Where is spring?

This first week of March has been a bit trying.  Both Sarah and I have been sick with colds/flu for the past week – and still the illness lingers.  We both had flu shots months ago, too.  We are doing our best to keep our spirits up, watching public domain movies on the laptop.  (I highly recommend Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.”)  Last night, our friends brought by some groceries and dinner (broccoli soup and a lentil/rice/tofu/onion dish) which were greatly appreciated.

The weather while we’ve been cooped up in our apartment has been sunny – haven’t seen the sun so much since last fall.  Not a cloud in the sky, all the snow has melted, and the temperature has gotten as high as 12 C (about 54 F).  Today, however, it is overcast again, but expected to get up to 9 C.  I just looked at the forecast for the coming week and it looks like the cold is coming back – highs below freezing and threats of more snow.  Aw, c’mon, this isn’t fair – we need our sunshine!  And spring is just around the corner.  Oh well…not much to do about it.

I cancelled classes this past Monday because I was too sick, but I have a lot of work to do anyway.  In early April we are planning to visit Prague where I’ve been invited to speak at the library school at Charles University, where I taught while on sabbatical in 2005.  A week or so later, I will be presenting at a library conference here in Warsaw.  Finally, I will be going to Lodz (pronounced “woodge” to rhyme with “Scrooge”), about a 2 hour train ride from here, for another library conference in early June.  For these various presentations, I will be discussing the changes that have happened in the cataloging and metadata services unit at OSU.  It is important that my colleagues here in Central Europe understand the changes coming to libraries since what happens in the U.S. often eventually filters through to this part of the world.  The more they know now, the easier the transition will be the changes come.  I’m talking about the streamlining of paper resource acquisition and cataloging and the retooling for digitized resource management.

The classes I’m teaching this term are an intro to metadata and a seminar on RDA (Research Description and Access, the new cataloging code that is replacing the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd ed. – just a note for my non-library readers).  The university has limited enrollment for my courses, so this term I only have 8 in the metadata class and 6 in the RDA seminar, but about half the students are ones I had last term and a few are (again) taking both classes.  In general, their English is very good and they are all very bright and eager learners. They are especially thrilled to be learning by doing exercises and having discussions instead of 100% lectures (as they are accustomed to in their other classes).  Many of the professors at the Institute of Information Science and Book Studies are part-timers who my hold 2-3 jobs total in order to make ends meet.  I suspect many do not have the time to put into preparing for their classes.  If the university could pay its professors a living wage, I’m sure the quality of instruction would improve and the quantity of research increase.

I am learning a lot myself in teaching these courses.  I must say its strange to be teaching about RDA knowing that many of my colleagues back in the states are actually shifting to the new rules. Those transformations for the OSU cataloging unit will happen after I get back to work in July – which will surely be a very busy time then!


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That’s Entertainment!

From the fourth floor of our apartment building, I can look out the window and see the shopping area (for lack of a better English word) below.  In Polish, it is a bazarka, a collection of small – one might even say tiny – shops where you can get almost anything you could want.  I mentioned this in an earlier post, but thought I would describe it in some greater detail here.  There is a U-shaped building with the inside of the U filled in with a rectangular building; both buildings are divided up into individual shops, “pawiliony” in Polish.  There must be about 30 of these shops.  When we first arrived last September, the real estate agent who found our apartment for us said the bazarka had everything, but a quick stroll around it made me think that she was wrong.  Mostly it looked like some produce stores and some other odds and ends.

I was wrong and continue to be surprised how so many small shops really could provide nearly everything you might need.  The fact is, although each store is specialized, each also sells much more than you might expect.  The produce shops also sell canned goods and spices, even soy milk.  The laundry “chemicals” shop not only sells detergents and shampoos, but also magazines, toys, and cards to top off your cell phone minutes.  You can get keys copied, your hair cut, and your clothing mended. Lastly, there is a video rental shop  – the reason for the title of this posting.

The video shop also does copying and scanning as well as selling lottery tickets and stationery.  I wandered in there a couple of weeks ago to copy something and, for the first time since last fall, I looked at the videos.  I don’t know why I didn’t investigate earlier.  While it doesn’t have the greatest selection, many of which are action and gore flicks that neither Sarah nor I care for, on closer inspection we did find a number of titles that we were interested in.

