I make no secret of being Jewish. I mean, I really don’t. I’ve been disturbed at the increase of anti-Semitism, but also surprised at how many people seem to be flabbergasted that these ideas are “still around” or that this hatred “still lingers”. Much more knowledgable people than I have written about the history and the present of anti-Semitism, and I’ll leave it that to them. I only know from what I’ve experienced first hand, so that’s what I’ll share.
I grew up in Sharon, MA a town known for its high Jewish population. I attended private Jewish day school for K-12 and for three years attended Kingswood, a Jewish sleep-away camp in the summers. My point being that I had a fairly culturally insular life. This story takes places the year before I started going to Kingswood.
At [redacted summer camp] I enjoyed a fairly standard first week. I found the ropes course to be challenging and fun, I’d made a few friends, and I was looking forward to being in a play that summer. Like many groups of young boys, there was one, whom I’ll call ‘Joe’, who was the defacto leader of our little group. He was a taller, more confidant, and had that all-around cool-guy vibe that we all responded to.
Then we had the first barbecue. There was a barbecue every week on Fridays. The food was of course provided, and you could have a hamburger or a hotdog. Because I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to eat either [coming from a kosher-keeping household] my parents had cleared it ahead of time that it’d be okay if I brought my own meat wrapped in tinfoil [so as not to share the grill with the other non-kosher meat].
So that first Friday I brought a hamburger and a hotdog, wrapped in tinfoil in a cooler. When my new found friends saw that I was having both, they asked why — and I explained that I’d brought them from home, that they were kosher. This is the part that I don’t understand, even today. They latched onto that word. Kosher. I didn’t know them well, and I certainly don’t know them now, I find it hard to believe I was the first Jew they’d ever met, but it’s possible I was the first they’d met who kept strict kashrut. Either way.
Joe did that asshole-kid thing. He refused to ‘hear’ the word or understand it. He kept calling it ‘koshen’ with an ‘n’.
“So you’re koshen? You’re a koshen boy?”
That’s what he called me for the rest of the summer. Koshen boy. Of course, because he did it, so did some of the others. I was out. I finished out the summer, participating in my activities that I’d signed up for, but I didn’t have friends anymore. Sure I knew the people in the activity groups, but it wasn’t camp-friends. The worst part was every Friday. They’d find me wherever I’d gone to eat my single hotdog or single hamburger [somehow thinking if I didn’t bring both it’d be okay] and taunt me.
The next summer I went to an all Jewish summer camp.
This is a relatively small blip in my life, but it was important too. I was pretty sheltered growing up and while I certainly heard of anti-Semitism happening in the US and elsewhere, our community was so insular, it didn’t often happen to people I knew.
Anti-Semitism didn’t start with the Holocaust and it didn’t end there. It knows no national boundary. It may be a rising tide, but if all you see is the tide — you’re missing the ocean.
CN for police, self-harm, and involuntary commitment
It was recently my birthday (January 26) and it was a mixed day. I say that because while things are going fairly well in my personal life, the last vestiges of our democracy is crumbling — that tends to color every day a certain hue of resistant beige. It was not however, my worst birthday. That title belongs to January 26th, 2003, my 19th birthday. I want to acknowledge that it was the worst for reasons entirely personal and not at all to do with the state of the world in 2002 [which were certainly awful, but not on my mind at that time]
At that time, I was living at the Austen Riggs Center in western Mass on an indefinite absence from Wesleyan University. Austen Riggs is a voluntary-only open-door-kinda-treatment facility. That means that you are not allowed to be there if you need a locked-unit or are judged a risk to harm yourself or others. I’d been there since Oct. 31 of 2002.
You need to understand that although I was in a serious treatment program, my mind was always on getting back to school, back to my friends. I’d had to leave Wesleyan in September of my sophomore year and didn’t know when [if ever, and spoiler: never] I’d get to go back. In my mind, my friends were moving on, having new experiences, and forging on without me. I felt left-behind, forgotten, and losing touch with what I was working towards.
Let me pause to be perfectly clear that it was not healthy to hold “return to Wesleyan and be with all my friends and everything will be as though I’d never left” as my goal. It wasn’t realistic because it wasn’t possible. Not that I couldn’t have returned, but that anything would be the same even if I did go back. Time had passed and would continue to pass and rekindling that magical first year of college can’t be done.
January 25, 2003 — it was about to be my birthday and I was feeling particularly lonesome. I wanted to see my friends so I drove down to Wesleyan. It wasn’t enough, and it didn’t help. If anything it made my feelings worse. Seeing them in person was just further evidence to me that I’d missed some important window on those relationships — and that that window was ever widening.
