trying not to jinx february

immer  grafitti on the side of a brick wall in Toronto Ontario

I’m exceptionally lucky in that I’m not too affected by the shorter days. I mean… I require more coffee, want to stay in pajamas longer, and probably sleep more, but I don’t wind up with SAD and am generally able to get out of bed with good humor most days. However I post less frequently to my blog in the winter both because I’m a little more low-functioning generally and also because I don’t want to say “Hey things are great!” and then jinx something. I am aware that this is superstitious so I figured I’d come clean about it. Things really have been okay and February is more than half over.

  • My trips to Florida and Toronto went just fine even if it was a bit too much travel for me (wrap-up on my newsletter, photos here)
  • I had a fly-by trip to Cambridge which went really well and got to spend some time with Jim. We found a new favorite lunch place where if you show up right before closing they give you all the leftover hash browns!
  • I kept to my writing deadline and submitted an article for Computers in Libraries magazine about some ways libraries could be using Plex a sort of Netflix front end for digital content. As part of that, I learned new software which is basically the librarian version of doing Sudoko to keep your brain limber.
  • I’ll be going to the CiL Conference in DC (actually Virginia), running a panel on small/rural library directors and giving a cybertour on mailing list software. Not glamorous work, but worthwhile and very enjoyable.
  • I made a MetaFilter post about a dead groundhog which is perfect.

Big things coming up include a visit from Kate, a trip down to Westport where we’re going to donate some of my dad’s old tools to the local vocational school here, and doing some more Wikipedia work for Black History Month. The usual, keep on swimming.

the music of solitude

home stereo set up

Wintertime is for woodshedding. For me this is a combination of catching up on reading (current title is an ARC about the North Pond Hermit), catching up on housework and home care, and catching up on correspondence (email, postal mail, social communication). I spend a lot of time busy usually, enough so that it’s a little hard for me to figure out what to do when I’m not doing paid-for work. Helen and Scott Nearing, when they were talking about their version of “the good life,” spoke of splitting up their day into thirds; roughly a third for vocation/wage earning, a third for the community, a third for fun and hobbies. Mine seems to go in bigger chunks: a day for fun, a day for community, a day for work.

Today I woke up determined not to do job-work and applied myself to more of the house projects here. I’m sure from the outside it looked like work. It can be hard to explain to people that, to a librarian, or at least to THIS librarian, putting things back in place is a deeply pleasing activity. So, I rewired the stereo, dusted all the bookshelves, found out when I went to put the iron back that there was already an iron there, hung up a few pictures and listened to some records. Yesterday I was the house manager at the Chandler for a talk by Amy Goodman and Bill McKibben, two favorites of mine. I got to help people find parking, help them find their seats, help the volunteers find their coordinators, help lock and unlock doors and keep the place running. It reminded me a lot of the work I used to do at the Odd Fellows hall and made me wish there was a little room in there somewhere where I could live. Jim was up before that and we went to VINS and admired the birds and I got to cross three more libraries off of my VT 183 list (Woodstock! Northfield! Quechee!) a list which is sort of slow to get filled out.

Wintertime is also for Wikipedia. I have more free time, enough that that if I learn a new thing (particularly if I got it from a print source), I try to add it to an article if it’s not already there. The next few weeks are a project called #1lib1ref, a campaign to try to get every librarian (or anyone really) to add a citation to Wikipedia to help make it better. There is a tool called Citation Hunt where you can look for articles needing citations in categories you are interested in. I found the five articles about African American Librarians needing citations and went and tracked down some sources. A lot of this can be done with some determined Googling and some Wikipedia-wrassling to get the citations right.

It’s more challenging finding citations in categories like this because history is often racist and the historical achievements of people of color didn’t make the papers in the same way achievements of white people did. One of the things that helps with this is libraries and the (Googleable) finding aids that they create. Not everyone can become famous for single-handedly recording 40,000 VHS tapes worth of TV news footage, sometimes you have to dig harder to make the connections and verify the claims. And all the while I got to do this stuff while listening to all my old records. Woodshedding may look like work, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

my year in cities and towns, 2016

hotel commonwealth guestroom

Here are photos of the places I slept in 2015. I only took airplanes twice for travel last year (once to London and points south and once to San Francisco) so a lot of these places are closer to home. There was also a treehouse. And a very fancy hotel in Boston. And a place with no running water up a mountain near me. And one redeye flight. Lots of multiple visits. Two real vacations. Summer at #dadshouse. Twenty-seven places that were not my place or a family member’s place. You can tell I’ve ramped up traveling when you compare it to last year.

