Welcome Laura!

Welcome Laura!

Originally uploaded by Meeteetse Branch Library.

Last week the Friends of the Library held a welcoming reception for me. You can’t really tell from this picture, but the cake is shaped like an open book. Rita, the woman who made the cake, is the wife of the priest at my church, and he’s also the mayor of the town. Lots of people wear multiple hats around here. Me, I’m just glad to be “the new librarian.”

the techie mission and the library mission

I don’t consider myself a techie, much less a geek or a nerd, by these definitions or any others. That’s not meant to denigrate any of the terms–I simply don’t feel skilled enough to claim any of the titles. I’m still at the “take the server out of the box” phase.

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology and libraries, though. I’ve been teaching a Digital Photography 101 class at the library (you can see the Web version of the insanely long handout). People bring their cameras, and we practice taking some pictures, and then we load their pictures onto the computer using the handy card reader that the library bought at my urging. Then we play with them a little in Picasa, and then I show them a couple of online photo sites, usually Flickr and Kodak Gallery. Then they ask questions, and sometimes I can answer them, and sometimes I have to say, “Let me look into that and I’ll get back to you.”

I often think of myself as in some weird trough between technical know-how and technical incompetence. I can talk about blogs and wikis, and I did all the html for my website by hand. But then there are days (which I like to blame on my being more familiar with Macs than PCs) when I have IM conversations like this one:

me: stupid question. . .
friend: yes?
me: what do you use to unzip files in Windows?
friend: WinZip
me: duh. . .

I am as excited as everyone else by ventures like EngagedPatrons.org and Pay IT Forward, but sometimes I think the techie help that our libraries need is at an even more basic level. Not just, “What do I do once I’ve taken the server out of the box?” but some of the questions people ask me that I can’t always answer. What are the security risks posed by letting patrons use various peripheral devices on the computers? Can we let them plug in their digital cameras? Burn CDs? I know we can let patrons do these things, because I know there are libraries that do, but I don’t know how to explain why it’s safe, or how to make it safe.

I’m trying to learn, though. Many of the reference questions I get in the small rural library where I work are technology related. As a librarian, it’s my mission to answer those questions as best I can. In more and more cases, answering those questions means learning more about technology. And that makes me grateful to my techie friends: the people out there, some of them librarians, some not, who know that part of their mission is helping to make technology work for people, not the other way around.

If I thought that the whole of the techie mission was getting everyone to develop technolust, I’d probably have a problem with it. But I haven’t seen that. Instead, I’ve seen techies working their tails off to make libraries and library services work better. Whether they’re hacking around the OPAC to make more functional or teaching people to use e-mail or contributing to online conferences or the Library Success Wiki or the Library Instruction Wiki or projects like Pay IT Forward or answering my stupid IM questions, they’re all furthering the library mission of helping people find, use, and enjoy information. I think that’s a good thing.

carnival and other readings

Carnival of the Infosciences #34 is up at Library Stuff with the usual goodies. Next week it moves north to Blog Without a Library.

Looking for more to read? Here’s a wonderful and inspiring story from the Guardian about a library in the UK that decided to work with teens rather than against them.

And finally, back in the US, the latest recommended reading list is out from the Dominican University Rosary College of Arts and Sciences faculty. They’ve been putting these together for the past few years; sometimes the recommendations come from faculty, sometimes from graduating seniors. You can see all the lists on the library home page.


Update: the link for the Bloglines account should work now–thanks to Mom for the tipoff.

Have I mentioned lately that my job rocks? And that librarians rock?

A few weeks ago, several of my colleagues attended Michael Stephen’s OPAL talk Ten Top Technologies for Libraries in 2006. They came away intrigued but slightly overwhelmed, and so my director has asked me to do a little talk about new technologies for libraries at the all-county staff meeting this Wednesday. I’m going to be talking about blogs and RSS, wikis, and IM. Actually, I’m thinking of subtitling my talk “How to Steal Stuff from Your Librarian Friends,” since I’ve pretty much been swiping (with Creative Commons or other permission) slides from other people’s talks right and left. Or, as I wrote to Michael Stephens shortly after I was asked to do the talk, “I get to be you!”

