Birthday Memento

This is the telephone message that was waiting for my grandfather at the New York City hotel he was staying at the night I was born. His mother (my great grandmother) had called and left the message. After my grandfather died, I found the notice in his Bible. He had kept it for all those years.

And I’m really happy he did.

Jobs: Dirty & Otherwise

Mike Rowe, host of the wonderful television show Dirty Jobs and the other unknowing half of my secret bromance, testified in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday this week. He was testifying about the importance of skilled and vocational education in the United States. Salient quote:

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of "higher education" to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled "alternative." Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as "vocational consolation prizes," best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of "shovel ready" jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a "good job" into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber if you can find one is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

It’s worth reading his entire testimony if you have a chance. It’s very short and to the point.

As I was reading his words this afternoon, I was thinking back to when I was a teenager and my parents had me tested for an aptitude or career or whatever it was called. The testing was done over at Drexel University and had all kinds of problems on it: word, numbers, shapes, logic, and so forth. When the results came, there were two occupations that scored highest.

Before I reveal them, go on and take a wild guess as to what they could be. I don’t think anything will guess either of them. Seriously. Go on and guess.

From their extensive testing, my intellect, talent, and abilities were judged to be best suited for… plumber or advertisement executive.

Now, upon hearing this news, imagine two adults and one teenager simultaneously giving each other the squinty eyed “WTF?” look. This was news to all of us for at the time I had an interest in the sciences (even though I was taking honors math and AP history, go figure). Even as a kid, I had never showed an interest in anything like that; my previous kid ideas for a future career before the science interest were auto mechanic and architect.

Plumbing? Marketing? What?

In reading that testimony today, I thought back to that career aptitude test. I think I would have been happy (and certainly more school loan debt free) as a plumber; I’m not sure I can say the same about advertising executive but I’d like to imagine that I’d be good at it. Perhaps I have found ways to use those aptitudes for the field of librarianship. (Isn’t finding and making hidden pipe connections behind walls kind of like making connections between two resources that aren’t necessarily obvious? Isn’t building brand and reaching out to different markets a lot like the advocacy we do [or try to do] at the library?)

What Mike said reminds me of the Ken Robinson “Do schools kill creativity? TED Talk that I’ve linked to before. There is an emphasis on pushing toward academic achievement when the individual’s interests and talents indicate otherwise. And now there is evidence that we are doing it to the detriment of the trade skills and the future of manufacturing in this country.

For myself, I’ve always advised people to go after what interests them; if it doesn’t lead to college, then so be it. College is nice and I certainly had a good time but it is not necessary for all the different talents and careers that are out there. It might take require taking the year after high school to wander, but it’s a year well spent if it gives a person a better sense of career direction. The idea that there isn’t time, that people need to hurry up and start their lives by going down this rote academic path, is absolutely ridiculous. And I hope within my lifetime that will change.

When I was talking with my father about the Mike Rowe testimony, he recalled what the commencement speaker said to his class at his graduation from Williams College. It went something along the lines of saying that “while [they] were lucky to get this liberal arts education, it was not something that should allow them to look down upon people who did not have it. The world needs philosophers, but it also needs plumbers. For if the philosophers tried to take up plumbing and the plumbers tried to take up philosophy, that neither would be able to hold water. Each role is important and necessary to the continued functioning of society at large.” I thought that was a marvelous sentiment.

There was certainly a “Road Less Traveled” moment for me in thinking about this. Would the term “mover & shaker” be a term for a pipe that vibrates violently when the toilet flushes upstairs? Would I still have an award winning blog, even if that award was coming from Marketing Today? Perhaps. At any rate, I still get to investigate strange smells reported to the staff (it can never smell like lavender, can it?) and I do get to write press releases and design publicity materials. I guess that’s close enough. It may not be a dirty job, but it does work for me.

(Note: Mike also wrote an op-ed piece for Politico.)

The Almighty Antithesis to Narcissism

wilw-tweet

Inspired by Wil Wheaton’s tweet, I set up this wiki.