Eleven states. Three UK locations. Stars indicate multiple visits to the exact same place. AirBnB links for your convenience. Past years: 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 2007, 2006, 2005.

  1. Boston at the Waterfront Westin – right by ALA
  2. Cambridge at Deb’s house* – comes with excellent cats
  3. Washington DC at the Saint Gregory – a porch I wish I used more
  4. Washington DC at Mary Early’s place – small and quiet, escaped right before Snowmageddon
  5. Westport MA* – I think I have slept in four or five beds in this house this year
  6. Washington DC Hilton – excellent hotel, got a terrible cold by having the AC on for a week
  7. Amherst MA – did a panel at my alma mater (Hampshire) and stayed with friends
  8. Stow MA* – Kate’s house, always love staying here
  9. Braintree VT – there was a humming noise at my house so I stayed at a friend’s place for a little bit
  10. Dunbarton NH – Treehouse! Sounded more fun than it was. (AirBnB link)
  11. Albany NY – the start of the “weird AirBnB places” road trip (AirBnB link)
  12. Buffalo NY – where I learned to sleep with an AC unit three feet from my head (AirBnB link)
  13. Huron OH – stayed in two different rooms, great place, noisy train
  14. Gary IN – a great little place right near the beach (AirBnB link)
  15. Chicago IL – Eamon Daly’s Murder Room
  16. Zwingle IA – a town of 91 people (AirBnB link)
  17. Michigan City INĀ  – a weird motel but I liked it!
  18. Barkeyville PA – sort of a trailer, sort of the best AirBnB we stayed in (AirBnB link)
  19. London UK – more odd AirBnBs, this one had a library thing going on (AirBnB link)
  20. Okehampton UK – fancy but not my kind of fancy (AirBnB link)
  21. Windsor UK – near the airport, strictly decent and small (AirBnB link)
  22. Boston MA – why wasn’t this place better? It looks amazing.
  23. Painted Post NY – looks like not much but was the best!
  24. Burlington VT – staying with friends before a flight
  25. San Francisco CA – weird but my kind of place (AirBnB link)
  26. Berkeley CA – the au pair’s room
  27. Airplane – redeye on the way home
  28. Salisbury NH – my librarian pal’s house where I watched the Cubs win
  29. Cambridge MA – Sheraton Commander is a great hotel

 

calm smoke rises

scale/braille model of US Capitol

scale/braille model of US Capitol

Its very weird not working.

I should back up a little. After my really fun trip to San Francisco where I got to meet a lot of my colleagues for the first time, I came home thinking about what I wanted out of life. My job at the Archive was great, but very hours-limited. Part of the reason for my trip to San Francisco was to have face to face meetings to try to change that. They were not successful. As much as I had Big Ideas for the future of Open Library, I felt actively restricted from doing almost anything, given the actual tasks my job included. At the same time the site was being aggressively promoted without being aggressively supported and it felt like a secret.

Working on a team with others who worked four times as much (and who coded) meant a lot of time spent trying to advocate for changes and bugfix and not enough time actually getting things done. There’s a solid team. The place will continue to exist. The Internet Archive is a great place but one that doesn’t prioritize community engagement the same way I do. I wrote more about this decision on my newsletter (mostly library stuff, feel free to subscribe, it’s approximately weekly) but it feels like the right choice. I decided to leave sort of quickly, before Thanksgiving, so I wasn’t working through the holiday season.

This is not to say I don’t have work to do, just that I have LESS, and almost none that isn’t on my schedule. What I specifically don’t have is the “Oh hey the code we released late Friday afternoon has a bug, so angry people will be emailing all weekend. You don’t have to write back to them until Monday if you don’t want to” pressure. Which, again, comes from working someplace where my values are not as in line with the values of the organization as I’d hoped. I’ve got a strong personality, I was hoping I could sway people. And I did, but not enough and not in the right way. They will miss me. I will miss them. It was a bad fit and I sort of wish it wasn’t.

