Recognizing my values

Primarily, I’m realizing that I’m into books, writing, and reading, much more than community organization.* Even though it seems as though it would be negative to realize that my values are not precisely aligned with those of the American Library Association (ALA) — or, at least, with the Public Library Association (PLA) wing of the ALA, given that I’ve spent my last 10 years of employment in Public Libraries — realizing what brought me here is actually full of happiness and hope. Knowing my values means I can pursue goals aligned with my values, from here on out.

I’m feeling better than I have, for the last two weeks. I’ve found out that I actually can stay up late on the computer and function the next day (though it may take some sleeping-in), and that I very well may be able to handle both tutoring and classes, at the same time (right now I have a student learning English grammar, which may be more fascinating for me than it is for her).

Dealing with everything just takes some skills in prioritization: which I actually can do now that I actually have some idea of where my values lie (and have had the peace of mind to recognize them).

Where I differ (and difference is a beautiful thing)

The other day, a story came on CBS Sunday Morning about the changing face of libraries in America. The story focused on Public Libraries’ new role in fostering and nurturing community; as versus, being a storehouse for, “books.” Part of me wants to say that those who think that books are dry, probably haven’t read too many of them. Then I realize, however, that I’m an extreme introvert, and introverts generally go through life trying to decrease their levels of sensory and emotional arousal, while extroverts go around trying to increase them.

The difference is the baseline level of sensitivity; it’s much like the reason my sibling puts Sriracha on everything, and I can be satisfied by a good bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, raisins, and berries. (Maybe some pecans thrown in there, too.) We’re different people. I get this idea, by the way, from a book I’ve mentioned before, on this blog: Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, by Brian R. Little. Paired with this in my mind is the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

While some people may be bored to death by books, that is, I happen not to be: the limitation of stimuli helps me concentrate, and I have a powerful imagination. In turn, if the television is turned up too loud, I can’t focus on anything else other than how it could be possible that no one else is bothered by it, and why no one does anything — at least, that’s what creeps through into consciousness while my other thoughts are drowned out.

Public Libraries, at least, seem to be heading towards the goal of becoming community centers (if they are not there, already). In light of the debates I’ve been privy to over the role of the Library in the 21st century, this makes sense: information is plentiful and ubiquitous, if one has access to the Internet. A place which was at one time primarily an information center, one of the only places one could go to answer a question no one nearby had an answer to, has to re-brand itself in order to remain relevant in a digital age.

I’m not going to dismiss the role of a community center as being important; however, I didn’t get into Librarianship to run a community center. It could be said that this was my error, and it may well be; at the same time, the circumstances under which I attained my MLIS were not ideal.

I hoped that the system would help me; I hoped that the people I trusted, knew what was best. That others were watching out for me in their career guidance; that they even understood what Librarians did. I was not expecting to ever have to wake up to the fact that only I could know what was best for me, that only I could take my experience and work it into a life I would want to live, and that one or two sessions with a set of careers to choose from — and no work experience — was an inadequate and entirely irresponsible way to map my future.

I’ve just gotten through reading, I’m an English Major — Now What?: How English Majors Can Find Happiness, Success, and a Real Job, by Tim Lemire (though I skipped most of the chapter on writing newspaper articles: I can go back to it). This reading, and the above story from CBS Sunday Morning, has me realizing a couple of things:

  1. There is a difference between being interested in books and being interested in libraries;
  2. One can be interested in books and not interested in libraries (though that’s hard to imagine), or conversely, interested in libraries and not interested in books (which I’ve witnessed).

It should be noted that books are only one manner in which information may be presented. They are, in essence, a format (even though they may be a preferred format, for me), not an end in themselves. It is entirely possible for books to be published which are vacuous in nature; the gatekeeping function of Publishing houses (after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press) seem to at least have been our main guard against poorly-written, poorly-conceptualized, and poorly-edited books. (No longer?)

Within libraries, the same guard applies, along with the coexisting filter of Collection Development, which in turn is assisted by the numerous book reviewers (and reviews) easily found in the types of databases one has access to as part of a University (and, I can’t help but hope, should one be a Collection Development Librarian).

