what do you do?

June 17, 2007

For the past two years, I have lived in a city that is for most intents and purposes Southern, sprawling and constantly booming, with highways and new cars and lots of good jobs. I work  at its sprawling, booming, self-serious state university, where kids and grown ups get degrees and get good jobs, as a matter of self-perpetuation, societal paricipation, and in taking advantage of unprecedented opportunities. Asking “What do you do?” isn’t a snobby judgemental thing to do, but a matter of business in the most basic sense.

I went straight through college and graduate school- both of my parents finished college after they had kids. I had lot of the same intentions as the students I work with. I’ve yet to see numbers on this, but my perception is that a lot of women who become librarians also become the most educated people in their families while doing so- that this career, this profession, is often one that people enter into, even when as an afterthought, as a life-changing thing. I think new librarians affirm this quite a lot- they take on “librarian” as part of their identity.  The thing I think is so interesting, so magnetic about library blogs, is that they are an excerise in women talking publicly and passionately about their careers.

There’s not a lot of attention in our culture today focused on women in their jobs. In women’s movies, do you ever get much insight on how the Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon characters feel about their careers? To take the pinnacle of genre entertainment as example, how often did we see the Sex and the City ladies actually at work? Their jobs, athough defining in a cursory way, were an afterthought. If movies today show women at work, it’s either in leisurely stylish rich girl jobs, recent past-period pieces, or in fairly disadvanged situations (see North Country, with the excellent line, “Do you want to make as much money as your Dad?”), but never as contemporary professionals. Where is our Network, our Norma Rae, our 9 to 5, even?

I meet other women at parties and bars and barbecues, who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses, engineers, social workers, academics and curators (the real kind, not Charlotte on SATC). I meet women in other cities who work in media or have started their own businesses or who are artists and avoid “real” jobs. And when I think about it, we all put forth quite a bit for our careers, and our jobs, which are all regardlessly, “real”. We must think a lot about what our jobs mean for the other choices they have to make. But it’s hard to even navigate asking those questions. People see their work through the lens of their identity, and explaining what that means is boring for the most part. I also don’t want to be looked down upon by someone who thinks what I do is insignificant, or be percieved as self-important. But these things matter to me, I have a lot of unanswered questions about them, and I do want to talk about this stuff. But instead I talk to other women about their relationships, clothes, and expensive stuff we buy for the kitchen, or at most soul-baring, how we think we could ever afford to and manage to have children. Oh shit, where is feminism in all this?

As an act of feminist assertion and in affirming that I care about what I do, that it is important to me, I want to have more conversations with other women, both in my profession and out of it, about what our careers mean. I want to talk to dudes I know about gender and sex at work, and about what they think their partners careers’ (regardless of respective gender) mean. How do we do this?


ARLIS Dispatch—Day Two

May 1, 2007


Day two was distinct from day one in its high concentration of back-to-back scheduled professional development. I sat in on a 9am session Ten Years After: a Decade of Copyright Developments moderated by Roger Lawson of the National Gallery of Art. The session was unique in that neither presenter used .ppt or wore glasses. Speaker Madelyn F. Wessel, Special Advisor at UVa, eloquently noted that she has “never seen a more brilliant group of lawyers than librarians.” Despite this ability to apply copyright principles to daily library practice, Wessel cautioned against librarians contracting away rights that are otherwise afforded by copyright’s fair use provisions through overly restricted licensing agreements.

Power to the People: Social Tagging and Controlled Vocabularies differed from the copyright session in that every presenter had both glasses AND a .ppt. My notes on the session are copious and I can’t even begin to summarize. I did, however, attach to moderator Sherman Clarke‘s observation re: the ways in which tagging “comes and goes in its ways of helpfulness.” I, too, find the quirky results that oft-emerge from browsing tags entertaining, but then had a silent mini freak out when I heard speaker Jenn Riley‘s statement/concern/news that user participation in library catalogs (ala Ann Arbor) might be understood as a way to one-day alleviate the workload of tired catalogers and librarians. This brings up Classic Big Questions regarding labor, the future of cataloging, and the purpose of libraries.


