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Today I put away all the Christmas stuff. A few years ago I got my act together, got rid of a bunch of holiday crap that I was storing and not using, and organized the rest. Now every year around Christmas I think to myself “I wish the rest of my life was as well-organized as my Christmas stuff.” It used to take me all day to take everything off the tree and put it all away. This morning I woke up, read the paper, had breakfast, went for a nice long walk in my neighborhood, then started taking down the decorations and putting them away. By lunchtime I was done.

Christmas boxesMy system is pretty simple. Everything is stored in clearly marked boxes, which go in the attic during the off-season. I mark all 4 sides of each box, so I don’t have to worry about which way they get stored. I try to store stuff that gets used at the same time in the same box, e.g. all the stuff that goes on the tree before the ornaments is in one box (lights, ribbon, garland, tree topper). The ornaments are together in 2 boxes. I have one box with the other decorations that go out every year (advent calendar, clothespin garland that I hang Christmas cards from, wreath). I have one box that never came down from the attic this year because we sold our piano which was our mantel-substitute. I knew I didn’t have a place for the items that used to go on the piano, and they were all in one box, so that was one box fewer to pull down from the attic.

Although I am a total sucker for organizational tools – special bins, boxes, folders, etc. – I have to confess that I’ve never really found them to make much of a difference, with the exception of the Christmas stuff. Christmas lightsI use a box with cardboard inserts to wrap the lights around. It works great! The lights are never tangled and are easy to put up and take down. Since I only use 3 strands of lights I took out the extra cardboard inserts and use the rest of the box for garland, etc. I also use special ornament boxes with dividers to keep my ornaments separated and safe. This year I had too many ornaments to fit on my tree. The ones that didn’t make the cut are stored in a separate box. These are ornaments I still like, but if they don’t make the cut again next year they’ll be given away, and it’ll be easy to do because they’re already separated and marked. Simple!

In the grand scheme of things, the Christmas stuff might not be very important, but it gives me hope that I might someday achieve this level of organization in the other areas of my life and home, and that would just be so awesome!

I am not a fan of resolutions. I like to take the end of the year and the beginning of the next one as a time to evaluate and so on, but resolutions just seem like a set-up for failure so I avoid them. In fact, I studiously avoid starting anything new (exercise routines, organizing systems, what have you) on January 1st, even if it’s something I really want to do. I either start before January or later in the month just to avoid the psychological association with resolutions and failure. (I don’t know how much good that actually does, but…).

Having said that, I was totally inspired by Merlin Mann’s posts on clutter and feel like using the New Year to get control of this area of my life. Merlin posted links yesterday to a good Ask Metafilter discussion on literary clutter (Librarians, take note!) and his series on his own “War on Clutter.” The one that really kicked my butt: Never “organize” what you can discard – oh my gosh, how many dollars I have wasted at the Container Store doing exactly that!

I received a beautiful Amy Smith photo for Christmas from my sister. I can’t link directly to the image, but it’s in the Vintage Books gallery and is called A Garland for Girls. You’re jealous, aren’t you? My sister saw the photo in a show and purchased it right away. When she went back several weeks later, a dozen people had inquired about that photo, and 4 of them were librarians! That’s when she knew she chose the right one 🙂

 I love it! It’s absolutely gorgeous – the colors and textures are amazing and it’s just a lovely composition. Best gift I’ve received in many years.

Major Award

Originally uploaded by genesister

I scored big at my family’s annual ornament exchange, with a little help from my brother. Our ornament exchange involves the stealing option, and I almost lost this one, but Jon rescued it and gave it back to me (and scored some major points in the process). This Christmas Story ornament is actually two in one – you can hang the lamp and crate together or separately. And the crate talks! When you open it up it plays one of 3 quotes from the movie, so you can hear The Old Man say “fra-gee-lay”! Best. Ornament. Ever.

