Inside Inside Inside

April 25, 2009

James Lipton’s Inside Inside (took me a while to decide how to write that) was an absolute gem.

A while ago I was talking with some friends and one of them told me he’s in his 80s. Can’t be, I said. No way. He looks to be in his late 60s, at the oldest. Then I started reading the memoir, and he has to be that old, because no one any younger could already have the list of credits and interests he does:

“Teacher, actor, director, producer in theater, television, and film, playwright, choreographer, lyricist, screenwriter, author of fiction and non-fiction books, equestrian, pilot, and recipient of [a French knighthood]…”

And that’s really only about half of it. Did you know he was a dancer? A soap opera star and writer? But that’s what makes the book so much fun and so interesting…there’s constantly another adventure, more people to meet and things to learn about. Being a writer, too, it’s well- and consistently-written (although not a work that strikes you with its writerliness).

Lipton says that the book is about his heroes, and the other really great thing is that this is true…it’s full of insights from some of the most interesting and intelligent actors around. Anyone who enjoys Inside the Actor’s Studio, and I’m guessing even a lot of people who haven’t, will love Inside Inside.

One more post re: my professional career.

The Canadian Library Association has a Student Article Contest every year, where LIS students and recent grads can submit their writing for the chance at publication, bursaries, and free registration for the CLA annual conference. One of the sponsors is my employer, Coutts Information Services.

I checked it out, and when the CLA folks told me I was still eligible, I submitted this paper on librarianship and advocacy that made me 2nd runner up and scored me $75 in CLA publications and a $100 bursary. I also got the psychological gift of not being able to squeeze my resume (ie, 11 pt. font, .75″ margins) on 2 pages anymore – I’m worth a 3-pager now!

Humanistic, Critical Librarianship: Information Professionals and Advocacy

The purpose of library and information workers as social advocates is fiercely contested.  Information professionals can “play an important role in preserving and supporting the ideals of tolerance, democracy, human rights and collective memory” (Samek, 4), especially because those “who are the ones in charge of preserving memory…can […resist] an ‘only way of thinking’…that leads to the destruction of identity and culture” (Esquivel, quoted in Samek, 4).  Unfortunately, this is a role some in the profession find irrelevant, or uncomfortable.  Toni Samek, in her book Librarianship and human rights: A twenty-first century guide (2007), discusses Wayne Wiegand’s warning that “librarianship is ‘a profession much more interested in process and structure than in people'” (Samek, 4).  However, I believe that while the field may currently focus on process rather than people, this has not always been the case, and information professionals are again becoming increasingly involved as social advocates.  An examination of LIS theory, education, and practice provides the background for an overview of the profession’s values and role in social advocacy.  Using Samek’s (2007) ideas as a guide, I will explore the dimensions of advocacy inherent in LIS.

Many of the critics calling for a more socially engaged information profession begin with the field of study itself.  It is true that the technical and managerial language used-at times-in library and information studies does not always allow the critical analysis necessary for participating in social advocacy (Samek, 4).  The field’s emphasis on technology also problematizes a socially engaged stance and “serves to delude many…that the new means to achieve status and respect is to concentrate on the machinery of information, production and transmission.  When and if this focus turns rigidly exclusive, wittingly or not, the social basis of the profession and the needs of the majority of the people are left unattended” (Schiller, quoted in Samek, 6).  ICTs have great potential for social improvement, but also have the potential to widen current societal “gaps”.  Ajit Pyati’s article on the World Summit on the Information Society notes that the authors of summit documents use language like “people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society” (Pyati ¶ 21), which indicates their recognition that without having to advocate for these values, the information society will not necessarily be any of these things.  These values-people-centred, inclusive, development-oriented-are important targets for social advocacy in the information profession.

