Happy Halloween

This Monday is October 31st – on which North Americans celebrate Halloween.

2016 is also the anniversary of my favorite move – Pan’s Labyrinth – which is considered pretty creepy.

So, I’ll much the two together for this post. For all those fans of creepy fairy tales, have a happy Halloween and check out some cool tidbits about creepy fairy tales.

  • There is a soothing power to fantasy, or fairy tales. (Stonebarger, Amanda. “Pied Piper vs. Faun: Storybooks and Female Empowerment in The Sweet Hereafter and Pan’s Labyrinth.” Film Matters 4, no. 1 (Spring2013 2013): 44-50. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 24, 2016).)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth uses children’s literature as a means of exploring Spanish Fascism and its traumas. (Clark, Roger, and Keith McDonald. 2010. ““A Constant Transit of Finding”: Fantasy as Realisation in Pan’s Labyrinth.” Children’s Literature In Education 41, no. 1: 52-63. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 24, 2016).)
  • Fairy tales like the “Frog King” (know more commonly known as “The Princess and the Frog”) are often about the abuse of girls and women. In the original “Frog King,” the princess is forced to marry an animal (a frog) by her parents; the tale reflects the pitfalls (and supposed rewards, a prince out of a frog) of obeying your parents. “The Little Mermaid.” (“Wait. What Happened to the KISSING Part? “The Frog King …” Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.tor.com/2016/05/26/wait-what-happened-to-the-kissing-part-the-frog-king-or-iron-henry/.)

Bilingual Librarian

During an interview, I was sitting down with a trio of non-librarians who were vetting me as well. They asked about the futures of libraries, about what librarians will need to know in the future. I really don’t remember having this answer prepped, but I had a rather eloquent response nonetheless.

bilingual street signs
By J. N’Demenye – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I said that librarians needed experience in a second language.

Public and academic librarians – and probably school librarians as well – have patrons whose first languages are not the same as the librarians’. A public library may serve communities who speak Polish or Hmong. School librarians teach children bilingual in Spanish and English. Academic librarians face a growing population of Mandarin speakers attending universities.

I speak French at a respectable level – plenty well enough to have a conversation and conduct business. Of course, I’ve never lived in an area that would require me to use French in order to help a patron. I would have done much better knowing Mandarin, Hindi, or Arabic.

But having the experience of learning a second language, of speaking it was indispensable.

When I encounter a patron who is not a native English speaker, I have some understanding of the challenges they’re facing. I understand they may have rehearsed what they would say. Or that they perceive that I’m processing their accent or grammar (no matter how I try to keep my expression neutral) – and that is uncomfortable. Or that they won’t know every single word I do. (I’ve experienced these all when speaking French.)

I also am used to speaking to non-native English speakers. I have several friends from France and its départements – and have spoken both English and French to them. I have learned that when we don’t understand each other (for whatever reason), we need to explain what we’re talking about in new ways. Not everything translates well; so I have become good at rewording things.

These experiences help me to better serve non-native English speakers in my library work. I will explain in new ways. I will use sentence structures that English learners will recognize more readily. For example, I’m from the Midwest of the United States; a lot of us love prepositions, which even native English speakers from other regions think are nutty. (“Can I go with?”, “What time’s it at?”, etc.) I’m also patient – because I may one day be the non-native francophone trying to puzzle out the language and a problem.

Unfortunately, perhaps because so few librarians are multilingual, I see a lot more frustration with non-native English speakers than I would like. And even being able to understand a few words of your patron’s language – or to mention how you have trouble going to the French pharmacist – can relax a nervous patron. (My 10 words of Mandarin always get laughed at by the Chinese students, so you have to be able to take a joke too.)

So, I think that a second language experience for librarians (which isn’t a new idea, Melvil Dewey recommended it) would be ideal for the future of libraries.


Baby, You Can Drive My Car

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK – Buick 52 Convertible Uploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0.

I work and live in a very rural area – and have a horse – which means I come into contact with farmers. Many of these farmers drive older tractors. The tractor on my horse’s farm is a 1960s John Deere. Of course, these old vehicles are kept around for a variety of reasons: they’re next-to indestructible if you take good care of them, they’re expensive so no one will replace it if its not needed, they give a connection to previous generations and history. But when the farmers get around to discussing why they haven’t purchased a new tractor, I have only heard one reason: they are not legally allowed to modify their tractors.

For the “layperson,” this sounds absurd. Don’t they own the tractor? Why can’t they repair their own vehicles?

Librarians, on the other hand, might have an inkling of what’s going on. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which affects how libraries disseminate electronic resources, also affects how farmers interact with their (new) tractors and how the rest of us interact with our cars.

