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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Am a Librarian. I Am a Woman. And I Am Afraid.

I did it again. I forgot. I forgot I was less-than. Texas Republicans reminded me.

I don't consider myself disadvantaged. I'm white, which insulates me from all manner of discrimination and prejudice. My parents didn't divorce until I was in my early 20s, giving me and my siblings a stable home, where we were queried on the status of our homework nightly, fed three squares a day, and generally grew up healthy. We weren't rich (though many think that those of us who lived on Long Island must be Hamptons kids - not so) - Dad often had to travel out of state for work, leaving Mom to deal with three relatively well-behaved but still energetic kidlets. Though my parents never went to college, my siblings and I all hold graduate degrees and, considering the state of the economy, are doing well for ourselves. My brother is an accountant, my sister is a sponsored and internationally-competitive triathlete, I'm a faculty librarian. I have been lucky in many, many ways. My life does not feel disadvantaged in the least.

And then I watch the news, or I listen to my state legislature. Or the one in Texas, as I did last night.

My father was a union electrician. All of my uncles on both sides of the family, and both of my grandfathers were union electricians. Despite my father's many convictions that might have made him GOP material, we were a one-issue household: we voted Democrat, because we were union.

That always seemed short-sighted to me, knowing all of the other issues (fiscal, gun, social) that my father was conservative in. I was young, though, it was before I went to college and started working full time, and I didn't understand the fear of being faced with the obliteration of my livelihood.

I understand my father better now. Over the years, my own politics have developed into a generally-fiscally-conservative, very-socially-liberal flavor. In the two-party world of the U.S., I'm politically homeless. I would have liked to think that I would weigh the many issues on their merits between candidates, and vote that way, the way I wanted my father to think about politics, as complicated and multifaceted. But I don't. I look up, and I live in the future, and I have become a one-issue voter much the way my father was, for different reasons, and for the same reason.

The reason we share? Fear. I am afraid.

I vote the way I do because I am terrified by the people who actively undermine my right to make very personal decisions. I am terrified of laws being made by men who say women should have to carry dead fetuses to term, since cows and pigs do it. I am terrified that states are passing laws requiring medically unnecessary, invasive transvaginal ultrasounds. I am terrified of living in a world where the use of the word "uterus" in a government session results in chastisement of a lawmaker for inappropriate language. The list goes on.

These lawmakers have wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. Some of these lawmakers are women. And yet women are dehumanized and infantilized by the laws they pass, or try to pass.

Many of the services shut down by these lawmakers are not just abortion - they include mammograms, pap smears, and other preventative health services that save womens lives. I cannot have children, and yet - and yet, I still want access to those services that may save my life. I find myself hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why I should accept the blinders of "abortion" set on every women's health topic by politicians.

And I find myself surprised to be one of the politically disadvantaged, based solely on what I have -- or don't have -- in my pants and parts.

And I find myself outraged at political circuses like the one last night, where the Texas legislature took every measure imaginable to stop a filibuster, take a vote past the apportioned time, and pass a bill to ensure women's personal health decisions are dangerously difficult to make, and health services dangerously difficult to procure.

And I find myself wondering what additional shenanegans might have been accomplished yesterday and last night had the Texas legislature not been live-streamed and watched, Tweeted, and generally socially shared by so many. (Minus, of course, the mainstream media.)

And I find myself wondering what the hell kind of a future we live in when civil rights for women, people of color, and gay people are still something we have to fight so very hard for. Isn't this supposed to be the future? Haven't we proven that we are all functional human beings, not less-than because of color, parts, or personal choices? Is anyone paying attention? Is anyone out there?

I am terrified that Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale" has somehow moved from interesting but farfetched tale I read in high school to horrifyingly prescient.

I am a woman, and I fear my government.

Thank you to Texas State Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, for giving voice to women. Thank you to the many members of the interested public who showed up in the capitol. And thank you to the folks providing the livestream.

I am a librarian. I am a researcher. I am a teacher. I went into this profession because I believe deeply in the power of information, and the good information can do when it is widely distributed, discussed, and debated on its merits. I am grateful that the information on how law is made has been made so offensively public. I hope people will pay attention, and think of their sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, and selves.

I hope, but I am afraid.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ask an Expert! Or, How Statistics, Facebook and Polychoric Correlation Matrices Made Me My Own Library User

Frustrated with some data and fed up with my own inability to locate an appropriate statistical technique, I finally posted to Facebook in the hopes that a friend would commiserate with me:

"Bending my brain around ILL stats and thinking about exploratory factor analysis with categorical variables, despite the issues with it. Desperately missing [my old group of Emory PoliSci nerdbuddies and profs who were excellent at stats] and brainstorming these sorts of things."

Five seconds later, the prof I had tagged in the post replied, "Three words: polychoric correlation matrix." And I had four distinct reactions in rapid succession. They were as follows:

First reaction: sarcasm. Well OF COURSE polychoric correlation matrix, duh. Who WOULDN'T know that? Certainly not I. Pshaw.

Second reaction: confirmatory exploration. A quick Google search of that conglomeration of words, a quick scan of the Wikipedia description, and yep, this is much closer to what I need for what I want to do than I've gotten scouring statistics textbooks and incomprehensible math journal articles for two weeks. Until my eyes felt like they were bleeding, and my brain was mushy. Until all I wanted to do was curl up and cry in a corner until someone brought me a puppy. (Interestingly, my husband just got me a puppy for my birthday.)

Third reaction: gratitude. Thank you, Jeebus (and Professor Chris Zorn) that I have a direction and didn't have to pray I'd trip over this technique on my own. I was already stretching my husband's patience and our booze budget due to this thing.

My fourth reaction, and the one that prompted the blog post: chagrin. We beg our students and researchers to come to us as librarians for good direction before they get mired in the research process. Why didn't I go to the experts in the first place, the way I beg my students and faculty to do? The way the lit review section on expertise in my own darn dissertation says folks should do?

I know my reasons, and they likely echo those of my researchers. First, I thought I should be able to find the answer myself. Why didn't I ask my local methodologist professor buddies? Well, they're all on my dissertation committee, and I haven't touched my dissertation in forever, so I'm doing some guilt-hermiting (in which I crawl into a dark space and don't contact folks until I have something productive and useful to show them). I didn't want to look stupid for not knowing something, even though that something is admittedly quite far outside my wheelhouse.

Sigh. A lesson learned for myself: if even I fall into these traps, I need to make sure I continue to let me researchers know that it is okay to ask questions, if only so they're not making their lives harder than they have to be. My new mantra: Don't let guilt or ignorance waste your time. Ping an expert. Do it from the beginning.