Library School angst

Where O where should this nice person go to library school?
I got this letter the other day:

I was thinking about applying to the Library and Information Science program at Wayne State University here in Detroit and was wondering if you had an opinion on their program? I’d love to go to U of M but I don’t think I’d get in nor do I have the money to go there. Just wondered if you knew or heard about Wayne State’s program.

Please keep in mind that I am not a career counselor, and am in fact a big web designer hypocrite who hasn’t spoken to a patron in years. If that doesn’t bother you, read on.

First of all: Nobody has the money to go to Big Expensive Schools like the University of Michigan. I certainly didn’t. My friends didn’t. Except maybe that one woman who wore expensive suits. The rest of us did three things: Took out Loans, Got Scholarships, and Worked Our Butts Off. Look, see? No butt.

Don’t worry about funding yet. Worrying about funding comes later and will represent one of the many delightful themes of graduate school. Worry about getting in first. Both schools are reputable and, I assume, have some sort of decent admission standards. Still, buck up little appleblossom. This ain’t rocket science. Write a decent essay, take the GRE a couple of times if you need to and cross your fingers. I’d apply to both schools just to cover your bases.

I suspect from the “here in Detroit” bit, that Wayne is geographically closer to you? This is nothing to sniff at, since driving to a distant city to attend class quickly becomes wearisome. If you are in a position to uproot and go to Ann Arbor, however, U of M is a great school. I have no complaints about my THREE years there (don’t ask). The library students I met were smart, funny, geeky and motivated. The interdisciplinary stuff was good for everyone, and you end up with all sorts of cutting-edge library and life skillz.

I don’t know much about Wayne because

1) it is a library school and I never wanted to be a librarian. Not a traditional librarian anyway, with the patrons, and the books and the reference.

2) it is in Detroit and

3) it isn’t as prestigious as U of M. I know this sounds mercenary, but hey, race you to the upper middle class.

If anyone out there can advise this promising young librarian about the Joys of Wayne State or any stuff I missed, please do.

The Worst Librarian Ever

It’s time to tell the story of The Worst Librarian Ever.

Once upon a time, I was a new employee at Cornell University’s Olin Library. One of my first assignments was to tour the campus libraries and get a sense of the place. As you can imagine, campus library tours are not as popular as say, bong hits at the Tri Delts. Often the tour consisted of three or four people. One ill-fated day, the Olin Library tour consisted of one person: me.

Two of the library’s head muckeymucks guided the tour. One of them, a stern grey-haired woman, will heretofore be known as the Worst Librarian Ever.

The tour proceeded, and the three of us wandered through various rooms. I feigned interest in an array of statistics. Finally we reached a popular section of the library nicknamed The Cocktail Lounge, a white 1970’s style reading room filled with comfy chairs and tables arranged for group work. Students sat reading, listening to music, and talking.

I was relieved. Here at last was a comfortable space where the real life of the library took place, away from the fluorescent back-rooms of library administration. I wondered what people were reading. A buzz of conversation filled the room.

My tour guide kept up her spiel about circulation and holdings, until The Worst Librarian Ever suddenly cut her short. “Excuse me” she said, striding away from our small group. A lone student lay across two of the comfy chairs with a book on his chest. The comfy chairs, which I suspect were chosen for the express purpose of being comfy, had put him to sleep.

The Worst Librarian Ever leaned over the student and poked him awake. I watched in horror as he woke with a start to stare into her blazing eyes. The Worst Librarian Ever, pausing for effect, raised her finger, pointed and said in a voice so terrible its echo caused students in surrounding states to drop out of Library School:

“Take your feet off that chair RIGHT NOW young man!”

I winced. The entire room winced. The student took his feet down and put on his headphones. Conversation started up again. The earth continued to turn.

Five years in the future, three of the students in the room find themselves voting down a library millage but can’t quite explain why. Ten years in the future, the young man will be arrested for soliciting a dominatrix to flog him with rubber stamps. Five minutes in the future, I place an emergency call to my friend the Excellent Cornell Librarian.

