Category: librarian

How I Evaluate the News

I imagine it’s because I’m a trained librarian, and so people are curious about what I think about various information sources, but for whatever reason, I actually have a fair number of friends ask me about news articles now and then. I had one instance this morning, and I sent back a detailed response. After writing it, I thought it might be something the rest of you would find interesting, especially these days when “the news” so often seems more like “the opinion,” as opposed to anything resembling fact (from some sources.)

So first, the question. What did I think of this article?

For teaching purposes, I’d encourage all of you to click through to that article and read it for yourself and ask yourself the same question. What do you think of it? More importantly, why do you think that? Is it an article to be trusted or dismissed? Why? This will be more valuable if you come to your own conclusions first, I think.

Ready?

For those of you who just decided to keep reading and ignore my helpful advice, the article is about how Obama might have been a plant by nefarious anti-American sources, designed to ruin our country. For the purposes of this exercise (and for all news source evaluations), I think it’s important to distance yourself from what you personally might believe about the topic. Face the fact that your preconceived notions might be wrong, and approach it as objectively as possible.

People come to librarians all the time, asking us questions. We can’t laugh at them if we think their questions are silly. Our job is to find the information they’re looking for. So for this question, I treated as “Do you think this is a reputable article? Why or why not?”

Here’s what I responded:

Hmm. My first step is to look at the source. Both the publication and the author. The publication (Washington Times) is quite a conservative source that sometimes pushes the envelope when it comes to fair reporting. (http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Media-Bias-Chart_Version-3.1_Watermark-min.jpg). This is an editorial in that paper, so it’s under no obligation to present anything “fair” at all. I’d treat an editorial on MSNBC about the same way.

Then there’s the author. From his bio on the Times’ site: “Todd is a contributor to Fox Business, Newsmax TV, Moscow Times, the New York Post, the National Review, Zero Hedge and others.” I’m not going to touch the Moscow Times reference. Newsmax is hyper-conservative nonsense; New York Post and Fox are borderline, and the National Review is a site I’d actually read and give some credence to. (Yes, you can critique the chart I’m consulting. I know there are quite a few conservatives who see where Fox shows up on that and immediately start accusing it of being biased. But I really believe Fox is put at about the right spot on that chart, just as I believe most of the other sites are placed in the general correct vicinity. I think a lot of the discrepancy of opinions people have about current events can be traced to this sort of bias. Which sources to believe, and why. But anyway.)

Going beyond that, L. Todd Wood helpfully has his own website we can read to see what his views in general are when he’s not tied to any particular news source. He lists his publications, and they’re recently almost all from The Washington Times, and they’re all squarely in a single worldview. From his biography (http://ltoddwood.com/l-todd-wood-biography/), he studied aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Academy, became a pilot, got a Masters in Engineering Management, served in Kuwait, became a Captain in the Air Force, branched out into investment banking, traveled internationally, became an author, and now splits his time between living in NYC and Moscow.

His publisher is Ice Box Publishing, which from what I can quickly gather is basically a company that only puts out books by Wood. It’s an LLC, and my guess is he started a company to publish his own books.

So I find very little reason to actually give him any credence whatsoever. He’s an ex-military engineer/finance guru turned author. Most of his claimed expertise comes from the hazy 17 years he was with an investment bank. “During this second career he became highly knowledgeable in Emerging Markets Fixed Income and traveled a great deal internationally with a focus on the Caribbean.  He has conducted business in over forty different countries.  He became acutely aware of the consequences of economic decisions and their effect on national and economic security.” I’m not sure how his focus on the Caribbean prepared him to become an expert on Iranian and Russian relations, but that’s where his focus seems to be now.

In the end, taking everything into account, I think Wood’s article is a biased, selective hack job–fairly easy to dismiss.

End of my response.

That’s my answer to the question. What would yours have been? How would you approach it? I’m curious if you’d do it differently, and why.

Thanks for reading!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Graduation

Confession time: I’ve worked at my university for more than ten years, and Saturday was the first time I’d ever attended graduation.

There have been many reasons why I didn’t go, ranging from family crises to just plain laziness. It seemed like something ancillary to what I did. I didn’t really have any strong connections to any of the students, did I? Not like they would have with their professors. I didn’t even go to my Library Science graduation. Why should I go to someone else’s?

So what persuaded me to go to this one? Some of it was my new role as Library Director, certainly. I felt like the library has a part in student lives, and it would be good for students to see a representative from the library at this, the most important last step of their schooling. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think my presence there made any students tear up or anything like that. I’d honestly be surprised if any students really noticed I was there. (Well, except for the part where they asked university staff to stand up, and I was like the only staff person in a twenty person radius of seated people . . .)

