How to Use the Library.

Yesterday while catching up on some collections work, I stumbled across the first english translation of Umberto Eco’s “How to Write a Thesis.”  It was originally written in 1977, a few years before In the Name of the Rose was published.  Intrigued by the section on “How to Use the Library,” I grabbed it off the shelf. It’s a relatively quick read, and quite delightful.   While many of his practical strategies haven’t aged well (this was pre OPACs), I think that instruction librarians, particularly in the humanities, would find his rich analogies and ways of talking about aspects of the research process really helpful in working with undergraduate students.  I’ve already incorporated a few ideas into my next IL class.

I did laugh out loud at this paragraph:

“You must overcome any shyness and have a conversation with the librarian, because he can offer you reliable advice that will save you much time.  You must consider that the librarian (if not overworked or neurotic) is happy when he can demonstrate two things:  the quality of his memory and erudition and the richness of his library, especially if it is small. The more isolated and disregarded the library, the more the librarian is consumed with sorrow for its underestimation.  A person who asks for help makes the librarian happy” (p. 56).

Almost forty years later, it’s still remarkably accurate.

Weighing the Evidence.

I posted this on Facebook this week. I wrote it primarily for my beloved nieces and nephews, all of them smart, kind, funny people on the verge of launching their adult lives in such a complicated time. Much of it has been said already by other people, but it’s my best attempt to capture my feelings about this election simply and honestly.

Since turning 18, I have voted in almost every single Canadian election-federal, provincial and municipal. I missed the 1999 Ontario election, because I was living abroad at the time. I still regret that because Mike Harris got elected for a second term, and I think he’s a big part of where we find ourselves today, but I digress.

In this election, I will do two things I haven’t done before: 1) I will vote in the advance poll this Thanksgiving weekend and 2)I will vote strategically.

I am doing these things because I have never been more concerned and distressed about the prospect of a Conservative majority. While I have never voted Conservative, I always respected that there were different approaches to managing the health of our economy, and in our understanding of the appropriate role of the state in the day-to-day lives of Canadians. While I always enjoyed debating the merits of these approaches (and still do), I also believed that most of the major political parties shared the same basic values. They include: respect for the democratic process, the pursuit of the public good, openness, tolerance for difference, and justice.

I no longer feel that way.

Under Harper’s leadership, any remaining vestiges of what might be understood as progressive conservatism has vanished. It has been replaced with a narrow and dangerous ideology that capitalizes on our basest instincts of fear and scarcity. This is not the Canada I know, and it’s not the Canada I want my children to know.

Here’s a short (and admittedly woefully incomplete) list of the reasons why I feel this way.  This government has:

  • Silenced scientists and others that serve the public interest when their evidence doesn’t support the government’s priorities.
  • Dismantled libraries and archives across the country.
  • Killed the long form census, against the advice of the Chief Statistician and numerous experts.
  • Obfuscated the legislative process on numerous occasions with large, obtuse omnibus bills that the average Canadian doesn’t have a hope of understanding.
  • Dramatically rolled back on commitments to veterans, women and other vulnerable social groups.
  • Demonstrated blatant and contemptuous disregard for missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
  • Refused to accept responsibility or even remote involvement in the Mike Duffy scandal

And most importantly, has engaged in REPEATED and unabashed trampling over democratic processes when it serves their interests. To wit: not one but two prorogations of parliament, refusals to disclose information on costs of programs to parliament, directing Senators to vote with the government, etc… For more evidence, see this handy list.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The recent rhetoric on the niqab was the final straw for me, and it’s why I’m writing this note. If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth taking a minute to listen to Harper’s interview with Rosemary Barton [1]. Pay particular attention to his comments about the niqab and his suggestion of future legislation that will go well beyond dictating what public servants can say, but also what they can wear. Just let that sink in for a moment. When that feeling passes, consider, as Barton does, what might come next.

I don’t use this term easily, but Mr. Harper is a liar. The “vast majority of Canadians” absolutely do not “understand and support” the Conservative’s position on this. The niqab issue was the brainchild of strategist Lyndon Crosby [2] and was designed as a compelling distraction from the lack-lustre progress that the Harper government is making on the economy. It is nothing more, nothing less. It’s absolutely despicable to endanger the safety and security of Muslim Canadians who are the intended target of these vile political tactics.

So, here’s my plea, family and friends.  I can’t, and shouldn’t, tell you how to vote on October 19th. But I will ask that you take some time and ask yourself if the things on the list above are good for Canada. And if there’s even a small part of you that senses that something about all of this isn’t quite right, then I beg you to get out on October 19th (or this weekend) and cast your vote as your conscience dictates. If you’ve never voted before, this really is the time.

[Puts soapbox away and exits stage left].


On Gratitude. And, October.

I don’t usually associate the start of the academic year with feelings of gratitude.  For most of my fifteen seasons as an academic librarian, I’ve viewed September and October as months to be endured. The best you could do, I told myself year after year, was to was show up every day, try to keep your sense of humour, and wait for it to be over.

This year feels different, and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps I am still using up the reserves of energy and good will that I accumulated over my sabbatical, or perhaps it’s the arrival of the glorious crisp air after an otherwise hot and humid September. I don’t know what it is, but walking out of  a class today, the tenth of many more  booked this term,  I was hit with a wave of something that I didn’t immediately recognize. And it was this:  I am so grateful that I get to do this job.  And by this job,  I don’t just mean being an academic librarian, although that’s a wonderful gig.  I’m thinking more about the particular set of responsibilities that I have, and the ways in which these seemingly disparate professional responsibilities are all connected by the values that are most important to me.  Perhaps I couldn’t appreciate how it all tied together years ago, or maybe I’ve just stopped doing work that I honestly don’t believe is important or meaningful for the students and scholars with whom I work.  I don’t remember making this decision consciously, but I do know that feel more focused and purposeful about my classroom teaching, and despite several weeks of a packed schedule that would have once brought me to my knees, I feel like it’s all more or less good.

Happy Thanksgiving.