My interest in books and writing is why I went into libraries, as my experience with Libraries (at that time, not a Media Commons, but floors and floors of stacks and stacks of books) caused me to associate libraries with books. However, there is an awful lot of work associated with libraries, which has nothing to do with books in specific, although it may have to do with knowledge dissemination, in general.

Feeling shunted

Much of the work done — granted, I have never been a Public Librarian (though I’ve tried out for the role a couple of times) focuses around dealing with people. This includes outreach to underserved populations; school visits; event planning, marketing. That is, a lot of the job entails letting other people know what the Library can do for them, and bringing people together to develop community.

While I was in a paraprofessional position — the closest I’ve gotten to date, to actually being, “a Librarian,” (though some would state that I am a Librarian [as I have an MLIS], even if I don’t presently work as one) — a co-worker divulged to me that a lot of the community-building which used to take place in houses of worship, had since found new (and fertile) ground in Public Libraries. I would not have known this, had she not offered the information; I tend to feel unsafe in most of the religious environments I’ve been exposed to, and thus have kept my time there, to a minimum.

Dealing with people, wasn’t why I was drawn to Library work. Depressingly enough, my aversion to dealing directly with other humans (which is why I became an inhabitant of Libraries in the first place, at least as a child and young adult) seems to relegate me to a specific type of Library job, if I stay in the same field.

Looking just outside the Library system itself, the vendors and aggregators which serve Libraries — that is, those which provide Libraries themselves with time- and money-saving services (like the production of catalog records) — are of interest to a person with my skill set. It’s a way to stay involved without having to direct a Book Club or Movie Night or Storytime, let’s say. Something for people who don’t want to be in the limelight.

I should remind myself that The Metadata Handbook, Second Edition by Renée Register and Thad McIlroy, seems to have entry points to the field of services to libraries. I found a reference to it in the Chicago Manual of Style, Seventeenth Edition, in case anyone is wondering about the quality of the directive. The Metadata Handbook goes over the field of metadata, but from a commercial perspective, as versus one solely having to do with Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAMs), which is what I trained on.

These jobs relate to organizing information and both understanding and knowing, in practicality, how to navigate that organization to locate the desired information: indexing, abstracting, ontology, taxonomy, archives, research, cataloging, metadata. Of course, the methods used here change, as technology changes.

The best part is, we can continue learning

It appears that some of these jobs are more reliant on technological literacy, than others — though I’d expect all of them to rely on technology to some extent. It has only been about 25 years since the Card Catalog went away, but the difference in the process of locating materials between the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, up to 2022, is like night and day. The major issue I can see is that nothing is getting less technical. I can grasp Computer Science, but am discouraged from learning it, as I fear (without confirmation: I should check that), my education in Math (relevantly developed only a bit since High School, via Statistics) will not be enough to make me competent in the field.

There is the possibility of going back for more Math training — and I can always do that, I should remember. In reality, I expect it to be difficult; perhaps exhilarating, to be able to learn the material without teenagers around me to vocally ask why I can do it and they can’t. Still, it would require a lot of focus, and drive; and I’d need a goal to aim for.

There are several books that I’ve found which go over the needed Mathematical skills for Computer Science and/or Computer Programming (which I would need for a job which covered anything like Systems Librarianship, skills of which sometimes are requested as tag-alongs to Metadata or Data Science jobs [in this case, I’m referring to Linked Data]); the thing is, I’m not even sure I can understand the Math books, at this point.

It’s not that I did poorly in Math; in High School, I began in Honors and voluntarily stepped down after a (very) stressful year which got me a B (which I understood as a C: all the Honors grades were bumped up one letter, due to the difficulty of the material). It is a fact, however, that I was later taught the machinations of higher Math, without application to anything real. The applications tended to come in the form of Science classes: particularly Chemistry and Physics (I didn’t take Biology, and have regretted it)…but it’s still not like I understand harmonics now.

Something like Geometry is pretty obvious in its applicability, and mathematical proofs help in thinking out problems via the use of logic. I directly asked someone in the field, who told me that skills like these are sometimes (rarely) required at NASA to show how a program should work (theoretically speaking).

