Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Readers,

all eight of you.  I'm so sorry I have not posted in the last month and a half.  I got a job (finally!) and am enjoying living my life, instead of writing about it.  My new year's resolution for 2011 will be to post more regularly, about my job teaching preschool and my classes in library science.  I will continue to do book reviews and food posts when I can.  I'm not reading or cooking as much as I was over the summer, but I'll do my best.

Help me out.  What kind of posts interest you the most?  What would you like to see more of?  Which ones are boring to you?  Let me know, and I'll try to tailor my posts to your interests.

In the meantime, here's the essay I wrote for my "Personal Statement" when applying to St. Catherine's Library and Information Science program.  It was quite good, if I do say so myself.  I wrote it in four hours the morning it was due.

I come to the field of library science as a teacher and lover of reading.  I have been trained in teaching music and English Language Learning (ELL), but I’m not thrilled with the way most children learn in the public schools.  I think there is too much memorization of facts with little understanding of the underlying processes, which leads to students being uninterested, uninspired, and bored during learning.  This is wrong!  This may sound cliché, but I mean it entirely sincerely: learning should be an exciting process of discovery about the things one is interested in, not rote memorization of facts that have little bearing on one’s life.  The kind of “teaching” that I am interested in doing is not really teaching in the familiar sense, but more like facilitating the students’ own learning.  To this end, I am interested in becoming knowledgeable about the resources available to help students find answers to their own questions.
As a lover of reading, I also want others (especially children) to discover how fulfilling and fun reading for its own sake is—too many children either can’t read well or don’t like to read, and the two problems are related.  If they haven’t found anything worth reading, they won’t bother to try, they won’t practice reading, and so they won’t ever get really good at it.  Just as there are two sides of the problem—namely, not being able to read and not being willing to read—there are two sides to the solution.  The first is already being implemented in many schools: focused and direct reading instruction, both through phonics and through whole language.  But the other side is just as important, and it is here that I think librarians must concentrate their efforts: helping children find books that they want to read, books that spark their imagination and their intellect, books that make them want to read more.  If, as a struggling reader, the only books you are exposed to are along the lines of “Run, Spot, Run”, will you ever learn that reading is informative and exciting?  I think not.
My goal in entering the field of library and information science, then, is twofold.  First, to be able to direct questioners, whether they be children or adults, to the resources that will help them answer their own questions—the role of librarian-as-teacher.  Second, to help children and adults find books that will inspire them to want to read, and thus improve their literacy skills so that they can read more.
This, I believe, is the most important issue facing librarians and other professionals in the field: ensuring that people remain able and interested in reading, both for information and for fun.  However, there are also other issues that must be addressed if library science is to continue to be a viable field of study.   I approach them as questions of ethics that library professionals must answer for themselves, rather than as issues with a definite right or wrong answer.
First, coming from my ELL background, what is the place in U.S. libraries for resources in languages other than English, especially in areas with significant populations that speak those languages?  Obviously, this is an issue much larger than just library science, with political applications and influences.  English is currently not the official language of the nation; however, some believe it should be, and some states have passed laws to that effect.  How should library professionals deal with this issue?  Historically, librarians have been at the forefront of anti-censure sentiment; does restricting a language fall into this category?  And a related question: how can librarians help patrons who are not literate in the majority language still find answers to their questions?  This issue is made more difficult when the librarians themselves are not literate in the non-majority language; do they still have a duty to help non-English-literate patrons, and if so, how can they?  This issue is relevant to us here in the Twin Cities, as we have over 60 distinct language groups present.  Where can these people go for library resources?  Is it necessary to have separate (but equal?) foreign-language-only libraries for these people, or would it be more effective to integrate them into the main libraries?
This leads to the next issue library professionals must address.  How can libraries, and library systems, ensure that they are financially secure, and not about to be closed if the local budget doesn’t pass?  This exact scenario recently played out in Trenton, New Jersey, near my hometown.  The city had budget concerns (as so many cities, states, and individuals do these days), and decided to cut down on the library system.  A network of four neighborhood libraries and one main library has been reduced to the single main location.  Attempts by the private Friends of the Library group to raise the necessary funds to keep them in operation failed.  Although the group is still working hard to get important resources to those who are no longer served by the neighborhood libraries, the reduction in official library space and resources has shocked and disheartened many.  How can we, as both librarians and citizens, prevent this from happening?  Several solutions have been proposed and tried in various places, including privately funded libraries and fees associated with using the library.  I don’t know which, if any, of these solutions is ideal, but I will point out that the lack of cost associated with public library use is one of its greatest assets as a system, allowing a true equality of information dispersal.  One doesn’t need a college degree, or a steady income, or to be a member of a certain group in order to use the library’s resources.
