Rural Librarian: August 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Be Nice - Email Etiquette In Libraries and the Workplace

If you are like me, you work in a small rural library and you depend on other librarians and library professionals for advice, communication, and work. I receive and send probably a few dozen emails every single day. Email and the Internet is my link to the larger outside world. But sometimes, email senders (who learned to type on typewriters) forget that their words have more weight and meaning when they are sent without physical, facial, or tone inflection cues. Emails stand alone in their communication and it is important that the tone of your emails be carefully scrutinized before pressing the 'Send' button. Email etiquette is important especially if you want to be taken seriously as a human being and professional. You can also think of each email communication as a little bridge-building exercise. It is much better to build bridges than to burn them.

Please and Thank You

When you were a child one of the first things your parents taught you was how to say 'please' and 'thank you'. Every email that you send out should also include these magic words. These are social niceties that smooth the way for a successful interaction with others.

Descriptive Subject

The subject of an email is important because if someone is scanning their email inbox they may better prioritize what to read first. Also, this helps you and the recipient organize your emails. Keep the subject brief but it should also reflect the main communication point of your email.

Salutation

Many people do not bother with a 'Dear So and So' in their emails but this kind of standard greeting can go a long way in how the body of your email is received. You wouldn't just pick up the phone and start talking to someone. You would make sure you have that person's attention by addressing them properly. The salutation serves the same purpose. If this is a work colleague with whom you work on a regular basis a first name is fine. If you are addressing an unknown person in a higher position you may want to address them as Ms. or Mr. (And yeah, it's the 21st century. No one uses Miss or Mrs. anymore in my world.) I like to use a Hello or Hi as a salutation. In more formal situations you may use Dear.

The Email Body

Be brief and to the point in your email, but also proceed courteously. Ideally, you are communicating with someone for a reason. You want something. You need something. You are trying to communicate or persuade. Do so being mindful of that person's time by writing succinctly, but warmly, about the purpose of your email. If your email is longer than a few paragraphs you might want to consider a phone call. If you are writing about a touchy or controversial topic, again, you may want to make this communication a phone call not an email.

Never demand. Never use the word 'never'. Use emoticons to express warmth if you are communicating with a colleague. Never write in ALL CAPS. On the Internet, this is the equivalent of yelling.

Emails and Emotions

Never send an email when you are mad. Sit on it for 24 hours before you hit the 'Send' button. And what do you do about evil emails? Emails that are condescending, accusatory, impolite, or completely off-base? Don't respond. Ever. Unless it is your boss, in which case you should look for a better boss. Good managers and supervisors know how to communicate kindly and effectively to their employees and treat them well at all times. IF you have to respond to an impolite, rude, or threatening email, keep it brief and to the point. Don't take the bait and start an email war of words. You have bigger and better things to do than sort out the rude and impolite.

When finishing an email go back and read it over. Practice reading it aloud in your head. This will help you catch typos and misspellings and will also help you identify the tone of your email. Is it friendly? Is it kind? Have you said what you wanted to say? Have you asked for an appropriate response? Consider your words very carefully.

The Carbon Copy (CC) and Blind Carbon Copy (BCC)

Think carefully before you CC and/or BCC someone on an email. If you are just trying to make communication efficient by communicating the same thing to many people, that is fine. If you constantly copy someone's boss on every email, you lose trust and humanity points. This is a form of bullying and strong-arming, especially if it is done by equals or someone in a service capacity. Sometimes, this is the workplace form of tattle-tailing. Use the BCC sparingly and to make a point. Don't make a habit of it.

The Closing

I have read many different writer's opinions on the closing of a professional email. Everyone has a different style. Acceptable closings include: Sincerely, Truly Yours, Best, Thank you, and Regards.

The Signature

Use the auto format available in every email interface to create a consistent and professional signature. Include your name, business, address, phone number, web address, and any other information that you want the public to know. Some people like to include a brief, meaningful quote after their signature which I usually like, but don't include a long quote or more than one. Too much info.

Formatting

Don't spend a lot of time making your email or signature appear as orchid pink in a fancy or script font. Most people have an email interface that will make your email hard to read and you will also appear less professional. Sometimes, less is more.

Attachments

Limit your attachments in number and size. Remember that most email servers choke on anything over 10MB and some people may have older and slower machines. Other email servers automatically tag emails with attachments as spam. Be mindful of this and don't overload an email with more than one or two small attachments.