The short version is that it is a call to action for people to donate the cost equivalent of a Charlie Sheen ticket to charity. There is a short list of possible places to donate, but as I note in the wiki, it is not an exhaustive list. The important thing is to donate.

I encourage people to share the wiki with others and spread the word.

Let’s make a difference.

SunSpec: Nearly Non-Existent

The helmet in the picture above belonged to my great-grandfather, Bayard Randolph Kraft Sr. From the design, you can guess that it was the helmet he wore while serving in the Army during World War I. He served as a medic, on the front in France to aid and evacuate the wounded and dying. Given the descriptions of trench warfare that have been written, I can’t even imagine what that was like.

In picking the helmet up, the first impression I get is how rough the metal feels under your fingertips; it has a gritty feel to it akin to very coarse sandpaper. The padding within has hardened over time and the chin strap buckles are pretty worn and frozen into place. The helmet doesn’t feel heavy, but it has a certain weight to it, one that makes you think that you’d be protected if something happened. But given the relatively thin metal involved, it’s a fleeting bit of confidence.

But this helmet is more than a war souvenir from a relative. It’s the story that goes with it that makes it an important sentimental piece.

As the story goes, my great-grandfather was moving through the trenches to get to where there had been a German assault. When he came to an intersection in the trenches, he paused for a moment to figure out which way to go. He did not realize it at the time but a German sniper saw his head poking out above the trench walls at the intersection. He took aim on my great-grandfather during his momentary pause.

As the sniper fired, my great-grandfather heard a noise to his right and turned his head to look at it. The bullet entered the helm by his ear, grazed his left temple, and exited through the front of the helmet, knocking him over in the process. What you see of the helmet above is the damage the bullet caused on its way out. The edges are still sharp, even after nearly a hundred years.

When I think about the generations that proceeded me, there are certainly an innumerable amount of close calls that must have been experienced stretching backwards through time. It’s a little different when you have the evidence of a close call in your hand, especially when it is just slightly remotely removed in connection to a great-grandparent. I can remember my grandfather wearing the helmet and telling the story dozens of times for family and friends. I can actually retell it by heart, that’s how much it impressed me as a kid and later as an adult.

For me, it’s a bit strange to look at this helmet and see the moment of time it represents. It’s a moment where the other outcome means that I wouldn’t exist. It’s one thing to have come and gone, it’s another to be a ‘never was’. And since the universe has a habit of not noticing such transactions, it is truly an isolating thought. It has an Alice in Wonderland quality to it as an “impossible thought”; how can one imagine something like that?

I’ve added a few pictures to show you the helmet and how it looks on someone (it’s not one of those ‘smile and take a picture’ sort of moments).

I’m curious if there are others out there with similar family tales. I’d love to hear them or if people have other thoughts on non-existence.

Dream Big

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch or listen to the President’s State of the Union address last night. I was in bed feeling ill after an otherwise good day. I was following it on Twitter as people tweeted the points they liked and made their own observations about the proceedings. There was something in the tweets at the end of the President’s speech that stuck in my mind and compelled me to look up a transcript of the address hours later. It was people talking about the ‘dream big’ ending to the speech. I lay in bed for a long time, staring at the screen of my laptop as I let the words sink in. A couple of things came to my head.

Does libraryland have dreamers? The answer came back as an immediate and resounding yes, but current conditions call for realists. Realists in the sense of keeping library issues grounded to the limitations of staff, facilities, and funding. People who can tell the profession and the public about the consequences of funding loss, the smaller resources, and the diminished services. It is a time for serious people; those who can crunch numbers, present bare facts, and engage all parties for the continued use and funding of libraries. What does it matter if the library has a mobile website or video games or employment assistance computer labs if they can’t keep their doors open? Numbers are king as door counts, program attendance, items circulated, and database accesses drive advocacy efforts.

Without a doubt the realist has an important place in the overall picture. You need to have someone who can ensure the future through the basic necessities (in this case, money). But for all the worries, concerns, and other issues, do librarians give themselves enough time to dream about the future?

