Ladies, you ever feel like guys just love us for our books?
Yeah… Me neither…
Well, since my classmate Bracken boldly posted his Informational Career paper on his blog, I guess I will too. Mine feels kind of dumb next to his–he’s got core competencies under his belt that I’ve never even heard of–but then, I’m in graduate school to learn. If I already knew everything, I wouldn’t be here. It’s always been hard for me to admit what I don’t know, so I think it must be good for me to stick a pin in my inflated ego and admit I don’t know squat.
My Informational Career: The View From Here
Currently, my long-term career goal is to serve as a public librarian, specifically in the areas of reference, readers’ services and children’s librarianship. As the field of library and information studies continues to expand at an exponential rate, it is clear that being a librarian means being a perpetual student. Lucky for me, I have been gifted with an insatiable curiosity and a deep love of learning. Yet, while these qualities prove useful for fueling professional enthusiasm, many other skill sets are required to support a successful library career. I have some experience working in library settings as well as experience with research and records management through my employment as a grants coordinator for The Salvation Army. More than a lifetime is required to become familiar with all the useful reference resources, but I am prepared to dedicate the rest of my years to the challenge. Additional skills such as presentation, readers’ services, cataloging, collection development, and many others will require the same diligent attention. Though the journey is long, I believe the rewards are great.
I have some library service experience from my work as a shelver and circulation clerk for the Tulsa City-County Library (TCCL). This experience allowed me to become familiar with the TCCL online catalogue and the Dewey decimal system of organizing nonfiction resources. Of course, the majority of my time was spent ordering and shelving returned library resources, checking library resources in and out for customers, creating new customer records, issuing new library cards, updating customer contact information, processing fines for late items, and placing hold requests for customers.
My experience with library reference resources is very limited. I have used Academic Search Elite and the EBSCO Databases to locate resources for college papers. In addition, I have utilized the Foundation Directory at the Central Library to research grant opportunities since I have been working in the grant writing field. Yet there is a vast array of resources available online and through the public library of which I am not even aware. As my professors and classmates recommend various online resources, I bookmark the websites and explore them as quickly as possible in a frantic attempt to absorb and retain knowledge of useful resources for library customers. Of course, I realize that the task of collecting online resources is endless, as hundreds more become available everyday. However, my duty as a public librarian is to stay abreast of the reference resources available as best I can, so that I can quickly guide customers to the information and resources most likely to meet their needs. One of the core competencies of public librarianship is “keeping up-to-date with new practices, trends, and standards in the field by reading journals, attending professional meetings and conferences, and discussing current issues with experts” (www.librarysupportstaff.com). I think attending to listservs and the blogs of colleagues will also be useful in expanding my awareness of new developments in the field.
As I have a Bachelor’s degree in English literature, it cannot be a great shock to those who know me that I am hopelessly addicted to fiction. From the classics to comic books, I rapidly absorb every piece of fiction that comes my way. I love giving and receiving book recommendations, analyzing novels for allusion and symbolism, and I can think of no more enjoyable form of employment than providing readers’ services. Thanks to the recommendations of classmates, friends and professors, I am currently exploring readers’ advisory websites such as LibraryThing, GoodReads and NoveList to learn the pros and cons of each resource. I believe this field of library service is one at which I can truly excel.
Another set of skills I need to build involves developing and presenting educational programs and story time programs for library customers and their children. Public speaking typically inspires me with fear rather than excitement, but reading stories and singing songs with children is less intimidating to me than speaking in front of adults. Perhaps I am best suited to serve as a children’s librarian. I need to continue to practice my public speaking skills as well as practice developing and presenting community education programs that might be needed in a public library, such as cultural events or computer applications classes.
Core competencies for public librarians include the ability to present information efficiently in an understandable format and the ability to use “simple examples, illustrations and analogies to explain concepts” (www.librarysupportstaff.com). I have sought to follow these guidelines through undergraduate presentations as well as speaking engagements involving my work for nonprofits. Somehow I inherited the position of the United Way internal campaign coordinator for The Salvation Army, so every fall I exercise my public speaking skills by offering presentations about Salvation Army services provided in the Tulsa Area. This task has been a valuable opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone and stretch my information provision abilities. As the child of an elementary school teacher, I have learned that different people have different learning styles. When preparing community education programs, I must endeavor to cater to all learning styles with a variety of visual aids and audio resources, and well as hands-on learning activities, as appropriate.
Cataloging procedure and building library collections are two areas of which I am completely ignorant. I am uncertain if reference and children’s librarians in public libraries do much cataloging, but I think it could only be beneficial to know how to catalog new library resources. Certainly the size of the public library system dictates whether its reference and children’s librarians are involved in cataloging and collection building. Nonetheless, knowledge of these activities can only enhance my employment opportunities.
