On brainstorming & committing

Be warned – this is a self reflection post so it feels very “me” focused.  There are “I”s scattered all over the place!  Hopefully you, dear readers, get something out of it or feel there’s something to respond to.  Otherwise, sorry!  :-)

I am an enthusiastic brainstormer.  Especially when I get excited about some idea, a common occurrence.  I feed off that wisp of energy emanating from a person who is beginning to work through something in their mind.  My first instinct is to say “Yes yes! Tell me more!  How can we make this happen?”

This is a blessing and a curse, I tell you.  For the most part this is, as I say, a blessing:  I enjoy these conversations, I feel happy about my day when I have them, I feel good about myself when I think I have helped someone accomplish something creative or new, and usually learn quite a bit from them.  When can it be a curse?  When I over-commit.  Oh and I am an over-committer.  I am a very bad offender of this egregious issue and always have been.  I get so excited by brainstorming with people that I often volunteer to do things: oh yes!  I will help you write that up; I will look into that data for you; I will… etc.  This is fine – it’s very good to be a team player, but if it gets in the way of other work that’s a problem.

Thankfully, this year, however, our professional goals process here at the library are helping me acknowledge that I have this tendency AND helping me realize what my true priorities are.

So for example, a few months ago I saw someone write a post on an email list whose name I recognized.  I had cited him in a paper I wrote!  So I wrote him to say “Cool paper, we cited you!”  To which he responded something to the effect of “Thank you!  Also, would you be interested in being on more papers on this topic unrelated to the topic of the paper you mentioned?”  I was thisclose to saying “um, SURE!” and then I had an epiphany moment:  no no no.  This topic is very interesting but I have ways to plug into that work here at my library.  I do not need to sign up for something that will result in a publication because that’s just not one of my goals at the moment.  I do not need to sign up for something that will take away from the other more important uses of my time (e.g. developing a plan for integrating information literacy into our psychology curriculum).  So, I declined.  It felt good.

Unfortunately, I’m still not there yet.  Another “for example”:  I found myself on a college-wide committee that is turning out to be more work than I anticipated and I’m not feeling like I am doing it justice.  I’m not sure exactly how to fix this:  once our big thing is written I can scale back my volunteering within the committee or attempt to leave it entirely?  There’s no set term limit that I can see.  We shall see – this one may be a wait it out.

Now what?  Well, I have definitely started to label moments of brainstorming (verbally!) as they are happening.  This is a good start.  From here, I have started to say to myself – alright, this is a brainstorm.  Do you really want to commit to anything coming out of this?  If so, what limits might you place on that?  Maybe none?  Maybe a lot?  In general, I think it’s okay to be wrong about “hey, this seems like one of those times I can say no!” because just the practice of saying no is hard to get into for me.  Still, I never want to go overboard towards the other direction:  it’s still fun to say yes and try new things.

In some ways, there is a connection to be drawn between this kind of back-and-forth in my brain about small and medium commitments that add up to a lot of time for maybe not the best overall wise use of my time with the tension between scheduling a lot of one-shot instruction sessions and lamenting the fact that there is no time or energy left to infuse a department’s curriculum with higher quality information literacy work.  I think it’s a matter of scale – we’re (I’m?) looking at the small picture:  my fun brainstorm & ensuing tasks; the one-shots all the faculty are asking for) and saying “Good! These things are fun, good and needed!  People are asking for them!”  But in doing so, there is less time and energy for the larger landscape:  how do I make sure that at the end of the year, I’ve really re-thought XYZ or re-imagined and planned out something valuable at a deeper level in terms of information literacy within and across curricula?

Just drawing that connection right now makes me hopeful that I will keep pondering these issues as I weigh little moments during the day against long term goals – be they personal or professional.

A favorite thing

NOTE:  This post was mysteriously not published back in March, 2014 (when I was still at Michigan).  So, here you go!  Enjoy!


One of the things I love most about living in this University town for a number of years is attending the dissertation defenses of my dear friends.  It fills me with a special kind of joy to watch people I know in one capacity present some overview of all that they have accomplished in their work from the last four to eight years.  Woah.  Serious stuff!

It’s fascinating to see the difference of styles between departments, the different presentation choices different people make, and the truly vast range of topics covered – really, it’s humbling and inspiring.

Inspiring this post, I’ve just attended a defense talk by a friend about the genes and proteins involved in a blood disorder (something akin to hemophilia but not quite).  Important work and a job incredibly well done.  I may not have understood most of the talk, but I think it speaks well to the speaker that I understood the major issues and major conclusions (and their implications).  Go Lesley!

