How did I get here?

Steven Chabot over at Subject/Object has a Question for men (and women too!) in the library field: How did you get here? I’ve given a pretty brief explanation of this already, but I haven’t mused much on my choices as they apply to my gender.

The short answer that I love to give is that the decision to go to library school was inspired by seeing a t-shirt design online, with the phrase she blinded me with library science. And that’s true, but I hope no one believes I’m a shallow enough person to base my career entirely on a t-shirt slogan.

As a young boy, I wanted to become either a major league baseball player or a scientist, both of which are male-dominated professions. Of course, at that age, I didn’t fully appreciate the extent of either career; I believed that being a star baseball player mainly involved showing up to games and hitting home runs and that being a scientist mainly involved wearing a white coat and mixing chemicals. At any rate, I believe my interest in both of these fields waned before I discovered at school that I did not have the aptitude for either one.

In high school, I dreamed of becoming a computer programmer (another typically male career) after witnessing the popularization of the internet and watching movies like Hackers, but again, the activity turned out to be much more difficult than I’d imagined. To make matters worse, for some strange reason the university computer science programs I looked into also required chemistry, which I’d already dismissed.

I discovered psychology in my first year at UBC and fell head over heels for it – I loved studying the way people think, and I especially loved the fact that it followed the scientific method without being too, well, sciency. I opted for courses in social and developmental psychology (the least sciency ones), which meant that my classes were overwhelmingly female, as the men were taking cognitive and biopsych. Then again, even my honours class, which was made up of students from all areas of psych, was disproportionately filled with women. At any rate, I had no objection to being in a female-dominated field, and to be completely fair, although there were fewer male students, the ratio was much more even at the faculty level. My plan at that point was to one day become a psych professor myself.

After graduation, when I made the decision to choose library school over psych programs, I don’t think I was fully aware of the gender disparity in the LIS field. Of course I knew the stereotypes of the shushing librarian with her hair in a bun, but my high school librarian was a man, and I’d dealt with a number of male academic librarians at UBC. And then there’s the hero of Questionable Content (the webcomic that produces the aforementioned t-shirt), who is male and works in a library. In fact, one of the only librarians I actually talked to between applying to library school and starting the program was a gentleman I happened to meet while working at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Even from that time, I’ve always been most interested in academic libraries, and I equate academic librarianship with academia in general, which was once a male-dominated domain but is now much more gender-neutral (at least in terms of the gender ratio of academics – I’m not trying to start a debate on whether male and female academics have equal opportunities!).

So when I finally started at SIS, I was quite surprised to find that my class was literally about 90% female. To be fair, men in my year are especially scarce – there are significantly more in next year’s graduating class. I haven’t found it to be much of an issue, though. I believe my gender has neither hindered nor helped me at SIS, except that professors are quick to learn my name because there are so few male names and faces to keep apart.

Steven wants to know how to encourage more men to take librarianship seriously, and here’s my advice:

  • Show them that it’s challenging and intellectually stimulating, that it’s an academic pursuit that can lead to tenure
  • Show them that it’s not about shushing and making sure no one tries to walk off with the reference books
  • Show them that it involves technology and keeping up with the latest innovations
  • Show them that it can take a variety of forms, each with its own strengths, including academic, public, school, and special librarianship

I’m certainly not saying that these points will only appeal to men – show them to women too! What I’m really suggesting is that we make people look beyond the stereotypes and see what the field is really about. Show them the breadth of opportunities available, and surely there will be something that they find appealing.


CLA President Ken Roberts visits McGill

Today Ken Roberts, President of the Canadian Library Association, visited us at SIS, first with a talk at lunchtime, and later for an informal cocktail reception. He is a major advocate of the Sony Reader, and he passed one around so we could all give it a try; I’ve read many reviews of this nifty device, but it was great to finally meet one in the flesh. Here’s why Ken thinks these e-book readers could benefit the library community:

  • committees could use them to share text documents and save paper
  • textbooks could be sold electronically, benefitting students by eliminating the need to carry about numerous heavy volumes, and benefitting publishers by saving money typically lost on small print runs (this is part of the reason that textbooks can be so expensive – publishers are trying to make up their losses from publishing so few of each title)
  • authors who are not well known become available to everyone, even if most physical bookstores would not carry them
  • libraries could buy the readers in bulk and sell them to users at a discounted price – this could be a viable alternative to lending the devices

However, as is often the case when new technology changes traditional business models, the e-book phenomenon does not benefit everyone. Canadian distributors and booksellers lose out when Canadians buy their books directly from the websites of American publishers. Ken is concerned about this situation, which is why he joined a task force to tackle exactly this problem.

I asked Ken whether he preferred the Sony Reader to the Amazon Kindle (which has generated an even greater buzz in the past year and a bit). His reply was that besides the obvious problem of the Kindle not being available in Canada, it also uses proprietary filetypes and forces users to purchase their e-books from Amazon. As a librarian, he said, he prefers the non-proprietary option.

2nd Annual Web 2.You Conference – February 13, 2009

Attention all library folk who will be in the Montreal area (or able to get here) next month: McGill’s School of Information Studies (SIS) will be hosting the 2nd Annual Web 2.You Conference on February 13, 2009. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to organize the follow-up to the event that first inspired me to start blogging. This full-day event will feature presentations about Web 2.0 in libraries and the LIS field from a few of my favourite people:

Michael Stephens

The Hyperlinked Library

Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois

Stephen Abram

Shift Happens 2.0: What on earth is happening and how will it affect libraryland?

Vice President of Innovation, SirsiDynix, Toronto, Ontario

Amy Buckland

Joining the discussion: Using social networks for professional development (or developing into a professional)

Liaison Librarian, Howard Ross Library of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

There will also be presentations from some of the best and brightest students SIS has to offer.

I would absolutely love to meet some ILSS readers, so be sure to drop me a line if you’re able to come. I’ve put a lot of work into organizing this event (along with my co-organizer, Amanda Halfpenny), and it’s shaping up to be a great day.

Registration is very affordable and now open – for more info, check out the Web 2.You wiki.

See you there!