Editorial: Getting to Know You
As a holiday break, the six of us decided to answer three questions about ourselves. We’ll have a new “real” post next week from Emily.
By Editorial Board, Ellie Collier and Brett Bonfield
1. If you could choose one thing to change about libraries, what would it be?
Emily: I would like to dismantle the notion that libraries and librarians are politically neutral. We, as individuals, professionals, and as a professional collective, have a vested stake in what happens to so many items of legislation, state and federal funding, intellectualism and ideas. Mind you, I am not advocating to eliminate discourse from our communities–representing many view points–however, I think we do libraries and patrons a disservice when we claim to remain “neutral.” None of our decisions–what book vendor to use, which software to use or system to implement, what circulation and other policies to create and enact–are made without our personal influences and experiences. Why are we so scared to claim our bias? Isn’t our bias based in our experience and our mission to serve our patrons and communities? Can’t our bias be that, which benefits all?
Ellie: I would change the speed. Coming from a television background where we were setting up an office (location, furniture, computers, etc.), casting a show and breaking down (returning everything, archiving materials, etc.) in 3 to 6 months and 24 hours was far too long a turn around for most things, the speed of doing anything in libraries seems glacial.
Brett: I want a WorldCat, only with Open Library’s license, for serials. I don’t mean volume-level information. What I want is to be able to find, instantly, all relevant information about every article in every journal, magazine, and newspaper. And I want libraries to collectively own, and freely license, the information that makes that search possible.
Hilary: From the birds-eye-view on down to a particular component, I would like to see libraries function in a world where it’s easy to get at the composition of materials in context with the use of resources, the volume of content and extrapolate out to see the rate of growth of continuing resources alongside the cost over time, the state of licenses and the history of decisions behind subscribing or canceling resources, etc. And an ideal system would be able to show where and how our local constituents are interacting with our collections and services. It should be a lot easier than it is to get at some kinds of information about your collection to adequately serve collection intelligence needs for assistance in strategic collection decision-making.
Derik: I wish more libraries (historically) collected and cataloged comics. If I want to study most subjects I can get sources from libraries, in print and online. In studying comics, I have to rely on sources I buy myself. The public library I worked at had hundreds of Harlequin romance novels, but no comics (except a few contemporary comic strip collections).
Kim: I would turn libraries into for-profit companies. Not because I want to make lots of money, but because looking at our organizations as businesses instead of a public good might actually help us do a better job of using our resources effectively and better serving our “customers.” At the least it would force us to be more active and competitive among other information businesses (such as, dare I say, Google?)
2. What would you be doing if you weren’t a librarian?
Derik: I’d stay home and make my recreational activities my professional activities. Spending all day drawing comics and writing criticism would be my ideal job. I have few illusions about that happening (unless my wife becomes rich); librarian is a good second place. The times I work comics/art into my librarian life are extra special (like the drawings for this site).
Emily: I would either be working in development (money grubbing) wondering if that’s really what I should be doing, wondering if my work were soul-less and contemplating grad school, or being just another Portlander who can’t stand to leave the West coast hippie utopian mothership city of bicycles, coffee, indie rock, DIY culture, and microbrews. Wait a minute….
Ellie: When I was considering library school the other thing floating through my mind was marine biology (specifically the deep sea), but I can’t get past how many creatures you have to kill to learn about them, so I’d probably stick to the reading type of research, preferably for nature documentaries.
Brett: I’d probably have remained a fair-to-middling fundraiser, and I almost certainly would have been an even more frustrated novelist. If you write a book-length story but don’t show it to anyone in the publishing industry, is it still a novel? And if you write a second and won’t submit that one either, are you a novelist, a loser, or both?
Hilary: I started out as a botanist and ended up as a librarian, so somewhere in between with dirt firmly packed under my nails would be where I’d find myself if I were not a librarian.
Kim: I expect I would have gone back to school for a degree in a field related to animals, plants, or the environment. Maybe I’d be a vet or a wildlife expert tracking herds of wild something-or-others around Yellowstone. That would be good fun.
3. What did you do, before becoming a librarian,
that did the most to prepare you for your current career?
Derik (realizing he missed the “most to prepare” part of this question, on that front it was all the time I spent shelf reading in the public library): I went to art school, a major part of which are “crits”: the class puts up work and critiques each other. In that situation you learn not to take criticism personally and how to think/look critically — helpful in many situations. I only wish others were able to not take criticism personally and apply a more critical eye to various ventures.
Emily: In college I learned how to think critically. So much about librarianship depends on our ability to make intelligent and informed decisions and to use creativity and thinking skills.
Ellie: I would say the research I had to do for the papers in my book history classes is what taught me how to really, fully use the library and my work in television prepped me for all the personalities I’ve run into on the administrative side of things. Oh, and being born to a Systems Architect prepped me for the techy side :)
Brett: In my last year at college, and in my first year after I graduated, it was my job to interrupt people during dinner. You know those nonprofit workers who call you on the phone and ask you to give money to causes you would happily support if only you had more money? That was me. What I learned from that job was that it didn’t matter what I said, what towns I was calling, or how much people had given before. What mattered was my attitude.
This became clear the night after my first date with the woman who sat in front of me in African-American Literature of the 1960’s. Aside from my wife, she had the most beautiful neck I’ve ever seen, and this early-90’s bob that brushed just along her nape. We just had pizza, but I was flying high the next day. Donors couldn’t reach their Visa cards fast enough.
Now, just seven months into my first job managing a library, I draw on that lesson daily. My neighbors, colleagues, board members, and Friends are fantastic and want very much for the Library to be great. It’s up to me, in every interaction, to reinforce their belief that the work they do to improve the Collingswood Library is energy well spent.
Hilary: Convinced that I would never become a librarian, I worked in libraries through undergrad and initially during my first stint in grad school to help fund my development into being a plant systematist (a botanist who studies plant evolution and diversity). It was doing research for other people and then doing research for myself that taught me how to make the most of information resources. Plus, there’s a decent amount of overlap in the way species are conceptualized and the way library resources are organized.
Kim: For my first Master’s degree I wrote a thesis on a slightly obscure historical character whose memoirs, papers, and reports were not largely available. As part of my research I spent long hours reading and copying microfilm, took a road trip to review the Bancroft’s collections, and dug, dug, dug, for anything else I could find. I sure did enjoy the search, and learned a lot about libraries in the process.
This is great. I really enjoy blogs that give their writers some personality. It makes the writers more accessible somehow. Have y’all thought about posing these questions to the reader(s)? Could be a good way to keep the dialogue going. Just a thought.
Nice idea, Megan. We’ll consider this with the next of such posts.
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