Saturday, August 2, 2008

my pre-mortem autopsy

My friend Sara took this photo of me while I was being photographed in the autopsy room of the Mortuary Science building at a large urban research university in the midwest. Some of the photos that the university photographer shot (the dude perched above me on a stool) were pretty awesome. There was a model skeleton in the room that we moved to the background of some of the shots. There was also a sink behind my head that we filled with extremely large kitchen knives. And yeah, I guess they use those knives on cadavers sometimes. I brought a lovely glass cockroach with me as a prop. Critter gave it to me as a birthday gift one year, and it made an appearance in several of the photos--an homage to Mary Roach. I'm not sure at this point what photo the library's PR contact will choose for the READ poster, but I'm hoping it will be one of the shots where I'm lying down, looking dead, with Stiff on my chest. There are also some photos where I'm sitting up (with the skeleton in the background), but I think those are less original. Probably the library will go with the typical shots. That's okay, I guess, because eventually I'll get a CD of all the photos.

Btw, the photo team was awesome. I guess they usually shoot university events, graduations, and official university portrait photos, so this was a definite change of pace for them. After the scene in the autopsy room, we went outside and got some great shots of my friend Megha posing in skinny jeans with her chosen book Un Dun Lun by China Mieville, and of my friend Sara posing with David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day.

I can't wait for the READ posters.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

my Stiff READ poster

This week I will get to model for a READ poster for Club UGL. I'm pretty excited about this opportunity. This past spring, the library put up some READ posters of administrators, professors, and librarians. They were posted in the atrium. They looked nice, but weren't particularly exciting. My supervisor suggested that we do a few READ posters for Welcome Week this fall and instead of photographing administrators, offered the graduate student assistants (who actually staff the reference desk). I'm one of them. I've chosen Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. This is one of my favorite books, because it treats a scientific and serious subject (death) with wit and offers a unique look at what happens to bodies that are donated to science. Reading this book made me want to donate my body to science after my death.

If you know me at all, you know that I am fascinated by anything out of the ordinary, gross, or medically "abnormal." I am somewhat obsessed with the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. Their motto is "disturbingly informative." I'd like to think that as a librarian, I might also be considered disturbingly informative. As I've gotten older, I've grown less interested in the humanities and more interested in the sciences. I've always been interested in what is considered "the other" in our culture--both in art, literature, and in the physical world. I love the photographs of Diane Arbus, whose portraits featured people of whom the majority of society would rather choose to ignore. I'm sure I've always been interested in these topics, but I remember being distinctly impressed in my early 20s (while working in the interlibrary loan department of a major research university library) and coming across a book that someone had ordered that was filled with post-mortem photographs of people who had died violent deaths or deaths from terminal illnesses. The photographs were primarily autopsy photos. I remember pouring over the book and thinking that perhaps I should have become a pathologist or medical examiner instead of settling for being an English major in college. I also sometimes spend time when I am bored looking at completely disgusting dermatology images from the Dermatology Atlas. I suppose that if I wanted to think of this psychologically, some of my interest in morbid topics comes from me feeling very much like an outsider as a child who was diagnosed with epilepsy, and someone who has always had medical problems due to my premature birth. I have always been comfortable in hospitals and in doctors' offices. Further, I have always been comfortable with people who are considered outsiders. This has been a somewhat long-winded account of why I chose Stiff as the book for the READ poster.

The photographer for my READ poster has been pretty supportive of my odd and slightly morbid taste. She has managed to get us into the Mortuary Science department to photograph me on a cadaver gurney. Note: there will be no dead bodies around.

I think I became a librarian, in part, because I wanted to feel free to research uncomfortable topics and to help people do the same. Ms. Roach is a writer who does this regularly. She has mentioned in interviews that she regularly uses the services of her public library's ILL department. I would love for ALA to choose Mary Roach as a writer for their READ poster series. And to also invite her to speak at a conference. She is obviously a champion of libraries and of librarians.

I also became a librarian so that I could help people who are, themselves, considered outsiders in our society. Just some thoughts I've been thinking.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Some thoughts after ALA

I met a lot of wonderful people at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim a few weeks ago. I haven't written about my experience yet, because I've been sifting through it in my mind. Attending the conference made me think about why I chose librarianship and what I want to do in the profession. This post is, by no means, a complete account of my thoughts, interests, experiences. Just wanted to get something down.

Intellectual freedom is important to me. I knew this before I attended conference, but now it seems like a crucial issue for me. I am reading ALA's Intellectual Freedom Manual. Privacy, too, is a big issue. I hadn't thought much about it since my intro LIS class, but after attending the OIF presentation/panel discussion about privacy featuring Dan Roth of Wired, Corey Doctorow, Canadian sci fi writer, and Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, I now realize that this is an issue that librarians need to read and talk, and educate users about. Further, as a profession, we need to create systems that are private, but which also allow library users (and only library users) to access their own information. Want to know what book you read last year in July? Well, as a librarian I don't (and shouldn't) have access to that information. But as a patron, you should have access to it.

Attending the ALA conference cemented my desire to work with underserved populations. This may mean that I will need to look for public librarian positions instead of academic, but I'm not totally sure. Working in an urban or rural academic library may offer opportunities to work with the poor and working-class, also. I was annoyed that there weren't many sessions at ALA devoted to underserved populations. I managed to attend a few sessions that discussed these, but most sessions seemed to be about Library 2.0 stuff, gaming, or management/administrative issues, etc. I sometimes feel that technology issues have hijacked the profession. That isn't to say that I am against technology, far from it, but I think we need to be aware of the basic aspects of this profession. When approaching technology, shouldn't we be asking, "how can we use this to help our community?"