She explains that the Olin library is open 24 hours. She mentions that The Worst Librarian Ever works an average of 8 hours per day, leaving 16 hours for students to stomp around on the furniture in whatever manner they wish. She confides that in addition to damaging the reputation of librarians to a roomful of future-influential ivy leaguers by loudly eviscerating a fellow student for a trivial infraction, The Worst Librarian Ever didn’t even work in that library.

She was just, you know, helping out.

Librarians Rock on This American Life…sort of

Slobberingly-addictive radio program This American Life featured Michigan Libraries this weekend. I was painting the downstairs closet (braincell-killing homeowner goodness!) when I heard Ira Glass talking about librarians. I emitted a squee of pleasure, and cranked up the radio, leaving a bright white thumbprint on the volume knob.

Bill Harmer, the Teen Librarian of the Baldwin Public Library had the amazingly fucking brilliant idea to book a really good band, The High Strung (I went to college with vocalist Josh Malerman!) in libraries across Michigan in an effort to reverse the reputation of libraries as uptight, fussy places where No Fun Can Be Had.

Sadly, the segment showed how far we have to go on that front. Though Ira Glass lovingly described the concerts, many librarians and library workers came off sounding…well…like frumpy librarians. I winced when a woman addressed a group of 9-14 year olds with the globally-annoying “Hellooo boys and girls” and spoke to them in a sing-songy voice. I cringed when circulation workers plugged their ears at the icky rock music.

You could HEAR the sweater sets. Are we really that bad?

Still, it was a great idea, and it sounds like it was wildly successful. You should write to Bill Harmer and thank him for not being beaten down by the truncheon of public service and having such magnificent ideas.

For future reference, I’m thinking of putting together a handy conversion chart for librarians on How Not to Sound Uptight. Contributions are welcome. Here’s a start:

Instead of saying: “Hellooo boys and girls”
Say: “Hi you guys”
Lesson:
Pointing out the diminutive age of your audience is rude. Singsong voices reveal your own insecurity.

Instead of saying: “Teens”
Say: Teenagers. People. High school kids. Yutes. Jailbait. Anything but “Teens”.
Lesson: Saying “Teens” makes you sound like a nitwit. You might as well grip a pipe and denounce Communism. I’m just sayin’.

Flintstyle

Friends, we need to have a little talk. Judging from some of your emails, many of you are Woefully Ignorant of one of the most important debates going on the world today. I refer to the fight between Flint-style coneys and Detroit-style coneys. Apparently there is a place claiming to be “Angelo’s” located in shiny Ann Arbor (a yuppie Detroit suburb with delusions of grandeur) selling some vile mockery of a coney dog. I’m here to tell you that this is WRONG. Coneys belong to Flint. Flint invented coneys. Specifically, coneys belong to a little place called Angelo’s.

CUE NOSTALGIC MUSIC

From the 1970’s on, Flint’s Angelo’s Coney Island restaurant was a meeting-place of cultures. On a given night you could see rich old women in furs, bikers, prostitutes, gang members, suburb punk rockers (the quasi-urban angst!), and the mayor eating side-by side in its red vinyl benches. The waitresses coughed a lot and if you were really nice, you might get a tobacco-stained smile. They were open 24 hours, every day except Christmas, until the health department made them close for an hour every night to clean. There were fights in the parking lot. You could get fries with gravy. The signs, menu and prices hadn’t changed for 30 years.

What was the attraction? The unchanging ambiance and the coneys. Ah, the coneys. A coney dog, dear reader who wasn’t fortunate enough to be born in Flint, is a Koegel’s hot dog (made with real innards!) with a dry spicy meat sauce, finely chopped raw onions, and mustard. Eat it. It’s good. Get two, you might as well.

There are two genres of Coney dogs: Flint-style and Detroit-style. Detroit-style is all runny and nasty, just a dog with chili on top. Flint-style on the other hand, is coney perfection. These days, the original ones can be found at Tom Z’s coney island downtown. Accept no substitutes.

When GM has a strike, Flint women cook up sauce in a crock pot, chop up onions, and deliver coneys to the picket line. Flint kids go to Angelo’s before prom, carefully lifting their ballgowns off the floor.