The Reply

If you have received an email that requires a response (and is nice) respond within 24 hours. Same day response is ideal but not always possible. If you are sending an email reply late, don't be afraid to apologize.

That is my quick tutorial on effective, kind, and polite email etiquette. You don't have to use any of these ideas, but remember that people will judge you by your email tone and be less likely to answer or work with you. Practice making your emails professional yet conversational. By using social graces you will have higher productivity and more success in your professional endeavors. As librarians, media specialists, and professionals our goal is to work together to get things done. As nonprofit entities we need to collaborate and cooperate, not compete or feud. Want more guidance? Here is a great article by Laura Stack written for Microsoft.

Speaking of email, if you need help setting up an email account, learning how to organize your emails, or learning how to forward or attach photos, stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV. I would be glad to help you!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Run For It - Pioneer Library Needs Funds, Too

As fundraising for Harman School is continuing in great earnest, I wanted to remind y'all that the Pioneer Memorial Public Library needs funds too. The Run For It on Saturday, September 27 in Davis, WV, is our biggest fundraiser of the year and we need runners, walkers, and library lovers (near and far) to help us out. Here is what you can do to help.

If you are a runner or walker, sign up for the Run For It as part of Team Pioneer. Join us as part of Team Pioneer in Davis on September 27. If you place in your age category, you win cash for the library. The Run For It is a 2k walk or a 5k run, you decide which event works for you. Here is the sign-up form. We get half of every $10 registration fee returned to the Library. The larger our team, the more prizes we become eligible to receive.

Also, you don't have to be present or even in West Virginia to help us out. If you would like to help the Pioneer Memorial Public Library continue to offer excellent service to the Randolph County community please take a moment to send a check to:

TCF-RFI
PO Box 491
Parsons, WV 26287

Please make sure you indicate "Team Pioneer" in the memo section of your check. Part of the awesomeness of the Run For It is that teams also compete for most money raised. Every dollar you contribute comes back to the Pioneer Library from the Run For It event.

So what else is at the Run For It? Well, this amazing event is part of the Leaf Peepers Festival in Davis, WV. This event is held to celebrate the peak of fall foliage in the hills of West Virginia. If you drive in through Canaan Valley you will be treated to the most wonderful, colorful forest cathedral. The festival also includes craft vendors, a large book sale put on by Mountaintop Library, a beer garden, live music, and a chicken roast. (This is co-sponsored by the Pioneer Library and the Tucker County Rotary Club. Come on by and get The Best Chicken ever.)

I will also say that the Run For It event is part competition and part spectacle. Last year, there was a walking string band that played music for the entire 2k race. Some teams don elaborate costumes that bring attention to their cause or nonprofit. If you like people watching, the Run For It event cannot be beat.

Why donate to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library?

  • We are a non-profit organization that employees two part-time librarians.

  • We have over 10,000 books, audiobooks, and DVDs available for checkout.

  • We serve as both school library to Harman School and as a public library.

  • We provide a story time program for Harman School children from pre-K to 3rd grade on a weekly basis during the school year.

  • We provide a small rotating collection of books for the Harman Senior Center.

  • We have a twice-a-year job fair for Huttonsville Correctional Center.

  • We have a weekly baby & toddler story time program all year round. (Thursday, 10:30am)

  • We have free wifi and five public Internet computers.

  • Last year we checked out over 2,100 books, audiobooks, and DVDs!

  • Last year we had over 4,300 library visits!

  • We have over 138,000 items available for checkout through WV READS, our e-book consortium.

  • We help people write resumes and find jobs.

  • We help people apply for Medicare, Medicaid, and Disability.

We do a lot with a little but we still need your help! Consider making a donation to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. Consider signing up for the Run For It as part of Team Pioneer. Our mission is to engage, empower, and educate the good people of our community. How may we help you? Stop by the Pioneer Library to write a check or go online to the Run For It site and register as part of Team Pioneer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Illegitimate Publishers -- Let the Buyer Beware

Libraries can be complex places of work. Large libraries have many departments that handle collection development from acquisition, to check-in, to accounting, to cataloging, and onto the shelf. Sometimes this means that a book is ordered by one person, checked in by someone else, cataloged by another, and shelved by someone else entirely. Another person or department in the library then pays for the book. Perhaps because of this labyrinth-like journey through a larger library it is easier for illegitimate publishers to peddle their shoddy wares.

