Category Archives: Me and mine

Journalistic ideals

It has been a very, very long time since I’ve written here. I write almost daily on Facebook and Twitter, but haven’t wandered over to this blog. I’m not sure why, exactly, though the modern urge to communicate in 140 characters is beginning to be the norm. And yet, I’m feeling the need to express myself in a more complete – if less concise – form.  In any case, if you’re still with me, thank you.

I’m teaching at the local high school this week. I’ve been a visiting presenter at the invitation of the English teacher, and we’ve been talking to the students about research and how it may be more intense in college. In addition to the things I usually talk about, the teacher has asked me to talk about blogs and journalism and how the two may differ, and when it might be appropriate to cite a blog.

This took me on a path to research what blogs are out there these days, and I was a bit surprised at the “legitimate” organizations that now have blogs as part of their media reach. I’ve been blogging for a while now, and when I first started (cue the, “Why, back in my day…”) blogs were dismissed as being the ramblings of people unknown. Blogs were considered entertaining and perhaps informative, but in most cases not authoritative. That seems to have changed.

A thousand years ago, I switched majors in college from music (voice) to journalism, largely because of the influence “All the President’s Men” had on my young crusading spirit. (On a side note, I have discovered that I am descended from real Crusaders…but that’s another post.) I loved the idea of researching stories, uncovering misdeeds, righting wrongs, saving the world…you get the idea. Journalism rode in on a white horse, saving the day from tyranny and preserving the American Way. In my mind, the Fourth Estate was essential to democracy, ensuring that the other three branches of government were doing the things they were supposed to do and bringing to light abuses of power.

I’m not sure I believe that the Journalism I admired as a young woman exists any longer. These days I see the mainstream media as part of an entertainment complex rather than as a heroic and patriotic enterprise. The biases in media are insidious, and are all the more dangerous because – for the most part – they are hidden. When I teach students about research and biases and how to determine whether a source has an agenda, it’s difficult to talk about the mainstream media.  In doing a search on NBC, Fox, and CBS news channels, all three talk about entertainment, rather than journalism.

In contrast, news-related blogs – especially those that are politically driven  – tell the reader what their bias is, without equivocation. Daily Kos tells us that, “This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog.” Right Wisconsin (as if the name isn’t enough of a hint) tells us that, “We are a new distribution channel for conservative ideas.” This, I tell my students, is exactly what a site should say. It’s okay to have a bias, as long as you tell the reader up front that you have this lens through which you’re seeing the world.  If a site doesn’t tell you what their bias is, if they purport to be unbiased in their views but have a tendency to lean one way or the other….that’s when you should be a bit suspicious.

This all makes me think that the growing trend of citizen journalism will continue to grow, and perhaps is closer to the ideal as put forth in the constitution. I still believe that the Fourth Estate is essential to democracy. I’m not sure who inhabits that Estate, however, and who will take it into the future.

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Post-surgical care

I had major surgery a few weeks ago.

I’ve been struggling with seriously arthritic knees for a few years now, thanks to my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. Genetic stuff. I had the knees of a 75-year old. Given that I’d love to travel to many different parts of the world where walking is the primary mode of transportation, the knees were a problem.

DH and DBF have been pushing me to go bionic for a while now, and I finally gave in and scheduled the surgery. I had bilateral knee replacement, which means I had both done at once. Some think I’m brave for having done it all at once. I know that I’m not brave at all, but know that I wouldn’t want to go through this twice…so getting them both done at once and getting it over with was right for me.

I came home from the hospital two days after the surgery, and have been largely confined to the bedroom and the chair in the living room. I’m getting around more now, but for the first three weeks or so, the bed and the recliner were my world. I discovered a few things in my recovery experience, and I think libraries might be able to develop programs to help.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • It’s really, really hard to read (and concentrate) when you’re on a bunch of pain meds. As much as I adore reading, I couldn’t. It was frustrating. After a few weeks, when the meds are reduced, you can read again….but for the first three weeks, it’s almost impossible.
  • Daytime television is truly abysmal. Awful stuff. And boring. And, if you’re stuck watching it, cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s where libraries can come in. It would be fabulous to have Surgery Care Packages for patrons who have had surgery, and are looking for entertainment. It could contain audiobooks and movies for the first few weeks, and could segue to print books once the patient was able to read again. I would have jumped at something like that.

