The art of assisting discovery

And so, Library Scientists, once more into the breach.

“We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” I just quoted a lyric from the theme to Smokey & the Bandit. That’s sad. But it’s true. Usually we have 17 weeks to introduce this stuff. I applaud & admire you guys for cramming 17 weeks worth of Stuff into a paltry 10 weeks. Rather, I applaud your willingness to do so . You haven’t done it yet.




We’ve got 14 management principles to cover. That sounds like a lot, but many of them overlap, as ye shall surely see. But there are subtle nuances. Pay particular attention to the nuances. Not just in this course, but always.






can't_hearWe have but one mandatory Collaborate session, and that’s not going to come until later in the semester. We may, however, get together informally just to hear each others’ voices. Isn’t it strange that, in a university course, we need to go out of our way to hear each others’ voices? I think that’s strange.


The terrible results of online frustration.


Here’s hoping we all get along.  That’s important to me, believing as I do that you have to like each other to learn from each other.  That’s simple enough.  But it doesn’t always happen, as we know.  So many miscommunications happen between these keys and our emotions & brains.  Having pointed that out, I say here & now that when I mean something to be funny, I will use an ASCII smiley     :o) .  I will not do this always, because we’re all adults and, well, that gets tiresome.  But I will do it when necessary.  My sense of humor is decidedly dry; even in F-2-F situations, they can’t be sure.





It happened to me just today, in a bookstore.  The bookseller had spent about five minutes taking us all over the floor plan trying to locate one copy of a brand-new book and, for reasons inexplicable, says to me: “How many copies do you need, sir?”  Since she hadn’t found one yet, what comes out of my mouth was “Fifteen, if you got’em.”  My companion, who is walking behind me, laughs softly.  Says the bookseller: “OH!”  Meaning “What am I gonna do NOW?”  I quickly assure her that only one is required, as the intended recipient of the book has yet to master the technique of reading in stereo.  Relieved, the bookseller says, “OH!  You said that so seriously I thought you really needed 15!”  Says I:  “I’m good at that, huh?”  My companion laughs softly.

Frustration over miscommunication causes more harm than the threat of nuclear disarmament.      :o)

To all you people I haven’t seen, heard, or spoken to yet: welcome to the course.  Well, there is one I met, and recently.  A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of one students’ company.  If you’re interested, the post is here.


This kind of thing COULD get you an “A.”


Before August 7th rolls around, I hope that I’ve sufficiently enlightened & antagonized you to the point that you’re not sure if you just hate me a little or you’re certain you despise me with all of your heart.  I have this effect on people.  Why should you be an exception?  And the thing is, I don’t even have to try!  It’s the DNA.



But I do sincerely want you to learn.  So do your work, share ideas, and discern the difference between fact, opinion, and starry-eyed student idealism, and all may yet be well.  I’m looking forward to meeting you and learning a little about you.  Thank you for the opportunity.  And now I can’t get that Smokey & the Bandit song outta my head.

John Lennon as a prison Librarian: Or, A LUCKY MAN WHO MADE THE GRADE

Yesterday (Thursday the 21st), the student from San Fran stopped by to visit. He was waiting for me in the Lobby.  I recognized him by his Lennonesque spectacles.


He stayed for 4.5 hours, and needed to leave as he was given strict instructions to return his girlfriend’s car before sundown.  She lives in a part of the Commonwealth that until now I’d not heard of. Way Out West. (We eastern seaboard Massachusettsians are snobbish: anything further west than route 495 we don’t wanna hear about). I think he drove about 100 miles one-way.  We spent the time:

  • Answering his questions
  • Dealing with law library patrons
  • Examining books received for the humor-as-therapy course
  • Watching PowerPoint presentations created for the course
  • Discussing the ABLE MINDS consequential thinking seminar
  • Talking with some of my clerks

We ended the day by making a phone video out in front of the MCI-Norfolk sign, (a video that he promised to email me).

mci - norfolk

At one point, we stopped to answer the call, which is located upstairs in the teacher’s lounge. From that room, there are two large windows that give you a beautiful wide-screen prospect of the Norfolk quadrangle. He was enjoying this view when I emerged from the restroom. So we stood there for nearly 10 minutes, watching inmates walk the Quad while discussing the physical layout of the place. Then he asked, “Where’s their cafeteria?” something I wouldn’t have thought to bring up. The answer is–There ain’t one. Each housing unit has their own kitchen area, and enough tables to sit everyone (Units hold about 90 people). They bring the food from the “Mainline Kitchen,” wheeled on carts through a series of tunnels. They bring these carts up into each Unit via a dumbwaiter. This way, you avoid a gigantic cafeteria where inmates can meet with inmates from other Units, and you avoid enormous demonstrations and brawls between rival gangs and small fights that morph into riots. A very clever and forward-thinking design for 1926.


Anyway, we had as much fun as you can have locked inside an adult male medium-security penitentiary. He spent his first half-day in prison and, despite my best efforts to destroy his enthusiasm and altruistic ideals, he STILL wants to be a correctional Librarian.

