Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Way We Communicate

A few weeks ago I was talking about how some students don't know enough about writing. I mentioned this to my 8th grade daughter, Adina, and she said, "Don't they know enough to answer in full sentences?" When I went to visit her teacher for parent-teacher conferences, the teacher showed me the following essay. Adina told me what she had already thought about and wrote for her class. The essay below was edited for presentation here. The ideas are hers. I only edited it as I would any article for publication.


The Way We Communicate


Adina Stuhlman

Since the 1940’s we have changed the way we communicate. Now we have email, online chats and blogs. When writing we should write in full and complete sentences. E-mail, chatting and blogs are okay if we write correctly. We can communicate very easily with these things. However, if we do not write correctly when using e-mail, online chats and blogs there will be bad consequences to our wonderful language.

1. Many people, when writing on online chats, blogs and e-mail, use abbreviations such as: ttyl = talk to you later, l8er = later, btw = by the way, ur = you are, etc. When people use these abbreviations they start to speak and write like that all the time, which corrupts our speech. Our speech is corrupted because people start to think that these abbreviations and altering of our words is how we really write them or say them, when in fact they are not. These people lose the ability and the desire to write in full and complete sentences. Apathy toward writing correctly is bad for the English language.

2. When we e-mail or snail mail a letter or note to another person, (like an English teacher), and we use these new abbreviations, he or she might not understand them. The person who received the letter could think the abbreviations meant something other than what you, the sender meant, or not understand them at all. It is important that we do not use these abbreviations so people know what in the world we are talking about.

3. We need to write and speak in full sentences so that others can understand what we are trying to make a point of. If we ask a friend of ours (by e-mail, in the hall, or on the phone) “Hey what’s do we have to do tonight?” the friend will not know if we are talking about homework, your dance lesson, or play practice etc. Instead, we should say “Hey what was the homework in class? I did not catch the assignment.” When you say something like this the friend knows what you are trying to find out, and why. It is then much easier for the friend to help you.

In conclusion it is important to write correctly so that our wonderful language does not get ruined. We need to not use abbreviations because they can cause people to lose their want to write their word out fully. We also need to write and speak in full sentences then other people can understand us. If we do not write correctly there will be bad consequences.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A disagreement between a student and a teacher

Last Wednesday there was a disagreement between a student and a faculty member. I know about it because I overheard part of the discussion. On Thursday night I went to a lecture discussing teenage behavior and this put a question in my mind as to who was more mature on Wednesday-- the student or the faculty member. I will do my best to explain the story, but keep in mind that most of what I know is from being an unwilling witness. Part of the time I was trying to ignore the discussion, but when security was called I found myself in the middle. This is an open discussion and I welcome your opinion.

One of the skills a reference librarian needs to learn is listening and trying to figure out not just what the reader says they want but also what they really need. This a skill that also applies to the supervision of employees and as I learned on Thursday listening is one skill needed within one's family. The expression of the skill varies with the situation. Within a family love and family relations are involved. This relationship do not exist in the work place.

Some background -- The Writing Center has its office in the library a few feet from the reference desk. It is staffed by writing "experts" who other than proximity have no connection with the library. Sometimes they send "clients" to the reference desk for research help. They see "clients" by appointment and on a walk-in basis, however, they encourage appointments. Frequently the library staff directs students to the Writing Center (I say this in jest -- the students can't seem to read the 18 inch letters on the Writing Center sign.) I will refer to the student as "S" and the teacher as "T."

S made an appointment for 6:00 for the Writing Center and was assigned to see T. They had never met before. S arrived at 6:06. T was meeting with another student. The next part of the story I am not sure about what really happened. I overheard them talking and was debating whether to ask them to talk quieter. I didn't approach them. Had another library user complained I would have acted immediately. T (evidently) told S that since S was late, T thought he wasn't coming. T started helping a walk-in. S didn't like that. The appointment was scheduled for 30 minutes and S was held up talking to another teacher in another part of the building. S was annoyed. ( I did not hear any shouting.) T accused S of being aggressive and combative. Faculty members are not supposed to fight with students. They are supposed to call security.

