Dorothy in Oz – Expat life part 1

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! And welcome to the first of a few posts on expat stuff. I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore which was brought home to me again last week when I went to do my Thanksgiving food shop. Last year around this time I remember a large freezer case full of turkeys ready for British Christmas dinners but this year was surprised to spot only three in the whole supermarket. Meanwhile there was an entire aisle of seasonal Christmas stuff…

I’ve been reflecting of late about the various ways I’ve changed and adapted to life abroad in the UK. In no particular order:

Metric system

I have discussed this before and how buying a digital scale changed my life (that’s only a slight exaggeration). I still run a hybrid metric-American kitchen operation but it works so long as you have the right tools: digital scales, measuring cups that also show equivalent in milliliters, and a good cooking conversion site (current favourite here).

Dishwashing

On my last visit to America, I volunteered to do the dishes and was merrily sudsing away when a certain family member exclaimed, “Wait a second, are you rinsing??” Alas I was not, because I have adopted this British trait of hand-washing dishes but then not rinsing the soap off before setting out to dry. My family is aghast. I was too when I first observed this phenomenon, but then after about a year here with no dishwasher, it dawned on me I could cut out half the time for this chore by…you guessed it, skipping the rinse stage. Because most of the suds roll off anyway, right?

Crossing the road

Again I’m a hybrid operator on this issue. It’s because I initially got very confused about which way to look for oncoming traffic when crossing the road (except in London where they conveniently write on the road “Look right” or “Look left”) so I just started looking both ways. I still do and now do this when back in the States because I function in a state of semi-permanent cultural confusion.

Terminology / spelling / slang

I’m now hyper aware of when someone uses British or American terminology in real life and on telly, er, I mean TV. I adopted British spelling long ago and set my computer accordingly, though now the poor thing is confused and several programmes, er, programs think British spelling is wrong (Office, I’m looking at you). Though Evernote appears to be equal opportunity and thinks both are right. I still learn new slang all the time. For example, bobbins and egads. I also regularly do the equivalent of your mom running through all the names in your immediate family before getting to yours, but with different UK-US words. For example, in a restaurant, “Please can we get the bill, no tab, no receipt!” In a shop, “Do you have any coriander, no cilantro, no that green herb?”

Next week, how to talk to an expat…or at least to this one!

My Bookshelf – Autumn 2016

It’s been awhile since my last post. Apologies for the absence, it’s been a busy few months. Upcoming posts on last weekend’s LISDIS Conference where I presented my dissertation research and a short series on expat stuff.

My bookshelf is a bit of a non-fiction bonanza this autumn – enjoy! Also new this post, a link to this “shelf” on Goodreads if you want to have a look here.

Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant
An excellent book – I cannot recommend highly enough. Appropriately enough picked up in Lemuria in Jackson, MS on our last visit. Grant is a British expat in the US who moves from New York City to an old plantation house in ultra-rural Pluto in the Mississippi Delta. Ensue massive culture shock. This is one of best explorations on race I’ve ever read, as well as being a brilliant picture of today’s Southern culture – hospitality, food, music and people who still deeply value family and community.

Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
A book I picked up for seminar prep for summer camp this year. Highly recommend this book by Christian author Dillow about womanhood, the Christian faith and anxiety.

Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh
This was a fascinating account of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict told from the perspective of a Palestinian human rights lawyer who loves nature and hiking through the land he grew up in. It was a welcome read for me having visited Israel but not learned much about the Palestinian side of the issue. The conflict is visceral as Shehadeh describes coming under gunfire on walks and how he can no longer walk in many of the places he used too because of Jewish settlements. Very sobering and very sad with no resolution in sight.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
Another interesting but very weird pick from my library’s sci-fi section. Set in the distant future where space travel is the norm and you can download your consciousness where ever you like. It was difficult going both because this is actually the second in a trilogy (The Quantum Thief is book one) and his writing style offers no help for the reader as Rajaniemi freely creates a universe with its own terminology, technology and cultures with no explanation at all as to what he’s talking about. It’s called “show, don’t tell” apparently and I didn’t get on with it I’m afraid.