Now browsing titles in a video store in Warsaw can be challenging.  “Larry Crowne” with Tom Hanks is still titled “Larry Crowne.”  On the other hand, “The Descendants” has been translated into “Spadkobiercy” (translation: The Heirs).  What I discovered is that if you can read the little print on the back side of the container, it will often have the original English-language title mentioned amongst the microscopic credits.  Fortunately, we have a magnifying glass just for such critical situations (the main other one being reading the instructions on medicine bottles).  We have also learned how to look up the Polish titles on IMDB.  Our method is thus: I go to the video store and browse through the videos with my magnifying glass in hand like Sherlock Holmes seeking out a clue to some mystery.  When I find something interesting (usually a video container illustration that does not show a gun), I call Sarah up on my cell phone. She’s back at HQ sitting at her laptop awaiting my call.  I can then tell Sarah the American title (when I can read it) or the Polish title, if necessary; she looks it up on IMDB and determines if it meets our criteria for checking it out; and then I can take final action down in the shop.  To be truthful, we haven’t exactly followed this protocol, but I did write down titles so we could look them up back at our apartment.

I always double check the fine print to make sure the videos are in English or have English subtitles.  The store does have a few Polish movies that are without dubbing or subtitles, but most of the movies are American or British.

By now  you might be wondering what we’ve seen.  From this store, we’ve checked out The Adventures of Tin Tin, The Knight’s Tale, and Larry Crowne.  The first two were very enjoyable, the last was so-so.  Further afield is Beverly Hills Video, more like the big video rental places in the states, from which we rented Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

We have also been to several theaters to see first-run movies, but more about that next time!


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Dashing through the snow / Fish-tailing all the way

It’s COLD here!  The past few days have been in the teens (Fahrenheit, for all  you folks back home) and tomorrow night’s low is supposed to be below zero.  The snow, which is blanketing everything now, is nice to view from inside a warm apartment.

Yesterday was my last day of classes for the semester.  I have really enjoyed teaching about subject analysis and e-books. The students are bright and engaged; I, have learned so much about the topics of the classes; I’m really looking forward to when classes resume next term (teaching about RDA and an intro to metadata class). My students surprised me during the break between classes yesterday (I teach my two classes back-to-back, with about half of the students taking both classes).  They walked in looking very sheepish, then finally one spoke up and thanked me for teaching such great classes.  Two others spoke up similarly, then they handed me a gift bag with a souvenir picture book of Poland in it.  I was really quite touched by the whole presentation.  Many of them had just finished filling out an evaluation form in the previous class, but I told them that this was the best evaluation I could imagine.  It was really quite sweet.

The last half of the e-books class, I diverged from the usual seminar format and gave a short presentation on the image of librarians in Hollywood movies.   I showed them the scene from Citizen Kane where a severe-looking archivist with the requisite bun provides manuscript papers to a reporter; some scenes from Desk Set; the Marian the Librarian song from The Music Man (of course); and a short scene from Ghostbusters with an ethereal librarian, again with her hair in a bun and shushing.  There were two other clips I showed (these are all on YouTube) that some of you may not be familiar with and which I recommend.  One is Parker Posey in Party Girl, working as a paraprofessional and publicly deriding a library user for ignoring the Dewey Decimal System and replacing a book randomly on the shelf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzbDdgWiaS0&list=PL1090749616C557CC

The other is Judy Garland in Strike Up the Band as a high school student who works in the school library. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zC2NcR3ajU The scene doesn’t have much to do with the library, but it’s worth watching her sing Roger Edens’ song “Nobody.”  There are many cultural references in the song, some of which I had to look up to understand – I could imagine how little my students here would have understood had I not handed out a guide to the references.  All in all, a fun way to end the semester.  Now on to grading the piles of papers they handed in yesterday!

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A Busy Week

I thought it might be interesting to post about my week.  Last week was busier than most, so writing about it will give me a chance to show both the typical and the atypical parts of life in Warsaw.

A week ago Monday, I prepared for my classes much of the morning, as I usually do.  I teach two courses back-to-back, 3 pm to 4:30 and 4:45 to 6:15.  At the request of students who felt that it was really a grind to sit for 1 1/2 hour sessions in English without a break, we also take a 5 minute break in the middle of each session. I have a pretty solid group of 13 students in each class, although I find that occasionally someone who hasn’t attended for a few weeks will suddenly show up.  Sometimes s/he may be one of the University of Warsaw librarians or one from the National Library – they’re excused because they are not enrolled in the course.  Not sure what the ones who are students think.  They know that part of their grade, especially in the class on e-books, is based on participation – and you can’t participate if you don’t show!

The earlier class is on subject analysis; last week we finished talking about Library of Congress Subject Headings.  They do both in-class exercises and take-home work, both involving the use of Classification Plus, an online product providing access to LCSH.  This past Monday, they classified a list of subjects on beavers seeing as the OSU teams are the Beavers.  They seemed amused by the photo I showed them of Benny the Beaver at a basketball game.  I haven’t checked it out yet, but I don’t think intercollegiate sports is a part of student life here.

