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book review: still a man’s world – men who do “women’s work”

I heard about Christine Williams’ book Still a Man’s World on Twitter in the context of discussing how silencing within the profession of librarianship works. It was a fascinating read, and even though it was written almost 20 years ago, everything but the contemporary stats still seem relevant (at least in regards to librarianship).

The book talks about how gender works in four predominantly female jobs: librarian, elementary school teacher, social worker and nurse. There’s a chapter on how these professions became associated with women (previous to the late nineteenth century these were populated by men) but the bulk of it is a sociological analysis of what it’s like to be a male in these predominantly female professions, and how different it is from being a female in a male dominated profession.

One of the biggest differences comes in the form of the glass escalator for males. This is the phenomenon where you find far more male administrators and other higher-ups than you’d expect from the pure demographics. Part of this has to do with promoting men out of front-line jobs to get them into a zone where tradition says it “makes more sense” to have men (like as the principal of an elementary school rather than a kindergarten teacher). Some of this has to do with how the corporate structure of even these female dominated workplaces rewards a lifestyle that puts the job first ahead of any other life-considerations.

There’s a chapter on masculinity in these professions and how that’s seen as a rare and special thing that needs to be protected and rewarded, as compared with women in male jobs who have to assimilate themselves. There’s a need to show that despite doing women’s work we’re still masculine. Obviously, this is why so many male librarians are bearded. Another thing is how males tend to self-segregate into parts of the profession deemed a bit more acceptable. So a lot of male librarians tend towards the techie side of things, or academic libraries rather than being children’s librarians.

I think some things (in librarianship at least) have changed since the book was written. There were a lot more men getting library degrees in my classes than back in the early 1990s when the people were interviewed for this book. Also, it’s kind of cute how people talk about these professions as being easy to get a job in.

It probably isn’t the most rigorous academic book, though Williams does include an appendix on her methodology that gives the whole thing a bit more oomph than mere anecdote. A cursory look at Google Scholar sees the book cited a few hundred times and not in any obviously disparaging way.

In any case, I found it very interesting as one of these men working in a “female” profession. I know I get a lot more credit (from parents and employers, actual and potential) for working with kids than a female version of me would, and I think it’s good to be conscious of that kind of thing.

penultimate semester complete

I am perilously close to being done my library-student career and getting back to full-on librarianhood (I’m of the opinion that being a librarian isn’t contingent on having a specific degree, but YMMV).

Today I handed in my last paper of the term. It was a really fun one to write because I incorporated analysis of children’s literature and its repressive/educative nature and the kind of books that fight that sort of thing. It’s probably a little more polemical than it strictly needed to be, but I prefer writing with something to defend. I’ll be presenting this paper (after I get it back and incorporate Judi’s edits) at the Stranger in a Strange Land Children’s Literature Conference in a couple of weeks.

I had a very good semester. My courses were fun and informative (even the management course). I have heaps of classic Children’s Literature bibliographies to be working from when I’m in Children’s Departments. My class on Youth Services was supremely interesting and I feel I got a lot of background to dealing with Young Adults, and maybe more importantly learned who to be reading in the professional literature to do a good job working in that kind of role in the future. Also, I got to make my book trailer, which A.S. King linked to on her blog, so that’s a few kinds of cool.

The other thing I did today was go to a talk on Youth Community Informatics by Bertram Chip Bruce. It was an interesting talk about education being difficult to study as part of a community, even though it’s integral to community. Community informatics got some cautionary notes about how putting the technology first can ignore the critical dialogues that need to be taking place in a democracy. They did some interesting projects like helping with Community Asset Mapping for a Chicago neighbourhood that cab-drivers won’t take you to. But my favourite takeaway from the talk was this idea of Community as Curriculum, which states that people need to:

  1. learn about the world in a connected way
  2. learn how to act responsibly in the world
  3. learn how to transform the world – to give back to the community

I don’t think of myself as an educator or anything, but that’s the kind of thing I can see myself being a part of in the library world. I’ve decided that YA services are probably where I want to be working, which is a good thing to have figured out as I start looking for jobs. I’m planning on using skills I learned in my cataloguing, instructional role and social media courses, and I’m definitely not sorry I went to Australia and got some Systems Librarian experience, but YA services feel like they’re where I’d do my best work, and actually be helping to transform the world. Maybe not as much as a teacher, but in a role much more suited to me.