Librarian in Black Sara Houghton-Jan posted A Treatise on the Black Market of Holds a week or so ago, and it got me thinking. I was just going to comment on her blog, but my response was getting pretty wordy so I figured I’d put it here instead. The basic gist of her post:

We have created a two class system in our libraries: those who know about the hold system and are willing to pay the hold fee for the privilege of material-borrowing -and- those who come in to our libraries to browse and/or don’t know about the hold system, assuming that what they see on the shelf is an accurate representation of what we actually have.

Now, I am fortunate enough to work in a library that does not charge for holds. As a consequence, we have a very active holds queue. Is it a perfect system? No. But I think it works pretty well. It’s a gross over-simplification, but essentially we make our libraries relevant and stake our territory in the marketplace by offering great service and collections for free (or cheap, as the case may be). Convenience is currency. Why do so many people have Netflix accounts? Because they can add items to their queue when they think about it and then forget about them. They can keep items as long as they want and aren’t bothered about late fees. (Honestly, I’m very intrigued by the idea of going completely fine-free, but that’s a whole other post as it raises a bunch of other issues. )

To stay on track with Sarah’s post, I’ll just say that as the Web Services Librarian at MPOW I’m always concerned with reaching the customers who rarely or never make it into the library, and one of the ways we do that is by making our services more convenient and accessible from outside the physical library. I know that we get more users because we allow people to place holds on items and notify them when those holds are available. (We’re looking at the possibility of mailing holds to our customers, which could be even better). We currently shelve our holds in a self-service pick-up area, near our self-service and full-service checkout stations. If a customer so chooses, they might never come much further than the front door, and might never interact personally with a staff member. And you know what? That’s okay! We’re right there with friendly and helpful staff for the people who want and need us. For the people who don’t, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to get what they DO want from the library.

I think it’s a great service, and a large number of our customers take full advantage of it. We promote the service heavily to the customers who do choose to come in the library, and many of them are thrilled to find out about it. For those who choose not to place holds, that’s okay. We won’t force them! It’s really their choice. We still have a great collection of new titles that might not make the NY Times or LA Times Bestseller lists and are therefore more likely to be on the shelf. The browsers aren’t faced with empty shelves, and they’re not stuck with just the “dregs” of the collection, either. We do have some items we don’t allow holds for (e.g. 1-day DVDs – basically new releases), and people still have trouble finding those items on the shelves when they come in the library. Then they’re more upset because they had to make the trip to the library and didn’t get what they wanted anyway.

It’s tricky – I understand that we need to try to balance the needs of all of our customers, and really try not to leave anyone out in the cold. That’s especially true when money is the dividing issue. But if we eliminate the practice of placing holds we just alienate a different group of users. If you haven’t already, make sure to read the comment thread on Sarah’s post – several commenters had great ideas and practices for improving the balance and fairness. I’ll be recommending some of these at my library.

I don’t want to make light of this issue: I understand that finding a good solution can be much more difficult for the libraries that don’t have the budget to buy a lot of copies of bestsellers or supplement their collections in other ways. I think that’s all the more reason to exercise our creativity and look for new solutions and service models that help us do a better job of juggling the needs of all of our customers.

I’m grateful to Sarah for her post, because it got me thinking about something that I tend to take for granted, and now I feel the creative juices flowing. I can’t say that I’ll come up with anything new and brilliant, but if I think of anything good I promise I’ll share!

First Break all the RulesMeredith Farkas’s post reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about First, Break All the Rules. Meredith introduced the 12 questions that demonstrate organizational health, so I’ll just say that one of the highlights of the book for me was the mountain climbing metaphor, early in the book. Buckingham and Coffman break the twelve questions into 4 groups that represent different stages of the “climb”:

  • Base Camp (What do I get?)
    • Do I know what is expected of me at work?
    • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  • Camp 1 (What do I give?)
    • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
    •  In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
    • Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
    • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • Camp 2: (Do I belong here?)
    • At work, do my opinions seem to count?
    • Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
    • Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
    • Do I have a best friend at work?
  • Camp 3: (How can we all grow?)
    • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
    • This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

The idea is that you can’t advance too soon to the higher camps, or you will get “Mountain Sickness” – that is, you won’t be able to sustain your energy at the higher altitudes of vision and purpose if you haven’t firmly established your foundation at Base Camp and Camp 1. The authors point out that a lot of management theory and practice is focused on Camps 2 and 3, when most managers really need to focus on Base Camp and Camp 1. I’ve definitely found that most of the leadership and management books I read seemed to be focused on the Camp 2 and 3 types of issues.

