Beyond the DMZ

North Korean Beach
Gilliland, Clay. “At the Majon Beach Guest House Near Hamhung DPRK.” 2014. Wikimedia Commons. [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic]
Today at work, the stars aligned to bring me quite a few resources about North Korea.  I have a strong interest in East Asian book history.  (The Koreans were the first to develop metal movable type – so they’re already a step ahead of the game when it comes to coolness.)  I also find it interesting to learn about different places and cultures.  And North Korea is one of the hardest places for a US citizen (i.e. me) to visit; and it can be equally hard for a North Korean to come to the US.  So, when I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of beyond the DMZ today, I was thrilled.

And I figured I’d share some of what I found here.

  • Audrey Chun from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s library wrote a blog post “Yes, We’re From North Korea!” for the International Area Studies Library Glocal Notes that highlights the university’s North Korean collections (and gives some interesting statistics about the DPRK).
  • Also from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, there’s a LibGuide on the university’s North Korean Collections.  (Actually, there are several libguides, but I’ll only link one here.)
  • Then, I learned about the activist Lee Hyeonseo, who grew up in North Korea and defected and went back to rescue her family.  She gave a 2013 TED Talk and now has recently published a book The Girl with Seven Names which I promptly requested from the library.

P.S. If you’re also interested in East Asian book history (and literature by extension), you should check out my work-in-progress East Asian Book History LibGuide.

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Approachability Politics

cleopatra by watherhouse
Waterhouse, John William. “Cleopatra, oil on canvas.” Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain].
A coworker describes helping a patron who, after the reference transaction, tells her that she is not approachable enough, that she needs to smile more.  A classmate laments over her “resting bitch face” which keeps patrons from coming to her with their questions.  An LIS professor discusses an incident where a patron came over and told her “You look mean.”  My reference textbook reiterates the need for librarians to have open body language.

The concept of “approachability” is rampant in the discussion of librarians and library students.  What are our verbal and non-verbal cues? Are they deemed threatening or standoffish? How can we signal to patrons that they aren’t bothering us, that they are encouraged to ask us questions?

I’m all for librarians being approachable.  I’ve experienced librarians who were not at all understanding or accommodating, who were more disciplinarians than information professionals.  And I understand that people are reluctant to ask for help – and that can be compounded by library anxiety, social anxiety, or due to factors such as age, race or gender.

But when I continuously get reminders about approachability – from the LIS curriculum, from professors, from books, from articles and blogs, from supervisors – this preaching about approachability sounds more like the grizzled man on the main drag who calls out “Sweetheart, why don’t you smile?” than it does “professional advice.”

Our profession walks a delicate line here.  Yes, being open to patron inquiries is paramount, but telling professionals (who are predominantly women) to be approachable becomes dangerous.  As a woman, I’m bombarded day-in and day-out with pressures to be more approachable, more beautiful, more pleasant.  I’m told that I exist for others’ needs, not because I’m a full-fledged individual.  In a library setting, yes, I’m hired to help others, but I still don’t want to be harassed – under the supposition that I’m not “approachable” enough.

Approachability is, likely, important to librarianship.  But I want librarians and educators (and perhaps patrons) to keep in mind that repeatedly talking about being “approachable” in a predominantly female profession can be problematic.

A Day in the Life of an Acquisitions Graduate Assistant

la Trobe library
Pengo. “La Trobe University library, Bundoora campus.” Image. Wikimedia Commons. [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.]
In the words of the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” I “Woke up/fell out of bed/dragged a comb across my head.”  Then, it is across campus to the Main Library – where a stack of orders is waiting for me.

My coworkers and I get dragged in by a dozen Halloween-themed donuts.  I picked an orange and green one.  And I ate a banana in the hallway, disposing of the peel in the food waste bin (to keep the library free of pests).

Then, it’s back to sitting down with the orders.  30 Japanese books, 10 French books on music, 10 architectural books.  Always takes longer than expected.

An email from my boss, with information on the new ProjectMUSE and JSTOR patron-driven acquisition (PDA) project.  I looked at the overlap in publishers, and then the overlap in titles for those – so the library can ensure that no duplicate records get loaded into the OPAC (online public access catalog).  While at first I thought I’d be pulling lists from publisher websites for the overlapping titles, I’ve found that I can pretty easily compare by searching the overlapping titles in JSTOR and ProjectMUSE – at least for the small presses/publishers.  It goes faster than hunting through tens of pages of a publisher’s website.  I’ll have to see how it goes when I get to a big publisher like Oxford University Press.

Then, at 1, I high-tail it to lunch.  Afterwards, I try to fit in some housework before crossing campus again for my 3-hour long lecture class on Archives.  The evening calms down from there: I eat dinner, finish my housework, and work on whatever projects need doing.  If I have time, I might even sneak in an episode of my Chinese historical drama Empresses in the Palace (后宫·甄嬛传).

The life of an Acquisitions Graduate Assistant sure looks busy…and Mondays are a light day.