Ethnically Librarian

I am a librarian. I am not a librarian.

I have an information science degree. I’ve been working for fourteen years, my entire adult life. Most of my jobs have been in libraries.

I am a librarian. I am not a librarian.

emdot
photo by emdot

As a student at Michigan State University, I learned Library of Congress serials cataloging.

I walked through secluded aisles surrounded by rare books, incunabulum, alternative newspapers, and gay pornography.
I cataloged comic books in the world’s largest archive of comic art, radicalism, and popular culture.

In the course of my work, I learned that Spiderman serials change their volume as often as many Spiderman readers change their underwear. By graduation, I could walk into any comic shop in the country and pick a fight about whether X-Men film adaptations should be considered canon.

When I went to graduate school (Michigan ’03), my program had recently transitioned from “Library Science” to “Information Science.” In the process, they picked up a bunch of renegade computer science professors and expanded to include information architecture, information economics, archival theory, and a bunch of crazyass dot com bubble refugees like myself.

sh0dan
photo by sh0dan

We discovered that the term Digital Library can be used to describe an entire array of cool shit, including the Internet itself.

One of my professors, Sue Davidson, tells the story of how Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang called to ask about the subject guide to the web she had created for the Michigan Electronic Library. Sue answered: “that’s what librarians do, we organize information.”

Librarianship, defined as the act of organizing information, is a broad and inclusive field. Librarianship as a profession, is not. There are strict professional guidelines determining who is and is not technically a “Librarian,” but there is also a strong case to be made for the authenticity of self-identification.

There are librarians who work in libraries, and there are librarians who just Are.

It’s the difference between being a Jew by Religion, and being a Jew by Ethnicity. Both groups contribute to the cultural whole.

While a Librarian by Profession is inherently a Librarian by Ethnicity, the opposite may not be true. A trained librarian can sport a different job title, but her clarity and understanding will still contribute to her work.

by Syntopia
photo by Syntopia

I’m a librarian by ethnicity.

Right now, I work as a user experience designer on a software team. I wrestle with ship dates, dependencies, conflicting user requirements, and engineering constraints. I design interfaces and help identify how the software should behave.

But somewhere, deep in my soul, I am doing the work of the Library.

I’m a librarian by ethnicity, regardless of the job I take. I don’t make my living as an ALA going, patron-helping organizer of resources, but I’ll be damned if I don’t use Librarian skills to battle confusing groupings of information.

Librarians bring order to chaos, and so, with a little luck, do I.

Librarians love Liquor

In which I write about my evening as though it appeared in a social column:

Librarians-turned-Software-Goons Sarah Dilling and Erica Olsen spent the evening discussing religion, the raising of rhetorically skilled children, and workplace mentoring this evening over mojitos at local bistro Luna Park. Rumor has it that the field of software development pays more than *twice* that of Librarianship, and offers larger amounts of free food. Where will this double dose of database-discussing debutantes appear next?

Librarian Halloween Beatdown

Last year I pointed out that my local Target was selling a semi-skanky (and of course, Highly Accurate) “Librarian” Halloween costume.

This became a popular post, and I inadvertently helped sell dozens more of the silly things.

To counteract this, and help bring the universe a bit more into alignment, here’s a charmingly
inflammatory comment on Yahoo! Answers in response to a woman looking for tips on building a librarian Halloween costume:

Yes, ladies (and believe me, in the eyes of the world you are ALL ladies, even the dudes) why desexualize yourself by dressing like a hideous old librarian for Halloween, when you can just step on down to Girls’s Costume Warehouse?


This year I’m going as Frog.

Hello? It’s Guybrarians.

Penny Arcade realizes that the word “librarian” doesn’t imply gender, except in issues of pay equity.

Webcomics’ newfound appreciation for the finest of underpaid professions is thanks to an encounter with the authors of Unshelved after the San Diego comic con.

This is the same comic con, coincidentally where my friend and coworker Jon, author of the excellent DogBlog, ran into Joss Whedon while both gentlemen were drunk and thanked him thanked him thanked him for making such excellent movies.

Jon has a photo to prove it, which he will show you at the slightest provocation. Walk quietly around him and don’t make any sudden moves.

Oh? And as they point out, there’s already a word for a male librarian. It’s Librarian. Or Guybrarian, if you buy into my pathetic merchandising attempts.

Hello NYTimes readers. Radical Librarians welcome you!

I got a call about 20 minutes ago from a friend telling me that my website, this website, the website I HAVEN’T UPDATED IN WEEKS was mentioned in the NY Times. So, um. Hi. I’m updating! This is me. Updating. Just for you. La de da.

If you are interested in becoming a librarian, you might want to take this quiz.

If you know some librarians that you want to get gifts, I sell some cool t-shirts and mugs here.

Here are some of my favorite posts.

Here’s a quick summary of this website:
I’m Erica Olsen. I am a librarian (religion) and interface designer (profession). I just moved to San Francisco two weeks ago. I work doing User Experience at Second Life. I’ve been blogging since 1998, but in those days of yore we just called it “having a web page.”

If you wanna write to me and say hi, I’m ericaolsen (AT) gmail (DOT) com.

Desk Set

lady librarians from desk setDid you know that Katherine Hepburn and Spenser Tracey were in a Librarian movie together? Did you even know there were librarian movies? It’s called Desk Set, and we’re about halfway through watching it.

Desk Set somewhat unintentionally gives an interesting window into professional life for women in the late 1950’s. Apparently it involved lots of sexual harassment, patronization, and powerlessness. Oh, and trivia questions. Which is pretty cool.

We spend about ten minutes listening to Katherine Hepburn show off her black belt in historical and literary fact before her boyfriend (also her boss) lovingly tells her how stupid she is. In spite of the anachronisms, Hepburn’s character exudes competence, and it’s wonderful to watch a woman on film being unabashedly smart.

Like most pre-1980’s movies, it’s long and kind of slow. We got a bit bored, and will probably finish it later tonight. I’m looking forward to seeing the IBM “electronic brain” that is supposed to replace the reference department. I suspect it will involve lots of reel-to-reel tapes, blinking lights, and miraculous natural language processors.

Stay tuned.

Want to volunteer at the library? Pass a drug test, sister.

Ah, Gainesville. Come for the Snowy Egrets, stay for the affronts to human dignity!

Bill Mahr at The Huffington Post wrote an excellent screed last week about Levy County Florida’s county-wide drug screening policy which has cut the library’s volunteer population by 3000%.

egretsmoking.pngMahr is slightly fuzzy on the details of our favorite profession, referring to librarians interchangeably as 1) Grandma 2) Aunt Iris 3) America’s shsssshing minority and 4) Volunteers.

Still, he has a point. Why torture volunteers? Should the County’s “risk-management Insurance company” really have the power to take down the library system? Is this an acceptable risk?

I wonder if anyone considered the cost/benefit of this decision. Essentially, the County Government (whom we know are always the embodiment of common sense and long-term planning) has reduced library services in exchange for relief from imaginary hordes of crank-shooting elderly volunteers.