Many argue that the site for this transformation will have to be in LIS education.  Herbert Schiller suggests that it “should be the aim of a new librarianship curriculum-how to guarantee social use and application of the new information technologies” (Schiller, quoted in Samek, 6).  Others are also skeptical of the potential for current LIS education to confront these issues; Christine Pawley argues that the LIS curriculum has been preoccupied with “four focal areas” of cultural hegemony-“links with the corporate world, professionalization, aspiration to scientific status, and stratification of literacy and of institutions” (Pawley, quoted in Samek, 6-7).  Schools for information studies are also strikingly undiverse; this is a trend recognized by many and summarized by Tracie Hall and Jenifer Grady: “despite concerted recruitment efforts…the total of ethnically and racially diverse students graduating from masters-level LIS programs has remained static for a very long time…diversity in LIS graduates has actually decreased in proportion to the actual population” (Hall and Grady, 40).  In other words, Pawley’s criticisms of LIS education do not go far enough; cultural hegemony is reinforced not only by what is being taught, but also who is being taught.  This concern is especially significant as “cultural diversity is a fundamental common ground for twenty-first century library and information work” (Samek, 14).

Edgardo Civallero argues that the field must: “give up its silence, its marble tower, its privileged positions in the new knowledge society, its apolitical attitudes and its objectivity.  It must become more deeply involved in the problems, side with the helpless and struggle, shoulder to shoulder…with other human beings, who were-and currently are-forgotten” (Civallero, quoted in Samek, 5).  I believe that many library professionals, especially those in public libraries, have already recognized this imperative-it confronts them every day.  However, it is true that there are conflicts between the now-traditional, middle-class policies of libraries and the population’s service needs.  Just the language of “customer behaviour expectations” (Samek, 5) marginalizes those who lack sufficient economic and personal resources.  Some library policies, critics believe, contribute “to the erosion of public space and criminalisation of the poor” (Samek, 5).  Sanford Berman suggests that patrons are not the problem, “but rather poverty itself and our unwillingness to combat it” (Berman, quoted in Samek, 5).

This “unwillingness” stems from the debate within the field about appropriate targets for library advocacy, including the division of “professional” and “non-library” issues (Samek, 7).  The Canadian Library Association, for example, limits its comments on advocacy to “professional issues” and “issues of concern to the Canadian library and information community” (CLA).  The American Library Association has an “advocacy research center”, which demonstrates some expectation of socially active membership, especially on “issues affecting libraries” (ALA).  The ALA’s definition of ‘library issues’ is more broad than that of the CLA, as it is also concerned with individual rights and freedoms, social issues such as disaster preparedness and the Patriot Act, and grassroots activism on the local and state levels (ALA).

However, neither of these organizations extends its position on advocacy to include a proactive concentration on broad-based social issues, which is what Samek and others are calling for: “A key challenge then for twenty-first century library and information communities…is to foster language and a culture of critical librarianship which better support core library values and that encourage and promote active participation in the amelioration of social problems”.  Critical librarianship, Samek suggests, “aims to blur these lines [between professional and non-library issues] and to expose them as both counter-intuitive and counter-productive to the development of more humanistic…library and information work”.  It also “views library and information workers as active participants and interventionists in social conflicts” (Samek, 7), which seems an important corollary to the widely held views of the information profession.  If information is central to building personal and social agency, as we contend, a humanistic approach to the profession and to information provision should be a necessity.

This is especially true because the values recognized by information professionals are really core human rights: freedom of access, and universal and equitable access (Samek, 10).  These library values, as defined by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), are directly aligned with the goals of international human rights organizations: a UN statement on Human Rights Research emphasizes “the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights, especially the right to education, the right to take part in cultural life and the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” (Samek, 11).  All of these rights can be actively promoted by library and information workers.

Samek suggests that: “many library and information workers participate in persuasion and consensus building, routinely contributing to the library movement through their daily defence of intellectual freedom.  This activity is often practiced against prevailing economic, social and political attitudes and values” (Samek, 9).  This level of advocacy is required to “[build] librarianship on a solid foundation of human dignity, freedom, social justice and cultural diversity” (Samek, 43).  In this elemental way, “librarians have always been politically engaged, despite themselves” (Darch, quoted in Samek, 8).  It seems the key factor that remains is not our social involvement-which is ongoing-or our values, but giving ourselves permission to be advocates.