And there we go, my reflections on my semester. I have two-and-a-third more courses to finish by the end of August. Hopefully I’ll be able to find work for when I’m done.

the matter of experience

I see training in Koha as one of my most marketable things I do at Prosentient. It also feels weird to be thinking about how things will look on a resume, but whatever, the job market I’m going into is competitive. If I want a job some day thinking about this stuff is probably going to be a good idea. I’ve been terrible at selling myself in the past, and while there’s a kind of bravado in saying “they didn’t hire me because I was honest” it’s probably good to be honest in positive-about-my-abilities ways along with my standard self-deprecation.

So last week I went out to the Gippsland region in Victoria to train a couple of librarians in using Koha. This is another one of those instances where working for a small company is fun. I was given a lot of trust, some accommodations and a breakdown of how long to spend on each section of the software.

The librarians I was training are attached to hospitals, and very much in the special libraries are a one-person show kind of mould. They knew each other and were very good at asking detailed questions, which was great for me, since I’m more of a responsive teacher than a dictator of holy writ. We pushed the edges of what Koha is capable so they knew what was possible and what wasn’t. I hit the limits of my knowledge several times and brought back questions to answer later.

After our two days, which felt pretty intense on my end, they’ll be going live with their new systems this month. They seemed happy with what I could teach them. It was really fun to be a field agent for a few days. I find that hanging around the office doing so much on the computer is a touch painful. I feel nerves pinching from all the sitting, so it was good to get out into the world and crouch next to some folks who don’t like MARC records but have to use them, and show them how we can make their lives easier.

I do like how directly a couple of my SLAIS courses I took impact my work here (those courses would be Cataloguing and my Instructional Role of the Information Professional). The Instructional one is kind of obvious when I’m talking about going out and running a two day workshop, but even though I’m not hardcore cataloguing, knowing that lingo and how the rules work is really goddamn useful when you’re trying to teach someone how to use the software to do it. I do find that my knowledge of the Acquisitions module of Koha is less extensive since I haven’t had the experience with acquisitions (beyond troubleshooting Koha) that I have with Circulation and Cataloguing.

So yes, I join the chorus of people who say library school students both need to get experience and need to take a fucking cataloguing course. Use. Ful.

instructional role

When I taught English in China, I wasn’t a very good teacher. I did it though. It was a good experience, doing something I knew I was bad at, trying to get better, but not really knowing how. Me blundering along through failure for a couple of years was great for everyone. Except my students. And my self-esteem. Erm.

The thing is that when I got back to Canada and especially when I started working at a library reference desk I realized I’m not too shabby at one-on-one/small group instruction, especially when everyone is speaking the same language. It was teaching people to talk I was terrible at. But I still didn’t have a good handle on how to teach better or how to develop a lesson plan or anything like that.

So for me, my hands-down most useful class in my MLIS has been LIBR535: The Instructional Role of the Information Professional. The past couple of weeks we’ve been doing our short lessons and with actual guidance on how to do this stuff (simple guidance like “plan your lesson backwards from its objectives” and “making people physically do stuff is good because…”) I felt really good about it. And man oh man does it ever help when you’re teaching something you find interesting.
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the end of term one

We’re down to our last week of classes for my first semester of my MLIS. I had planned to do more posts about the stuff I was reading as we went along, but that fell away as I was doing homework. The way our school is set up, this first semester is the core that gets people up to speed. Despite some people’s complaints about the teaching abilities of some of our profs I do feel like this term has given our cohort a common vocabulary, which’ll be useful going forward. I’m glad I’ll be getting into more details though. A bunch of our classes this term have basically been extended advertorials: “If you think this is interesting, take this class.”

In class yesterday we were discussing the professional images of librarians and the whole thing seemed like just so much jerking off. I don’t really see the point in worrying about professionalism, professional identities, professional associations and the like. One of the things I read for that class was about librarianism going from occupation to a profession, and how that’s not just about snobbery (it was written in 1961 if that makes a difference). It feels to me like it is. If you’re good at your job isn’t that way more important than worrying about the image of the profession? I’d rather represent myself according to my standards than represent “my profession” well, or get prestige from my profession being well-regarded. I mean, that’s why I try to write interesting things instead of bullshit PR flackery, right? I’m me more than I’m a member of any organization.

Anyway, I bring up this professional image stuff because in that discussion the idea of “professional acculturation” came up, which is more what school has been about so far. I haven’t learned a whole tonne that I wouldn’t be able to learn on the job. There are some resources I wasn’t aware of, and my vocabulary has become a bit more specialized and in tune with how library people write about things. On the whole though, I haven’t been really disabused of my notion that I’m a librarian already, just one without the paper that’ll let me get a job. Hence a librarianaut. Maybe in January.

