Sunday, August 5, 2018

New beginnings

Today is the end of an era, as the Venerable takes her last service as an incumbent. Fittingly, the lessons were about violence against women (Bathsheba) and the ministry of making more with less. In their quietly supportive and thoughtful way, the parish called her up during the postlude for a laying on of hands.

I estimated this week that I have probably attended 1964(ish) church services in my (relatively short!) life. I think it's safe to say that almost everyone underestimates the fact that the parish priest is one of the roles most in the public eye in a community.

Over the years, I have listened to some of the best music ever, seen some of the worst liturgical dancing, skipped the lessons to grab a coffee at McDonald's across from the cathedral with my friend Marianne (the verger came outside to let us know when to get back in time for communion), seen a mentally ill individual do the Nazi salute in front of the cross, had the privilege to sing morning prayer (BCP) accompanied by a barrel organ in my heart's own country church in Rougemont, been pumped for info about my young single mother, witnessed fainting, heart attacks, and broken hips, heard hate speech and seen unspeakable petty cruelty, felt the boundless, deep love of those who tended the flame of my father's memory, made friends with a poet in a graveyard, learned about what happens with absolute power, watched true love blossom among two 80-somethings, observed the capacity for generosity take root in unexpected hearts, taught Sunday school in an attic, been a server, read lessons, avoided the altar guild at all costs, seen someone hide a teen pregnancy, burned myself on innumerable candles, crushed the patriarchy (but only a little bit), found peace, lost my patience, opened my own heart, and - above all else - protected those I love from the politics of it all, and learned from the grace of this woman.

P.S. I realised I am posting a few things on places like Facebook that I don't want to consign to the Zuckerberg dustbin, so I am re-posting (sorry to those who receive this twice!)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

If you could tell a class full of library technicians one thing about working in public libraries...

I'm not a library technician, but many of my dear friends are LTs and I love them dearly... and I am going back to teaching them again in January. In the meantime, I am giving a guest lecture on Friday to a room full of them, so I did a Dangerous Thing. I posted on my Facebook wall asking for answers to the following question: If you could tell a class full of library technicians one thing about working in public libraries, what would it be?

Of course, my advice would be copious, but the soundbite bits would be the entire text of this (especially "You are not a format. You are a service [....] Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face. Most of your most alienated users will never meet you face to face [....] The user is not “remote.” You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.").

The responses I received were so diverse, and some were so beautifully written (#17! #36!) and/or hilariously true (#6! #37! #46!), that I wanted them to have a permanent home beyond social media and a PPT. I only made one small change below, moving my favourite of all the submissions to the end.

Here they are, in all their (mostly) unedited glory!
  1. You need to know where the stapler is at all times and you have to be able to politely decline requests for envelopes.
  2. Every now and again, you help someone who changes your life.
  3. Value your people in all their stripes ...
  4. Technician jobs vary A LOT in public libraries. Expect the unexpected. There is a technician job for every personality; from those who like cubicle work to those who like storytelling.
  5. You will need tons of patience because the most annoying people frequent the public library.
  6. Take a plumbing course.
  7. Expect the unexpected.
  8. Never expect to be paid a librarian's salary!
  9. Have patience; patrons are not as familiar with your library's polices or collection as you are
  10. All sorts of people walk through the doors. That’s what makes every day so interesting.
  11. Get involved with your union
  12. Be open to change
  13. Never underestimate the help you provide - you could be changing a life!
  14. Rapid pace of change. I don't work in a public library, but to all library workers/managers/librarians/technicians: be prepared to become obsolete - keep learning everything you can.
  15. Be prepared to learn very private, or very obscure, things about people you barely know.
  16. All of the requirements in a job description are important, but a cheerful attitude toward the "other duties as required" (which can, upon occasion, require gloves) will take you far.
  17. Once in a while you will know with absolute certainty that you made a difference in somebody's life. And that can keep you going through all the - where's the washroom?, can I use the stapler?, make a phone call?, eat my fast food/coke/coffee? Or anything that involves having to wear rubber gloves.
  18. Whenever I get frustrated or fed up, I look up library mission statements. We are out to change the world and that always makes me feel ready to tackle what's next.
  19. You may have to play role of listener to those in the community who don't have anyone else to talk to. That and kids who may pee on the carpet in the toys section. 
  20. For programming: take time to get to know your patrons before you start programming. This may seem obvious but cater to the clientele you have! Don't run programs where only one person comes. Also adults need more programming and will come to it if you provide. So far I have had adults interested in book club, genealogy research, computer lessons, and more! 
  21. Be ready to adapt and change - libraries are never static. And do it with a positive attitude! You will love your chosen career!! 
  22. Get to know publishers reps! They have a wealth of information and can supply you with copious amounts of posters, bookmarks, galleys, stickers, and loads of promo materials. Always have stickers and bookmarks available for children! 
  23. You WILL have to deal with difficult and stressful situations that try your patience. They can bring you down or they can be funny anecdotes, the choice is yours. 
  24. You may never know how important the question is to the person who is asking so always treat each question with respect even if the client you are serving is making you absolutely bonkers. The impact you have can never be underestimated! And what the other person said... get involved in the union. 
  25. Just because high school kids are older children never doubt the simple programs, from decorating for the holidays (dancing zombie hand on circ desk) to just sticking a puzzle on a table - it will make their day. Also, you must become MacGyver when answering question to finding program material. 
  26. Be curious. 
  27. Always have lots of Purell.
  28. The 3 most inaccurate assumptions and questions will be: 1. Oh that must be a quiet, calm place to work? 2. You must get to read a lot at work? 3. You had to go to school for that? Ok, to leave on a positive note: storytimes will make you feel like a rock star! 
  29. 1-Pick your time and place but never be afraid to challenge the status quo. 2- Find a mentor (or many). They truly are invaluable. 
  30. There will be days when it is quiet. Embrace those days because the next day the stupidity of the human race will never cease to amaze you and make you cry. 
  31. There's still time to change your mind! 
  32. The smile on a child's face when you give him or her the perfect book to read 
  33. Be welcoming of everyone. You're being trusted with a question, or several, so put on your Free Information Wizarding Cape and wear it with curiosity, open-mindedness, and pride.
  34. The public library is a big equalizer. Whoever comes through the door is treated equally. 
  35. Your co-workers will be your most valuable resource. 
  36. Everybody has baggage. Don't let the baggage - yours or theirs - get in the way. Do your work with empathy and care. What you do will make a difference in the lives of others - for better or worse you are making an impact. 
  37. You will be amazed by how much time you will spend moving furniture. 
  38. Never judge a question. Answer each one to the best of your ability. What sounds silly or trite may be more important than first thought. Probe to find the real information need. 
  39. Try to forget everything you've learned at school, so you can see the library through your customers' eyes. Anticipate what they will need, and provide it before they ask. Some people will never ask - but you can still answer.
  40. You can be the difference between a patron having a crappy experience or a really awesome one. Try your best - it goes a long way. 
  41. How wonderfully diverse libraries locally are... 
  42. Find out what they actually want as opposed to what they just asked you. 
  43. Always keep up with the latest technology, the impact it has on the public and your place in its introduction and use. What a role libraries play!! 
  44. Don't believe everything your union or association tells you. 
  45. How rewarding it is to see gratitude when you truly help 
  46. Try turning it off and on again. 
  47. The library is located where you start the conversation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Balletic interlude

I was thinking about grand jetés tonight during yoga for some reason.