If anything, I think it was important to me to go to the ceremony. It had a bigger impact on me than I expected, certainly. Because as much as I liked to tell myself I hardly knew any of the students, when I was watching them go across the stage and get their diplomas, I was surprised to see just how many of them I did know. Students I’d taught in the graduate program. Students who had worked at the library. Students I’d played Magic with over the years.

And then of course there were the other members of the university in attendance. The professors, administrators, fellow staff. It was moving to see so many people I know and work with day to day gathered to celebrate. After all, the whole reason we exist is to do what we did on Saturday: to take in students and send out graduates. It’s a very rewarding feeling, seeing so much success gathered in one spot.

So will I be going back to graduation? Without a doubt. Not just because the library should be represented, but because I’d like to experience that same thing again. It’ll be a great reminder on days when I’m feeling pulled in a hundred directions, overworked and exasperated. A reminder for why I do all that I do. Paychecks are definitely a big part of why I work, but I’m very grateful for the reminder Saturday that they’re not the only reason I work there.

Congratulations, Graduates!!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Gender in Libraries

I was in a meeting this morning for the Maine Library Association, where I’m now (thankfully) the Past President. And as I was sitting there halfway into the two hour session, it suddenly occurred to me: I was one of two men in the room. The other 14 people there were all women. Hard working, dedicated, smart women who do a fantastic job at their careers. I’m going to try to write about some thoughts I had then. I hope I’m able to pull it off in an even handed, straightforward manner. Bear with me, please.

Really, it feels kind of silly to even be remarking on this. The library field is one that is fairly dominated by women, after all. So it’s sort of like me observing that the sky is blue, or water is wet. But I’ve been thinking about harassment and sexist behavior and speech quite a bit over the last few weeks. (Who am I kidding? I’ve been thinking it ever since the country elected a flagrant sexist and harasser into our highest office.)

The thing is, most days I don’t even notice. These are my peers and coworkers. Their gender doesn’t really enter into anything. But one thing that’s never happened to me in my years as a man working in a female-dominated industry? I’ve never been harassed. Never been made to feel out of place or less than anyone else. I’ve never heard any tales of that happening to any other man in the field, either.

So what makes it so that so many women in male-dominated fields end up being belittled, harassed, and ostracized? A big part of it, I think, is how many men grow up feeling entitled. Entitled to the things they want. As if anything they desire is sitting there waiting for them to take it. Some of that is on fathers teaching their sons. Some of it is on society’s attitude toward men. Some of it is in the portrayal of men in pop culture. But all of it swirls together to the point where some men just can’t see the difference. They can’t imagine a world where the people they are attracted to or the things they want aren’t attracted to them or don’t want them back.

Some of it is also because for years, women haven’t been well represented. Even as a man in an industry led by women, I’m still a man. I still start from a position of relative power, since I belong to the gender that dominates our society. Women don’t have that head start when they’re in the workforce. But one way or another, you’ve got men who have been programmed to think they’re all that and a bag of chips, and as soon as a woman shows up to have an idea that even mildly contradicts their worldview, they get all upset.

This line of thinking also ties in with other minorities in our country, whether we’re discussing race, orientation, or some other way of marking a person as “other.” It’s so much easier to dismiss a person as being less than you if you have never had to deal with that type of person before. Easy to ignore transgendered people if you know no transgendered people. Easy to treat women as objects if you’ve never really been friends with a woman before.

Generally speaking, I have gotten along better with women my entire life. Many of the guys in my high school just weren’t people I wanted anything to do with. When faced with a choice of who I wanted to hang out with, I would go with girls over guys almost all the time. That remains true today, in many ways. I’m not trying to hold myself up as the shining example of how to treat women. I don’t know if such a thing exists. I also can’t say I don’t notice what gender someone is when I’m interacting with them. I’m attracted to women. I’m not attracted to men. Does that make a difference in how I behave? How can it not?

I don’t know. My thought during that meeting wasn’t that we all need to be “gender-blind” or something like that. It was more . . . a general feeling of gratitude. Of appreciation that I have been accepted by that wonderful group as an equal. That I wish that sort of environment were one other people could enjoy. Where no one has to go to work and worry about being groped or hit on or discriminated against for their gender or orientation or the color of their skin.

And then I realize this post is just devolving into one big love fest and cry for equality. That’s not what I really wanted it to turn into. It just started with a single thought, and apparently that thought is elusive for me to really capture. Ephemeral. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

One more note before I finish this up. In my religion, we’re often still taught how fundamentally different women and men are. And in some ways, I can see that. At least generally, stereotypically speaking. Often on my blog, I will speak up for women being included more in my church. For their opinions to be heard and paid attention to. For them to receive more leadership opportunities. I suppose that position stems from the kind of environment I have at work. I know firsthand just how much women are capable of, and I know what we as a people miss out on by not fully involving them.

