Brainstorming a paper topic

For one of my library classes, I have to write a large paper (approx 20 pages) on an issue facing the library world, so I am brainstorming a topic. I know it’s not due until December 9th, but 3 things:

  1. It’s already October.
  2. I’m a Hermione, so I dig up a ton of information.
  3. It takes a while to read through all that information and figure out what’ll be the best resource.
  4. I let the idea stew in my head for a long time.
  5. I write slowly.
  6. Well, I actually write quickly, but I keep compulsively going back and editing and re-editing what I’ve written. So that makes me slow.
  7. It takes a while to make sure everything complies with the APA style manual.
  8. I write too much, so I have to edit it down and focus the topic more.
  9. Or else I write too little, and have to figure out where to expand more on my ideas without sounding like I’m bullshitting.
  10. I try my hardest not to bullshit people, least of all professors.
  11. So it takes time to figure out where the paper truly could use expanding.
  12. It takes time to find someone who has the time to edit my work. A consistent problem I have are tense agreements.
  13. Usually my husband will edit it and explain tenses to me for the umpteenth time.
  14. I try to learn, but I still don’t get it.
  15. I make the edits and polish up the paper. It’s ready to turn in.
  16. But then I fret a ton, thinking that it’s crap.
  17. I turn it in anyway, with serious misgivings.
  18. I wait for the grades
  19. I get a great grade. It’s usually an A.
  20. Finally! I get to relax. Until next semester.

Okay, so that’s not 3 things. But that’s how I work. Because I don’t know what to write about yet, I visited the public library on Friday, made my way all the way back to where the Zs are shelved. Why the heck are library books all the way in the back, in LOC? Dewey was smart. He put libraries near the front, where people can find it better. Maybe in LOC they figured that librarians would be able to find anything, so they tucked it away at the end of the alphabet. I found several interesting books that may be relevant to my interests, making sure not to pick up anything older than 2006 if I could help it. Technology changes way too much, making books on libraries out of date quickly. I’m in library school, so I can’t afford to be out of date.

Anyway, the first book I’m reading is Librarianship and Human Rights: A Twenty-First Century Guide, by Toni Samek. It’s quite interesting. For all the focus on the managerial, technical, and academic parts of librarianship, we may be forgetting our primary task–to help all people, not just the literate. There are some who are barely literate, who can hardly read. But more commonly in the more developed world, there many are computer illiterate.

Maybe they didn’t grow up with much technology skills because they were poor. Maybe their grandkids got frustrated with trying to teach their grandparents how to use a computer. Maybe they’re just generally befuddled by computers, though they want to learn. In any case, they don’t know how to use computers, let alone navigate the Internet.

I was working at a library during the economic downturn. Qhen folks in manufacturing positions were laid off, they suddenly had to learn how to apply for jobs electronically, whereas years before they could apply in person and with a paper application. In recent times, though, many companies switched to electronic only applications, putting these disadvantaged people at even more of a disadvantage. I, along with all my colleagues, had to help them through the application process and teach them how to use computers. We promoted our free computer classes, and they were very, very popular.

I remember this one guy–he came into the library nearly every single day it was open, just to look for jobs. He started out knowing almost nothing about computers, but he asked for help, little by little, so he could figure them out. First, he had to figure out Cassie, the computer reservation system. We taught him how. Then, he had to figure out how to navigate the Internet, and find job boards. We taught him how. We also taught him how to use Word to create his resume, and how to save it to a flash drive. Those are all the basic skills, and he wanted to learn, taking copious notes. You have to admire his courage and desire to learn.

Using a computer is tricky enough, but electronic job applications are even trickier. If you’ve hunted for jobs recently, you know how convoluted and complicated some of those application processes are. First, create an user name, memorize yet another password, and then upload the resume. If you’re lucky, the fields will populate themselves. If you’re not lucky, you have to type e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. in. And the guy learned how to do all this. He was getting pretty skilled at the process–it was the applications that frequently tripped him up. Heck, it trips everyone up.

Slowly, he started getting interviews. By this point, we all knew him by sight because he had been job hunting for 4-5 months. He would come to me often when I wasn’t busy at the circ desk, to ask for help. While I helped him, I explained things, and he took notes. He asked for help less and less often, and consulted his notes less and less often. One day, he told me he had an interview with the Red Cross. I wished him good luck. I didn’t see him for about a month. Then he came back, and said that he got the job, and he loves the work, he loves the people, and wanted to thank me for all the help and time I had given to him, because I helped him most of the time.

I told all the librarians who had helped him too, and would it be too much to say that we felt proud? He was the perfect example of whom libraries try to help. I was incredibly happy for him.

Technology illiteracy is a big problem that libraries must wrangle with. It is one of the topics I am considering for my paper.

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