Research for (all) writers workshop – Nov. 4, 2017

I’m working on putting together a workshop with Emily Bright for the Minnesota chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators which focuses on ways that authors find, track, and organize their research.  I’m really excited about the chance to work with Emily — who does a lot of fantastic research and world-building for her books — and to translate what I teach on organizing research to a new audience.

From the description:

Whether you are writing nonfiction, historical fiction, or whether you just want to build a really rich world to support your stories, research is an essential part of writing. But how do you find good information? How do you keep it organized so that it’s there when you need it?

In this hands-on workshop, we’ll offer tools and strategies to conduct research and keep it organized. We’ll introduce you to time-saving research programs and resources. Come learn what works best for you, so that you can spend more time on the creative work you love.


Image description: a bookshelf with books shelved together by color. “An overly organized bookshelf” by Flickr user Alan Levine, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

What I’m really excited to talk about is ways to use tools to organize the information you’ve collected to lighten your mental load so that you can focus on the creative process of writing and world-building.  That way, when you need to draw on the information that you’ve gathered, you’ll be able to find it an use it easily.  I first came across this idea from my colleagues at Carleton College who referred to it as “organizing for creativity.”

We’re taking a more expansive view of research than I’m used to in academia.  We’ll be talking a little about finding and organizing published information, but also ways to use formal or informal interviews, images that inspire you, or little pieces of information that you want to incorporate into your writing.  Some of these things may need to be cited or referred to formally in your book, but most are pieces that you just want to be able to draw upon when needed.

I’ll be putting up links and additional thoughts about the process and tools on a page on this blog.

The workshop is open to anyone, not just MN SCBWI members.  You can find more information on the MN SCBWI website: (note that the page lists two different times for the workshop, 11:00 – 2:30, and 11:30 – 1:00. The actual workshop is 11:30 – 1:00, with the additional time available for setup, clean up and schmoozing).


obnoxious librarian parent: parent volunteer edition

obnoxious librarian parent volunteered to run the Germany table at “Culture Night” (which should really be called “Countries of the World Night”, but that’s beside the point).  Now obnoxious librarian parent is trying to figure out if she can just cite Wikipedia because she’s tired doesn’t feel like tracking down a better source for the fact that the printing press was invented by a German.  That said, obnoxious librarian parent is  delighted that she gets to cite the Deutsches Currywurst Museum, which claims that around 800 million Currywurst are eaten each year in Germany. (Data and Facts, Deutsches Currywurst Museum Berlin, 2014)

Stapler update

Game of Staples

When Jasper failed to return to the stapler table, we moved on. What more could a library do? And so Khaleesi joined us.

But what’s this I see, on a busy Sunday afternoon?

Jasper has returned!  Looking a little scratched, but here he is!  Though given the back-story to Khaleesi, I think maybe I’ll set Jasper in a drawer for his safety (and to have as a back-up, should Khaleesi decide to move on).

Butch update

Our biggest problem with the heavy-duty staplers? People not believing them when they jam the first time.  So they try stapling again.  And again.  And another 6 times, apparently.  I removed 9 staples all jammed in there.


obnoxious librarian parent: image copyright edition

Obnoxious librarian parent makes her 2nd grade daughter use only images licensed for reuse in her report on rabbits, even though those images were printed out, and then cut and glued in to the report.  Obnoxious librarian parent also made her daughter include citations for each image.

I was pleased to hear from my husband that when he later tried to help our daughter find one additional picture, she insisted that they only use images marked for reuse and that they make sure to note the information of where the image was from.  Information literacy starts at home?

The circle of academic stapler lives

Just last week, a student worker and I were talking about staplers and we pulled up the stapler spreadsheet, and lo and behold, that very day was the 5 year anniversary of us naming our staplers.  Our current stapler, Jasper, had survived 6 months, and we were cautiously optimistic that we’d be celebrating another stapler birthday in the Spring.

But then this morning, I awoke to the news that Jasper was gone.  All to often, our staplers don’t break or stop working, they just simply disappear.