I panicked. I broke down. I was hopeless. I drove.
I drove all night. I stopped for gas and ate and I drove. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I just knew that when I was driving with my music playing, I felt like I was in charge of my life, I was in control of my destination and my story and my future. I’d gotten on I-90 West and eventually saw a sign for Niagara Falls in the early hours of the morning. I’d never been there, and so I stopped. It was early and cold on January 26th and it was my birthday. I saw the Falls and sat for a while alone. Listening to the empty silence and smelling the cold.
I kept driving. Seeing signs for Ohio I thought maybe I’d see my friend at Oberlin whom I’d never visited. I called my parents first to explain what I’d been doing, they were worried. I was also worried. I called my friend and we got together at Oberlin. I spent the night there and had promised my parents I’d come back the next day. It was snowing harder by that point and I was not a good driver. I’m still not a good driver.
I spun off the road a little ways and my car got stuck. I couldn’t get it back onto the road. I started walking, hoping somebody would come along who could get me to a tow truck. A semi picked me up and offered to drive me to a gas station at the next off-ramp, he called a dispatch, got my car towed and had the tow guy meet me at the gas station. The tow guy drove me to an ATM so I could get cash to buy back my car. I got to a motel and slept, charging my phone and calling my parents again.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. I went home to Sharon and told my parents that I didn’t want to be at Austen Riggs anymore, they had me call the Centre to tell them that I was home safe. Then the police arrived, the Centre had called them to bring to a psych unit at a hospital.
I was scared. I was angry, and I was scared. But here I pause this mostly-flat telling to editorialize again. I survived this encounter in no small part due to being white and affluent. When I wouldn’t get on a gurney, when I resisted and struggled — no excessive force was used against me. No weapons were brought out to escalate the situation. This is not the the treatment people who don’t look like me, who don’t live in ‘good’ neighborhoods get. I was handcuffed to the gurney and restrained but I survived and wasn’t harmed.
If there’s any point or message to this besides “I’m sharing this story so that others in LIS will know that they are not alone with having scary or ‘dangerous’ histories and presents” — it is this: responding to the acutely symptomatic with law enforcement is a terrible societal idea. They are not equipped for those situations and the usual gamut of implicit and explicit biases has far too many times lead to their murdering those they are sent to help.
This did not happen to me, I was protected by my place in the social structure. It shouldn’t happen to anyone.
I’m back from ALA Midwinter — it was a good conference, I got to meet several twitter people IRL, and see those I already had met before! I got to perform my first professional duties as an intern of a committee and take copious notes. I also have to type those notes into official Minutes…but that can wait.
If you follow me on twitter, you’ll know that I do a lot of live twitting of sessions that I’m in. That means that I don’t always get to share my thoughts/feelings on what I’m hearing beyond the occasionally editorial snark. This is probably for the best as I do not do my best reacting when off the cuff. I like to have time to reflect and percolate before giving a response.
Here now are two of those thoughts:
I heard a lot from people at the Library of Congress about the LCSH process. Not surprisingly, considering the ‘illegal aliens’ change/not-change of last year — LCSH has been thrust into a larger spotlight beyond catalogers and the people that love them.
One thing that was conspicuously absent amidst the protestations and defenses of the difficulty and care that goes into LCSH: acknowledgment that they might ever get it wrong
I hear them, and appreciate that it’s hard. Some 90 million+ headings are overseen and run by essentially 3 people. That’s ludicrous, they are underfunded, under-supported, and overwhelmed.
But even still — I heard a lot of dismissiveness that the criticisms of librarians are just grouchy griping and LC is “damned if they do and damned if they don’t” [in regards to ever changing a heading or heading pattern structure]. Critical catalogers are passionate about what we fight for not because we want be pains in LC’s side or tetchy technical services librarians — but because we’re advocating for our patrons, and often, for ourselves. I wish that our interactions with LC weren’t brushed aside as casually as I heard them being.
ALA is a giant organization with 10s of thousands of members. I know that on some level. Yet my involvement is so limited that is always feels smaller than that to me. I’m so focused on ALCTS [and let’s be honest, not just ‘on ALCTS’ but on the cataloging piece of ALCTS] that I miss a lot of Big ALA. These past few months though, even I’ve noticed. I watched along with my peers (see #NotMyALA for more) while statements were issued ostensibly on behalf of librarians offering capitulation and words of encouragement. Eagerness to work alongside this political regime made me question ALA and what they stand for.