The course on e-books and libraries is run as a seminar, with students doing the presenting each week, based on chapters from the book “No Shelf Required” and supplementary articles.  They have done a good job in general and their English is really quite good.  I had set up the class to have two presentations each week so that I could spend the sessions asking provocative questions and sharing my own experiences.  However, the class size is somewhat smaller than it was the first week as some of the students who signed up seemed to have vanished.  In the past few weeks I’ve filled the available time with other presentations of mine relating to the topic.  Last Monday, I practiced a talk on Kindle ebooks that I planned to present in final form on Wednesday to the library faculty here.  In the future, though, I will be using the second hour (if there isn’t a second student signed up) to discuss an assigned article.

Tuesdays are also busy days for me.  I have office hours from 10-12, then head home for lunch and spend the afternoon at home.  In the evening I’m taking 3 classes offered by Beit Warszawa, the Reform Jewish congregation we belong to: an hour of modern Hebrew taught by Zivah Nativ, an hour of Introduction to Rabbinic literature taught by Zivah’s husband, Rabbi Gil Nativ, and 1 1/2 hours (!) of Israeli dancing taught by the two of them.  The last is lots of fun and absolutely exhausting. I learned a lot of Israeli folk dances when I was young, but never took a class as an adult. I think I’m turning into an enthusiast like the Nativ’s.  Maybe we could start something up back home at Beit Am.

Wednesday was my talk to the faculty at the University of Warsaw Institute of Information Science and Book Studies.  There were about 20-25 in attendance and they enjoyed my talk about integrating Kindle ebooks into the OSU Libraries (a tech services perspective).  Also attending were two folks from the American embassy.  They wanted to meet me afterwards, so we sat in my office for 30 minutes and talked about Kindles, especially a program they have that put Kindles into Poland’s American Corners.  (The American Corners are libraries that focus on American literature, history, etc. so that citizens of other countries can learn about life in the US.)  They asked if I would be interested in visiting some of these locales and sharing my experiences there, so I may be bopping around Poland a bit in upcoming months.

Thursday both Sarah and I visited a high school that is a 5 minute walk from our apartment in order to talk to an English class.  This was part of Education Week in Poland and the Fulbright Office here in Warsaw was encouraging Fulbrighters to make visits like ours to encourage students to study abroad in the US.  We talked about the nature of higher education in the US as well as financial aid, fields of study, admission policies, finding a good fit, etc.  Sarah is so skilled at this – I know she has counseled a number of friends whose kids were applying to college in addition to her experience with our own kids. The students stood when we entered the room, were (mostly) attentive through the talk and asked good questions at the end.  The teacher was also very kind to us, giving us her phone number and offering to answer any questions we might have about living here.  Plus we met the director (who would be called the principal in the US and was referred to as the headmaster by the English teacher) and arranged to meet once a week so we can practice our Polish and him his English.  He apologized profusely for his English, although it was definitely excellent.  We do find the Poles apologizing for all sorts of things, but they really have nothing to be ashamed of.

Friday – nothing scheduled!  We caught up on chores, talked to each other, and the like.

Saturday we went to services at Beit Warszawa.  Both Sarah and I read from the Torah as the rabbi and his wife were in Israel last weekend.  Services were followed, as always, by a lunch, but not potluck like the ones at Beit Am.  Instead, the food is prepared by the Nativ’s housekeeper and provided to anyone who wants to stay for it.  Typical Polish foods like pierogi (we eat the cabbage and mushroom ones – kapusta i grzybami) and golabki (pronounced gowompkee) (cabbage rolls).  I also led the birkat hamazon (blessing after the meal).  Then home for a nap!  It’s been a busy week.

Sunday we went to Tesco for shopping – but that will be a story for another day!

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Twain was right!

“Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days’ voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.”–Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad.

I suppose if Mark Twain was around today, he would say the same about blogs, the modern day journal for travelers.  Nevertheless, I will try to be somewhat more consistent in my entries…

Sarah and I have settled into our apartment in Mokotow, a district of Warsaw that’s far enough away from the center of the city to have some parks and relative slower pace, but close enough that we can get to the center in a few minutes on the Metro.  The Metro entrance is a 2 minute walk from our door.  In our neighborhood, within a few minutes walk, is a pharmacy, a bank, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant, a community garden, a Polish bookstore (as opposed to the English language bookstores scattered around town), and more grocery stores than one would think could be supported by the local populace, given how close together they are.  The really big store is called Mokpol (a chain) although the one we shop at is small by comparison to U.S. stores.  It has nearly everything we want, all crammed into a small space with barely enough room for two people to squeeze by each other in the aisles.  We can even get a fair number of our specialty vegan foods there, like soy pate, rice milk, frozen vegan cutlets and soy salami.  The variety of breads in Polish bakeries is astounding – and they are all delicious.  Spelt bread is also available here, although it often includes wheat flour.  There is a health food store not too far from us which sells 80% spelt bread as well as other things not available at the Mokpol.

