The Sound Of My Own Wheels

Came in for a landing on a wing and a prayer today, after a couple of weeks in a strange bardo of self-doubt, regret and paralysis, unable to put my shoulder to the wheel.

John Reimringer's novel, Vestments, was just what I needed.  Set in St. Paul, Minnesota, it is about a young man sorting himself out: about his difficult father, about his calling, about his confusion.  When I finished it this afternoon, I felt myself again.


Quiet Week

Suddenly, the library has been eerily quiet in the last week or two.  I credit it to a combination of factors:  mild weather first, with highs in the '70's, and second, recently completed branch expansions at two locations, with more public-access PC's to draw people away from the main library.

Beyond that, are there other reasons, such as the increasing use of portable wireless devices; smartphones, tablets, and e-book readers?  Five years ago, the library was a Mecca for after-school teens wanting to access MySpace.  Now, boisterous teens are scarcely to be seen.  Has the public-access desktop PC become outmoded, used only by device-less travelers, the poor, and wireless device owners who need to print something?  I don't know.

Maybe it's just the weather.


Catholic Herald Digital, Skirmish Magazine

I've had the British Catholic Herald on my Bookmarks toolbar for a long time.  It is the only Catholic newspaper that I read regularly.  It is not a mouthpiece for any political ideology, left or right, being simply loyal to the Holy See and dedicated to promoting the Church.  As a former Episcopalian, too, I have been following the the progress of the ordinariate for Anglicans  wishing to enter the Church with their own traditional liturgy.

But I've only read what is available on the web site.  I was reading columnist William Oddie on the new English missal tonight, and he wrote, "...if you don't take the paper, either online or in print, you should; this homepage gives no more than a taste of what you could have: it's worth the price of the paper for the columnists alone."

I've never wanted to subscribe to the Catholic Herald paper edition.  Subscriptions from Europe by mail can be very expensive.  But I thought I would check to see if they had a digital edition now, and they do, with a promotional offer of a year's subscription for £10, (about $16 US), a very good deal.  So I subscribed.

The digital edition is available from Exact Editions, a vendor of digital magazines, and I noticed that they also offer Skirmish Magazine, "the world’s leading multi-period historical re-enactment and living history magazine."  I've written about re-enacting here before, most recently in my Frontierland post.  You can view a sample issue.  I don't think I'll subscribe, but it is amazing how much re-enacting is going on out there.

The sample issue of Skirmish includes an article on a film about the 1863 siege of Vicksburg, which doesn't seem to me a good battle for re-enacting at all.  The Rebs at Vicksburg were blockaded and shelled by gunboats until they surrendered.  What would you do as a re-enactor, live in a mud-hole and eat rats?  My great great granduncle Lacey Castleberry may have been at Vicksburg, where his regiment, the 46th Alabama, surrendered and was paroled.


On Reading Manuals

A co-worker told me today that she had figured out what the "F" in RTFM, from the title of my previous post, meant.  Yes, "Read The Fucking Manual."  She'd never heard the expression.  She'd never heard of the BOFH either.  Talk about a nerd generation gap.

Hacker's Dictionary aka The Jargon File, to the rescue:
RTFM /R-T-F-M/ /imp./
[Unix] Acronym for `Read The Fucking Manual'. 1. Used by gurus to brush off questions they consider trivial or annoying. Compare Don't do that, then!. 2. Used when reporting a problem to indicate that you aren't just asking out of randomness. "No, I can't figure out how to interface Unix to my toaster, and yes, I have RTFM." Unlike sense 1, this use is considered polite. See also FM, RTFAQ, RTFB, RTFS, RTM, all of which mutated from RTFM, and compare UTSL.
Yes, RTFM is rude.  It comes from a time before the Web, when if you were even in a position to ask how to use a computer application, it was assumed that you were in a university setting, that you would know enough to read any instructions provided before asking for help.  Access to the Internet was provided for university students in the form of a UNIX shell account.  I had such an account at FSU in the '90's.  UNIX help was provided with the MAN pages.  If you asked for help without having read the relevant MAN page, you were wasting someone's time.

