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.