Think about it, libraries…especially if you have a large hospital in your community. You would be providing a very welcome service!

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Unplugged

It was an interesting day yesterday at MPOW. An overenthusiastic someone with construction equipment managed to cut the fiber optic cable, and we lost access to the Internet. We also lost phone communication, as our phones are VOIP.
We’re a laptop campus, and so being online is a constant state of being. Students, staff, faculty are online All Of The Time. Losing access to the world online was borderline catastrophic for some. It took a few minutes for everyone to wrap their heads around the fact that 1) we lost it and 2) it wasn’t coming back for a while.
That’s when things got interesting. People starting talking to each other. Classes that normally had students marginally engaged had students complaining that class was over so soon, as they had gotten so into the discussions they were having that they didn’t want them to stop. One professor told me that there was a group of students who stayed an extra 20 minutes to continue the discussion that had started in class.
There is a palpable difference in the pace of the campus. Things are slower, gentler. No one seems to be rushing around, but instead walk slower and allow themselves to be stopped and to enter into a conversation. The encounters that are usually a bright and quickly tossed, “Hi!” are now genuine inquiries into each other’s lives. It’s rather lovely.
Technology has been a boon, there’s no doubt. But I sometimes wonder at what cost. Unplugging is definitely worth the experience. Perhaps we should have an official Unplugged Day every now and then.

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Rambling on and pursuing joy

Fair warning: this post is a bit of a ramble.

It’s been a difficult few years for DH and DBF and myself. We’re all orphans, now, and that brings with it all sorts of challenges. Dealing with the various estates (though calling them that sounds much more grand than they are) brings a host of issues that are annoying and heart-wrenching at the same time. Two of the three are settled; still waiting on the third. (Anyone interested in a mid-century ranch home in the Milwaukee area?)

We’re all struggling with the aftermath and working through how to live with the gaping hole that has been left by the loss of our parents. For the most part we’re doing fairly well. As I try to heal, I am determined to pursue joy wherever and whenever possible, and to actively search for the activities and people that are affirming and positive and creative and, well, joyful. Get back to doing the things I loved to do that have fallen by the wayside.

DH presented me with a number of lovely gifts this Christmas, the most meaningful of which was a gift certificate for voice lessons. Once upon a time, I had a good singing voice. As in, people would frequently tell me I should be on Broadway, or sing professionally. I sang in theatrical productions, I sang in an acapella jazz group, I for sang innumerable weddings, I sang with a Big Band, I sang for fun. Being a singer is so central to my being that I still think of myself that way…..but I haven’t sung in almost 10 years. Part of it, weirdly, is the lack of a commute. When I lived in the Big City, my daily commute was almost an hour each way. I sang almost every day on that commute, which kept my voice in relatively good shape.

Now, however, DH and I live 10 minutes from work. Not much time to work up a good set. Every now and then I drive somewhere further away and try to sing, but having not sung regularly has made my voice weaken and shrivel to the point that I cringe at the sound coming out of my mouth. (I feel like those American Idol wannabes that proclaim they’re wonderful singers and then have a perfectly awful audition.)  I have shared my situation with friends, and a few of them demanded that I get back to singing, pronto. Enter DH and his lovely gift. I’m hoping that some voice lessons will help to get my voice, if not back to what it once was, at least to an acceptable status.

Meanwhile, I’m also wanting to do more pottery, and have decided to purchase a kiln of my own. The electrician will be giving me an estimate soon, and I’m planning to get things set up in spring. Creating something useful and charming and occasionally beautiful is good for the soul. Having the tools at my ready is a luxury I am able to have thanks to my parents and a small inheritance. I found out recently that my Mother and DBF had been secretly on the hunt for a kiln for me a few years ago; to purchase one now feels like a gift from mom.

