Friday, June 28, 2013

In the Business Of What, Exactly?

A question I read a lot in blogs, articles and social media posts about librarianship is that librarians need to determine what they are in the business of, exactly. And I find that question odd and funny. I'll do my best to try to deconstruct it (and I don't mean using Derridean tactics!).

The argument goes that if librarians and libraries could market themselves better, then they would spend less time explaining their worth to outside parties. And, of course, every library argues their business differently (I will address the problem around the word business soon). An academic library will argue that their business is to support research; a public library will argue that their business is providing access to resources (among other things); a special library will argue that their business is to support, say, legal research in a law library, or organize and access government documents or whatever it is that special libraries do, exactly (that one I'd like an answer to but it's too varied for a general response). Each division in a library is going to offer something different. As a former instruction librarian, I would argue that my division was to instruct users on how to find and evaluate information efficiently, which is bland, a catch-all and ultimately another way to say support academic research.

So, the argument goes, if people knew this information, they would stop refusing to fund libraries and libraries would attract more users. What I think this argument is a reductionist argument and it is increasingly prevalent. Reduce what you need to say to 140 characters or less to be attractive to people out there. If you can't make it fast and snappy, you will lose people's interest and lose the ability to convince people that what you offer is needed and important. All this need ignores the fact that what libraries do are complicated and difficult and varies based upon the user. A library is a different entity to each person who uses it and how do you package that? It's not like toilet paper or a TV show. It's not a single idea or a single salable idea.

Which gets me to the business part. If business means occupation or trade, then it is entirely appropriate to ask what libraries' business is. But business, in our use, always refers to a for-profit activity or a place where activity goes on that involves the exchanging of currency, for the profit of one financially and the profit of another in terms of goods (I go to Target. I give Target my money. Target makes profit and I have the ability to clean my clothes now.)

As a librarian, I was not in the business of making money. (Well, to be fair, the university library I was at was obsessed with making money and we were told to spend less time on teaching and more time on activities to make the library money) I was in the job of providing access to resources and helping people navigate those resources, whether they be a topic for a paper, a scholarly article or a DVD for a long weekend. Other than late fines to teach a user that an item isn't their property, libraries don't make profit (and really, late fines just cover what they can't get other things to cover).

I work for a small accounting firm. While I use many of the same skills as I did as a librarian, I am very much in the business of profit. Unlike the library which is either an extension of a business, a university or a government, we need to money to pay the rent, keep the lights on and pay me.

The problem with calling a library a business or asking what is it's business is that it implies that a transaction needs to take place and often for the profit of one or another. That reduces the potential that a library has in every moment, to every user. Rather than asking a terrible question like what are libraries in the business of, we should be asking, what possibilities can a library fulfill?

Monday, June 17, 2013

For the Small Things

This post is about what I have learned about being a parent, particularly a working mom, and hopefully may be helpful to new moms, wannabe moms or other moms, and provide wonderful memories to moms now.

