Friday, December 12, 2008


Regardless of whether you work in a government building, a private institution, or a corporate office, all of these buildings will likely have one thing in common—a crummy HVAC system.

I am thinking about this as I sit in the library where I work. Several hours ago the Head of the Reference Department came striding around, looking at thermostats, asking if it was too hot. I went out of my office a few minutes ago to see the nighttime reference librarian wearing his coat.

In my previous job, I worked in a government building, one that was recently renovated and expanded. Before I was sucked into the black hole of administration, I was one of the union shop stewards. Almost daily I got complaints about the air quality—either it was too cold to work, or too hot to work. I spent more time filling out forms for OSHA and talking to facilities people about the HVAC system in the building. In my current job, I had to talk to our facilities staff about the HVAC for an archival grant application. Hence, I learned something about how these systems work. For the uncomfortable, here are a few things you should know:

1. Large HVAC systems have only two temperatures: f**king hot and f**king cold. There is no in-between.

2. HVAC systems are set up in “zones”, so that the temperature can be controlled in smaller areas. The main thing to remember is that the zones will never be the same temperature. So, if it is f**king hot in one zone, it will be f**king cold in the other.

3. Most people think they can raise or lower the temperature by messing with the thermostat. Most thermostats are “placebo” thermostats. They are only there to make you think you can do something about the temperature. They are not actually attached to anything that turns the heat on or off.

4. If you are too hot in the winter, or too cold in the summer, don’t EVER call facilities to complain. Facilities staff are not interested in your petty comfort concerns, and will punish you by turning off the heat in winter or the A/C in summer, and will ignore any pleas to turn it back on for weeks.

5. There is a myth that a new building means a new working HVAC system. In fact, everyone knows that the contract for the HVAC system will go to the lowest bidder in any new construction or renovation. Therefore, things like working temperature zones and humidity control are considered to be “luxuries” and struck from the installation requirements.

6. This doesn’t have to do with the HVAC per se—but it is a fact of Murphy’s law that a person who is always cold will inevitably share an office with a person who is always warm. Let the comfort wars begin.

So, bring a sweater, get a space heater or fan(if the fire marshal will let you), and try to ignore the fact that the HVAC vents are brimming with mold on account of the fact that they haven’t been cleaned in 40 years. And pray that Spring comes soon, when you might at least break even with the comfortable temperature outdoors.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two topics: My impending "retirement", and the Found Footage Festival

The insanity that is my life right now should be winding down by the end of next week, but not before a spectacular flurry of activity. Finals are next week, I’m in a race to get a really tedious digitization RFP out before we close down for winter break, and I’m meeting no less than 3 sets of friends over the next 4 days. And fucking forget about Christmas—if it wasn’t for the incessant presence of holiday music and décor everywhere, I wouldn’t even know there was a holiday. I don’t have time for it.

In the middle of all this, next week, I am going to the VALE OLE workshop in New Brunswick for 2 days. The purpose is to help design a new integrated library system for New Jersey's academic libraries (i.e., VALE). From what participants in this week’s version of the workshop said, it pretty much sounds like a waste of my time. They want to discuss library departmental “workflows”. Give me a break. It’s true that the traditional workflow is probably different now, but that’s the wrong focus for a meeting like this. Most of our tech tasks have nothing to do with the ILS. Besides, integrated library systems, even the open source ones, aren’t structured for consortia. (Earth to programmers: policy matrices DON’T WORK for more than 3 libraries, and even that is dubious). They’re always designed with the ideal assumption that everyone will work together and agree on everything, when the reality is that any given library in the group is likely to storm the consortia office fully armed before they will submit to have the same loan period or fine structure as another library. Additionally, you have the libraries with really bizarre policies that were apparently created by a deranged person (“we lend DVDs for 1 week with a $1.00 fine, but if it’s a full moon and a Thursday we lend them for 8 and half days with a 50 cent fine rate”). And they will be indignant if the system doesn’t accommodate this. I am assured that VALE will not work this way. Just wait.

Anyway, all of that is boring, and I’m increasingly becoming a malcontent in this field, so you don’t really want to hear all of that. I am “retiring” after 7 years of teaching at Rutgers University in the MLIS program this week, the first step in getting away from Library and Information Science altogether. I had an earlier post on this blog on the future of cataloging, which was picked up by 2 major cataloging blogs—I think I have had more views on that post than any other. If you’ve read that one, I have more confirmation that cataloging as a profession is dying a slow, painful death on life support: I have heard that the Library of Congress has cut their cataloging staff nationally by some absurd number—54,000 to 4,000 is the figure I was given. I’m hoping I misheard that one, but it doesn’t look good in any case. Time will tell.

Moving on to stranger things—last week I got my copies of the Found Footage Festival DVDs. Currently there are 3 volumes, with a new volume due out after next summer’s show. Found Footage Festival was created by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, two guys from Wisconsin who are now in New York. They collect old VHS tapes from estate sales, old warehouses, garage sales, etc., and then put what they consider to be the “best” of this junk together for a live show.

Some of the items featured on these DVDs—a McDonald’s custodian training video, a video by Corey Haim attempting to show everyone how he was “clean” after rehab (it was more of a case for putting him back in, actually), 2 religious “showdowns” comparing the truly fucked-up styles of two sets of television preachers, Jack Rebney (world’s angriest RV salesman), How to Seduce Women Through Hypnosis (an attempt to legitimize rape for the truly pathetic male, though the woman in this is pretty dim as well), and a variety of public access television shows and godawful music videos.

Besides the hypnosis thing, the most disturbing videos on these collections were the “Potpourri” on Volume 1 (Joe and Nick actually apologize to the audience before and after showing it), and “Disrobics” on Volume 3 (enough said about that). Nonetheless, if you like or are at least curious about the bizarre and trashy underbelly of American culture, these are amazingly funny to watch. On the downside, you will probably have the songs of Jan Terri or Harvey Sid Fisher stuck in your head. Not to mention the images from the videos that go with their songs.

Overall, these were a worthy purchase. I stayed with my friend’s teenage son and daughter last week, and showed them the DVDs. Mind you, these kids are good at locating the most bizarre videos on YouTube (I get at least 1 to my e-mail every week from one of them). They both laughed so hard that they almost couldn’t breathe. And of course, my friend Liz and her fiancé are “Found Footage groupies” by their own admission. They are looking forward to next summer’s new show, and I will probably go with them.