Materiality in the Library: Review of Marlene Manoff’s “The Materiality of Digital Collections: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives”

Independent Study

In “The Materiality of Digital Collections: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives” Marlene Manoff gives a good overview of how Library Science can learn from media studies and material culture studies. Her essential purpose in writing is simply to note that different formats of content are not interchangeable. Although we often forget this, digital formats are material in nature: “electronic objects are as dependent upon material instantiation as printed books” (311). Librarians, who are at the forefront of digital media collection, need to acknowledge physical differences between formats and the false myth of digital immateriality in order to “understand the implications of our decisions as we allocate our resources and decide what to acquire” (312). As the gatekeepers between users and materials, we need to understand the nuances of materiality.

Manoff uses Early English Books Online (EEBO) as an example of how content differs between mediums. This collection consists of four types of formats: the original books themselves; microfilm; online, scanned pdfs of book pages; and, online transcripts . Each different format serves a different purpose for the user. She writes:

Why are there four different instantiations of the works in the EEBO full-text database? These exist because different modes of material embodiment produce different objects. Many researchers simply cannot get access to the print originals. Microfilm provides access for much greater numbers of users than could ever examine the print versions; digitization generally provides even broader accessibility. But consulting a page in a 400 year-old book, deciphering a microfilmed image of that page while sitting at a microfilm reader, deciphering a digital image of that same page on a computer screen, and reading a modernized digital version of that page on screen are significantly different experiences.
(316)

None of these formats can be substituted for another without creating differences in accessibility and use.

Manoff draws on enough theorists and disciplinary definitions to make her essay substantial, but overall her focus is limited. While I find her argument for differing formats compelling, with me she is preaching to the converted. The reason that librarians do cancel print subscriptions in favour of digital access is that there is something fundamental about the a text that transcends format. Differing formats provide for different experiences of a text, but at the core of Manoff’s essay there are larger philosophical questions that she never fully addresses. When we consider a work, what part of that is intrinsic to the medium? I think it’s fair to say that there is something intrinsic to the text that transcends mediums, and something that does not. Exactly what remains and what is lost is difficult to define. Librarians will have radically different viewpoints on how different texts are embodied. Manoff’s reminder that digital formats are always also physical is very helpful, but a more fully articulated differentiation between work and text is needed to more fully address why materiality matters for librarianship.

Further work is also needed to make the case for materiality in light of the push towards digital technology and the economic conditions that drive libraries towards digital adoptions. Case studies for choosing one format over another would be helpful reading, and would help emphasize why materiality matters even in cases unlike EEBO: where only one format can afford to be purchased. After all, the concerns of a library are practical in nature, no matter how theory-based.

 

Notes on Manoff, Marlene. “The Materiality of Digital Collections: Theoretical and
Historical Perspectives.” Libraries and the Academy 6.3 (2006): 311-25.

 

A Farewell to Passive Voice: The Hemingway App

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What if you could learn to write like Ernest Hemingway?

I’ve recently come across a program that purports to help. The Hemingway App is a simple tool for identifying common writing errors. The web-based (or desktop-for-a-fee) application allows you to cut and paste in your text. It then tells you where the passive sentences are, the adverbs, and the overly complex sentence structures. It looks like this:

 

Hemingway App

 

I enjoy using it. It’s nice to have a second pair of eyes to look over a paragraph that isn’t quite working. Of course, I don’t feel any need to slavishly follow its advice. Rather, it helps make my writing purposeful. I’m aware of my complex sentences and passive voice, and I can choose to alter them or not. The App is purportedly inspired by Hemingway’s lessons in writing journalism. Since I do not need to write in a journalistic style most of the time (you’ll note that I haven’t front-loaded this post, but buried the lede) I take its advice in stride. Sometimes it’s useful to write at a Grade 7 writing level. Other times, not. I do wish that it has been around for my undergraduate English students when I was still marking their papers.