But, I’ve been to quite a range of these talks – which is just the best!  Many that I’ve been going to recently are for folks getting MD/PhD’s (in that category, my husband’s was obviously a highlight; especially after hearing five practice talks…)!  I’ve enjoyed going to the defense talks of others from his lab, too, though.  One recent defense talk from his lab started in a lovely way: “This could be a story of two loves, but the story of meeting my wife will take too long so I shall only be able to cover my love of science.”    Well played, Alejandro, well played indeed.

One memorable talk I remember just might have been my first dissertation defense talk I had ever been to outside of the department I was in at the time (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology):  Leo’s math talk!  He literally gave a chalk talk (the only defense talk I have been to that used no computer, no slides, no projector… just chalk and the board).  Leo started off with, “So Euclid said…”  After those words I was lost, but it was amazing to watch him give this lecture summarizing his whole PhD using the board.  Math.  That is one incredible field of study.

Another friend, Katie, defended her dissertation in Classics last year – but I wasn’t allowed to attend!  They were not public!  I was so distraught – tracking down friends who are defending is really my thing and I was very sad to miss this one.  Luckily, I helped her with her (ultimately highly successful!) job talk and that sufficed as a defense talk.  Heracles had quite the wild ride, I learned.

A few former housemates were in the Astrophysics department and I went to about three defenses for that program covering the formation of stars, the formation of galaxies, and the formation of the universe.  Those made me feel quite small!  Mark, another former housemate, defended an applied physics dissertation wherein he looked at how we could image breast cancers more effectively.  Turns out it’s quite a challenge to capture a picture of a cancerous mass in some squishy tissues.

Finally, I have loved attending a number of defenses from folks in the Ecology department – particularly those in my original cohort who went on to get PhD’s.  I’ve heard about plant farts (just kidding, plants don’t fart – but they do produce chemicals that can hint to predators of their herbivores that there might be tasty snacks for them), earthworm impacts on forest litter dynamics, predator effects on tadpole communities, complex food web dynamics, community ecology of agroecosystems, aquatic microbiology, and… so much more.

I think what I love most about attending these events is that it’s clearly a time to pause and say, “Gosh, I have done a lot.  Some of what I’ve done makes the world a better place.  Some of what I’ve done really furthers my field and opens up new avenues for research.  And I’m proud of that.”  I don’t know that we do that “pause” in the working world enough.  Preparing for a defense takes a certain amount of effort – and sometimes, it seems to me, the defender feels like they’re on mile 25 of a marathon and is running on fumes.  But, I think it’s valuable to reflect on what one’s research amounted to (even if some projects didn’t work out or failed outright).  In doing that reflection, I think the defender can come out of what, at times, may have been a truly harrowing experience with some down-in-the-dumps time and realize all that they have accomplished, all that they can do, all that they have learned how to do, etc.

In the question period of Lesley’s defense, one astute audience member asked about the ratio of effort to data in this defense.  The audience member speculated that that ratio might have been high (as in, over the course of a PhD, one puts in a lot of effort pursuing one project after another – or many at the same time – and not all yield fruit).  Lesley had a very gracious answer in response, but I find this question to be highly apt for many PhD’s.  It seems to me that in doing such an endeavor, one DOES put in a lot of effort going down paths that aren’t fruitful (on the face of them).  But that exercise is the process of learning to do science.  Sometimes things don’t work out!

Other insights from this exposure?

Crafty Creative Time

At our library, mimicking Google’s 20% time, we spend a (small) percentage of our time on something creative.  Many people take MOOCs, many pick up new skills somehow, and until recently I was blogging about my collection weeding efforts and the new resources I was finding.  I will pick that up again shortly.  But since January, I’ve embarked on a collaborative crafty project with my officemate…appliqué and embroidery!

Let me back up.  When I married my husband, my sister created a beautiful quilt for us by sending out squares to our family and friends to design.  See how lovely it is??

Wedding Quilt

Then, when my son was born last year, she presented us with a blank quilt of the same style.  As I got to know my lovely officemate, Laura, I learned she was incredibly crafty (alas, an adjective one would not ascribe to yours truly).  So, we decided to embark on a collaborative project ourselves:  she’d mentor me and help me stitch on something related to Henry’s first year.  Et, voila!

Me holding Henry's quilt Henry Quilt 2 Henry Quilt 3Butternut squash!  Always a favorite :-)  And I seriously could not have done it without the amazing mentorship and calming vibes of the amazing Laura R.

Happy springtime, dear readers!


Friday in the Stacks: Weeding Project!