The automobile industry – as well as the agricultural machinery industry – have pushed lawmakers and judges to interpret the DMCA in such a way that it is illegal for consumers to view or modify the software that run our vehicles. Farmers can’t repair or modify their own tractors because that could potentially include viewing the tractors’ software – and that violates the law. Thus, only (for example) John Deere can repair John Deere tractors of a certain age.

The United States federal government has decided that, from October 28, 2016 to October 27, 2019, vehicle owners will be allowed to view, modify, and repair their own vehicles’ code. For those 3 years, farmers will be able to repair their own tractors; and car owners can tinker with their cars’ code.

Your Colleagues and a Lot of Meetings

When I was interviewing for my first professional position out of grad school, I was always asked what I liked most about the position I was currently holding in my university library’s acquisitions unit. My first answer was always, “The people.” Then, of course, I had to explain why I liked librarianship, and a technical services position too.

Rebecca and former coworkers. Nada Sweid, 2016.

Even though I think I had to qualify more about why I liked my current employment – beyond just liking the people I worked with – I think my immediate response fostered a lot of interest from potential employers. I sounded like someone who might be reasonable to work with; I wasn’t someone who had a better relationship with the books than the person in the next cubicle.

Libraries are looking for new employees who will work at least peacefully with the other staff.

The farther out of graduate school I get, the more I realize that librarianship (and probably most work in general) is more about personality and interdepartmental interaction than it is about hard skill sets like creating purchase orders or hacking away at several lines of PHP or cycling through reference questions. After 5 hours of meetings, 1.5 hours of reference and instruction, and 1 hour of supervising your direct reports, you don’t have much time left in an 8 hour day. (No wonder most of us feel overworked.) That’s basically 7.5 hours of interpersonal interaction. Yep, it’s the majority of your work time. The hard skills might get you the interview (because those are most apparent on your resume and cover letter) but those soft skills are what you need when you’re actually working.

So, an employer and hiring committee that knows what it’s doing will want to find an employee with the ability to work well with others.

This can, I know, become a dangerous path to tread for employers. They want someone deemed “friendly” and who “fits” their departmental culture. “Fit” so often excludes people of color; and ideas of “approachability” and “friendliness” are highly gendered and often eliminate perfectly suitable candidates. And for the many of us who are introverted and nervous in our interviews (or those of us with social anxiety), we know that interviewers want to see these traits – and we are horrified that we cannot live up to those expectations.

My advice is twofold. First, you need to market how you can work well with other people. No, you don’t need to be a social butterfly, the life of the party, charming, arrogant, or anything of the sort. But you do need to have examples ready of how you work with others. I would say 2 or 3 examples as the minimum, so that you can highlight your ability to be a “team player.” And a sort of mini-philosophy of working with others is also a good idea. I would say something like, “I could, if I wanted, work in the library basement and not talk to anyone – but that’s not really how I want to work.”

Then, I want you to know that your days will be filled with meetings and people. (Yes, it is exhausting.) So, you should strive to find people you will be happy working with. When you’re interviewing, pay attention to whether you think you like the people interviewing you. Yes, there can always be a few surprises – but if your instinct says the majority of the people interviewing you, you might have found a good job.

So you want to be a librarian? Part II – Love Potion

“viol – treble,” Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection, accessed September 12, 2016, http://omeka1.grinnell.edu/MusicalInstruments/items/show/15.

As a new academic librarian, I am slowly but surely encountering more and more undergraduates who want to pursue a career in libraries. And being the most recent MLIS graduate at my workplace, I feel particularly able to talk about getting an MLIS. So, I have had a few students come my way with questions.

One student was pressured by their adviser to talk to a librarian. (I rolled my eyes at the adviser who sends a first-year to ask about requirements for getting into an MLIS program. It’s not anything like trying to get into, for example, a veterinary program – with a litany of prerequisites. But that’s another story for another time.) This student told me that they were a music major, and were hoping to become a music librarian in the future. They wanted to be a librarian because, from the time they were little, they would create libraries and pretend to be a librarian.

While I know that hopes, goals, and dreams change as life progresses, I thought this student’s take on librarianship was a good. They wanted to mix a childhood dream of running a library with their current passion of making music. This “love potion,” as I have been calling it, would make a career.  They could be a music librarian.

So, you want to be a librarian? Take a page out of this first-year college student’s book: make a love potion and find a good career. They mixed music and libraries. I mixed a few more things (probably because I know more about librarianship): a heaping dose of technical services, a sprinkle of French (and Arabic), and the opportunity to learn more programming languages.

If you want to be a librarian, think about your interests, your talents, your passions – and try to mix them together. There’s a librarian position for just about anything.