Tag Archives: Susan Catterall

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire

happy hands and heart

Valentine’s Day has passed, but many of us are still contending with piles of ribbons, tissue paper, envelopes and confetti in various hues of rose, crimson and scarlet.  We equate these shades with Valentine’s Day, but the symbolism and analogies associated with these colors go beyond that single holiday.  Red epitomizes passion, desire, romance, danger and energy.  Frequently adjectives such as “blood”, “ruby” or “wine” further enhance the description of this color.  We probably don’t give it a second thought, but there was a time when the elusive, brilliant red was worth a king’s fortune.

Amy Butler Greenfield relates the history of the dyer’s quest for this color in A Perfect Red.  The majority of the book recounts Spain’s attempt to monopolize the production of the this vibrant red from the time Cortes invaded Mexico and his men discovered the source – the tiny cochineal insect living on the prickly pear cactus. The female insect produced an acid which not only irritated predators but was also a brilliant dye.  Soon Spain dominated the production of the red dye and guarded the secret of the cochineal. As other countries began to covet the hue, a complex web of espionage developed, including both colonial exploration and exploitation.

Greenfield intersperses her narrative with fascinating anecdotes and facts related to the color red. For example, there were rules regarding wearing the color red.  In some cultures, only royalty had the right (and could afford) to wear red.  Montezuma not only seized this right, but also demanded that his subjects pay a tax in pounds of cochineal.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was clothed in black on the day of her execution. Yet, she used the color to make her statement, removing her dress to reveal a red petticoat.  This was the symbol of Catholic martyrdom!

Eventually, synthetic dyes were perfected and the labor-intensive cultivation of plant and animal dyes subsided.  Historians and chemists may be the target audience for this volume, but this fascinating account has something to interest everyone.

~Susan Catterall~

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Advice from “The Reference Desk”

“The Reference Desk” is a regular column featured in the AALL Spectrum.  The column below originally appeared in the February 2012 issue and is reprinted here with permission.

Q: I’m part of a search team that is reviewing resumes for a librarian position. One of the candidates who applied seems to have the very job I have dreamed of. Would it be unethical to invite the candidate in for an interview so I can learn more about that job?

A: I’m not sure whether it would be unethical, but it may be very unfair—both to your present employer and the candidate. To begin with, your employer has charged you with assisting in the selection of the best possible candidate for the position—not with finding your perfect job. As long as you’re working in your current position, you shouldn’t be short-changing your employer.

If this candidate isn’t one of the top choices for the position, you shouldn’t consider interviewing him or her. Even if the applicant is one of the top choices, is it fair to the applicant to use the time during his or her interview to investigate your perfect job? Welcome to the intersection of business ethics and serendipity. Librarians understand the latter concept and rely upon it to help uncover answers. You might have run across this job posted on a professional job list, online discussion list, Facebook, or another social media site—but you didn’t. As librarians, we hold ourselves out as ethical role models. Can you perform the task you’ve been charged with and at the same time pursue your dream job?

I thought we could benefit from the advice of a human resources expert and consulted Dan Quillen, division manager of human resources with the city of Aurora, Colorado. Quillen has nearly 20 years of human resources experience, including 10 years as the director of human resources at one of the largest employment law litigation firms in Colorado. Following is Quillen’s advice.

“Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in on this question, Susan. To the individual who asked this question, my initial reaction is that it would be unethical at worst and inappropriate at best for you to invite the applicant to interview just to learn about his or her current job.

“Those who interview candidates for positions within their company have an obligation to their employer to seek out and hire the best qualified candidate for the position. Sometimes that means subordinating our own personal wishes and desires. For example, if I were interviewing someone who was to be a peer, it would be unethical for me to hire the second- or third-most qualified candidate because the most qualified candidate(s) might provide stiffer competition for me in potential promotional opportunities at a later date.

“It is also patently unfair to the candidate. He or she has high hopes for this position and will prepare, worry, rehearse answers to potential questions, and get hopes up. For the candidate to learn—or even suspect—that he or she was invited to interview so you could learn about his or her current job would be a gross disservice to that person. I know I would be very unhappy if that happened to me.

“From a purely dogmatic point of view, you may wish to recuse yourself from selection of the top candidates if you cannot in good conscience make an unbiased recommendation. This might present an awkward situation; it would be tough to tell your boss you need to recuse yourself because you would like to have a candidate’s former job if they are hired by your employer. Since you are one of several individuals evaluating resumes, perhaps you merely go along with the recommendation of the other reviewers regarding this candidate. Even that scenario is less than desirable—your employer would be robbed of your insights about the candidate. But it may be the best alternative.

