4 September 2008

The students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back the students are back.

First day at work since the semester started.  Still under the weather.  Still exhausted.  The commute is very, very easy, though, and I’m definitely not missing waiting for the bus in the Goodwill parking lot, or being leered at by day laborers as I walk home.

Mina just figured out that she can squeeze into a cabinet through the air vent that goes through to the next room.  Very helpful paws indeed.

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Another Thursday night at the desk

Just for the sake of having something to write, here’s a short list of the questions I have answered since 5:45pm.

  • A request for guest wireless, which I set up with a smile.
  • Print problem #1: the print server is slow.  Fixed itself before I could get to it, as is generally the case with tech problems.
  • Print problem #2: frames will be the death of us all.  Whenever a patron comes to the desk with a sheaf of half-printed papers, I know they’re trying to print from a) Blackboard or b) Yahoo.  Right on both counts this time, and one more patron now knows how to right-click.
  • Another request for guest wireless.
  • “Do those copiers send faxes?”  No.  Go to Kinko’s.
  • A request for back-issues of GW publications – specifically “By George”, and specifically the most recent one.  Special Collections is closed, so I steal one out of my coworker’s mailbox.  Mental note: put it back before I leave.
  • An IM from a friend who is trying to find publication dates on a series of books.  The reference collection lets me down.  I totally marked this on the stats sheet even though it wasn’t technically a question from one of our patrons.
  • “Where’s the bathroom?”
  • “If I need something from a library in the consortium, can I just go there?” Yes.

Saturday this and that (work related)

You know what is kind of lonely? The reference desk on a stormy Saturday in May. I’ve had 7 questions since noon.

I’m feeling better about work these days – there are still definitely moments when I feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and totally unqualified, but there have been many others where I feel like I can contribute to the conversation in a significant way. We continue to hire bright, sharp, forward-thinking individuals, and that gives me hope for substantive changes in the near future. Three individuals with whom I work closely are leaving in the near future or have left already, and that makes things hard – but I’m hopeful that we’ll hire fantastic people to replace them, and that the new folks will bring interesting perspectives and good ideas to add to the fray.

Right now we’re hard at work wrapping up our Facebook study, which was accepted for the RUSA Reference Renaissance conference in August. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to build on this study in interesting ways, although we’re already moving on to the next project, with a third in the wings for fall. I’m taking advantage of my six hours on the desk to wrap up this lit review, and get started on the next one. Hooray for self-directed research that directly informs practice.

Bending and Growing

I haven’t posted here about Project Bamboo, but that’s not for lack of thinking about it.

I spent a few days in Chicago earlier this month participating in Workshop 1b in the Bamboo planning process. Bamboo bills itself as

a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, and inter-organizational effort that brings together researchers in arts and humanities, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians, and campus information technologists to tackle the question:

How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?

Basically, it’s just that – a bunch of technologists, librarians, and faculty members in the arts and humanities getting together to brainstorm the possible. GW is interested in getting involved, so I attended on behalf of my library. It was an overwhelming, challenging, invigorating experience, despite the fact that I felt very young and green amongst the university librarians, the CIOs, and the tenured faculty members.

Bamboo offers a really exciting opportunity for all the stakeholders in the process to be involved, and to collectively develop something – a tool, a tool set, a development environment, a network – that will be mutually beneficial, facilitating discovery, collaboration, and advocacy for research in the humanities. Over the course of the workshops we talked about the need for change in promotion and tenure processes in the humanities to recognize collaborative, “tool-building”, and digital work. We talked about transformation versus improvement in research practices. We talked about smashing boundaries between faculty, staff, and students – between disciplines – between the public and the academy – to encourage more authentic collaboration and feedback. It was tremendously exciting to be sitting on a bus with people from all over the country – and for them to be so excited about what we were working on that the chatter was deafening.

On the final day, the CIO of the University of Chicago framed the discussion in terms of “I’m OK, you’re OK.” He said that we’ve gone through many iterations of this relationship over the years. We have said to those doing research or using technology in different or unfamiliar ways: “I’m OK, you’re not OK.” We’ve said “I’m not OK, you’re OK” in situations where we’ve felt overwhelmed by the technology or the process. We’ve also said “I’m not OK, you’re not OK” in situations where we’ve been asked to collaborate with others, but just haven’t spoken the same language. Bamboo offers an opportunity to say “I’m OK, you’re OK” in the context of a respectful partnership.

