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The Learning Resource Center

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It only takes three days to reach Shanghai from HK, but for the purpose of the program, the Executive Team needed it to take twice as long. So though we set sail on January 2, we have actually going in circles in the Formosa Strait. It took a couple of days before anyone really noticed. I mean you couldn’t notice from looking out the window, but we all have tv monitors in our room and there’s a display 24/7 that gives real time longitude and latitude, shows our position on a map, and shows a live cam from the bridge. I, for one, rarely turn on the monitor, so I would never have known. But a bright student figured it out and began a protest because of the environmental waste not to mention that cost of traveling in circles. He suggested that we anchor and use the savings to buy more resources for the library and provide a fund for the more needy students. I don’t know if all of that will happen, but after a couple days, the administration agreed, and we anchored.

Speaking of the library, it’s had its ups and downs. It’s larger than I expected with a better collection than I expected, though it is lacking the full array of resources needed. Despite that fact, the traffic within the library is fairly heavy! We have been pretty busy this first week in operation! Most of my time has been spent cataloging and shelving as well as performing circulation duties. My librarian friends will be interested to know that the operation is very primitive. We accession all the materials by handwriting them in a book and then re-entering the information into Resource Mate 3.0.

The library is physically housed in which normally is the other half of the ship’s souvenir shop. For some reason, the wiring for the network and Internet is jinxed there; we have to call IT at least once a day to get the Internet back up and running on our desktop and often on the two student machines. That means we can’t rely on Resource Mate to ping the web for information, which is why we have to duplicate the work by hand. We check books out by hand as well – noting the accession number – which we handwrite on the title page when cataloging and then having the borrower write their name, cabin number, and signature. This is very primitive! If someone comes in looking for a book, we can use Resource Mate to call it up, but we can’t do anything else with it. Students can check out two items at a time for two days; staff can borrow four items at a time for four days.

Our overdue policy is quite strict because we have such a dearth of materials and such a short time at sea, that we can’t afford to let people have anything longer than specified. So, the first offense brings a warning, which is delivered by the crew members to the offender’s cabin – placed directly on their bed. The second offense brings a suspension of borrowing privileges for four days. The third offense means a suspension of borrowing privileges for ten days; a ban from the student computers; and a write up to the academic advisor who will review that person’s case. Pretty harsh! But G. and I came up with that and agreed that that’s how it must be.

Right now we’re open from 9 to 12 and from 3 to 6. We will be hiring five student assistants, which will allow us to operate from 8 to 11 while at sea. We are closed during port days. Right now, Grete and I work together, but eventually I will work 8 to 2 and she will work 3 to 11, per her choice. While at port, we have a miniscule budget with which to buy newspapers and journals - $US150. For non-librarians that might sound like plenty, but it’s really not much at all. Ideally we’d like to get things like the International Herald Tribune, the regional Wall Street News, the major dailies of the country we’re in, The Financial News, BusinessWeek, Time, Newsweek, Business 2.0, Forbes, Fortune, The Economist, and other curriculum specific materials such as environmental magazines, international relations or foreign policy journals, and foreign-language materials. $150 doesn’t go very far and it goes very fast. We rely on a lot of donations. Some faculty members leave books from their personal collection as reference only material. Students from the preceeding voyage left their textbooks. Others bring in their copies of magazines, so wind up with random things like one issue of Architectural Digest or the foreign language celebrity rags. The computers are a big draw because the students can use them for 30 minutes of free Internet access per day. Of course they are supposed to use them for research only but there’s no real way to enforce that. They all do what I would do – “oh, hey, I’m checking my email because so-and-so was supposed to send me an article …”

By and large the work is okay. Not super challenging, but better than some of the other things I could be doing. I would be hard pressed to say it’s satisfying, and G. and I got off to rocky start but I think we’re starting to grow on each other, and I think it tickles people to watch was play off of each other. She’s definitely the boss in the sense that she was here last voyage, she knows the collection much better than I do, she’s invested in the policies, she really cares about the library though the situation frustrates her. For instance today we were dealing with the fact that the computer lost its connection to the printer/copier, and there’s been no toner onboard the ship since HK, so we had to make additional check out sheets by hand. As she was drawing them up, she said to me: “I can’t believe I have a Ph.d.” So yes, even she has issues.

For me though, I have finally realized why this is a poor profession for me. A large component of librarianship is process, and I abhor process. I don’t care about making a return policy or how to limit people from making more than 10 copies (when we have toner) at a time. I couldn’t care less if someone borrowed three items instead of two. This is why I have always felt ill at ease in libraries while wearing the guise of a librarian. I think G. has noted this in me, but she reigns me in pretty well without trampling all over me or trying to break me. She just kind of laughs and urges me to help her figure stuff out, and I grumble – which seems to amuse her - and then do it. I’m sure she gets exasperated with me because when I have a lack of interest in things, my memory becomes faulty, and I have to ask the same things over and over. It took me three days to remember that students can only sign up to use the computer once a day. I don’t remember because I don’t care.

I think she likes me though because she vicariously gets another perspective on the ship and program. She seems to be exempt from all this other stuff I’ve been sucked into – the Learning Circle, the AFPs, etc. We’re not sure why this is, and she is surprised that I have been expected to do these things because last voyage academic staff who were non-faculty were not allowed to participate in those areas. In fact, the librarian whom I replaced bore a grudge throughout the entire last voyage because she was not able to participate though she requested to do so; just my luck that I don’t expressly want to do it, and I’ve no choice. But somehow G. fell through the cracks. Go figure.

More on the library to come, but I thought I should mention it at long last since it’s my job now!

Posted by mpho3 09:27 Archived in China

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