To me, they have always been the ultimate expression of perfection in ballet. Forget the pirouette, a silly display of frenetic energy and one-upmanship. The grand jeté is such a thing of beauty, such an expression of joy. They are the only move I find myself still repeating after more years away from ballet (18) than with it (11), sometimes even along the long corridor of the 5th floor at work (too tempting!).

I'm very picky about execution. The best jetés are the ones that almost seem to lift midway through, creating an optical illusion that the dancer has thrown an extra little bit of muscle in there to pull the legs up while suspended in air. A display of tremendous athletic strength (where do you think those giant quads come from?), I so rarely see them these days.

The more common variety is the ballet equivalent of hydroplaning, like a poor unfortunate male dancer I saw last year (company unnamed to protect the innocent) who was in a fight to the finish with gravity: his jetés were condemned to hover unremarkably over the stage for all eternity. It pained me just to watch him.

The grand jeté with a lift is like an unexpected descant in music: this thrilling moment when someone has reached for the impossible and somehow grabbed it.

The past few months have included a mix of both types of jetés, metaphorically speaking. I guess that balances out somehow. Few and far between though they may be, those split-second gravity-defying moments are remarkable, and worth it even if you crash back down to the ground.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

OLA Super Conference 2014

Good morning, fair city

I had the great pleasure last week of attending the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference in Toronto. I was surprised to count on my hands and realise it's been three years since I've been to Super Conference - time flies!

In addition to re-uniting with friends far and wide, agonising over session choices with a highlighter, building my own, type-A personality schedule, and going on a road trip to Hamilton (deets below), I also:
  • Swam (man, I miss swimming in the winter. Just not enough to freeze my hair off).
  • Ate The Gabardine's fabled mac n' cheese (it's worth it!).
  • Didn't read a single page of a book except on the train, where I read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent on the way there, and Margaret Drabble's The Pure Gold Baby (my first Drabble, I'm embarrassed to say) on the way back.
  • Wow, that's pathetic. I didn't even go to any museums. Sigh. But MAC N' CHEESE, guys.
So here's my recap of events at the conference. I was sad to have to miss Saturday's sessions, as we had tickets to Swan Lake in Ottawa (booked a year ago, it's my favourite ballet, yada yada).

FYI some presenters' PPT slides will be on the OLA Super Conference Session Handouts and Materials webpage soon, so check that out, too.
  • "Creating an accessible and inclusive library" with Michele Chittenden from Queen’s University: Michele developed a diversity action plan to assist in better serving all their users and also to address increasing diversity and equity at Queen’s. Her advice: Do an environmental scan of your department and identify barriers. Know your organisation: how many students have an accommodation plan, how many have a disability, how many international students are there, know about the programs of study (new ones) and identify allies and resources who also contribute to advancement of diversity on campus. Michele spoke at length about a great diversity study completed by ARL: many responding libraries had diversity committees but these were often chaired by HR staff in academic libraries/institutions. Inclusion is a thread woven throughout different services: eg. in information literacy, ensure accessible format for screen readers, incorporate video tutorials that have close captioning or are transcripted, ensure tutorials in learning commons are accessible. Adapt to all different learning styles (auditory, etc) when teaching. Michele also highlighted two interesting initiatives Queen's is involved in: Mental health first aid, and the “Positive Space” program. She also recommended the website of the ALA Office for Diversity, especially their “6 elements of successful diversity plan.”
  • I attended the Library Settlement Partnership meeting, organised by Jackie, TPL’s Outreach Librarian, Library Settlement Partnerships. Attendees represented Hamilton, Toronto, Brampton, Windsor, Kitchener and London PLs. Great ideas: 
    • Brampton: Having a Citizenship judge as part of Human Library
    • Windsor: using an Espresso book machine to have newcomer teens write their stories o Hamilton: working with First Book Canada to obtain books free to give away for kids from low socio-economic backgrounds
    • Toronto: working with CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario).
    • Brampton: Two LSP workers in Brampton go to William Osler Health Center 2x week (they have a table at the entrance with an LSP banner) to give library and settlement info and make membership cards. This has also worked as education for hospital staff about library service. The focus of this outreach was on explaining to newcomers how to not use the emergency department all the time.
  • mk Road Trip: I was fortunate to travel with a group of Canadian librarians to visit the mk LibDispenser® installed at Hamilton’s Valley Park Arena and Recreation Centre. The dispenser, dubbed “Libby,” is located in the lobby of the recreation centre, which also contains the Stoney Creek Branch of HPL. We also visited an mk sorter located at Turner Park Branch. A picture of the kiosk exterior is at right. It was interesting to see how another library system manages changing service needs in busy shared spaces such as community centres. We're mulling over alternative services at OPL a lot these days, and we already have one kiosk (we were the first!). Check out the press about Libby, as she's called, here. Or, you know, you could watch this movie:

  • "Reading Groups For People with Dementia" with Gail Elliot, Gerontologist & Dementia Specialist, DementiAbility Enterprises Inc.: Gail emphasised how reading is an important piece in engaging people with dementia in life. She has seen numerous cases of success with older adults with dementia using an iPad to beep at times to take medications. Don’t always assume that seniors with dementia can’t learn new things. There are thus possibilities for library programs for people with dementia learning how to use computer apps to remember to take meds and other schedule/agenda items. The focus of this presentation was on abilities: abilities are spared in people with dementia. We just need to know how to use them. Procedural memory is spared in dementia, eg. our unconscious habits and overly learned rehearsed behaviours... for example, reading! Gail has written a book about using the Montessori Method with older adults, Montessori Methods for Dementia™ and has also developed both a series of skills workbooks and group reading kits for use with people with dementia. Her goal with this material is to enable people to be as independent as possible, to make meaningful contributions to community, to have high self-esteem, to have meaningful place in their community. Older adults living with dementia respond when meaning and purpose is added to their day: medications do not combat boredom and loneliness, and this is often why residences/facilities see “acting out” behaviour. I was thinking a lot about our Homebound Services during this presentation, trying to think about how we can best provide support for both individuals as their health status changes, and activities coordinators and other retirement home employees as they serve clients with increasing needs. No answers to some tough questions here...
  • "From Managing to Leading: Coaching Strategies for Success" with Kelley Marko, Learning Facilitator, Marko Consulting Services Inc., Rebecca Raven, CEO, Brampton Public Library: This was a fun, interactive session led by new CEO Rebecca and her coaching mentor, Kelley. It was interesting to hear about Kelley’s experiences coaching Rebecca through her career change (20+ years at Hamilton, then moved to Brampton to become CEO). Take-aways:
    • You may be a positional leader but may not exhibit leadership qualities. You can influence without formal authority. 
    •  Coaching is leadership in action – it’s a shift from “problem solver” to “question asker.” 
    • A coach-able moment is a moment in time when a person is open to taking information that might help them get unstuck. 
    • Coaching is the process of assisting others through questions for getting unstuck, aligning to their goals and objectives, and committing to action thorough powerful open-ended discovery questions. 
    •  Coaching is predicated on the assumption that the individual has the ability to get themselves unstuck, and the individual will be accountable for and move forward with addressing their own issues and challenges. 
    •  The person coaching must have faith and a belief in the person – that is key! 
    • We often jump towards interpretation before getting all the info. Ensure your coaching questions are not actually suggesting a solution but helping the “coachee” find their own way.
    • Good coaching questions: What would you like to change? What is missing? Who or what is standing in the way of your ability to achieve your goal? What do you want?
That's all for now! It was a fantastic conference, and I have to say the best parts were hanging out on the trade show floor, making connections and talking about the products that support our work (not to mention a long-overdue reunion with SERAH-MARIE! Now go pre-order this), and getting two see two of my dearest friends who are tragically (for me, not for them) now working in fantastic jobs at other public library systems.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Favourite adult books of 2013

Ah, the tradition continues. This year, I read 64 adult books, 23 children's books (all the dregs from my last year of judging) and three teen books. Alas, only three were nonfiction, and only three were graphica... Am I getting set in my ways? Wait, don't answer that. Picking up on Pasha Malla's recent article, 40 of my 64 were female authors, while 23 were male, and 26 were Canadian. As he says, to a certain extent these distinctions are meaningless, but I do like to see how balanced, or unbalanced I am (don't comment on that, either!)... and I like to see how much I "stretch."