  1. Undereye cream and concealer This is especially true for working moms who have a meeting that very morning but then again, I cannot speak for SAHM. 
    Magic potion
    Now, if you are like me, you never use this stuff because cosmetics are full of crap and chemicals and who knows what they are secretly doing to your body. But when you haven't slept for three days because your child won't sleep or is sick and you've got a key meeting in the morning, undereye concealer will help you. You will look less Bride of Frankenstein and more like Funky, Fabulous, and Fresh Carrie Bradshaw. 
  2. Lube. Every woman's birth is different. But for those who gave birth vaginally, the first couple times you and your partner try to rekindle your love, you might need a little bit of this to help that magic get started. This advice was given to me at my baby shower and now I want to pass it on as actually useful advice. 
  3. Dry Shampoo and Good Deodorant. Let's face it working moms. There are days when you can't make it into the shower in the morning or, heck, even sometimes at night. Dry shampoo (shampoo you can spray in and comb through) and good deodorant can make that difference between too funky coworker and pulled together working mom. There are days when I can barely make it through work without a pot of coffee and I'm still dragging and a shower is the last thing on my list. 
  4. Unlimited texting Face it. Your parents are gonna want pictures of the baby every day and so are your in-laws. But you are also going to need good friends who can help you through the baby blues, help you transition from party girl to working mom, help you understand why your partner is being a jerkface (I imagine he is telling his buds that I am a jerkface too) and, if they are also moms, provide invaluable advice. And, in my experience, it is hard to get away and see friends and texting can help provide that connection when face to face isn't available. 
  5. Reusable shopping bags. If you don't already have some, get some and keep them in your car. For those last minute shopping trips, storing unexpected gifts, or stashing vomit covered clothes. I also recommend keeping a towel in your car. Not just because we're all Arthur Dent, but because babies and kids vomit, spill things or blow snot everywhere. An extra towel can make the difference or serve as an extra baby blanket in a pinch. 
  6. Know Your Local Storytimes. Once the sweet pea hits 6 months old, you will want to do more fun things with him or her and ideally expose him or her to the world of literature. Children's librarians are trained in the art of taking a story and bringing it to life through a myriad of mediums. Check out when your storytimes are around you. Sometimes book stores even hold story times. If you are lucky like me and live near 4 public library branches, some a walk away, some a short drive away, you can see which librarian you like best and try to schedule for that storytime. This can be complex if you work the Monday-Friday grind as these story times are often during the week and in the mornings. Also, if you can, try to find a local parent blog. Cincy has Family Friendly Cincinnati that publishes lists of family friendly activities, cheap activities and family friendly restaurants. 
  7. Ignore the Mommy Wars BS. This one is particularly difficult for me as I take everything personally but you know what, it is all bullshit. I was told to my face by a lactation consultant that not
    breastfeeding my child will make him dumber, more inclined to infections and obese. At this time, I would like to point out that he is almost 10 months old, only had 2 real infections, and is actually underweight. That lady was a real piece of work and saying those types of things to a woman who just had a baby was completely out of line. And many mothers will say things out of line to you, will make you feel bad for not making your own baby food or teaching your child sign language or letting him watch Yo Gabba Gabba or giving him vaccinations. They are taking their baggage out on you. And remember these arguments are really about privilege. You really think the single mom out there who is the mom and the dad and is working all day and coming home to change diapers and check homework has time to teach her kid Mandarin Chinese? Probably not. After all, money gotta come somewhere and evidence has shown that these mommy wars are coming from families that are in the 75k and above income range which puts them in top 10% of Americans. How do their issues relate to everyone else? (Also, anyone else want to stop and reflect that 90% of Americans live on less than 75k a year and we are debating about breastfeeding vs formula. Perspective.)
  8. It's All Ok. This kind of maxim ignores the obvious things like neglect and abuse which are not ok. But that aside, you are going to make mistakes. You are going to fuck up. You are going to turn your back and your child is gonna flop off the couch and smack his face on the floor. You are not going to shower for two days or may end up eating out or cooking a TV dinner one night. You are gonna place your baby in front of the TV, yes even in front of educational TV, so you can make dinner or take a shower or call your student loan companies. You are going to want to take time to read or paint your nails or get a hair cut and may have to leave your kid with a babysitter. Your kid will make it out alive and you will too. 

What things have you discovered that you didn't know when you started out parenting? Which items have become unexpectedly essential? 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Things I Thought I'd Never Say Pt 1: I Wish I Had Paid More Attention in Cataloging Class

Yeah, go ahead. Let that one sink in.

I wish I had paid more attention in cataloging class. Now, to be fair, my cataloging professor was....eccentric. Yes, that's a kind way of putting it. But I was also starting to date a fellow who worked late and so I was up late too.

( Less sleep + Early Morning Job + Late Night Class)* Less than Engaging Material=Snooze
Author, as a blonde, in cataloging class

This sleeping in class is no good. Because while my professor was eccentric, what she was trying to get at (poorly) is what catalogers do (here are some compliments, catalogers, take note). Catalogers take very important resources (yes, that Lil Wayne album is an important resource to someone) and break it into tiny pieces. But these little bits of information aren't chosen at random. They are designed to help someone locate this resource and these little bits understand how all the information is related together, how it all hangs together and can be understood by anyone. (Library of Congress classification headings shall not be discussed). Cataloging allows information to be classified and retrieved by anyone. 

Ok, despite all of misgivings about that paragraph and what information means and how its too much of a catch-all for a variety of things, I am going to act like what I said above is true. Now, how does this relate to accounting?

