Never Ask A Librarian If You Need A Haircut

I need to start using Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. It’s not that I’ve suddenly developed a passionate interest in wanting to share videos, selfies, images with a quirky commentary, or comment on unusual tweets, but it’s because I became aware that you use hashtags when you post something; a word or an unspaced phrase that you make up to describe what you think your messages or image is all about. And then it came to me; hashtags are the digital Subject Headings of the Internet. Surprisingly, I hadn’t thought about Subject Headings since the days of studying librarianship. The epiphanous shiver that went down my back had to be caused by my memories of Minnie Sear.

image source:jmcadam

I was introduced to Subject Headings and Minnie Sears in the mid seventies when I studied Bibliographic Organisation; part of my librarianship studies at the Melbourne State College. The course was divided into sections; one being Subject Headings. The catalogue description read; the principles of subject cataloguing, studied through their application in the current edition of the Sears List of Subject Headings, and through the procedures required to establish new Subject Headings and reference structures in areas not covered by published lists. To the uninformed, Subject Headings could be seen as mundane, pedantic, and nitpicking. On the contrary; in the early nineteen hundreds, the square peg in the round hole of cataloguers, Minnie Sear, worked in small and medium sized American libraries. The Library of Congress Subject Headings was the defacto standard for descriptors used for indexing and cataloguing. The larrikin librarian, Minnie, thought these subject heading descriptors were too detailed, specific, and technical for where she worked; she simplified them, and came up with a revised list. Minnie Earl Sears first published her List of Subject Headings for Small Libraries in 1923; renamed The Sears List of Subject Headings in her honour after her death in 1933. And for six hours a week for one semester I lost myself in the mystical world of cataloguing and the artistry of Minnie’s Subject Headings.

image source:pixabay

I became so impressed with the concept of using standard descriptors to described events, thoughts, and happenings that I started to use Subject Headings in my speech. I called them hashtags, and sometimes I made up words with letters, digits, and underscores. I should have published them as McAdams Magical List of Hashtag Headings. I started putting my hashtags before and after everything I said.

Me: hashtag australiangreeting
Fellow Librarianship Student: g’day john; wanna grab a few frosties?
Me: hashtag alcohol_consuming sounds good
Fellow Librarianship Student: see ya at the Rose and Crown
Me: no rivermurrays mate hashtag
Later at the Rose and Crown
Fellow Librarianship Student: g’day john; what are ya drinking
Me: hashtag reckon i’ll have a green1
Fellow Librarianship Student: no worries
Me: thought I might be drinkingwithflies before I saw ya hashtag
Fellow Librarianship Student: no worries mate
Me: hashtag tide’s_gone_out_my_shout

For most of the time I was at the Melbourne State College I shared a single fronted Federation style house in McIlwraith Street Carlton and rode a bike around Melbourne. I didn’t ride a bike to challenge the mid seventies car dominated culture of Melbourne, or to see the city and it’s suburbs in a new and interesting way; I rode a bike because I was back in Australia after spending close on a year wandering through South East Asia and the Middle East, and I didn’t have a brass razoo.

image source:jmcadam

It was a vintage yellow bike without a cross bar; back then it was called a ladies bike. It had a 3 speed hub gear with the gear changer on the handle bars, a back wheel handbrake with the lever for the break on the handle bars, a bell on the handle bars, and a headlight that ran off a dynamo on the front tyre, on the handle bars. The bike didn’t have a front basket so I carried my belongings in a string bag that I would rap around a hand grip on the handle bars. It was before the age of the urban cycling; before bike lanes, Lycra bicycle shorts and skinny jeans, bicycle helmets, sculptured facial hair, bike stands, and bicycle-friendly cafes. It was when you road on the tram tracks and the footpaths.

When I was a young lad and started at Williamstown Tech I rode a bike to school; and I rode it down the same streets for next next five years. I think mum made us practice the ride a couple of times before the school year started; she and dad followed in the car. Mum knew exactly how long it took to ride to school and she made us leave the house every morning so we would get to school, with time to spare, before the locker bell and the start of class.

I remember the first day at Melbourne State College and my first library studies class, as well as I remember Bibliographic Organisation and Subject Headings. The house in McIlwraith Street was about a mile from the College. The day began with a warm summer morning. I left the house fifteen minute before class started; more than enough time for a leisurely ride down Lygon Street, enough time to throw the bike somewhere and lock it, and then find the building and room for my first class. I didn’t practice riding by bike before classes started.

image source:google

I was half way down Lygon Street and I realised I was going to be late for my first class. I pushed on the pedals. My tee shirt became damp, and wet with perspiration; sweat flowed down my back and through the waistband of my cut off corduroy shorts. My shoulder length hair became damp and matted. I threw the yellow bike onto a bush and dashed into a building in the shadow of the heritage 1888 building. The door to the classroom was closed; I opened it and found myself looking down into a medium size, tiered, lecture theatre. I was late for class. The instructor at the front of the theatre had started lecturing; they gestured to a seat in the front row. Forty five women, and three males, turned their heads and their eyes followed me as I walked down the aisle and into the seat in the front row.

