Friday, June 23, 2017

Some stuff I've learned doing interlibrary loan

This may be a bit arcane to folks who don't work in a library, or those with no knowledge whatsoever of the process of getting materials from a library that isn't your own.  If you've never gone and looked at it, will tell you what its participating libraries (and there are a lot of them in the U.S.) have, and depending on your privacy settings, where the closest copy is to you.  WorldCat is a product of OCLC, and it facilitates a large chunk of the inter-lending that goes on in the library world.

If we don't have a book, we can probably get it for you.  The main caveats generally are that, firstly, some other library has to own it; secondly, they have to be willing to send it; and thirdly, it can't cost us an arm and a leg.  Some libraries don't do interlibrary loan, or do so on a limited basis, especially because of the third factor, but also because, depending on the library and the population of patrons using it, the demand may be overwhelming for their available staff.  For large libraries, though, and especially academic libraries, interlibrary lending is just part of the deal.

The process is much more streamlined now than it used to be.  Even the libraries who don't have specialized software - even if they don't participate in WorldCat themselves - can use WorldCat's public interface to try to locate materials.  OCLC's database of library catalogs is a huge step up from the old union lists and printed catalogs for finding materials from another library.  There's many fewer incidences of just phoning around trying to find something.  Requests no longer come in via teletype, and although we haven't completely moved away from paper request forms on all fronts, electronic requesting has by and large taken over.  And if we do have trouble finding something?  There's a mailing list where the desperate can plead their case for you, their patrons.  (It's used for a lot of other discussion, sure, but "Please help!" requests are daily occurrences.)

Anywho, there are things you pick up on after a while doing interlibrary loan.  Some of them are intuitive, and sometimes you get surprises.
  • Just because only three libraries own something doesn't mean one of them won't send you their copy.
  • The mail doesn't lose nearly as many things as you worry they will.  Depending on your volume, something is probably going to get lost, but for us it's about an item a year, and sometimes it's not so much lost as it got eaten somewhere by the mail processing machines, and you at least got the digested remains back.
  • Textbooks aren't going to come back till the end of the semester.  Sometimes this is okay - that chemistry text from the '90s?  Yeah, sure, I hope your homework problems match up.
  • Invoices are sometimes the best thing you can do to help your borrowing libraries get things back from their more stubborn patrons.  (I know they tend to work on ours.)
  • Ranganathan's Laws really do apply.  Books are for use, and if copyright allows, hell yeah, I'll scan stuff out of our historical collections, but a lot of it's too rare or fragile to leave special collections and go through the mail or a parcel service.  It's not that we're the only holder in OCLC; it's that it can't be replaced anymore because we're the only copy outside the nebulous world of private ownership.  That's probably why you're asking for it from us.
  • It's usually pretty obvious when a library is desperate to get an item from you.  When a library places a request for an item from another library, they select five to fifteen holding libraries for the "lender string."  When you're not the Library of Congress, which one requests items from by listing it as all five target libraries, and your library's symbol is the only one in the lending string, be it once or five times, you know you're probably their last resort.
  • Some packaging supplies, while effective, are particularly annoying for folks who regularly mail books.  Some padded envelopes use shredded paper as the padding between two layers of heavy paper.  This is fairly effective protection, actually, as long as the package doesn't get wet.  Unfortunately, the inner layer is vulnerable to the corners of books, which results in pulling a book out of a bag, only to find it infested with pulverized paper fluff.
  • Speaking of mailing supplies:  Tape over staples as a method of closing a mailing bag is bad.  Effective, but dangerous. 
  • LVIS is awesome, but if you're the only LVIS library that lists your holdings for a moderately expensive journal in OCLC, it's going to be your #1 requested journal.

Monday, May 15, 2017


So I was thinking about the Evansville stockyards on my drive into work this morning.

When I was a kid, sometimes Grampa would take us with him when he took hogs into town to the stockyards.  These trips are among my earliest memories; we were still living in the trailer, and we moved out of the trailer when I was three.  I'm realizing that most of my earliest memories are tied to one geographic location, which is more or less where the trailer stood.

Anyway, the stockyards.  I don't remember the stockyards themselves, rather than just Grampa's old red truck with the high-sided back that he used for hauling hogs into town, until I'm maybe six or so.  The stockyards had loading docks for trucks to back up to, then a series of interconnected holding pens to move the hogs up to the scales as they became available, as well as some walkways.  Over the pens, up in the rafters, there were catwalks.

We (us kids) didn't always go up in the catwalks.  I think it depended how long Grampa had to wait for the hogs to get to the scales and get paid.  I don't even remember how us going up in the catwalks got started, but we weren't sneaking around, just keeping busy.  You could wander over most of the stockyards via the catwalks, which I think were accessed by stairs from the scales office.  It was a bit of a maze, and we got kind of lost over the cattle half of the stockyards once, prior to which it hadn't occurred to me that the stockyards were for more than hogs.  Sometimes to keep going you had to jump a gap of a few feet, which seemed quite far when you're six or eight.