One thing that accountants do is create a profit and loss statement (P&L), otherwise known as an income statement. This sheet is a small part of the general ledger which shows on a daily basis the cash flow of an organization. A P&L only shows one small part of that cash-flow. A P&L is created with receipts, bank statements and invoices. 
Sexy, sexy P&L. Although if I were that business, I might be concerned

So how is a P&L like a cataloging record? Because it requires looking at an item as a whole and breaking it down into parts. Is this invoice for a required part of business or an expansion or a repair? 

Like the little bits of a book (author, copyright, title, summary, subjects) placed into a catalog allow a book to be found by a patron, a P&L allows an accountant and a business owner to see a business from one way. The difference, I think, however, is that a catalog record uses one bit of information but isn't really used to see the whole; just locate the whole. A P&L is used to see how a business functions for a certain period of time as a whole. How much payroll is, how much was spent on repairs, how much was taken in as a whole as a opposed to a single day. P&Ls can be as detailed as one likes. Or a simple statement that shows income, expenses, cost of goods sold and overall profit or loss. It can compare months, weeks, years. 

But putting one together takes time and the ability to not only understand how an item should be classified but how the part relates to the whole. And maybe that's what was taught in cataloging class while I was sleeping. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Debate Topic: Contraception

Progressives: Should be free and available. People should have ability to make choices about their bodies and family.

Libertarians: Shouldn't be regulated by government. Let the markets decide.

Former Conservatives (ie Willam F Buckley): Women and men should have the ability to make choices about their own life and government shouldn't interfere.

Current Republicans: Contraception should be illegal! Overturn Griswold vs Conneticut!

Typical argument: "If we start giving contraception to twenty year olds, we will have to give it to fifteen year olds and pretty soon we will give it to babies" (Yes, one of the candidates for the governor of Virginia said this).

My smartass response: Babies can't get pregnant. Eggs and sperm don't reach maturation until after puberty. Don't get all crazy, dude.
How do you even argue with that? 

Who are these people? WTF happened to the GOP?

I once read this book from the library (Cincinnati Public, what what) about why debate has fallen into he-said/she said argument and unable to move forward. The author, a Canadian journalist, posits that the Internet allows people of like mindedness to find each other and converse, thus allowing people to feel vindicated and find evidence for few points. Prior to the Internet, people often had to mix with others of different view points and had to work harder to find people of similar mind. Now a 9/11 Truther can just Google the term and find plenty of evidence to support his or her beliefs.

The Internet and criminals, like Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, and just ordinary people can build websites that allow the tunneling of viewpoints to continue. No one ever has to expand or think differently. And since they can make money off of that, why try?

Ok, that last paragraph is really just me being angry. But I feel like the art of the debate is dead. Have you watched debates on television, on C-Span? Goodness, we could all argue that Romney or Obama won a debate but really they didn't debate. They didn't have a real discussion about ideas. They basically repeated party lines in a pithy way. I wanna see William F Buckley debate people again (I really do feel like I miss him. I know, I know, but if we examine the articles he wrote, they were grounded in reality).

How can you have an argument with someone about death panels or Obama directing the IRS to target conservatives or, hell, even food stamps? Facts are not even considered. I once got into a huge argument with a family member who is an extreme conservative about food stamps. Despite evidence to the contrary that primarily whites use food stamps, that it isn't even a large part of our budget and its not even that much damn money, he believes that it is primarily used by people of color who are lazy grifters. Also, despite evidence that members of his family used food stamps while they were out of work. Nope. It's like facts don't matter.

I once had a graduate professor argue that rhetoric is dead. And you know, I think it's true. If people keep making false equivalences, using disproven facts, arguing that science isn't science, then how do you even construct an argument?

And if you can't have a good, fact based argument, then you can't have nice things. This is why so many of us loved President Bartlet. Dude could argue his way out of a paper bag and people listened. 
Now here is some fun Bartlet stuff to deal with the crap I just wrote.

Dude, facts!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Kobayashi Maru

Reader's Note:  As I am a heterosexual, lower-middle class, white woman, that is the viewpoint I will have in this blog. I recognize that not everyone has these viewpoints, privileges, and experiences. Since this post will speak about the trouble of being a working mother, I am definitely speaking from a middle-class, married, and white point of view.