I attended a session about library user research that discussed millennials (of course) and then had an amazing researcher out of Texas, Lynn Westbrook, who discussed her research with the information needs and use of victims of intimate partner violence. Good stuff! What I really liked about her research was her comment that these women (primarily women) are suddenly forced to deal with large, often conflicting information systems at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. They need to figure out how to navigate the criminal justice system and the social services network (shelters, etc.) and these systems often give conflicting information. For example, if a woman has been abused by her partner, she is encouraged by the police to file a restraining order. Unfortunately, the shelter system knows that doing so often can lead to more violence. As librarians, how can we reach out to these vulnerable segments of our society? How can we find them, get them to trust us, and help them find and use the resources they need? Why aren't librarians working with social service agencies and organizations?

I also attended a great session--but had to leave early to work my Student-to-Staff gig--about ALA's Policy 61--Library Services to the Poor. I definitely want to work with OLOS, and I think that an outreach librarian position would be a great fit for me. Policy 61 has been around for awhile and yet librarians don't talk about it, much less create policies that support it. Are overdue fines really necessary? I understand that there is rampant theft in libraries, and I'm not naive about people gaming the system (using their kids' cards to check out more stuff that is never returned), but should we really fine people who can't afford to pay? Or who can't afford the transportation costs to get to the library on time to return the items?

So this is what I have been thinking about since ALA. Will post more later, probably.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why I Decided to Become a Librarian

  • I like researching stuff--the weirder, the better.
  • After teaching community college English composition classes part-time for three years I wanted to slit my wrists. Seriously. I didn't choose an English undergrad and a M.F.A. in Poetry so that I could read terrible writing for 30 years.
  • I like helping people--the weirder, the better.
  • Some of the qualities that made me a decent teacher make me an even better librarian: I'm patient, I break a long process down into smaller steps, I'm funny; not stuffy.
  • I looked forward to helping my students research their papers, but I rarely, if ever, looked forward to reading their papers.

Once I began working in a library I discovered that:
  • I have some pretty awesome "people skills." People like to talk to me and I like talking to them.
  • I feel that I'm a little bit of a detective. Finding the answer to a tough research question is a little like solving a mystery.
  • The bizarro element of working in a library makes me laugh more than it freaks me out. I have great stories to tell at cocktail parties.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Detroit Festival of the Arts

Yesterday after work, I went to the Detroit Festival of the Arts and was really pleased with this community event. I had never been to this festival before and I was immediately charmed by the joyful vibe of the event and the people attending and working. There is an entire section for children and families, and this was one of my favorite parts. During my break from the Undergraduate Library Information Desk I wandered around amazed by the wonderful community organizations that were hosting crafts and other fun events for kids. The Detroit Institute of the Arts had tables set up for kids to create fanciful, spectacular paper bag hats. MOCAD also offered a lovely opportunity for kids and kids-at-heart to create earth art: temporary outside sculptures using rocks, twigs, leaves, pinecones, etc. I was totally enchanted with everything and wished that I was 8 years old again.

I need to get my camera fixed so that I can take photos and post 'em here.

At any rate, as I was walking around the festival, I noticed the Information Booths, and wondered immediately why I hadn't offered to volunteer to staff one. Community events like this are perfect opportunities for librarians to get involved with their communities and to share their skills. Yes, I'm sure it involves a lot of "where is the bathroom?" questions, but so what? Librarians should be involved in their communities and participating in events and festivals like these are a great way to insert the profession into a place where people don't automatically think "librarian." I know that Jessamyn West has participated in large-scale events like Burning Man and the WTO protests. I wonder if other librarians do this type of local reference. I will look into it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

two days away from the desk and prepping for ALA Annual

I usually work six days a week, and having Memorial Day off is a two-day holiday luxury. Unfortunately, yesterday I was down all day with a migraine that my doctor is convinced isn't a real migraine. I don't get auras before having them. I do get sensitivity to light during the episode. Mainly, though, I can counteract them with a boatload of Motrin. That didn't work so well yesterday. I hung out in bed while Critter fished a bass tourney. He didn't have a good time due to circumstances out of his control, but I wasn't having a good time on the homefront, either. Basically, I chilled with the Deez and tried to keep my eyes shut.

I am trying to prepare for my trip to ALA's Annual Conference in Anaheim. I'll be working the conference as part of the Student-to-Staff program, which is pretty awesome. I have been paired with the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which is right up my alley. I need to get some decent conference clothes. I'm thinking an A-line skirt and some feminine blouses and a well-cut jacket. I know the hotels and conference center will be freezing with air-conditioning. I need to keep warm inside, and yet be able to handle 90 degree heat outside. I'm going to try to poke Critter into taking me to the outlet stores this afternoon. Never been to Cali before. I'm looking forward to seeing my friend, Brian, and to eating an In-N-Out Burger for the first time.

I promise myself that I will be a good networker while at ALA. I need to talk to people while I am there and show people how enthusiastic I am about the profession.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

new blog--again!

I keep playing around with new blog titles and this one appeals to me most. The other day at work, I was discussing the intricacies of reference work with a colleague, and she mentioned that she's not sure she could be a reference librarian for the rest of her life. I, on the other hand, really dig the desk. I mean, there are days when I feel like soaking in a Calgon bath after work in order to forget ref desk troubles, but usually I get a kick out of helping people find what they need. And sometimes there are patrons that just make the whole grind worth it. Today I helped a little girl (maybe a middle-schooler) research for her science project. She is comparing the absorbency of different toilet paper--specifically Charmin vs. Cottonelle. I managed to find her a perfect Consumer Reports article that discussed the strength and absorbency of different brands.

This is why I like the reference desk. Sometimes I get to research things like toilet paper.