The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian…. The back to school edition

Yes, school is back in session. The fall semester started on August 24th and it has been almost non-stop since. Enrollment is up, WAY up. I suppose most community colleges are in this position with the economy being what it is. It is nice, but it also means that classes are full, that students need to be turned away because there aren’t enough classrooms to put classes in, etc.

In addition to a record number of new students, we have also switched to a new ID system which means that ALL students need a new ID card/ library card. Of course this is done in the library and has made for a very, very, busy time. In 4 days we have probably made over 1000 cards!

Interlibrary loan requests are up also. In 4 days I have sent out 17 books as ILLs!! We used to average at least 1 a day and the most I ever had to send out was 6 in one day. Part of this is the beginning of the school year and the requests will probably dwindle back down to the usual amount.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about higher education. For me, college was a fantastic time of exploration and learning. I was learning about who I was and broadening my horizons in general. My classes were not “marketable skills” classes per se. They were classes that taught me skills for the rest of my life. I learned to think critically and to be inquisitive. I learned what it means to work hard both mentally and physically (I was on the crew team for 4 years). I recently read an article from the Washington Post, “An Education Debate for the Books”. It discusses the fact that enrollment is down at St. John’s College and other Great Books schools. St. John’s is a small private liberal arts college which follows a curriculum based on great works of literature, science, math, etc. Students study Homer, Einstein, Chaucer etc. and have no major per se. The students graduate with a well rounded liberal arts degree. Lately it seems that the focus on higher education has become a focus on getting that degree that will get you money. Instead of society valuing the broader education of its citizenry, the value seems to be on money and what degree will get you the most. Thus enrollment is high for medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc., but some people question the worth of a bachelor’s in philosophy or Ancient Greek and Latin (my B.A. major). It isn’t all about money, or it shouldn’t be. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from more education. Having a solid background in classical works of all disciplines is a valuable tool for life that once earned cannot be taken away from you. Schools of higher education do more than teach skills for just one job, they encourage the student to step beyond what they are used to and explore the unknown. They foster tolerance for others who are different or have differing opinions. They encourage one to support one’s opinions with solid facts and to critically examine what is read or even seen on TV or the internet.

It saddens me when I overhear students saying that they are trying to get into a fast track nursing program that will let them go from RN certificate to a M.S. in Nursing without having to do a Bachelor’s program. This way they can skip all the “useless stuff” such as foreign languages etc. I wish no such option existed. I want my nurses to have as much education as possible and I expect that anyone with a Master’s degree has gone through a Bachelor’s program and thus have a certain general level of education and experience. Does everyone NEED to go to college?  I suppose not, although I wish everyone did. What truly matters is education. I know people who are so well read that they probably have the equivalent of a college degree. I wish society would start to value education more, not for the job you can get but for the person you will become after having the time and chance to explore the world and yourself in a safe academic environment that nurtures and encourages this self growth.

For all those in academia, welcome back to class and have a wonderful and enlightening semester.


Inventory Time

The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian


Well, it is that time again. Time to verify that the books that are supposed to be on the shelves are actually there and that there aren’t any books on the shelves that are not supposed to reside there. You may think this is a simple, easy process but you would be sadly mistaken.

First of all, this is the first time we have been required to do inventory for 3 years. We used to do it every year but then someone much higher up on the ladder told us we only needed to take inventory every 3 years. So… it has been 3 years. There are only a couple of us who were here the last time this was done.

Second, we do inventory the old fashioned way—paper and pencil (no hand held scanners for us)! Also we have a new library director so we are doing a bit more than inventory—we are checking for duplicates and call number irregularities as well.

All this means that it is very slow going. Picture if you will two wonderful library staff members in the stacks. One is climbing up and down on the library stool and reading off call numbers while the other is dutifully checking them off on a shelf list and marking any duplicates, missing items, oversize items, and other peculiarities. We only have 5 full time folks, one part time staff, and one student worker doing all this.