A funny side note about the phrase ‘correctional library management.’ The distance learning Dean announced my course by that name on her blog, but didn’t define what it meant. When he saw the course title, the student confessed that he thought it meant a library manager’s disciplinary style, like bringing in a subordinate to your office to discuss ways in which his behavior in the library might be ‘corrected.’ I laughed, but agreed that a post with more background information about the course would have helped to clarify and might have enticed more folks to enroll. Never occurred to me that the adjective ‘correctional’ could mean anything other than ‘having to do with the Department of Correction.’

Before we left the school building, he asked me about how I set limits or professional boundaries. I discovered that the question was asked because he met my book binder and “I would have liked to have spent a little more time with him, as I’m a bookbinder, too.” I said I wish I’d known that, but he only had four hours and anyway he was the one who wanted to leave early to get GF’s car returned to her. I mean, he flew 2,200 miles, the least he coulda done was spend the day with us. But nooooooooooo….


There are many correctional Librarian job openings, so if he stays in The Golden Land & really wants the job, they’ll hire him. I do believe he’ll do just fine.  He’s kinda low-key & cautious, but probably I was too when I started. He’s got an active mind, and is keen to do programming, a discovery over which I rejoiced exceedingly, so he will keep himself busy and be an asset to the inmate population.

That’s only the second time I’ve had a student in, and the first time that I had one in BEFORE the course ran, which is a weird-but-enjoyable dynamic.

‘The Terminator’ as a genesis of serendipity

Sometimes, life conspires to surprise & delight us. This is one of those times.

Preparing for the SJSU course, I planned to contact the Principal Librarian for the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR). This person supervises approximately 135 senior librarians, librarians, and library technical assistants for the CDCR.

(Interesting side note: CDCR was referred to as the California Dept. of Corrections until Mr. Schwarzenegger’s election in 2003 as Governor. Shortly thereafter, ‘rehabilitation’ was tacked onto the end of the Department’s name).


For many years, the CA Principal Librarian was Jan Stuter, a nice helpful young lady who helped me coordinate many student tours of CA prisons. Jan has since retired, and in her place is the supremely-talented Brandy Buenafe, who has held the Principal Librarian position for about two years.

When I first discovered this a few months ago, Brandy’s name set off reverberations of recognition in the recesses of my increasingly-irrelevant medial temporal lobe. Since I recall a Brandy in one of my early distance-learning presentations, I suspected that she had been a former student of mine. A check of my previous rosters didn’t help, so I emailed her about it. Sure enough, she participated in the 2007 class.


In her iSchool ‘Community Profiles’ interview, Brandy notes that she had applied for a CDCR Librarian’s position while the course was still running, and disclosed this in her interview. When they decided to hire her, they told her they’d wait until she graduated, essentially holding the position for her until her degree was conferred.

Muy interesante.

It took her but a scant seven years to go from Librarian to Principal. That’s quick.

Congratulations, Brandy. We’ll do what we can to get you some intelligent, enthusiastic, and qualified candidates to fill your current vacancies.



And THANK YOU for posting CDCR openings on the Library Jobs in California blog:

CDCR Job Openings


…in an endless sea. For your consideration we offer Jailfire, another in a long cyberspace conga line of adjunct graduate course web pages. You’ll quickly discern that I have not the slightest, teensy-tiniest idea of what the hell I’m doing. But that’s not what makes jailfire remarkable. No way Nelly! Because in this ever-expanding world of cyber-communications, we’ve all of us visited the blogs of folks who have no business running blogs, so this by itself is no mark of distinction.

As for starting a blog, I recall here the words of Stephen Stills at the iconic 1969 music festival in Woodstock New York, when he and his obscure-but-soon-to-be-staggeringly-famous band took the stage for the first time. Stephen confided in the intimate audience of 500,000: “This is the second time we’ve played in front of people, man. We’re scared sh**less.” Sorta like that.

The remarkable part is this — the site was created thru the website wizardry of a website design company called Digital Stax. Digital Stax is owned and operated by one of my ex-pupils, a Mr. Raymond Dean, by name. And when I say ‘pupil’ (no one uses ‘pupil’ to mean ‘student’ anymore, and that’s just silly) I should explain that the San Jose State University, particularly their School of Library and Information Science, has asked me six times in the last eight years to instruct certain of their more adventurous (foolhardy?) graduate students in a seminar that I boringly dubbed Correctional Library Management. This seminar is how, in early 2008, I had the good fortune to meet & greet the tenacious Mr. Dean. Almost from our first series of flippant email exchanges, we struck up a satisfying professional relationship built upon a reverence for each other’s command of the mother tongue, a mutual penchant for the base, vulgar, and common, and a shared value of directness and bare-faced honesty.

Judge for yourself: when I approached him with the idea for this site after not having heard from me for one solar year, the very first sentence of my ex-pupil’s email (it should be distinctly understood that I gave him an ‘A’ ) read: “I thought I had rid my life of you completely.” I’m quoting, by the by, and not paraphrasing. Well, I have this affect on people.

And Mr. Raymond Dean is a people, and he’s good people. Whatever good comes out of jailfire, it’ll be due to Raymond and his self-taught, hard-won, practiced talent for stacking things digitally.

Raymond, glad to have you in my corner of the Cosmos. Just please scooch over a bit, my legs’re cramping! There.

Thanks, man.