Staying Centered in Trying Times

Some of you may know that I’m a potter by avocation. I’ve been making pottery longer than I’ve done anything else in my life, including my 20+ years as a librarian. While I occasionally hand-build—my real passion is throwing on the wheel. There is something soothing and Zen-like about turning a lump of clay into functional pieces for everyday use. Throwing on the wheel requires me to be present with the clay and the wheel and the tools. No matter how much effort I put into throwing a pot, if I don’t center the clay to begin with, there’s little chance I’ll end up with a finished piece I want to keep. The act of being focused on what I’m doing has a restorative effect in and of itself on my well-being, and in these trying times, I find I need that now more than ever.

Librarian vs. Entropy

Every year at this time I’m happy to be back at school with students after Winter Break. This year, however, I’m back but our students and faculty aren’t. Even though we did have a long Winter Break, somehow I feel more drained and less rested than before it started. I’m sure the fact that it’s lonely without our students, who won’t return to campus until the first week in February, doesn’t help. So my return to a mostly empty campus amid the more contagious variant of COVID-19 and the violent insurgence at our nation’s Capitol and the aftermath has made it difficult to focus on projects generally reserved for those times when students aren’t on campus. I’ll be spending the next month completing behind-the-scenes work necessary for the smooth running of any K-12 library—weeding, checking digital resources for currency and accuracy, reviewing lesson plans, and developing new instructional material for research classes. Necessary yes, but restorative? I’m not so sure. From my point of view, a majority of our time and energy as librarians is spent trying to counteract the effects of entropy—the tendency of systems to devolve into randomness and disorder. Take your eye off any part of your library for too long and things quickly fall apart.

LibGuides
The first thing I tackled was checking and updating my guides with new information (when relevant). I just finished working with two of our APUSH classes on their long form research paper, so that guide is in good shape for the next classes I’ll work with during the remaining weeks of our Winter term. We have a new Black American Studies class so I’ve been working to add as many resources as possible to a new LibGuide to support the curriculum. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll check for broken links. Broken links can undermine a user’s confidence in the usefulness of your guides, so every few months I run a report through the Link Checker function. There are frequently a large percentage of false positives, but I don’t mind checking each link as it gives me a chance to review it for relevancy to the guide it’s on. This can be a time-consuming task so this is a good time to work through them. The most recent report had roughly100 broken links, the majority of those checked so far being false positives, so the guides will be in good shape once they’ve all been resolved.

Weeding

Weeding is one of my least favorite tasks: it’s just so final. Before I started work on our reference collection, I reviewed the CREW manual from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

This manual was clearly written by working professionals and is full of helpful and down-to-earth advice to help you organize your thoughts and prioritize your goals for weeding. Your print reference collection may be similar to ours—taking up prime shelf space yet rarely, if ever, used. A decision was made to interfile these titles with the circulating collection, making this the ideal time to weed. Ultimately I used the following criteria as a guideline and eventually found I was able to get into the “weeding zone” where I wasn’t so stressed about what I was getting rid of, but instead focused on what remained and the value it added to our collection:
1. Age and condition of book
2. Is it relevant to the curriculum or our community?
3. Is it unique in any way?
4. Does it add to the diversity of the circulating collection?
5. Do we have other books on this topic/ subject area?
6. Do we have databases that provide tertiary/ reference information similar to this title?

This ultimately meant that a number of our general and subject-specific encyclopedias were removed from the collection and will find new homes if the information isn’t currently inaccurate (think science) or dated (think current history topics and the language of older publications). Since many of our faculty only allow the use of tertiary sources for background information when writing research papers and much of the general information provided in these sources can be found freely online or in our databases, these titles were easy to cull. You know when your Oxford Companion to (insert random topic here) was published 30 years ago but has an unbroken spine, it’s time for it to go. We are, however, going to keep a small ready reference collection at the front desk, although that’s more for our benefit than our students who rarely, if ever, consult handbooks, dictionaries, and almanacs in print.

In the next week, I will be turning my attention to our Professional Development section, one area I am looking forward to weeding and possibly organizing by topic in more of a bookstore format. I would really like to move the collection to an area with a bit of privacy and a comfy chair where faculty could put their feet up, relax, and browse a while. We’ll see how the weeding goes first, though.

Final Thoughts

Although I’m not sure I experience the same sense of Zen when working on these tasks that I experience when throwing on the wheel, I do feel that same sense of calm when I look at a well-organized shelf or visually pleasing LibGuide—the feeling of accomplishment for a job well-done. These are a few of the things that I hold onto in turbulent times and hope they’ll make a difference in some small way.

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