Assessing Publishers and Writers

So what qualities make up an illegitimate publisher? Let's start with a prime example of illegitimate publisher: North American Book Distributors LLC sells, "Encyclopedia of West Virginia", by Nancy Capace, Somerset Publishers, 1999. Here is a sentence about abolitionist John Brown, "John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, self-conscripted to an act of madness or of glory, focused the thought of his time upon the problem of slavery." For a whopping $95 you can buy this poorly-written, hardbound book that has zero good reviews available online. If I look at Amazon, I can see that Ms. Capace has written all of the 50 books that are said to be the "definitive history" of their respective state. Really? How can one scholar create the definitive history book for each state? Historians I know might spend a lifetime studying the history of their home state, or a few states, but the whole country? Really? I can see that Ms. Capace bills herself as a writer/editor on LinkedIn but I do not see a proud resume, credentials, or a list of degrees. My theory is that Ms. Capace is a mediocre writer who has been paid to put ink on paper to sell pricey reference books to unwitting librarians and media specialists. And North American Book Distributors is just as complicit in the con game as Somerset Publishing. Perhaps they are even the same entity?

So who is Somerset Publishers? I can see from a Better Business Bureau (BBB) site that they are located in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, the same state as Nancy Capace. Somerset is not registered with the BBB. I can find no reviews of Somerset Publishers, they have no website, and no Internet presence other than perfunctory business listings. Who is North American Book Distributors? Here is a quote from the generic descriptions on their "About Us" page: "Since 1989 North American Book Distributors, LLC has been the leading distributor of reference publications specializing in state history. The history of individual states is being taught in schools and is becoming a focal point of the curriculum at various levels of education. Librarians and Media Specialists are looking for dedicated reference titles on the people, places and history of their particular state. Questions regarding state history information are some of the most frequently asked questions received by reference librarians." That's it. No names, no profiles, no photographs of people. Somerset Publishers could very well be a small printing press in Michigan that gets by selling mediocre books with scholarly-sounding titles. Reference works can be pricey, so Somerset gets to charge even more for their poorly researched and written books. Somerset is merely a book mill and nothing else.

What is an Illegitimate Publisher?

Why is Somerset Publishers an illegitimate publisher? Because they lack credibility and they produce a poorly written and researched product pawned off as the "definitive history". Let me tell you about the "West Virginia Encyclopedia", edited by Ken Sullivan in 2006 and published by the West Virginia Humanities Council. This is an excellent reference work for any library or media center. The articles are written by different scholars and historians from all over the state who specialize in one region or aspect of wild, wonderful West Virginia. The "West Virginia Encyclopedia" is a great model for how to know that a reference work has legitimate value and true scholarship. The publication utilizes many legitimate and experienced scholars who have spent years accumulating knowledge. These scholars are usually engaged in ongoing research and updating their field of knowledge by staying current on emerging information and interpretation. Many of these scholars are college professors and chairs who teach or specialize in a history field. The West Virginia Encyclopedia gets even better because you can access the whole document online, anytime here This is what a legitimate reference source looks like.

Definitive History of West Virginia

I love West Virginia history and it gets my goat that a publisher would try to tell me what the definitive title is on the history of the Mountain State. In my opinion, the definitive history is "West Virginia: A History" by John A. Williams and published by the West Virginia University Press. If you can only read one history book about West Virginia, this is a well-written and well-researched masterpiece that is still in print. And, Dr. Williams got his PhD from Yale. Legit.

Is This Illegal?

What Somerset and other illegitimate publishers and distributors do is not illegal. They have books with titles that sound like staple reference works and they sell them to librarians and media specialists who don't know any better. So by the time the book trickles through the levels of librarians no one has really had a good look at it. Sadly, I can see Somerset published books in the collections of major libraries and universities. Do they not have serious collection development departments that make wise and informed decisions about acquiring and cataloging new reference works? This is not illegal but it is certainly unethical.

So is Somerset Publishers all bad? Not necessarily. They do sell a complete WPA slave narratives archive in 19 volumes that sells for $1,995. Fine. But why pay almost $2k for something you can access for free via Project Gutenberg? The bottom line is this: as library professionals it is our duty to connect our patrons with the best information and to spend library funds wisely. Reference books especially should have lasting value. Just as North American Book Distributors says on the bogus site, "Questions regarding state history information are some of the most frequently asked questions received by reference librarians." This is the gap this scam fills. Be wary and be vigilant so that these poor quality reference books don't end up on your valuable library shelf space. Patrons, scholars, students, and librarians deserve only the very best.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Future of Harman School