But does the wandering librarian despair? NO! In spite of the seemingly tediousness of the task it is not THAT bad. One gets to know the collection better in this process. And, even though it is slowing us down, by making notes and fixing call number issues etc. we will definitely improve the usability of the collection. Also, this is probably the last time inventory will be done by paper and pencil….hopefully next time there will be hand held scanners etc.

Yes this is a big project which can be tiresome, but it also gives us a chance to bond with each other and work more closely together which is fun. Part of the stress is that we are also redoing our whole student ID system now. These are also the library cards and we will need to be redoing everyone’s!  All faculty, all staff, all students (new and returning) will all need a new ID. The ID system arrives tomorrow, right in the middle of inventory. Fun, fun, fun. Change is always slightly stressful, but also makes things interesting.

So don’t pity those of us slaving away in the stacks making little chit marks by items on our shelf list, we enjoy our jobs! I think all of us will feel quite proud and satisfied when we have completed our task and our collection is all in order and looking good.

Vera Atkins, WWII SOE agents, and a life of secrets….

The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian

Helm, S. (2005). A life in secrets: Vera Atkins and the missing agents of WWII. New York: Nan A. Talese / Doubleday.

This is the story of Vera Atkins and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents who operated in France during WWII. In 1940 the SOE was formed separate fromMI5 and MI6 to operate agents in Europe. SOE’s mission was to infiltrate occupied countries and set up networks of partisans and freedom fighters. They were to be the guerilla warriors, along with the French Resistance, who would engage in sabotage and help from behind the lines when D-Day occurred.

A Life in Secrets focuses on F section- those involved in France. In examining the life of Vera Atkins, this take describes her duty in sending agents over into France, particularly her duties to the many female agents sent. Female agents were in a peculiar position because if they were part of a military branch (such as WAAF- Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) they were forbidden to engage in combat. In order to fulfill their duties for the SOE they had to be classified as civilians and many were made to join the civilian group FANY (acronym of First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). Unfortunately, being classified as a civilian, they could not claim to be a soldier if they were captured (unlike their male counterparts). Even under the Geneva Convention, spies, unlike soldiers, could be executed upon capture.

While Vera was not very high up in the SOE organization, she played a prominent role in F section that grew with time. After the war she made her real contributions. She was the one who insisted on going into Germany and trying to trace what had happened to the agents—especially the female agents—who never came home. It is a tragic story of espionage, betrayal, mistakes, horrible prisons, concentration camps, and agonizing cruel death.

Vera herself was something of an enigma which Sara Helm seems to have cleared up as much as possible. Vera’s father was German, mother English—both Jewish but they seemed to have hidden that fact. Vera was born in Romania where the family owned timber plants and mills. While Vera was in the SOE she was technically an enemy alien. Before joining the SOE Vera made a very risky journey into Holland and Belgium to pay a bribe to the Abwehr (German intelligence organization) to secure a new passport for her cousin Fritz Rosenberg (Vera’s father’s name was Rosenberg, she changed it to Atkins –her mother’s maiden name, later). This enabled Fritz and his wife Karen and their small child to escape the Nazis who had overrun Romania (Fritz’s German passport was stamped with a big red J for Jew and the bribe got him a passport without the stamp). Vera was caught behind enemy lines when the Nazis took over the Low Countries and barely escaped herself. Yet this story was something she hid for her whole life because if it was discovered that Karen Rosenberg made deals with the German intelligence to get her husband out, and Vera herself had paid a bribe to them, she would never have been allowed in the SOE. Because of this secrecy, Vera distanced herself from Fritz’s family and appeared very cold to their children out of fear that the story of what she had done for them would somehow be revealed.

This is an amazing, convoluted story of naivety and sad mistakes made by the SOE which resulted in agents being dropped directly into Gestapo hands. From there they ended up in Karlesrule prison and then many were sent on to concentration camps: Mauthausen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Natzweiler, and Ravensbruck. It is the tale of Vera’s unrelenting pursuit of what happened to “her girls”. But it is also a story of information Vera hid, how she shut herself off from the world and appeared to many as quite cold (especially to some of the children of agents who had perished). When one thinks about how much she was still hiding and her fears that her secrets would be discovered, this begins to make more sense.