But before January I’m heading to China for the month of December. I leave next week as soon as classes are done. Supposedly my girlfriend knows a woman who works at the public library in Nanchong, so hopefully I’ll get to talk about this stuff with her.

manlibcon 2010 day 3

The third day of the Manitoba Libraries Conference opened with breakfast (croissants and fruit), which was nice. This was the day I was convening sessions, so I had to stop by the registration desk a few times to pick up the checklists and gifts for the speakers. All very easy stuff.

The first session I convened was presented by Kathleen Williams from the Winnipeg Public Library along with a bunch of EAL teachers. The session was called Reaching Out to Newcomers, and was pretty good. When I worked in Section 22 I did a lot with our ESL collections and helping people find things so Kathleen’s talk was right in my wheelhouse. They were discussing the photo stories they’d created to help people at different English levels learn to use the library. It was informative all around and people asked good questions and went just a touch over time. My introducing even made a couple of people laugh (librarians in general seem to be fine with lame jokes, so something even moderately funny goes over well in my experience).

Then was a session by Michelle Larose-Kuzenko from the Manitoba Ministry of Education. Her talk was on Literacy with ICT. (I learned in my preconference research that ICT is Information and Communication Technology.) The speaker and I got along well when I was getting stuff set up. Her talk was focused on integrating technology and dealing with it appropriately into other lesson plans and things. I was completely out of my element in there, but the attendees asked questions so I didn’t have to. The only thing I could have asked would have been inane. The questions that did get asked had a bit of a hostile edge to them, as Ms. Larose-Kuzenko was a government official who imposes things on these library techs. I didn’t have to break up any fights though. I think that would have been part of my convenor duties.

After lunch I went to a presentation called Not Your Daddy’s Jackdaws, which was presented by a University of Manitoba Archivist. He was talking about Jackdaws and how todays things that are kind of like Jackdaws are different from Jackdaws. What is a Jackdaw? It’s a folder full of reproductions of historical documents about some historical person, place, thing, or time. They were produced by this British company in the 1960s and they made over 400 of them. The thing that made this session kind of weird was that he wanted to talk about how the new things that are sort of similar aren’t really like Jackdaws, but everyone in the room just wanted to talk about Jackdaws themselves (and how proud one school library was to have a bunch). He was approaching this as presenting his paper but people kept interrupting. It was kind of funny. I was glad I wasn’t convening this one.

Finally, I convened a session by Marg and Tom Stimson called How to Talk About Web2.0 Without Making Your Mother Bored. It didn’t quite deliver on that subtitle (my mom would still be bored, though the Stimsons were entertaining) but was interesting. Marg talked about all the cool stuff you could do in the classroom with Google Maps and different free bits of software. Tom Stimson livetweeted his class trip to Oak Hammock Marsh including pictures and the kids’ parents were commenting and stuff. It was all pretty neat. He also uses Spore in the classroom, which is awesome. (I recently got Spore and it is a wonderful game where you create a life form and have it evolve from a little multicellular thing into star-spanning empires. Highly recommended.) They had to talk about the creature they made as a class “growing up” instead of evolving because they had a Jehovah’s Witness kid in the class.

The Stimsons were great “Hey wow isn’t this neat!” kind of evangelists for Web 2.0 technologies, of the kind you’d see doing TED talks. Tom showed us screenshots of the kids’ pictures on their houses on Google Maps after navigating there from school in Google Earth, and I had to ask a question about how they deal with the kids’ privacy issues. They a) get waivers b) don’t use full names and c) use a “this’ll be up on the internet for four hours so parents should go see it now” kind of approach. Which made me feel a bit better.

And then the conference was over. It was a fine first experience. Now when I go to my first one as a student I’ll have something to compare it to.

just a footnote

Storytime last night included a few kids getting a bit too into it, all standing up and trying to point out everything they saw on the pages, and I realized I’m really not equipped to calm kids down. I blame China, where I was so horribly boring a teacher I needed to jazz up everything and never did it very much. Five-year-olds are much easier to jazz up, as I have learned. Even though I did a story I really liked but that was way metaphorical about Fall being Mother Earth’s wild child who wouldn’t go to bed. Cool story; not so great with a bunch of kids who didn’t get it.