Finally, the last issue I will address here (although there are countless more) is that of the impact of technology on the field of library science.  Two implications, in particular, that interest me are the issue of digital versus print resources and the intellectual property rights that go along with these changes.
It is obvious to anyone who has spent any time in a library in the last thirty years that librarians are far more than merely “the keepers of the books”.  The resources that libraries have access to include immense databases of news, research articles and papers, interactive internet and electronic learning tools, digital music and film recordings, and much more.  The conversion of books in print to digital formats is an especially interesting issue.  Some would say that all print books should be converted, and all new books should be published in that format alone.  Questions library professionals must ask themselves include, is it worth it to spend the time and money necessary to “save” (repair and protect) physical books?  Should we convert everything to digital format and get rid of the books, thus saving space and possibly improving how these resources can be shared?  Is it redundant to have both physical and digital formats available?  I think there is value in the flexibility offered by having both formats, but there is reason and validity in opposing views as well.
The other question we must ask ourselves is should our methods and beliefs about plagiarism, citations, and other intellectual property rights change to reflect the increased sharing of ideas that is now possible with our technology?  If our ideologies must change, how do we go about doing so while still preserving intellectual and academic integrity?  In particular, technologies like wikis and other information-sharing possibilities raise interesting questions about individual rights to ideas and information.  I worked for two summers at the Princeton University Press, in the Intellectual Properties department, where I was introduced to the processes of applying for copyright registration, granting permissions requests, and writing and interpreting book contracts between authors, editors, and publishers.  This experience gave me a deeper appreciation for ideas as property, much more so than some of my peers, I think.  Many in my generation view ideas as everyone’s property, open to use in papers and research with little or no credit to the original author.  While I see some benefits to a system in which everyone’s ideas were used for the benefit of the entire society, in our present system this is a very dangerous idea.  For those who are militant on the subject of out-of-control plagiarism among high school and college students, I also point out that MLA, APA, and other citation formats may be needlessly complex and intimidating to these students.  This does not excuse their plagiarism, but rather than placing all the blame on them and their slack morals, we might look further for the true cause.
You may have noticed that all of the issues I have mentioned could fall into the category of “library ethics”.  The reason for this is simple: that’s the way my brain works.  I would much rather spend time thinking of important questions than trying to identify specific hard-and-fast answers.  Of course, thinking about the answers is important, but in my experience, asking the right questions is much more difficult and vital to having a useful discussion.  Ask the right questions, and the answers may follow.  I consider this quality of my brain to be an asset to good communicating and good teaching.  It is also related to my love of reading and language.  I try to be precise in both my speech and my writing, using exactly the right word instead of one that will do nearly as well.  English is rich in synonyms that carry different connotations and denotations depending on context—why not use that richness to make your meaning exactly clear, or fulfill your purpose in writing exactly (acknowledging that having a clear meaning is not always the main purpose in writing; sometimes, one’s purpose is to obscure).
Despite being a musician, I fall into the category of those who are called “left-brained”; I think logically and systematically; I like having clear directions, preferably in list form, without superfluous information.  While working as a student recording engineer at St. Olaf College, I helped write our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), which had not been standardized when I started work.  I realize that such instructions might seem to some as dictatorial or overly controlling, but to me, they merely fulfill my need for clarity and efficiency.  In fact, an operator who merely followed the SOP to the letter, without understanding the processes behind the instructions, would not be very good at solving the problems that invariably arose.  I’m not interested in training automatons, but one of my flaws is that I get frustrated with behaviors that I see as inefficient.  This frustration may come across as impatience or bluntness, but I don’t mean to be rude.  I simply mean to get the job done quickly and well.  Despite this predilection for efficiency, I try to be a good listener and ask questions to ensure that I understand what people need or want and how I can help them.  I am currently teaching Montessori preschool, so you can imagine that I’m learning a lot about how to be patient!


  1. yay you're blogging again! but also yay for living real life :)

    also, i like that you're very organized. you're able to help people like me not be crazy and all over the place. yay.

    i just used the word yay way too many times. gross.

  2. I second what Anna said: Yay. Regarding your essay: I LOVED IT. You go, girl! I am proud of you and impressed with you and think you would make just the sort of librarian the world needs. I'm so glad you're pursuing this and that you love it so much! :)

  3. Yay Library Science. I loved reading your essay. I may want to chat more with you as you continue your trek.