The Book-Box

A semester spent wrapped up in books.

exeunt the interns: final thoughts

Before this internship, the word “librarian” had for me the image of quiet work between the shelves, whispering and wearing glasses on a chain and saving the world with literacy in some vague but impressive way. Being able to shadow the library staff at the Bryan College Library has not only helped replace that idealized image with a more practical one which includes less-than-glamorous tasks like customer service and sleepy office afternoons, but it has also shown me that the librarian reality is a lot more appealing than the myth. Some of the work librarians do goes largely unnoticed—staff meetings produce decisions which improve the patron experience and no one outside the office will ever hear of it. But even the mundane is rewarding when I consider that it all adds up to creating a consistent and steady environment on campus, something that I think a lot of students are thirsting for. The library will always be there for you, and they prove it by showing up rain or shine, stormy Sunday night or pale Monday morning. On a general note, I have learned to appreciate the hard work done behind the scenes at a college library.

In addition to the hands-on experience I got with the catalogue, answering questions and helping the library run smoothly in the stacks and behind the front desk, I’ve appreciated my interaction with the staff as a part of the policy manual project we interns have been assigned this semester. Walking through procedures for things like inventory, weeding and interlibrary loan has made the processes make a lot more sense for me, even if as a student I won’t be participating in those larger projects.

Coupled with an interest in classical studies, my research into the library field has led me to an interest in rare books, manuscripts and archives. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about conservation practices from interviews with librarians as well as my own research, and seeing a few weeks ago a collection of 200-year-old documents inked with tiny, elegant script was a real highlight of my time here. To that end, I have been browsing grad schools with a concentration in Archives or Record Management, and daydreaming about combining my practice with classical languages and the next few years of library experience in some manuscript-handling field. In researching open positions in the United States right now, I found a few jobs calling for just that combination—one at Yale and another in the Pacific Northwest invited applicants with library experience as well as fluency in ancient languages. I’ve always found translation fascinating, and in upper-level Greek courses we’ve learned the transmission process for ancient documents as well as text criticism. I definitely would have a fascination for the subject if my career bends that direction.

Because I still have about a year and a half before my grad school would start, I am still in the early process of applying and selecting a school. Schools like UNC Chapel Hill and UMD College Park (Maryland) are both ranked highly on a few websites I looked into; many schools (like Drexel) offer an online degree as well. I hesitate to commit to an online school because I think I could benefit from the hands-on experience that physically attending a school can offer. There are some appealing and intimidating opportunities at larger grad schools, from field studies to foreign study abroad programs, but I’m still in the dreaming phase of this process.

After graduating from Bryan College, I intend to pursue this MLIS degree somewhere on the East Coast and then begin to gather some experience. The next three years following grad school I am imagining will be spent with a flexibility which isn’t natural to my personality—I’ll need to be able to move anywhere for a job and to take close to any job related to my education and experience. By the mile mark of 7 years from grad school graduation, I expect to have built a network of professional contacts and a body of various skills gained from each job I’ve tried out, and hopefully then I will know much better my strengths, weaknesses and passions as a librarian. Five years after that, it’s hard for me to picture from here—the constantly-shifting job field and the librarian career being in flux at this moment make this generation unique compared to previous ones: it’s possible that unlike my grandfather, who worked the same job for many years, I might be working in semi-permanent installments across the country. The universality of the library profession—though a varied community, librarians have a lot of common ground in philosophy and practice—lends itself to traveling librarians. I would say that as far as I know these days, my ultimate “dream job” as a librarian would be something which relates to those classical studies and perhaps overseas travel to the historical sites in which the echoes of dead languages still ring in the distance. I am attracted to the rewarding aspects of student interaction and the environment of learning at an academic library, so I believe that I would also be very satisfied as a reference librarian at a university someday.

