Friday, November 30, 2007

Truth and Beauty

Thank you for the book suggestions in response to my very short list of memoirs I liked. I was reminded of one that I read but had somehow forgotten: Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. Another excellent example of a memoir written by someone who is both a gifted writer and has a story worth telling.

Another suggestion I received was Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, the story of her friendship with Lucy Grealy, which I then had to immediately rush out and read. Grealy suffered from cancer as a child and had part of her jaw removed. As a result, she spent most of her adult life undergoing one surgery after another to try and rebuild her face. Although bright, popular, and talented, the failure of her numerous surgeries took their toll. She developed a heroin habit and was found dead in her apartment in 2002, apparently from an accidental overdose. Throughout her adult life, Ann stood by Lucy, offering support through unsuccessful surgeries and her struggles as a writer. Lucy's constant need for reassurance and to be the center of attention, not to mention her eventual drug habit, would strain any friendship. Indeed, Ann had moments where she wanted to step back for fear of being an enabler, but still they remained close friends.

I wish I had read the two books one after another to get a better sense of the disparity between the two views on this fascinating woman and her troubled life. Patchett is well-known as a writer and for good reason. Her memoir is just as compelling as her fiction, but of course is much more personal and painful. How do you write a book about your very best friend's self-destructive path to an early death? Patchett manages beautifully and creates depth to what I remember as just an over-simplified newspaper blurb after Grealy's death.

I found an odd article by Lucy Grealy's sister, Suellen, called "Hijacked by Grief." In the article, she is apparently saying that Patchett's book somehow robbed her of her grief, though she insists that Patchett didn't actually do anything wrong. She specifically says that signing an agreement to let Patchett use Lucy's letters was a "mistake" but doesn't say why. She mentions that many items were missing from Lucy's apartment after her death, but quickly says her friends deserved to take some of her things. A series of statements about how she was hurt followed by almost apologetic reasons as to why the people in question were justified in their actions made up the bulk of the article. Her point is lost to me and the whole thing left me a bit bewildered. Maybe you can make some sense of it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An almost end and an uncertain beginning

The Doctor Who Fingerless Gloves are mostly done.

I still need to make the mitten caps, but can't start until buttons have been obtained so I know how big to make the button holes. But as you can see, the gloves have already been worn and gotten dirty which is a good sign of a well-loved gift.

In the meantime, I have started another project. In my quest to use up yarn in my stash, I chose this pattern from Rebecca magazine:

This is my first project from Rebecca, although I have enjoyed the photos of their sweaters as modeled by carefree youths holding hands and frolicking on beaches, rooftops, etc. So far, I'm finding the pattern instructions a little unclear. Also I've heard that the chart contains errors, and I'm nervous about the fact that I cannot find these errors. I'm sure they will be apparent the first time I wear the sweater.

Not a lot of progress so far:

The yarn is Caron Simply Soft, which in case you are wondering is 100% acrylic, but very soft as the name suggests. It was under $15 so if the sweater comes out terribly only my time has been wasted. Oh, did I mention I didn't swatch for this? I started to, but the chart is rather involved for a swatch, so I decided to just knit several inches and then measure gauge and hold it up to myself to see if the size looks feasible because I also wasn't sure which size to make.

Just to be clear, let's review the strikes already against this sweater:
1. Unsure of which size would be appropriate
2. Did not swatch
3. Chart may contain errors
4. Cheap acrylic yarn which cannot be blocked to hide aforementioned sins

I just want to document all of this so that when my sweater comes out fitting my cat - complete with 4 sleeves - I cannot act surprised. I'm going to go have a glass of wine now.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rethinking Information Work

The deprofessionalization of librarianship - part 3

In part 2 I shared my outlook of the library profession which is admittedly grim but, I believe, realistic. Since it will do no good to leave you regretting your MLS and the money spent on it, I need to tell you that all is not lost. With some thought and planning you can create a more sustainable career and I know just the book to help you: Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals by G. Kim Dority.

Similar to “What color is your parachute,” this career guide is specific to librarians, complete with exercises to help you determine career preferences. Dority acknowledges the changes in libraries and the bleak outlook for traditional library work, and her book is a guide to identifying your true value as a professional and finding the right fit for your skills in this changing landscape.

It begins with chapters about different types of library work. "The Traditional Path" covers public, school, and academic libraries, including user services, tech services, and administrative services. In "The Nontraditional Path" we learn about nontraditional jobs in traditional libraries, and traditional roles in nontraditional environments. Contracting and freelancing are discussed in "The Independent Path."

Once the different types of work are covered, Dority moves on to help you create a portfolio by focusing on accomplishments, projects, and skills rather than positions you have held. You can examine your transferable skills and reframe your work life to help you pursue a new career. She describes creating a “career map” to lay out goals and strategies to reach them, and an “education map” to plan needed training.