Here's the best of the best, in sound bites (more complete reviews of many of these have appeared on this blog throughout the year):
  1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein: A teenage British spy captured by the Gestapo tells her story as she writes her confession; a tale of unshakable spirits and amazing female friendship that will break your heart.
  2. The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin: the mother of Jesus reflects back on her life in her twilight years in semi-captivity. A troubled, nuanced portrait with surprising revelations about charisma, misogyny and "spin."
  3. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout: OK, this one may not be a book for the ages as are some others on this list. It is a solid read, however, and I read it at just the right time for the story to truly move me. Read this even if you care nothing for sports (like me).
  4. A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee: Speaking of spin, I have found myself quoting from this book quite a few times recently during the age of Ford. This is a book that excels at making the universal personal: a public figure who slips, and his wife, who in the wake of her husband's scandal becomes a crisis management expert herself, are ultimately redeemed, in the imperfect manner of the modern world.
  5. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: These friends, with their faults and their loves and their passionate re-inventions, made me feel good about the world, and the people I share it with.
  6. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Ursula and her lives are infinitely fascinating, in a kind of literary "Choose your own adventure" way. A novel about choices, opportunities, and fate.
  7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: A strange little novel about the lengths you might go for the ones you love.
  8.  Night Film by Marisha Pessl: Speaking of strange, this is quite the departure in some ways from (and in others, quite similar to) Special Topics in Calamity Physics. A brick of a book about mystery, superstition, celebrity, and, ultimately, the lengths we go to protect the ones we love.
  9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: No small praise here: this is the best book I have read since White Teeth about race in the modern Western world.
  10. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden: a detailed, heartbreaking and dazzlingly human portrait of a pivotal moment in our young country's history.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Inside my work brain

In case you were wondering what goes on in there.

On the front burners, requiring constant stirring:
On the back burners, simmering away happily:
  • Bookmobile outreach: LEGO at Bayshore (photos!), the pop-up at City Hall which reached over 200 people this summer, our "Win a Ride on the Bookmobile" prize to celebrate Summer Reading Club and our 60th birthday year: we picked young Rebecca up from school with the bus, drove her around the Experimental Farm, and took her for ice cream... A good time was had by all! 
  • A developing/deepening partnership with Frontier College in coordinating homework clubs and conversation groups at the library
  • Working with the City, who recently launched the amazing City of Ottawa Immigration Portal
  • Launching, along with other City depts and teams, a new online volunteer database later this month (which meant I spent my summer re-writing all our related policies and procedures. A great job done but time-consuming and nit-picky).
Swimming around somewhere in the oven:
  • Library of the Future Project: Imagine Campaign (see preliminary report here). My lovely Newcomer Services team helped OPL colleagues collect focus group feedback for the campaign from newcomers and groups serving newcomers this fall.
  • Attending special events for outreach, such as our recent booth at the CNIB Technology and Services Exhibit.
  • Thinking about things in new ways: we recently hosted Volunteer Fairs at OPL branches: the inspiration for these events came out of the recent IMAGINE campaign at OPL. We're also adding some readers' advisory to our brochure for Newcomer Services.
+ 7 million other things I just forgot about right now. Let's file those under "getting scraped off the bottom of the oven with oven cleaner and rubber gloves." Sigh.

See, kids? This is why I haven't blogged a lot about work. For one thing, you probably find this really boring! For another, so much is ..... un-publishable!

I'm still having an amazing time in the new role: it's fulfilling, demanding, exhausting, and endlessly rewarding. It puts me to bed by 10pm and saps my weekend energy, but that could just be a "Year 1" phenomenon.


'Cause it's not like I'm getting any younger!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Read recently, the "rhymes-with-witchy" version

Ok, so upon re-reading, this may be a mean version of this regular post on my blog.

  • The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar: if you like effusive, self-absorbed characters and overplayed plot twists, you'll love it.
  • Accusation by Catherine Bush: meh.
  • Extraordinary by David Gilmour: double meh.  
  • My Notorious Life by Kate Manning: an excellent, meaty historical novel to bring on a series of tedious flights and layovers.
  • The Twins by Saskia Sarginson: weird but moving. 
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth E. Wein: It has to be said: Rose can't hold a candle to Verity.
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl: bizarre, amazing, frustrating, gifted.... don't read alone at 2am without the lights on.
  • Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter: Language: I'll get killed for this, but it's Hemingway-esque. In a mostly good way. Plot: kind of annoying.
  • Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson: Booker Prize longlist alert! This is a jewel of a story with all larger-than-life characters, from Marina, a 16-year old girl who lives with her mother, grandmother and two great-aunts and struggles to fit into modern London and a new private school despite her half-Hungarian background, to Marina's mother, Laura, who is hiding something, to the grandmother and great-aunts, who both act as one entity and have distinct personalities and their own secrets to tell. Everyone is lonely despite being crammed into a basement flat together.
  • We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin: It probably doesn't bode well that I just had to Google that one to refresh myself on the plot, right? Don't read two WW2 graphic novels in a month, kids! This one is about an incredible story of going into hiding in Hungary. 
  • Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Groans and Last Gasps of Ten Great Writers by John J. Ross: can you tell which books I bought while at Stratford this summer? If not, keep reading. Anyway, this was an utterly entertaining (as in, exclaim out loud: "ewwww!") read.
  • The Property by Rutu Modan: funny, moving graphic novel about WW2 secrets and lies
  • Canada by Richard Ford: odd. Somewhat tedious. Congrats for being oddly tedious in a Canadian way, Ford!
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: strange, captivating novel about a child lost and found, a couple desperate to have a child whatever the cost to their souls, and love unbound by moral or legal codes.
  • Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado: entertaining but forgettable
  • Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates: the Library Journal article made me cry more than the book, which could have benefited from an editor with a red pen.
  • The Empty Room by Lauren B Davis: hard to read but tremendously moving.
  • The Archivist by Martha Cooley: I wanted to slap the main characters upside the head. All of them.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Read recently, speed-typing version: typhoid, HeLa, ice storms, suicidal poetesses, Nigerian immigrants, and Montreal bagelshop sisters

