Monthly Archives: May 2009

My not-to-be-read-anytime-soon pile

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But I want to!



What are you, a two-year-old?

Sorry, I’m just cranky because it’s hot, and because I’m sick of working on professional writing assignments. And I’d like to read that book, please.

Which book?

That one right there.

You mean The Stand? By Stephen King?


Over a thousand pages long?

Yes. That one.

The expanded edition?


It is, as I believe I just mentioned, over a thousand pages long. You don’t have time for it.

But I want to read it! Ever since the swine flu kerfluffle, I’ve been jonesing for apocalyptic fiction.

You’ve already read it, like two or three times or something.

Want to read it again.

You already know what happens! Everyone dies. The End.

Not quite everyone, that’s the point.

I’m telling you, you don’t have time for it.

Okay then, compromise: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. It’s way shorter. Notice how it’s sitting there on the floor, within easy reach.

You’ve already read that one, too.

But it’s not as long! And it’s still apocalyptic! And I just luuuuurve that book!

I know you love Connie Willis, possibly more than life itself, but you have obligations.

Um. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? It too is within easy reach. Might be apocalyptic…

You’re missing the point. You’re not allowed to read anything, not till you finish your chapter and your article and your indexes.

What are you, my mother?

No, I am your sense of responsibility, neglected and ignored though I may be. I know you and I don’t have a real strong relationship, but you don’t have a choice. You must listen to me. You must. You’ve finally got some free time to write. Don’t waste it.

Reading Connie Willis is never a waste.

No reading. I mean it.

…blogging? How about blogging.

You already blogged today! It was bizarre, like you were trying to do a spy thriller and a western and honestly it was kind of weird.



Technically it was yesterday I blogged, not today. It’s past midnight, see? It’s tomorrow!

Exactly. Time’s a wastin’.

You’re such a wet blanket. You’re the reason I never get out of the house.

No, the reason you never have any fun is because you read Shakespeare for pleasure. People think that’s weird. Seriously.

Speaking of which, there’s a graphic adaptation of Henry V sitting right there, just underneath Austen-n-Zombies.

Ugh, I hate those bastardized classics.

No, this is the original text! Unabridged!

Yet another book that you’ve already read, several times.

“And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here!”

That’s a good idea, gentlewoman. How about you get yourself to bed now, and so help me God if you don’t IMMEDIATELY resume work on your writing projects tomorrow morning, you will learn new and terrible meanings of accurs’d.

Compared to Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, your motivational gambit is sorely lacking.

Right. Next time I threaten you with work I’ll be considerate enough to cast it in iambic pentameter.

Or a haiku! You could do a haiku.

With that thought in mind
This gentlewoman, accurs’d,
Makes her way abed.



Vigilante librarianship

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“Hello, Miller residence!”

A voice, electronically distorted: “We know you have the book.”


“The library book. We know you have it.”

“I’m sorry, is this the library calling?”

“No. This is not the library. The library does not know we exist. The police do not know we exist. The FBI does not know we exist. Who we are is unimportant.”

“Is this some kind of prank?”

“This is no prank. You have a book checked out from the library that was due yesterday.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry, must have slipped my–”

“Do not interrupt us. You will return the library book. You will journey to the downtown library at midnight. You will be alone and unarmed. You will return the book in the drop slot.”

“This all sounds kind of cloak and dagger–”

“Silence! You will follow the instructions exactly if you ever want to see your puppy again.”

“Fluffers? You’ve got Mister Fluffers?”

A single woof sounds across the line, then silence. The call disconnects.

For several reasons I am pleased to report that this scenario did not take place. I would not object to intimidating someone into returning a library book I wanted to read, but I’m glad I didn’t have to dognap anybody. A life of crime sounds like a romantic existence, but I don’t want to take anyone’s dog. That kind of thing is for thugs. I do not want to be a thug. I want to be a rogue vigilante. There’s a difference.

I am also glad I was saved the indignity of referring to myself in the plural. It is pretentious. I understand that certain rogue vigilantes are pretentious, but I would rather be the salt-of-the-earth type, quietly bringing justice to the grateful citizenry.

“No, ma’am, that sack full of gold won’t be necessary, and while I appreciate the offer of your daughter’s hand in marriage, it raises a host of contemporary political and ethical issues of gender and government that are ill-suited* to the spaghetti Western that I am trying** to create here. Your smile is all the thanks I need.”

*Worked for Brokeback Mountain, though.