So I spent Thanksgiving not worrying about email for the first time in a decade and then I went to Harvard and gave a talk about the dangers of innovation (pdf) which I am quite pleased with. While I was on campus I toured some libraries and my friend Jen suggested I check out this small art exhibit at the Radcliffe Institute. And I don’t know how to explain it but it was cathartic; scale models of buildings, made for blind people (many as WPA projects) that you could touch and interact with. All the while weather reports were piped in sort of through the walls. The invisible made visible. The visible made invisible. I had the gallery to myself. I vaguely remembered when my sister and I used to go to the Perkins School for the Blind when we were kids because we had a family friend who worked there. We met and interacted with blind children and learned about their worlds. I thought about how important that was to a rural kid in a very not-diverse environment, and how that happened because my mom made it happen, and how much that mattered.

You can learn a lot more about Perkins by looking at this lovingly curated Flickr photoset. Because, just to drive this point home, it’s the loving curation that makes some jumble of random digital crap into knowledge and not just data. Ahem.

a tale of two hotels

me in hotel room bathroom which is too big

I travel for work a decent amount. I’m not the world’s best sleeper so it can be a little tough lining up places to stay that are

– near the venue
– within my price range
– good for sleeping in

The last two Wednesday nights have seen me in two very different places. Two weeks ago I drove into Boston to give a talk at BU (notes and slides here). I often stay at AirBnBs in cities but it’s tough to find a place in Boston that also has parking. So I asked BU what they suggested and they suggested Hotel Commonwealth. I mainly asked because all of the nearby options seemed so expensive I had a hard time imagining that someone would reimburse me for staying at any of them. I am frugal to a fault and a little out of step with the cost of anything outside of the rural 1950s where I usually live. The hotel was lovely but noisy. The check-in desk was a card catalog and the woman at the desk was incredibly nice. When the room I was first assigned to–right over Kenmore Square, great view of the Citgo sign–was too noisy, she moved me upstairs to another room. I went out for dinner and came back and realized that the room was … I’m not sure, was right under the HVAC on the roof? It was literally vibrating.

I have earplugs and medicines and even can make Audacity play noise for me so I can sleep better, but none of this can combat vibrations. I also get agitated before talks which doesn’t help. So I called the nice lady at the front desk and said “Look I know it’s late but this isn’t going to work for me. I totally understand if there are no other options but I either need to switch rooms or check out.” She consulted with her supervisor and pointed at the screen of her computer and said “Well we do have THIS room…” and the supervisor nodded and I was given one more room key, a free upgrade because I am a princess and the pea and this woman was nice. The room turned out to be their signature suite (check this page for The Loft) and it was larger than my entire apartment and cost more per night than a month at my apartment. It had a pool table, fireplace, television, coffee maker (other rooms at HC did not have these), walk-in double showerhead shower, and separate sleeping nook behind “modern sliding barn doors.” It was definitely the hook up. And yet, it had un-adjustable AC that ran constantly (including right in to the walk-in shower), was bright because not all of the windows could be covered with curtains, had a noisy neighbor who was complaining loudly into her cell phone (“Mooooooom, it’s not FAIIIRRRRRRRR”) and despite the incredibly comfortable bed, was just not restful. I managed some sleep, but it was fitful. When they forgot to charge me for the valet parking, I did not correct their error. The talk went well, despite this.

The next week saw me with a bit of a headcold driving westwards towards Painted Post New York to stay at the Watson Homestead which is some sort of spiritual retreat center and the location of the Southern Tier Library System annual conference that I was keynoting (notes and slides here). I had emailed to make a reservation and said I’d be arriving late and they said they’d leave a key for me in an envelope. When I got there at 9 pm there was no key. I was 20 min from the nearest big town and had been driving for six hours. I was looking for sudafed and a bed. I was wandering around looking for someone when one of the guys in the lobby, Gary, asked me what was going on. I explained the situation. Turns out he was another guest in for a Roads Scholar event but he basically knew how the key system worked and he made a few phone calls, gave me a room key, and left a note for the office people about my general whereabouts. He also said that I could help myself to food in the fridge. I brought a ham and cheese sandwich and some tootsie rolls back to my room.

The rooms were simple and no frills (picture). No television in my room meant I was pretty sure that no one else had one either. The shower was a normal one with a curtain and a handle that just said H and C. There was an orientation guide that started out “Welcome Home…” and hoped that I had a joyous time. I turned a fan on for some noise, piled all the blankets on one bed and slept like the dead. In the morning I went to alert the office to my whereabouts and the woman there said “Oh great kiddo, glad you got it sorted. You’re fine where you are, have a great time.” I stayed the night before and the night after my talk. The talk went great. When I checked out, they charged me the dormitory room rate despite the fact that Gary had put me in the fancier West Wing. It was 12% of the room rate I was charged at the Hotel Commonwealth, 4% of the rate of the room I actually stayed in.