Back in the seventies it seemed as if there were a high percentage of females studying for a diploma, or degree, in secondary school librarianship. Males mostly taught mathematics, science, solid geometry, or the trades, coached the school football and cricket teams, were in charge of the lockers, and were the caretakers of the school timetable. I wonder if the forty five women and three males, thought of the aspiring educational technologist walking down the lecture theatre aisle in a sweaty tee shirt and corduroy shorts, with long damp hair and a beard, wearing thongs and carrying his books in a string bag, in the same way cataloguers once thought of Minnie Sears.


I was early for the first day of every other class. I chose a seat in the back row for Comparative Librarianship. It was promised in the syllabus that the course would compare the different functions and services of Australia’s national, public, educational and special libraries; as well as the library systems in other technically advanced countries such as: England, France, West Germany, North America, China, Russia, Australia, and Scandinavia. The comparison of library systems was also going to include, what were considered as developing countries at the time: Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua-New Guinea, and India. The final topics for the class were national and international library co-operation, the formation of national bibliographies, union catalogues, and international library associations and organisations. I realised quickly that this class was going to be a challenge; I employed a strategy for success. It was an early morning once a week class. I sat in the back row with the morning newspaper, and, after reading the news and sports section did the crossword. I always had a pencil in my hand, and it seemed as if I was taking notes and highlighting parts of the handouts. I used the asking a question ploy as well as the pencil in the hand ruse; regardless of the topic I waited until the last ten minutes of the class, and would feign curiosity and interest with a compare and comparison, or a I’m still confused type of question.

I’m still a little confused about the use of see and see also cross references in the Australian Technical School catalogue compared to the Subject Headings used in Indonesia Junior High School catalogues.


Comparative Librarianship caused my own Catch 22. I contrasted my new found knowledge of the libraries of the world with my past journeys through South East Asia, Burma, Nepal and India, and the Middle East. And I mused as to what could have been if instead of wandering Darjeeling’s steep curved pathways, and twisting streets lined with shops and market stalls, I had been reviewing the Darjeeling Deshbandhu District Library policies relevant to the number of digits truncated after the decimal point in their Dewey classification; or in place of being lured into the seedy and provocative charm of the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, nightclubs, and hotels of Bangkok’s Patapong district I could have been at the National Library of Thailand exploring their standards and procedures for storing and preserving intellectual property.

My twelve months of librarianship classes came to an end. I moved out of the McIlwraith Street house and into the Western Suburbs, and started the second year of my “I’ve gone back to college one more time” lifestyle; studying educational technology at the State College Victoria Toorak. I retired the ladies yellow bike without a cross bar, and took trains and trams to the State College in Glenferrie Road. Studies in: Theoretical Foundations of Educational Technology, Curriculum Studies. Educational Psychology, Theory of Educational Technology, Educational Media Studies, and Educational Administration caused my love affair with Subject Headings to wane.

I need to spend some time reflecting about defining dictionaries as descriptive or prescriptive. Consider the Australian National Dictionary; it records the historical development of Australian words and phrases from their earliest use to the present day. It’s 2018 Word of the Year was Canberra bubble; short listed words were: bag rage, blockchain, drought relief, fair dinkum power, and NEG.

Prescriptive or descriptive; I need to ponder that conundrum over a few frosties: #confusing #questionmark #descriptiveandprescriptive.


1888 Building, Part Of Former Melbourne Teachers College

National Library Of Australia

Cycling: City Of Melbourne

And How Would You Like Your Risk

The white grub larvae were causing patches of dried dead zoysia grass to multiply at breakneck speed. It’s not that you could play a match of lawn bowls on the grass in the back yard but it was looking like a patchwork quilt, and late August is the ideal time to throw some grass seed down. I decided enough is enough so I spent a couple of afternoons digging and peeling back rolls of dead zoysia. Before I could spread turf-type tall fescue seeds, fescue with a deep growing root system so the grass plants can access water without me turning on the hose every second day, I had to fill the craters that were left after I removed the brown dead carpets of zoysia. I find it odd that you go to a home improvement retail store to buy a bag of dirt. I left with a one and a half cubic foot bag of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil-Vegetables and Herbs; fortunately, the bag was an Easy-To-Carry Shape. I cut open the bag and thrust my hands into the rich soil. Welcome back to mother earth, and then my attention was taken over by the warning on the back of the bag: Use With Adult Supervision.