Yeah, he’s a neat guy.

Both Geometry and Logic were in my ninth-grade Honors class. Years later, we got into Trigonometry. I still don’t understand a lot of the latter’s applications. I know that sin, cos, tan and their inverses relate to sound and frequency, and that’s about it. Other applications may be electronics, and perhaps optics. Of Pre-Calculus, I don’t recall much at all.

I began a class in Calculus where I learned the concept of a derivative (the angle of the slope of a graph at a given point on that graph, which indicates the rate of change)…but at the time, I didn’t realize that the instructor made us come to her for help and assistance, because most students in Community College aren’t serious, and she didn’t want to waste her time on the ones who weren’t. (Yes, it was neat that she was a, “she;” though now that I think about it, I did have two female Math teachers in High School: one of whom, taught me for two years.)

I essentially bailed the day of the first test in Calculus, because I was too shy to ask for help (never be too shy to ask for help), and uncertain how much of Math I remembered, at all. Seriously, I’ve had to look up the Order of Operations, because I didn’t remember whether to multiply and divide before adding and subtracting, or vice versa. (At least I remembered what the Order of Operations was called!)

I’ve been told that Linked Data is Applied Data Science; that sounds very exciting, but also as though it is potentially at least a bridge into an entirely different field from Librarianship. If, that is, I understand the foundations of Linked Data; if I can meaningfully communicate using Linked Data; there is no reason for me to stay relegated to the Library world — and maybe I shouldn’t, given the fact that some of the ALA’s published documents sound like manifestos.

Right now I have an intensive tutoring relationship going on. From that alone, I can see that it is possible to gain skills in adulthood, which one missed out on learning when one was younger. If the process of learning never ends over the lifespan, then why am I thinking that I missed out on the prime time to learn Math? It isn’t as though because I didn’t learn it at 19, I can never learn it, at all. It just takes more work and more focus, and most likely, going back over the basics.

But going back over the basics, might not only be interesting, but useful.

Writing and books

There is something very comforting, for me, about written English. I’m not sure it has to do with English in specific, so much as writing in a language that is my first language, the language in which my mother read to me, and the easiest language I have with which to express myself.

Right now I’m dealing with a class about Writing and its intersection with trauma. And I’m dealing with healthcare about how to manage the trauma which has held me back from writing. I’m dealing with this, that is, on both the front of practice and the front of counseling. This feels really good. I’m hoping to be able to move forward with my writing in a way that doesn’t tear me down; and to explore ways to acknowledge my own experiences, while protecting others’ confidence.

I’ve actually been thinking about where I want to go with my English skills…there are a number of different fields I could try other than Librarianship. Most of what Tim Lemire went over in his book (on what to do after one figures out that undergraduate English degrees are basically just designed to produce more English professors), was in fact not the path I have taken, so far. The ideas I found, which caught my eye, were: teaching (particularly, adults), magazine writing (for trade publications), writing books, marketing, writing for nonprofits, internal corporate writing, and freelancing.

Freelancing? For whom? And in what manner?

That last one kind of makes me feel weird: I’m certain many of the news stories I find — the ones that I actually click through to, after trying to remember to avoid the ones hosted by outlets which contain pop-ups I can’t back out of; which reduce my viewport to the one centimeter window between their cookie agreement and an ad; or which simply try to get me to click with their urgent scare (or 10) of the day — are written by freelancers. I’m pretty sure they’re freelancers, because I don’t see these “news” outlets caring enough (at least about content) to keep anyone on staff.

I’m not certain what pressures the writers are working under (I’ve had my own work hacked to indecipherability and then published under my name while working on a school newspaper, so I understand that the final product isn’t totally — if at all — up to the author). We’re lucky if there is more than one point made in any of these articles. The first two-thirds tend to be filler which I’ve learned to scan past, for the one or two bits of new information at the bottom. (I’m being generous, here. Some of the better outlets will sum up that new information in the headline, though that doesn’t necessarily lead to a click-through.)

Granted that the news outlets hosting their material may require, “x number of words,” or may just give such poor compensation and such short deadlines, that the author has to turn around with a story faster than it takes to gather the information in the first place (with which, I’m also familiar). But — what is the point of publishing non-communication? (Ah, right: ad views.)