More time for reading recently, given that I have taken a running break, am sitting on the balcony more, and took a bit of a staycation!
  • Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz: a wonderfully rich first novel from a fellow Ottawan/Montrealer about the fantastically complicated bond between two sisters growing up in Montreal in the 80s and 90s.
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far, although the fake blog posts by the main character (entitled "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black" the blog made me apologise to my husband at least twice and that's all I am going to say about that) may be the most memorable pieces of this stunning novel by the talented Adichie. Longer, more thoughtful review here by the lovely Kerry.
  • Hold Fast by Blue Balliett: a treasure of a book for kids and all ages about a family that finds themselves unexpectedly homeless in modern-day Chicago. Paired with Ocean (below), another modern-day fairy tale, with grittier subject matter but no less charm.
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: yes, Hosseini does it again. Heartstrings are tugged, etc.
  • Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather by Pierre Szalowski: made me nostalgic for the Ice Storm, which is no small feat given the horrors of it at the time. Great book, terrible translation.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: all the praise for this book is well-deserved. It is richly compelling and heart-breaking. When Zakariyya thanks Christoph Lengauer for the image of his mother's cell line, I swear I wept profusely over the pages of this book.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (aka he who hugged my best friend recently): A little gem of a book, a fantasy for the non-fantasy reader, a fairy tale for grown-ups.
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: funny, moving. A sweet tale of a stagnant marriage's fresh blooming.
  • American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson: limited new material and a tautological thesis statement in my opinion, but how could I not read it?
  • Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight: a great summer read, by which I DO NOT mean it's fluff, just that it is plot-driven and engrossing! Would make a great Law and Order episode, and I say that as a L&O fan.
  • Fever by Mary Beth Keane: a fascinating novel based on the story of Typhoid Mary.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Warring queens, a novice nun, dancing doctors and a small boy in a garbage can: celebrating my 10th season at the Stratford Festival

 Roses for the Bard

Hi, my lovelies. Sorry again for the long silence. I could tell you I was busy, but would that even mean anything anymore? Suffice it to say that I have not been whiling away enough time at the beach (only thrice) or on my own balcony. Although, just to balance it out, I am writing this post in my pajamas at 1:44 pm, so don't feel too badly for me.

I had to check the production history to determine that I think this was my 10th season (in almost 20 years, but hey, who's counting?) at Stratford. My mother has been going (off and on, with a large gap when she had a small child in the house!) for many more years than me, but we began going together in 1994 (memorable event that year: a pirate striking up conversation with us, in our seats, during The Pirates of Penzance). Other memorable moments have included: Amadeus in 1995, two Lears (Hutt and Plummer), Waxman's Willy Loman, Merchant in pre-WW2 Italy, nearly losing our lunch (someone else did, in the lobby, at intermission - no joke! And I'm not saying it wasn't a good production....) during/after Titus Andronicus in 2000, Hunchback in 2004 (also, um, graphic, but entertaining!), and To Kill a Mockingbird in 2007 (students kicking the back of my chair be damned!).

I confess Stratford made me feel old this year: John Callan has retired (which is maybe just as well for my credit card, as I feel compelled to buy from each of the independents in town), the museum has moved (and young shop employees looked at us blankly when we tried to explain where it used to be; mercifully, one of the Friends of the Festival, Marjorie maybe?, pointed us in the right direction with great care), our beloved hotel is now a seniors' residence (!!!), and there seems to be only one cat left at Watson's. Life marches on.

On the other hand, this year we discovered one new delicious restaurant, thoroughly enjoyed the Festival Exhibition, found a potential hotel replacement, and stumbled upon both the Shakespearean Gardens (how did we miss this before?) and a depressingly fascinating old cemetery at the Anglican church (few people seemed to make it past their early 20s; all listed their English birthplaces). We also saw Stephen Lewis and one of my lovely OPL colleagues, celebrated a birthday four months late at Fellini's, and were serenaded by the kitchen staff at Features.

I can hear you hollering, "what did we see?" Relax already:
  • An electrifying production of Mary Stuart (Globe review here), with the inestimable Seana McKenna (she of the ill-fated production of Antony and Cleopatra at Centaur in the '90s - you're just going to have to ask me about that but Seana, if you ever see this, we are still sorry for the actions of others and we think you are amazing). There wasn't a weak actor in this bunch, but Seana McKenna absolutely burned up the stage.
  • An ear-bleedingly loud (in a good way) and visually stunning production of Tommy, with especially good performances from Captain Walker and the children playing young Tommy (we hope he had a helmet and padded sides to the garbage can in which he was rolled around). The dancing doctors filled me with inexplicable glee.
  • A thoughtful production of Measure for Measure (Globe review here), my favourite Shakespeare, with a cross-dressing Duke (the Globe compares to Hoover), a be-habited Isabella, and a black Mariana - all somewhat "cheap shots" but nonetheless adding new depths to this troubled play (does the Duke's proposal mean he just wants to play dress-up again, observes the Globe review?), as does a magnificent portrayal of Antonio by Tom Rooney. An oft-ignored Bernardine certainly is memorable in this production, even if for sound effects and the sheer intimidation factor more than any possible comparisons to other saved prisoners in scripture or literature. I was very pleased with how they presented the open ending, and curious to see the audience's reaction to the Duke's proposals (they laughed at both of them: this moment is a bit of a litmus test for each generation of theatre-goers in my opinion). The Globe says of the actress playing Isabella that "she’s a zealot who burns bright with belief, but is otherwise none too bright," but I found Carmen Grant did especially well in the final scene, when she struggles greatly with the question of whether to plead with Mariana for Antonio's life. I found myself more moved than I had expected to be by this scene. I prepared / refreshed my memory by reading N. W. Bawcutt's excellent introduction to the Oxford edition of the play. Tragically, the Festival Store doesn't yet have any M4M merch, although it is apparently coming. I would suggest a magnet with "Crafty --- and that's not good!," (as stated by Angelo about Isabella) or a pin with "There's something about Isabella" (a play on the Cameron Diaz movie - perhaps difficult from a copyright perspective?) Both lame in-jokes, at which a total consumer base of approximately four people would laugh, probably.
We had a fantastic time: here's hoping it's not another six years before we are back. I leave you with this interesting examination of the themes of the season.

Requisite swan photo

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Read recently: famous people doing bad things, people off (various) rails, housewives, Edith Wharton homages, and reincarnation

I've been on a good run recently for books, except for poor Helen Humphrey's Nocture, which just came in for me when reading it would be scratching a raw wound (another time, another place....)

