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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Same Old Auld Lang Syne, chapter three*

This is an excerpt from our 2017 Family Christmas letter. It's been edited for length.

So I was out of work from my job at the Free Library of Philadelphia as of mid-October, and spent the next four weeks seeking a new position.  I had phone interviews with the University of Alabama, a public library in Willow Grove PA, and with the institution that eventually hired me, Lincoln University, near Oxford, Chester County, PA. It’s an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), the oldest such institution in existence, and counts Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall among its alumni. Like many other HBCU’s, they struggle with dwindling enrollment and the resulting baggage, but as I told the committee in my on-campus interview, the students at LU are no less in need of the information they need to realize their hopes and dreams than their peers at other institutions, whether it involves formatting a research paper, finding that essential article, or figuring out the answer to a complicated question.

My official title is “part-time reference librarian and special collections assistant” so in addition to helping solve educational issues, I help the university community (as well as outside concerns like CNN) with their research on the history of LU. My current project involves organizing old phonograph recordings that belonged to the LU radio station, WWLU, with the goal of making the collection searchable online, and possibly allowing a portion of it to circulate.  There’s an astonishing variety to this collection; in addition to LP’s, we have a few 45’s and even some 78’s of jazz and classical works.  There’s a significant number of Gospel recordings—including a couple by Tammy Fae Bakker—and a LOT of promotional recordings. I’m keeping a daily log of my work, and will have student workers do the same when they return. Will I publish? Stay tuned… 

*--Dan Fogelberg, The Innocent Age, 1981.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ventura Highway*

Welcome to country 68, Ecuador!  My father visited Montevideo in the late 1960's as part of his work for Parke-Davis (now Pfizer), but I don't expect that I'll get there in this lifetime.  I'm glad my blog did, though.  As I invite others, please feel free to comment and argue passionately on what you read here.

I haven't had much to say lately--I've been slugging it out in the corporate world as a package handler for FedEx.  Gotta keep the money rolling in.  Creditors are willing to work with me to a point, and we have been blessed with gifts here and there, but I'd rather be working in the field.

Working out the details of a job offer as we speak.  Hopeful that I'll have good news this coming week.


*--Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, America, 1973.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Blue Tail Fly*

During my career as a teacher, my two favorite colleagues were both named Charlie--Charlie Musch, of Edinburg (TX) Junior High School, and Charlie Graham of Philadelphia's Lincoln High School. Both were grizzled veterans of the music education trenches, much loved by colleagues and students alike, and from whom I learned much in the year I spent with them.

The one I'm talking about today, though, is Charlie Graham.  I worked with him in his last year at Lincoln High School.  As the last day of school grew nearer, he said jovially, "Dan, my new name is Jimmy Crack Corn".  Being the dense band director, it took a moment or two for me to understand what he meant.

The first line of the chorus of "Blue Tail Fly" is as follows:
"Jimmy Crack Corn, and I don't care".

So when we'd have staff meetings or read daily announcements, he'd tell us again, "my name is Jimmy Crack Corn".  I can't hear that song without thinking of Charlie--and can't think of him without smiling.

I'm well aware of the minstrel origins of that song, and that it once contained lyrics that to modern ears and minds would be considered offensive, even racist. Charlie wasn't racist--he went out of his way to shelter students who he thought were being harassed or excluded.  The point of this post, if there is one to be gleaned, is that "Jimmy Crack Corn" was his way of letting go as retirement neared. He cared deeply about the state of Music Education in the School District of Philadelphia, and lamented what once was at Lincoln High School..

So as I leave the Free Library of Philadelphia, I'm presented with a choice: lament what once was, and won't be again, or move on gracefully, grateful for the experience I had and the people I met.


*--American minstrel song, c. 1847.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A man called Ove*

*--Okay, so this isn't a song title--it's a book title and the title of a Swedish film, AND an upcoming feature film starring Tom Hanks. Get off of my lawn ya durn kids, ya!