Many residents and patrons of Randolph County, WV have come into the Pioneer Library and are wondering about the future of next-door Harman School. During the week of July 4th, two tons of ceiling collapsed in the school making the entire building unsafe for population. Rumor has it that the plaster ceilings that are throughout much of the school were improperly installed with short nails. Gravity is now bringing those ceilings down. The good part is that this happened during summer break and no one was hurt. But imagine if this had happened with a full classroom. (*shudder*)

Harman School has approximately 170 students and is one of the few pre-K-12th grade schools left in the country. At one time, Randolph County had dozens of smaller, one- and two-room schoolhouses. Consolidation has lead to less schools which allegedly decreases cost and improves educational consistency and quality. Because Harman School is isolated on Route 33 in the Dry Fork Valley, 23 miles east of Elkins, the school has remained open even with a dwindling population. But what is the future of Harman School?

Local Residents Love Harman School

Local residents are passionate about keeping Harman School open. At the first meeting to discuss the physical facility of the school, local folks brought $55,000 to show their commitment and enthusiasm for contributing to the renovation and repair of the school. Many of these parents graduated from Harman School and their loyalty and love for this institution runs deep and true. Harman is proud of Harman School, their red and white colors, and the black panther mascot that serves as the symbol of this mountain community.

The Randolph County school year started yesterday, Thursday, August 14, 2014, and all of the kids who currently attend Harman School are being bused to various schools in Randolph County. Some parents have chosen to transfer their school-aged children to schools in Tucker County while others have chosen to home school. There have been some snags. Some children who are bused to Elkins have to get up very early to catch the bus into Elkins. The superintendent of the Randolph County Board of Education had to ask for a special exception for some of the kids to be on buses longer than the rules allow. So the bottom line is that some Harman schoolchildren are spending an hour or more one-way on a school bus. While the bus drivers work out the snags in the new schedule they might want to keep in mind that for kids who miss the bus it is hard for parents to drive 26 miles to deliver their child to school.

How Long Will Repairs Take?

At a recent meeting in Harman with Randolph County BOE Superintendent Terry George he said that his hope is that the pre-K through 5th grade schoolchildren will be back at the Harman School in four-six weeks. For the older kids it might not be until Christmas time that they are able to return. I can report that the repairs to Harman School have not yet begun. There is a bid process that will take time, though it is hoped that everyone is doing everything possible to expedite this process.

A recent fundraiser in Harman raised an additional $10,000. Local state representatives Denise Campbell and Bill Hartman are working hard to bring money to Harman School. Ms. Campbell recently announced another $60,000 from the state. The Randolph County School Board voted to shift another $60,000 in levy funds to the work in Harman School. The BOE has estimated that the temporary repairs will cost around $250,000, and so far (publicly) I can count only around $185,000 raised.

What About the Furnace?

There is another large issue with Harman School that I have not heard publicly addressed and that is the aged and antiquated furnace at the school. The Randolph County Board has always said that if the furnace dies at Harman School the entire school will close with no hope of re-opening due to a lack of funds. What is the estimated cost of repairing Harman School so that it might last for future generations? What if $250,000 is pumped into the school to make it safe but then this winter the furnace dies? I have not heard anyone address the long-term health of Harman School.

So what is the future of Harman School? I have sent some of my questions to local officials and will report back when I hear an answer. In the meantime, let me say that the closure of Harman School has shaken this community to its very core. At the library, we miss the kids. We have had a regular and weekly story time program for the pre-K-3rd grade kids for many years. At lunchtime, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers run over to eat lunch and use the computers. Let me just say...we miss you guys. While The Pioneer Memorial Public Library is a public library, we are also on school grounds and consider the Harman School children a top priority. We miss the young ones who are excited to check out books. We miss the middle school boys who like to come in and tease each other (mostly) good-naturedly. We miss the high school students who come in to check out the latest Young Adult fiction. We look forward to the return of the children to Harman School and the Pioneer Memorial Public Library.

To date, this is the most comprehensive article on the state of Harman School and the school children. Many thanks to Harman School Principal Tammy Daniels who is doing a great job in the face of dealing with this difficult situation. Many thanks to the Harman School teachers who had to pack up their classrooms and move them elsewhere. Many thanks to the Harman School kids and parents who have stepped up to try to save their school.

And let me add that the Pioneer Memorial Public Library remains open. Our funding is not dependent on the Randolph County Board of Education and we are a nonprofit entity. So even during the closure of Harman School, we remain open to serve the community. Stop by today and check out our collection of over 10,000 books, audiobooks, and DVDs.