A stapler’s birthday

As I’ve written about before, We’ve been naming our staplers now for 4 1/2 years as a way to encourage our students to handle our staplers just a little bit more gently, and to encourage them to leave them at the library rather than taking them home.  It’s been pretty successful, and kind of a fun.  We’ve had 19 staplers in our reference since our first one, Alice.  But one of my favorites has to be Gigi, who holds the record for longest-lived stapler  by a long shot.

Gigi was first set out on the reference table by the printers on October 16, 2013 (coincidentally, that’s one day after my youngest daughter’s birthday).  Gigi hung around and stapled papers together all through that fall term, all through our winter break, our winter term, spring break and spring term.  She’d go missing every once in a while over summer, and another stapler would help fill in, but she’d always turn up.  And so this fall, we realized we might actually get to celebrate a stapler’s birthday.

Let me tell you that the weeks leading up to Oct. 16, 2014 were kind of stressful.  Every time Gigi would run out of staplers, or would get moved to a different location, my heart would lurch that maybe this would be it for her.  But she was a tough old stapler, and so as the weeks went by, we realized that if we wanted to celebrate her birthday, we’d have to plan it.

10272497_10152789574165987_5413806247194651811_oThis is where my comment about my daughter’s birthday comes in.  Actually both of my daughters have October birthdays, so I should have been planning their parties.  Instead, I found myself working on a party hat and cake for a stapler.  It is not easy making a birthday hat for a stapler.  There are no Pinterest boards for stapler birthday parties.  I think perhaps there should be.  Gigi’s cake is cut out from a birthday card.  She stapled in to it a couple of times.

We ended up decorating our table where our staplers live with their unnamed tape and 3 hole punch friends (those never seem to go missing).  We made a birthday card for Gigi and encouraged students to sign it.


Gigi celebrates with her friends. We never ended up naming or decorating the tape or 3 hole punch, but they did get party hats.


The rock hammer is a joke of mine. I always include a rock hammer for scale (it’s approx. 13″) with birthday photos so you can compare pictures across time and see how much someone has grown.

Unfortunately, Gigi’s cooperativeness declined rapidly after her party.  She started jamming a lot more.  She spit staples at me, and bit another librarian, so we retired her in November.  After Gigi came Hugo, who was really not even a little bit up to the job.  He’d fake being out of staples, and basically wouldn’t work at all.  He was fired shortly after he started.  Our current stapler is Izzy, who’s been with us since December.  Perhaps we’ll get to have another birthday party in 10 months.

Stapler graveyard

This is an addendum to my post on care and feeding of academic staplers.  It was originally posted on my other blog, Tragic Optimist.  I moved it here as I want to keep my library-related writing in one spot.

Since naming our staplers, we hadn’t been throwing them away, but instead were keeping them in a box in the back that was labeled “stapler cemetery.”  In fall 2012 when we were trying to come up with an idea for Halloween decorations, we decided to do an actual stapler cemetery, which we set up out in front of the library.

Swingline Cemetery. I am a good librarian, but I am not artistic. Luckily, others at the library are.

The full cemetery. Not big, but it doesn’t need to be for staplers.

Beloved, Alice, our first named stapler rises from the dead to feast on stapler flesh.

Update: Shortly after this was written, the final weekend of our fall term, 2012, Annike stopped stapling papers.  She nearly made it the full term, and holds the record for our longest-lasting stapler.  She has been replaced by Balil, who will undoubtedly serve the library admirably.

On the care and feeding of academic staplers

This was originally posted on my other blog, Tragic Optimist.  But as I’m resurrecting my academic librarian blog, I think it really belongs here.

So those who know me on Facebook have probably noticed that many of my status updates have to do with the adventures of our staplers at work.  Those updates seem to interest a lot of my friends, it’s even been suggested that I write a book on the topic.  But writing a book is intimidating, so instead, I’ll just put down our hard-won wisdom in a blog post…


For those that need a bit of background: I work in a library at a small college – but a college that expects its students to write a lot.  And to hold their papers together with staples.  Also, at this particular college, the library gets a lot of use, and so, our staplers get a lot of use, too.  And not all loving use.  Also, some students walk away with our staplers.  What this boils down to is that we go through a lot of staplers.  A crazy lot of staplers.  Enough so that we started investigating ways to encourage our students to be a little more gentle with them, and to leave them in the library.

