All posts by The Naked Librarian

The Riddle

The Sphinx gave us a riddle recently. Oh, pppleeasse…Give us a break, man/woman. 

And mind you, we did NOT google it. The riddle was part of our childhood when stories from books brought us into realms of fantasies no web site could (ok, maybe for some people, some websites do, ugggh). 

You want a riddle? Here’s one:

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

 Come on, post your answer. And without googling first. :-P

Helping Out

TNL met up with a friend who left librarianship to become a monk. It had been more than a year since they last spoke due to him preparing himself for a new life. The meeting left TNL going home with a quiet heart that looked inwards.

It has been 6 months since TNL stopped volunteering at the community services center.  After 4 years of teaching English to secondary school kids, she decided she was getting tired. The kids had moved on to ITE and so forth and TNL thought it was time to take a break. Oh, she misses the kids but they were going to different things now.

TNL believes in each one of us there is a switch that causes us to want to help, to volunteer, to serve, to make a difference in the world. Depending on how this switch is made, there will be a situation which will inevitably trigger it and then, awesome things will start happening.

In John Wood’s case, he discovered that books were inaccessible to the kids in Nepal. To my friend, the monk, he wanted to give what we have so abundantly here to the needy in India. And to a dear close friend, she wanted the old and lonely to feel cared for. 

The degree of “helping out” varies. Giving a lift to a friend with a broken a leg is helping out. So is sending a million dollar cheque to the victims of an earthquake. So is building thousands of libraries, caring for the sick and dying or holding an old lady’s gnarled hand. The issue here is sustainability. How far can you go?

What drives John? It has been 10 years. Seeing the growing number of kids reading? What endears my friend to work part-time, maintain a car so that she can take an old lady out every week? How is the monk friend always able to see beyond the suffering and the poverty to give gently and graciously?

Could it possibly be love? The desire to help, to make a change starts it off. But to commit to it, perhaps that desire to help has to be transformed to loving the person or to loving someone. TNL reckons it not loving the process of change, the growth numbers, the fruits of your labour. Maybe at the beginning but not after awhile. And she doesn’t think it is this thing about “doing good” either. Because sooner or later, we will start asking – then what?

For the past few weeks, things seem to be nudging and bugging TNL. It is time to get out of this muddy hole she is in. She remembers the love that sustained her all those 4 years. Once you experience it, you don’t quite forget.

TNL has started asking around and she might just move away from teaching kids and try something else. And doesn’t she usually keep you posted? Of course, she does. :)

Room to Read

When you put a pic of a cool-looking dude distributing books to kids and match it with a headline that has “libraries” in it, you can be sure as getting the flu from Sneezy sitting  beside you in the bus, that TNL’s attention is caught hook, line and sinker. I mean, come one, cool dude with books and kids – what can be more appealing to a little old librarian?

There was this article in Saturday’s Straits Times (26 June 2010, page B7) that tells of a John Wood who left his job in Microsoft so that he can get books to the children in Nepal. John started with donating 3,000 books to a Nepalese school. It has been 10 years now and there are 10,000 libraries set up by the non-profit organization Room to Read. Good on you, John and good on you, the Singapore chapter of Room to Read. As far as TNL is concerned, books always make things a tad better anywhere. Ok, enough of air time for John Wood and Room to Read.

Questions started popping up in TNL’s little mind after reading the article. Are these English books? If they are not, do they have a good range of Nepalese kids’ books? What stories are these? Do the kids read them themselves? Do teachers or librarians read to them regularly? Are these libraries accessible to every kid?

Way back in 2004, TNL started reading to little kids at a community centre. It was a weekly thing. TNL being an academic librarian, she doesn’t get a chance to read to little kids at her library. Oh, it’s ok. TNL loves being an academic librarian – dealing with “big” kids is, sometimes, let me see… as exciting an adventure as sending a convoy of book-laden donkeys up the Himalayan mountains. You just know you are going to get there. Somehow.