A lot of random memories are tied into the stockyard trips.  The vending machine at one of the feed stores that had grape soda of a brand no one else carried.  Stopping at a gas station (now closed) for candy based partly on how much Grampa had gotten for the hogs.  Spilling a whole package of Sixlets in the truck.

The stockyards closed sometime in the 1990s, a victim of the city having grown up around it, the declining local livestock economy, and probably other factors that I wasn't aware of at the time.  Grampa died in 1998, about five months before I met my now-husband and graduated from high school.  Experiences like this probably fed into various parts of my personality, but at this point in time what I'm wondering most is, who's going to take my niece exploring, and where?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Adult Red Dragon: Modified

So Part II of the campaign I'm currently running will send the players, eventually, into the British Isles.  In the course of putting this part together, I decided I might need to scale up a monster for thematic purposes, and I noticed that the rules for scaling up monster stats (to make them bigger) could be flipped, to scale them down.

The thought process went something like:
  • I hadn't decided where to send them yet in Scotland.
  • What about the Shetlands?
  • Shetland ponies.
  • Shetland dragons?
  • Just how far can you scale down a dragon?
  • Dragon swarms?
So what does it look like when you take, for example, an Adult Red Dragon and scale it down from Huge to Fine?

Something like this:

Adult Red Dragon
CE Fine dragon (fire)
Init +10; Senses dragon senses, smoke vision; Perception +23
Aura fire (5 ft., 1d6 fire), frightful presence (180 ft., DC 21)

AC 40, touch 24, flat-footed 34 (+16 natural, +8 size, +6 dex)
hp 127 (17d12+17)
Fort +11, Ref +17, Will +15
DR 5/magic; Immune fire, paralysis, sleep; SR 25
Weaknesses vulnerability to cold

Speed 20 ft., fly 100 ft. (average)
Melee bite +22 (1d3-3 (1)), 2 claws +22 (1d2-3 (1))
Space 1/2 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks breath weapon (10-ft. cone, DC 24, 12d10 fire)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 17th)
At will—detect magic, pyrotechnics (DC 15), suggestion (DC 16)
Spells Known (CL 7th)
3rd (5/day)—dispel magic, haste
2nd (7/day)—invisibility, resist energy, see invisibility
1st (7/day)—alarm, grease (DC 14), magic missile, shield, true strike
0 (at will)—arcane mark, light, mage hand, mending, message, prestidigitation, read magic

Str 5, Dex 22, Con 13, Int 16, Wis 17, Cha 16
Base Atk +17; CMB +15; CMD 22 (26 vs. trip)
Feats Cleave, Greater Vital Strike, Improved Initiative, Improved Iron Will, Improved Vital Strike, Iron Will, Multiattack, Power Attack, Vital Strike
Skills Appraise +23, Bluff +23, Fly +24, Intimidate +23, Knowledge (arcana) +23, Perception +23, Sense Motive +23, Spellcraft +23, Stealth +36
Languages Common, Draconic, Dwarven, Orc

This may need additional tinkering, and I'm not sure if or how to change the Challenge Rating, but I think if you can strap it to your gloves, you basically have a super beefed-up Burning Hands ready to go.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Particular sensory inputs stick with me, and similar stimuli will evoke memory of the place or experience they're associated with.  Sometimes these make it into a work of fiction, but usually they just come flooding back when triggered.  Here's some of them:
  • The sodium lights on I-271 in Cleveland:  You probably don't notice these during the day, but usually by the time we get to Cleveland, it's past 11 p.m.  Cleveland has lights at all its interstate exits and interchanges, at least on 71/271, and they're the super-tall, two- to six-light clusters of sodium lights - or at least they used to be; I don't know if they've started switching to LEDs yet.  It's a yellower light, and my husband is usually asleep at that point in the trip, so it's just me and a mostly empty highway and the sodium lights.  I haven't actually used this in a story yet, but they're a large part of the inspiration for a setting I've been working on. 
  • The barn (now gone) at my parents':  This is one of the stronger smell triggers - I've only run into it a couple times outside the barn itself, but it's a mix of musty and hay or straw and a hint of mud.  It is perhaps one of the most recognizable of smells for me.
  • The machinery barn at my grandparents':  This is the location evoked for me by the smell of engine grease.  I not infrequently have dreams set in this building.
  • Keemun tea:  I think the first time I bought keemun was because of the color of the container it came in from Twinings, but the flavor, my God.  It has layers.  Twinings eventually stopped carrying it, and I had to find somewhere else.  I picked up a new tin at Jungle Jim's on the way to my folks' for Christmas. 
  • The pineapple fried rice from Jasmine Thai:  This is probably in my top five flavor experiences; I got it kind of randomly because I've been trying to try different things from the Thai restaurant.  It's kind of savory bliss, curry without the heat, with occasional pops of sweet/sour from the pineapple chunks and cashews for a bit of crunch.
  • A ceiling fan under skylights:  The location for this is at a kind of run-down Burger King, but the pattern of light and shadow is particularly evocative.  I used this at the beginning of the first draft of Murena.
Most of these seem to be taste and smell, and a couple of light color/patterns thrown in. There are probably others, but these are the ones that get triggered enough for me to have noticed them.