Ok, we can take the "F" out, and RTM is still legitimate, and more polite.  Read The Manual.  We do a lot of hand-holding at the public library, (with MS Word, for example), but are you doing them a favor if you fix their problem for them, and don't show them how to use the "help"?  Yes, it's less trouble, but they will profit more if you let them control the mouse and talk them through a search in the "help" for their answer.  Don't protect them from the learning curve.


Digital Media: RTFM

I've been replaying in my mind that 75-minute phone call Saturday, in which I helped a woman get OverDrive audio book downloads working on her PC and her iPod.  As good as I felt being able to talk her through it to a satisfactory result, I now think that  was the wrong way to handle it.

I broke our rule:  when the desk is busy, it's not fair to our coworkers to spend more than about ten minutes with someone before we break off and offer to get back with them later.  We used to have an IP who drove me crazy that way, spending a half an hour with someone while I had to scramble to handle everything else.  And on some level I knew it was busy while I was on the phone.  When our volunteer, L, left, she seemed drained, eager to get away.  She and SE had to handle all the other traffic for that 75 minutes.

The thing is, I realized as we went along that the woman had not bothered to read any of the excellent help that OverDrive offers on their page:  the Quick Start Guide, the Digital Help FAQ, the Check Out Assistance.  She had tried to download an audio book without having installed the OverDrive Media Console first.  I should have begun our reference interview by asking her whether she had read the help, and if not, to do so and then call with questions.  The help I provided was basically to read it for her.  I may have been seduced by a desire to play the guru.

It is easy to tell by the number of OverDrive titles that have waiting lists that our digital media are heavily used.  Calls for help are relatively rare.  When they come, they often will be from someone who has leapt before they looked.  An audio book must be like a podcast, they assume.  You just download it and play it.  But it's not that simple, because of Digital Rights Management, (DRM).  You must install the OverDrive Media Console to track your downloads, get licensing permissions, transfer the files to portable devices.  And with Apple devices, like her iPod, you have to change your iTunes configuration as well, to "manually manage music."

She could have saved our time by taking the trouble to read the help.  I could have saved our time by finding out up front whether she had done so.


Blogging Reference

 This was a peculiar Saturday.  Instead of lots of short transactions, I got people who needed lots of help:  with newspaper databases, with microfilm, with online food stamp renewal, with digital media downloads, each taking about twenty minutes, with a marathon phone session lasting well over an hour helping an older woman who was very intelligent but a digital media neophyte get started with OverDrive.  I don't think I have worked so hard for my pay in a long time.

10:00  Open.  A crowd of people spills from the stairs, all rushing to be first in line for AARP tax help.They are soon out of sight.  Only a handful of Internet users take seats this early on a Saturday morn.

PC for Josh.

Where are they doing the taxes?

Where is tax help?

Phone:  Mr. L. needs contact info for Guilford of Maine, upholstery fabric mfgr.

She wants to know status of request for The 17 Day Diet by Mike Moreno.  Requested back in Dec..  Her request is still pending, pub date is 3/15/11.  Says Dr. Phil is "really pushing it."

Phone:  She wants tax help info.

 11:15  Helped man reapply for food stamps, showed another man ProQuest and NewsBank newspaper archives, gave woman lists of black authors, showed Cathy how to turn on numpad,
Phone:  Rosa from Lloyd, wants obit info for Marvin Sease, recently deceased R&B singer, also what kind of peppers mentioned on CBS Early Show Valentine's Day Brunch segment this a.m.
Piquillo Pepper: The name piquillo means "little beak." Traditionally, piquillo peppers are grown in Northern Spain and are hand-picked, then roasted over open fires. The peppers are then peeled, all by hand then packed in jars or tins. The roasting of the pepper gives it a rich, spicy-sweet flavor. (Source: GourmetSleuth.com)
PC's for Kasia and Katrina.

11:47  Demo'd microfilm, show woman how to sign onto PC w card, PC for Ian.

Woman says she's going through a situation with her daughter missing, can she have forms faxed to her here?  Sorry, no.

Following up on e-mail request for autobiog. of singer formerly known as Vanity, Denise Matthews.  After a career of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, she got a new liver and religion.  She self-published Blame It on Vanity in 2004.  It's not available from Amazon and no libraries own it.  Now she's put out a new, deluxe edition, available only through her web site for $50.