–A wonderful story about a horrible time in history and what people did to survive.

Please return your library books (or else)…

The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian


All libraries at one time or another have had to deal with the issue of getting their books back. Some solve this in the beginning by not letting anyone take the books out of the library. Visions of old tomes chained to reading stations come to mind. In the world of lending libraries, the books go out and then must come back.

Most (all?) public libraries charge fines when books become overdue. This encourages patrons to return the book by the due date if they don’t want to pay. These libraries also will often block patrons from using library resources if they have overdue books or unpaid fines. This works to some degree. However there does come a point when a book is so overdue that the fines are quite hefty. Some patrons are embarrassed that the book is so overdue, and some just don’t want to pay $50 for a $5.99 book. The result is the same, the book doesn’t get back to the library and the patron becomes a former patron who no longer uses the library. Needless to say, both of these situations are not good for the library.

Some brilliant librarian came up with library amnesty day (I don’t know which library was the first to do this but kudos to them). Once a year a time period is set up when patrons can return overdue books and not pay any fine. Yes the library does lose the money they would get from the fine, but they get the items back which is the whole purpose of charging fines in the first place. If the amnesty day or week is well publicized, it can really work well and get patrons back into the library which is where we want them.

At the community college library where I work we do things a bit differently. We do encourage students to bring the books back on time or at least renew the books, but we don’t charge overdue fines. We only allow students to have library privileges during the current semester they are enrolled. In other words, all students expire at the end of every semester. If they are taking classes the following semester, their library account will automatically update at the beginning of that semester. We have a set date near the end of each semester when we recall all books. Any students who have books out past that date have hold put on them. This is the amazing power we have to get our books back. The holds prevent students from registering for classes, getting financial aid, graduating, getting grades, and getting transcripts. Of course as soon as the books are returned the holds are removed and everyone is happy. Most students return the items either on time or within a week of the hold being put on. Some wait until the next semester they go to take classes and then find they are blocked and return the book. Occasionally we get people calling up saying they are trying to get a transcript from the school but they are blocked because they didn’t return books back in 1995 (yes we keep records that go way back!). In that case the student needs to pay for the books they have had for so many years.


Just remember, we like loaning books out but we want to keep doing it. If you keep the book, we can’t do that. Libraries all across the country are having budgets slashed. In fact for years, library budgets have been stagnant. People have been rediscovering the joys and advantages of libraries now that the economy is bad. Libraries are extremely economical and provide such wonderful services. Do your part by returning borrowed items on time. You know what it is like waiting for a book that you want to read to be returned, so be a conscientious borrower. If you do find yourself in the situation of having a library book over due for such a long time that the fines are difficult for you to pay, talk to the library folks. They may have an amnesty time or they may set up a reasonable payment plan. Enjoy your library!

Scandals, Vandals, and Da Vincis

…. The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian

Rachlin, H. (2007). Scandals, vandals, and Da Vincis: A gallery of remarkable art tales. New York: Penguin Books.

Rachlin discusses 26 different works of art from an interesting view point. The purpose is not to go over the technical aspects of the famous works, but to relate interesting stories behind the paintings. Some of these are scandalous; some relate thievery, and some are merely interesting. All of them make one think about the painting and the artist in a new light.

Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and was missing for 2 years and 4 months. It turned out a South American forger wanted to sell copies to unscrupulous collectors so he had arranged for it to be stolen and hoped that it would be publicized (it was) so that the collectors would think there was a chance they were buying THE Mona Lisa. He sold six copies at $300,000 each.