From my observation, some of the most valued resources for continuing education once a librarian is employed is simply other librarians. Whether through web seminars, lectures or face-to-face tutorials, our Bryan College librarians are furthering their knowledge and skills to better serve their community. In terms of career advancement and job searching, I’ve read that attending library conferences and forcing oneself out of an introverted shell so common for librarian-types in order to network is a very effective practice. And speaking simply of keeping up with the library profession, while I believe that publications like Library Journal offer a lot of interesting articles particularly on the big-picture scale, the best way to keep a finger on the pulse of the American librarian, besides taking her out for coffee, is to read her blog. There are handfuls of library blogs out there and each offers seasoned advice and sympathetic humor for the frustrations that this job, as all jobs, have. The rise of social media in the past five years feeds these library blogs and the resources available on the internet for even the most rural librarian will only grow from here, as librarians do as they have always been trained to do, absorbing and adapting to new technology to better communicate with and serve their world.

Farewell, dear readers — I’ve enjoyed this semester with you. Keep reading, and frequent your local library!

Librivox

Calling all readers and lovers of books!  One of the librarians here recommended this website called Librivox, a great internet community dedicated to giving folks access to the written word in audio format.  If you’re like me, a so-called reader who hasn’t had the time to enjoy pleasure reading in months, an audiobook can be just the thing to infuse a busy day with a healthy dose of literature.  Librivox audiobooks are mp3 files carefully recorded by other members of the website, and every book available for download  is in the Public Domain (published before 1923) so there’s no legal grey area here.  You can listen to chapters on their website, which is under maintenance today but should be up and running by tomorrow, or you can download the files for free.  Try it out—take Jules Verne for a morning run, or go on a road trip with Walt Whitman.

Progress Report

As a part of my internship I’ve been drafting various chapters in our policy manual here at the library.  The past two weeks I’ve talked with our librarians to learn about what’s involved in collection management—from weeding obsolete books and selecting new ones to simply adjusting and maintaining the physical stacks upstairs.  I’ve mentioned “reading the shelves” before, where student workers trace the numbers of each book to make sure they’re all in order.  In a practical way we saw the importance of that earlier this week, when one of the librarians and I spent a half hour setting to rights a virtual train wreck in the 900s.  It took two people passing books from the top of one shelf to the bottom of the other, shifting and rearranging books to make sense of the section.

What I’ve learned the past few weeks is that at an academic library, collection management means attending three spheres of need—the collection must be useful to professors, easily-accessible and enriching for students, and manageable for librarians.  With good communication between these three parties, a library can develop a healthy and well-used range of materials for its community.

Mud Angels

Do you guys know what Sunday was?  Aside from being my Gram’s birthday and the day we all struggled to remember how to turn back the clock on the oven, November 4th was the 46th anniversary of the Florence Flood, when the River Arno overflowed in 1966, damaging over a million books and almost a thousand works of art.  It was a disaster, but good rose from the flood—advancements in conservation science, renewed faith in human capacity for self-sacrifice, and the mud angels.

Conservation-restoration techniques before the flood were secret arts—each institution had its own way of doing things, and procedures were passed down like arcane traditions.  All of this changed in 1966; in the wake of the damage in Florence, trade secrets were exchanged for the common good.  They called them “mud angels” (gli angeli del fango): young people from every nation, who spent months rescuing waterlogged books even as the floodwaters receded.  The mud angels dedicated even longer in the healing process, scraping off mud and restoring books page by page.  They even brought food by basket to people stuck in their homes!

These mud angels are heroes, faithful guardians of information who represent that gorgeous strain in the human spirit which reaches out, forges bonds to overcome adversity.  Reminded of their legacy by the smaller-scale flooding by Hurricane Sandy, we honor those cheerful and tireless librarians, historians, off-duty soldiers, and students who earned muddy halos in the flooded streets of Florence.

Read more about the mud angels here, and check out great photos of the mud angels in action here and here.

A+ for libraries in the east coast this week!