Phone:  She wants Frankenstein or, the modern Prometheus, but her child's teacher has specified the Oxford World's Classics edition.  We got plenny Frankensteins, Dover, Bantam, but not that one.

12:05  About lunch time, as soon as L shows up.

1:06  Back from lunch.  I got delayed helping Asian woman download audiobooks to her Olympus Digital Voice Recorder.  She'd been trying NetLibrary.  Didn't want to fool with NL, so showed her OverDrive.  She caught on quickly, was very proficient w her device.

PC for Carrie.

Where to make PC reservation, where is tax help?

She can't find Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell,  Find on shelving cart.

1:30  Noon rush is over.  Several PC's are open.  No book browsers.

Phone:  She wants I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and The Poems of Phyllis Wheatley:  a Native African and a Slave.  Don't have Bird on the shelf at main, copies at branches.  Wheatley is out & couple weeks overdue.  Says she'll call back, doesn't want to place holds.

3:12  Spent about 75 min. on phone w woman doing OverDrive support.  Got her from ABC to having audio book transfer from PC to iPod in progress.  She'll call back if she has any more problems.  Thinks she'll be all right. She was downloading the audio book of Caged Bird, coincidentally.  Maya Angelou spoke at a black history program at FAMU last week.

Girl needs When History is a Nightmare:  Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Stevan M. Weine, and Bosnia:  A Short History by Noel Malcolm.  Take to shelf.

L is gone.

Microfilm demo.

Phone:  What's up w his request for Pain, Pain, Go Away by William Faber and Morton Walker?  Is on order from Ingram.  Also wants info on prolotherapy from Alternative Medicine:  The Definitive Guide by Burton Walker.

Give out plastic bags for books.

PC for Ivan


Phone:  Mr. L. wants address for the Baptist Press.  Not a publisher but a news bureau for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Web site has only e-mail contact, no address, no phone.  Not in Gale Media Directory either.  No luck w Google.  He says he'll try SBC on Monday.

Shelve a few K's from old display.  Between Kellerman, King, Koontz, and Krentz, the K's in fiction are very konstipated, little room.

30 min closing announcement.

How can he find a play by John Millington Synge?  Give him The Complete Works of.

Where are self-help books?  Take to shelf.  Show inspirational books too.

Has PC reservation downstairs.  Can I cancel it?  Wants to be upstairs.  Is Learning Express appropriate for his high school student, for SAT prep?  Yes, give him helpful bookmark.

She wants nursing assistant exam test prep book.  Place hold.

She can't find Sliding Into Home by Kendra Wilkinson.  Find on New Non-Fiction shelves.

Tax form questions, which 1040?  Show handy guide on how to choose.


On Reading the NYT Business Pages

I've read the New York Times for years.  My oldest online account is for access to the NYT, registered at the dawn of the Web in the mid-'90's.  We subscribe to the paper Sunday NYT.

For years I threw out the Business section without a glance, until I noticed that it contained some of the best technology reporting on new products, Internet ventures and competing platforms.  I began to get a better understanding of companies like Google and the "social networks".

Guess what?  They are businesses!  Long before a story appears in the Style section about why everyone loves or hates Twitter, you will have seen a thorough profile in the Business section:  who came up with it, who's backing it, how they plan to make a profit, who the competition is.

There are three tech stories in the Feb. 6 Sunday Business section.  Who's the Boss, You or Your Gadget?, a front-page story, polls corporate executives on how they balance the need for family and down time with the need to be always connected to work.  One woman carries an amazing four devices, "an iPhone and an iPad for family and social life and a Blackberry and a laptop for work."

Why Some Twitter Posts Catch On, And Some Don't is pretty interesting.  It is about a study of "the 500 most popular Twitter hashtags among more than three billion messages posted on Twitter from August 2009 to January 2010."  The article talks about how metrical analyses of Twitter messages and blog posts can offer valuable insights for digital marketing.  If you studied bibliometrics in Library School, you will have a point of connection here.

This week's Digital Domain column, Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension, by Randall Stoss, talks about how even the very best online course cannot replace a relationship between a student and an instructor, and a classroom experience.  This is one of my favorite soapboxes, but the exciting information I took away from this piece is that many universities are putting lectures and courses online for free use, (but not for credit).  Academic Earth, for example, offers 150 courses!