I kept this in mind at Midwinter determined to figure out what this organization is and how to find my place within it. Attending the ALCTS Symposium, hearing Courtney Young, Hannah Buckland, Charlotte Roh, Harrison Inefuku, Paolo P. Gujilde, Emily Drabinski, Anna Marie Willer, Miriam Centeno, and Mark Puente speak — I was struck by the fact that they’re ALA too. Grappling over dinner with friends about issues we care deeply about in our profession,attending the Women’s March arm in arm with hundreds of librarians (or more? I have not seen numbers), that too is ALA. I watched live tweets from April Hathcock, Tyler Dzuba, Erin Leach, and Anastasia Chiu [among others] speak passionately and directly to ALA council. This to me, is ALA.
People who believe that libraries should and can be more and are willing to work for it — they make ALA stronger just by being members. But these people aren’t content to be members passively. They engage, they run for office, they hold positions, they agitate. To this end I’m trying to be more involved. I don’t want to be a member who flashes a card [I don’t even have an ALA card, are there cards?] and says he pays his dues. I want to be a part of the change that others are already fighting for and requires a more full vestment in the organization. I’m ready for more responsibility.
This is a follow-up to my previous post, where I reflected on the role of pedantry in catalogers.
I rosy-red glasses’d it.
Did I tell any overt lies? I hope not, but I certainly painted a very flattering portrait of myself as a noble cataloger while some hideous figure molders in my attic.
Let me remind you of my origin story — how I became interested in cataloging. There was a book on the shelf which seemed to me to be in the wrong place, I became a nuisance and eventually got it moved.
Now yes, you can argue that I was fulfilling the needs of the user which I waxed on about in the last post. After all, at that point I was the user! Moving the Iron Maiden book to be with its friends would’ve certainly allowed patrons to find them all together — but is that why I pushed for it? Is that truly the reason that it bothered me?
No. Or at least, not the whole reason.
Another story from my past:
In second grade I corrected my teacher (Mrs. Ruback! how are you? I’m doing well, thank you) on a minor “me vs. I” grammar usage. Yes, I was that kid — and I was him for a long time. My mom used to say they’d put “but I was right” on my tombstone.
I’m not going to go on a long psychoanalysis of why I get pleasure from knowing rules and correcting others on them. (N.B. to any psychologists out there, I’d be happy to be in an MRI machine and correct people for your study). To an extent, I grew out of that impulse. As I’ve said on twitter before, I’m a recovering grammar snob
This piece on literacy and privilege was an eye opener for me. I’ve learned so much since I was a young jerk (and older jerk) smugly correcting people while blissfully unaware (or more likely, willfully ignoring) that being ‘right’ is often reserved for those who are more privileged in one sense or another. After all, they’re the ones who make the rules.
To bring it back to cataloging.
I wrote many high-falutin’ words about the cataloger who is pure of heart and sure of deed, who only corrects others to ensure that the user will find all their resources…that may be more of a platonic ideal than the reality.
The truth is, when I get to bust out some persnickety particular of 126.96.36.199…
I know, big shocking news. I’m kind of a pedant, and I bet I’m not alone.
Though I am working on wanting to be ‘right’ for its own sake, I wanted to set the record a little more straight, and be a little more real about who and what I am.
I still stand by my words of what we should be, but I’m not there yet — maybe you’d like to walk with me?
I didn’t like my response to this tweet the other day — it was sarcastic and defensive and lacking in respect for Erin, the other conversants, and the actual topic they were discussing.
I wanted to reflect on why I reacted that way, and what a more nuanced thought-out response would be.
I’ve been a cataloger (professionally) for about a year. Before that the only cataloging I did was in a classroom setting. I need to remember that I’m coming from a place of still being wet around the ears and rah-rah-rah excited (in a naive pollyannish way) about my profession, peers, and work. Others who have years of experience under their belts probably know a lot more about what ‘it’s like’ than I do.
Another thing I need to stay cognizant of is that I’ve missed a lot. Sure, library school’s cat ‘n’ class courses do a bit of the history of how and why we got to where are today, but there’s only so much time for that. We didn’t cover (and I’d argue can’t adequately explain) the sheer amount of print and digital ink spilled over the current rules. When I learned the MARC standard, there wasn’t a lot of room to mention the history of every field and subfield, discuss the changes, and why things were changed.