To be honest, my fantasy of being a Library Enforcer working in the gray area of the law is not so much about protecting the good townspeople. It’s got more to do with selfish demands, chiefly, that I be able to finish the series I’m reading.

The bad news is that the book in question was not overdue by a mere day. In my infinite grace I am capable of forgiving a book that is one day late. But the book I wanted was weeks late. I have many strengths. Patience is not one of them.

The good news is that it was returned yesterday. So, on the first day of the holiday weekend, quite in contrast to previous plans, I got dressed. And then I went to the library. And then I got the final volumes of Bone, Jeff Smith’s epic fantasy series of graphic novels.

So I was able to finish Bone (great series, by the way, with great characters, as evidenced by the two different times I cried in the final volume), but that’s all the fun I get to have this weekend, I’m afraid.

It occurs to me that other people spend holidays with friends and family doing… I’m not sure what, exactly, but I suspect it involves fun and excitement and tasty animal flesh cooked on a grill, or tasty veggie burgers for those who swing that way.

I intend to become that type of person someday. Really I do. Maybe for the Fourth of July weekend I will have fun and excitement. (But not the bit about the grill. Realistically, I am not at the point where I could manage a grill, even if I had one, which I don’t. My rate of progress with the slow cooker is… well: “slow” is the key word, here. I am not at a point where I should be trusted with food preparation.)

This weekend, however, I am going to try to finish that chapter on Fantasy, sweartogod (are you reading this, editor?) and I’ve got to do some more indexing and, for variety, I need to write an article. But once I finish those first two bits, I will become the sort of person who does not have Important Projects looming over her incessatly, at which point I shall join the ranks of people who eat tasty grilled things on holiday.

Wilhelmsplatz Down

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It is dreadful to listen to other people’s dreams. The words “So I had this dream the other night” are invariably followed by a tedious, painstaking, blow-by-blow account of a truly uninteresting narrative. By the time the other person gets to “And then this curling iron appeared, and I dunno, I can’t explain it, but it was amazing!” I find myself plotting ways to surrepstitiously pull the fire alarm:

“Wow, that’s fascinating, now don’t mind me but I’m going to lean uncomfortably against this bit of wall here… oh, for no reason, really, just seems the thing to do, and please pay no mind to the way I’m awkwardly wiggling my shoulders up and down. Do continue telling me about your dream, you were just at the bit where you eating a muffin, I can’t wait to hear what happens next.”

So, the other night, I had this dream, right? This’d be two nights ago. I had moved to Alberta and I was enthralled by the gorgeous mountain scenery and lush forests.

(A quick wikipedia search informs me that Alberta really does have mountains. I had no idea. Guess my sleeping brain knows more trivia than I give it credit for.)

Then last night I went out West to hike along a mountain trail at the conjunction of four states: Montana, Colorado, something, and something.

Now geography is not my strong suit, but I’m quite confident that Montana and Colorado are nowhere near one another…. yep, I just looked it up, they’re separated by Wyoming, which is one of those very large, if essentially useless, states out west. So maybe my sleeping brain is not so bright after all. Or maybe it is—there was that time with the amazing play on words, which to this day stands as the single most impressive intellectual feat I have ever accomplished.

Fortunately my dream metaphors subscribe to the sledgehammer school of symbolism. There is absolutely no ambiguity here: I want to move to someplace beautiful. Dream interpretation, I tell ya, it’s a piece of cake. (Possibly it’s so easy to read my dreams because my subsconsciousness is dull and uncreative, but let’s not dwell on that.)

I am sure that some of you, especially those of you who tend toward self-righteousness, want me to learn to appreciate the natural beauty of my surroundings, no matter where I may be. If I could quit being grumpy for a change, take some time to revel in the wonder of all God’s creations, I would find beauty everywhere, and happiness too, most likely.

I’m pleased for you, really I am. It’s heartening to know that you’ve achieved spiritual enlightenment. I, however, am spiritually obtuse. Without majestic, breathtaking, ridiculously overstated geographical features such as mountains or gorges or buttes, I am too dense to notice natural beauty. Sorry.

(I have never seen buttes, but I assume they would do the trick.)

My preference for dramatic landscapes notwithstanding, I must confess that today was a pretty good day. The weather was absolutely perfect, just a bit on the cool side and the type of cloudless blue sky I associate with Wyoming, though whether this is a fair association is anybody’s guess, as we have seen that my knowledge of Wyoming is limited. (It’s between Colorado and Montana, though, I know that much.)