To that question, I wish I had an answer. My instincts say no but my brain says that the jury is still out. Which, to me, brings up more questions instead. When people dream about the the future of the library, do they think of the next financial year? The technology that exists now that they want to incorporate into their collection? The programs they’d want to schedule next month, next summer, or the next year? What they want to accomplish on their state association or ALA group at the next annual conference? How far into the future do people think when they are asked to dream about the future of the library?

These are all good thoughts on future concerns, but for myself, it is still a bit smallscale. Where are the big dreams? Or, more importantly, what are the big dreams? What are the visions of fulfilling the mission of the library in twenty, thirty, or even fifty years from now? Will it still be a place? Will it be entirely person to person focused, whether physical or virtual? What is the future of information access? How will the library be involved in the lives of members of society?

It’s important to remember that dreams are not about accuracy but about possibilities. No one knows how technology and communication will change in those periods of time because they are moving along so quickly. But to deny dreaming big under that reasoning is to deny most (if not all) future thought as well. I hope that after reading this that you take a moment, clear your mind, take a deep breath, let go of the immediate future, and just dream big for libraries. Maybe just your own, maybe just your type, or even the field as whole. But just stop for a moment and dream.

And if you do, dream big.

Sunday Recollection: Snow Days

This particular winter has been consistent in offering snow to the southern New Jersey area where I live. While this is not an unusual winter occurance, it does not match my recollection of the area when I was a kid, staring out the window and hoping for a snow day. In fact, I can remember only a few years where snow days were declared including one particularly heinous ice storm that froze the entire area. Otherwise, it was rare to have a white Christmas and even rarer to have a day off from school due to the snow.

My new great memories from some of those snow days was when my dad took my brother and I over to the next town to sled down a huge hill. You have to take into consideration how flat southern New Jersey is; it’s the kind of flatness you see when you are west of the Appalachians. Any sudden change in elevation to make a sledding hill is quite remarkable and therefore highly desirable. I can only describe the length of the hill in kid terms which would make it ‘oh my god it goes on forever!’ with a wide toothy grin and mad gleam in the eyes. (I won’t sully it with actual measurements either.) As it was one of the few sledding hills in the area, it would be jammed with people as well. The part of the ride down I remember is that it had some (for lack of a better term) moguls where the hill slope met the flat runoff area. After accelerating down the hill, the resultant bouncing could be called ‘tailbone crushing’ or ‘fun’ depending on which mental age bracket you were in. After the runoff, you’d trudge off to the side and march back up the hill. Repeat until you had to use the bathroom or couldn’t move your legs anymore.

I realize that this is less speculation (as my previous posts) and more of a recollection, so I have changed the title of this entry to reflect that. I’m wondering what your favorite snow day memories are as a kid. I have a feeling I would have seen you out on that hill with me, hanging on for dear life as the sled hit maximum acceleration right before the bumps that could sending you flying.

Sunday Speculation: For the Love of the Game

Photo by Erik Mallinson/Flickr

There is no denying it: I am a gamer.

I adventure in World of Warcraft. I take capture points and blow up people in Team Fortress 2. My iPad is full of games from World of Goo (SO. GOOD.) to Scrabble to Warpgate to- well, you get the point. Lots of games.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a pretty young age. My mother’s family was big into card games and my friends would play lots of a board games. With the advent of Atari and then later Nintendo, the console game system started to feature into my play activities. A family Commodore 64 was where my brother and I would play even more games. College had a combination of console (Playstation), computer (the first Command & Conquer blew my mind and lots of Quake), and some other games (Hearts and a violent card game known simply as “Egyptian Ratscrew”. Don’t ask.) Post college saw involvement in live action roleplaying games (also known as LARPs) in addition to the other platforms (console, computer, board, card) listed above.

Gaming has been a part of my professional life as well. I worked to co-create a video game collection in my library system. The circulation for the games has been tremendously successful. I’ve been pretty proud of that and work towards giving people a new way to look at the library as well as a chance to see what else we have to offer.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of articles that talk about the importance of play in development (both human and other animals) and the benefits it has on mental acuity. Personally, I’ve never understood while people give up on play so easily. Or maybe it’s just that the concept of play changes over time for some people.

So, I have a simple question: how do you play? What do you consider to be play? And how has play changed for you?