Our library plans to renovate at some point in the future.  The consequence of this is that the reference collection needs a bit of weeding to clear space for other more fruitful uses.  Therefore, I’ve decided to spend my weekly stacks hour working through each of my collection domains exploring titles that may be fated for the chopping block.

I started this morning.  I’ll write more about this in future weeks, but I haven’t been able to get a little thought out of my brain:   There simply must be some reality show in here, right?  So… what’s it called, people??


Would any of you watch?

Seriously though, if you’ve ever weeded a collection, please send thoughts and advice!  :-)


Friday in the Stacks: Sociology Time

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Prompted by a vendor email, this week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking around what we have in these – I’m not sure what you call them – large reference works packages provided by Credo, Reference Universe and SAGE.  These platforms let you search for reference content across many electronic reference works.  They can be confusing at first (what am I looking at?  Entries for “baseball” in multiple different encyclopedias?  What source is this coming from?).  But when you spend some time browsing their sites, it becomes clearer what you are looking at.

In any case, the vendor had suggested that I purchase a book (the Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies) but it turns out we already have this book – though it’s not located in our reference collection.  It’s upstairs in the circulating collection!  Hurray!  So I thought today I’d do a bit of digging in the circulating collection for quasi-reference works – for things like this Handbook.

I perused this morning, in a fascinating TWO hours I am not ashamed to say, four books:

The two handbooks contain selected readings by various authors organized to convey a landscape of the field of sociology as it is now and the field of globalization studies (a topic of growing importance in the last decade or two).  The Routledge globalization handbook contains over thirty entries organized around major theories, major issues, new institutions and cultures, and solutions.  Sociology, it turns out, is very applied!  While there is no overall introduction to the work, the table of contents is enough of a guide to find a chapter of interest.  Chapters seem to be often grounded in real-world stories but many are heavy on the theory.  Skimming a few, I think these could be really useful to students if they knew to find the book and then look through at chapter headings (it’s a print book so they’d have to think to use the book first).  Luckily, the subject headings are quite easy to return to (globalization — social aspects, globalization — economic aspects, etc.)  Now that I know about this source, I will definitely put it on a guide for my sociology courses that touch on globalization – and I’ll remember it for those reference interactions that involve globalization.

The SAGE handbook feels more of a sociology textbook, I think.  This volume covers research methods, societal processes (e.g. the culture of work, the sociology of the family, the institution of money, class, race, ethnicity etc.), and major recent debates in sociology (e.g. how to connect micro and macro levels of analysis, marrying politics with global inequality issues, etc.).  Each entry again is written by a different author – and it covers quite a range of topics.  The subject headings in the catalog are scanty: simply “sociology.”  We have 922 books with that subject heading, and I think a student would be hard-pressed to find this in a catalog search.  Only were she browsing might she happen upon it.  There are certainly useful entries – for example, Chapter 11 by Patricia Hill Collins on the Challenges for the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity asks some interesting and critical questions (such as “Why has a field whose mission remains the study of social relations of race and ethnicity been repeatedly caught off guard by racial and ethnic conflict?”)*  Great read, but hard to find for a student!  Again, glad that’s why I’m doing this I suppose.  Now I can walk a student over to the stacks and find this and other handbook-type sources that may have chapters covering important topics in sociology that also would be valuable to her.

I had to pick up The Promise of Sociology – it’s written by a guy whose last name is Beamish which makes me think of “come to my arms my beamish boy!”  In truth, this is basically Beamish’s ode to introduction to sociology courses everywhere.  It’s a fabulous (and reasonably short) book covering classic, traditional sociology from Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and then contemporary sociology.  It’s written for undergraduates and I love it.  I am tempted to take it out to bolster my own knowledge but I’ll leave it on the shelf for now.  But, if you’re looking for an overview of sociology with a bent towards how the discipline has evolved, this is your volume!

Finally, I found myself engrossed in Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life.  Just couldn’t put it down.  How prescient.  There is a chapter – this was published in 2002 – on grossly massive racial inequalities in East St. Louis, IL (that’s basically just the other side of St. Louis – which is near Ferguson).  There is an entry by Jill Nelson on her first interview with Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and the racial tensions underlying it.  Each entry seems to be an excerpt from a book-length work (I could be wrong but I recognized several books that were summed up as chapters here).  I could have spent hours reading the entries and then googling the authors, searching the catalog for their books, etc.  Again, this work is more like a textbook with chapters organized by theme to tie together the major challenges and opportunities of sociology, but it reads so well.  At the end of each chapter there are some discussion prompts.  A few of these chapters could have worked perfectly for my book club back in Ann Arbor (that I so desperately miss right now)!  Ann Arbor Paginators – consider a chapter or two from this for some month coming up!