Hans Holbein the Younger painted Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan in 1538 so that King Henry VIII could choose a new wife after Jane Seymour died after giving birth. Henry wanted to see what the potential mates looked like so his court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, was sent to various courts in Europe to paint potential future Mrs. Henry VIIIs. Christina of Denmark was quite beautiful and Henry loved the picture but since her uncle was Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (with whom England was almost always in opposition if not outright war), the marriage never happened. In fact Henry never met Christina, but instead married Anne of Cleves. Again, he had Holbein the Younger paint a portrait first of Anne and her sister Amelia. Henry preferred Anne, but when he first saw her, she was not as attractive as her portrait had been. Cromwell was sent to the Tower of London for this oversight and shortly thereafter, lost his head. Holbein somehow survived this mistake and Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves anyway, but soon (six months later) divorced her and married Catherine Howard (wife number 5).

Agnolo Bronzino painted Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni de’ Medici in 1545. She is show wearing a most elaborate and beautiful dress. In the 1800s it is discovered that many of the Medici family coffins that were in the basilica of San Lorenzo were moved and dumped haphazardly in the basement and any jewels stolen. An effort was made to identify the remains in the various coffins and reorganize them. One coffin held the remains of a female in her 30s wearing an amazingly stunning dress (or the remains there of). Most people immediately thought of the dress in Bronzino’s painting and believed it to be the same dress and thus the remains of Eleonora. The bones fit the age of Eleonora when she died and the dress seemed to confirm the identity. However in the 1980s the remains of the dress are taken to the Costume Gallery in the Pitti Palace and a close study and conservation are begun. After 10 years the burial dress is reconstructed and looks similar to the one in the painting. However, there are many detailed differences and it is confirmed that the burial dress is NOT the same dress in the painting… now the question is open again…Who was buried in that coffin? Was it Eleonora anyway or was it someone else?

Sir Henry Raeburn Painted Lady Maitland circa 1817. Rachlin asks the readers to ponder what Lady Maitland might be thinking of as she sat for this portrait. She was the wife of a British naval commander, Frederick Lewis Maitland, who two years prior was commanding the HMS Bellerophon as it transportated Napoleon Bonaparte after his surrender at Waterloo. Captain Maitland had a miniature portrait of his wife (not the one by Raeburn) hanging in his cabin on the Bellerophon When Napoleon saw it he asked who it was and commented on how pretty Lady Maitland was. Lady Maitland, Lady Strachan and Sir Richard Strachan were aboard a small vessel that was allowed to approach close to the Bellerophon and Napoleon stood on the gangway to personally meet the captain’s wife. He wanted Lady Maitland to come aboard so he could talk with her, but that was not allowed. One wonders if she was thinking of her meeting with Napoleon as she sat for another portrait.

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painted Washington Crossing the Delaware in 1851. This is the famous painting of Washington standing in the bow of the boat as his soldiers convey it across the Delaware to the battle of Trenton. This was the major turning point in the Revolutionary war and this painting has been reproduced a multitude of times. However, this was not the original. Leutze was working on it when a fire broke out seriously damaging the painting. He repaired it as best he could and completed the painting but it was still obviously damaged. He then went and started over to make another painting. This second version was sent to the United States where it was a huge success. Leutze wanted the orginal version to be exhibited in the Capitol in Washington D.C.  but this didn’t happen because of the damage to the painting. Instead it was displayed in Germany and won awards before being bought by the Kunsterein (a private art society) and displayed in their museum the Kunsthalle Bremen. However, in 1942 the RAF bombed Bremen and 6 rooms in Kunsthalle Bremen were destroyed. All of the paintings in those rooms had been placed in a secure shelter to protect them except for Leutze’s painting since it was too large to move.