Jim and I talk about the future sometimes and how we want to scoot around the country in some sort of RV. I am into this idea for a number of reasons but the main one lately is so that no matter where I am, I like the idea of always having a predictable place to sleep and, if it’s too noisy, the ability to move it somewhere else.

the week that was continues?

photo of me in my kitchen holding a coffee mug

Because I am the relentless self-promoter that I am, I let my local newspaper know that I had won an award (and was on VPR – transcript now available) and they sent a photographer out to take a picture and put a little story on the front page (above the fold) which was immensely gratifying. It’s also been the source of some amusement as everyone in town is all “Oooo the famous librarian!” which is a name I’ve had on the internet for some time but not around here. These photos are great and I got to cut them out of the newspaper and put them in an envelope to send to my mom. My landlady always saves me a copy of articles about me in the paper to send to her.

Teaching has been going well though in my attempt to avoid terrible courseware I seem to have given myself a fairly chunky TODO list every week. I think this may be the secret to teaching: the more you can foist off on other people and systems, the less you have to do. Which is less of an incentive to a full-time professor than an adjunct who teaches a class here and there. It’s a weird decision to have to make, or even think about: the less I do, the higher my hourly wage winds up. I always design things that are easier for the students and possibly tougher for me and then wind up thinking “Why is teaching so hard?” when the answer is basically because I made it that way through sheer overcomplication. While I would have liked more complex classes in graduate school, I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. My students are a really interesting bunch of people and we’re entering the third week. Last week had Memorial Day. This week has Kamehameha Day which I have been learning more about. I try to learn a new thing every week I try to teach a new thing, seems only fair.

the week that was

photo of me in VPR studios taken by Jane Lindholm

So hey last week was nutty! In a mostly good way. The Vermont Library Conference happened and I received an award for Library Advocate of the Year, an award given out irregularly and last given to Bernie Sanders in 2003. This was mostly for the advocacy I did around the Librarian of Congress over the past year. What made it extra special was that my friend and neighbor Virgil (also VLA president) was the one who gave it to me. And that my local librarian Amy gave me a heads up that I’d be receiving it so that I would come to the conference earlier than she knew I would otherwise, so nice of her. The town library gave me a shout-out on facebook. People have been wonderful.

The next day I was interviewed on VPR’s Vermont Edition show about library stuff, the award, moss, the gamut. You can listen to the interview on their site and I should be getting a transcript up in a few days. I was nervous, like I always am, and carried a little card with me that said DON’T SAY UM and DON’T SWEAR and it went well. Jane is an incredibly gracious and friendly host and helped me be my best self. As a token of thanks I made her a Wikipedia page. Vermont being in a tech shadow often means that people who would otherwise deserve pages there aren’t represented. I can help with that. And when the page was reviewed and slated for deletion (“How is this person notable?”) I had the photo of her ready plus my librarian skills to make the case.

The funny thing is, I think the reason that I was on VPR has as much to do with this goofy tweet I made than anything else. A lot of the opportunities I’ve had lately have been “right place, right time, open to anything” sorts of situations. I got to meet Jane because I was willing to drive all the way to Colchester instead of sitting in an empty studio with a headset on in Montpelier. I got to talk to the White House because when someone gave me contact information for someone there, I followed up on it and when they said “Are you free for a phone call tomorrow?” I said “Yes!” even though I wasn’t really free, I just made the time. This is not, at all, to say that there wasn’t a lot of luck (and the privilege of being able to make these sorts of choices in the first place) that helped me out here. But also that there are ways of “forcing luck” if you’re already in a position to take advantage of it. I think calling myself lucky does gloss over some of the work I’ve done to make some of these things happen. But saying “I worked hard for all of this.” isn’t quite true either. I mean sure I work hard, but so do a lot of people.

This next week starts a whole new challenge which is teaching graduate school (for University of Hawaii) online and asynchronously. I am nervous, like I always am, but made a really nice website and (I hope) some good choices of what to talk about and how to talk about it. Site isn’t finished yet but you can look at it here. I’d been putting off working on it because I was so mad at the Course Management Software I couldn’t really think straight. So I just asked myself “Well if you could use whatever tools you wanted, how would this work?” and came up with this. I hope it works. I think it will. I’m lucky like that.