A few years ago, Angelo’s was sold. The new owners fired the coughing waitresses, dressed up the new ones in “Angelo’s” t-shirts, took down the old yellow menus, raised prices, franchised the place, changed the food, and generally fucked everything up.

Fortunately, the Angelo’s-shaped hole in the universe has ushered in a new era. During my last visit, I saw dozens of new coney places that had opened up. Flint coneys are everywhere now. I remain hopeful.

Thus endeth the tale of the Vastly Superior Flintstyle coney. Anybody has anything different to say about the quality of the Flinttown dog, then come on up here and say it. I’ll fight ya. Come on. You. Right now. Flint!

Stay right there.

My parents visited this weekend, bringing birthday presents with them. As usual, these gifts were thoughtful, appropriate, kind, and Extremely Heavy.

It all started in a few years ago. I had recently moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for graduate school, and had increased my distance from “home” by about 30 minutes. Ever-supportive, my parents would pile in the car on weekends and we would all have lunch at Zingermans. However, the holidays revealed an unusual pattern. Instead of the usual paperbacks and gift certificates, I started receiving Very Heavy Things. A leaded glass picture frame weighing about 15 pounds. Hardbacked reference books. Anvils.

My latest move to Ithaca has upped the ante. The trip is now eight hours long, and for my birthday this year I received a pair of six ton jack stands and an iron tea kettle. I suspect this will be followed by an armoire and a set of shotputs.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my parents are slowly building an anchor. Soon I will be forced to remain, tethered to my home by a series of carefully-placed items too heavy to fit in the moving van.

Designing for hyper-attentive cyborg children

cyhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.spell.gifborg childI got this in my email today:

What children can teach us: Lessons learned from the trenches of digital libraries“…developing digital libraries that support young people in querying, browsing, and reading scanned materials.”

It all sounds very impressive until you click the link. Look at that thing! It’s like getting stabbed in the eyeballs with suck! How can these people sleep at night?

This is a perfectly good children’s resource that is absolutely hidden from children. What is the focal point of the page? The word “Advanced” forgodsake. Why are there four search options? Do they actually think children care enough to distinguish between different search criteria? Who are these children? Can I have one?

I can’t even begin to list the mistakes they are making in this interface. Where is the content? I see three books. Why is there so much text? I don’t want to read that badly-formatted crap, and I’m a grown-up. Why is 98% of the navigation dedicated to links that are of absolutely no interest to children? Executive Summary? Yeah, my kid’s gonna click on that one. Why didn’t they hire a professional web designer? They make a huge deal about how kids “designed” the site, but they didn’t bother to honor those kids’ contributions by hiring a decent web developer. They’ve got more than 5 million dollars, they can afford it. In the time it took to write their complete curatorial policy (conveniently linked on the FRONT PAGE) they could have at least changed the default link color.

Once you actually find the content (just click “Simple Search” and chase the badly-written JavaScript pop-up around the screen until it works! It’s obvious! Cyborg children love to search!) the interface settles down a bit. The links related to the grant go away, and the library experiments with some innovative ways to find books, by color, length, etc. Good stuff. Except except except the graphics are so shitty and the labels are so poorly thought-out (“Real Animal Characters” rather than “Animals”, “Imaginary Animal Characters” rather than “Pretend Animals”) that it just all falls apart.

This site was designed for librarians, not for children.

another oneHumor me and compare it to nick.com (a favorite among the kids we researched in grad school). The big difference between the two is, on this site you can click absolutely anywhere and find something satisfying. You don’t even need to click. Information is conveyed by rollover sounds and animations. I’ve personally witnessed kids fight with each other over headphones in order to hear these sounds.

Look, I know I’m being an ass, and this is a great resource and these are good people and I’m going to get hate mail, but somebody has to say it.

It’s not enough that we are lovely librarians who care sooooo much about children. It’s not enough that we put all of this great content up on the interweb. It’s not enough that we are overworked researchers who will have to write tedious papers about the project to justify our tenure.