Although Hurricane Sandy hasn’t reached Tennessee with anything more than a cold spell and some cruel wind, friends and loved ones on the East Coast have me thinking about the storm.  As residents of the East Coast continue to face power outages and incredible property damage, folks are attending the library in droves.  It’s exciting to read stories like this one, where people left without power have been charging phones, getting coffee and entertaining children in the warmth of libraries across New Jersey.  Libraries are playing movies for families, offering up use of both WiFi and staff computers for community use, sacrificing time and energy to support the neighborhood in a time of need.  Staff, volunteers and patrons alike have a great attitude about the whole thing, says a librarian from the New Canaan Library, and describes a “sense of camaraderie” in the situation.  Reading a story like this, I’m proud of libraries, and I’m proud of people.  Be safe, everyone—we in the South are praying for you.

On Creative Spaces

I have been lately thinking about the importance of place.  I read a great article in the Poets and Writers magazine that went into more detail about this idea, particularly in regards to writing.  P&W discussed famous writers and their ideal writing locations (Hemingway wrote standing up; Coleridge on walks; D.H. Lawrence beneath a tree).  For me, I write best after a walk and accompanied by coffee, whether at a desk or on the floor in frenetic scrawl.  The article’s got a great quote about how writing is a play between two worlds – “literal and imaginative,” spiritual and incarnate.  This is why place matters—we are “unconsciously attuned to external stimuli—music, scent, a familiar view.”  The aesthetics and physical space move the body into more creative postures, and when discipline develops into routine, the writing process becomes muscle memory.

This is why writers magpie notebooks, old typewriters and nice pens—the physical, the feeling matters.  When I was younger, just learning to write in the purest sense, (simply spilling the truth I saw and blending it with what I wished was true) I would sneak upstairs while we had company over and type a few hurried sentences on this old Windows 98 computer.  It was clunky, sleepy and slow, and it didn’t have internet connection, but the keyboard had just the right amount of click.  I remember still in my fingers the pleasure of getting on a roll, letting my mind and fingers unite while I watched the paragraphs grow.  The room had rainbow wallpaper and a big window with no curtains on it—this 13 year old girl could rest her wrists and stare at a full five square feet of green maple leaf, and I think the chlorophyll did my soft young writing soul good.

This reflection came first from my love of writing, but I think it’s also important to celebrate the incarnation of the library.  I’ve said before, we need the library as a safe neutral zone for the discovery of ideas.  I love libraries that are like cathedrals: all quiet aisles, long windows and sunlit dust-motes.  The transitional space of the library houses that union of form and imagination.  In books, the word is made flesh and dwells among us—presides, abides in golden library afternoon.

 

You can find the article here.

Banned Books Week

Last week was national Banned Books Week, and we had a display in our library with some of the well-known books that have been banned in the past.  We participate in Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read and to remember the power that an idea can have.  Every year, books—particularly for children—are challenged or banned by various schools and libraries, and it’s good to take a week to think critically about this practice.  It’s an interesting conversation—I read from one author in the LA Times that “banning books is like banning ideas, and…teenagers especially need access to all kinds of ideas,” because they are the next generation of voices and visionaries.

A real-life example of how this issue is more complex than a scratched-out word or a torn page can be found across the country in Tucson, Arizona, where seven books on the Mexican-American experience have been pulled from the shelves across the school district.  The Mexican-American curriculum had been pitched recently following a decision last year that the program had gotten too politically-charged.  One teacher told NPR that Mexican-American Studies (MAS) classes tell the immigrant story, and Mexican-American students get the opportunity to celebrate and discover their cultural identities as Americans through the music, food and literature of Chicano culture.  The classes were disbanded across the district because while some teachers demonstrated a love for the culture, others focused on the divisive politics that come with the topic of immigration.  The decision and its execution startled and hurt many who participated in the MAS programs.  This past week, this issue has been back in the public mind during Banned Books Week, when we remember that books and ideas are powerful agents for change, and are sometimes seen as dangerous by institutions.  With almost every banned book, there are two very earnest and compelling sides to the matter.  Particularly when it comes to children’s literature, we walk a line between the responsibility to offer fruitful books as well as to provide challenging materials through which we can think critically with young readers.

As a Christian and as a person in favor of the sharing and discussion of challenging ideas, I think this is a very interesting conversation that will not end with one committee decision or protest.