Since this app is more than a year old, I have the benefit of being able to read earlier reviews of it. Author Jerry Coyne lists great authors throughout history who fail the Hemingway app, The New Yorker notes that Hemingway himself would fail this app, and scores of other reviewers pooh-pooh the very notion of it. They seem to think that the Hemingway App implies an absolute imitation of Hemingway, as if the App has passed a Turing test. Wouldn’t Papa turn over in his grave at the very thought? The negative reviews console the part of me that loves the poetry inherent in Hemingway’s work so absent in this app. Ernest Hemingway has his own style. It’s strong and crisp and poetic in its simplicity.The Hemingway App knows nothing of poetry. Its only job, which it does well, it to identify a select range of errors. It has nothing to do with the man himself. Like most writing tools, The Hemingway App doesn’t give you the ability to take a style and own it. Most generic advice tends to flatten, to dull, to unify. Writing tools are no substitute for confidence and voice, which writers must find on their own.

The App is best viewed as a simple tool to be used by a writer capable of knowing when to ignore advice. But, it also raises some interesting questions. The App doesn’t imitate Hemingway very convincingly, but what would it be like if it did? What if it could pass the Turing test and actually help one emulate Hemingway? This is a major part of the appeal here: to imagine my writing and Hemingway’s interacting in some digital way. While the creators of this App modeled it after a writer known for his clarity, what would it be like if they had chosen someone else? A Herman Melville, an Elizabeth Gaskell, a Shakespeare, or a William Carlos Williams? What would a really good App like this look like? (If you’ve seen anything better than a simple translator, please let me know). The idea of giving authors like these any impact of contemporary writing is fascinating, and very welcome. It reminds me of how modern Italian is based, in part, on the works of Dante. It isn’t too late for us to collectively decide to model our use of language on someone equally as fantastic. What if great authors could breathe new life into humdrum prose through the use of Apps?

Until then, if we can use Hemingway as simple inspiration to become better writers, so much the better.

 

Image Credit for To Have and Have Not courtesy of Adam Field

Mystical Things

Independent Study

Deciding what to call non-humans says quite a good deal about our conceptions of them and how far we perceive them to fall from our control. The distinction, in a number of cases, comes down to the difference between objects and things for a number of writers. Objects tend to be characterized as knowable, marked by human action, and understood by science; things are foreign, their effects are unknown, and they are as yet not apprehended.

In “The Thing” by Martin Heidegger, things are mystifying. They have a “uniform distancelessness” (113). They stand alone and apart, while, objects stand before us. How we view objects is through the representations of them we hold in our minds (114). From a scientific viewpoint, we can only ever see objects, not things, for “science always encounters only what its kind of representation has admitted beforehand as an object possible for science” (116). We view objects as phenomenological occurrences. By contrast, we have never seen things (116). Their essential nature “has never yet been able to appear” (116). Yes, within the object that Heidegger analyzes in this essay, a jug, he sees both object and thing: the object is the clay, and the thing the void and none of the matter than makes the jug up (115). “Thinging” for Heidgeer is an action word, meaning shadows forth the void. While Heidegger’s distinction between objects and things is relatively clear – it’s the difference between the phenomenological the unknownable and not yet named – his reverence for things veers towards the mystic. He imagines the thing bringing together four forces (Earth, Sky, Immortals, and Mortals) into a cathartic unity. This concept is nonsensical to all but the most devout of Heidegger scholars and, unfortunately, he ends his essay with this unknowable metaphor.