An educational objective listed on the University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies website is the ability to “demonstrate professional attitudes regarding scholarship, professional ethics, intellectual freedom, and access to information in a democratic society.” Admittedly I know little about the underlying theory and current issues involving intellectual freedom, but standing on the threshold of comprehension, my gut reaction is to feel strongly protective of our first amendment rights and the freedom to share information. Open source and open access applications have caught my interest, and I want to learn more about their current and potential uses. I did not know the meaning of open source software a month ago, but I am drawn to the democratic values embodied in open source, and curiosity is leading me to further investigation. If all my other information organization skills are merely nascent at this time, at least my natural curiosity will serve me well.
Another valuable skill set is the ability to “design and implement information products and services that respond effectively to changes in an increasingly multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual, and global society” (OU School of Library and Information Studies). I am very much a product of the white, middle-class culture in which I was raised, and therefore I must constantly struggle to look beyond the world view of my upbringing to other cultural perspectives. One means of making this effort is to continue my study of Spanish and other languages. I have taken a couple basic Spanish courses, but lack of regular usage has made retention difficult. Nevertheless, I have always enjoyed studying languages, and my Latin studies make Romance languages particularly accessible to me. Perhaps by seeking opportunities to serve in public libraries centered in largely Hispanic communities, such as the Martin Regional Library in East Tulsa, I can expand my Spanish vocabulary and improve my conversation skills. The Hispanic population needs to have equal opportunities to access library resources, as do all minorities, and public libraries need additional support in serving these populations.
Education and the stewardship of information are among the noblest of professions, in my opinion. The gift of education has the power to benefit the recipient long after the giver is gone. Yet I tend to agree with Michael Buckland that knowledge cannot be shared, only “information-as-thing” (1991). I can only provide others with representations of my information-as-knowledge, and those representations are information-as-thing (1991). My audience bears the responsibility of processing and internalizing the information I provide, for I have no influence over their assimilation of information into knowledge. The message I transmit may or may not be the same as the message my audience receives. The only way I can perpetuate knowledge and education is to promote the organization and accessibility of information and to encourage and assist others in their information quests.
My educational and employment experience has provided many skills useful to a career in library and information studies, but much more information and experience is required. I have an affinity for readers’ advisory work, and some experience presenting educational information, but my knowledge of reference resources hardly scratches the surface of the materials in existence. My knowledge of cataloging, collection development and creation of metadata is negligible. I have many skills to develop and many concepts to learn, but I look forward to the opportunity. I want to promote community education, information stewardship and intellectual freedom, and the most viable means of doing this seems to be contributing to the field of library and information studies.
For anyone interested, I attended the first meeting of the nascent Student Archives group, initiated by George Gottschalk last Wednesday. I believe we decided that the best way to conduct business will most likely be online through our listserv or through a blog, for which OLISSA is donating the website space. We discussed scheduling archivist speakers and/or field trips to archives in Tulsa and Norman, both of which will be interesting and informative, I think. I know nothing about archives, really, so I thought this group would be a good opportunity to learn more. I will post more about this group and its doings as information develops.
And on a completely unrelated note, I’m glad I’m not the only person who daydreams about things like this.
Someday, Rita… Someday…
Based on actual events in an Oklahoma public library…
What with having to work overtime to write two forty-page grant applications two weeks ago, and my employer’s decision to hold a mandatory employee retreat on campgrounds in Tahlequah this weekend, time for completing homework assignments has been exceedingly elusive.
My back hurts. My eyes hurt. And I still have another paper to write for tomorrow. Ugh…
This seems like a good place to log some thoughts I jotted recently about the book Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
I suspect Middlesex will be a classic studied by college students one day. Tracing the familial and genetic history of a Greek family whose intersections resulted in the narrator’s birth as a hermaphrodite, the story wrenches the heart by relating experiences that resonate with any reader. Alienation, loneliness, desire—all are human experiences. But the author makes the narrator even more human by recognizing those less definable feelings, emotions that blend and blur at the edges: the mournful joy of autumn, the hatred of mirrors that comes with middle age.
The narrator is Calliope Stephanides. Calliope is also the muse of epic poetry, and Calliope Stephanides’s creation is indeed an epic undertaking. Her paternal grandparents, Desdemona (Greek for unfortunate) and Lefty are brother and sister. As children they are very close, described as like one four-legged, two-headed being scrambling down the mountainside where they live in Smyrna. This alludes to Plato’s symposium, where Socrates hypothesizes that soul mates are drawn together because in the dawn of time, they lived conjoined as one being. Desdemona harvests silk from silkworms, providing cocoon imagery and foreshadowing Calliope’s later transformation from what appears to be a normal girl into an adult that self-identifies as male. Lefty’s name is not explained, but maybe it’s a hint that he is Desdemona’s other half? Does “Lefty” connote a sinister quality, since, while Desdemona’s willingness to marry him wavers, it is Lefty who pushes the envelope? Maybe it is sinister in the older connotation, because they keep their identity as siblings secret after their marriage. The left hand was regarded as untrustworthy, deceitful and dirty in ancient Greek and Roman culture. The right hand was used for eating and greeting friends, while the left hand was used when urinating.
