Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scraps of Literacy: An Introduction

Before I was smacked by the idea of featuring those receipts which print out after someone has checked out books either through the self-checkout computer at the Valencia library, or at the front desk with the wildly varying number of librarians at that long counter at any moment, I never paid much attention to those receipts. By the time mine print out from checking out books at the front desk, I've accumulated a mile of paper. I'm not just a voracious reader, but also a fickle one. When I was younger, I would stick with books that didn't seem to be working, just because I felt I should make it to the end. Whether out of a foolish obligation to finish a book because of having started it already, or out of hoping that the book might get better, I believe what the young believe as they get older: I was dumb. Now if a book doesn't work for me, I close it and let it go. I did that recently with a book of lectures entitled "The Courage to Be" by Paul Tillich, as it contained dense language that my former critical reading, writing and thinking teacher from College of the Canyons would have had multiple orgasms over. A disturbing thought, as that teacher, Deanna Davis, never looked like the kind to engage in such pleasures. If she didn't agree with your opinion of a detailed essay she was teaching, to demonstrate various factors in a persuasive essay, she would dismiss it. She always favored those who agreed with her opinions. Never an open-minded sort.

I thumbed through a few pages of this book, skimming over passages, and I was horrified. This was exactly the kind of language I was subjected to in her class, of people writing in complicated ways to show off their presumptuous importance. Most of what was in the textbook required for the class was exactly that. Davis wrote the same way in her syllabus for the class and in other documents I have found online. You can't be sure that there's a human mind behind those words. Words should elicit passion. I don't think she's ever found it.

Now, stepping off that fast-moving tangent, I couldn't get into this book because as smart as I believe myself to be when reading, and having accrued so much vocabulary since starting to read at the age of 2, I couldn't make my way through this book. I was originally interested in it because it delved into topics close to me at the moment. The product description is thus, from Amazon.com:

"Paul Tillich describes the dilemma of modern man and points a way to the conquest of the problem of anxiety. This editions includes a new introduction reflecting on the impact of the book since it was written."

That's me. I'm not confident in my own work and am a little anxious about what might be ahead. I wonder what will be upon starting online courses from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and what comes after. Not what should be thought about at this point, I imagine, since apparently the "fun" of all this is in the discovery, but I've only been receptive toward that in certain things, and education is not one of those things. Discovering great movies, discovering involving books, yes. But this side of life, I'm trying to get used to that. I thought that the book might help ease some of those concerns and suggest ways to just face whatever's coming with calmness and confidence. Not overconfident, but just enough to make it all work. This was one of the sentences:

"Nonbeing is no threat because finite being is, in the last analysis, nonbeing"

My head's pulsing right now and I think I feel a sharp pain. Does anybody else smell toast?

Yeah, what I skimmed through was that bad. I don't expect the English language to be surgically clean, but words should at least be in an order that one can grasp, if not the first time, then at least the second or third time after, not the 30,456th time.

Getting back to the receipts, mine print out long at the front desk each week. Some of those I clipped into separate sections to make them easier to scan in my dad's classroom at his school last week. They're never an attention-getting length, since there hasn't been one instance where I've checked out 50 items at a shot. Before the new library computer system was installed countywide, the monetary limit for checking things out from the library was $500. So, at the library, I'd have to look at the inside flap of each book, note the price (they always went by the price the book carried), and add it all up to make sure I didn't end up over $500. This relatively new system (it's been a while now since it was set up) makes it a lot easier because I know where I stand at all times. My account is always at the maximum 50 items anyway.

While scanning this first round of receipts that day at my dad's school before my main work as a substitute campus supervisor, I noticed that there are distinct differences between the receipts given after items checked out at the front desk, and those that print out from the self-checkout computer, where you place the back of your card under the red scanner light and then place each item's barcode under that scanner to register, until you've scanned them all and take the card off from under the scanner. Then that receipt prints.

Here's what may be the first of the "scraps of literacy" to be mused over in a future entry:

Under the business about the location of this library, there's the time of when this transaction took place (03:35 pm). The items appear next, along with due dates which aren't entirely valid. 23:59 would be 11:59 p.m., and on the Friday that these DVDs would have been due (unless the patron renewed them online), the library's only open until 6 p.m. But it's a time standard for the entire computer system. They'd never tailor the due time to when each library in the countywide system closes. It was already enough of a great expense to bring over brand-new computers with brand-new conveniences for the library staff (such as receipts printing out whenver an item was scanned, and being notified that the item was to go to a different library. Before this sytem, librarians had to write out a hold receipt by hand with vertical strips of paper provided, filling out the required information. Now they just tap a button on the computer, the receipt prints out, they slip it into the book or DVD or CD, and the items are picked up to go to wherever the next destination is). People know when their items are due anyway.

The bottom of this receipt, with the number to call for renewals, or the website to visit, along with "Have a great day!" are only seen on these receipts from the self-checkout computer.

Now we come to the receipts given after checking out books from the front desk. I will use this one, from November 23, 2008 as the example. Don't mind the smudges. They come from having these things in improper storage. I only put all of them in a zip-top plastic baggie when I took them with me to my dad's school that day.

The differences here begin with the full address of the library printed on the receipt from the front desk. In each of the listings, there the "Item ID" with the number following, the "Date charged," noting the date, as well as the time it was checked out, and then the due date with the same time as the self-checkout receipts, 23:59. There's notations as well for whether something's a music CD, as you see there for "Brown and Roach, Inc." And the biggest difference, of course, is that more ink is used to print these receipts.

Now I can proudly say: Welcome to my reasons for this blog. More to come in the next few days, though with only 12 receipts to choose from so far (this past Sunday at the library was a wash for receipts since the outside of the entrance to the library, where one would normally find receipts crumpled and thrown around, was clean, and I'm not daring enough to go digging in the rectangular wastebasket, located under the machine where you add monetary value to cards used in the copy machines), I plan to space them out as far as I can without losing the rhythm.

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