Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hope for the Future. Or, How to Give a Librarian the Warm Fuzzies.

Just when I am finally broken enough to blog something like this, another student provides a refreshing moment of wisdom and interest in being the best researcher they can possibly be. (Much like "being all you can be" for the army. Except an army of one isn't very intimidating, whereas a researcher or scholar of one can inculcate thousands before they're stopped.)

I got my little librarian hands on two upper-level English classes yesterday, and we worked with thesauri and subject guides in various databases, learned all about how our crappy link resolver (soon to be replaced with Gold Rush - yay!) works, and delved into some of our more advanced, subject-specific databases. We discussed inter-library loan, and the coolness that abounds in librarians, who I framed as professional nerds, ready, willing and able to come to desperate students' aid in times of crisis.

I may have also mentioned in passing that we occasionally wear capes, attract the hottest men, and garner huge salaries. I think the students knew I was kidding. Maybe.

Anyway, both classes were kind enough to remain engaged and actually thought they learned something new and *gasp* useful during the sessions. One young lady, who sat in the front row, and was very sprightly and active in the discussion all class long, came up to me after class to let me know that though she was studying to be a teacher, she *really* wanted to be a librarian. She asked me if I liked my job (it was a great day, I gushed a bit about how excellent academic librarianship is), and asked if she could come back over the course of the semester to ask me questions.

Laugh, if you will, but this may be the closest I get to celebrity as a librarian. I basked in it, and it gave me the warm fuzzies for the rest of the day.

A very large thank you to all of my students who do, indeed, pay the hell attention, who don't laugh too hard when I tell them that the reference desk closes at 10pm because I have a date, and who make even the slightest effort to appear interested in library instruction. I love you all. In a non-creepy, non-stalkery, non-rule-breaking, non-sexual harassment sort of way, of course.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics Memoirs

All right, folks. Let's sit down and have a chat about all of the authors you're angry at because you were "touched" by their memoirs, and whom you then decry as demons when you find out they made the memoir up. It's a long overdue conversation, and it's one I really want you to think about.

Oprah took James Frey to task for making up the majority of his book A Million Little Pieces after she had endorsed it and made a good portion of the housewives of America read it. Oprah, the crusader that she is, took Frey to task publicly, outraged at having been deceived by his occasionally fictitious "memoir." He was, in fact, a drug addict, and many of the pieces of A Million Little Pieces are, in fact, true. Lots of fact there for you to enjoy.

More recently, Misha Defonseca admitted that her Holocaust memoir Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years was entirely fabricated. That's right - she fabricated her memoir of her survival of the Holocaust years. Millions of copies are in print in over 18 languages. Are you horrified?

Folks? The book was about how a pack of wolves adopted her and how she traversed Europe with them after her parents were seized by Nazis. A pack. Of wolves. And you are suddenly outraged to discover she made this up? Please, spare me your sputtering outrage. I realize that we are to take novels by Holocaust survivors seriously, but if you were able to suspend your disbelief *that* much, perhaps you have bigger issues than putting too much faith in your authors.

Today, the Times reports on how Margaret B. Jones's Love and Consequences, a tale of gang life in L.A., is fictional because *gasp* Ms. Jones is a well-to-do white woman with nary a gang sign in her muscle memory. She claims that many of the experiences in the book are a reflection of experiences of her friends in L.A., and that the book was her opportunity to give them a voice. The publisher has recalled all copies of the book and canceled the book tour. Apparently her voice is not as worthy as they thought it was when it was gravelled by crack use.

I ask you this: does it detract from the literary merit of these works that they were fictionalized, to one degree or another? Does this fictionalizing experience merit yanking the book from the shelves? As a reader, are you committed to only being touched by books that are rooted in absolute fact at all times?

These books are no less poignant and heartfelt for having been fictionalized. They were poorly marketed by publishers who were too lazy to do some fact-checking before schlepping a salable author onto the shelves, perhaps. Creative non-fiction is so clunky to say, and even the CNF folks argue about where the line between "truth" as actual events and "Truth" as the meaning the author wants to get across begins to blur.

If your appreciation for a work is based solely on its merit as a piece of actual immutable non-fiction, read a newspaper. Even biographies and autobiographies contain some element of translation in them, and fabricating details, memories, or realizations that only come with looking back over a life.

None of these books should be removed from the shelves, though the authors should likely be tutored in manners. Then again, who can blame a white woman who has the chutzpah to place herself in minority foster-child gangbanger shoes for not admitting to her privileged status? Interesting that her book was taken seriously as a poignant and worthy social commentary only when her audience thought she had those actual experiences.

Change the marketing and repackage the book as a fictionalized memoir. Cluck your tongues at authors if you must. But to censor a book that touches the hearts and minds of people, that generates discussion and engages the reader is certainly more of a crime than that committed by an author who tells a wonderful tale.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Judging Sources, or, Why You Should Pay the Hell Attention in my Library Instruction Classes

I just spent the last fifteen minutes trying to explain to a young college girl why she should *not* be using The Onion as her news source for a serious research paper.

Let me back up. It started with a relatively simple question - she came to the desk and asked whether she was supposed to cite her news article as a newspaper or as a web source. She held out an article from the Onion. "I know it's a newspaper, but I only have the online version," she said.


Because I wanted to be sure, I asked, "You know The Onion isn't actually a real news source, right?"

*blank stare*

"What I mean to say is, The Onion is a fake news source. They make things up. it's a parody of the news, meant to make you laugh."

*blank stare*

"'s not a real newspaper at all. It's just a fake news website."

Face brightens. "So I cite it as an online source?"

"Yes. But it's not real news. Do you need a real-life news article for your paper?"

*blank sullen stare* "Yes. but This one makes the argument I need. It's an online source, right?"

Exasperation. Well, yes..."

"'kay, thanksomuchbye!

No, really. In the space of a three-minute conversation, a young woman managed to make a mockery of my life's work and leave my reference desk just as ignorant as she arrived. This sort of, shall we say, deliberate ignorance, where the right answer is ignored in favor of looking like you got the job done with less-than-mediocre research, is the bane of my existence.

May I ask - why are you in college if not to learn? Why would you blatantly discard information that could save you from your professor's ridicule and the malicious snickers of your classmates? And WHY would you choose to use erroneous information even after it has been pointed out that it is erroneous??

Try to do someone a favor, and get your spirits dashed. And isn't it funny how three emails complimenting me on my teaching don't hold a candle to the one instance of deliberate ignorance that rears its ugly head and snaps my hope for the future in two.

Have students no pride?

Then again, at least I contributed to her citing the source properly.

Baby Jeebus wept.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Woo-hoo! I made the March issue of InfoCareerTrends, the online professional newsletter for librarians-in-the-know. You can read "The New Academic Librarian: Setting priorities, Setting Goals" here.

I have to admit, writing that was a nice excuse to step back and take a look at what I Should be doing, as opposed to what I do, which is generally crisis and deadline management. Given the gorgeous weather of the past few days (makes me think beach) and that a bunch of deadlines will be off my back once march is done, I'm going to have to re-pace myself.

Here's to surviving March!