I have an interview for a new job downtown next week. My current job is a temporary position and if I reach the end of the temporary time and the person I’m replacing comes back then I get bumped back to being a bookstacking page. So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for permanent part-time positions that are a bit closer to home. This position I applied for includes working Sundays and a couple of 6 hour shifts a week so the same hours I’m getting at the branch, but condensed into fewer days. Which is nice. The other benefit would be not having to bike to work, as the main branch is within walking distance, so it’s cheaper.

there but for the grace of god goes me

I was just going to note this for my links feed over in the sidebar there, but it’s an interesting enough article to respond to a bit here. The Disadvantages of an Elite Education – By William Deresiewicz

An elite education gives you the chance to be rich—which is, after all, what we’re talking about—but it takes away the chance not to be. Yet the opportunity not to be rich is one of the greatest opportunities with which young Americans have been blessed. We live in a society that is itself so wealthy that it can afford to provide a decent living to whole classes of people who in other countries exist (or in earlier times existed) on the brink of poverty or, at least, of indignity. You can live comfortably in the United States as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist—that is, by any reasonable definition of comfort.

Now, I don’t have an elite education by any stretch, but a lot of this article resonated me all up. I sometimes look at my time here at the library as underachieving. This is no surprise to you. I feel like I could have gone on to do more; I could have been a doctor of something or other. I feel like I chickened out of the hard work it would take to do all that stuff. And then I read about how important it is not to get sucked into that world, how being outside it signifies an independent spirit instead of lack of ability. And those are really gratifying things to read. It lets me go, “People want (this romanticized version of) my life” rightly or wrongly.

I’ve been told not to change, to be happy I’m in the position I’m in. To be able to go enjoy a baseball game on a Thursday afternoon. I’ve been reading Walden and it’s all about living in the woods by yourself and how that is the only measure of success we should be looking for. That’s what Thomas Merton did too (with the addition of being an actual monk). Those things don’t feel like huge stretches for me. I could do that. But I can’t help feeling that I’m missing something by skipping all the intermediate steps. I feel like I haven’t given up anything to arrive where I am.

You can read all this stuff out there about simplifying your life to find happiness and blah blah blah. I shelve at least a dozen of those books every week. When you’re already pared down pretty far though you hit some sort of diminishing return. Sometimes I feel like I should be ambitious in a professional sense, so that I could come back to this life and really appreciate it. Part of my qualms about going to Japan and teaching (which I’m not planning on doing in the immediate future) had to do with how I’d look back on this time at the library as such a wonderful relaxing peaceful time for me. What is that, some sort of latent conservatism? I don’t want to give up the good life I’ve got going for one which I’d like much less?

Last night on the Daily Show there was the top foreign correspondent for CBS talking about her work in Iraq and Afghanistan and how important it was. Sometimes I want to be her, to actually have a fight on my hands every day to do something important. And I feel bad for sitting here writing my little stories while the world goes to hell.

And sometimes I just really want an iPhone.

teachers and jobs and hobbing with nobs

Still no word on whether I’m getting my leave or quitting at the end of February. My boss said that if I am granted the leave he’ll get me to start training as an LSA, which would be nice. Do a bit more than bookstacking. If I get to keep this job. If I don’t well, there are other options.

I did an online application for one of the big Teach English in Japan companies (chosen based on recommendation by someone who’s worked with them before) and they’ve asked me to send them a resume. I’ll do that. They only interview in Vancouver or Toronto though. If I have to leave the library I’ll be able to justify flying out to one of those places I guess.

three shallow cuts in my thumb

Today at work there was a note from some superiors complaining about the misfiled books in the 613s and 615s. These issues have been there for months upon month, but I heard a couple of the new pages sounding a little worried as they signed in. The sheer pointlessness of our jobs (at one level) hasn’t sunk into these pages yet. Books will always be out of order and we will always be putting them back and it will always be less efficient than some would prefer.

In April when I get back from China I’m going to have to start applying for better jobs in this system again. Not that my life will be complete if I become a part-time LSA, but to do something different. This whole “not going to Egypt because they suddenly want a real teacher” thing has got me all messed up because I really like term positions. I like having countdowns going. I was really looking forward to these being my last two months putting books on shelves. Just like by the end of three years in Cairo I would have been really looking forward to coming back to Canada. But this endless churn without a reset button is demoralizing.

And the fact that I have to ask for a leave in March rather than tell them I’m leaving, well that sucks too. I really really hate being reliant on the kindness of my superiors.

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Librarianaut by J Jack Unrau is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

All opinions on this site have absolutely nothing to do with any library organization that employs (or doesn't employ) anyone beyond librarianaut itself.

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