The unanswerable

As a Reference Librarian in a busy public library I help people find the answers to their questions every day. I help them with questions big, small and everything in between; everything from research into medical conditions, to the location of the photocopier. Often the most urgent need is to know their placement in the reservation queue for the latest best seller.


In the last two weeks I attended a 90th and an 80th birthday celebration. These parties were both fun and emotionally moving occasions. Digital photo stories on display fleshed out the lives of these individuals and gave appropriate eminence to each. It is amazing what you learn about people at an event like this. It makes me realise how important each person is within their sphere of influence.


I joked about the fact that I went to these parties for old folk, but in truth I feel privileged to have been invited and present at these enjoyable and momentous events. The 90 year old lives independently, is relatively mobile, and in full use of their mental abilities and sense of humour. The 80 year old is a friend who cycles in the group I also cycle with, and also swims in the sea regularly, runs, and much more.


Meanwhile the person in my life who has cancer was hospitalised. As someone who never smoked it seems ironic they have cancer in their lung. Bad luck perhaps. Is there no logic to living a long and healthy life?


These experiences help make me better at my job. I am more accepting, inclusive, and non-judgmental towards everyone. Paradoxically, all questions become both irrelevant and significant at the same time. Our shared mortality is the only defining characteristic. The meaning of life blurs in and out of focus.


The big questions remain unanswerable.

Net dependent

It’s a short 13 years since the World Wide Web burst onto our world and it makes me wonder how we operated before then. Everything is dependent now on immediate information online.


Since returning to work in a public library I notice the change in the usage needs of our customers. The demand for the free public PC’s continues to fill our booking system every day and rarely is there a pc vacant; more often there are customers waiting in line. But the nature of that usage has also changed. People are now using these PC’s for online banking, confirming flight details, applying for jobs using online application forms, lodging their tax returns, email of course, promoting their businesses, researching medical conditions on their doctors advice, and children are using the internet to play online games as well as researching for their school projects. The public usage has become more essential and sophisticated. There is an expectation in the business world that everyone has an internet PC at home, when this is clearly not the case. How quickly we all adopt and adapt to advances in technology.


As the online information is displayed more and more in multimedia formats, our public PC’s need to respond to this trend and provide basic software for this; basic image editing software and image display software such as flash, Java, and Media Player.


Melbourne Cup Day, together with a strong North wind, heralds the summer season on the Peninsula. I pause in my garden amidst a riot of colourful blooms and the squawking Minors and Wattle birds in the Eucalypt branches above. It will be another hot dry summer. How long is it now since we have been allowed to water our gardens or wash our cars?


The summer time is the busiest for our local libraries because we are a major tourist destination. The influx of visitors begins during Melbourne Cup Day weekend, builds steadily towards Christmas, comes to choking point for 4 weeks into January, and then continues on until after Easter. It is a long haul and we locals need to draw on our stamina to survive the onslaught.


January is the busiest month of the year for our libraries. We are swamped with visitors who want to join and borrow things for their holiday reading and viewing. It is easier to work through this period rather than try to enjoy a holiday yourself. Everything is difficult; from shopping, parking and going to the beach.

Microsoft mayhem

Microsoft has us at their mercy. We live in a Microsoft networked world. Sure I know about the alternatives but many businesses operate with Microsoft products for their chosen mode. They offer great products that we are all now well trained to use effectively. But did we really need a new file format of ‘.docx’? Microsoft Office 2007 is incompatible with anything that has gone before. Why would Microsoft do this other that for acquiring more wealth? Do they realize the impact this has on businesses? And what about document archiving? Preservation for future reference is an issue as not everyone is aware of why file formats differ and that alternatives are available such as .txt and .rtf formats.


So work in a public library that uses Microsoft products for its network and office tools can become impossible when automatic Microsoft updates are regularly sent out across the network. Seamless service is interrupted and our customers become understandably frustrated and angry. The public pc’s are “frozen” to protect these pc’s from random downloads the customers may choose. This freezing also blocks the automatic system updates and the result is constant interruptions and system crashes, often when people are in the middle of writing long emails. They lose everything as the updates try and fail to take effect. The only way to fix this is to unfreeze the pc, run the updates, and then refreeze the pc. At five minutes per pc and 12 pc’s this take a large chunk out of the limited opening hours. And when this happens without warning, organizing busy staff to handle the problem is difficult to manage.


Two of us dealt with this problem yesterday after the automatic system updates crashed out network totally, everything from the internet to our electronic library management system.