Regardless of what GW ends up doing, I’m terribly excited to see what happens with Bamboo, and delighted that I was able to be a part of the process.

Sertralini Dreams

Since going on Sertraline last month, I have had extremely lucid dreams almost every night. Fortunately I have yet to dream about my cats being cooked in a sandwich – but they’re no less weird. In the last two weeks, some highlights have included:

  • Worrying about the link structure of our website changing when we go to a CMS, and so writing a note on my hand to remember to talk to David about redirects
  • Receiving mashed potatoes as a gift from my boss’s boss
  • Mint chocolate chip ice cream is now called ‘Chinese tea’ ice cream
  • A particularly inept candidate interviewed for an electronic resources-type job at the library (not necessarily mine). He previously worked at the library, and as part of his application packet had included something with citations, most of which were formatted incorrectly. A coworker pointed out that he didn’t cite the databases from which he retrieved the articles. OMG. The interview ended abruptly after he casually put his arm around me, and then everyone was uncomfortable.
  • Wandering around a festival or fun fair in a type of convention center, trying to figure out why a man was singing a Carla Bruni song.
  • I was engaged, and we called off the wedding, but somehow it got rescheduled and was going to happen at my grandparents’ house. I had just gotten back from a run and didn’t have time to get cleaned up and was going to call the thing off anyway, so I went downstairs in my sports bra and a skirt (I think) to explain to all of these people in black tie dress that a wedding was definitely not happening. Someone told me I did the right thing.

I have to say that if this is the main side effect of the medication, I’m totally cool with it.

Today I felt like a real life librarian

– I spontaneously helped someone at the desk and adequately answered all of her questions, though I had to flag someone down to find the specific thing (the school’s faculty/staff newsletter from this week) she requested.

– I attended a presentation on Open Access publishing and actually knew what Cathy was talking about.

– In class tonight, we talked about metasearching and federated searching, and I actually knew what we were talking about.

So that’s pretty cool.

What We’ve Been Up To: A Short List

Item #1: Earlier in the week I helped my best friend load the moving truck that is going to convey MOST of her family’s worldly possessions to the East Coast, where she starts a job in about ten days. It was bittersweet – I love helping people move and dispatching friends for big adventures, but it will be sad to not have her around, and I will miss her greatly.

Item #2: In the next ten days, SB will hit both coasts as he interviews for Real Jobs. He is stressed out and anxious as he’s prepping for travel and presentations while at the same time working on a class and his CAS project. I really wish I could be more helpful but (1) I can’t and (2) I have my own pile of work and applications to worry about. The only significant bite on my hunt has come in the form of extensive reference-checking – no new interviews, and a rejection letter from the one interview I did have in May.

Item #3: Last week I worked with my gyne instructor friends for probably the last time, at least en masse. The next major teaching session isn’t until January, and by hook or by crook we should be out of here by then. Working with this program was such a blessing, and I am deeply grateful for this experience for a variety of reasons.

What have I been up to?