image source:johnmcadam

My arms and hands blurred as I hurriedly pulled them from the black, silky, warm, soil and hysterically shook them; what danger could lurk within the rich, inviting, loam. I examined the bag looking for a list of recommended safety measures to use to get the dirt out of an Easy-To-Carry Shape bag. I lost count of the number of times I turned the bag over and over but I found nothing. Usually, when I am exposed to risk I endeavour to reduce that risk; so I prepared myself to remove the dirt risk-free. Using my finely honed risk management skills I evaluated the need for; safety helmet with a face shield, comfort cup respirator, safety goggles, ear muffs, protective coveralls, and chemical resistant gloves. I stared into the bag and became fixated on the soil; when I raised my head my legs were curled over at the knees and I was hanging ten feet above the ground and swinging upside down from the monkey bars in Williamstown’s Commonwealth Reserve. As I swung to and fro I could see the Gem Pier, the shops and bluestone buildings of Nelson Place, the Band Rotunda, and across the bay the distant skyline of Melbourne.



The playground in the Reserve was made up of a wooden see-saw, swings, and monkey bars. The monkey bars were made of metal piping and straddled a patch of foot-worn, trampled, turf; it was more bare, hard dirt than grass. And that is what you would fall onto. On hot summer days, the monkey bar metal was baking hot and after swinging and crossing the bars a few times you would have blisters on your hands. Leg fights were a popular activity. You and another combatant would start from each end of the monkey bars, and as you approached each other both of you would start kicking and flailing your legs trying to knock each other off the bars and onto the compacted ground. The ultimate was, to place a leg scissor lock around your adversary’s waist or thighs, and fling them to the compressed, packed, ground below. Sometimes you both went down.

One trip down the metal slide baking in the hot midday sun usually was good for a few thermal burns to the back of the thighs; or cuts into your legs from the jagged, angled, sharp metal edges where the metal surface seams had separated. There were no side rails so it was easy to create a deliberate flip and free-fall off the slide on the way down. And you didn’t even think about getting a concussion, breaking your neck, or knocking out a few teeth when you did a head-first journey down the slide.



Each see-saw was a wide thick wooden plank, aged from the elements, usually with splinters and had the tops of bolts poking out where the plank was attached to its metal A-frame. The only reason for the see-saw was to bounce the person on the opposite end onto the ground. This was attempted by teasing the flight of the see-saw. Teasing was done by bouncing from the knees and then randomly generating a full bounce up; pushing the wooden plank skywards, hoping that your opposite end partner had released their grip because their cramped fingers could no longer hold on to the plank; and sending them falling to the ground. Or if they managed to stay on the see-saw you would try for an immediate uber bounce before they had the chance to recalibrate their balance and equilibrium. The see-saw was also used to explore the world of physics; if your opposite moved close to the centre fulcrum you had the benefit of effort overload and could give them a wild bumping, bouncing ride. And we challenged each other to Run the See-Saw; you ran up the see-saw until you reached its fulcrum so that it would go bouncing to the ground, and you had to keep your balance as you ran down the see-saw.



Mum encouraged our adventurousness. If you fall and break your neck, don’t come crying to me was her most common feedback, and her advice for healing any cuts, abrasions, or bruises was; go swimming at the beach the saltwater is good for it, or let the dog lick it.

It seems our knockabout playscapes of yesteryear have morphed into risk-free, educationally interactive environments; a far cry from the landscapes where we learned that life was a harsh and unforgiving adventure. The compacted soil and ground surrounding what we played on has been replaced by wood mulch, sand, or recycled rubber mats; and we insist that playground quality sand is used and that the recycled rubber is lead-free. And those towering metal slides have been replaced with moulded polyethylene with ultraviolet stabilization, anti-static inhibitors, and double-wall construction; along with their height and slope being shrunk to conform to Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. One of today’s cardinal rules for playground safety is you must take off your bicycle helmet before playing on the playground equipment. We never had that rule when I was growing up; we never had bike helmets. Since that Christmas morning when I found a two-wheel bike at the end of my bed, and through adolescence and adulthood, I never once wore a helmet.



It is acknowledged by Melbourne’s bike-riding community that Williamstown provides all the ingredients for a great bike ride; today it is included in several of Melbourne’s listings of best bike rides. I rode many of those relaxing and popular wide bike paths as a young lad; but we had to make the paths across bumpy, rocky foreshores, maneuver through local streets and the shopping centres of Douglas Parade, Ferguson Street and commercial Nelson Place, and dodge our way across, and through, the football and cricket matches at the local parks and reserves. And when we fell off our bike we proudly wore as a badge of honour our stitches, bruises, cuts, or plaster casts.

As a thirty-something young man, and before the dawning of the age of the urban cyclist, I used up a couple of years riding a bike through and around Melbourne. There were no bike lanes and sometimes you remembered to lock your bike; there were no bike racks or stands and you never walked the bike; you never road on the tram tracks when they were wet and you had just a bike, not a road or commuter bike. And you never had a bike helmet. I had a yellow bike without a crossbar; the style was known as a girls bike.



I recently read that the city of Melbourne in partnership with the Victorian Government has provided a Bike Pod for the convenience of urban bike riders; the pod provides free bike parking, and shower and change space, for anyone who cycles to the city. Facilities include.

two self-contained showers
basin and mirror
changing space
clothes hooks
bench seat
floor heating for comfort and drying
stainless steel floor for hygiene
an automated door with a time-lapse for security

Whoa, fair suck of the sauce bottle; where was my bike pod. In the early seventies, I studied Library Science at the State College of Victoria, Melbourne. I remember my first lecture class. It was a warm summer February morning. I left the house we were sharing in McIIwraith Street anticipating a leisurely ten-minute yellow bike ride down Lygon Street. I soon realized that I was going to be late for my first class. I pushed and pushed down on the pedals. My tee-shirt became damper and wetter with perspiration; my wettish shoulder-length hair grew more hopelessly matted. The doors to the lecture hall were closed. I opened the door and forty-five women’s, and three male, heads turned and watched. The only empty seats were in the front two rows.



In the good old days, my bike riding was a risky business. I didn’t wear a helmet or ride on three-foot-wide homogenized bike paths; and I didn’t carry water in a hydration pack, practice cycling citizenship, or worry about hygiene for cyclists. When I think back I admire my naive innocence; instinctively working at-risk compensation. Adjusting where and how I biked in response to what I perceived as a level of risk. And maybe that was just part of growing older and wiser; taking on risks, and riding the journey of life with no regrets. To prepare our present-day youngsters to become risk managers and risk-takers I think it’s time to start unwrapping the bubble wrap. We need to bring back yesterdays playgrounds and the distraction of; Drop the Handkerchief aka Duck Duck Goose, British Bulldog aka Red Rover, Brandy aka Dodge Ball, Cops and Robbers aka Cowboys and Indians, and Tiggy aka Tag.



The backyard grass should be ready for a match of competitive lawn bowls by next summer. Be warned; the game can be exhausting. Games can last for three to four hours without a break, and you can walk two or three miles and bend up and down more than 100 times; a potential risk for both back and knee injuries. The two risk management process steps that I always follow are identifying the risk and treating the risk; a lot of breaks for cold beers should take care of business.

The Bike Helmet Paradox

The Overprotected Kid

The Mystery of Risk

What Good is the Warmth of Summer Without Christmas

It seems that Christmas arrives earlier and earlier each year in Omaha. The interior of most department stores and shops, and even some houses, were festooned with Christmas decorations in the middle of November. Some stores were even decorating promptly after Halloween; maybe it’s just a Midwest custom. I am not really familiar with the traditional dates and origins of Christmas decorations and tree decorating but I thought convention suggests putting up the tree and decorating 12 days before Christmas day. I think my uncertainty over decorating dates is because as a youngster and teenager the days leading up to Christmas were always focused exclusively on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. As a young adult, when I spent several years working in the Victorian Education System, I again focused on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. Australian schools, colleges, and universities started their summer holidays usually the week before Christmas and recommenced at the end of January or early February; my teenager school holiday years were spent at the beach and not thinking about Christmas and Christmas decorations. It’s not that I was a disciple of Oliver Cromwell and wanted the good times of people just eating and drinking too much made illegal and traditional Christmas decorations like holly banned but Christmas was just not a hefty celebration.

santa surfing


Maybe it’s the early summer heat that causes a unique Australian Christmas and sways what northern Christmas traditions are celebrated. Many Australians spend Christmas out doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for their Christmas holidays. A lot of places hold a Carols by Candlelight; the words about snow and the cold winters are sometimes changed to special Australian words and there are also some original Australian Carols. When Santa gets to Australia he gives his reindeers a rest and uses six white boomers to pull the sleigh; and he changes into less hot clothes. On Boxing Day it’s fire up the barbie at the beach with the mates, catch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or spend the opening day of the Boxing Day Test between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Santa visited us on Christmas Eve and we would always leave something special and scrumptious for him on the kitchen table; sandwiches or biscuits that mum had made and sometimes a bottle of beer for the boomers. I remember the morning that my brother and I each found two wheel bikes at the end of our beds. It wasn’t the Malvern Star that we had hoped for but a refurbished bike; I know now that mum and dad couldn’t afford two Malvern Stars. I was excited to ride the bike and implored dad to take me and the bike outside to the nature strip and to hold the bike while I tried to ride it; dad let go of the seat early into my strange balancing performances. I and the bike fell down onto the grassy nature strip a few times and then I was riding; but turning successfully would take a little more practice. I soon mastered the length of Peel Street to Effingham Road. The more I road the bike the more the belief in myself surged and my doubts and insecurities about ever being a champion cyclist were silenced.



In the mid eighteen hundreds prison hulks were moored off Williamstown; the convicts quarried bluestone from Point Gellibrand during the day. Much of the bluestone was used as ballast for cargo ships returning to London from Melbourne but some was used for buildings and other constructions in Williamstown and Melbourne. It is romantic to think that the bluestones connecting Effingham Road and Eliza Street could have been quarried by the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly.

I had to ride, and conquer the bluestone lane. The lane was a short cut between Effingham Road and nanna’s place. Mum always warned us about riding the lane and the dangers of the uneven bluestones; the most humdrum injury according to mum was falling off the bike and smashing your head open on the bluestone. Her warnings of the hideous trauma and wounds awaiting on the bluestones stopped us bike riding the lane for a short time. Unbeknownst to mum we started to ride the bluestones. The bluestones were lopsided and disproportionate and they formed an incredible cragged riding surface.




One day the bluestones claimed me, and mum’s forewarnings materialised; I went crashing onto the bluestones and my wrist collapsed onto the raised edge of a stone; my left wrist was broken and the u shape of the stone edge was molded into my limb. After the first setting Dr Long had to rebreak the wrist because it wasn’t knitting correctly. The second breaking was done without chloroform. I kept riding the lane; sometimes to nanna’s for Christmas dinner.

The family always gathered at nanna and granddad’s for Christmas dinner; we would all get to her place about an hour before dinner. Mum, her sisters Peg and Bet would head for the kitchen and my brother and I with our cousins Andrew and Peter, Bruce was to young, would play in the front yard by the fig tree or in the back yard in the overgrown grass around the sleep out. I never did know what Dad and our uncles, Ian and Ken, did. Some years the dining room table held crackers or bon-bons. A small string of garland dressed the fireplace mantel on which a small eight inch, artificial, conical pine tree was positioned. The table had a similar tree as a centerpiece. Even though the temperature was always in the nineties nanna would have the kitchen gas stove and the wood burning stove going flat out. We always had roast pork, her crackling was always perfect, roast vegetables, roast lamb, and plum pudding. She would start her plum pudding at least four weeks before Christmas Day; she mixed fruit, suet, treacle, cloves, ginger, sixpences, threepences, and other ingredients, and then wrapped the mixture. After boiling the pudding in the pudding cloth was hung in the kitchen bathroom doorway until Christmas Day.

plum pudding

image:the cook and the curator

After our Christmas dinner the pudding was reheated by steaming and served with cream. We ate our pudding double quick looking for the sixpences and threepences. In later years we had to give nanna our sixpences and threepences, and in there place she would give us brand new sixpences and threepences; the Australian government had changed the silver content of coins and it was dangerous to put the new sixpences and threepences into puddings and into your mouth. As soon as we had recovered the sixpences and threepences from the pudding we were back outside playing in the hot summer afternoon.



As the years went by Christmas dinner moved to our place; it was just mum, my brother and I, nanna and granddad, and Mavis. Mavis joined us after her husband died. Mum maintained the traditional roast pork and lamb but added roast chicken. And there may have been a strand of silver garland around the dining room window and one of nanna’s Christmas trees on the table. Nanna’s plum pudding was replaced with a trifle or something similar. After the feast granddad and I exhausted would head for the lounge room under the pretext of watching television but to sleep off the Christmas dinner. In later years I would go down to the beach.

backyard cricket


Maybe I will ask Santa for a cricket bat, a few tennis balls and a couple of rubbish bins, for the stumps, this year so I can start the tradition of staging a twelve days before Christmas backyard cricket game; friends would then know when to start their Christmas decorating.



Carols in the City 2009:Colin Buchanan and Santa

Puddings, puddings, all year round

National Lampoon Christmas Vacation