Friday, February 10, 2012

Five Language Observations

Before I was a librarian, I was a language geek, specifically a linguistics major. Today I bring you five things on a friday, five language notes.

  1. Bitchin'
    This is apparently back as teen slang, at least in Anchorage. I waited until I heard 3 teens say it in one week before making that declaration on twitter a few weeks ago. I hear it at least that often if not more now.

  2. Awesome possum, cool beans
    Things I say on a regular basis that make me sound like a character on a 50s sitcom. I don't care. Awesome possum and cool beans are fun, happy, cheerful words to say, and I'm not giving them up.

  3. Circulation, discharge
    Words we use all the time in the library field that have limited meaning to the rest of the world. Staff tells patrons to go to the circulation desk or that their materials have not been discharged and they get blank look. Check out desk. Checked in books. And there are a lot more examples. Don't force people to learn our jargon to use our services.

  4. Redemption, repent, lamb of God
    Words we use all the time at church that have limited meaning to to the rest of the world. How easy is it to be new to a church or a faith and not really understand most of what is being said? You redeem coupons and vouchers, what does that have to do with the guy on the cross? When was the last time you heard repent outside of the church? And lamb of God makes no sense without an explanation of traditional Jewish rites. There are a bunch of other words like this, these are those that come to mind right now. Why are we creating a language barrier between those with a lifetime's worth of church background and those who lack that vocabulary?

  5. Adult movies, adult books
    Words that mean something very different outside the library. I am so used to the "adult movie" section at the library which is basically every feature film not geared for kids under 10. I blithely (and naively) wondered into the adult movie section of a video rental store a few years ago reading titles outloud to my friend a few rows behind me. She was laughing uproariously (she's known me long enough to know how my mind works), but I really embarassed the two gentlemen who were browsing in that section. And myself.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Weird even by our standards

When you work in a public library long enough, you get used to a certain amount of crazy. Walking downtown in a major city (not Anchorage) and some companions were concerned about the homeless man yelling loudly at the air as we walked by. Please. I'm a public librarian, that doesn't even phase me. Bring on your best crazy. I've probably seen it before, if not worse.

But this week two events happened that are weird even by my jaded standards.

Unidentified white powder
There are few phrases in our modern era as scary as unidentified white powder. (Probably no cell phone service and the plane has minor mechanical issues are a close second and third.) I was in a meeting talking about spending grant money when my cell phone rang. Since it was the library, and my staff is extremely capable and only calls in emergency, I answered it. My youth services librarian explained that the women's restroom was a disaster zone (read: covered in diarrhea) and there was an unidentified white powder on the floor.

Everyone assumes different things for white powder. Most of the staff assumed drugs. Despite the fact that I had just finished drug awareness training that morning, I assumed anthrax. (Because I'm paranoid and watch too many news shows.) One staff member assumed rat poison. Regardless it wasn't safe for any staff member to get close enough to find out. Police department was called and the restroom locked. They determined it was talcum powder. Janitorial took care of the rest.

Despite the benign resolution, my staff handled it completely correctly. I'm not allowing any of my people to get close enough to smell the powder for fear that they would accidentally ingest some cocaine or rat powder or anthrax. Paranoia is the first step to safety.

Special delivery!
After lunch today, my staff handed me an air mail envelope from Australia. That's fun. There was a koala on the stamp! The addressing seemed to be done by a younger person (judging by the handwriting and smiley faces) so my initial guess was a student looking for a pen pal. The envelope was rather squishy for just a letter.

Please note for future reference that squishy very rarely turns out to be anything good.

There was a short typed note expressing that the author had always wanted to visit our country and was saving up to do so. But until then she wanted to have a piece of herself in all 50 states and had decided to mail some of her hair* to various libraries. (I'm paraphrasing.)

*My sister pointed out I'm lucky all she sent was hair. My sister is smart and perhaps even more paranoid than I am.

Folded up in the note was a small tulle bag of hair. Some of the hair escaped the bag and was loose in the letter. The sender requested I place the hair under the tree or in the sunshine. She did not require an email or confirmation of any sort that I had done this. (Though she did provide a phone number, but no request for communication.)

The sad thing is I kinda get why she did this. It isn't that different than the Flat Stanley project. I've happily photographed four of those around town since moving to Alaska. It just requires no photos and is a bit creepier. And I'm completely unclear on how she chose my library to do this.

I decided against photographing the letter for the blog, though not against blogging it. I'm still undecided about placing the hair under a tree. I probably will because what could it hurt? (Unless she is using it to introduce some sort of foreign parasite to Alaska. I'm not sure how a two inch packet of hair would do that though.)

Perhaps the universe is just trying to see how far they can push me this week. Or make me laugh. Or something.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Blogging about the Newbery

It is my pleasure and honor to serve on the 2013 Newbery committee. One issue of special concern to me was the ALSC policy on social networking and blogging about committee work. This is my first time on a book award committee and I really don't want to do anything wrong. I think I understand it.

I can blog/tweet/facebook about my opinions all I want. I can not blog/tweet/facebook about any of the discussion among committee members or anyone else's opinions. That's fine. I have enough opinions on my own to go around.

This was all told with a caveat. You must be careful. You don't want to give anyone false hope. My opinion is only one out of 15. People pay more attention when you are on a committee. And mostly I am going by the doctrine of "avoiding even the appearance of evil". Or to put it in more secular terms: "Caesar's wife must be above reproach."

So will I blog about the Newbery committee? Yes. Sometimes about the process. My friend Dale has a blog about voting processes and is interested in talking about the Newbery process. (Not which books we liked, but the actual process.) Sometimes about how I am feeling about the workload. Will I blog about every book I read? Nope. I'm writing up notes for myself and that's good enough.

When I was first elected, I was terrified about how much work it would be. Then I talked myself into thinking it wouldn't be so bad. I'm back to being terrified. Last year's committee received 450 books (down apparently from the 600 they used to receive when self-publishers had access to your address). Even if you don't read every book, that's a lot. And you'll read things from other sources (libraries, book stores, etc) as well, not just what comes in the mail. It's a lot of work and I'm back to being scared.

A note on free books: no publisher is required to send committee members review copies of the books. Many still choose to do so. I have not yet received any. This is apparently normal not to get any in January and for it to really kick into high gear in March. I don't doubt I will be laughing at this vague feeling of worry and free time in six months.

For now I'm reading advanced reader copies I picked up at Midwinter (I'll review the final copy as well if it is a serious contender or even a very interesting book or a slight possibility). And I placed holds on some library copies of books for the 2012 publication year.

I will start this little counter though:
books received: 0; books read: 4

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Library Sanctioned Cupcakes

Searching emails for another issue, I stumbled upon these emails from two years ago. And they made me laugh. First there was an email from a coworker that she had found a box of cupcakes on top of the recycling bin by the catalog computers. She brought them into the library workroom then sent an all staff email with concerns about health and safety issues.

I immediately investigated because CUPCAKES! I then proceeded to write one of the best emails of my professional life:
There was a note on the box of cupcakes (which I saw when ***** brought them in) labeled “Free Cupcakes”. I am a cynical untrusting person, but I would not eat a cupcake left in a bakery box by an unknown person in the public library and obviously we don’t allow food on the public floor and we definitely don’t want people to think that this is a library-sanctioned box of cupcakes.

The rest of the staff concurred and the cupcakes were put into the dumpster.

It reminds me of a sequence from the amazing Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. Start here and read the next four.

So would you eat a cupcake of unknown provenance? I didn't.