It’s something I get very aware of when I ask about a ‘wrong’ cataloging entry on twitter and someone responds that it was correct at a time. What may strike many as needless rules lawyering and arbitrary changes from AACR2 to RDA strikes me as the normal way of doing things because I only learned RDA. Again, this is not to cast aspersions on my lib-school. They did a great job trying to teach us the current cataloging standards and still impart the terminology and rules of yore so that we could be aware of them. I know about the rule of three, and various abbreviations used in AACR2 — but it’s always been in the context of ‘we don’t do it this way anymore’.
So really the two points I want to remind myself of are the same point. Listen to other catalogers when they talk about the work, because there is history and legacy that you don’t know about, and could value from knowing more about.
The second half, are catalogers pedantic? [for the record, Erin was not quoting her own writing, the quote was from somewhere else and she was responding to it in her writing so please don’t read this as a rebuke directed at her]
When I hear that, it sounds like a criticism — the implication being that catalogers are too focused on the rules qua rules and not enough on serving the users. That’s why it gets my hackles up — because I try to think a lot about the user.
All that we do should be for the user — I can’t imagine a more terrifying twilight zone episode than a room full of catalogers discussing bibliographic description and subject analysis only for the camera to pull back and reveal that the world has ended and everyone’s dead.
Perhaps that is the image some have of us. And as I said above — I can’t truly understand the amount of frustration many have felt at cataloging debates and arguments that have gone round and round in the past (and probably continue in the present) but that isn’t what I aspire to, and it isn’t what our profession should aspire to.
I’m not trying to act wide-eyed innocent however, I ‘get’ it. We catalogers probably didn’t fall into this line of work because we aren’t persnickety, detail oriented, rules followers. I am no exception:
Yet it absolutely makes sense to use –Film adaptations under an author’s name for a DVD of their work, and I can easily imagine a user clicking “Grisham, John — Film adaptations” expecting to find all the DVDs in the library which are adaptations of his work, regardless of boxed-sets or singletons.
So then why argue against it Netanel? If you claim to serve the user, why is this your pet peeve? Because we’re not consistent. If some catalogers are using –Film adaptations that way (technically incorrectly) and others aren’t, then how are we helping our users find film adaptations if they can’t know to depend on that heading to point them in the right direction? Its absence may indicate to them the lack of film adaptations in the library’s catalog, even though the library may hold those adaptations.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, what may seem like pointless pedantry may still serve the user. I think consistency from catalog to catalog in both description and access is valuable for users. The only way (I can see) to achieve consistency is through the creation and following of rules.
But that also means revisiting those rules! We should never end up cutting off the sides of the roast just because Bubbe used to do it that way. We need to be always evaluating (and re-evaluating) what purpose our rules have and keep the end point (helping the user meet their information needs) in mind.
The other piece I want to point out is data-conformity. Here I mean the machine part. Increasingly, the work catalogers do is processed and parsed by machines who are even more pedantic than catalogers can be. Misplace a semicolon and just see how your php does! (If this is an incorrect joke, please replace it in your mind with one that makes more sense). It may seem weird to structure a date range like this “[1951,1952]” but if the machine receiving the data is looking for dates in edtf it has to be that way.
Fellow cats, let’s talk about our rules, let’s talk about what they’re for, let’s talk about who they’re for, and let’s keep what’s good. Let go of the rest.
(this true story is also recounted in this tweet:
But the real truth is actually more complicated than that, I mean it was a lib-tech thing — so I went with a brilliant lib-tech person.
Time is so dang short, and we can only portion it out so far before we run out of it entirely. I struggle a lot with figuring out where to focus my limited amount. There are two big pieces of ‘librarianship’ that call to me, each of which gets a piece of my attention, but neither of which has it fully:
Being a ‘Cataloger‘
Being a ‘Metadata‘ person
These are certainly related, and perhaps my terms are poorly chosen so I’ll explain.
I want to be a whiz cataloger. I want to be a person who knows RDA back to front, can quote chapter and verse to defend my points, and roll out ‘well while that’s allowed under 188.8.131.52.5, the LC-PCC-PS says, ‘something something” I want to be so familiar with the SHM, and the CSM that I never make a rookie mistake again. I want to be deep into NACO/SACO work and instinctively know if a corporate body should be entered directly, and always create great proposals. I want to have the DCMZ1 under my belt. I want to have read all those cat & class books and written up great reviews of and analyses of them. I want to be able to agitate for change while better understanding the systems themselves that I’m agitating.
It means understanding the ongoing discussions (and issues) with the FRBR-LRM, and participating in same.
I want to know how to catalog things well outside my daily scope. I want to understand map cataloging, and music cataloging and cultural objects.