American Library Association.  (2008).  “Issues and Advocacy”.

Canadian Library Association.  (2008).  “Advocacy”.

Hall, Tracie D. and Jenifer Grady.  (2006).  “Diversity, Recruitment, and Retention: Going From Lip Service to Foot Patrol”.  Public Libraries.  45 (1).  39-46.

Pyati, A. K.  (2005).  “WSIS: Whose Vision of an Information Society?”  First Monday.  10 (5).

Samek, T.  (2007).  “An Urgent Context for Twenty-first Century Librarianship” ; “Practical Strategies for Social Action”.  Librarianship and Human Rights: A Twenty-first Century Guide. Oxford: Chandos.  3-16; 43-46.

The Boy, again

April 21, 2009

It’s not often that movies are as good or better than the books on which they’re based, but if it is possible, Mark Harman’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was even more effective than the book.

There are pieces that are missing (the parallel trains) and pieces that are added (the mother’s realization and emotions), and the end is made more dramatic (if anything could be more dramatic than the ending already in the story), but watching was an incredible experience.

The movie also addressed what some see as weaknesses in the book. We do see Bruno getting a proper young German’s education, and the people responsible for the movie did a great deal of research into what the families of Nazi leaders did or didn’t know.

As with most of us when faced with horrible truths, many chose not to.

And that’s why this is important.

Childish things

April 19, 2009

At the same time I picked up Inside Inside from the library, I also got John Glenn’s memoir (I’d have specified the title, but it’s John Glenn: A Memoir) off the booksale table.

When I was about 12, I read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, and immediately fell in love with that early NASA history. And I’ve sort of carried a torch for it ever since (Apollo 13 came out the same year, and that didn’t hurt, either). Revisited both the book and the movie so many times I’ve lost count. And read other things, like Jim Lovell’s book  Lost Moon. But last month, I picked up the memoirs of Gene Kranz (flight director of Apollo 13), and now Glenn. I’ve got lots of spacey reading to do.

What a character!

April 19, 2009

I’m in the midst of James Lipton’s “memoir”, Inside Inside, so I’ll be writing about it later. But oh, how I love James Lipton, and oh, how I love drama and film. He’s a character, the book is full of characters, and here’s a quotation he shares that I want to share with you; Georges Feydeau on the secret of his success:

“It’s simple. I just decide which of my characters should under no circumstances meet, then get them together as soon as possible.”

…that screw things up for me.

F’r’instance, yesterday, the final straw about the music for Titanic was the use of a very hokey trumpet fanfare bit and…wait for it…a tambourine. Really?

Today, I was all ready to add a very interesting looking book to my “to read” list, and then I saw that the author used the verb “harrumphed” twice in about 3 pages. No thanks. That’s the kind of thing that would make me crazy.

Regarding a former post…I really only have 3 things that remain on my shelf solely as bad examples. The first is The Da Vinci Code, because, as I have explained to many, I kept hearing that “DUH DUH DUH” suspenseful sound in my head at the end of each chapter. And chapters are only about 2 pages long.

The second is Jane Eyre, not because I think it’s of poor quality (certainly not comparatively), but because I think it’s an example of how things fail when done in resentment. I think the whole novel seethes with Charlotte’s resentment about her own life, and doesn’t deal with the issue in an intelligent way inside the story. It stays on my shelf as a warning about the dangers of living in resentment.

Finally, and this was the first book I ever kept as a bad example (I usually am quite good about getting rid of books if I should), Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. A Booker Prize nominee, a “lesbo-Victorian romp”, and one of the worst books I’ve ever read. I like Victorianism…I even like books about lesbians, although it’s not my typical reading. I usually say, “to my thinking”, or some other qualifier like that…Everything about this book was bad.

I wonder how I’ll manage to keep my job and my snobbishness when I work in a public library. I’m sure I’ll manage : )