“If the candidate is not selected for an interview, or if they are interviewed but not the successful candidate, I think it would also be inappropriate to contact the candidate to learn more about his or her current job. It’s just one of those things that, though you’d like to figure out a way to do it, simply isn’t appropriate to do. (Then again, I get miffed at people who continue to drive in lanes that are ending in hopes of finding a slot well up the line of cars so they can slip in ahead of the rest of us who obediently stay in the continuing lane.)

“Bottom line, I think you need to treat this situation as though the person is any other candidate, make no effort to learn more about the candidate’s current position, and certainly not use your influence to change the outcome of the decision because of this factor.”

Thanks to Quillen for his very sound advice. To the person who asked this question, I would also caution you to ponder why this candidate is willing to leave what you consider to be a dream job. He or she may have logical reasons, but it may be possible you are seeing greener grass on the other side of the fence. Ask yourself why this job appeals to you. Is it the geographic location? Is it the title or responsibilities? Would it be possible to attempt to create those responsibilities within your current position?

~Susan Catterall~

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Praise for Procrastination


If you’re the type who stalls, delays, drags your feet or becomes paralyzed at the thought of turning in sub-standard work and, consequently, has been shamed into being called a procrastinator, take heart. You’ve been redeemed.  John Perry, in his book, The Art of Procrastination, A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing has cast a positive light on the subject. Perry promotes the theory that procrastinators actually accomplish many tasks and has subtitled the book: Or, Getting Things Done by Putting Them Off.

This is a book which should appeal to all of us within the legal profession.  Our calling is comprised of proficient procrastinators.  This isn’t to say that we’re lazy; rather we’re perfectionists and strategists who are adept at juggling shifting priorities. Litigators are the prime example. A litigator will diligently prepare a case for trial, yet simultaneously plan a thoughtful settlement agreement. Sometimes this works and at other times it leads to late hours, additional staff and much coffee consumption. In an environment where litigators find themselves facing each on a regular basis, preparation becomes a well-calculated game of chicken.

Trial preparation aside, our profession is also comprised of individuals who are such perfectionists that they are reluctant to start any project, especially a project with a “fuzzy” deadline because they don’t want to start anything that doesn’t represent their best efforts. As we fret, worry and deny “that” project, we set about accomplishing many other projects, most which have firm deadlines, are routine but necessary, or which don’t so intimidate us that we become incapacitated.  Perry explains how avoiding the big “to do” task encourages us, through avoidance, to accomplish countless other tasks.  In fact, procrastination is both an art and a science.

I first heard about The Art of Procrastination when I attended a library conference in early 2012.  I was captivated as the speaker discussed Perry’s book. As he ticked off a litany of topics (i.e., making lists, structured procrastination, perfectionism, etc.), I felt as if he was reading my mind.  I could barely wait to order Perry’s book and had it rushed to me.  I dove right into it and managed to work into many conversations that I was reading this book and that I would recommend it to anyone.  I went to the CSL librarian who coordinates this blog and told her that I wanted to write about this book and how so many could identify with the subject.

As I said, that was over two years ago and I am still on page 32 of a 92 page book.  My librarian colleague has stopped asking me when I will have the procrastination article finished and has, instead, praised me for the other blog articles I’ve written, the research guides I’ve created and the other collaborations we have completed.  Never-the-less, I can only dodge my commitments for so long.  Besides, I want others who may share the shame of procrastination to understand that it is no longer something of which to be embarrassed.

I encourage you to read the book.  But don’t expect me to ask if you have read it.  Sorry.  I’ve already heard it: ”I meant to, but I haven’t gotten around to it.”

~Susan Catterall~

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North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions – No Longer Available Through NCBA

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The Charlotte School of Law library maintains copies of the North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions (Civil, Criminal and Motor Vehicle Negligence) in print, in the Reference Carolinas section. These pattern jury instructions are useful as a starting point for anyone creating jury instructions for a specific case. The instructions have been drafted by the N.C. Conference of Superior Court Judges and have been coordinated by the University of North Carolina School of Government.

Until Monday, October 6th, the North Carolina Bar Association had provided electronic access to these instructions by means of a licensing agreement involving FastCase, the North Carolina Bar Association and the University of North Carolina School of Government.  The NCBA’s license is not being renewed.