But if we don’t want to go that far or just need a few items, there is a cluster of small shops near the metro entrance.  This kind of cluster of shops is common throughout the city. It is best for fresh fruits and vegetables and very inexpensive.  In addition to produce and some other groceries, there are several bakeries in the cluster, a cosmetics shop, a hardware store, meat and fish shops, and so forth. Also a Chinese restaurant and a kebab place that sells falafels (but I haven’t tried it out yet).  Mind you, each of these shops is in a space about 8′ x 8′.  I don’t know how the grocers can compete with each other – they appear to be identical in what they stock.  Ditto with the bakers.  Nevertheless, each seems to have its own clientele.

Classes finally started this past Monday afternoon.  I teach for 3 hours with a 15′ break in the middle. First is Subject Analysis with 15 students, then E-books in Libraries with 17 students – although 10 students are taking both classes.  I haven’t had much of a chance to really interact with the students, but they seem attentive and interested and actually laughh at my jokes.  Most speak very good English.  (I’ve learned enough Polish to ask for a few things in a store, but rarely understand the response.)  I enjoyed this first week and am looking forward to the rest of the term.

My institute is already taking advantage of my presence.  In addition to teaching, I have been lined up for a lecture to institute faculty in mid-November on a subject of my choice and arrangements are being made for me to speak at the Maria Sklodowska-Curie University in Lublin.  I also have been asked to review a colleague’s paper to ensure the English is understandable.  I think I’m going to be kept on my toes.

I need to get some other work done now, so perhaps I can fill you all in on additional aspects of life in Poland tomorrow!

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Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Poland over a week and haven’t had a chance to post ANYTHING to this blog.  Life has been incredibly busy. The day Sarah and I arrived we arranged to meet a realtor, the next day met the realtor and saw three apartments, the third day signed a lease, and the fourth day moved in.  We’re living in Stary Mokotow (Old Mokotow), a very nice area of Warsaw, in a 2 bedroom apartment.  Within walking distance is a great vegetarian restaurant as well as many shops; the metro entrance is just a stone’s throw from our building.

A few days ago, we left Warsaw for Torun where we are doing a 10 day orientation with other Poland Fulbrighters.  There are a whopping 57 of us, the vast majority grad students either teaching English here or conducting their own research.  There are 7 or so core Fulbrighters and, interestingly, many of them are on their second Fulbright (like me).  We are studying Polish and getting lectures from scholars at the Nikolas Copernicus University here on Polish literature and history.  Yesterday afternoon was a 3 hour (!) walking tour of the old city district which dates from medieval times, including ruins of a Teutonic Knights castle.  Very cool.  Will post some pictures once I have time and can figure out how to.

Gotta go eat (doing a lot of that) and then off to a morning of Polish language classes.  Do widzenia! (Goodbye!)

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Warsaw, Here I Come!

With just two days until I leave for my sabbatical in Warsaw, I am filled with excitement but also anxious to finish all of my preparations for leaving home.  I have been generously given a Fulbright Core Award to teach this coming year at the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Information and Book Studies.  I had such a wonderful time on my previous sabbatical in Prague, Czech Republic, also teaching library science courses there, that I am comforted by the thought that my experience will be similar in Warsaw — although I strongly suspect that it will be incredibly different.  How could it possibly be the same?  The similarity will likely be in the realm of a few months’ adjustment to living overseas and the difficulties that presents, especially to someone like myself who only speaks English.  The differences — or really the unknowns — are many: the number of students, their facility with English (the language of instruction for my classes), and the students’ willingness to accept my teaching methods (discussion, class exercises and homework — familiar to U.S. students, but possibly unfamiliar to Polish students) are just a few that come to mind.

This first term I will be teaching a course in subject analysis and a seminar on e-books in libraries.  The first is a course similar to the one I taught in 2005, but updated to include sessions on FRSAD and FAST. The second one will be partly based on my own experiences with e-books at OSU as well as presentations by the students drawn from the published literature.  I’m looking forward to both of these courses as I love talking about subject analysis in detail while e-books have been a major part of my work these past two years.

But right now, I have to shop for a new sport jacket, prune back the bushes around the house, teach my son how to clean the cockatiel cage solo, and prepare our dog to stay with a friend for the coming year.  The number of items on our to-do list is ever growing, even as we work to reduce the list to zero before we leave. Each one takes on a life of its own, generating follow-up items faster than rabbits or tribbles.  It is almost as though the harder my wife and I work on doing the tasks, the faster they multiply.  This morning, though, I announced that if we didn’t finish the list, we would still live.  We have our tickets, our visas, and a colleague in Warsaw who will help us find a place to live.  I plan to take a deep breath once we get on the plane and leave the prep phase behind us.

I plan to write on this blog at least once a week, so be sure to come back for more!

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