* These days, I find my thoughts rather consumed with dread, sadness, empathy and hopelessness with what has been happening in our country recently around institutionalized, system-created, system-propagated racism and police brutality. So I’m gravitating towards chapters on the topic.

Lynne Viti and the Supremes!

The Supremes

Laura (right) and I (left) dressed up as Supreme Court Justices

Last Friday I did not spend time with my reference books as I was otherwise occupied impersonating a Supreme Court Justice for Lynne Viti’s first year writing seminar on the Supreme Court.  Lynne invited me and my colleague and officemate, Laura, to her course to hear students argue four cases currently in front of the Supreme Court.  These were:

What fascinating cases!  Already we’ve had one decision come down from on high (the real life court decided):  the court ruled that workers do not need to be compensated with overtime pay for the time they spend in a security clearance line after normal work hours.  The (real) justices were unanimous in their decision on this one.

I must say, when asked to fill out the survey on how I would vote, I think my gut told me the decision should be one way for each of these cases but that the law and precedent do not always lead a justice to that decision.  So, it was really neat to be in such a mock trial situation.

Clearly, I am eagerly awaiting all the other decisions!

Friday in the Stacks: Sources on the U.S. Government

“For forms of government let fools contest / whate’er issue best administered is best.”

Alexander Pope

Today I spent my hour reviewing a few reference works on American government and public policy: A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government, the Encyclopedia of American Government, the Encyclopedia of American Public Policy, and the Encyclopedia of the American Presidency. The Historical Guide to the U.S. Government and the Encyclopedia of American Government were most similar in terms of what they set out to do, so I decided to do a little exercise in comparing the two.

Though published in 1998, I found the Historical Guide reasonably enjoyable and fairly comprehensive. This work seems appropriate in scope and intended audience. Entries tend to be on various agencies, departments and groups of the federal government such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Library of Congress, the Mint, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. These kinds of entries help explain the structure of government. But, there are also some entries of extended essays on topics such as “Accountability in the Federal Government,” “History and Historians in the Federal Government,” and “Regulation and Regulatory Agencies.”

Because I’m interested in libraries, I did a little looking into the Library of Congress entry. Whenever I read anything in the stacks, I always come up with little project ideas… threads I will never unravel and re-sow but threads nonetheless. This time was no different. In the entry on the Library of Congress, I read:

“For a while, the Smithsonian Institution emerged as a rival to the Library of Congress.”

That one little line is likely to hide a fascinating history! It references that tumultuous period in our nation’s history: the 1850s-1860s. Ah, if I had all the time in the world, I’d satisfy that little itch I have to learn all about organizational culture and organizational drama – in this case in the early history of the Smithsonian and reasonably early history of the Library of Congress. In another life perhaps. (Clearly, I simply must start a “to do when retired” list). I digress.

Why would a Wellesley College undergraduate find herself in the stacks reading entries in this book though? The book is written by well credentialed authors, entries are short enough to be unintimidating but long enough to be substantive. If I were at the desk, I might guide a student to this source if she were starting on a paper or project and needed to know more about some entity in the government. I am dubious that she would wander to find this book on her own (as Wikipedia might solve her immediate needs – indeed, it has more about the period I am interested in for the LOC). But that is, perhaps, besides the point. It’s a good source. I like it. And now I know more about it.

I was not so pleased with the Encyclopedia of American Government. This four volume set read to me as if it were written for a high school student. I compared a few similar entries between the two works, and found the Encyclopedia lacking. For example, when I skimmed entries on the G.I. bill in both, I found the Historical Guide’s entry to be clearer, more concise, and ultimately more useful. So, I will likely not point my inquisitive Wellesley student this way anytime soon. Ah well, you win some and lose some, yes?

This week, I picked these resources to look at because I’ve got some decisions to make (thankfully with input from others!) about a few purchases for the political science reference section. One thing I realized this morning was that I need to consider what purchases might be redundant. For example, do we need another guide to the U.S. Presidency? Or does our 1994 Encyclopedia of the American Presidency offer what we need for students right now? (Actually that’s an unfair example because we also do have a Guide to the Presidency that is from 2008 which I didn’t look at this morning).

In any case, I think these are the kinds of questions I’ll be mulling over across each of my six departments over the weeks, months, and years… but for now, I think I’m beginning to develop some sense of the current scope of our collection as well as what updates and additions would be welcome.