So, here are some goodies I digested of late:
  • A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee: an unintentionally funny choice of literature during the Rob Ford debacle. Corporate lawyer husband Ben betrays wife Helen with a front-page scandal involving an intern in his office and a car accident. Forced to make her own way with her husband in jail, Helen finds that she has a talent for a certain type of PR work: crisis management. An interesting look into the privileged class in America, one troubled but redeemable marriage, and the modern rite of the public apology. As Helen tells a client, “People are quick to judge, they are quick to condemn, but that’s mostly because their ultimate desire is to forgive.” 
  • The Age of Hope by David Bergen: Canada Reads, and all that. I loved this book because I loved Hope, with her tender ambitions and her introspective emotions. People are always bothered about books with a female voice (in this case, almost exclusively a female perspective) by a male author. Read this because it's amazing, you'll wish you knew Hope, then realise that you probably do, and not because of the author or the CBC news.
  • The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout: Her Olive Kitteridge blew me away at Christmas 2008, when I read it sitting on a chair in my mother's office at church in between services (feeling like I was 12 again). The Burgess Boys, although very different in theme, also delves deeply into human emotions and motivations, family secrets, and small-town life. Strout distinguishes herself here in deftly moving between very distinct, and unknowable to each other, viewpoints.
  • The Innocents by Francesca Segal: OK, I read to the end because I was compelled to, and this was an interesting book, but ultimately I am going to have to say that the premise was really the best part (and that may reduce this to a footnote in literary terms)... And you know I read my way through the Women's Prize list every year. The Guardian described this book as having "transport[ed] Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence to NW11." A modern Jewish family plans a wedding, and things go awry.
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: Something about the runaway mother made me think of Veronica Mars, here, and the wry humour and us vs. them mentality didn't help! An oddly charming novel about a traumatised architect, her gifted daughter and successful husband, annoying neighbours who aren't always what they seem, some renegade shrubbery and an Antarctic voyage.
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: Oh, those characters, you know the ones, who you feel are friends and you can't bear to close the book and leave their tight circle. This was one of those books, full of those characters. On my bad days, I am jealous like Jules. On my good days, I am on fire like Figman. What inspired me about this novel was the way the characters invent and re-invent themselves, staying the same and yet changing. A lesson for us all, and we're lucky if we have people like these with us on the journey.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: I'm clearly veering off into crazy now, but I wanted to gobble this novel up. My favourite country and time period, a main character with my grandmother's name, a great fox metaphor and a Hitler assassination attempt? Heck, yes. Someone at the Guardian made a great link from this book to Rushdie's Midnight's Children, in that "to understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." Or, as blogger and reviewer Kerry Clare wrote, "Think Sliding Doors and The Post-Birthday World, though not with parallel lives exactly but an array of them instead, strung together like a garland of paper chain dolls." So, yes, this is a novel about reincarnation, and Ursula, our main character, has a particularly difficult time getting through both the Spanish influenza and World War II (but then, who didn't?). You have to love the characters, the relationships, the familiar walk-ons in variations of themselves, and the "and then what did [he/she] do?" aspect of the plot threads, to not get frustrated as Ursula dies again and again (in what begins to resemble an Edward Gorey-esque efficiency), and I did.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Some things I've been working on recently...

 Ottawa Canal locks, sunset

It's only been a little over two months since I last ruminated on and updated you about work projects, so here we go.

I'm really enjoying my time with OPL's Diversity & Accessibility Services. It's hard to capture how I feel in a few words; people keep asking me how things are going. I have developed a standard line that it's 80% "Amazing! I know what I'm doing! Look, let's implement this!" and 20% "OHMYGOD WHO LEFT ME IN CHARGE? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING!" That's sort of true, but of course it's not the whole story. Some days are about untangling knots, some are about heads-down time to work on reports, some are just lost in a sea of email, meetings and conversations.

Here's an attempt at a recap:
  • I brokez the Bookmobiles. Just kidding, I swear. But we were 0 for 2 for awhile last week, and it was ever-so-conveniently also during a gap after our outgoing supervisor left and before our Acting supervisor started (thanks, universe!) The team pulled together admirably well with just me for company (I recall one memorable conversation as I crossed Elgin St. to go to an event), and we actually tried something new. We rented a smaller van for holds pickup and Express checkout from the City's Fleet Services, and, while there were some wrinkles to iron out for when we do it again, it was a great success! When we returned to our regular stop with the Bookmobile this past Friday, several of our new patrons who had discovered us through the rental were there. How cool!
  • Yesterday, with a healthy bus with new, rush-order mirrors, we were at the Carnival of Cultures - pic here (check out my new bike, by the way! Her name is Magdalena)
  • Our Homebound team forged new territory, providing information sessions at two retirement homes interested in our monthly mini-library visits, and one e-reader workshop.
  • Our fantastic outreach librarian visited 8 groups to talk about library services for newcomers.
  • Our amazing Accessibility Librarian consulted on accessibility requirements for the Library of the Future website (6 more days! Share your idea!). 
  • We're close (I feel like this project is asymptotic right now, but I swear we are almost there...) to rolling out OPL's involvement in the city-wide volunteer database.
  • We found a new spot to park in the Riverside South community. The location of the much-beloved (and super-high performing) St. Jerome stop moved as the fire lane at St. Jerome School became official and created some safety hazards for us and our customers. We're now at the Rideauview Community Centre, where we have had a warm welcome from staff, made new friends, and kept our old ones! I'll spare you the gory details, but finding a new spot is no small feat when you weigh 14 tonnes.
  • We have two new team members, and will be getting two more soon (not soon enough!): Supervising Librarian, Bookmobile and Volunteer Services / Bibliothécaire superviseur(e), Bibliobus et services des bénévoles, and Librarian, Newcomer Services / Bibliothécaire, Nouveaux arrivants (I'm driving you to The Partnership website only because we're having issues with the link).
  • We're working on synergies with other teams: for instance, our Newcomer services team and the System-wide programming team, 
  • We negotiated our new funding agreement with CIC and are ironing out new terms of reference for our partnership with local agencies serving newcomers to Canada. We're all in a big transition period, with lots of tremendously rich opportunities, but clearing the path is a bit exhausting right now.
  • We had 10 fantastic Celebrating Cultures in Our Community events in April, May and June celebrating diversity at the library with everything from musical and dance performances to henna art and tea tastings!
  • Five OPL employees, including one from my team, participated in the CCI Community Cup Chase, and two of us were on the 2nd place winning team! There are some great photos on their Facebook page.
  • My ever-helpful and thoughtful colleagues assisted me with guest editorial duties for the June 2013 issue of Feliciter (out now!) with the theme of “Changing demographics.” 
  • Three of my team accompanied me to a really moving citizenship ceremony; we each hosted a round-table for new Canadians at the event, which was organised by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. The citizenship judge was Suzanne Pinel, and she was outstanding. Our pic with her is here.
  • I starred in an internal staff training video. You'll have to bribe me to see it.
  • When holed up in my office, I am working on a few service reviews so we can get a better idea of what happens in our teams, and how we can capitalise on strengths and build in flexibility for the future of library services to diverse clients in the city.
All this, and a half-marathon. Oooh, and my Book Bank-ish project is getting more solid. Expect big news before the end of 2013!

No wonder I'm tired!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Truths, universally acknowledged?

I wonder how Austen would re-write her opening line of P&P these days: maybe ""It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good career must be in want of a equality-minded spouse?" The words may have changed, but the rigidity of social convention has not in some ways.

I've been meaning to get down on paper (e-paper?) my thoughts about Sheryl Sandberg for awhile, but frankly haven't had a spare minute and also wanted to be able to give these thoughts enough time to coalesce into something coherent (well, hopefully) and not too personal.

First things first: I am a big poser. I haven't read Sandberg's book yet. But the world being what it is these days, I have been assaulted by interviews with her, and reflections on the book and said interviews, across different media for several weeks. Being a woman in her (almost) mid-thirties (wow, that's scary...), I am right at that point in life that Sheryl seems to be focusing her attention on. My contemporaries and I are at that moment of leaning in, or leaning back. And I am certainly feeling it.

So this is as personal as I am going to get: I have had acquaintances pat my stomach and wish me "all the best" in my future. Friends have been visibly deflated when I tell them I have news and then add that I am the youngest and newest manager at work. I've been told I have "plenty of time" and "not much time left - what are you waiting for?" Media tells me any future kids of mine, with their geriatric parents, will be at higher risk of autism and maybe schizophrenia. Even Margaret Wente chimes in with maternal advice (a sure sign the conversation is taking a turn for batshit-crazy). Meanwhile, I have friends who were told they committed career suicide when they "leaned back" ever so slightly for a bit after returning from maternity leave.

Even Sandberg got slashed: Gloria Steinem points out that some of the backlash against Sandberg might stem from the fact that "for a woman to be loved, she has to fail, and for a man to be loved, he has to succeed. That’s what the gender police say, and it’s inhuman and unfair to both men and women." Sometimes the world bites back either way: Lean in? Get criticised. Lean back so you don't fail miserably? Get criticised.