I’ll post a link to the talk when I get it up, probably later tonight. In the meantime, though, you might like to check out the little Bloglines account (with some Wyoming specific blogs, some general ones, and some fun stuff, but not too much of anything) that I put together to demonstrate the power of RSS. And, if I should happen to IM you on Wednesday, I’m probably doing so in front of a live audience. Consider yourselves warned.

tornado was here

IAKS120.jpgOriginally uploaded by kevinsanders.

In 1998, I lived in the basement pink house that now has a tarp for a roof and no front porch, and from 2001-2003, I lived in another house a couple blocks away. My friends now live–or did until the storm hit–on the top floor of the pink house. They were crouched right inside the door, next to the porch that is no longer there, when the tornado hit. I am happy to say that they are okay. Many of the houses around them were pretty well destroyed.

update, 17 April

I promise to leave the land of small-time natural disasters and return to librarianship in the near future, but in the meantime, you can see another view of the house and street, this time from the New York Times. The pink house on the far left is the one where I lived in 1998 and my friends live now; the house next door to it is where my oldest friend lived for several years when she was a little girl. Here’s an account from my friends the current residents, with links to more photos.

wordpress weirdness

In the spirit of living in beta, I’ve been playing around live a bit with my WordPress themes in the past few days. Currently I’m using Toni, which until just this evening was shoving the sidebar down to the bottom of the page in every browser I tried. It’s not at the moment, but it might again soon.

I’ve been playing around a little with Green Track, which is a lovely theme, except that when I activated my modified version, it added an e to the end of every post title, as you can see in this screenshot. Weird.

[Update: Thanks to Sadish for the explanation of this phenomenon in the comments below. Truly, the collective wisdom of the web is a wonderful thing.]
Of course, this is undoubtedly a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing–I know enough HTML to code my own low-tech web site, and I have grand ambitions of learning some CSS. . . but in the meantime, if you aren’t reading this through an aggregator (or if you are and start getting extraneous Es), please bear with me.

Someday I also promise to finish categorizing all my posts (and fooling around with the categories) and update my about page. . . but don’t hold your breath.

reference work

I have been following with great interest the comment thread on Steven M. Cohen’s post on librarian searching skills. and the resulting brouhaha.

Searching Electronic Databases was by far the most useful class I took in library school (or, err, that I have taken so far in library school–the problem with having a Real Job 1400 miles away from one’s school is that you tend to forget that you’re still in school). But there are some kinds of questions that no electronic database can answer. In fact, not even your favorite search engine can answer them.

We don’t get a lot of reference questions at my library, although I’m trying to encourage them. I’m a librarian–ask me questions! Your tax dollars at work! Partly, of course, we’re still struggling to get people to know that we are a public library, not just a library for the school.

The other day, though, we did get a reference question. A patron who is supervising some 4-H stuff came by to ask about the price of hogs. Now there are, I suppose, numerous sources of information about hog prices in northwestern Wyoming. As I have mentioned before, there is no such thing as a good source of information–there are only good sources of information for particular topics. But in this particular instance, the most expeditious and most useful source was my co-worker, who had been in charge of a similar 4-H event last year. Some day I hope to be able to do as well for our patrons as she can.

wyoming librarianship: a sample

This is one of those day-in-the-life posts. I don’t know if it’s a typical day, since I haven’t been here long enough to get a sense of what typical amounts to, but it’s one day in the life of a librarian in Meeteetse, Wyoming, population 351. Our library serves both the school (about 70 students in kindergarten through 12th grade) and the town. Aside from me, there’s one other full-time person, a part time page, and two people who work occasionally and fill in when someone’s sick or out of town.

5 am: Get up (yes, I know, I’m crazy), eat breakfast, listen to Morning Edition on one of the two public radio stations I can get here, do some offline writing, e-mail Jessamyn to ask for some advice on the digital photography class I’m planning for the library.

