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.

working east

On Saturday I head to Ontario to interview Canadian librarians who’ve been involved with IFLA. While I’m not looking forward to transcribing these interviews, it’s all kinds of neat that we got grant money to send me to talk to people. I probably wouldn’t have been aware of the intricacies of high-level organizational politics without this project.

While I’m gone (till the 27th of June) I’ve actually got two other jobs I’ll be working on as well. One of them is a professional experience project, which will be fulfilling my final three credits of my MLIS. It’s a project combining YA services and techy WordPress hosting/moderation stuff, so kind of a perfect storm for my abilities and interests.

The last job I’ve got, and the one I’m being paid for is creating videos on topics like “How to make a book trailer” and “Reference interviews with teens.” We’ve got people in another department at UBC providing good equipment and technical knowhow so my main job is supposed to be scripting and storyboarding, but I’m going to be able to sneak in at least a book trailer or two as well, I hope.

I finished up my last class on Thursday and now the rest of the summer is a (busy) victory lap. I’m pretty excited about it. And hopeful I’ll be able to parlay all this experience into a job for September somehow.

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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value of the mlis degree

We’ve talked in class about the image of the librarian, which well, whatever. I don’t really care about professionalism and all that bullshit. It reeks of snobbery and hiding behind dehumanizing rules. I do believe in providing the best possible service I can, but on my terms. Whatever. So the question comes up about whether you need the degree to be a librarian. And conversely whether the people with degrees should be on the reference desk or helping fix the printers.

So it’s possible to address this situation and sound a little privileged and snotty about it. The thing I dislike about that Agnostic Maybe article is that somehow helping people damages the professional image of a librarian, since it’s the kind of thing people without an advanced degree could do. Fuck that.

Happily, that post spawned responses, which caused Agnostic Maybe to clarify and sound a bit less like a jerk. But I don’t like the Officers/Enlisted analogy he employs, because nobody likes the officers. The officers are the planning mucky mucks who make the enlisted people’s lives terrible. Why the fuck would I want to be that? The Shelf Check response to that response was also a bit more moderate.

And then I read a bunch of posts about where the value of an MLIS degree is.

So yeah, I pretty much feel like I am a damned fine librarian, with or without this degree I’m buying. I know I need the paper to show that I’m the kind of person who goes to library school, which helps winnow out people who can’t afford library school, keeping the profession middle-class, which is bullshit. My mom doesn’t want to hear me say that I’d be fine with being a library school dropout, but really, I would be. Library school is teaching me that I am a librarian already, regardless of the paper I can tuck in a box somewhere. This also make the whole getting marked on assignments part of school really insignificant, which I like.

term one assignments

Maybe you’re interested in the kinds of things a first term MLIS student does. This is a follow up post to my first months of school recap.

Assignment 2 for my Information technology course was a website/research paper kind of weird hybrid amalgam thing. I did mine on Transhumanism, and managed not to mention my buddy who wants to be a robot some day. Until now. The last assignment for that course was the Twitterbrary project here on the blog.

In my reference services class (is that what it was called?) we collected a pile of reference resources for use by SIGGRAPH Vancouver (that was a group project so I’ll wait till the writeup is complete and I have group member permission before posting it here). Also did a presentation in class that stuck pretty close to the allotted 10 minutes. Information Organizations sent us off to compare a library and game store (again, group work so I won’t post it without the others’ permission).

And then there was the Subject Headings assignment (PDF) for the classification class. In our final session we spent 45 minutes talking about the assignment and what was required and what wasn’t. It was painful, but my Headings are done and not too far off line from what he wanted so whatever.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing.

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.

first months of school recap

Library school is going well. We’re over halfway through the term and I’ve done a few assignments and they’ve gone okay. I’m taking the “what I’ve learned is more important than the mark” approach so as not to stress out about things too badly, and it’s working out pretty well.

So far, I’ve done a news article review thingy about how Google Instant is an inconsistent censor (PDF link), an observation of reference interviews (PDF link), a seminar on censorship based on assigned readings (PDF link), a faceted classification of the performing arts (PDF link), and a PowerPoint presentation about nerd games. (I’m sorry if that last link doesn’t work for you; We had to do them in Office 2010. Here’s the page full of everyone’s not really library related presentations, if that makes it up to you.)

This weekend is going to be spent doing a bunch more stuff, but if you’re interested in what first-term MLIS assignments look like, there you go.

Also, in school related things, I’m the co-secretary of the UBC student chapter of Librarians Without Borders. Next week we’ve got a speaker coming in talking about a Library Initiative in Afghanistan, sponsored by the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee and we’ve had speakers talking about open access to data as well as building education centres in Nicaragua. I think it’s neat stuff.