In “Thing Theory” by Bill Brown, Brown also describes things as remote. They are a comfort from the world of thought, “something concrete that relives us from abstraction” (139). Like Heidegger, Brown’s things are somewhat mystical. Unlike Heidegger’s void in the vase, Brown’s things can be anything as long as they are vague and indefinite: “that green thing in the hall” (140). We long for things as an alternative to the dry, dusty austerity of theory. Things seem belated (and thus unreachable) (147). And, things are impossible to get to because of phenomenology (we see what we would like) and because of physics (and the unreachable space between atoms) (141). Brown clearly differentiates things from objects. Things appear out of the ether. They carry a thingness about them that “seems to name the object just as it is even as it names something else” (141). Objects, on the other hand, are more clearly human: “We look through objects (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture-above all, what they disclose about us), but we only catch a glimpse of things” (140). A functional window is an object that we barely see while we gaze out at the outside world, it’s so human it’s invisible; a dirty window is not useful, it’s a thing in and of itself and for its own purposes, useful only to those who gaze at its thingness. He quotes Derrida to explain how one is irreducible to the other: “the thing is not an object [and] cannot become one” (140). For Brown, things and objects have a fundamentally different quality; they’re still alike enough, however, that he needs to address both with regards to thing theory.

For a great number of theorists, however, things can and do become objects – they are just radically changed in doing so. Julian Bleecker, in “Why Things Matter” writes about blogjects, or, objects that blog. When nonhumans exercise agency and start to matter to humans: “they slowly [creep] out of the primordial soup of passive, low-impact thing-ness.” (169). Things inspire one with awe of the unknowable; apart from that they don’t do much. In contrast, objects they do things, they matter. Bleecker’s blogjects are just like human bloggers: they “participate in a network of exchange, disseminating thoughts, opinions, ideas – making culture – through this particular instrument called the Internet” (166).

Bleecker nicely captures that the fluidity between object and thing has to do with whether non-humans are active or not. To relate this back to libraries, it’s the practical use of materials and our thoughts about them that determine objecthood. Libraries that contain millions of unread books – which are unknowable, ineffable things wrapped up in the package of a known object. However, it is the ethical obligation of libraries to foster objecthood. To give a voice to those as yet untouched resources and turn them into useful resources that matter and make an impact. To connect patrons with objects, imbue culture in nonhumans, and in culture, imbue nonhumans.

 

Bleecker, Julian. “Why Things Matter.” The Object Reader. Candlin and Guins, eds.             New York: Routledge, 2009. 165-174. Print.

Brown, Bill. “Thing Theory.” The Object Reader. Candlin and Guins, eds. New York:            Routledge, 2009. 139-152. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Thing.” The Object Reader. Candlin and Guins, eds. New            York: Routledge, 2009. 113-123. Print.

Redefining Work

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the role of technology in work.

It started when I read this New York Sunday Book Review ‘Rise of the Robots’ and ‘Shadow Work’. Barbara Ehrenreich ties together two related works to talk about shifts in what work means. Rise of the Robots details how robots are replacing human workers. It’ll only get worse in the alarming future, as “technology is advancing in the direction of full unemployment.” Job eliminations, in combination with the 2008 financial crisis, mean less work for the young, the unlucky, and the laid off. The second text, Shadow Work, is about how menial work is being newly divvied up. Bagging groceries once kept human workers busy. Now, there are no more low-level workers of this sort, but everyone gets a piece of the (menial) action: “[w]e take it for granted that we’ll have to pump our own gas and bus our own dishes at Panera Bread. Booking travel reservations is now a D.I.Y. task; the travel agents have disappeared.” In addition, those robots that are taking our jobs are now adding insult to injury by giving us work to do, such as creating endless passwords (and after you’ve forgotten, recreating them) so that we can book our own travel tickets online.

Ehrenreich’s point with her review is simple: menial work is shifting hands. That labour is being redistributed in new and existentially horrifying ways shouldn’t be news to anyone in librarianship, a field that is undergoing so much transformation. Why I like Ehrenreich’s review is that she ties together the rise of our future robot overlords with the disenfranchisement of the young and underpaid. It’s all a part of the same mess where work is socially constructed and in flux.

At one point, Ehrenreich makes a wry comment about how her job could be automated,: “It’s impossible to read “Rise of the Robots” — for review anyway — without thinking about how the business of book reviewing could itself be automated and possibly improved by computers.” It’s then that I realize she, like me, has had a long career somewhere considering the absurdity of this thing we call a job. Who hasn’t? When you get that first job making burgers, it all seems like so much to do about nothing. Writing book reviews might be more fulfilling but it’s still vulnerable to sudden obsolescence.

