W is for…Work

I was intending to write about how taking walks helps support my writing, but I covered that already in my post about the outdoors. Instead I’m writing about how work supports my writing.

Balancing work and writing has been a struggle after coming back from sabbatical. Starting in June 2013, I had 15 months away from my job (as an associate professor in the campus library), where I spent almost all of that time writing. I’ve been back to work at the library since this past September, and I’m just getting to the point now where I’m starting to feel comfortable heading into the office every day. (Just in time for summer vacation!) Such is the nature of sabbaticals.

Sabbatical was amazing. It was wonderful. I wish everyone could experience it. It helped me see how I’m not essential to the work of the library. The library can get along just fine without me.  I value my work as a librarian, helping students connect with and critically use information, but that work will continue with or without me. I am an important part of that work but again, I am not essential.

On sabbatical, I learned that writing is my career. It may never support me with a full time income, but it is my career, my passion, my vocation. While I think carefully about the ways in which I fulfill my commitments to my institution – I do not want to shortchange the library, the institution or my students – it is my day job.

Work supports my writing by giving me time. I have a flexible schedule, I have sabbaticals, I have a tremendous amount of autonomy. It may not be my ideal career, but for now it gives me the stability, especially through health insurance and income, that frees up time to write.

Diversify Your Shelves

Last week we saw the We Need Diverse Books campaign storm Twitter.  In case you missed it or are feeling nostalgic:

Saturday’s challenge was to buy diverse books (or check them out from your local library.)  Even though it was a lovely spring day, my wee ones wanted to go to the mall (because apparently I’m raising teenager girls).  We ended up at the train table in Barnes & Noble.  The wee ones played while I looked for diverse picture books.

Here’s what I found: it’s really hard to find diverse books.  I know, duh – that’s the point of the campaign.  I pride myself on my collection of kids books about and by African American authors and illustrators.  But I’ve found most of them through specific title searches.  (Whoa, some librarianese just surfaced there.)

I’ve found diverse books in the past usually because I’ve sought them out.  I’ve tracked down specific authors and/or illustrators from blogs, reading lists and recommendations from others.  It was much harder to find diverse books simply by skimming the bookstore shelves.

I pulled out book after book, looking for one that didn’t have a white kid (usually a boy) or an animal on the front.  That’s no knock on those books in general – there are some excellent children’s books featuring white boys or animals as main characters.  But there were so many books that could have told the same story with a child of color, or a differently abled child, or a child wearing a headscarf or a child with two mommies.

We need diverse books to tell our stories.  We need to question why white (male) is the automatic default.  We need books that don’t assume one way of being is standard and the rest are “different” or “exotic.”

So with time running out on the cooperation the wee ones were willing to expend at the train table, I made a final mad dash through the picture books and found two of them, which the wee ones love (especially the alien one).  I found both of them because they happened to be on display.

photo (15)

Here’s a tip for bookstores and libraries – displays matter.  Covers matter.  We are in the business of connecting readers with books – and especially the books they may not even know they need.  Help a reader out, especially before time runs out at the train table.

What Did You Just Say? Research Vocabulary (Writers Doing Research)

If you can count on death and taxes, you can also probably count on the fact that doing research can be needlessly complicated sometimes.  Now, I’ve come across the viewpoint that “no one needs libraries because everything’s online” a few too many times in the past few years.  (Hint: it’s not.) This isn’t what I’m talking about in terms of complications, although that attitude has its own troubling set of complications.

What I’m talking about is a convergence of circumstances.  Back in days of yore, when you had to go to a library or archives in person to do your research and there was no online option, the systems worked pretty slick.  You consulted print indexes, like a card catalog or a finding aid, to find out what was in the collection. Call numbers or box numbers helped you locate the actual materials.

If you couldn’t find what you were looking for (or even if you could), you’d talk in person to the librarian or archivist, who could help you navigate further and even help you find materials not located in the building itself, perhaps even shipping them to you via interlibrary loan.

Then the internet came along and blew everything up.  In lots of good ways, let’s be clear, but many of those print navigational systems had a tough time transitioning online.  It’s why subscription databases and online library catalogs are very clunky compared to Google – cataloging and metadata don’t always translate well to users used to phrase and keyword searching.

But here’s the even bigger issue:

  • print indexes
  • finding aids
  • interlibrary loan
  • metadata
  • cataloging

In other words, what did I just say?  Libraries and archives run on specialized vocabulary.  The specialized vocabulary in my discipline creates its own roadblocks and complications.  (You should hang out with me and my colleagues every year or so when we discuss whether or not the phrase “Reference Desk” means anything to students and if not, what should we change it to?  We’ve yet to settle this one…)

 OPAC, records (not the music ones – well, sometimes those, too), microfiche, microform, microfilm (yes, they are different), metadata, institutional repository, finding aid, closed stacks, open stacks…. I could go on and on. (And don’t even get me started on the acronyms.  Librarians love acronyms.)

Fortunately, there are some excellent online resources.  There’s the Glossary of Library and Information Science page at Wikipedia. (And I’m saying that with a straight face – I love Wikipedia.)  There’s also a nifty resource put together by the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) of the American Library Association (ALA) – what did I tell you about the acronyms?

Anyway, ACRL put together a multilingual glossary of library terms.  This page contains a link to library terms in six different languages – perfect for non-native English speakers – as well as a link to definitions in English.

Finally, the Society of American Archivists have a list of archival and records terminology.

Barrier: All that library and archives vocabulary is driving me crazy – and not in a good way!

Solution: Use some of the online resources for definitions.  And this might be hard for some of you – it is for me – ask for help from archivists and librarians.  They don’t bite. (At least not usually.)