The question is, Can Working Women Have it All? All being, of course, happiness, relationships (not necessarily sexual or romantic), love (in all of its forms), an interesting job that is in balance with home life, hobbies outside of work, and a house that is reasonably put together and not falling around one's ears. If married or with children, the "all" also includes children, being a good mother (whatever, exactly, that means) and a healthy, romantic, and loving relationship. And, of course, to be thin, beautiful, and perfectly coiffed at any moment.
As a mother, I culturally feel the pressure to have it all and some I have internalized. I must also live with the constant stress of trying to "have it all". I've been thinking more about this as I attempt to hit a work-life balance and as I read more and more pieces like Anne-Marie Slaughter's in the Atlantic or this piece in New York Magazine about abandoning this pursuit to become a stay at home mom and how that is a feminist pursuit.

From a personal point of view, having it all translates to me as a woman who puts her child first, makes a healthy and delicious meal 3 times a day, obsesses over her child's education and growth, succeeds professionally, manages to make sure her work and home lives don't intermix too frequently and somehow keeps a romantic relationship with her partner. All while losing all baby weight within 6 weeks and being perfectly coiffed.

Now here is my reality: I, like my sister, my mother, and her mother before her, have kept my baby weight and probably will for a while; I do not know how to pluck my brows but I do not have the time to go to a spa; I honestly have no idea how to coif my hair; my work life very much interferes with my home life because, well, it is a family business; I am not succeeding professionally and often struggle in the workplace; I certainly don't make 3 healthy meals a day; and I don't always put my child first.

In short, I am not the ideal mother, I am not having it all. And the general sense I have, based on comments, opinions, both made to me personally and on blogs, is that I am just not trying hard enough (Slaughter's piece covers this bit particularly well). Let's work with a few concrete examples:
Poor bottle babies. I guess they don't rock, they roll? 

  • Breast is best! Yes, yes, we know. We've gotten it all now. I remember at my Intro to Breastfeeding course at my hospital that my instructor said that if we did not breastfeed, we would have children more prone to illness, fat, and less intellectually viable. Tried as I might, I could not breastfeed. My darling son and I are physically incompatible for breastfeeding unless we had his mouth surgically altered. Yet, from all the mommy blogs, my encounters with other women and mothers, I am somehow a failure. I did not try hard enough. 
  • Baby over career. Oh yes, I know we are all told to Lean In. But there is cultural pressure where if you complain about your child coming before your career, or interfering in it somehow, that something is wrong with you. This one is the one I struggle with the most. I went to graduate school. I have several graduate degrees. But to get a career in my field, I need to move and that is just not able to happen. I am tied to Cincinnati and this makes me incredibly angsty. And that is "a bad parent." I am not putting my child first. I recognize that I will be the one who will have to leave work early for his soccer games, baseball clinics, ballet practice, summer programs. And that's considered ok and what I'm required to do. All while somehow "leaning in".
Honestly, I think I can't win. Because I must miss work for my child, I am not advancing my career and I am not trying hard enough. But because I get stressed about that, I am not caring enough about my child and I should be happy to be at home with my son everyday and because I am not, I am an unfit mother. No matter which choice is presented, I always make the wrong one.

Of course, Captain Kirk wins the Kobayashi Maru (the unbeatable test designed to see a cadet's character) by changing the program; he changed the way in which the program responded to things. I think this applies to motherhood in that we have to change the ways we think about motherhood (my ultimate thesis is, of course, that we still need feminism). We used to allow women choices in life; we were moving toward equality. But somehow, along the way, we experienced a "backlash" and the repressive status apparatus moved again and presented choices which were really non-choices. Peer pressure and cultural pressures are powerful motivators. And as long as we culturally push women to putting their children above themselves (or, conversely, their careers above all and then pity them for empty lives), we are presenting only empty choices.   No matter what choices women make they are "wrong." And the only way we can fight against that is if we stand up for each other and argue what are choices and what aren't. 

Anyways, this particular entry is all over the place as I've been attempting to write it for four days. Because, job, motherhood, homework. Again, mothers always putting others first. And that is presented as a choice.