I used to work for a company named Agway, no longer in existence.  I had a boss whose name was Bill Jager--lovely wife Barbara and three beautiful daughters--maybe 10 years older than me when I first started at the company, and he would rant about how people would know so little about the things they spent the most money on (houses and cars) or how to fix them.

Bill Jager, you were right.

I'm sick to death of people who buy electronic devices for hundreds or thousands of dollars then expect me to fix their problems without seeing the device or what it's doing wrong (or they're doing wrong). I still have to smile and sound cheerful like it isn't the 10000th time I've been asked today. Glad they can't see eyerolls and facepalms on the telephone.

Rant over. Time to hit the reference desk.

My Back Pages*

With less than three weeks to go before I leave my current post, a weird dynamic has risen up.  I don't want to come to any false assumptions or conclusions, but consider this:

1) One of the things I get dinged on in evaluations is not clearing things through superiors.  Since I'm the junior librarian in terms of seniority, I'm expected to clear everything I do and say through SOMEONE in the department.

I'm 57 years old, for Christ's sake. I've been doing this a while. I'm leaving in eight days. Why bring this up now?

2) My supervisor has become more distant than usual. I guess it's her way of dealing with this situation, which started with a royal fxxxup by Human Resources, continued with disunity at home, and I end up once again "taking one for the team" Some team. Some family leadcr I turned out to be. If I did such a great job raising our kids than why do none of them choose to go to church?

3) I am not going to mention leaving to anyone here. Let's see if they remember me with more than a passing "harrumph".

*--Bob Dylan,  Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Serendipity happens!

It is common knowledge that serendipity refers to the unexpected, often pleasant happening. For example, you're looking for your car keys in the morning, and you discover a $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of pants that's gone through the washer. My favorite definition of serendipity came from a professor of communications at the University of Michigan whose name has escaped my memory. He said:

"Serendipity is looking for the needle in the haystack and finding the farmer's daughter".

So I'm applying for jobs yet again and remember sage advice about customizing one's CV and cover letter to the particulars of the advertised position.  Did it, and had success!

You can't just blanket the world with one view of yourself. Be like the apostle Paul--"All things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22, NIV; I would be remiss if I didn't reprint the whole passage so you can see the context, so:

"I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some".

He's not saying that we should sway at the mere mention of a breeze, but rather keep yourself open to different ways of communicating your message. You never know what might trigger that conversation, for you OR your audience.


*Grover Washington Jr., All My Tomorrows, 1994.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Alfie* part III

I was a fool for thinking I could make a difference.

It's been nearly four years since I graduated Clarion. Since then:

January 2014-September 2014--Paraprofessional, Chester County Library System

September 2014-June 2015--Adjunct Principal Music Library Assistant, Rowan University--a huge step up, and arguably the best job I've had in my library career.

June 2015-October 2016--unemployed

October 2016-October 2017--Librarian I, Free Library of Philadelphia. I was scheduled to go to the Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC) but the HR powers that be decided to not let me do that and put me in a place that was as far removed from my career goals as could be--but admittedly with nice co-workers--and if I'd known that the FLP HR was going to pull the bait and switch on me, I might have said no to the offer, but at the time my disability status was in question, and if I turned down work, even work which I didn't like, I didn't know how that would affect my ability to continue to collect. To add to my aggravation, City and Union rules require anyone with a FLP position to establish residency within 12 months.  I told the family about this and met with nearly unanimous opposition.

Meanwhile, I see friends and colleagues advancing in their careers, morphing into new ones, sending their kids to colleges and taking vacations I can't even dream of affording.  It's wrong to be jealous but...

SIDEBAR: my good friend and classmate Leigh Anne Yacovelli 
was just let go from her job in Hatboro PA.  If you want a top-notch librarian and archivist, you couldn't do better. Leave a comment if you can help her out.

In happier news, welcome Turkmenistan! that's 67 countries heard from. Feel free to register complaints or plaudits, slap me if I whine too much, etc.

*Burt Bacharach and Hal David, 1967; covered by numerous artists.