Posted by: glundeen | December 28, 2007

On the conundrum of male librarianness

guybrarian.jpg 

 What do you call a male librarian? Does the word “librarian” imply gender? Penny Arcade sums it up beautifully in 3 panels. I’ll go with “Information Stud,” myself.

I have to admit: the idea of the Mildly Attractive Men of SLIS at the University of South Carolina calendar is pretty hilarious. The profits go to a good cause as well, so go buy one immediately if photographs of grad students doing something to stave off the boredom of library school is your thing.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the term Guybrarian. I’m all about breaking the librarian stereotype, especially in a “traditionally female” profession, but I hope this little fad passes. I don’t feel like it “reaffirms maleness” – if anything, it isolates men from the profession even further and continues the ridiculous idea that a librarian has to be female, likely older, grouchy and shushing as she sifts through a card catalog. I always thought the word “librarian” sounded gender-neutral, like “doctor” or “lawyer,” and I’m certain that my doctoress and lawyeress would take offense to me differentiating their gender.

Of course, now we’re “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers”, and in some circles it’s apparently cool to be a librarian. I think it’s a pretty cool job in a lot of respects, and the more new blood we can attract the better we can adapt to a changing world around us. The “hip librarian” has its own set of problems, well-documented and debated in the blogosphere, but at least these people are having fun doing what they’re doing. They realize that your job is not who you are, and nothing will ever change that. I’ve read other comments that sounded resentful of the librarians in the article, a real jealousy, like there’s a problem with young professionals having interests outside their library system and their day job. These people clearly need a hobby.

As do I, apparently, after waxing this long about guybrarians.

Posted by: glundeen | December 27, 2007

Twilight of the Books?

Caleb Crain’s article in the New Yorker raises a lot of interesting questions about the changing nature of literacy. Are we looking at major literacy declines right under our noses? The article is full of alarming stats, as well as food for thought about the nature of reading and its importance in human evolution.

To quote the New Yorker article: “Taking the long view, it’s not the neglect of reading that has to be explained but the fact that we read at all. ‘The act of reading is not natural,’ Maryanne Wolf writes in Proust and the Squid, an account of the history and biology of reading. Humans started reading far too recently for any of our genes to code for it specifically. We can do it only because the brain’s plasticity enables the repurposing of circuitry that originally evolved for other tasks—distinguishing at a glance a garter snake from a haricot vert, say.”

I can’t imagine a life without reading. I pray I never go blind, never lose the wondrous ability to read so deeply engrained in me. It feels as natural as breathing, as natural as interpreting the world around me, and yet it’s a relatively recent development in human evolution. And we’re still on a breakneck pace, all things considered, especially if Moore’s Law holds up a while longer. Our lifetimes may see an end to traditional reading and the rise of direct upload to our minds, which may or may not be cybernetically enhanced. Take the future possibilities in any way you like, as far as your imagination will take you, but regardless of your whimsies it’s clear that we as human beings are at a transition point with the way we get our information, the way we process it, and what it all means to our lives.

People are reading books less and less, however, and this fact must be considered by anyone working in a library, especially a public institution. Does this make libraries any less important? Perhaps the decline of popular reading makes the public library even more important, not just as a literacy advocate but as a community repository.

The kids I see coming into the library seem not to even notice the books we have, unless they’re put out by Marvel and DC. I’m as unabashed a comics fan as you’ll find, the kind who visits the local comic shop just about every week to check out the new titles, but this distresses me somehow. Comics cannot be all you read. An undeniable difference exists between words on white (or any other color) paper and words accompanied by pictures. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, as comics have a lot more in common with the pacing of movies and television, as an almost seamless transition from one to the other becomes more and more commonplace.  Is this a part of the changing definition of reading?

But what happened to words for their own sake? Perhaps we will experience an upswing in reading’s popularity, a backlash against television. Right now, I don’t see our culture doing that.

The terror every writer faces lies in staring at a blank page. We all know the feeling. Has that terror of words on a page now transferred to reading? Or is it that, truth be told, the majority of human beings (let alone Americans) only do the bare minimum of reading that they must in order to survive and leave it at that? Are we losing our love of reading, or was it never that strong in the first place?

One last quote from Crain’s article: “…there is no one looking back at the television viewer. He is alone, though he, and his brain, may be too distracted to notice it…Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence.”

The question we should be asking isn’t “What is the future of the book?” but “What is our future?”

To bastardize the Mighty Mos Def, “the book will simply amaze you, craze you, pay you, do whatever you say do, but man it can’t save you.” It’s hard to push the benefits of reading on non-readers of all ages, but everyone should understand the value – no, the necessity – of independent thought.

Posted by: glundeen | December 15, 2007

Welcome to the Superstructure

su·per·struc·ture  [soo-per-struhk-cher]noun

1. the part of a building or construction entirely above its foundation or basement.
2. any structure built on something else.
3. the overlying framework or features of an organization, institution, or system, built or superimposed on a more fundamental base.
4. anything based on or rising from some foundation or basis: a complex ideological superstructure based on two hypotheses.

The Superstructure is a place to build on all the great work already finished or in progress,  a part of my learning process, desire to share and growing voice in the library and information professions.

We’re in a period of great transition, and it’s our voices that will shape the future, our voices that will add the necessary additions to the foundations of libraries of all types, of the Internet, of information, of whatever’s coming next about which we can only speculate.

Will another blog shine a light through the murky path? Highly doubtful.

Is that going to stop me from trying? Not on your life.

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