, which means that ideas will have to flow from my brain to the paper without benefit of polishing or second-guessing.  In other words, there's an automatic excuse if the book is bad.  And it will be.

In hopes of reducing the awfulness quotient of My First Try, I'm consulting books from the library's collections:

  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them
  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
  • Is Life Like This?  A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months

One has to appreciate the irony of relying on nonfiction books in order to create fiction.  Come to think of it, if my novel results in the miserable quality that I'm anticipating, it'll be classified as nonfiction anyway--humor.

Keys to the city include control, alt, and delete

You've heard the same travel advice I have: take along a supply of water to prevent dehydration on a long flight; make photocopies of your passport; allow an extra hour at the airport for international trips, etc.  I followed most of it, too, though unfortunately not the bit about packing an extra laptop battery.  So there I was, only two days into my stay in the UK with no computer access.

And isn't it amazing how many uses you can discover for the internet when you can't get to it?  Brochures for local attractions offer brief sketches, directing you to "visit our website for further details".  That camera I purchased just prior to the trip was accompanied by a skimpy "Getting Started" flyer.  Guess where I could find more specific instructions?

Worst of all, though, was the Email Deficit.  Though 99% sure that no family or pet emergencies would occur during our absence, with no incoming evidence to the contrary I could imagine any number of dire goings-on.Salisbury street

And then I thought of the public library.  I'd noticed it during our first walk into Salisbury, either thanks to librarian radar or because its crisp green-and-white exterior hit a rare note of modernity amid beautifully medieval storefronts.  Like most librarians, I'm compelled to survey other operations even when I'm on vacation, but at least I try not to drag others along.  With my husband occupied at his conference, I set out for the library and approached the Reference Desk.

Are nonresidents, I inquired, able to use library internet stations?  In my usual position on the other side of the desk here in Round Rock, I can respond with a "yes".  Now that I'm asking, I realize that it's a significant expectation.  Computers cost money, as do connections and staff to maintain functionality.  Why should I expect to use all those services for free?

Happily, the librarian assures me that I'm welcome as a computer guest.  After supplying photo ID, I'm logged in for one 30-minute session.  That's my limit for the day--plenty of time to email and stay connected. 

As I finish and thank the librarian, I comment that we have sometimes heard cardholders question whether these resources should be offered to outsiders when the locals can always use more time on the workstations.  "We've heard that, as well," was the response.

I admired the Salisbury Library's "Contactpoint" theme, TV-screen announcements, and clever placement of "Just Returned" racks.  Our library (amid more recently historic surroundings) is, at least for now, able to offer guests an entire hour of computer time.

Neither institution can promise a no-waiting scenario, however.   The frequency of demand and the importance of now-basic internet service prove what we've suspected for years--that access for all is, like beautifully preserved structures, a hallmark of civilization.

They who must not be named

Just a guess: at some point during the past couple of weeks, has anyone at your workplace encouraged you to "think outside the box"?  That phrase could become tedious if it weren't such excellent advice. 

It's not just about inventing entirely new concepts.  Sometimes, time-tested solutions arise from unexpected sources. 

The library world hasn't always been quick to identify with the corporate world.  After all, don't we borrow and lend for free, while they market and sell?   We re-use and re-circulate; they urge buyers to upgrade and follow trends.  Now, the best corporations actively promote life-enhancing activities, and we acknowledge the importance of benchmarking, integrating technology, and cultivating leadership.

Some of our library staffers have profited from Jim Collins' Good to Great and Paco Underhill's Why We Buy and The Call of the Mall, not to mention other non-library-oriented books and articles. 

Our love of borrowing pays off in terms of fresh ideas and adapted principles.  And yet I admit that none of my reading from the business world has solved the Reference Desk Branding Issue. 

Only this morning, I was bemoaning this problem with Kate, our new librarian in charge of programming and outreach.  We agreed that "reference" has all the cachet of that other traditionally unhelpful library tag:  "nonfiction".  In both cases, the label signifies less about what's in it for you and more about what isn't included (i.e., in reference work, we don't do in-depth research).

We love working with the folks who've already learned that we look up all manner of things and generally stand ready to assist with answers: what's good to read, which sources work better, and what's new in information.  For the other customers who understandably haven't deciphered "reference" yet, we're auditioning other descriptors.

Geeta's recommendation--adult services--is probably the way to go.  My suggestion (borrowed from current cinema because the corporate world couldn't deliver this time) is based on the belief that, instead of being slightly vague and mysterious, we might as well go whole hog.  Why not simply model ourselves after a highly profitable and beloved movie series and become "They Who Must Not Be Named"?

Then, the most frequent question we'll get is "Where can I buy a hat like that?"

Harry Potter crew