Of course, it isn’t appropriate to just say of menial work that it’s silly and meaningless when there are people’s lives at stake. It reminds me of this classic Kids in the Hall sketch which actually does a great job of capturing the tragedy of the decline in assembly line work in America. What most wageworkers of this sort do isn’t spectacular.

If all of this is a little bleak – and it is – consider this. Before the rise of the modern wage labourers didn’t exist as they do now. At least, according to Ivan Illich in his essay “Shadow Work,” the origin of for the title of the lately reviewed book. Before the modern age wage labour was considered lower than beggary (9). Personally, I find some comfort in the fact that wage work, now so important, is a fabrication as much as any other. According to Illich, through the rise of wage-labour: “work [became] presented as the stone of wisdom, the panacea, the magic elexir which transforms what it touches into gold…. this is the
fundamental position of classical economists from Adam Smith and Ricardo to Mill and Marx” (112-113). Work was transformed and elevated, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

I say that this is comforting because it’s a stark reminder that we as a species make work. This means that we can remake it any way we like. We can even unmake it by handing off the lowest of low work to the robots. Work may no longer be necessary, and if that sounds terrifying because people do need to earn money to eat, remember that we make those constructions, too.

What I say is: give the lowest, and crummiest, and most degrading work to robots who can do it better, faster, and easier, and won’t die of boredom in the process. Let them have it, and give them the shadow work while we’re at it. Technology can bring us so many wonderful new things – let free time and creative work be among them. That doesn’t mean that I’m in favour of unemployment, or of the kind of shadow work that preys on the most vulnerable even within technological webs. Instead, I’m in favour of making work meaningful again, or even making something better than work. And technology has to be an integral part of the strategy for doing so. Can we have both meaningful labour and everything else?

Technology can’t be a panacea, either. But it can be a tool for creating meaning, for transforming what is old and outmoded to be new and better. Down with flipping burgers. Up with the (time-saving apps and global communication and automation of plant work) robots.

Response to Bruno Latour’s “Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts”

Independent Study

In “Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts” Bruno Latour resists the notion that sociologists wished to elevate objects above their lowly position and convince the world that they are inexplicably extraordinary. Rather, objects are essential actors in everyday life. They are so omnipresent and effective that we often neglect to think of them. As a result, we silently ignore their ethical effects and the huge amount of labour that we allocate to them.

Case in point, the simple door. Latour describes the genesis of the automatic door to illustrate what kind of labour each element does, eliminating human work in the process. He begins by discussing a wall, which keeps out the cold and damp. That’s its job, and it does it well. The wall, however, doesn’t allow for entry or exit. To eliminate the need for humans to have to claw their way through brick on a regular basis – an onerous amount of human work – a door is put in place. It’s an admirable exchange of labour – hard struggle on the part of humans replaced by the swing of hinges on a nonhuman agent. However, the hinges need a human to work, and visitors cannot always be trusted to close the door. After trying to keep even one human to guard the door, the doorman, and coming up with less than perfect results, an automatic, mechanized door is put in place. The “Frenglish” word for the automatic door, a “groom”, also cutely illustrates how easily nonhumans can take on human roles and actions by eliminating human labour (153).

That actions can be human or nonhuman is nature, is precisely Latour’s point in this essay, and consistent with his expositions of Actor-Network Theory, or ANT. According to ANT, relationships between nonhumans and humans form a complex web: we shift work to them and they require work from us, we delegate to them, and they delegate to us right back. The relationships are intricate and fluid. When nonhumans dictate human action, this is called prescription (157, a term Latour borrows from Madeleine Akrich). A fine example would be a seatbelt that can’t be unbuckled while the car is in motion, its purpose to protect human passengers by insisting on the moral choice: “don’t kill yourselves”. As Latour writes: “Prescription is the moral and ethical dimension of mechanisms. In spite of the constant weeping of moralists, no human is as relentlessly moral as a machine…the sum of morality does not remain stable but increases enormously with the population of nonhumans.” (157). Prescription also helps illustrate how objects can be discriminatory. An automatic door that closes too quickly discriminates against slow walkers (157). It also helps show the human design by “devious” engineers (152) that goes into creating nonhumans actors. When engineers create prescriptive nonhumans, what we have is a “distribution of competencies” (158). That is, there is no purpose in deciding what fine lines fall between human and nonhuman actions, for they work together and are distributed among types of entities. Actions can be human or nonhuman; Latour distinguishes only between actor, the source of an action, and actant, the doer of the action (177).