The latter is different. Its a desire to know more about how people are using data. It’s triple stores and SPARQL, Hydra and Fedora and Islandora, turtle, JSON, RDF, and n-triples. I don’t know what half of those even are (or which ones are capitalized…), but I fear that the farther behind I get on how to be a data-person the less employable I’ll be. I recently took a meeting with folks from Zepheira and Atlas and felt utterly out of the loop with what they’re proposing let alone how they’re implementing it. And that leads me to the second piece. Code codey, code code code.
This isn’t a pity-party-post. I’m mostly pretty happy with my chugging along, learning things as I go — and for the most part my chugging is on the former side. But it’s not a true divide that exists, or has to exist. Lots of people do both things, and understand both things.
I also understand that neither of these are true achievable goals, everybody doesn’t know something, no one knows everything etc. etc. I need to find my balance of do-able, and satisfying. Accept the things I do not know, learn what I can in the time I have, and still leave time for doing non-library things.
“I’ve been accepted to the Simmons Library Science program”
I shared this news with my mentalization group in the Spring of 2013. I wasn’t sure it was a good thing. What if I weren’t cut out for it? What if I couldn’t hack it — what if I didn’t like it?
That was the real fear. Ever since leaving Berklee in 2009 I had fixated on library science as my future career path. My experience was limited to a student job at the Berklee Library and a circulation assistant position at Emerson College. I’d never done “real librarianship” nor cataloging, which was my intended focus. If it turned out that I didn’t enjoy it, if it turned out that the day-to-day tasks brought me no satisfaction or joy, then what? Start over, again? I didn’t know if I could do that.
Those years brought different therapies, and different drugs. Somewhere between depakote, wellbutrin, risperdal, remeron, topamax, celexa, ativan, effexor, seroquel, and cymbalta, I met up with borderline personality disorder. That glove fit and follows me (though less symptomatically) to this day.
So I sat in 2013 contemplating my future. If I’d been rejected from Simmons I wouldn’t have to face the fears I had of losing out on another ‘path’. The prospect of embracing this new future and potentially finding it wanting (or it finding me so) was terrifying. I couldn’t start over yet again.
But I went. I went to orientation, and then to classes. I made it through the Simmons program with zero hospitalizations. A record I’ve maintained since 2012. I’m now employed, and enjoying what I do.
Dr. Manhattan is right. Nothing ever ends. It’s hard all the time. Not every day, not every week, but it’s always there — and it probably always will be. I’m getting by, and I’ll try to keep doing that.
As far as I can tell, this was my first critlib tweet. July 15th, 2014. Reading my history…I didn’t actually participate that day. The next one though, was about the “gender in RDA” paper
Billey, Amber; Drabinski, Emily; and Roberto, K.R., “What’s Gender Got to Do With It? A Critique of RDA Rule 9.7” (2014).
University Libraries Faculty and Staff Publications. Paper 19.
In that one, I spoke a bunch!
I’m not 100% sure I remember how I found CritLib. I joined twitter a bit late in the game, June 5th, 2014 — and I was explicitly looking for something like CritLib. I wanted to find librarians who were discussing the work we do (as an aspiring cataloger, I was especially hoping to find other catalogers/metadata folks) with an eye towards social justice.
Finding CritLib was just what I needed. From there, I added more people to my follow-lists, and more blogs to my reader. It was awesome. It still is awesome. At times I may find the format non-conducive and hard to follow, and I may find some of the language dense and confusing — but I always learn something, and I always value it.
It can feel very isolating sometimes — I know that for me, working side-by-side with people who may not have the same particular passions/interests/goals from the profession can feel like we’re on really different pages, though ostensibly working as a team. Finding groups like CritLib has lessened some of that isolation, showing that there are others out there, though perhaps not one cubicle down, who care about a similar thing, who are thinking a similar thing.
Through CritLib I’ve found inspiration and friends.
So why #CritLib? Shrug. If people were talking about cataloging and its relationship to social justice somewhere else, I’d go and talk about it there. I ‘participate’ (mostly lurk, sometimes post) on a variety of listservs, and while the discussion (particularly on PCC) can be way more nitty-gritty detailed about particular rules and interpretations (and I love that) they very rarely dig into the whys and wherefores of what we do beyond the FISO user tasks.
Not to poo-poo the user tasks, but which users — is not a question that gets addressed on those listservs. I only find people digging into those questions on #CritLib.
So that’s why I do it.
Thanks y’all! See you next time.