book review: prochownik’s dream

I can’t remember exactly the last time I read a book like Alex Miller’s Prochownik’s Dream. It’s in the literary fiction genre, where relationships are so tenuous and delicate and there’s nary a second moon to be seen.

Toni is an artist, supported by his wife. He hasn’t painted since his father died, instead doing installations that pass without comment. The book opens with him envying his 4 year old daughter’s confident line in her unskilled crayon drawings, wishing he could do something again.

Then old artist friends return to Melbourne from Sydney and he begins painting again, inspired. The book is about how an artist doing what he is meant to do doesn’t necessarily have a good effect on those around him.

I was impressed with the language used in the book. Miller talks about painting in a way that makes Toni’s passions make sense. Also, so many of the cheap and easy ways to deal with the conflicts set up in the book are deftly avoided, as are the clean resolutions. I really liked this, and it was my first real bit of Australian literary fiction wile I lived in the country. Thanks to Rob, my coworker at Prosentient, for the going away present.

the matter of experience

I see training in Koha as one of my most marketable things I do at Prosentient. It also feels weird to be thinking about how things will look on a resume, but whatever, the job market I’m going into is competitive. If I want a job some day thinking about this stuff is probably going to be a good idea. I’ve been terrible at selling myself in the past, and while there’s a kind of bravado in saying “they didn’t hire me because I was honest” it’s probably good to be honest in positive-about-my-abilities ways along with my standard self-deprecation.

So last week I went out to the Gippsland region in Victoria to train a couple of librarians in using Koha. This is another one of those instances where working for a small company is fun. I was given a lot of trust, some accommodations and a breakdown of how long to spend on each section of the software.

The librarians I was training are attached to hospitals, and very much in the special libraries are a one-person show kind of mould. They knew each other and were very good at asking detailed questions, which was great for me, since I’m more of a responsive teacher than a dictator of holy writ. We pushed the edges of what Koha is capable so they knew what was possible and what wasn’t. I hit the limits of my knowledge several times and brought back questions to answer later.

After our two days, which felt pretty intense on my end, they’ll be going live with their new systems this month. They seemed happy with what I could teach them. It was really fun to be a field agent for a few days. I find that hanging around the office doing so much on the computer is a touch painful. I feel nerves pinching from all the sitting, so it was good to get out into the world and crouch next to some folks who don’t like MARC records but have to use them, and show them how we can make their lives easier.

I do like how directly a couple of my SLAIS courses I took impact my work here (those courses would be Cataloguing and my Instructional Role of the Information Professional). The Instructional one is kind of obvious when I’m talking about going out and running a two day workshop, but even though I’m not hardcore cataloguing, knowing that lingo and how the rules work is really goddamn useful when you’re trying to teach someone how to use the software to do it. I do find that my knowledge of the Acquisitions module of Koha is less extensive since I haven’t had the experience with acquisitions (beyond troubleshooting Koha) that I have with Circulation and Cataloguing.

So yes, I join the chorus of people who say library school students both need to get experience and need to take a fucking cataloguing course. Use. Ful.

the distant future’s course selection

Apart from the shortness of the days around here, January seems a long way away. But late last night I signed up for my January courses.

The plan is to take four and a third courses. One is in Automation and Systems, which is basically the stuff I’m working with day in and day out here at Prosentient. And I have to take the Management course. I decided to take the 1 credit Risk Assessment course because it’s about insurance and stuff I know little about, and the classes are right at the beginning of the term which means it won’t add to the late-term crunch (and since I’ve taken one 1 credit course already it’d be a waste not to take a couple more). And I’m taking a YA services course, taught by my favourite SLAIS instructor so far.

The big choice I made was in taking another Children’s Literature course instead of Database Design. Technically speaking databases are much more practical. I’ve read kids’ books before and probably don’t need special training in dealing with the literature. But fuck it. I’m working with databases now and for the next six months. I want a course where I get to read good books.

And then I’ll still have 2 1/3 courses left for next summer before I’ll have a degree that says I’m a librarian.

introducing yourself to clients avec suavity

On Thursday I got to do something that falls right in the sweet spot of my skill-set. When I’m doing Koha tech support and querying databases and the like, I’m learning so much as I go, I get the thrill from figuring it out and making something work, not from the elegance, style, grace and aplomb with which I do it. But on Thursday one of my jobs was to write an email.

I take pride in my emails. They are not corporate boringspeak, and I don’t blather on and on about things (except to certain correspondents). I go for well-expressed clarity, with a light tone. This email I had to write was an introduction to a couple of new Koha features my boss had developed for our clients, and it was to let them know we’re now on Twitter (you too can follow @prosentient if you want).
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techno-babble as a second language

The other day I went along to a meeting at the New South Wales Parliament library. It was basically an in-person meeting to talk about some issues they were having with Koha. It’s a pretty huge collection they’re dealing with so they have interesting problems. One of them that we thought we’d fixed had been caused by a major backlog of records being re-indexed in the search server.

It’s funny to me to talk technically about re-indexing servers or whatever. It feels a little like I’m making up techno-babble. And in some ways I am. This is definitely one of those areas where you have to just move forward a little bit blindly and hope eventually something will click. I feel like it will.
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instructional role

When I taught English in China, I wasn’t a very good teacher. I did it though. It was a good experience, doing something I knew I was bad at, trying to get better, but not really knowing how. Me blundering along through failure for a couple of years was great for everyone. Except my students. And my self-esteem. Erm.

The thing is that when I got back to Canada and especially when I started working at a library reference desk I realized I’m not too shabby at one-on-one/small group instruction, especially when everyone is speaking the same language. It was teaching people to talk I was terrible at. But I still didn’t have a good handle on how to teach better or how to develop a lesson plan or anything like that.

So for me, my hands-down most useful class in my MLIS has been LIBR535: The Instructional Role of the Information Professional. The past couple of weeks we’ve been doing our short lessons and with actual guidance on how to do this stuff (simple guidance like “plan your lesson backwards from its objectives” and “making people physically do stuff is good because…”) I felt really good about it. And man oh man does it ever help when you’re teaching something you find interesting.
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