Finally, Latour discusses machines in relationship to texts. He sees machines as having “silent” authors; (169). We love silence in nonhumans – we don’t need our walls to loudly proclaim their existence. However, forgetting the work they do can cause a lapse in our understanding. The concept of the Text provides a way out of this solipsism. With a Text, a “program of action” allows words to become effects. His metaphor is that of a programming language, where words create things (251). The program of action of an object works against an antiprogram, or the non-effect of this action. Nonhumans are best at programs of action: “No matter how clever and crafted are our novelists, they are no match for engineers” (169).

This essay by Latour will be useful to me going forward as I think more about libraries and how library resources function as objects and as embedded sources of texts. I’ll be thinking about user-friendly interfaces and user interactions, user needs, and the way that physical, designed spaces shape information seeking behaviours. I’ll also be thinking about how library resources, namely Tests, can be moral agents prescribing action, a fact evidenced in the strong affective emotional attachment that readers have with them. In contrasting this with the silent nature of most prescriptive nonhumans, I’ll argue that the physical nature in which texts interact with patrons, and the web of actors and actants that exists there between author, reader, librarian, library, and collection, requires ANT theory to be best understood.

Living with the legacy

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When I decided to go to library school, I don’t think anyone that I told batted an eye at this decision. It makes sense for my personality. It makes sense for my critical interests. And, the Master’s in English doesn’t exactly dissuade anyone of the idea that I like books.

It might also be because I do look the type.

This might seem silly, but when I look around my classes at school, I notice that we do fit a certain type. There are a lot of cardigans. And glasses. And buns. And there will be the occasional funky scarf or old lady jewellery. Tattoos aren’t totally out of place, but they aren’t all that common. Fan-girl t-shirts are pretty standard.

For myself? Pencil skirts are where it’s at, baby.

Fashion is kind of a frivolous way to define a profession, but this idea gets a little more interesting, and disturbing, when we think about the legacy of who works in libraries.

Namely, ladies like myself. Most of my classmates are women, and this really is a profession that has been dominated by the fairer sex.

During WWII, when the men were away in war, women stepped up to fill all kinds of roles. After the war ended, the women didn’t budge. During the 1950s there was a huge demand for librarians, and the trend of women filling this role just kind of continued.

This isn’t the only reason that there are so many women in librarianship, but it’s a pretty dominant one. If we take a look at this 1947 vocational video on “The Librarian” we can see this trend in action.

Here’s how the film depicts a librarian:

Aw, isn't she sweet?

Aw, isn’t she sweet?

And here’s a reference librarian:

Somewhat younger

Here’s a children’s librarian:

What have you done with my mother?

Some cataloguers:

I see no issue here

A hospital librarian:

I'm a qualified professional, but for some reason this film depicts me as having humourous difficulty with medical terms. Science is SO HARD!

In this film, I can’t pronounce the terminology I need to do my job because I’m a woman and Science is SO HARD!

And a library administrator:

Wait, how did this one get here?

Wait, how did this one get here?

 

With the exception of that last image, which was oddly male and I can think of no reason why that might be, all of these depictions of library staff are just what you’d expect. The only aberration is that there’s nary a bun in sight.

Training to be a librarian, and knowing that I’m living with this legacy, is odd. It makes me feel like a cookie-cutter image of what’s come before. It isn’t exactly the best legacy to be living with, given the lack of women of colour represented in library history, or the number of men filling roles besides those at the top.