Anyway, reading to kids is about the most enjoyable thing you could ever, ever do. Seriously. No matter what happens – kids running around, pushing each other just to get to the front or even repeatedly asking questions before you even start reading… you know it is pure, unadulterated joy.

When you read, don’t focus on making the story sound enjoyable or fun (I mean, that helps too), but look at the kids. Look at how some would stare completely wrapped up in the book you are holding up, in your voice, the words that come out of your mouth and the fact that you are telling them something really cool. Look at their expressions. Their half-smiles. Their frowns. Their opened mouths. Their body language – leaning on one arm, sliding to the floor on their tummies, moving closer to sit beside you, reaching out to turn the page before you do.

And you know the best part is something you usually don’t get to see – the kid starting to pull books out of the shelves on her own to read or going home to tell her Mum or her kid sister about this princess who saved her boyfriend wearing only a paper bag or this puny boy who drew out a sword from a rock when nobody else could and became king.

TNL has since stopped her weekly stint at the community centre. She misses the kids and most of all, reading to them.

But kudos to Linus Lin, the writer of the ST article for writing this piece. And also for putting a 10 year old photo of a cool dude, kids and books with a statement like “46-year-old Wood, who is currently single”. It just nearly got this little old librarian to pack her nieces’ shelves of books to send the whole lot to Nepal.

 TNL has just got to get herself one of these John Woods for her information literacy programmes. That should work.

So What’s Up with Copying & Pasting?

We, academic librarians, we teach our students how to search for information for their assignments, projects and dissertations regularly.   In the course of working with lecturers, some lecturers have asked us to talk briefly on plagiarism and the various citation styles they could use. The lecturers’ main concern is to make their students aware of plagiarism.

Ask any student why they would copy and paste without citing and most of them will say, “Fast, mah. No time.” Whether or not they plagiarise is not the issue. They just want to get their assignments done. There is way too much to do and oh, so very little time. 

Do they know it is wrong to plagiarise? Most do. Our university has plagiarism FAQs, Academic Culture module and lecturers have been going on and on about plagiarism.

So what if students know plagiarism is a no-no?

Is it about being penalized versus taking the risk? Caught between the devil and deep blue sea, it is very likely, they may just go with the flow.

The issue is simply coping (not copying, duhh…). Coping with doing what is right and with the little time they have.

If you ask them to cite everything they copy and paste to make things kosher, well, of course, they will cite everything. I mean, everything. So this is not plagiarism, right? I cite, what. All also, I cite.

Students need to learn to take the information, anaylse it and write about it. Not regurgitate. Write. Without plagiarizing. Prof Mark Featherstone hit the nail when he said students were “unaware of how to present the words and ideas of others in a way that gave credit where credit was due” (ST Forum, June 15 , 2010).

That is just “the presenting of ideas” bit.

We and our students deal with vast amounts of information all the time. When students do a search in an academic database and find some really cool articles, some students would start writing straightaway. Some will stumble on articles that they could use for other assignments. After a while they are going to wonder which piece of information belongs to which article, ah? And where is that article in my many folders of articles?

We teach EndNote. It is a bibliographic management software. What it does is it helps you download the citations in your information searches so that you can retrieve them to insert the footnotes and create your reference lists when you write. Our EndNote hands-on sessions are over-subscribed all the time. We also have EndNote sessions in lecture theatres. And the page views of our EndNote online guides are high. Not to mention our web page on citation styles.

I believe our students want to get things right. They do. Despite all they say about grades, they want to learn and learn well.

And we need to provide them with an environment in which they:

1. Write without plagiarizing.

2. Manage information efficiently and effectively.

3. Cite correctly.

All in all – students need to use and communicate information responsibly and legally.

The Naked Librarian Takes a Hiatus

Well, friends, TNL needs to go on a little break from LINUS Blog.