How not to keep a stapler

We started off by labeling our staplers with the oh so creative label of “RefDesk” or “Library: Do NOT remove.”  The staplers would still disappear with pretty alarming frequency.  We tried chaining the stapler to a table, but when the stapler broke (as it always did), it was a pain to unchain the broken stapler, and then attach that chain to the new one.  Plus, there were still plenty of times when we’d look up from the reference desk to see the chain dangling off the side of the table, with nothing on the other end.  We even bought a beeper thingy to help you find lost keys.  Basically you attach a beeper to the stapler, and then you have a remote that is supposed to set the beeper off when you push a button.  We thought that might help us find the stapler if it just moved to another part of the room.  But the beeper just didn’t work well.  I don’t know if it was the book shelves or  what, but when we pushed that button to find our wayward stapler, the beeper wouldn’t go off, even if the attached stapler was near by.

Broken staplers, broken dreams

Our second problem was that when the staplers did stick around, they broke very quickly.  Many would jam, some would just cease to work for more mysterious reasons.  We tried a lot of different types of staplers.  Ones that guaranteed that they’d never jam.  Ones that were surprisingly expensive.  And as good librarians, we even sent an email to a listserv asking other librarians for their preferred staplers, and tried those recommendation.  We experimented with different types of staples, too.  But to our surprise, it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference which stapler we used – we were still spending an insane amount of time trying to perform emergency stapler surgery at the desk.  We started keeping a pair of needle-nosed pliers in our drawer to help with the jams.  But they still broke, and once a stapler started to jam a lot, the best needle-nosed pliers in the world wouldn’t help.

A new strategy, a new hope

We briefly tried going without a stapler since it was starting to get expensive.  The outcry was great and immediate.  How could we do this to our students?  What would the professors do when faced with papers that might get out of order, theses becoming even more disorganized, problem sets answered out of order.  For the love of all that’s holy, won’t somebody think of the papers?!?

So we figured that if we had to provide staplers, and any stapler we chose was going to break any way, we’d just go back to an inexpensive basic stapler, and buy boxes and boxes of them.  Then, if a stapler went missing, or it got broken, we’d just put a new one out.  No more worrying, no more experimenting or trying new combinations.

At about the same time, we heard an interesting story from our colleagues at the computer helpdesk in the next building over.  They also had stapler woes that mirrored ours.  And in a fit of bitterness, instead of making a label for a stapler that said “Helpdesk” they gave it a name, one that I’ve since forgotten, but let’s say it was “Bud” (a helpdesk colleague tells me the name was actually “Charlie”).  Bud far outlived any other stapler they had.  He was returned.  Students seemed more respectful and less likely to staple harshly with him.  We were intrigued.

The name of a stapler

This was the tipping point.  This is when our staplers started to have a fighting chance.  We decided that we’d name our staplers in a scheme similar to how hurricanes are named.  Every new year, we’d start off with a stapler whose name started with “A.”  Once that stapler was lost, the next one would start with the letter “B.”

Alice was our first.  She was introduced to campus in Fall of 2010, along with a sign explaining her background, and the travails of those who came before her.

Meet Alice, the newest library stapler

Alice is our newest stapler. She is the latest in a long line of previously-unnamed compatriots who valiantly gave their lives in the noble service of holding your papers together. They endured—until they could endure no more—horrific slamming, pounding, whomping, and jamming, multiple painful staple extractions, and the unrealistic expectations of those who thought a mere office desk stapler could bite through a fifty-page stack of reserve readings.