Desdemona must flee Smyrna to escape the invasion of the Turks, who murder and burn everything in their wake. As all they know is destroyed and they barely escape with their lives, Desdemona and Lefty find comfort in each other.
Sure, incest is a gross and creepy idea. But these two tried to find other romantic interests, and somehow keep ending up back together. When they lose their parents, their home, their village—when everything else familiar is taken away, you can’t help but have sympathy for two lonely, frightened people seeking comfort in the only familiar thing left to them. (Please don’t misread me, pervy people. I’m only saying I sympathize, nothing more.)
In telling Calliope’s story, Middlesex references the story of Teresias, who was transformed into a woman for seven years as a punishment from the gods, Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, Orpheus, who swore he could never love another woman after he lost his wife Eurydice at the gate to Hades, Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s gender-bending comedy, Love Story, That Obscure Object of Desire, and probably many other texts I’m not well-read enough to know. It is masterfully written.
When the doctors are trying to determine Calliope’s sexual orientation, I hate how they are trying to categorize him/her—their probing, their cold, clinical labeling of Cal’s most private features. It makes me angry, because, fiction or not, I know this sort of pigeonholing and invasion of privacy has happened to innumerable people. Real, vulnerable people.
But I guess only a well written piece of fiction can make you really angry like this.
Oracles in Middlesex
On the drive home, I was wondering why the recurrence of oracles, augurs and prophets in Middlesex, besides their obvious frequent appearances in Greek mythology. A hermaphroditic oracle appears in Fellini’s Satyricon, although this character has no source in Petronius’s text. Perhaps their recurrence is in part because an oracle has a foot in two worlds, so to speak–the present and the future–in the same way Calliope has a foot in two worlds, male and female.
It also occurred to me that prophesies in Greek myth are inescapable, immutable. The crux of many Greek tragedies is that as the protagonists struggle to avoid the circumstances of their predicted doom, they inevitably bring about the events they seek to avoid. Oedipus’s parents hear the prophesy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, so they send him away to another city. Years later, Oedipus is offended by a stranger and kills him, only to find out later this man was his father. Sometimes the prophesies are not believed, as in the sad case of Cassandra–always right, never heeded.
I think Cal’s mention of oracles and prophesy indicates his desire for his existance to be deliberate, intentional. Rather than a mistake, a fluke, a freak accident. If Cal’s existance was fated by genetic prophesy, an inescapable event, that suggests there must be some reason for his experiences and sufferings. Cal fears that he is a monster. But if unseen powers planned his existance, intended his biological design, then he does not have to be an aberration. Most humans need to believe there is a reason, a purpose for things, I think. Entropy, like Medusa, is hard to look in the face.
Osiris in Middlesex
A few more disjointed notes on Middlesex:
Cal/liope is born in January, which is named for Janus, the two-faced, Greco-Roman god of doorways and the new year. He looks backward at the old year and forward to the new one. When Cal and family come to the house on Middlesex Street, there is a scene where Cal gets stuck in one of the strange, pneumatic accordian doors in the house. Like Janus, Cal lives in a place between–between genders, between the past that created him and the future that he embodies. In the last scene of the book, we find Cal guarding the doorway to the house during his father’s funeral, in the old Greek tradition, to ensure his father’s ghost does not return to the house. Raised as a girl, he now fills this traditionally male role–carrying out an old-world ritual, he stands considering the future.
Cal’s father’s name is Milton, reminiscent of another man who authored an epic. I believe Milton had gone blind at the time he wrote Paradise Lost, having dictated it in its entirety to his daughters. This may be what Eugenides had in mind throughout Middlesex, with Milton’s blind faith in President Nixon and his inability to see the viewpoints of others.
Eugenides also references another myth when Cal mentions the Osiris grass growing around the houses in Detroit. In Egyptian mythology, Osiris was married to his sister Isis, but was killed by his brother Seth. Seth cut Osiris’ body into a number of pieces (the stories vary as to how many) and scattered them. Isis found and reassembled all of Osiris’ body parts, except she could not find the phallus, which was eaten by a fish. So she fashioned a new one for him out of gold, and brought him back to life. However, because he could no longer reproduce, he could not be completely brought back to life, and he became the god of the dead.
Cal does not want to be sliced up and sentenced to a half life, so he runs away rather than submit to gender re-assignment.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the way Lefty begins to be eclipsed from the moment Cal is born. I’m certain it’s significant, but I’m not entirely sure what it means.
More thoughts on this later, and the Freudian implications of the houses in Middlesex.