As Meg Seitz observed, "I'm harder on myself than anyone else could ever be on me [....] Then, it occurred to me: All my confusion had nothing to do with me. It was about other people. It was about what I thought other people would want me to do." Sandberg adds, via her 60 Minutes interview, that women are often pitted against one another, when ultimately "every woman I know feels guilty about the choices she makes."

And so....

I am becoming self-aware enough to know that I am freaking out, and that I do put more pressure on myself than anyone else ever could. I am comforted by the thought that I am not the only one freaking out. I find solace in thoughtful reflections by other women, most notably recently Elsa Walsh's piece in the Washington Post, a piece brought to my attention by an amazing American librarian friend of mine who works as a regional Foreign Service librarian.

Says Walsh about the recent feminist discussion populated by big names such as Marissa Mayer, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sandberg, "I find it to be a narrow conversation, centered largely on work, as though feminism is about nothing more than becoming a smart and productive employee and rising to the top [....] I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday.There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work."

And then I felt like I was doing ok. I don't have it all figured out. I'm not where I thought I would be, or even entirely where I want to be. I'm still on the right path, though. I felt a little less alone. I realised I at least am living a reasonably balanced life so far: yeah, I put in some extra hours, but not regularly and generally for a good cause. I love what I do, every single day. I find meaning and joy in it, and I feel valued and supported. When I leave work at 5 pm (ish), I have people waiting for me who also make me feel valued and supported, in different ways. Having seen good friends and close family die far too young, I am mindful of the fact that I will die some day, and I want to leave more than a few memos for senior management in my wake. I have tremendous role models at home and at work. I have a plan. It may not work out, and it has already changed a few times, but it's there, a work in progress. I am in control of as much as I can be, and I am training myself in habits that I think will stand me in good stead over the years.

Like Walsh, I agree with Sandberg's statement that "marriage is the biggest career decision you will make." Sandberg definitely makes that sound unromantic, but in a sense it's quite accurate: your partner is the one who will have your back, so choose wisely. You can't both be sprinting down the career highway without a rock-solid plan. Maybe you can't both be sprinting at the same time, period.

At the risk of being repetitive, here's a final quote from Walsh's article that really spoke to me, especially the part about planning, and the part about love:

"When it is time for my daughter to make her way through this culture of overwork, I hope she follows some of Sandberg’s advice. I will tell her to work hard and take a seat at the table, speak up and, of course, always negotiate her salary. But I will also tell her to set her own course and follow neither my model nor Sandberg’s [....] I’ll also tell her to make time for herself. Unplug from the grid. Carve out space for solitude. Search for work you love that allows flexibility if you want to have children. And if you do, have them when you’re older, after you’ve reached that point in your career when you are good enough at what you do that you will feel comfortable dialing back for a while. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start planning, because no one else is going to do it for you. And don’t quit completely because, as wonderful as parenthood is, it cannot and will not be your whole life. Learn how to manage conflict, because the greater the level you can tolerate, the more freedom you will retain. Making compromises is a healthy approach to living.  For a woman to say she is searching for a “good enough” life is not failure — it is maturity and self-knowledge.  I’d also tell her, if she marries, to work hard on her relationship. It’s not only much easier than getting divorced, it’s more rewarding and more fun. Love. Full stop. That’s what matters."

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Half-marathon run update

Once again (third time is the charm?) I will be participating in the half-marathon on Sunday, May 26th, during this year's Ottawa Race Weekend. As in 2011, I will be running for Medic to Medic, a UK-based charity founded by my amazing cousin, Kate Mandeville.

My fundraising page is here. If you wish to donate, it will be much appreciated by both Kate and me, and the trainee health workers in Malawi and Uganda whose study is supported by Medic to Medic.

My goal is to raise $800 this year - in 2011, I was able to raise $730, which was amazing (and due to the support of many of you - thank you again!). I am confident that together we can get to a nice round number this year! Thanks to my uncle Ralph and many others, I recently passed the halfway mark to this goal.

... and speaking of nice round numbers, my other goal is to beat the 2h time (in 2011, it was 2h 10 minutes). I'm a little less confident about that, but we'll see. As some of you may know (from watching me stretch at the back of the room in meetings), I have been dealing with some hamstring and hip flexor issues resulting from overtraining and (frankly) a lack of core strength. I am battling that by massage therapy (my new RMT is a runner, which really helps) and yoga (I know, I snubbed it for years, but now is the time...), and I am hoping that I will be in race day shape. Yesterday I did a 15k and survived (OK, I took stretching breaks, and it took me 1h 45, but whatever).

Your support, whether via cheering (in person or online), encouragement, group stretching activities (stop by my office anytime, those of you who work with me!) or a donation to Medic to Medic, is greatly, greatly appreciated. Medic to Medic does some amazing work, so please consider donating.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Read recently: now with a stowaway to New France, a WW2 female spy, a mother of a god, an American Civil War vet, a Montreal taxi driver, two ballerinas, Hahvahd grads, and some regular normals

Hi, my name is Alexandra and I have a library book hoarding problem. I totally just returned at least five of these unread. Argh!