Thankfully, the world has changed drastically in many ways since 1947. My colleagues might still mostly be women, but at least they aren’t all white women as this film depicts. They aren’t all as demure, either. By supporting my male coworkers, aiming to get a job closer to the top than to the bottom, and challenging stereotypes about what it means to be a librarian, I hope that I’m not limited in my work by representations like this of librarians. Instead, I’d love to read them as campy – isn’t it funny how outdated they are? The problem is, some of the issues that they bring up do hit a little close to home – at least when I look around the classroom.

Tired of hearing about Jian Ghomeshi yet?

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Sick of the Jian Ghomeshi hype? Let’s talk about Joe Murphy and a library scandal instead. Stick with me here, and I promise you reasons to be enraged, and copious amounts of kitten pictures along the way.

For what seems like ages, all anyone has been able to talk about is disgraced radio star Jian Ghomeshi and his alleged sexual assaults. I’m not sure if there are still Ghomeshi supporters out there, but there people who never really got the outrage, and they’re exhausted by constantly hearing about it. Most of them seem to be (male) friends of friends on my Facebook feed. And they’re Ghomeshi’d out.

To be fair, it can get exhausting. Even if you’re actively engaged and invested in this topic, no one wants to talk about some (alleged) narcissist who has (allegedly) sexually assaulted women and (allegedly) choked and beaten them. In part, that’s because we don’t have all of the facts yet. No one does. The police investigations are only just beginning, and as it stands, Ghomeshi is still suing the CBC for defamation. We don’t know for sure if Ghomeshi committed any crimes. although the number of women who have come forward with allegations is shocking and heartbreaking.

Another reason that this topic is so hard to keep on discussing is that it’s appalling. Most people have an aversion to the horrific – they don’t want to think about it, or talk about it, or see evidence of it. I certainly don’t want to spend my days thinking about abuse. Doing so would be traumatic, and the people whose job it is to sort through filth, like anti-child-pornography investigators, have well-documented struggles with morale and mental health. (Off topic, please see this fascinating article about the sorts of horrifying content that are kept off of social media by underpaid workers.)

Despite knowing that the Ghomeshi scandal will eventually fade from the headlines, as all news does, I’m still frustrated that it will, and angry at the people that just don’t get it and don’t want to hear any about it. I’m frustrated because while I’m calling this a scandal, it isn’t a “sex scandal,” as the press keeps calling it, in any normal sense. We didn’t see someone’s “accidentally released” sex tape, or hear about a happily married man’s shocking affair. This is really a rape scandal. And as much as I don’t want to spend all day thinking about abused women, I also really don’t want rape to occur – not to these women, and not to me.

Have we stumbled onto a horrific subject? Here’s a picture of a kitten to help ease your pain.

I am eating this mush for your amusement.

I am eating this mush for your amusement.

No one wants to think about violence and rape, and the possibility that they can happen at anytime to anyone, no matter how careful, or professional, or educated they are. None of that matters. The monsters are out there. That’s one of the reasons that I’m loath to see the Ghomeshi scandal disappear, because once it does we can all go back to forgetting that the threat of abuse is real. Specifically, we can forget about the kinds of privilege that men like Ghomeshi hold that can enable abuses of power. And those systems of power aren’t going away anytime soon.

Time for another kitten:

Please don't associate me with systematic abuses of power. I only like wet food and batting the ankles of anyone who sits on the couch.

Please don’t associate me with systematic abuses of power. I only like wet food and batting the ankles of anyone who sits on the couch.

Is the desire to forget linked to a desire to deny? It might be the case, which would explain why it seems more prevalent for the men in my news feed to be avoiding this topic. In general, I find that men are less likely to engage with these kinds of topics. They don’t respond to the threat of male on female violence as emotionally as women do. This isn’t the way it should be, but it’s reasonable, as women just have higher stakes in the game. They might also be afraid that the answer to the question of “who’s the rapist?”  is “often, men” and they don’t like that they fall into this category. Understandable, but inexcusable if it means that the systematic abuses of power aren’t looked at because no one wants to look at them.