The Joy of Searching

One of my duties here is to keep up with job opportunities in the library/information sciences field.  It’s been exciting reading the descriptions for some of these positions.  I think the amount of schooling and experience required might intimidate some, but as a senior with less than a year before she’s shoved into the unknown, I welcome the idea of lingering in academia a little longer.  I think I have a new dream job every few months; I dream of putting my Greek studies to use in translation, or I dream of tending an old-fashioned lighthouse (naturally, filling the rounded walls with bookshelves).  Ever since I read about an opening at Yale for a papyrologist, I think I’ve got a new dream.  The idea of curling around a text that whispers history, to coddle and preserve old documents and organize them for the wealth of generations to come, that sounds great.  Turns out a papyrologist needs to know all kinds of languages, which sounds rewarding, too.  The research genre of librarian work is very appealing to me.

Something I never noticed before this semester is that not everyone shares my love of research.  I like mooning about upstairs, selecting what books catch my eye and building a fort from the stacks of papers and type-written dissertations and dusty tomes I’ve collected.  I like to help others find what they need too, even those who see research as a chore or a dragon who paralyzes them at the front door.  I feel satisfaction when I am able to send someone away feeling better, more assured and in control of the task ahead, than he’d been when he came to me.  I read a great quote from a librarian that sums up the blend of humility and confidence I’ve always appreciated from research librarians: “I don’t know everything, but I can find anything.”

Chicago’s Amazing Amnesty

I thought since my last post wasn’t directly related to libraries, I’d give you a bonus post this week.  This is really something; I heard about it while we were in Chicago last weekend.  Earlier in the month (from Aug. 20 to Sept 7), the Chicago Public Library held a “Once in a Blue Moon Amnesty” period in which patrons could bring back overdue materials free of charge.

I checked the papers for some details about how the book “amnesty” went.  In that short amount of time, over 101,000 items were returned, a bulk of materials worth approximately $2 million, and that $640,000 in fines were waived for various (relieved) patrons during the amnesty.  Wow!

The Chicago Tribune details the particularly remarkable case of a book which had been overdue for 78 years.  Harlean Hoffman Vision, a Chicago native, had been reluctant to return the book for fear of fines or even legal repercussions, since it had been overdue so long.  The book was a limited-edition copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and had been checked out by a childhood friend of Vision’s mother in 1934.  When word of the library’s amnesty period got out, Vision returned the book which had somehow ended up in her hands over the years.  Someone ran the numbers for the fine this book would have earned; at a rate of 20 cents per day (and disregarding the library’s $10 cap on fines), Dorian Gray would have generated a fine of $5,694.  Crazy.

Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon said, “People feel afraid, no matter how many times we tell them all is forgiven…But 78 years?  It’s hard to beat that.”  Have a great weekend, folks.

Catching Up

I’m back!  Chicago and the Story Conference were busy, bright, inspiring and very educational, but it’s certainly good to be back in sleepy Dayton.  The conference invited speakers who excel in their various fields, many of whom are fresh from college and already accomplishing so much. Hearing their thoughts on creativity and what beauty can do for our culture was refreshing and energizing.  One of my favorites was Anne Lamott, author of creative nonfiction such as Bird by Bird, a book on the writing life.  In her serene, dreamy way, she spoke to young authors and creative people who feel stuck, stagnant.  She said:

“Come to the writing desk the same time every day.  90 minutes, 5 days a week will train your body and mind to get into a certain creative rhythm.  Discipline leads to freedom; take the action and the insight follows.”

She advised writers to relax into the uncertainty of not knowing how it’s all going to work out.

“Writing—and life—is all like driving at night with the headlights on.  You can’t see more than twenty feet ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way, in small tasks and short deadlines.”

As a writer and a college student (and a human being), I took this advice home with me.  I wanted to stitch it on a handkerchief: “Discipline leads to freedom.”  That’s insight that can apply to more than just the creative sphere.  In whatever field you operate, reader, I hope this advice challenges and energizes you the way it does me.

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