Into the Black by Rowland White
A gift indulging one of my nerd interests – space travel and NASA. This book tells the very riveting story of the development of the engineering marvel that is the Space Shuttle. Lots of big personalities, behind the scenes anecdotes and surprisingly accessible science. The orbiter main engines were beyond cutting edge at the time…the heat shield took decades to develop and implement…the first astronauts were either ex-military test pilots or from the top secret National Reconnaissance Office…I’ll stop geeking out now, go read this if you’re interested in NASA.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copland
Memoir by the first African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, one of the world’s top ballet companies. As an ex-ballet dancer, I was interested in this story and also Copland’s troubled childhood and barrier breaking career is quite inspiring. A good read and still accessible for the non-dance aficionado.

Library School – Dissertationing

I have officially finished library school! I posted my Masters dissertation off to Newcastle on September 5th in an embarrassingly large padded envelope, drawing a line under formal academic study for the time being. It’s a huge relief to be done and I’ve now had a few weeks to take stock and reflect on the whole process.

My initial thought is how much I have learned since starting the dissertation in January, both theory and practice. There’s nothing like an assignment to force you to read around the literature and see what other people are doing. I can now tell you all about hybrid and digital libraries, collection development, user studies, music library user studies and user format preference studies. I can tell you a little about mixed methods research methodologies and data analysis. This process has also greatly boosted my confidence in undertaking workplace research and was (I think) a successful first foray for me into quantitative and qualitative research. This type of research is becoming more and more important for librarians, especially in the academic sector, so having completed a meaty research study already is great.

My next thought is, I’ve now (well almost) got the piece of paper, was it worth it? And, possibly more importantly, will it help advance my career? This is an ongoing debate in librarianship, and now having done the course I think the piece of paper is valuable. As a seasoned library professional recently told me, work experience is crucial but librarians need to at some point study the theory of librarianship and information science. I tend to agree but on the other hand, it was very expensive and I feel this is a major barrier, especially when you can learn so many aspects of the work on the job. As far as career advancement goes, nearly every professional library job requires this degree so it’s great to be able to meet this criteria now. However this debate will continue to rage I’m sure.

A few random tips I jotted down along the way:

  • Plan, plan, plan. A multi-pronged study like mine involving various partners and institutions only worked because of good planning and project management. Of course the plan went out the window after I had collected all my data but my Gantt chart was crucial up to that point.
  • Listen to your supervisor, mine gave good advice and also was marking it so I had to swallow my pride at some points and take the suggestions on board.
  • Take good notes and record citations as you go, it might be relevant later. I found this out when facing a major research challenge and re-read my notes out of desperation only to find a potential solution in a paper I’d read during my lit review.

New, very useful apps:

  • Zotero – Absolute life saver this! It’s a reference management app, similar to EndNote but it’s free and more user friendly and doesn’t require logging into a Desktop Anywhere-type thing (a real hassle on Mac). You can download extensions for your browser and Word and save citations online with one click and then cite in your document. It even formats your bibliography for you!
  • Picktochart – I used this when I couldn’t get Excel to do charts how I wanted. It’s an infographic website, very easy to use and helps to makes your data more visually appealing through its in-built design, colour schemes, icons, etc.
  • I never found a good app solution for organising my research notes. Twitter friends suggested Scrivener and Evernote, but I stuck with my epic-ly long Word doc in the end because it would have taken to long to convert the notes retrospectively. Scrivener looked really good but was a bit pricey. I already use Evernote for my blog and other things.

The dissertation journey is not quite done as I’ll be presenting my research at the upcoming LISDIS (Library and Information Science Dissertations) conference in November and the IAML (UK & Irl) conference next April. Last but not least I graduate in December with my MA Information and Library Management – assuming I pass!

Library School – Thoughts on a Snowdonian slate mine and my dissertation

A short post as I briefly emerge from hibernating with my dissertation asking you, what do a Snowdonian slate mine and my dissertation have in common?

Last week we were volunteering at a summer camp in north Wales and I got to go on a “mine exploration” activity with the young people in a disused slate mine in Snowdonia. Having done what I thought was a similar activity a few years ago I was excited to go again because that trip was a blast. We did abseiling, climbing and I pretended I was in Harry Potter as we sailed across an underground lake. Last week I got a bit of a shock though as the activity was much more challenging, to the point where I was trying not to panic as we were told what we had to do next (“climb up this mountain of loose slate and try not to knock any down on the person behind, or misstep and take out all the people behind you”). Obviously I survived and a few bruises not withstanding enjoyed it in the end. So that’s the mine, now to the dissertation.