As the Ghomeshi scandal continues to develop, and as allegations are proved or found baseless, I just want to point out that this scandal isn’t just about Ghomeshi. It is. I don’t want to undermine how awful this must be for the women involved. But it’s also an occasion to talk about an ongoing problem that doesn’t often fall into the public eye. It’s a chance to look at our laws and our systems of power, and say, how have these failed the women that were (allegedly) assaulted? It’s also our chance to examine how much of this scandal is about Ghomeshi what he has allegedly done, and how much of it is about every woman who has ever been sexually abused in Canada but whose attacker wasn’t a celebrity.

This blog post has been my way to talk about Ghomeshi, but I’ve buried the lead. My real point is to suggest some of the reasons that we don’t want to talk about sexual abuse, and then to bring up a case that has made much small waves than Ghomeshi’s has: Joe Murphy’s defamation case.

This is a library scandal, and by scandal, I mean embittered defamation case. In essence, a man is suing two women for defamation after they alleged that he is a known to harass women at conferences, and is a “sexual predator.” I do not claim to have any knowledge of who is right and who is wrong in this case, but it’s worth reading up on. Librarian in Black does a great FAQ, and Library Journal does a great recap with some new developments and a lively comments section.

Photo credit: David Goehring

Ok, we need another one of these. Pictured: cuddly.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Joe Murphy wouldn’t like me bringing up him in the same blog post as Jian Ghomeshi. I’ve felt the need to, not because they are equivalent, but because while everyone was talking about the Joe Murphy case when it first came out, the interest is trickling off. Nothing much is happening with the case. No witnesses for Team Harpy’s defense have gone to the newspaper. There haven’t been any shocking revelations about a teddy bear who shall not be named. It’s on the backburner, and soon, the Ghomeshi case will be there, too.

My plea is this. If you’re tired of talking about Jian Ghomeshi, that’s fine. Let’s talk about Joe Murphy for a bit instead. Because if Joe Murphy wins his lawsuit against Team Harpy, either an innocent man has been exonerated, or an awful crime has been perpetrated and silenced. Both Ghomeshi and Murphy are in lawsuits that are specifically about the desire for silence and the desire to deny that a crime has taken place. It’s that desire that I’m afraid of. I fear that once we stop talking about the Ghomeshis, the Murphys, and all of the other examples where accusations of defamation and accusations of sexual misdeeds fight it out in the courts, we’ll be left with nothing but silence on the subject of violence against women. So let’s keep talking about Joe Murphy. Let’s talk about whether he’s in a position of power as a library pseudo-celebrity, and why the women that he has accused of defamation have spoken up as they have. Let’s follow the case, view allegations, and exonerate as needed: let’s do anything but take this very appealing opportunity to turn away.

After all, if Ghomeshi can make national headlines while Joe Murphy barely makes waves in the library community, it’s easy to see which one will sooner be forgotten.

Photo credit: dmertl

Don’t let silence OR the penguins win.

 

Photo credit for the above photos: Robert Wiśniewski, Mikael Tigerström, Nicolas Suzor, dmertl, David Goehring. All from flickr and all creative commons.

How I Survive(d) Grad School

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This degree that I’m just starting in Library and Information Sciences is my second graduate degree, and what I learned from my last one has all come flooding back to me. I don’t pretend to be an expert at thriving in grad school. Far from it. These days, it’s all that I can do to keep on top of things, especially as reading week is over and the real work is starting. But grad school, like any challenging experience, reorients your priorities and changes how you think about yourself and the world. Here are some of the (somewhat unexpected) things that are helping me survive this insane process as best I can.

