Retreat to the library

(I’ve been back from Puerto Rico for a couple of weeks now, but for some reason I’d got it into my head that I had to write a “What I Did On My Vacation” post before I could write anything else, and I was having a hard time coming up with a creative non-chronological way to describe my wonderful holiday (all I’ve got so far is two genius/terrible puns, depending on who you ask, and a tenuous song lyric tie-in). But then I realised that I’m not in primary school any more and can write whatever I want, in whatever order I want! Being a grownup is so great!1)

My team at work had an all-day offsite retreat earlier this week. It was really great to have the whole group of 20+ people together for a whole day – we’re split over two sites, as are the department’s labs, offices and PIs – and we covered a good group of topics, with lots of interaction and creative ideas from everyone. During a drawing-based activity we even came up with a new team mascot – Bleb, the Super Project Manager! (Bleb wears a cape and is an amoeba, because a) PMs have to be very adaptable and b) amoebae are very easy to draw).

The retreat was in a meeting room at the main downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library, because that’s how cool we are. It’s a very interesting and attractive building, inspired by the Colosseum in Rome, with lots of light and space inside. I haven’t spent much time there before as I’ve always lived much closer to one or another of their satellite branches, so it was great to spend a whole day in the building, even though we didn’t get much time to explore. But I’ll be back more often now that I’ve remembered how nice it is!

Vancouver Public Library

[photo credit]

Being in a library all day was also a nice nostalgic flashback to my last couple of years of high school. It wasn’t generally a very happy time in my life, what with the bullying for being clever and all, but I did have a small group of close friends, and the library was one of our regular hangouts / refuges from the cruel outside world2. We were basically like six Hermione Grangers, if Hermione Granger was more timid and spent most of her clothing allowance at the Sweater Shop. The librarian was a terrifying old battle axe3 who’d transferred in from a rough inner city school somewhere down south, but gradually learned that not all students were evil book trashers4 and learned to tolerate our presence.

I observed two of my colleagues sniffing marker pens during the retreat, which may or may not have also been a flashback to high school5.

The absolute highlight of a fun day, though, was the extraordinarily good timing of two of the announcements that came over the library tannoy system:

  • one came during a session on the art of persuasion, while we were discussing creative tactics – the tannoy burst to life with a member of staff strumming a guitar and singing “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music, to persuade younger visitors to come to the 3:30 pm sing-along session (we didn’t get to go)
  • the other was even better, and came just as we were starting to discuss our team’s weaknesses, as part of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. “LOOKING FOR A NEW CAREER?” boomed the tannoy; “DON’T LISTEN TO THE VOICE!” yelled the boss.

Great stuff – and we came back to work yesterday to some very good news about some grant applications! Bleb, Super PM Amoeba, is very excited to get stuck into some juicy new projects…

1) see also: being able to eat leeks, one of my all-time favourite foods, whenever I want – even though my sister doesn’t like them. I’m actually eating some for breakfast right now (leftovers from my very leeky dinner last night – my local supermarket only sells them in bunches of three for some reason). Mmmmmm, leeks – I’ve been craving them ever since a recent series of mass work emails I got over the course of several days about a steam leak in our other building. All I could think every time a new message came in was “Mmmmmm, steamed leeks”.

2) we also spent a lot of time in the music department, even after all but one of us dropped music at the age of 16, because the teacher knew and trusted us and let us eat our lunch there completely unsupervised from the age of 14 on. As a result, I know how to play many different musical instruments – all of them really badly.

3) during her first year there, she featured very prominently in the annual Christmas show the older students put on for the younger ones. I myself was one of the main creative forces behind a school-themed reworking of Bohemian Rhapsody that involved one of my friends dressing in a leather skirt and death metal band t-shirt, brandishing a whip, and singing the “so you think you can love me and leave me to die” part as said librarian. Our version: “SO YOU THINK YOU CAN BORROW A BOOK FROM MY LIBRARY?! SO YOU THINK YOU CAN TALK AND BREATHE AIR IN MY LIBRARY??!!” “Oh, lady! Can’t you compromise, lady?” “NO! YOU JUST GOTTA GET OUT, I’M THROWING YOU RIGHT OUT OF HERE NOW!”

4) autocorrect tried to change that to “evil book tarsiers”, which is quite the mental image.

5) they were actually scented markers and my colleagues, as good scientists, were trying to figure out what the smell of each colour of pen was. The more pertinent question, however, is “why would anyone need scented marker pens? Doesn’t that encourage solvent abuse in young people? BAAAAAH”

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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9 Responses to Retreat to the library

  1. Frank says:

    Glad to see someone using the Library! We have started to encourage people to use the Institute library for meetings. Maybe I should start some tannoy announcements and songs.

  2. Oh, definitely. You’ll need to match the theme of the meeting though.

    Our organisation has its own, much much smaller library, although I don’t work in the building in which it resides any more. In my last job, where I was the only person in my general area without an office, things would sometimes get very, very loud and I’d take my laptop down to the library to work. In my new team, hardly anyone has their own office, and – contrary to my expectations – it’s usually much quieter, so I don’t need to escape. (When most people have an office, they don’t seem to understand how loud they’re being and how annoying it is when you can hear four separate conversations over your headphones and you don’t have a door you can close. However,s when most people don’t have an office, they’re more respectful of other people’s space and hearing).

  3. Steve Caplan says:

    What I’ve learned from your recent blog:

    1) Markers might be more fun than glue
    2) You like to take a leek (or 3)
    3) You work for a SWOT team


  4. Yay for non-standard meeting venues. I recently gave a talk at a conference in an art gallery*, which was fun.

    *ok, actually in the meeting hall entered through a side door into said art gallery, but there was some art hanging on the walls nearby, honest.

  5. Nina says:

    I used to spend a lot of time in that library during my year in Van with my grandma. She took me there one of my first days and made them give me a library membership (she was very good at making people do stuff…). I still have it and it always comes in handy when I’m in Vancouver. Also, the librarians are always supernice and tell me “Oh! it’s been quite a while since you took out any books here! Have you been living overseas? How exciting!”. Makes me feel I’m a Vancouverite a little bit anyway.

  6. chall says:

    aww…. the most lovely building, well – one of the coolest buildings there is 😉 And you’re close to teUBC libarary too though? It’s a great looking place too. Not to mention the old library that’s been in a lot of movies too.

    As for smelly markers, brings back memories! On another note, one day we might get to see that amoboe picture (esp since “it’s so easy to draw) 😉

  7. Steve, I’m definitely referring to it as a SWOT team from now on!

    Richard, seems legit. We didn’t have any actual books in our meeting room, by the way…

    Nina, your grandma sounds awesome! Although I would argue that thinking “I really should go to the library more” is more of a Vancouverite thing than actually going…

    Chall, I’ve actually never been to the UBC library – I’m not on campus. The amoeba picture resurfaced today, but is in the boss’s office right now. There was talk of getting someone artistic to turn it into a proper logo for us – the version we have is good but needs a little polish!

    • chall says:

      ah, me and wanting to put your work at UBC campus. sorry about that. You should visit though, it’s very modern style glass but stylish – not tacky. And the road outside does go all the way to the rose garden where you can overlook all the beautiful mountains and the sound (sp? water that goes into the bay)

      oh the memories…. 🙂

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