At this moment I stepped out of the library to visit the men's room. While I was gone T had the library staff call security because the Writing Center does not have a phone. I walked back into the library before security got there. I was wearing a black suit coat and a name tag. I am tall I can look very official or threatening. Seeing them at the circulation desk I though T was referring S to me for help. I said in my most helpful tone, "May I help you?" S thought I was security and began telling his story. I listened and told him that I was the reference librarian. Then security showed up and T told his side of the story. I retreated, but I could hear most of what when on.

The library director, who was also wearing a dark suit jacket, heard part of the discussion with S, T and security. In reviewing the events, the director said that he and I should have handled it as the "Men in Black." (But he was joking. )

What can you learn from this concerning reference? Learn to listen without making judgments. Validate what each person has to say without making judgments as to who was right and wrong. Learn to step aside when you do not own the problem and really have no way of solving the problem. Sometimes, just listening will help people solve their own problems.

What should have happened? First the student should have thought "Do I trust such a teacher to help me? Is there another person who can help?" There were three librarians nearby who may have been able to give just as much help. T should have thought how to help both students. The librarian should learn to stay out of disagreements that concern other departments. Choose which battles to fight. S should have retreated and reported the incident to the director of the Writing Center. (However -- here is my rant -- too often I have seen reactions from the administration that indicate a serious lack of understanding the faculty member. I would never say a faculty member or administrator made a mistake in front of a library user. In this case I was a witness and if asked I would give my opinion to the administration. I have witnessed at least two other incidents with T that indicate a lack of professionalism. One act could have even been potentially dangerous.)

Librarians deal with management issues. Based on what I learned on Thursday, we should listen to the people and validate that we are listening. Sometimes active listening will help the people solve their own problem. If a decision needs to be made, explain your case, listen, and make your decision. If you argue or nag the person may just turn you out. Sometimes you don't need to give a reason. If you don't give a reason, the other person has no grounds to wear you down with counter arguments.

I hope this does not sound preachy. I just think that the combination of the Wednesday event in the library and the Thursday lecture helped me understand the people's actions. In the words of Dr Phil, "Would you rather be happy or right?" S could have gotten much more help if he stopped arguing and invested his time in getting real help and then writing his paper. T could have saved a lot of time if he just stopped the arguing and figured out a way to give S and the other student help.

What do you think? This is a discussion.


Comment from Jean M. Gerber

For your part I believe you handled it correctly by not getting involved. If the Writing Center was managed by the library you might have had to step in, but since it is just housed there you shouldn't be involved unless as you mentioned they were bothering patrons of the library.

Both the teacher and student were at fault. The student was late, but since he did have a half hour block, the teacher could have still helped them explaining that he needs to help another student, also.

The student should expect that due to their lateness, the teacher may have been helping another student and may not get the teacher's full attention.

As a teacher I deal with issues like this all of the time. Confrontation never works from both sides. Good listening is one of the most important skills you can develop. You need to listen to the person's argument and understand where they are coming from before you can make any judgments. Most problems occur when people rush to judgment. It seems like both the teacher and student did this and were somewhat unreasonable. If one party becomes irate or unreasonable then it is time to call for assistance.

A teacher should never have to deal with a student out-of-control, especially in front of other students. The same would go for a librarian. People in our society today seem to quickly move to anger when things don't go exactly as they want. It is a shame people can't take the time to relax, listen and not rush to judgment.

Most arguments could be avoided.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Education and clarity of thought

On TV today I heard a character say, "Education! Of course I believe in education. As long as it doesn't get in the way of clear thinking."

Last night I think one visitor to the reference desk had neither education or clear thinking. Here is the exchange (enhanced for maximum humor.)

Visitor: Is this the library?
Librarian: This is the library. May I help you?
Visitor: Yes. I'm looking for the library.
Librarian. This is the library.
Visitor: I looking for room L131 in the library.
Librarian: Room 131 is downstairs. It's the testing center, not the library. The library is on the second floor.
Visitor: I was told L131 was in the library. How do I find it?
Librarian: L131 is in the library building on the first floor, but the first floor is not the library.
Visitor: Oh! How do I find the library building?
Librarian: You are in the library building. You need to go to the first floor. As you enter the building L131 is on the right.
Visitor: Thanks, but the security desk told me L131 is in the library. Where is the library?