I like doing these posts because I get to talk about books that people might not have heard of that I enjoyed but that don't fit together thematically, and also because at times like these, when it seems like I spent an inordinate amount of time staring out the living room window, organising tax information, or watching terrible TV, the list serves to remind me that I am still an OK reader. Whew.
  • The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan: made me homesick for ballet (not uncommon). Not as great as I was expecting it to be, given the hype. An interesting exploration of Degas's Little Dancer Aged Fourteen using contemporary ideas about  physiognomy. For me, the most compelling aspect of the novel was the relationship between the three sisters and their common love of dance, as each strives to lift themselves and each other from the poverty of 1880s Left Bank Paris through a variety of honest and dishonest means.
  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese: a book that should be read by all Canadians. Heart-breaking in subject matter and haunting in tone. Wonderfully, simply written.
  • The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan: one of my guilty pleasures, a novel exploring the lives of four female Harvard grads as they approach middle age. Did they make the right choices? Are they growing apart from one another? Have they sold out their dreams? The novel is structured around the 5-year updates provided by alumni for the "red book" of the title (srsly, I would kill myself if I had to write these). Funny, dramatic (if implausible!), and entertaining: like reading your high school yearbook if people's thoughts made it in there.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley: I am a huge fan of Flavia, and this latest volume in the series doesn't disappoint. Again, as with The Painted Girls, but even more so in this case, the relationship between the three de Luce sisters is what absolutely makes this series for me. It's odd, nuanced, and full of real emotion. Speaking ends on a horribly tantalizing cliff-hanger. The next volume could mark a tremendous change in the series, but in a certain sense I think this was needed.
  • Above All Things by Tanis Rideout: I have no patience for stories of athletes (hegemonic masculinity, competition is king, etc., etc.) But..... but. This little gem of a novel by a Canadian (!), written from alternate perspectives, traces Mallory's last Everest climb in 1924. One of my favourite time periods? Check? English boarding school ghosts? Check? Female perspective? Check. OK, then, I guess I will give it a shot. I mean, you could write a whole novel just based on this photograph, for heaven's sake. So this is about Ruth and George, and their love, and the choices they both make that lead George up the mountain for the third time, never to return. This is a book both about the consequences for George of his fascination with the climb, and the far-reaching consequences for those he loves and leaves behind.
  • The Tinsmith by Tim Bowling: strange little novel about two American Civil War veterans (a Union doctor and an escaped slave) and "the kind of violence that we do" to one another. Many amputations and lots of salmon feature prominently.
  • Carnival by Rawi Hage: I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, given the outlines of the plot (such as it it). Which is not to say it wasn't weird: it was.
  • Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn: another guilty pleasure, this one interesting for its ruminations on strange life choices, be it monarch or royal staff member. This is an odd but lovely book about Queen Elizabeth II escaping Buckingham Palace in a hoodie, in search of cheese, due to a sort of delayed mid-life crisis. The Queen's take on major historical figures, and modern society, including race relations in England, are treasures.
  • Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky: great, if wistfully sad, collection of short stories.
  • The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman: historical novel about a young French Jewish girl who dressed as a boy to travel to New France. A latter-day Scheherazade, she weaves a wild tale to the authorities in an attempt to remain in the new world (suck it, Aaron Hart). This book makes you work for the truth, which is in some ways simply as Esther puts it: "I did not run away from my faith. I ran away from the limitations that faith subjected me to."
  • The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things by Lorna Crozier: patron recommendation!
  • Web of Angels by Lilian Nattel: fascinating exploration into dissociative identity disorder.
  • The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro: meh. I loved the art history and descriptions of the forgery process (a giant oven! Seriously!). I could have slapped the main character in the face for her romantic vacillations and delusions, though.
  • Inside by Alex Ohlin: I stayed up until 2am finishing this, because I was so concerned for the main characters' well-being that I could not, in good conscience, close the covers on them. As the Post put it, a cheery little book with "multiple suicides, failed relationships, crumbling families, abortion, a homeless teen and, for good measure, the Rwandan genocide." Oh, and skiing on Mount Royal.
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein: delicious, delicious, delicious. I don't know what else to say. A teenage British spy captured by the Gestapo is forced to write out her confession: another latter-day Scheherazade. With more tense twists in the road than a drive through the French Alps, this one is truly worth the hype it received, and ignore the teen label. It's for any woman who has a best friend she would die for. As my friend Lina put it:
    "Code Name Verity is that rarity among rarities in Young Adult Fiction these days: it is a book about a friendship between women without any bullshit. They are not fighting over a guy. One does not become popular and leave the other behind. Neither is the other’s sidekick- Verity and Maddie are equally skilled in their different professions, they have equally strong personalities. There is no pettiness, no jealousy, no weird obsessions with each other. No need to spend every freaking moment together talking about asinine things (sorry. I obviously have a beef about how women friendships are portrayed in popular media)."
  • The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin: the mother of God suffers from post-traumatic stress, and is potentially held captive, in this oddly moving novelisation of the post-resurrection early church. Mary reflects back on her son's life, presenting a nuanced (sometimes painfully realistic) portrait of Jesus: sometimes selfish and always blindingly charismatic. The disciples don't get off any easier, either. Excellent review here.

Friday, April 5, 2013

I will go, if you lead me

OK, fair warning: this is probably the most theological I will be on this blog. I don't want to frighten you away, nor do I want you to think I have delusions of grandeur here, but ... well, here we go.

When I was a child, my parents explained to me that their vocation was a calling. As a result, a small blonde girl could frequently be found kneeling in her father's church, listening quietly (as though to radio static), half-heartedly hoping not to hear the voice of God calling her to the ministry.

So I am back at Main Library (or the tower beside it, like some latter-day bibliographic Rapunzel) starting Monday as the (round 3 with this team!) Acting Manager of Diversity and Accessibility Services for six months. And the normally reserved Alex is willing to admit here, dear readers, that she is a bit of a mess.

I am so totally excited and happy to be with the DAS and SWSI teams again (oh libraries, you have too many acronyms! DAS - see above, my department. SWSI - System-Wide Services and Innovation, our division). I love these people (and I mean staff and customers): they are committed, creative, passionate, collaborative, supportive, interesting people.

But I spent my entire afternoon today packing boxes (that would be corporate "move" #10 - if you count Rideau renos - and I am also on personal move -lucky?- #13 whenever we leave rue Bruyère). Needless to say, if we total that out I am on move #23 and the sound of packing tape makes me want to get into the fetal position (or go home to a glass of wine and some smokehouse almonds. Your call).

Today, I have had two songs running through my head (yoked by violence - sorry, Sam - together...): "Go on," by Basia Bulat (because maybe I "couldn't stand to lose" my lovely team at Carlingwood, however temporarily) and Here I Am, Lord, composed by Dan Schutte. That arrangement isn't my fav, by the way, just the least offensive I could find on YouTube on short notice (why do the right-wing evangelicals record all these videos? Why can't Sarah McLachlan cover more than just the Prayer of St. Francis? Honestly!). To truly feel what I'm feeling, you need to be singing this hymn in the snug chapel of Dio (nearly impossible) accompanied by the spectacular singing voices of both of my parents (50% absolutely impossible) and Davina on guitar (impossible ... debatably?).

Don't worry (and don't click away from this post!). I am still your favourite (very) lapsed Anglican. I'm not going to go all born-again on you. I just can't help that in moments of strong emotion, I cannot deny (three times, or less) my heritage.

"Here I am, Lord. It is I Lord.
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, where you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart."

I am not saying that I feel called to my current role, or any other role I have had. I am not saying that that I believe it is entirely a divine hand at work as I make my way along this personal and professional path. I am not saying it is entirely fate, either, or karma, or Lord Shiva, god of destruction (who lives on my bookshelf, by the way. He's my favourite) or .... whatever or whoever you want to call it. And I will not take the cop-out attitude that Sheryl Sandberg is right to call women on (although I have other issues with some of her logic) that it is not because of my own talents, skills, or agency either. All of these factors have played a role (although Lord Shiva has been lighting a few too many fires for my liking recently).

I believe I am doing the right thing for me right now. It wasn't what I expected to be doing in 2013, but I am so pleased. I am grateful for my years at Rideau Branch and Westmount Library, where pieces of my heart will always beat steadily. I am glad I got to briefly experience life at Cote-St Luc, St Laurent, Vanier and Rockcliffe Park. I was transformed, and empowered, by my time with DAS (rounds 1 and 2) and Carlingwood Branch. I am frightened of the future, but confident that I can face it, with the tremendous support I have from all the people I have walked with so far along this road, and especially with The Husband by my side ("Their happiness was in each other's keeping and both were unafraid." I re-read this quote on our wedding day, and it is unchanging despite everything).

So. Off I go. Four boxes packed for the lovely Materials Delivery team to ferry over to Main Library. Too many goodbyes, a few hugs, many kind words. On Monday, a new calling, some happy reunions, and hopefully kind words and hugs, too.

This post makes me conclude I have been hanging out with my mum far too much (just kidding, Mum!)

Meanwhile, I have my ear cocked, like that little girl on the church kneeler. I am ready. I will go where I am led. I have a lot of work to do. I hold a lot of people in my heart.

Friday, March 22, 2013

(February and) March madness at Carlingwood Branch

I just realised I haven't given you all a recap of the fun and excitement at Carlingwood since last July - that's crazy!