Do I want to put my name on something like that? Do I want to be known for something like that? Do I want to practice something like that? I can see doing it if I really needed the income, but still.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is investigative reporting, which…is much more in-depth, but also much more dangerous. To write, here, is to dare. One does make a difference; also, a lot of enemies. For this, it seems, it helps to be working for something bigger than oneself.

I’m thinking of an example in the vein of Fareed Zakaria, who has written at least two books that I’ve found very engaging, and relevant in their time. Because of the nature of the material he covered, however, these books have had shelf-lives. For instance, if I’m recalling correctly, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, (2003), predicted what came to pass in the next two decades as regards the Executive Branch…and by the time I read the material (probably circa 2020), it was too late to prevent what had already happened.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I just probably read the original (1997) article which looks like it seeded the book, sometime around 2017…then saw the book at a Library around 2020, read a bit of it, and recognized the arguments (and the author) from the article in “Foreign Affairs”.

Still, that’s a 20-year gap between the time the inspiring work was originally published, and the time I became aware of it. By the time I found it, it was historically relevant, but out-of-date.

Spreading comfort

At this point I actually am wondering (loosely) about getting an MFA in Creative Writing…though essentially, the only effect of that which I couldn’t otherwise attain would be clearance to teach Creative Writing on the University level (the MFA is the terminal degree). One doesn’t need the blessing of a University to be a Writer, and in practicality, that blessing may mean nil: especially if, in being a TA, one discovers that one doesn’t really like, or want, to teach. I would also not bet on the University somehow, “making me,” a better writer. I know too much to fall for that, now.

It might make a person more attractive as an editorial candidate in the Publishing world (as I’ve read is a dream of most Creative Writing majors), but editorial staff are also — often — not-well-compensated, from all I’ve heard and read. This is why they say you have to love what you do, to get into Writing: because it’s much easier to get rich, some other way.

I learned last night that Octavia Butler had an AA degree. Not having an advanced degree, does not reflect at all negatively on her writing, the precision of her mind, or the fact that she is now (posthumously) recognized for both.

And there remains the fact that it massively helps, if one wants to get into an MFA program, to be published before applying for it. This means what I do now, on the ground, with my writing and with my engagement, matters. It matters even if I decide not to go for a degree. If I’m going to write and be published, it would help to write first, you know? (And not just blog posts, but blog posts are a start!) And to write, it helps immensely, to read. This gets me back into the world of reading and writing, which is where I want to be.

I suppose it is worth recognizing as well, that with my current CV, I could apply to be an Academic Librarian with a Subject Specialization in Creative Writing — and thereby, possibly gain a pass to teach Creative Writing, without going the MFA route. I’m sure a lot of my students would be better-read than myself, however! Catching up with them would be an adventure!

Lemire does state that effective teaching is a separate skill from knowing one’s material. I can explore my aptitude for teaching in my tutoring sessions, though I know it’s really different to teach one person, than to teach 14, or 20, or 30. I could also explore this by offering workshops in a Library setting, though how much I would want to do that is questionable: there would be no filter as to whom I would teach (at a University, you have to first be admitted — and there are more serious consequences for misbehavior, than becoming persona non grata). I could also try and help out with (or establish) a private Writer’s Group, and simply post advertisements in the Library (or, as may happen, in a nearby Community Center!).

As I mention this, I also recognize that it is a waste to abandon the Spanish language skills that took six years to accrue. I could help other people learn the language. I’ll try and get back into it — even as much as the politics drive me crazy.

Creative Writing itself is not a very lucrative skill, even if it is one that draws a bit of respect, and is likely very useful in the long run. Well — maybe any type of writing, done conscientiously, is useful in the long run.

I’m thinking that getting back into a Creative Writing class, especially one established and designed with peer and instructor support as a foundation, really will be good for me. At the very least, I know that I’m not alone.

*I’m also into books, writing, and reading, more than I’m into Art. I appreciate Art — very much so — but I miss reading, while I’m doing it. I also suspect that I make Art, in order to have something to write about.

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