And then there’s travel. I adore traveling. Unfortunately, DH and I haven’t been able to travel much; our last official vacation was in 2008. It’s ridiculous. Travel is absolutely on my list for this year.

DH, for his part, is getting back to bowling. He really loves to bowl, and is (or was) a seriously good bowler. A few of his bowling balls cracked, having been stored in the garage. Not a good idea, apparently, in our frigid climate. He’s on the hunt for a new bowling ball or two. (Yes, bowlers will have a few of them. Who knew?)

DBF is working on Book Two, which is seriously exciting. You can follow her writing here, by the way. She’s redecorating/remodeling/redoing her home, too, and it’s amazing to see her imaginings come to fruition. DBF was doing Pinterest before there was such a thing. She had binders of photos cut from magazines of rooms and fabrics and colors and arrangements, all in the name of someday having a room or home that looked like that. Well, she has. Her home is beautiful and elegant and welcoming all at the same time, and looks like one of those Pinterest photos that someone would pin for their own inspiration.  She and her DH have added a master wing onto the house, which I have yet to see. From the photos, it looks amazing.

We’re doing okay. It’s going to be a joyful year. Amen. Let it be so.

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Bereft

It has been a difficult summer in our household.

As you may remember, my mom passed away two years ago, in June 2012. My dad passed away in November of 2013.

My father-in-law has now passed away, the day after Father’s Day. That’s three parents in three years.

The DAY of my father-in-law’s funeral, DBF’s mom fell….and then she passed away a week later. Her funeral was a week ago today. Given that I’ve known DBF for many, many years, I feel the loss of her mom acutely. She was one of those people I just called “Mom.”

DBF and her husband, along with DH and I, are now in the unenviable position of being orphans. Granted, we’re at the age when this is not unusual. But there is a hollow place in my heart where my parents used to live.

The loss of so many so quickly has left me a bit bereft.

If your parents are still with you, call them. Better yet, visit them. Give them a kiss and a hug. Trust me, you won’t be sorry you did.

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Search and destroy

Ah, the perils of modern technology.

DBF, as I’ve shared, has written a wonderful novel. It’s in the final editing phase, where the manuscript is checked for printing errors, misspellings, dropped quotation marks, etc.

Jan has been unusually busy, and so I offered to help with a look at the manuscript. (Gave me a chance to read it again, too. It’s as good as I thought it was.)  I caught the usual stuff, but came across a word that I didn’t recognize: hapcedars.

I’ll let Jan tell you the rest. May everyone’s day be filled with hapcedars.

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Character rant

I have a weird name.

I have two first names, which is not unusual for a woman of an age with Catholic roots. “Mary” variations were very popular, and it wasn’t unusual for people with the first name of “Mary” to also be called by their first and middle names. (Mary Jo, Mary Ann, Mary Sue, etc.) I’m called by my first name and a variation of my middle name, Elizabeth. So, Mary Beth.

I married later in life and it felt odd to lose my maiden name altogether, so I chose to hyphenate. (Luckily, I didn’t marry someone with a long, unwieldy surname.) My last name is Sancomb-Moran.

I can not tell you how annoying it is to be told by various and sundry online forms that my name is wrong. Can’t have a space in the first name. Can’t have a hyphen in the last name. Grrr.

Now, I understand that the two-name-first-name thing is a bit passé, but it’s not that unusual. And more and more women (and, occasionally, their spouses) are choosing to hyphenate.

For the love of all that’s holy, online retailers and all those with forms, get with the program! Do not create your forms so that it kicks out characters other than letters.  It can be done; I’ve seen it.

I’ve chosen to register/sign up/ join your organization. Don’t make me regret having done so because you’ve decided my name isn’t valid.

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Books, books, everywhere

I am back from a magical weekend in New York.

I attended, for the first time, the Book Expo America at the absolutely enormous Javits Center. For those who haven’t attended this behemoth of a book conference, it’s All Things Book – publishers, sellers, and over 700 authors. Those authors were giving away copies of their books, and were signing copies for those interested.