The School of Government has licensed the exclusive electronic rights to CX Corp.  Subscription access to the electronic editions of the Pattern Jury Instructions are available directly through CX Corp at www.ncpji.  Members of the North Carolina Bar Association may be entitled to a discount for a one-time subscription and annual updates.  Questions regarding how to secure the discount should be addressed to Joyce Brafford (jbrafford@ncbar.org or 919-996-4377).

~Susan Catterall~

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Back to School: Lessons for the Second Time Around

To educate

“Are you just filling in for the regular librarian?”   I was stunned, and on that particular day, frustrated almost to tears.  Had the question come from a law student, it would have been understandable and more palatable. I was, after all, only 2 months into a new job. Instead, it had come from a “public patron” whose inability to articulate his needs paled next to my inadequacy to walk him through a reference interview.

Like many reference librarians, I’ve spun my share of straw into gold and was proud of it.  A previous director frequently bragged that books flung themselves off the shelves into my arms, opened to the correct page and that a halo would highlight the significant passage.  Those days were gone. I felt like a failure and wondered if I would ever be competent again.

This anecdote, now legend among the staff, serves as a reminder that every job holds its own challenges, even for veteran librarians.  After seventeen years as a research librarian in private law libraries, I had returned to academic law libraries.

I had learned much as a private law librarian, including the business side of practice.  It had been rewarding, but I missed the interaction with students, the chance to support scholarship and the stimulation I had found in teaching.  I wanted new challenges, but wasn’t quite ready to let go of the familiar.

And so, armed with my desire to return to academic law libraries, a yearning to be nearer to family and a leap of faith, I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, changed time zones and moved to North Carolina. I began work as a reference librarian at the Charlotte School of Law.

While I had been away, law schools had been realigning their missions and a new model of legal education had emerged. Charlotte School of Law epitomizes that model.  Charlottelaw is a member of a consortium of independent, community-based law schools. It’s strategically located in North Carolina’s largest city, at the center of the banking industry.  The school’s mission advocates student-centered outcomes, serving the underserved and preparing practice-ready graduates.  The school set a pro bono requirement for students and incorporates experiential learning into many of its courses.

I had expected that my greatest challenge would be advances in technology and their incorporation into the classroom. Integration had moved beyond PowerPoint presentations. Fortunately for me, not only has Charlottelaw  encouraged faculty to incorporate emerging technologies into instruction, it has provided professional development opportunities regarding training on video conferencing software, course management systems and the creation of distance education modules.  Librarians continue to go into the classroom, but now we do it both live and virtually. I am in the process of creating an online legal research component for the first year research and writing course. Adapting to technologies is a continual process for me. I hope to stay at least one step ahead of the students.

I had departed law school libraries before the release of the 1992 MacCrate report on law schools and the legal profession. In the aftermath, there has been a concentrated attention to rubrics, mapping, outcomes, and applications of Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.   Most recently, this interest has been propelled by the proposed revision to the American Bar Association Standards for Approval of Law Schools.

The A.B.A. Standards Review Committee, after assessing the condition of legal education in the wake of the MacCrate report and the subsequent findings compiled by William Sullivan and others in Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (also known as the “Carnegie Foundation Report”) and Roy Stuckey and others in Best Practices for Legal Education, proposed a revision to the standards that would address learning outcomes. The proposed revision shifts the focus from teaching to learning and from curriculum to outcomes.

Charlottelaw, as a young school has been an early advocate.  In May, Charlotte Law hosted the “Assessment and Student Outcomes Conference – Implications of the Proposed ABA Standard on Student Learning Outcomes.”  Conference speakers included consortium faculty, education professors and legal scholars, including President of the New York Law School, Richard Matasar, and Steven Bahls, principle draftsman of the proposed revision. I feel as if I’ve come in on the ground floor of something monumental.

I’m pleased with the transition I’ve made and am enjoying my new position.  I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to stretch my own skills and knowledge, but I am beginning to feel competent again.  I also better understand the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  When spring arrived, I found that I missed the fragrance of lilacs.  They don’t do as well here as they did in the Midwest, because they need sustained periods of cold. I have, however, discovered Crepe Myrtles. Their blossoms are gorgeous and resemble those of lilacs.  They lack the fragrance of lilacs, but they last for months and remind me of both homes.

~Susan Catterall~

This article was originally published in the November-December 2010 issue of the online West publication, Law Librarians in the New Millennium.

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