And though I woke up yet again to discover a complete absence of mountains nearby, I did enjoy some nature action, in the form of three, four, or five bunny rabbits. As the weather was absolutely perfect, and as I tend toward self-righteousness, I walked to work today. (The self-righteous part comes from my getting to be smug about not having driven a car.) On the way to work, I saw two bunnies, and then a bit later, I saw another.

On the walk back, in exactly the same spot where I’d seen two bunnies in the morning, I again saw two bunnies. Were these the same two bunnies from the morning? Were they two different bunnies? Was there one repeat bunny, and one new bunny? All bunnies look more or less the same to me, so I have no way of knowing. Presumably if I learned to revel in the wonder of all God’s creations I could learn to distinguish between bunnies but we’ve already dispensed with the likelihood of that happening anytime soon.

And now, because I assume that no one cares to hear about my work on a chapter that’s way past due, nor about an article that’s about to be past due, nor yet again about the mindnumbing process of preparing indexes for my book (we’re looking at an August release date), I shall wrap this up. The 3-5 bunny sightings were, collectively, the most interesting thing I’ve done this week.

But, y’know, if you do care to hear about the chapter or the article or the indexes, I’ll be happy to fill you in. Should be no worse than listening to someone talk about the dream she had the other night.

The plot thickens

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“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” – Mel Brooks

Just a quick note, as I’m sick of looking at the entry on the organization of library materials.

I just sat here and created a new blog entry, but I’ve decided not to post it. I will however give you the last line, which in itself will explain why I chose not to publish it. Ahem:

“Sorry, everybody. I’ve just subjected you to a great deal of whining that could have been tidily pared down to ‘Jessica’s despressed, and the weather’s hot.’ “

Thing is, I love to read fiction about despair and death and wretchedness, but I don’t want to sit through a real person’s account of being miserable and neither do you. I’ll make exceptions if the misery involves humorous episodes (“That part where she fell down the sewer was hysterical“) but I haven’t done anything especially funny recently, so I’m not going to make you read through an account of my existentialist hand-wringing.

So yes, if anyone at home is keeping tabs, Jessica is officially miserable, but that’s nothing new. And also it’s hot. Moving on:

I have decided that, when I grow up and become a writer, the person I most want to be compared to is Terry Pratchett. I want the blurbs on the back covers to liken me to him, especially concerning the similarities in humor. Because I do not watch television or get out much and because, essentially, I live in a cave (me and three kitties in a cave, it’s very cosy, if somewhat gravelly) no one will ever say “Ah, that Jessica Zellers infuses her works with clever cultural references, just like Terry Pratchett does!” but I invite future critics of my many novels, not one word of which has yet been written, to kindly bear in mind that I will graciously invite comparisons to our similar aptitudes for the comedic.

So now all I have to do is write a book that is sidesplittingly funny. Perhaps… I know! Someone should fall down a sewer and die! Okay, there’s my plot, this thing’s practically gonna write itself!

Dark Lord Decimal System

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I am taking off my beret and replacing it with my Library Dork hat. This actually works out for the best, because the beret was hiding my blue streak of hair, which hardly anyone can see anyway. Hairdresser Jeff chose a lovely shade of blue for the lock, just lovely, but it falls in the midnight blue end of the spectrum, and is therefore hardly distinguishable from the rest of my head. I’d say that it can only be seen in a certain slant of light, but I don’t like Emily Dickinson, so nevermind.

Because this post shall be devoted to the organization of library materials, I expect that most of you will discreetly close your browsers and instead peruse the Cute Overload story about the dying hamster. I defy you not to cry. And if you don’t cry, I don’t want you reading this blog anyway, as you’re a monster and a blight upon the earth and I don’t like you.

I do however hope that public librarians might at least skim through today’s posting. (If you get too choked up to read because of the hamster, come back later. It will still be here.) I hope that Technical Services folks in particular will keep reading.

I feel toward catalogers the way D. H. Lawrence felt toward women. I hate them, I love them. They destroy my soul; I must have them. I want to dominate them, own them, control them. I am their slave—in the bad sense (human chattel) and the bad-but-nuanced sense (willful bondage).

(Not that anybody really needed that imagery. Sorry. You start with an innocent comparison to a master of the British modernist novel, you end up with whips and chains. Not quite sure how that happened.)

(Not that I am casting judgment on my fine friends in the BDSM crowd. Though I am not sure if I have friends in the BDSM crowd. I may well, it’s only they’ve never talked about it to me. )

Right. Catalogers and me. I am a public reference librarian (“Side of Good”) whose job it is to help patrons find books that were organized by catalogers (“Side of Evil”).