Right away I see several history lectures I'd love to listen to.  It's what I miss most about college, hearing Professor Horward speak knowledgeably and entertainingly about the Napoleonic Wars, or Professor Halpern on the revolutions of 1848.


A Gift From My Past: Compass Rose

Sitting in my green leather armchair, I turned the last leaf of an honest paper book last night, Compass Rose, by John Casey, beautifully made by Knopf.  It is the sequel to a novel Casey wrote over twenty years ago, Spartina (1989), about a Rhode Island fisherman who builds his own fishing boat.  Spartina won the National Book Award.

I read Spartina because Donald Abrahamsen, who came to my bookmobile stop at Chaires, had requested it and recommended it to me.  Like the characters in Casey's novels, Mr. Abrahamsen was a New England Yankee.  If you asked him how he did, he would always say "nevah bettah!"  He had "Yankee ingenuity", and could make almost anything of wood or metal.

Mr. Abrahamsen had sailed a boat to Brazil, where he ran a factory that manufactured screws, and where he took a Brazilian wife of good family, lovely Cecilia.  He had owned an Indian motorcycle.  He was a mysterious man.  I imagined that he might have been in the OSS during WWII.  He would only read novels written by men.  The Australian Jon Cleary and Nevil Shute were two of his favorites.

He invited R. and me to supper once.  He had built his own house, out off of Miccosukee Road past the Interstate 10 crossover.  He gave us a tour of his formidable woodworking shop with its saws and lathes.  He had built the house into a hillside, with the sleeping quarters eccentrically on the first floor, (where they would be cooler), and the living spaces above.  After supper, we four sat in their very formal parlor on the second floor to talk.  It had dark furniture and red walls, with pictures in heavy, ornate frames.  Old World.

I had to fight for Compass Rose.  It  was thought John Casey's other novels had not circulated well enough.  I put in my own request for it, with the memory of Mr. Abrahamsen in the back of my mind.  One copy.

When it came down on hold for me I only felt obliged to read it.  But when I began to taste it, I realized I was in for a profound reading experience.  Compass Rose is full of earned truth and arresting description.  I was so caught up and moved by the end that I read the first couple of chapters again, and have not wanted to start another book for a few days, to savor the echoes of it in my mind.

Dominique Browning wrote a good review for the NYT, The Lay of the Land.  But read Spartina first.  I am going to have to read Spartina again.


Sweat of My Brow

A weekend of mild and dry weather let me finally begin to dispose of the carpet of leaves around my house.  I raked them away from the outside walls into piles, to let the rain drain away quickly into the soil and keep the damp away from the house.  Some I spread as mulch around shrubs, and others I carted to a large pile under the sweetgums and the high ancient ligustrum hedge at the back of my property.  I decided to take the suggestion of my neighbor Greg and not bag leaves to send to the landfill.

There is nothing I like better than working in my yard:  using simple tools, feeling my body move, refreshing myself with lemonade, turning my face to the sky.  I pruned the dead branches from the frozen cardinal guard and lantana, and cut back the rose bushes.  I pulled up the wilted, dried stalks of ginger plants that grow up in the azalea hedge.  I put our statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary upright.  She had begun to lean, one of her brick supports having sunk into the soil.

Here in North Florida we are on the periphery of the icy blizzards that have been blanketing the Northeast as far south as Atlanta.  They get buckets of snow, we get rain.  It looks like we are in for more rain this week.  Robins have been feasting on the berries of my camphor trees.

R. prepared a wonderful supper of steaks, baked potatoes and brussels sprouts Sunday night, and we settled in for the conclusion of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Theater.  She kids me that I am like my mother, fretting over the marriage prospects of housemaids and debutantes.  I suppose I am: my inner old woman, nibbling chocolate truffles with a cat on my lap, endlessly entertained by the ruination of the British Empire.

Monday morning got off to a rocky start.  It looked at first like I would be minding the second floor alone in the morning.  A couple of full-time people were sick.  Then staff showed up we'd thought were off, and it wasn't so bad.  Still, long hours at the service desk today.  This is when having knocked around as a young man pays off.  My worst day as a reference librarian is still going to be better than my best day at some other jobs I've had.