  • Finished up the semester on the 10th, making me a Master of Science. I have one paper to finish for my doc sem, which I haven’t touched since the beginning of the month. Don’t tell Boyd.
  • Spent a week and a half testing, tweaking, and training on our new CMS, which, after two semesters of piloting, goes live for all classes in t-minus 17 days. I’m anxious about the training issues, but cautiously optimistic.
  • Drank a bunch of barium and saw my insides (looking for an ulcer), but haven’t heard anything back yet. The whole procedure was more miserable than any pelvic exam I’ve ever had in terms of the uncaring touches, the lack of explanation for what was going on, the discomfort, and being left uncomfortable, cold, and alone on a weird table for an extended period of time.
  • SB went to Ohio for almost a week to visit his family. Solo time was nice but unproductive, and I was very glad to have him home.
  • Sid continues to be sick. She’s been on antibiotics for 10 days, but they don’t seem to have done much. Baby kittens with their crazy bugs!
  • Went to Rockford for Christmas, spending most of the weekend chilling with my family. I came home with a pile of cookbooks and a new food processor = yay! Photoset here
  • Received a beautiful necklace and perfect stationery, among other fun gifts, from SB. I gave him a Slimmy, a couple of books, and a few other things.
  • Carrie was here for a few days/ It’s always nice to have her around, even though we mainly just veg out. We went to yoga on Wednesday, and I was pleased with my flexibility, though I’m wildly out of shape. She left yesterday afternoon, and now I owe her a visit. She lives in Brooklyn, which I’m sure is wildly more interesting than Champaign.
  • SB and I rode in our first Critical Mass last night. Only six people (including us) came out, but it was nice to start small and be able to ride at a normal pace rather than going v slow with lots of people.
  • SB and I have been taking advantage of a quiet break to do a lot of cooking – some from new cookbooks, others from books we had lying around. In the last two weeks, we’ve made:
      Bourbon Cranberry Sauce for a vegan Hanukkah. We ate this over soy ice cream, but I’m sure it would be equally good over turkey or regular ice cream.
      – Plantain and Corn Soup and Lamb Tagine with Sweet Potatoes from The African and Middle Eastern Cookbook. My first experience working with lamb, though SB did most (OK, almost all) the work. The tagine was incredibly tender and flavorful. The plantain soup took almost no time to make, and was even better the second day.
      Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches and Zucchini Pancakes from The Barefoot Contessa at Home. I added the Barefoot Contessa cookbook to my Amazon wish list primarily so I could remember to buy it for Mom. Instead, she bought it for me, and I’m really glad she did. Roasting the peppers was time consuming but easy, and the payoff (in sandwich form) was awesome. I made the zucchini pancakes for brunch yesterday, and they only reinforced my new love for zucchini – simple, relatively low in fat (a total of 1 T butter and 1 T oil used for the whole recipe, which made 12 pancakes), and very tasty. I’ve marked about half the recipes in the book for later cooking. 🙂
  • I start a work-study at the yoga studio next week. One hour of cleaning per week in exchange for one free class per week. I’m hoping to take two classes this winter/spring, so that will help me save some money!
  • Still not sure our exact plans for New Years, but I’m hoping they’ll involve a few parties and lots of friends

It is no secret that I’ve had a hard semester. I was initially signed up for four classes, but I dropped two within the first month of school, shortly after I took my full time job. The two remaining classes represent the last four credits needed towards my masters, and the first of two required courses towards my PhD. Saying that I’m struggling in these courses is an understatement. Saying that I hate my courses wouldn’t be an exaggeration. With a few weeks left in the semester, I’m trying to pull my stuff together to finish up two courses and NOT drop out of grad school. I am so burnt out and discouraged right now – and I hate it.

A year ago I was so excited about the possibility of continuing on in grad school – and now the PhD program seems like something to which I’ve shackled myself. I love my job, but right now things are very stressful, and having to come home and keep working makes getting up in the morning and doing good work even more difficult. The easy solution, of course, would be to drop out. The better solution, I think, is to keep going, get through the rest of this semester, and then take it easy for a semester or two until things calm down at work – while taking courses that will keep my options open even if I don’t decide to follow this path through to the end.

Before I started grad school, I had a conversation with my mom’s best friend from high school – now a post-doc at the JFK School of Government at Harvard. She shared with me a number of impressions of why people pursue degrees in higher education – beyond the stock “to get ahead in their field” sort of answer. She said she thought a lot of people did it to prove something, to assuage feelings of inadequacy, or to do both by accomplishing something they never thought possible. She said she pursued her PhD for some of the above – and to be better equipped to do her part at “saving the world”. I don’t know if I really know why I’m doing this – besides the feeling that I’m not done growing in this area.

Last week, following a particularly awful day of class and work, I had a crying fit after burning the pancakes I was making for breakfast. It was yet another “you’re a big screw up” message in a long week of the same, and it was just too much. I told SB, between sobs, that I just want to help people, and that I didn’t understand why it had to be so hard. Is pursuing a PhD going to help me with this goal? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.