I’ve been writing bits and bobs of my dissertation this week because I’m still trying to finalize some analysis. It’s the boring stuff though. Chapter summaries and concluding sections that though tedious to write, make the document more readable and easier to understand. I’ve reached the point where it’s sheer willpower keeping me going and I was just thinking I got to the same point down the mine last week. Waiting to traverse across a slippery rock face with an 80 foot drop where the ledge runs out halfway, I literally told myself, “just do it, put one foot in front of the other, and go.” Now as I sit at my computer staring at a heading with no text, it’s the mental challenge rather than physical I have to overcome. I’m not motivated and the task is not particularly inspiring. So I tell myself, “just do it, put one proverbial foot in front of the other, and go.” Sit down. Type. Think a bit. Type some more.

And slowly but surely you get to the other side.

T-16 days to my deadline!

How do you stay motivated during an extended project? Drop me a comment below because I need all the tips I can get!

My Bookshelf – Spring 2016

Makers by Cory Doctorow
I’m becoming a bit of a Doctorow fan girl as you can see since there are two of his books in this list. This was an interesting though lengthy novel about two guys who make stuff (the “makers”) starting a bit of a work revolution with 3-D printers and other technology and the journalist who documents this. It’s not all ‘let’s take over the world!’ rather it charts the story over the decades and what happens when your dreams go sour. Worth a read purely for the ever interesting ideas that Doctorow comes up with.

Information Shouldn’t be Free by Cory Doctorow
Highly recommend this short book on copyright, intellectual property and digital technology aimed at your average Joe in the creative industries. Doctorow takes a dull, complex topic and explains it clearly with fascinating insights and examples. His key aim is working out how indies and the majors can successfully co-exist. Thankfully it’s not a work of imagination; concrete ideas are in abundance. If you want to make a living from your art, read this book.

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
I picked this up because I’d read the excellent crime novel, The Dante Club by the same author. Sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations. The premise is a fan and contemporary of Edgar Allan Poe investigates his untimely death with the help of the real life inspiration for a Poe detective character. The first half of the novel is mainly spent sitting around in libraries reading newspapers (I’m only exaggerating slightly). It does pick up at the end, but the characters are not very well sketched and the first-person, plummy Victorian voice starts to grate.

A Conspiracy of Violence by Susanna Gregory
The tagline hooked me in on this one (darn those marketers!): ‘Decadence and deceit in Restoration London.’ My musicology dissertation was on this period, and I’m a sucker for any related material. Everyone is a bit confused about whether this is the first in the Thomas Chaloner series or not. Nonetheless it still made sense. Read on holiday, the gripping plot, interesting characters and spot on historicity kept the pages turning.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Tartt, an award winning author, comes recommended by many. She’s also a Mississippi native and many of her novels are set in the South so that was of interest to me. The Little Friend chronicles the fall out from the unsolved killing of a young boy in rural Mississippi. To her credit, Tartt brilliantly paints the Southern small town and her characters are vivid…but it’s all very dark. She uses themes of unintended consequences, chaos/order and characters’ fruitless pursuit of meaning, justification and redemption. At over 500 pages it’s long too (she publishes about a book a decade so they tend to be door stoppers). So by all means read her work but don’t expect a sunny day out.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I absolutely loved this book! I am a bit of space geek but this was so much fun and much better than the movie. Set during a future manned Mars mission where one astronaut gets stranded and has to figure out how to survive using his wits, mechanical engineer/botantist skills and a lot of duct tape. Very funny and apparently fairly accurate on the space science, highly recommend this one.

No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley
This was some emergency reading material picked up on our recent trip to the States and it was definitely good travel reading. Bowley, a NY Times journalist, chronicles (using extensive research) the disastrous August 2008 climbing season when 11 climbers died on K2 the second highest mountain on Earth.

The Lent Factor by Graham James
The premise of this book is a series 40 pen portraits of people who had influenced the author. It was interesting but I found the whole concept a bit pompous (writing about 40 people with you at the center…), especially when he writes about people I’d never heard of as if only hermits did not know these names.