7:30ish: Arrive at library. We open at 7:45, fifteen minutes before the school day starts. Open doors, turn on lights, fire up our four public access computers and two staff computers. Check the circulation statistics for Tuesday: 98 circs–not too bad, though not as good as Thursday (when everyone gets their movies for the weekend), when we had 158. Not too shabby for such a small place, eh? Print out overdue slips to distribute to teachers, who in turn give them to students. My coworker, who does most of the youth services and school stuff at the library, gives me advice on what to do with the adult overdues: some people’s books we renew, some will be coming in today, so we wait to see what they want.

8ish: A few sixth-graders come in, and I check in some books, check out others, and renew a few more. Check e-mail and find extremely helpful message from Jessamyn, complete with handout attachments. Drop a line to my boss, the county library director, to remind her to check if there are any holds or rotating books (or DVDs, CDs, etc.) to bring down to us when she comes. She writes back to say sure and that she’s running a little late because her garage door was stuck and she didn’t want to drive her husband’s ’72 pickup the 32 miles to Meeteetse, especially in the snow. The yearbook adviser stops in to ask if she can have the yearbook staff meet in the library in the afternoon because their classroom is being used for testing. We say sure.

10 am: Friends of the Library quarterly meeting. About eight members show up. I get to meet the ones I haven’t met already, and we discuss Craig Johnson’s planned visit in May. He was here last year on tour for his last book, and the event was a big success. The owner of The Spoke Cafe (a Friend!) says they’ll be happy to host the event again, and another Friend volunteers to put up Craig, his wife, and their dogs again. I agree to do some publicity, and my boss (who arrived safely from Cody) says the county system can pitch in. I mention that I’ve been in touch with Craig and that he may do some programs at the other county libraries, but that we’re thinking the big, all-county event ought to be in Meeteetse, which people seem pretty happy about.

My boss updates us on the county commissioner’s meeting about the plans for the new Cody library, and we get to look at some drawings. Then we talk about the Cap Tax II campaign, which will, if passed by the voters, fund the new Cody library, a new swimming pool in Powell, and a refurbished swimming pool in Meeteetse (ours is currently unusable). Since taxes are never popular, no matter how small, short-term, or important, we talk about some ways to explain to people that this is really necessary. Get a quick overview of plans for the Cody library centennial celebration, which will kick off on May 9 (the 90th anniversary of Mabel Wilkinson opening the first Carnegie library in Cody; the library had been in another building for ten years before that).

11ish: Meet with my boss to get some details on things like county-wide book ordering. Learn that, in addition to a new telephone (the one at the front desk doesn’t work) and answering machine (we don’t currently have one at all), we’re going to be getting some new computers. Talk briefly about redesigning the library web site. We have a domain; now we’re looking for a host, because the county doesn’t want to do a lot of the stuff we might like to do. I heartily recommend LIShost. (No promises, Blake, but I’ll do my best!)

12 noon: Realize I’m going to have to wait till 1 pm, when the post office reopens, to get the mail. Eat lunch and read a few articles in Public Libraries and chat with my coworker about various stuff.

1 pm: Head down to the post office in the snow (!) to mail off a couple of ILL requests and fetch the day’s newspapers and mail.

afternoon: The yearbook adviser says they got their classroom back and won’t need to use the library. The second grade shows up to get books and movies and return others. Our library page finishes integrating the YA Accelerated Reader books in with the rest of the YA collection. (I’m all for separating collections to make for easier patron browsing, but not when doing so might mean engaging in prejudicial labeling.) Have an entertaining talk with staff and library patrons about Wyoming’s open container laws (or lack thereof–the legislature just failed once again to restrict open containers in cars–you can’t have one if you’re the driver, but everyone else is fine).

4 pm: Start to wind down for the day. We close at 4:15, though on Wednesdays we open again from 6-8 pm.

4:30: Head home, have a snack, work a little on this post, listen to the news, feed the cat.

6 pm: Go back to the school for the potluck supper/meeting of the Meeteetse Wellness Board. As part of my effort to put a librarian at every table (or at least at as many tables as possible), I’ve been going to various town meetings. This past weekend I joined the water committee of the BVCA Community Improvement District. I’ll be helping them do some research on finding ways to fund getting better water out here where we live (I live in an unincorporated area a little outside of town, and our well water isn’t potable). The Meeteetse Wellness Board does regular blood pressure and cholesterol tests for people in town, and this Saturday they’re having a fair. There will be people there to help you learn to put kids’ carseats in correctly, people from the hospital in Cody, local fitness guru types, and so on. I suggested that next year we could have a library table to help people learn about health reference sources, and they thought that would be cool.