Her library is renovating and you wonder what could she possibly be so involved in to take a break. Leave it to them brawny contractors and spare Her Delicateness, don’t you think? How very true…hmmm… brawny contractors…. oh, well. Anyway, TNL will continue to blog but now at: http://blog.nus.edu.sg/hssmlreno/.

Adieu and see you over at the reno blog.

It’s the Holidays?

The only reason you call December a holiday is because of Christmas and then, the fast approaching New Year. Well, all right,  the students have gone off on their holidays. That certainly gives the reason to declare it a holiday. But a holiday, really, a real one? Bah! humbug, I say!

For the past weeks, TNL has been looking forward to leisurely morning bus rides to work with the least number of vomit-inducing stops, a nice cruise along Clementi Road, a seat all to herself but more importantly, buses that come at regular intervals (not 3 at one go). But does she get any of one of these, nooooo…..

Then, there’s the weather. Yes, it is nice and cool but it doesn’t seem to be quite like the usual December weather. You have your freaky deluges and then, you have your sunny shunshine. And at times, TNL can well declare that it is jolly June hot.

And the work. Ok, so it is not back-to-back, cheek-by-jowl, “Kill me now” kind of work. It’s the kind of work you need to do for the next year but can’t get done because a bunch of people ain’t around because why? Beeeecause they are on holiday!

You call this a holiday? Look over your shoulder, aha, you can just about glimpse 2010 sticking its tongue at you. Holiday, shmoliday. Bring it on, 2010!

The Zoe Project

TNL met with a tutor friend along the corridors of the Business School recently and what she said gave TNL quite a nice lift of the spirits.

It seems this semester’s MNO1001 (Management and Organization) students are doing a project that totally grabbed TNL’s attention. It is called the Zoe Project . Our young ones’ mission is to go forth and improve someone else’s life. Just think Pay It Forward but with depth and academic credits.

So what has this got to do with organizational behavior? Plenty it seems. The question is: do we care more for the bottom line or the people that contribute to the bottom line. According to the project outline, effective management is less about the efficiency and more about people and relationships. And people want to be part of a community in which people care for each other. But caring for others is something learned over time and does not come naturally. How true.

But in a world where the first question asked is “what do I get out of it?”, an answer such as “meaningfulness in life” may not cut it. So TNL took a step back and thought of the people in her life that have shown care and reflected on the ROI.

A recent example was one that was close to home. A colleague’s father passed on after many years of being bed-ridden, plagued by illness. TNL’s colleague took upon herself to care for her father herself even though she had a maid and siblings. The little pains she took to ensure that he was comfortable and contented was admirable. But what took the cake was her humor despite the frequent grumblings of an insistent father and his demands for attention. She chuckled, shook her head and all the while she endured with love with never a sigh.

One may call her filial or attribute this to the duty expected of a daughter. But let me ask you this – could you see yourself commit to giving care with such good humor and love in the most difficult of situations every day for that many years? Perhaps the question should actually be what is the ROI? A sense of fulfillment? The satisfaction or relief of a duty well-discharged? A clear conscience?

TNL can’t answer that. But the impact of her attitude and actions on TNL was the realness of goodness. Surely, we can do this. Surely, with good humor, with a positive perspective of things, with the desire to love and care will give us the impetus, the courage to face these issues, to willingly wanting to give.

The MNO1001 students are expected to measure the impact of their project. This can be measured by the improvements made. TNL would like to suggest students look at the impact in reaching out to the witnesses, the observers of their good work. Should the ROI then be the number of causes observers suddenly pick up to pursue with passion?

How about this – the ROI is what it creates inside you, the desire not to turn away, a gesture of compassion, a pause to listen, a glimmer of hope for the next day. The ROI is allowing it to take root.

Statistics and Lots of It

TNL was minding her own busy business, preparing to give an overview of statistical databases to her PhDs, when she remembered a funny story she could not resist not telling.