Thing is, the folks in the Side of Evil camp are not deliberately wicked. It’s just that their founder was. (I am not making this up. Melvil Dewey was a miosgynist, a racist, and an anti-Semite.) Most of them really do want to arrange books in such a way that people can find them, but they’re working with a very flawed system.

Also, some of their subject headings are just insane, but I am not going to pick on them about subject headings, not today. Today we are going to restrict outselves to fussing over classification.

Catalogers in public libraries classify books according to the Dewey Decimal System. You may recall having been plagued with this when you were in elementary school. There is no good reason why any normal person should care about the Dewey Decimal System. The best way to find a specific book is to look in the catalog, which will tell you the exact call number you need to locate. If you feel like browsing in a particular subject area, you can get the catalog (or a helpful reference librarian from the Side of Good) to point you in the right direction. No need for you to commit the system to memory; once you have the general call number, you’ll find that similar books are all grouped together.


Except it’s not really like that.

Here, stop reading this for a moment and see what the Swiss Army Librarian has to say.

And if you STILL haven’t looked at the hamster, now is the time.

Okay, did you follow all that? Catalogers (“Side of Evil”) who faithfully follow their dark lord’s decimal system wind up placing similar books all throughout the ever-loving library, and dying hamsters will break your heart.

Did I mention that the Dark Lord’s Decimal System keeps changing every few years? Just enough to be noticeably irritating?

Now we on the Side of Good will sometimes take it into our heads to undermine the Dark Lord DS. When I first got to my library, I noticed that one of my collection areas (004-006, for you library dorks) was guarded by a minotaur. You ducked in to try to find a book on Windows XP, but it was wedged between a Microsoft Excel 2003 book and a book on operating systems, pub year unknown, and the minotaur hadn’t eaten since yesterday. Scary stuff.

My plan involved clumping all of the similar books on the same shelf (i.e., Microsoft Word books next to Microsoft Word books. Fancy that!). This involved assigning more precise Dewey numbers than we had been using—so it’s not like I completely abandonded the Dark Lord, but remember, this was my first recataloging project. I was still in his thrall.

It also involved adding publication years to the spine labels, and—here’s where the dissent gets exciting—I took away the author name from the spine labels because, let’s face it, nobody has author loyalty with computer books.* Instead, the letters show the subject (ACC for Microsoft Access, etc.)

*Okay, maybe David Pogue

My full conversion to the Side of Good came about two years later, when I, along with some renegade catalogers, moved our graphic novels the hell out of 751.5.

Once upon a time, all of the books with panel art—from Jeffrey Brown’s wonderful but very smutty grownup nonfiction memoirs to collections of Garfield comic strips—lived in 741.5. I will not go into the details, because it is getting late, and because you can hear about it at the state library conference this year. But the end result is that we threw Dewey in the trash* and arranged the books in a sensible order.

*the recyling bin, actually, but that doesn’t sound as dramatic

We kept the cartoons and comics in 741.5, and moved the graphic novels to three different sections, one for adults, one for young adults, and one for children. Nonfiction comes first with each section, and then the books are grouped by…

Oh get ready for this, this is the great part…

…grouped by recurring character, if applicable (Batman!) or series (Fables!) or, failing that, title (Black Hole!).

It’s awesome.

O’course, that only solves classification problems for one tiny collection in the library. The great unwashed masses of books throughout nonfiction are still to be conquered. We don’t even have books grouped together by subject, necessarily. Thet’re grouped together according to a system that made sense to Melvil the Dark Lord, but folks wanting to find books about home repair are, understandably, bewildered.

Another question I get all the time—“Where are you self-help books?” Damn near everywhere.

And then—and this is a particular peeve of mine, seeing as readers’ advisory is my schtick—all the narrative books are grouped in the with the instructional books. I deliberately chose not to purchase a book for the library the other day, even though the review was good. It was a reflective collection of essays about the trials of moving. I decided not to get it because I knew it would be shelved with books on moving. This makes sense, if you’re going by subject—but in real life, people aren’t going to check out that book when they’re hunting in the moving sectino, because they’ll be busy fussing with packing and boxes and selling their homes. That’s not the appropriate time for a contemplative leisure read.

If we had a section of nonfiction books with collections of thought-provoking essays (and a collection of memoirs, and a collection of investigative exposes, etc.), then I’d have purchased the book. But we don’t have these collections, because our books are organized according to subject, not according to mood or intent. Which makes nonfiction readers’ advisory really extraordinarily difficult.

All right, catalogers. Flay me alive. I’m ready for it.