At any rate, this book made me question several assumptions I had about leadership, and I got a lot out of it. Definitely worth a read.

I’ve been out of town for a few days, celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday in San Francisco. It was a blast. My sister wrote a lovely post commemorating my mom’s birthday, and I really can’t improve on it in any way, so go read it.

Pretty good challenge this week; PR seems to like these challenges where the task really isn’t evenly weighted. So much was determined by the clothes the models brought with them. Even so, design is a creative endeavor. Quit whining and show me what you can do!

  • Sweet P: cute dress, but nothing special. She had a lot of fabric to work with and maybe could have done something more interesting.
  • Jillian: attractive dress, although I didn’t love it as much as the judges seemed to. I was surprised she got away with using so little of the original fabric – that didn’t seem very fair.
  • Ricky: cute, wearable. Basically, he took the same pieces and gave them shape. It wasn’t innovative, but it was well done.
  • Chris: I think Chris is this season’s Kayne. He’s capable of doing good work, but he needs to learn to edit himself.
  • Christian: I loved this outfit. I would wear it, and yet it totally looked like Christian’s style to me. I think he deserved the win.
  • Victorya: this dress looked pretty “mother of the bride” to me.  I know she was limited in her materials, but nothing about this looked like Victorya’s style to me.
  • Elisa: take out the middle layer and you have a passable outfit. The long tunic bisected her model at the wrong place and added bulk. Not flattering.
  • Kit: not a bad dress, and I liked how she used the original fabric, but it didn’t wow me. It looked like something you could buy at Forever 21.
  • Kevin: I really liked what he did with the top. Leggings were a safe but boring choice. Still, he did a good job of reusing the original materials.
  • Steven: poorly conceived and poorly constructed. I honestly think Steven gave up as soon as he saw that he’d have to work on the wedding dress. He definitely had the most challenging outfit, but I really think he could have done much more with it. And the dress that he did make was so simple that there was no excuse for not finishing.
  • Rami: very attractive and wearable outfit, and a great use of the materials. I would have rated his outfit higher than Jillian’s and it was more to my taste than Kevin’s – he should have been in the top 3.

As far as Jack is concerned, I’m guessing that he’ll show up in the cast for the next season. Just a hunch…

At my place of work, we sometimes have grateful customers try to give us stuff. The city’s gift policy allows us to accept gifts of food so long as we share them with other employees. This time of year we usually get some candy or baked goods, which is really nice. But sometimes things just get a little weird. We used to have a customer who would always come in with a pocketful of candy to hand out to staff. He would get pretty offended if you didn’t accept a piece. Most people just took a piece and then threw it away or stuck it in a drawer. Later we found out that he was filling his pocket with candy from the candy jar at his bank and then bringing it to the library to give away! But today someone topped that – a customer brought in a whole rotisserie chicken for one of my colleagues. It’s in the staff fridge and is up for grabs…anyone hungry?

I generally like to get my Christmas shopping done early, but this year I am not on the ball as much as usual. I suspect this will be the year when I do nearly all my shopping online. I’ve already purchased gifts from ThinkGeek, Levenger, and (my old standby).  Thanks to dooce’s mention, I’ve been browsing etsy and have found some potential gifts there as well. I like etsy because there’s a wide variety of stuff that you don’t see everywhere. Real Simple Magazine also provided a nice list of shopping sites, but I haven’t had a chance to look at all of them yet. What’s your favorite place to shop online? Suggestions welcome.