She encourages the reader to take advantage of change to create new opportunities, and to take responsibility to overcome obstacles to improving your work situation. Simple suggestions include writing down your obstacles and reframing them in a way that is internal rather than external, to pinpoint something you can do to improve the situation.

Each chapter has a bibliography of books, articles, and online sources to further explore the themes in each chapter. Appendices of special interest groups, employment resources, and current awareness resources are also included.

I found this book inspiring, helpful, and a refreshing change from most library career discussions. The author is realistic about the future of our work without being dismal, instead showing us how to innovate new and satisfying careers. I read a library copy, but will probably buy my own – I think it’s worth it just for the extensive bibliographies. The accompanying website is also filled with helpful information. So go ahead and get started!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Progress on Doctor Who gloves

This is my favorite kind of weekend. All I've done is laze about doing things I enjoy, and I have something to show for it.

The first Doctor Who fingerless glove is turning out well so far. I'm using the glove instructions from Ann Budd's Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns. I can't believe I haven't used this book more often (I also own Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, which I now want to take another look at - I've never used it). The thumb will be completely enclosed, but all the other fingers will be open. I thought about doing a couple of rows of ribbing before binding off so it doesn't roll (I hate that about my Knucks) but for these, I like the ragamuffin effect.

As for the mitten flip tops, the plans have changed at Eric's request. Rather than being attached to the gloves, they are going to be separate pieces, held in place with a button on the back of the hand. They should be snug enough to stay on without additional buttons, and can be completely removed so that they won't get in the way when not being used. He expressed some concern about losing them, but I think they'll be easy enough to make that they can be replaced if needed. I like this idea as it will be simpler; I had dreaded trying to pick up stitches on the back of the hand because it's hard to know exactly where to do it, and I was worried about it being bulky or messy in that spot.

It's very satisfying to knit for someone who has active interest in how the final product turns out - he knows exactly what he wants and makes suggestions along the way to ensure the final product is satisfactory. True team work!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Doctor Who

Here's a scarf I made a year or two ago and has been much loved but not photographed until now. The pattern is here, but if you're thinking of making the scarf definitely check other parts of the site because there are different versions from different seasons of the show. I used the recommended yarn, Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport, because even though I had to order it online it was SO much easier than trying to match all those colors in another brand. It's great yarn, too. The knitting was mind-numbingly boring as it's just miles and miles of garter stitch on some crazy small size needles.

The scruffy gentleman modeling the scarf would now like matching fingerless gloves so I'm going to more or less use Knitty's pattern for the Broad Street Mittens. I can't use it exactly because a)it calls for sock yarn and I'm using sport weight, and b)it kind of sucks as a pattern. It includes instructions for the left mitten and then says to do it again reversing everything, which frankly is a recipe for either another left mitten, or a right mitten with the thumb next to the pinky or the flip-top over the wrist instead of the fingers. In addition, the materials list calls for two different sized needles but then doesn't tell you when to use each size. No wonder this pattern is rated "extraspicy."

A helpful soul on Ravelry says that she used the basic idea from this pattern along with the instructions from The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns to use sport weight yarn, and I think I will do the same. There don't seem to be many patterns for fingerless gloves with flip tops, so this may be all I have to work with. It involves math, but I knew I wouldn't be able to escape that forever if I want to call myself a decent knitter. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The future of librarianship

The deprofessionalization of librarianship - part 2

Ever since library catalogs were automated, librarians have speculated about the demise of librarianship as we know it. We're still here, but it's becoming clear that our roles are changing and continuing to become less professional as the public is able to meet more of its information needs without our help. Library 2.0 is all about the democratization of information, and the effect on libraries and librarians is telling. The fact is that a lot of what we do on the job no longer uses a high level of skill. Most cataloging is now done centrally by a library network rather than at each individual library. Many reference questions are being answer by Google, or through home access to library databases. Of course someone still needs to plan programs, hold story times for children, and show people how to sign up for computers, print, and find and request books, but you don't need an MLS for those jobs.

There was an article on Slashdot recently about IT people who feel like their job security is threatened by Web 2.0. Emily over at Library Revolution says that she sees this differently; her take is that Web 2.0 is empowering people to get many jobs done themselves without having to depend help from IT. This is how I feel about Library 2.0: people now have so much easy access to information that they don’t need a gatekeeper (i.e. librarian) to help them. How fantastic!

A second benefit to recent trends is that it will be cheaper for public libraries to operate without having to pay so many MLS salaries. No doubt libraries will continue to exist as long as people still want free books, magazines, dvds, and cds, but surely an advanced degree is not needed for these jobs. This is good news for libraries with funding issues, and surely better than closing down.