So, without further ado, here's what's been going on recently:
  • We founded our Carlingwood’s Senior’s Advisory Group, with many enthusiastic participants and lots of fantastic ideas for the library and for each other. They approve of the acronym, SAG, which bodes well for working together: I always appreciate a sense of humour. 
  • Our English Conversation Group on Tuesdays and Saturdays continues to thrive
  • Our eReader workshops continue to be popular: we recently helped people with their Playbooks, a Kobo Touch, an mp3 player, a Kobo Glow, an ancient touch-screen laptop, and some iEverythings (iPad mini, iPad, and iPhone). 
  • My lovely colleagues filled in for me and allowed a local undergraduate student interested in library school to shadow them on a Saturday.
  • I couldn't be there to mentor the student as I was in Montreal, with my lovely colleague Josée Tardif from Collection Management, presenting for the Corporation des bibliothécaires professionnels du Québec (CBPQ) about readers’ advisory (in French). I was really nervous about this for a variety of reasons, but it went really well and people from as far away as Trois-Rivieres and Sorel came to enthusiastically contribute to the session and discuss appeal factors with us! 
  • We did two great inter-generational programs during March Break: Techno Buddies (11 Teen Volunteers worked with 6 older Adults using the following technology: E-mail, Facebook, Powerpoint, Twitter, Linkedin, Microsoft Word, and iPads) and Bridging the Generations (6 Teens highlighted 5 iPads to 17 Adults and 6 children using Rosemount’s outreach iPads). These were really popular, and had many touching moments. One teen whop was helping a newcomer Senior helped him take a picture with the iPad to send to his grand-daughter in Thailand. This patron wept with gratitude, and I wept when I read Courtney's report of this.
  • this little dude from the Museum of Nature
    (a waxy monkey frog)
    is clearly plotting world domination...
  • I attended my last OPLA RA committee meeting on March 8th. Yes, you read that right. My stepping down from the committee was less of a personal choice and more of an organisational shift at OPL, and I have very mixed feelings about it. Part of the hard part of blogging these days is that so much of what happens at work for me now is un-bloggable: coaching and disciplinary work, especially, but a lot of working with employees is hard to generalise without compromising someone's confidentiality, or letting personal biases show. Lest this sound like the text is becoming too Barthesian, here, with the unreadable source etc., let's use the Mark Twain frog analogy that I have been employing with my team to tell them when I'm having a tough day or need some space:
                "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning.
                And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."
    Recently, I have been eating some large and crunchy frogs, some I have adopted and some that have just hopped on over into my space uninvited, and let's just leave it at that.
  • The CLA Book of the Year for Children award jury, of which I am chair, chose the winner and honour books for the 2013 award... Stay tuned for the announcement on April 15th, and check out the shortlist in the meantime.
  • I had a bunch of meetings related to our upcoming accessibility upgrades. I'll be blogging for OPL about this soon, but basically we are closed Monday April 29 – Friday May 3, open Saturday and evenings the following week with limited access to certain areas, and resuming regular hours on Saturday, May 11. The work will include a new ramp (re-graded) with new paving stones and handrail, new concrete curbs and stairs, an additional handicapped parking spot and new paint in the lot, a new bus stop pad and bike rack pad, work on the accessible washrooms (new toilets, sinks, etc), improved elevator buttons (don't ask), and a new "green" drinking fountain. Not a ton of stuff, but some wonderful and much-needed improvements. Chaos will ensue when our front entrance and parking lot are both n/a during the work, so I am looking forward to lots of fun and excitement next month.
  • The Teen Tech Commercial was released on March 13th. Lots of glowing comments about Carlingwood’s TAG. Here’s the link for the commercial.
  • Did I mention our TAG is great? Look what they did for the SAG:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bookmobile news: feel-good story of the day

Saw this, and it deserved its own post (aside from the Bookmobile news round-ups which are few and far between these days):

At A Pakistani Mobile Library, Kids Can Check Out Books, And Hope
""And I felt, in what way can we bring these kids back to the beauty of life, to the beauty of future, to be of value to fellow mankind and to themselves and to the country," he says. "And I started thinking in what way can we help the children." Malik felt books were the way to broaden children's minds, to introduce them to a whole world of subjects, and to help build tolerance for others. But he discovered that virtually none of the public schools in and around Islamabad had libraries [....] So Malik decided to take books to the children."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Seen reading on OC Transpo

Greenboro O-Train Station, sunset
  • L'homme inquiet par Henning Mankell
  • The menu for 3 Brasseurs (this was probably when they were interviewing for staff)
    (P.S. Processed cheese slices on a cheeseburger, 3 Brasseurs? Really? Quel dommage...)
  • something by Steve Berry
  • Fire from heaven by Mary Renault
  • an issue of Teen titans
  • Me:  The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro (Divas pick)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

News round-up

"Courtship Dance" carved by Koji Kareki of Japan, Winterlude 2013
  • Thought-provoking: Quiet, Please!, by the Annoyed Librarian:
    "I guess a lot of librarians get bored with all the quiet. Not me. That’s one of the best things about being a librarian, walking into a building that isn’t rife with all the noise unavoidable on the street and in most public places. The noise of everyday life is getting louder, and without quiet libraries will be almost inescapable. But some librarians are too busy rocking to notice, or maybe they just don’t like silence because silence breeds contemplation and they don’t want to contemplate their lives."
  • Celebrating: The Citizen Lab wins the 2013 CLA Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada Award (which reminds me, save the date: Saturday, March 2, 2013 - Censored out loud event in Ottawa, the fifth annual local event to celebrate Freedom to Read Week!)
  • Inspiring: The Ottawa Human Library event (I'm so proud of my colleagues, and Rideau Branch patron Sean!)
  • Informative: "20 questions: Are you ready to be a manager?" from Globe Careers
  • Disturbing (three times over): some seriously offensive blonde prejudice embedded in the (justified) rage over the new Anne cover? "This "updated" version of Anne looks like a new addition to Jersey Shore and probably spends more time partying than re-enacting book scenes with her friends." Hey now, no need to make sweeping generalisations! See also: re-branding The Bell Jar (but hey, you have to laugh, right?)
  • Heart-wrenching: "Prison and Libraries: Public Service Inside and Out," from Library Journal (just try to scroll past the "Shakespeare in Shackles" picture of inmates in segregation without breaking down).
    "Prisoners read and discuss the plays. Inmates, many of whom lack strong academic records, often warm up to the challenge of learning the plays written by the intellectually demanding playwright. More than that, Bates asserts, many prisoners discover, sometimes to their surprise, that the questions posed by Shakespeare’s centuries-old plays may be more relevant than many would assume [....] Frequently, inmates will rewrite the plays to reflect their own changing perspectives. For example, Hamlet may spare Claudius’s life as prisoners reconsider their own thirst for ­vengeance.  Not every prisoner can be changed via humanities intervention, but Bates has met those who say they have not killed thanks in large part to exposure to works like Shakespeare’s plays. She says there should be a place for arts and literature programs in prisons and jails and their libraries."
  • What I have been up to: reading the last of the 60+ books under consideration for the soon-to-be-announced CLA Book of the Year for Children shortlist, piloting some de-centralised projects for our Homebound Services department, working on some interesting new ideas for our Bookmobile service review (while the team maintains service valiantly while one bus is off the road waiting for parts), and entering a dialogue about our tremendously worthwhile Library Settlement Partnerships.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

... and I thought I might have run out of rant posts....

But no.

Says England's Communities Minister Don Foster (via):

"Libraries play a vital role in keeping this going by bringing people together across communities, helping improve literacy for children and adults alike and developing a love of reading for millions of people."

Libraries don't improve literacy: librarians improve literacy.

Oh, and seriously? That picture? You're *totally* going to get a library that looks like that if it's volunteer-run. I bet they raised those fancy beams themselves, right?

< / end rant >