The first task of the placement test is finding the test center. Fail that and you will be letting the lack of clear thinking interfere with education.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding an artist

Last week a fellow librarian asked a question about an artist that she had scant information. Here is her question:
I have a group of pen and ink drawings by the Israeli artist David that I want to donate to a local group. They would like to know something about the artist. Each drawing is from a different book of the bible, all from KETUVIM (Writings), JONAH, RUTH, ECCLESIASTES, ETC. Does anyone know what I am talking about and can tell me about the artist? A google search has not been fruitful.
Since I knew the answer right away with just a moment to double check my memory, I wondered if others would know the answer. Of all the people I asked over Shabbat, no one remembered the book that contained these drawings. Then I posed the question to my students in a reference class. I wanted to know how they would approach solving this problem. None of the students had an answer. Do I have special knowledge or just a very focused memory?

Let's examine the question to figure out what is known and what one needs to know to figure out the answer. 1) We know the drawing are pen and ink, but there is no way to search by type of drawing. Let's use this information later.
2) The author has "David" in his name. We don't know if this is his first name or family name.
Since the librarian said the artist was Israeli, one can surmise the article signed the drawing with Hebrew letters. But that may not be correct. A search of "david" as a family name in the Encyclopedia Judaica or using Google does not help with the answer. There are too many hits on "david" as a first name to be of use.

3) We know the drawing or from books of the Ketuvim section of the Bible. The question only includes three of the books. Had the question included all the book represented in the drawing this would be easier to answer. This is a case of: read this list and tell be what does not belong. All books listed are read in the synagogue some time in the year. All are from one section of the BIble. However, there is no easy connection for these three titles. Perhaps if the questioner listed all the books prepresented, the search would be easier. If we say "Jonah" does not belong in the list, we are left with
"Ruth, Ecclesiastes, etc." From the question we have no idea how many books are represented by "etc." We ask what Ruth and Ecclesiastes have in common. They are part of the "five scrolls or hamash megillot." If we search "five scrolls" "hamash megillot" AND "jonah" will find so clese matched, but none that fill all the requirements. If you search five megilloth and jonah david The first hit will point you to the book: The Five Megilloth and Jonah, by H. L. Ginsberg (foreword), Ismar David (illustrator). This book is out of print, but it is on my shelf.

Looking at the book we can see the each of the Biblical books has a pen and ink drawing by Ismar David. I remember that the publisher, JPS, sold the drawings in a portfolio. This portfolio containing the drawings on heavy paper is most likely what the original questioner has. Searching Ismar David will point to a whole book on his life and work:
The Work of Ismar David, by Helen Brandshaft, David Pankow; Contributor Helen Brandshaft. Published by RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2005. There is also a web site with a short bio of Ismar David.

Monday, November 3, 2008

At what point does "sehel” kick in?

Part of the job of the librarian is to balance resources and the needs of users. Part of the balancing involves having a circulation policy that is fair. Books need to be available for all users. What happens when the needs of one reader conflict with the needs of another? What happens when the library staff tries to enforce the library rules?

Here’s the story -- A library patron borrowed books from branch library #1 last February and still has not returned them. Automatically the library system billed the patron for $445 and put a hold on the account. The patron went to branch library #2 and wanted to take out more books. The system would not let the patron check out books and the circulation person is not allowed to over ride that kind of the fine. The fine must be cleared with the business office at library #1. The patron became irate and yelled at the circulation staff. The library director was not in the library at the time.

The patron was so irate that she went to the president. The president sent an e-mail to the library director saying, "Please tell me why this student can not take books out?”

The library director wrote back and said there are 445 reasons why she can’t check out books.

The president wanted to know where the policy was written saying the students who own fines can’t check out books.

The district policy is: Persons who have a delinquent account will have a delinquency service indicator placed against all records. Students with delinquency service indicators will not be allowed to register or receive transcripts, degrees or certificates until their outstanding balances have been resolved and the service indicator has been released.

This should be “common knowledge.” That is a policy that is obvious. At what point does “sehel” (common sense) kick in?