We need to run everything we do through a filter that asks: “If I click on this without a Master’s degree in Library Science, will it piss me off?” We need to acknowledge that design matters. We need to remove ourselves from our collections. We need to design websites that don’t mock the resources they contain. We need to do these things because otherwise all of our efforts are worthless. We need to design websites that don’t suck, because otherwise the kids that we care so much about are going to wander off and smoke crack. And it’s going to be our fault.

Cat up tree. Seriously.

Meyow meyow…MEYOW!

I’m getting in my car to go to work when I hear pitiful cat sounds coming from above my head. Waaaay above my head. 33 feet above my head. I know this because it is exactly eight feet taller than our tallest ladder. Which I got out when I realized that this was the same cat I had heard outside the previous day. Making his total time up in the tree at least 32 hours. Making me worry that he would starve to death up there. Making me get out the ladder.

I get out the ladder, some cat food, and my best kitty-calling voice, but nothing works. I fall off the ladder and land on my back in a pile of leaves. Cat food flies everywhere. The cat is still meyowing, and I’m late for work.

I call the Cayuga Heights fire department’s non-emergency number and am connected with a sympathetic woman in the village office. A few minutes later the fire department shows up. I spend about five minutes apologizing for bringing them out on such a dumb call, but they appear excited. One of the guys has a digital camera and takes photos as they lash my ladder to the tree and climb up to rescue the cat.

The cat is rescued. A kind neighbor calls around and finds someone who might own him. I stuff the cat into our cat carrier and haul him down the street. In spite of his ordeal, this cat is still seriously overweight. The nutball potential owner has apparently forgotten that his similar-looking cat DIED A YEAR AGO and sends me on my way. I haul the growling cat back down the street and put him in our downstairs office. I feed him. He eats faster and more heartily than any cat I’ve ever seen.

Anybody want a cat?

In which Metafilter links and I fret

EEE! I’m quite excited about being linked on Metafilter, but was it just me, or did some snarky person imply that the name Librarian Avengers is a possessive plural? I’m so confused. There aren’t even any adjective-noun agreement issues, and hello, avengers serves as a collective noun anyway. It’s like saying “dental hygienists” or “sports team.” This is really bugging me people. I’m wasting valuable rant time here reading linguistics texts and trying to figure this out. Besides, I stole the name from the Lesbian Avengers so am I really to blame?

Oh wait, I just realized that the snarky person was being snarky about the entry below mine. Never mind.

Hmm. Or maybe they weren’t. Hell.

A few weekends ago the charming Alexandra came out to visit. Although she, Pedro, and I all have degrees from the University of Michigan’s School of Information and took a few library and archives classes, none of us really consider ourselves librarians in any sort of traditional work-in-a-library way. This might be of interest to any of you potential library school students: Information School can lead you to choose strange and unusual jobs. Beware!

Anyway, while she was here we went out to a local sheep farm and met the nicest people, dogs, sheep, and pigs. We don’t really have access to stuff like this back in metro Detroit, so we got all excited and Alexandra took lots of pictures. And since Alexandra is a champion craftsperson, in a few weeks one of those sheep will be turned into a sweater or something. I’ve always thought that if some sort of Y2K event occurs, we are going to load up the bees in the Jeep and drive to wherever Alexandra is. She’ll take care of us. She would just knit up a nice four-bedroom house, and then cook a six-course meal out of acorns and dandelions.

If some horrible Y2K type event DOES occur, Ithaca is actually a rather nice place to be, considering the amount of locally grown food and the homebrew philosophy that sort of permeates the place. Mmm, homebrew. Gotta go.

That Reference Compulsion

So my friend Clay (of reference desk fame) and I have just gotten out of our dance class, and we are talking about books. A woman overhears us and starts talking about a book she is reading on the subject of Jack the Ripper.

“What was that book?” she asks, “The one they made a movie out of?”

At this point I should pause and remind you that neither of us were in any way identifiable as librarians, nor were we at work, where we might have had a contractual obligation to answer this woman’s question. Yet answer it we did, with alacrity.

We pipe up, “Oh! you must mean the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore,” and our cover is blown. We have been exposed as professional know-it-alls. Any chance we might have had to pose as members of another, sexier profession has been lost.

We couldn’t just say “huh” like normal people. Nope, had to jump in there with the full bibliographic citation.