Rosa Bonheur painted The Horse Fair in1853. She painted at a time when women weren’t allowed to attend art institutes. Her father was a painter and also believed in the equality of women so she did much learning on her own. She found she loved painting animals and would go to great lengths to study them. Bonheur kept animals in her studio, she dissected animals to see their anatomy, went to stables and even slaughterhouses.  When going to stables and other venues that were male territory, she was often harassed by the male workers. When she decided to paint the Paris horse fair she went dressed as a male so she would be left alone to sketch and paint.  The Horse Fair was a success where it was exhibitied in France, London, and the United States. Bonheur’s fame spread and she moved from Paris to a nice hamlet – By near Fontainebleau. She continued to wear her hair short and dress in men’s clothing for the rest of her life. When she was out riding with a newly married male friend of hers, one of his acquaintances jested that it was not wise of the new bride to let her husband ride off with Bonheur. Bonheur replied “If you only knew how little I care for your sex, you wouldn’t get such queer ideas into your head. The fact is, in the way of males, I like only the bulls I paint.” Well, that is about as close as you get in the 1800s to saying “I am a lesbian”. Bonheur fell in love with Nathalie Micas who had been a former student of Bonheur’s father. When Nathalie died, Bonheur was devastated but eventually fell in love with an American, Anna Klumpke. As Rachlin so wonderfully puts it at the end of this chapter, “Rosa Bonheur famously donned male garb in Paris in the mid-nineteenth centure to paint her great equine work of art. But the true story of The Horse Fair -and indeed of her life-was not that Rosa Bonheur had to pretend to be a man, but that she refused to hide who she was as a woman.” (p. 205).

If you wish to be entertained or educated about more famous artwork stories, you will have to read this entertaining work that allows even non-artists and non-art historians to take a more personal glimpse at the stories behind some very famous paintings.

Woes of Technology…

The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian….

On our community college library website we have a really nifty set of Bibliographic Instruction (information literacy) tests …. A pre-test and a post test. These are designed for students to take before (pre) and after (post) having a bibliographic instruction session with a librarian. They would be a wonderful source of feedback on what the students are getting out of the session and for someone who has never used the library, the pre-test is quite informative in itself.

These tests even look cool…They are hosted by Zoomerang which does online surveys… so these are kind of modified surveys.  The pre-test is 19 questions including name of professor and class. They are all multiple choice with nice radio buttons for selecting your answer. In all they are easy to use and should be an excellent tool for our librarians.

Notice the word SHOULD. These wonderful resources are, alas, not used. WHY? You ask… well, it is because of how they are hosted. The librarians don’t have access to any of the surveys/ test answers. They must talk to another department who collects all the information from the Zoomerang folks and then does who knows what with that information (disperse it to appropriate departments one would hope). Well, those folks don’t seem to want to be checking for submissions of library questions and repeated requests have apparently gone unanswered. Of course, I am not exactly in the loop so there could be other factors involved such as the format in which Zoomerang sends results.

I guess my point is that this wonderful tool is not so wonderful because librarians don’t have direct control over getting the results when they need them. There are so many other issues that we should be focusing our time on such as thinking of ways to get the students to take the pre and post tests (small class assignment like a one to 5 point grade or perhaps extra credit [both of which depend on the students’ professor in order to be effective but which would not require the professor to do much other than telling the students to do the tests]). In stead theses tests sit idle on the library website and our librarians have to think up other ways to get feedback.


(Wanderings of a newly minted librarian continued)

Last week I had the great pleasure of helping a very enthusiastic student. This student was trying to do some research for a paper and wasn’t sure how to find scholarly or peer reviewed journal articles in the on line databases. I walked him through the process showing him a couple of different databases and some of the options they offer to narrow down search parameters. I also showed him some useful hints for properly citing sources.  Really, I just did what pretty much any reference librarian would if they had someone who wanted to learn (i.e. wasn’t in a huge hurry). This experience confirmed my desire to be a librarian and was just one of those interactions which bring a smile to the face. The student was very grateful and now has the tools to complete not just this project, but future research as well, and I got a warm fuzzy feeling of helping out a fellow human and making a difference to someone.

The story doesn’t stop there however.  The next day the grateful student went to the library website and found the contact information for the Assistant Director (my boss) and sent him a wonderful email mentioning my service and how impressed he was. Wow! It really can’t get much better. It isn’t often that someone takes the time to write (even if it is email) and to have this happen after such a wonderful reference session just made my day (and probably month and year). What a nice week.