Like IT people, librarians can’t help but worry about job security. But in addition to wasteful spending that many municipalities can’t afford, it’s ridiculous to waste our skills by keeping positions professional when they shouldn’t be. Those of us with MLS degrees are bored in jobs where we aren’t working to our full potential. Furthermore, pretending that these positions still use high level skills is really doing us all a disservice. I wrote a little about that here – it doesn’t reflect well on the profession when we try to justify MLS salaries and all we can show them is that we are holding game nights. How does it help our reputation as a profession when we are being asked to justify our existence and that is all we can come up with? Pretending that these jobs require advanced degrees is just self-preservation, but we are supposed to exist for the good of our communities not for own personal gain.

Don’t just think you can switch to another type of library though, because these changes are happening everywhere. Corporate libraries are beginning to close or decentralize, and the librarian role is more aligned within departmental units if it continues to exist at all. Many companies such as the accounting firm where I used to work, are making research information available through robust intranets and training employees how to use them. Like with public libraries, this is good news for those who need information, but bad news for librarians.

So what does this mean for librarians? This free and easy access to information is what we have been advocating for, and ironically it will be our downfall. We need to define new roles for ourselves. If you enjoy traditional librarianship, this may not be pleasant to think about, but we need to face reality: the jobs we are used to will no longer exist. Sure, there are librarians who will be retiring, but their positions won’t be there waiting for us to seamlessly slip into, and the ALA needs to stop pretending otherwise.

The October 15th issue of Library Journal touched on these issues in its cover story "What's an MLIS Worth?" Here are some trends noted:

-a substantial leap in graduates reporting jobs outside of the library and information science (LIS) professions (up 43.7%)
-those reporting placements outside of library agencies increased by 37.4%
-more grads in nonprofessional jobs, rising temp positions, more graduates taking multiple part-time positions, and a longer average job search
-nonprofessional positions increased by almost 37.5% between 2005 and 2006
-2003-2006 28.5% growth in placement with vendors

It's becoming harder to find employment in the library field and many librarians are taking positions in non-library environments doing what most of us would think of as non-librarian work. This is where the profession is heading, and we better be ready. How do we prepare for the inevitable shifts in our careers? Funny that you ask - I just read a helpful book that addresses that very question. Next week I’ll post my review on Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals by G. Kim Dority.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

FO: Spicy Fitted V-Neck Tee

Pattern: Spicy Fitted V-Neck Tee from Fitted Knits by Stefanie Japel
Yarn: Plymouth Encore Chunky
Needle size: 11

Modifications: I skipped the eyelets on the back, as I thought the ones on the front were enough. Also, knit the sleeves in the round.

Final verdict: I like it more than I thought I would. It's just gotten a little too cold to wear it (especially at work where my department has no heat). It's unblocked and you can tell, but honestly this yarn is so highly acrylic I'm not sure what effect blocking will have. But I love the color.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

It's only a game

The deprofessionalization of librarianship - part 1

You may have noticed recently that libraries have begun adding video games to their collections and hosting game nights, much like many libraries have film nights. While this is all well and good, some of the accompanying ideas in the library world are only serving to hasten the slide into deprofessionalism to which librarianship is destined.

There’s nothing wrong with libraries collecting video games and even having game nights, but please, stop pretending that this is an intellectual subject that we all need to study and is worthy of entire conferences. That is just embarrassing. It is embarrassing not because librarians are talking about video games – because we should be – but that some of us are trying to raise them to an intellectual level worthy of study. This may very well be justified in the education field, but not in libraries. You don’t need a library school class, a scholarly article, or a symposium to learn how to purchase video games and make them available to your patrons. How this bizarre intellectual leap occurred is beyond me, but it is a trend that is sure to make our already damaged image worse. Maybe these so-called gaming librarians think it makes us look cool and progressive, but in reality it makes us look foolish and desperate.

Lest you think I have something against video games, please bear a few things in mind:
-a Wii lives at my house and I know how to use it (and have scored pretty high on Big Brain Academy)
-I have borrowed a video game from a library
-I attended a PLA session on gaming with John Beck, author of Got Game and it was very interesting and I’m totally convinced that people can develop problem-solving skills from playing video games.

But as the Annoyed Librarian said, "This stuff doesn't require a master's degree, or even a college degree." This is the problem when librarians are already trying so hard to justify our existences, and failing miserably: when we try to prove the value of our skills and convince our institutions that they need us, and they see shit like this, what do you think that says about us? No matter how much fun they are to play, or how educational they can be, or how successfully a library gaming night fosters a sense of community, they are still just games. And when our colleagues talk about gaming as though it's a large, vital part of our highly-skilled field, and an important trend in libraries, we need to stop wondering why we are paid so poorly.