Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Still I have a mind to think

I attended library school as a distance education learner in the mid-2000s. I had been working in libraries since high school--first in public libraries, then in a school library. I was an English major in undergraduate with a creative writing concentration, and I had dreams of becoming an academic. But, as so often happens, I didn't. After moving into a full-time paraprofessional position, I decided to go to library school.

My experience of my LIS program is that it was light on theory. I attribute this to the fact that, while most of my online classes were taught by people with PhDs in LIS, most of my in-person classes were taught by well-respected practitioners who worked in the city where I attended class. I heard a lot of lectures and did a lot of assignments that prepared me to work in libraries.

As someone who has had her degree for long enough to be considered mid-career, I often feel intimidated when I interact with people--mostly in online spaces--who have a much stronger theoretical grounding that I do. I stumble when I hear people talk about feminist, critical race, or queer theory because I haven't read any of the foundational texts upon which these theories are based. I feel ill equipped to talk about certain issues related to cataloging because I'm not familiar with Panizzi's 91 rules or the Paris Principles.

Up until recently, I have used this feeling of intimidation as an excuse to not engage in some interesting conversations about librarianship both in published literature and in online spaces. I recently wrote about how I've allowed imposter syndrome to keep my from adding my voice to the scholarly conversation happening in LIS research. And since I wrote that post, something inside me flipped.
It started when I read Emily Drabinski's great article, "Queering the catalog: queer theory and the politics of correction." I enjoyed how much I was challenged by the argument in the article and I mined its bibliography for other articles to read. And I mined the bibliographies in those articles for other articles to read.

Around the same time, I started reading Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom by bell hooks. I read a chapter or two each day while I eat lunch. I've been deliberate about the slow pace at which I make my way through this book, spending quiet time with hooks each day. And when I finish Teaching to transgress, I'll pick up another book.

By devoting time each day to reading something, I am giving myself the theoretical grounding in librarianship that I didn't receive in library school. You've probably noticed that many of my recent blog posts have been my interactions with something I read, taking my own ideas and looking at them through the lens of something written by someone else in the field. I have even taken one of those blog posts and started a document that is the very beginning of an article.

I wanted to tell you this story, not to pat myself on the back for a job well done but because I hope that it resonates with you. If you want to learn more about something, do it. Find a book or an article on a topic that interests you and allow yourself to be moved and changed by what you read. Investing in yourself is really important. And, if you're like me, it helps you see yourself more clearly.

Stay positive,

1 comment:

Lisa Hubbell said...

Love this, Erin! I also start where something moves me, and see what it leads to next. I think it was after my first introduction to #critlib on Twitter that I finally read Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. That was a good basis for understanding more library-related articles. I've tended to collect more material than I've taken the time to read thoughtfully, but am finding more ways in. I recently took a Library Juice Academy course with Maria Accardi on critical pedagogy in library instruction, and that helped me both to focus on relevant literature, and to examine how it fit in with my own work. And it has sent me off into new areas of curiosity.

Your description catches this process at a good point, engaging with one book at a reflective pace. Not letting the long lists of authors and titles overwhelm, or getting lost in a rabbit hole, but picking one that feels right and important for now. Thanks for sharing this.