But now things will be a little different. Alice (who claims she is guaranteed jam-free, but we’ll see about that) will help us keep track of how many staplers we go through in a year. Like a tropical storm or hurricane, Alice’s name indicates that she is the first of her kind for the year. If—saints preserve us—she falls in the line of duty, she will be replaced by Bert. If Bert falls, then Claudia. And so forth.  We hope Claudia will get to stay in her snug, warm closet until well into 2011. But if spring rolls around and we’re already up to Xavier, Yolanda, or Zigmund, you’ll know that this academic year has been…STAPLERGEDDON!!!”

Each stapler after Alice also had a sign with a little background on that stapler.  It got to be draining for one person to come up with background on all the staplers, so we assigned librarians to choose a name and make a sign for the next few staplers. That first year, we went through Alice, Bert, Claudia, Diego, and finally, Edna.  That may seem like a lot, but that was far slower rate of stapler loss than we’d previously been through.  The next year, we went through Abner, Bertha, Charaka, Dolores, Elmer, and Fatima.  It seemed like we’d stabilized on a 5-6 staplers a year stapler loss rate.  Compared to previous years, this was a huge improvement.

We’re librarians, of course we keep a spreadsheet on our staplers.

There is at least one drawback to naming the staplers.  When they’re given names, it’s much easier to become attached to them.  On many occasions, I’ve gotten quite upset when Dolores or Claudia or one of our other staplers went missing.

Enter Butch

Before calling customer support for advice, we tried to clear jams by stapling over a pencil. That resulted in the loss of at least one pencil.

But while the staplers were lasting longer, they were not so good at holding together papers with more than 20 pages.  And there were plenty of students printing out papers at least that long if not longer.  We finally settled on getting a heavy duty stapler.  Which we named Butch.  Butch was massive, and tricky, and picky, but he sure did staple through a lot of pages – and on at least one occasion, a pencil.  Butch was complicated enough that I’ve had to call a customer support line to get help with un-jamming him (the woman on the other end of the line was extremely helpful, though she did have to look the answer up).  We keep Butch right near us at the reference desk, because filling Butch was hard, and heaven help you if you put non-heavy duty staplers in to Butch or try to staple a stack with fewer than 20 pages.

Still, we’ve been through a few Butches as well.   I don’t remember what happened with Butch and Butch, Jr, but Butch the 3rd recently got heavy duty staplers stuck in his base, and even when we’d remove them, the next time someone came to staple, they’d get stuck again.  That led to my second call to stapler customer support (tell me, how many of you have called for stapler support?  And how many have called twice?  That’s what I thought).  Thankfully, since our Butches are not cheap staplers, Butch 3 was under warranty, and thus, Butch the 4th arrived in the mail just a few days later.

Annike and the miracle of the missing label-maker

Annike, our longest-lived stapler to date. May she continue to staple papers for many months to come.

Our biggest breakthrough came this fall.  When we put our new stapler, Annike, out, we couldn’t find the label-maker that we’d previously used to label all of our staplers.  So in desperation, a couple of librarians used shiny permanent marker and wrote her name on the stapler.  Annike has lasted the whole fall term.  She’s still going strong (though finals start on Saturday, and I’m kind of scared I may have jinxed her).  Still, if this rate continues, we’ll only go through 3 staplers at most this year!


For anyone else facing high stapler turn-over and loss, here’s my recommendations:

  • Name the staplers, it’s fun, and people seem to identify with them a bit, and treat them a bit better.
  • Signs with the background stories for each are great, too.  Spread the work around so someone isn’t saddled with being creative all the time.
  • Decorate the staplers, because that seems to help even more.
  • Invest in a heavy-duty stapler (with a warranty) to help with the big jobs.
  • Don’t be afraid to call the customer support line for the stapler.


Updated Feb. 11, 2015: 6 1/2 years later, I’ve decided to bring this blog back.

After realizing that I’m really not able to maintain 3 blogs, I’ve decided to merge this blog with my personal one, the Tragic Optimist.  Good-bye artificial barriers between my personal and professional lives.  Not that it was ever much of a barrier to begin with.

I’ll leave this blog up in case anyone comes across links to any of my posts (not terribly likely), but I won’t update any more.