Don’t be too thrifty

This one is a hard one, because common sense dictates that when you’re poor you should avoid spending money, and shop around when you can’t hold off. For grad students, this is terrible advice. Sure, we’re poor, but we also have no free time. In my experience, it’s best to avoid shopping as much as possible. It’s a time suck. But if you need something, don’t spend all day pansying around. Get it. Move on. Does it make your life better or easier? Then buy it and be done with the decision.
This philosophy obviously doesn’t apply to major purchases. But for the small things? If you need jeans, just order the same pair as your last ones online, don’t bother going to the mall and shifting through the sale. Get it when you need it. Buy the coffee. Get the expensive pens. Print multiple pages if that’s your thing. Get take out. And while we’re on the subject of take out…

Don’t beat yourself up about things not being perfect

So you didn’t manage to handcraft a beautiful meal out of prosciutto, saffron, and angel tears while you were busy writing multiple essays/attending class/fighting crime? No? You had a peanut butter sandwich instead, which you scarfed down while walking because ain’t nobody got time for plates? THAT IS OK. YOU DO YOU. This goes for meals, but also for outfits, apartment cleanliness, proper use of time, orderliness of life, etc. And assignments. In library school, I feel like you’ll start to get funny looks if you get straight A’s. You aren’t supposed to, or at least, that’s just what my professors keep telling us.

I admit, I have a hard time with this one. My dream is to be naturally good at everything, including the balancing act of it all. It isn’t going to happen. My line is that there are some things I am not allowed to screw up on. I’m a good cook, but not every day. I am a good student, but I know that I have to spread myself a little thin to get everything done. I am not allowed to be a miserable human being, though, who’s awful at her relationships. Nope. That one’s not allowed.

Exercise

Now, this one is also obvious, and it appears on all kinds of advice-for-grad-school lists. But when I was doing my first degree, I didn’t start exercising on a regular basis until towards the end. I considered that I was too busy, and I didn’t really like exercising at all. I wasn’t a sporty person.

Towards the end of my degree, though, I started running, and it was the absolute best thing I could have done. It’s a wonderful way to get rid of stress. I know that sounds cheesy, but oh man, does it ever feel good to take a break from your problems for an hour or so and release some endorphins. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend reading this great comic by The Oatmeal on running.

And finally, remember to do the things that you love to do

For me, this is more a question of differentiation. I like taking a break from homework to have a snack or go on Facebook. I love reading fiction.

What I love doing feeds something in my soul. It’s essential. Yet somehow, I tend to convince myself that I don’t have time for these things. Because often, I don’t – I’m up to my eyebrows in homework. But when I finally get back to doing any of the things that I love to do, I immediately think, “why don’t I do this more often?” Small, distracting pleasures are too easy. They’re a quick reward after a bout of work, or, let’s face it, a way to procrastinate. Watching an episode of something will never be as satisfying, though, as making a work of art or calling your friend, or doing whatever brings you joy. Even though it’s nearly impossible to find the time and energy to take time for what you want to do, it’s so worth it every now and then. This isn’t meant to be preachy, as much as it’s a perpetual reminder to myself. It’s about how grad school has forced me to reconsider how I spend my time – and I’d rather spend it doing what I really care about doing.

Time: is it on my side? An Inquiry

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book-date-poster
As of week 3 of library school, which is a rather busy program at Western, to say the least, what I’m finding the most difficult with is my sense of time.

I don’t find time management particularly hard. I already have one Master’s degree (yes, I’m a member of over-achievers-are-us) and I’ve worked for a few years in positions where time management was key, so that isn’t the issue. Instead, it feels like my sense of time is just off.

Sometimes, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m running from class to home, to the library to the GRC. Others, it feels like I’m on top of all of my school work, and able to take the time to enjoy the ride. I’m sure that feeling won’t last, but it’s nice while it does. And it’s nice to feel like I’ve accomplished so much so soon into the program, because I have. This is no slacker profession.

Mostly, I think that in the near future I’ll be spending a lot of evenings like this smug little fellow up above, reading alone on date night. Except when I do it, there will be more wine involved, and the book will probably be a reference book, because LIBRARIANS. This is how we do.

 

Image Credit: http://doecdoe.blogspot.ca