Required reading for new library school grads

March 22, 2007

If you have recently graduated with your MLS and are in the process of seeking employment, especially in an academic library, I implore you to read this fantastic article by Nancy Cunningham. The article, In Search of an Emotionally Healthy Library, could potentially save you a lot of heartache and stress. If only I had had this article when I was interviewing for my current position. There are tons of great tips in here on how to discern whether or not this library is seriously toxic or a place where collegiality is the rule and the staff doesn’t feel like slitting their wrists every day. My own personal job search hint: if the library to which you’ve applied has a male director AND assistant director and the majority of the library staff is female, this should make you scratch your temple. If they also insist on being referred to as “Dr.” while everyone else on staff, even those with Ph.Ds are called by their first names, RUN as fast as your little legs can carry you

roundup: national archives, grumpy librarians, ILL fees and kids at conferences

March 21, 2007

Times op-ed urges the President to give NARA the funds to process its backlog and hire more reference archivists to serve users.

Chronicle of Higher Ed: Naive academic realizes that ILL costs money; Association for Jewish Studies makes a point to provide childcare for its national conference. (Whatever, we miss Lingua Franca)

Salon: Carol Lay, who does the cartoon WayLay, made fun of librarians two weeks ago in regards to “scrotum”. Angry responses led to a take back in this week’s strip. Now librarians “smell good”. Ooookaaay. (Again, we’re only reading Salon for Heather Havrilesky)

geeks and cheerleaders

March 15, 2007

Reconceptualizing librarianship, reinventing the profession, blah blah blah. I think a lot of folks are rightly interested in changing the work model for librarians. But from my viewpoint, when we do this, we too often whitewash or downplay the fact that we do spend much of our days doing service and administrative oriented things like removing staples, being nice and helpful, and cleaning up vomit, and for generally low salaries. So, despite the fact that our professional discourse is tech-wise, we’re not quote-unquote geeks, we don’t work like them, and we don’t get paid like them. So, seriously, read the insanely widespread “8 Things Intelligent People, Geeks, and Nerds Need to Work Happily” post from Nomadishere with a good sized grain of salt. While flexibility and lifestyle considerations are the key tenets of this thing, they’re presented as they apply to well-paid young white guys with tattoos, not to working mothers or anyone else who may not fit into office norms for reasons other than their dislike of sports.

There’s also a growing number of media studies of women in service jobs, namely, the recent fascination with cheerleaders-turned-drug reps. We can and should read ourselves into these types of stories, even if there are rarely cheerleaders-turned-librarians. The Times feature brings up many points, such as the prevalence of sexual harassment in the field. The Brazen Careerist picked up on this story, with her own take on gender in sales and service jobs. I find her frank take on sexual harassment informative, if a little horrifying. I’m willing to admit that I’m fascinated by Penelope Trunk and her brand of career advice, and her closing bit to the cheerleader article is something that ambitious librarians should keep in mind, despite its emphasis on attractiveness.“Outgoing, good-looking women can have great careers in sales — or anywhere else they want to go. So go into the workforce with talent and ambition and create the life you want. Really.”

libraries and the “fertility paradox”

March 4, 2007

Today’s Idea Lab argues that childcare and maternity benefits are key to sustainable birth rates, and that “the promotion of … families and the promotion of women’s careers may go hand in hand.” The article goes on to say that in countries where resources are allocated for working parents, birth rates are stable, whereas countries lacking such programs (thus instituting a de facto work burden of child rearing on women), are facing serious population decline. Not suprisingly, the U.S. fares poorly- while not facing a population crisis, we have fewer resources for parents than almost all of our peers. “With a largely hands-off approach to family policy, the U.S. spends far less than other wealthy countries on child care while guaranteeing no paid parental leave. As a result, being an employed parent may be more difficult here than in countries now experiencing even the most severe baby droughts.”

This matters for the library world, because the stake of working women is, for the most part, the stake of library workers. It’s simple: when being a mother becomes a disadvantage professionally, the profession will suffer from shutting out mothers.