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.


Ruth said...


All of it. The poster, your interest in morbid sciences, the gurney!!! Brilliant.

You might be interested in a film Don and I just "didn't" watch. I mean we started it, got pretty far, but it just didn't grab us, so we turned it off. But you might find it interesting, given your interest in decomposition (you are interested in decomposition, yes?). It's called "One Zed and Two Noughts." It's not that we objected at all to the content. It was just not all that interesting the way it was created. And the music absolutely drove us BONKERS it was so annoying.

But hey! You might find it at least interesting. How's that for a stellar recommendation? Seriously, you have to check it out for the topic. And you might even like the methods, since you and I have different tastes in music and things.

Heather said...

Thanks for the film recommendation. I added it to my Netflix queue. I may end up having the same reaction you and Don did, though. I tend to get frustrated with films with annoying music. :)