7ish: Stop in to chat with the person staffing the library this evening. Head home. And here I am, finishing up this post. It was a pretty good day.

four things

I don’t do 43 Things, but I’m happy to do four things–I was, in fact, going to consider myself tagged by Mark, but then I got tagged by Heidi–such riches! I have adapted the categories to some extent and excluded video games, which I do not play (I know–I dare to conisder myself a teen librarian and I don’t play video games. I suck.)

  • security guard (four years with Vassar College Campus Patrol, three days at the Coral Ridge Mall before it opened, right after I finished college)
  • graduate instructor (three years at the University of Iowa; two in Rhetoric and one in English)
  • dog walker
  • youth services assistant at a public library (for another three days)


  • Pump Up the Volume
  • The World of Henry Orient
  • Casablanca
  • Ladyhawke

places I’ve lived:

  • Iowa City, Iowa (my hometown, though I lived till age four in Mount Vernon, about half an hour north of IC)
  • Indianapolis, Indiana (during junior high; a dire mistake which we soon corrected by moving back to Iowa)
  • Poughkeepsie, New York (during college–I lived off-campus the last year and a half and thus saw perhaps a bit more of the town than some at Vassar)
  • La Grange, Illinois

TV shows I’ve loved:

  • The Tomorrow People (my favorite show when I was six, when it was shown in reruns on Nickelodeon. It’s quite possible I would no longer find it quite so entrancing.)
  • Wall Street Week, during the years it was hosted by Louis Rukeyser, who wore the best ties and did wonderful opening monologues about the past week. An odd choice for someone of my political leanings, I grant you, but we all have our peculiarities.
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show (the only thing, aside from Washington Week, that I watch on a regular basis these days)

places I’ve gone on vacation (the first three with my mother; the last on my own):

  • Colorado, to Grand Junction from Chicago and back by train, with a stop in Denver
  • Acadia National Park
  • Peru
  • New York City


  • any kind of fruit pie except cherry
  • pesto
  • guacamole
  • flourless chocolate cake

sites I visit daily:

places I would rather be:

  • any watering hole, anywhere, with my friends
  • anywhere I’ve never been
  • Wyoming (yeah, I know, I’m moving there in three weeks, but I’d still like to be there now)
  • Wohelo (where I went to camp for many, many years)


  • Goodbye Without Leaving, Laurie Colwin
  • Walden, Thoreau
  • The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
  • Openings, Wendell Berry


  • “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” Bob Dylan (the Bootleg series version, not the one from Empire Burlesque)
  • “Tougher Than the Rest,” Bruce Springsteen
  • “The Iowa Waltz,” Greg Brown
  • “The Brownbird,” as sung to me by my mother when I was young. She learned it from her mother, who learned it from a Maxine Sullivan record belonging to her college roommate.

cars I’ve owned:

  • 1984 Chevy Cavalier (“The Octopus”), the car I drove in high school, inherited from my mother. I always meant to paint it purple, but I never did.
  • 1986 Volvo 740 GLE station wagon (“The Sphinx”), overrated, but useful for hauling large quantities of crap and/or people when I was in college. I totalled it about a year later. Yes, it is possible to total a Volvo station wagon by bumping into the back of a pickup truck. The pickup (and its driver, and I) emerged unscathed.
  • 1987 Chevy Nova “Maximus,” inherited from my grandmother and named for the Maximus Poems by Charles Olson, not the movie. This pile of rust carried me to Georgia and back, to DC and back, and on various trips around the midwest. I ended up passing it on to a friend when I was told I could no longer drive “that rusty tin can on wheels” around the country on long trips. Last I heard, it’s still running.
  • 1992 Toyota Tercel “Sally,” purchased to replace Maximus. Sally held on till about a year ago, when she finally pooped out at 205,000 miles. She was replaced by Viktor, an innocuous green 1998 Honda Civic which I can only find in the Dominican parking lot thanks to its Iowa plates.

bloggers I am tagging: