In the Doldrums

24 Feb

When I was in elementary school, I had a subscription to National Geographic World magazine (today called, National Geographic Kids). One issue featured a story about Robin Lee Graham, a teenager who circumnavigated the world alone in his 24-foot sloop, “Dove.” I was fascinated by the story, searched for the stories he wrote for National Geographic, and later, read his memoir that he titled after his boat. Over the years, I’ve become somewhat like Mel Gibson’s character, Jerry Fletcher, in the movie, Conspiracy Theory; the guy who compulsively buys copies of Catcher in the Rye. I have six copies of Graham’s book, as well as original copies of those National Geographic issues in which he reported about his travels. There’s something about the story that touched me when I was young and it’s always stayed with me. It’s the story of adventure; it’s the story of a kid who doesn’t quite fit in, yet finds a passion to follow; and it’s the story of a person moving freely and slowly through life, discovering the world in which we live. (You can read more about Robin’s story here.)

One photograph in the book shows Robin sitting, legs outstretched and controlling the rudder, staring off into the distance. He has a paperback in his hand, held open by a finger while it rests on the bench beside him. There is not a ripple in the water; not a sign of a breeze anywhere. The caption: “In the doldrums.”

The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. ~ Wikipedia

I have never sailed in the geographical doldrums, but I have been stranded in a motor-less sailboat when the wind dies. I have floated for a few hours, waiting for just enough of a breeze to get home. There’s not much to do, save put on some sunscreen and read a book. 

I thought of this picture this morning and pulled one of my copies of Dove off the shelf. “Yep,” I thought to myself, “that about sums it up.”

Most of the time, I sail through work with decent winds. Sometimes they require that I take a different tack, that I zig-zag, taking that back-and-forth approach to get to my destination. Sometimes they blow a bit too hard, producing rough seas. But for the most part, work-life provides a steady breeze to make the days go by filled with plenty of interesting and fulfilling activities. But, every now and then, I hit the doldrums.

A lot of my focus at work of late is focused on how we define, present, and raise the awareness of our patrons as to the services we provide. As you know, many of these services are new and/or different for us. Providing support around research data, embedding ourselves to provide tailored knowledge and information management services, tracking scholarly communications and research impact are all areas that are evolving and/or coming into being. One result of working in this climate is that I find I repeat myself over and over and over again. Similarly, I hear others doing the same time and again. I sit in meetings and conference calls and webinars and training classes and can’t help but feel, sometimes, that I’m stuck in the movie, Groundhog Day. I have lots of comments in the sidebars of my notes that say things like, “We’ve done this already” and “I heard this at so and so” and “See…” There are a lot of “see…” references. 

Of course, much of this is just what happens – better put, it’s what has to happen – if/when you want to be successful at raising the awareness of others, and marketing new ideas and services. You have to repeat yourself many times to many different audiences. Similarly, you hear colleagues repeating the same message as we all try to chart these new waters (keeping with my nautical theme). The challenge for me is to not to get stuck in the doldrums of repetition, but continually find new ways to keep the message and the energy of it going. If you face similar challenges and/or have some thoughts to suggest for keeping the winds steady, please share them in the comments. 

One rule: Please do not claim that any doldrums are related to winter weather. I love winter weather and don’t want to hear others grousing about it. 😉

No doldrums here!

No doldrums here!

16 Responses to “In the Doldrums”

  1. margotmal February 24, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    I was going to go with… “So, read a book for a while.” Just be. I understand that there is a lot of uncertainty in the library world right now. That makes librarians nervous, and nervous people tend to pace the floor, worry, worry, worry. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to meditate for 20 minutes every day. According to an app I have on my iPhone, I’ve kept to that resolution 88% since January 1. I find 2 lessons in this: #1 I am learning how to just to sit (not doing or figuring out anything) and #2 88% is pretty good! I don’t have to be 100%, because… guess what?! I made up this Resolution in the first place. I’m only disappointing myself. If you find any wisdom in this comment, I’ll be impressed…

    • salgore February 24, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

      You are always wise, M. 🙂

  2. Moss, Stuart February 24, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Thanks for writing this blog, Sally. It’s very, very good.

    Your description of your current work prompts me to recommend another good librarian blog, just in case you don’t follow it already:



    Stuart Moss
    Library Director
    Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research
    140 Old Orangeburg Rd.
    Orangeburg, NY 10962
    845/398-5551 (FAX)

    Visit us at


    • salgore February 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      Thanks, Stuart. Yes, I follow the Ubiquitous Brian. I enjoy his blog, too.

  3. janaliebermann February 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    House of Stairs by William Sleator was that for me. It revolutionized the way I relate to machines. It is youth fiction

    • salgore February 24, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

      I’m going to look this one up. I don’t know it! 🙂

  4. Patricia Devine February 24, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

    It’s hard for me to stop and worry about the future of librarianship, because I have so much to do. My tasks are wide and varied and require lots of different skills, and I’m constantly learning new things. I enjoy it all. I also measure success in very small terms. I was at a meeting this weekend and I let a physician assistant I met know that the National Library of Medicine has patient education materials which she wasn’t aware of. She was thinking along the lines of books. So, huge success on my scale! And as they say, one and one and fifty makes a million.

    • salgore February 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

      You know where you rank with me, Pat! Thank you for a reminder of a busy and fulfilling work life.

  5. Jenny Miglus February 25, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Doldrums not related to winter weather . . . and yet look at the photo you included! Cheer up, Sally. Spring is on the way. My witch hazel is blooming, and the cardinals are singing.

    • salgore February 26, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      Now Jenny, it’s only because I didn’t have any pictures of me sailing in winter. I LOVE winter. I really do.

  6. Kellie Kaneshiro February 25, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    I was fascinated by the same issue of NG and the idea of a teenager (or anyone) solo sailing around the world…

    We’ve been trying to wordsmith our message (apologies to those of you who are thinking D’oh) into language that our users can relate to:

    “Evaluating EBM literature search assignment” became:
    Searching the Literature for the Best Evidence: Clinical Applications Assignment

    “Reference shifts” have become “Office Hours”

    I guess what I’m saying is “same message” different language, or to use an analogy, different frequency. I forget who said this- but someone wrote about not liking the term “library user” and liking the term library members. Member being a part of something good, like the Library (:

    In the past, when I’ve hit sailing doldrums, I’ve used the “tiller method.” Lake & boat I sailed in was small enough to chug along. Now if only I can find some open water…

    • salgore February 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      Great suggestions, Kellie, and thank you for staying with my metaphor. 🙂

  7. Christine Fleuriel February 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Speaking of the doldrums reminds me of The Phantom Tollbooth. Allegedly it’s a kids book, but the word play is wonderful, and, having read your blog, I have found one more word play that I hadn’t quite realized before. You are so right – most of the time, work just flows along smoothly, and then there are other times when it doesn’t. Your pic makes me want to get my kayak out.

    • salgore February 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      One of my favorite books, both as a kid and an adult!

      • Kellie Kaneshiro February 26, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

        Memories, memories – loved the Phantom Tollbooth – and kayak? I want to get mine out too! I’m a better kayaker than a sailor…

    • Kelli Hines March 10, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

      I love The Phantom Tollbooth! Second nostalgic aside: do you remember Rockapella singing to advertise “National Geographic World!” during Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

      Repetition doesn’t always have to be boring, especially if you find a way to make it catchy. I don’t know, turn it into a theme song! Then the repetition is a hook instead of a rote drill.

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