Monday, July 17, 2017

Shut up and get my friggin book

NYU librarian laments 'fatigue' from 'presence of white people'

A New York University librarian recently felt compelled to pen a blog post bemoaning the “racial fatigue” she experiences “in the presence of white people” following an academic conference.

  • April Hathcock said that she “hit her limit” after spending five days “being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to” by "white men librarians" and "nice white ladies."

  • Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people,” Hathcock wrote. “The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue.”
    While Hathcock noted that she is normally exhausted after such conferences for reasons unrelated to racial issues, she said that this time she “hit her limit” after spending five days “being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to.”

    Hathcock offered a litany of complaints about her fellow conference attendees, including the “white men librarians” who “complain about being a ‘minority’ in this 88% white profession.”
    She also slammed the “nice white ladies” who told her to be “civil” and “professional” when she tried to “talk about the importance of acknowledging oppression and our profession’s role in it.”
    Hathcock concluded by acknowledging that even though there were positive aspects of the conference, such as meeting new friends of color, she was nonetheless exhausted by the entire ordeal.
    [RELATED: Librarians learn to create ‘safe spaces,’ fight ‘privilege’]
    “Luckily, the rest of my summer will be spent going on vacation with family,” she concluded. “And when I get back to it all, I’ll keep on fighting, bearing in mind the inspiring words Dr. Hayden imparted to us at the Spectrum celebration: ‘You gotta be in the room. You gotta be at the table. You gotta fight.’”


     Now, ignoring the ridiculous race-baiting, I'm going to say this:  I don't really care for librarians. 

    I felt very much like a fish out of water on campus when I was a college student. I am and have been pretty single-minded in general, focusing on my goal, and tending to ignore most other things. Whatever rell-roundedness I have cultivated mentally was a gift from my parents, not from the professors. I tried my damndest to be a science savant. I avoided most of the gen-ed requirements that come with a STEM BS degree from a liberal arts college by taking a year to perform an international applied science study in both the UK and the US. I used those credits to avoid fake science classes (politics and social studies are to science what Taco Bell is to Spain, IMO). 

          The library on campus made me uncomfortable. I remember this annoying but pretty blond girl who was going on and on while I was in the stacks, talking about Neoluddites. I had no idea what a Luddite was, let alone a Neoluddite, but I could halve a slice off of a fetal cow's aorta under a dissecting microscope and clone the blood vessels' endothelial cellular tissue while wearing a beer hat. Still, that memory of the blond girl sticks. Made me realize just how ignorant I was relative to some of my peers who beat their meat to Descartes and shit.
    I was a hard worker. Had to be, to make up for being retarded
      But the library was torture, and with experience... well, it was worse.
             I'm old and getting older, and library computers were still DOS based for the most part. I could work the shit out of a card catalog. 
     My university library had mostly secondary sources- write ups, discussions, broad-based and policy-related materials, but not the primary material, the monographs, the academic journals that cost a small fortune to subscribe to. Journal of Comparative Physiology, or Biological Bulletin, or Trends in Neuroethology, stuff like that, which is what I mostly needed. 
             Early on, I had to go to the librarian. 

        A college or research librarian is a challenging position. They have their own college major, teaching information management. It tends to attract very smart people who end up learning a little about a lot of things. 
        Back in the day, you could get left alone at the card catalogue. But if you needed to use a computer to search for information, you were proper fucked. Librarian was going to haunt you like a house, and resent you for taking up all their time while you tried to find any way possible to make them leave you alone. 

          At the time, there was a private biology search engine that catalogued many esoteric abstracts, called BIOSIS. 
     BIOSIS costed $10/minute to access via FTP, and the librarian was the gatekeeper. I had reason on multiple occasions to need access so I could get a hold of articles that I didn't even know I needed. Being ignorant has a cure, after all. 

     At any rate, I got to really resent the librarian refusing me on multiple occasions, to the point where I had to get a note from my department head letting me in. The fact that I cleaned her genetics classroom and laboratory for $7 an hour helped there. It was this particular professor who enabled me to release a million of so fruit flies in my college's law school. Best prank I pulled there.  

    What galled me, before I started making contacts and getting access to the libraries at MIT, Harvard, Tufts, Woods Hole and URI, who had actual science libraries, was that I had to go through a gatekeeper. Every time I wanted to do an abstract search (this being in the days before google) I had to deal with the fucking Emerald City gatekeeper. 
    She had a better mustache, though

       One of the early lessons I picked up was not to tell the librarian exactly what I was looking for. I'd get sent on wild goose chases and 'applications for your data' which meant political bullshit, old books that were useless and microfilmed fucking magazines that were never quite right. Seriously. I studied pure research and  made myself into a biology Rain Man, so this was torture, and have to explain everything I was doing and thinking, and if I couldn't articulate my thoughts perfectly, I'd be refused access to the fucking database.  I just didn't know enough to be able to avoid needing help. It took a couple of years before I actually learned enough to know how to articulate my thoughts. I don't think I ever set foot in my university's library after my second year. I could hop on the train and go to a science library elsewhere, where the librarians were there to answer important questions like where the bathroom was and where I could get copy paper. 

       There was one exception. The librarian for the Rare Book Room at the University of Stirling, in Scotland. He was cool as hell. He let me borrow a pair of cotton gloves and sit in the sealed glass reading room set aside for their rare books, and fetched me 200- year old anatomical drawings  and secretaries notes from Royal Society meetings and shit for what I was doing- all with that veddy British sarcasm for the long-haired sort-of-dumb-but-polite-enough-for-yeoman-class-American. Weird experience, uncomfortable, but the little dude was a serious asset, especially where I wasn't allowed in the stacks, not being a Don there. 

     With the advent of online search engines, I have never again spoken to a librarian, and I suspect that as an adult who doesn't look like a roadie anymore, it probably would be fine.  My kid likes the help librarians provide, though, thus far. Maybe he's got a better way with people.  He has the ability to get lost in the stacks, too, getting waylaid by esoterica and finding new things to be interested in. I just hope some fucking librarian doesn't kill that for him too. 


    Anonymous said...

    Actually, part of your problem was being there as libraries were transitioning from card catalogs to electronic databases. Focusing on research, rather than how the "information sciences" was transitioning, simply slowed you down and made you reliant on those who spent their time guarding entry into the hallowed grounds of the heap of knowledge. Early on, especially, the costs of the databases prevented entry. During grad school I had the advantage of working in a library for a while, which forced me to learn the system. It paid off as I advanced my research. Understanding how to research using card catalogs, and other older databases, allows one to understand how the material can be researched electronically. As for librarians, many need to control things to feel important. You've described that in your current line of work as well.

    Anonymous said...

    Interestingly, after reading and commenting on your post yesterday, I came across the Washington Post's review of "The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures."

    This essay is worth a look in that it speaks to the benefits of this older system, and its role in the development of electronic databases.