There were a lot of people interested.

The conference is for book professionals, including librarians. The last day of the conference they open the doors to the general public, who can get tickets to come and see their favorite authors and get signed copies of books. (One of the “authors” was Grumpy Cat.  There was a huge line of people waiting for books and a chance to see the cat. Who knew.)

This thing is absolute book crack for people who love books; the day the conference opened to the general public 7,000 people bought tickets. It was crazy and exhilarating and great fun.

While I am a book lover and librarian, of course, I was not there in either of those roles. DBF has written a wonderful novel that’s being published and it was introduced at BEA. I was there as her entourage. It was wonderful to be there as my dear friend first saw piles of her books, saw the posters announcing her book, and signed her first autograph. We both shed a few tears of absolute joy.

I encourage you to check out her book and order a copy. Or five. You can find it on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

In any case, I was thinking about the weekend on the way home. In the last few years there have been a number of articles mourning the death of the book, of readers, of reading in general. Given what I saw this past weekend, I would beg to differ. The people who were there were from all walks of life (judging on appearances, granted) and were of all ages. They were giddy at the prospect of meeting and interacting with authors, and in discovering new books to read and cherish. The book, for them, is very much alive and well. To paraphrase Twain, the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

I don’t think we’ll see the death of the book anytime soon. And I’m glad.

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Tweeting customer service

I’m impressed.

I stayed at the Washington Hilton recently while attending Computers in Libraries. I tweeted that I had checked in and got a response from the Hilton, welcoming me to DC. Nice touch.

When I got home and looked at my credit card bill, I realized there were two additional charges on my card that weren’t mine. I tried calling the hotel itself and getting it resolved, but not only do they have one of those über -annoying voice-mail menus, but I couldn’t get any help. Frustrated, I tweeted my annoyance.

Almost immediately, Hilton tweeted back. How could they help? They asked me to follow them so we could direct message. I did, and was contacted by Fran, who asked for details so she could resolve the problem.

This is serious customer service.

Twitter is sometimes dismissed as a fluffy venue for people to post about their lunch, or how much they want coffee, or complain about the weather.  Guilty as charged. However, it can be used as a terrific way to monitor your business reputation – or that of your library.  How wonderful would it be to be able to resolve a customer service issue for one of your library patrons?  If that patron is like me, they’ll be impressed and spread the word.

There are two great lessons to take away from this experience. The first was the welcome tweet. If you’re monitoring your library’s Twitter feed (and I’m assuming you are) you can respond to any patron who checks in, or mentions that they’ve visited. It’s a nice way to let them know you’re listening, and to appreciate them for their patronage.

The second is the customer service interaction. If a patron has a complaint, you can not only help to solve the problem, but you can keep the problem from escalating by dealing with it as soon as possible. The patron will be appreciative, and the resulting good will is priceless.

I must say, this has made me impressed enough with Hilton that I will go out of my way to stay at one of their hotels in the future. Good job!

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April Fool

I hate April Fool’s Day.

I never was that much of a fan, either of pranking or being pranked. But my freshman year of college was the death knell for any joy I would get from the day.

On March 31st of that year, two college friends were in a fatal car accident. They both were movers and shakers in our small college campus; everyone knew them. One was the editor of the campus newspaper. They were both charming and funny and much, much too young to die.

I had the unfortunate timing to come across the accident just as the emergency medical crew was frantically working on one of them; he was pronounced dead on arrival. The other friend died two days later, on April 2nd.

We – the friends who had learned of Kirk and Pat’s accident and subsequent death – now had the unenviable task of relating the news to the rest of the campus. On April 1st.

Imagine telling someone news like that, only to have them chide you for trying to pull such an awful April Fool’s prank. And you reply no, it isn’t a prank. And they insist it is. And so on.

It made the awful job of relating such news that much more awful.

And so, while others share silly “news” stories with glee, I will be remembering Kirk and Pat.  I hate April Fool’s Day.

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