One day, while again minding her own business (TNL minds that quite a bit), a graduate student from faraway Europe asked for statistics. She wanted to prove that a particular drug taken by people in India for some sort of malady was also causing the death of carion-eating birds. Far-fetched? Not according to the lovely lass. With all these dead bodies left to rot out in the open, surely you can’t blame these birdies from pecking for food and unfortunately, dying from it.

But I digress… she needed lots of statistics (it was a statistical analysis module, after all).

So what are we talking here? The volume of this drug consumed by Indians over how long? Correlate this to the number of deaths caused by the known side-effects of the drug? Then, correlating the number of these deaths with the number of bodies left out in the open? Do we have number of Zoroastrian deaths and causes of deaths? Are they the only ones leaving their dead out? What about the number of deaths of them poor birdies? And how many of them died of what again?

TNL’s tenacious little colleague found this site that told of a similar story. It tells of how an anti-inflammatory drug given to cows was causing their deaths. Since the Indians did not eat beef, them poor creatures were left out to rot and who comes along but our carion-eating birds. But since these poor birdies are dying off from eating toxic cows, what does nature do with all that good food going to waste? Send in wild dogs, of course. Of course, then, you would have your rabies and all sorts of other diseases.

So, now, tell me again, what statistics do we need to correlate human deaths caused by rabies to an anti-inflammatory fed to cows?

A Tortoise at Central Library

Or rather a “tor-toy-ise” as my bunch of Sec 4s said trying in vain to distract me from giving them a comprehension exercise. These kids!

 But I digress….Yes, folks, a tortoise! And what a tortoise it is too!

All through vacation, as we got off the bus in front of Central Library, we saw it growing. From its steely skeleton to its large canvas-like shell being hoisted up, it was a lovely prelude to its birthing as we wondered what would be revealed before us.

And today, as TNL got off 151, a quiet, little “Wow” got out too. There it was this dome-like creature standing all beige and steady. Walking under the canopy and looking up, the first thing that came to mind was how nice if it was to stay this way – all spacious and airy underneath and all light and cheery above.

 You see, the practicalities of campus life hit home. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any single space on campus in possession of good traffic flow, must be in want of a campus event.

For all those who have been holding their breath with trepidation, fearing the loss of good feng-shui or mourning the passing of the old, and oh no, the crowds, the crowds – let TNL persuade you to look for the light and the whimsical, the lovely contrasts of curves and lines.

Stand at the bus stop in front of Comp Centre (all of you working at Comp Centre, look out your window) or even along the brick pavement on Central Library’s side. Focus on the curved dome of the tortoise and then, let your eyes lead you to the straight, sharp vertical lines of Central Library’s columns. See how the curves soften breaking the stiltedness. Just let your eyes travel, sweeping gently along the edges of the library and that of the dome. Imagine touching the soft beige canvas-y shell and the cool feel of the little chips of white tiles on the library’s columns.

 Step back, look at the whole picture again.

 Now, doesn’t that deserve a smile and a quiet, little “Wow”?

So Long and Thanks, Maggie!

TNL bids farewell to Maggie, our LINUS Blog editor who is off on a new adventure.

What can TNL say except – Take me with you!!

As far as TNL is concerned any librarian that sits up and say, “Aha! I’m going for it!” deserves a pat on the back, a righteous, loud “Good on ya, mate!” and if he or she is nice and cuddly – a big hug.

TNL gets all self-reflective and contemplative when her friends say “So long and thanks for all the fish!” When you have been in the same place for the past 20 years, you sometimes feel like that bit of gum stuck on the underside of the table. After a while, that gummy place isn’t so bad after all. Ah….

It takes guts. Yup. Of which TNL lacks. Seriously. She is gutless. You can see no guts.

Another friend is also leaving. Now, that one. Where he is going – it takes a whole lot more than a tangle of guts. It is not a matter of wanting a change or an adventure or pursuing one’s heart’s desire. TNL believes it is much simpler and basic. She wishes very much she could take this one beautiful step of faith. Perhaps another time, huh?

So, friends, go forth boldly and our best wishes to you!