Now, I’m sure there are some who would object, saying a woman’s place is in the home. That women are nurturing. And then they’d trot out the argument of how much they cherish their mother or grandmother. And again, I’m not here to denigrate mothers or women (or men) who choose to stay at home. But my experience shows me just what women are capable of, and just what I can get done when I’m working shoulder to shoulder with women as equals.

But again, this post is now getting out of hand. I guess I’ll just end it on a note of gratitude. Gratitude for the working relationships and acceptance I’ve enjoyed in the Maine library community as a whole, and my corner of it in particular. Did the rest of the post make sense? Perhaps not. But it felt like something I wanted to say, and I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for reading.

Achievement Unlocked: Library Director

I remember when I moved to Maine, just a shade less than 10 years ago, Denisa and I had a conversation about where my career might take me. I was fresh out of library school, though I’d already been working in libraries for seven years. We hoped we might be able to settle down somewhere for a while, but as I took a look at my coworkers, I felt like the odds of me having much upward mobility at my library were pretty slim. My director had been there for about ten year already and was years and years away from thinking about retirement, and even if he were closer, my supervisor was only a few years older than me.

It seemed clear at the time that if I ever wanted to really “move up” in the library world, it would likely entail a physical move as well.

But if there’s one thing these past ten years have taught me, it’s that you really can’t plan for the future too much. The future almost always has other ideas.

Case in point: here I am, ten years later, and as of yesterday afternoon, I’m officially the Library Director at my job.

I am, of course, very happy and proud of that accomplishment, though it certainly has come at a cost. There are far fewer librarians at my institution now than there were before, and they’ve all left under a variety of circumstances. Some happy, some very sad. So in some ways, this has been a game of “Last Man Standing.” But here I am, and it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments when you can, because you never know when that whole “future” thing is going to throw you another curve ball.

Being a library director means more to me, as a librarian, than it likely does to non-library folk. For one thing, it’ll be so much easier to tell people what I do. “Library Director” is easily understood in a way “Manager of Informational and Research Services” just isn’t. By the time I got to the end of saying my title aloud, most people had already fallen asleep. But Library Director is a title that’s fairly universally understood. It also means I’m quite firmly entrenched in administration at this point, though thankfully my library is small enough that I still have plenty of opportunity to get out and actually be doing things. It’s a very “hands on” role for a director at my university, and I like that.

Where do I go from here? If I can swing it, this would be a lovely part of my story to finish it off with “and he lived happily ever after.” Not that I have nothing more to do at this point, but rather that I’m in a spot where I’m very happy. My family is happy. I love the area. I admire and respect my coworkers, and I feel like my work is contributing to society in a very beneficial way.

I have no real desire to use this as a launching point to go be a director elsewhere after a few years. I would love to dig in and make my library the best it can be.

We’ll see what “the future” has to say about that . . .

For today, I’ll just be glad things are going well. Maybe I’ll buy a few Magic: the Gathering cards to celebrate. 🙂

A Short Recap of My Trip to DC

I headed back to Maine today, after quite the trip to Washington DC. I was part of the Maine delegations for ALA’s National Library Legislative Day. In a nutshell, this meant that on Monday I attended meetings where ALA leaders went over the main things they wanted members of Congress to be aware of. Different legislative efforts and funding changes. I also met with the other 5 members from Maine, and we figured out how best to approach Tuesday, where we met with each of our representatives.

A few observations on those meetings. First off, I was amazed at how . . . young almost everyone was that we met with. We had appointments with Senator Collins, Senator King, Representative Poliquin, and Representative Pingree. The two senators met with us in person. The two representatives were unable to. However, in each case, most of the meeting consisted of us meeting with their aides. We had maybe 5 minutes with Senator Collins, and about the same with Senator King. Long enough to chat, shake hands, take a few pictures, and that was that.

The aides mostly looked fresh out of college. I don’t think of myself as ageist, but it definitely felt strange to be with a contingent of library professionals who have decades of experience in the field, and we’re all speaking about our needs with people who look surprisingly similar to the students I teach in library classes each day. In some cases, I was impressed to see how well they understood the political landscape. In others, not so much.

Does anyone have any idea why there don’t seem to be many older aides in DC? From what I heard, that’s pretty much par for the course.

In any case, the meetings went well. Senators Collins and King are both avid library supporters, so it very much felt like we were preaching to the choir. Representative Pingree also has a long record of voting to support libraries. It was interesting to see how nice the Senators’ offices were, and how scrunched together the Representatives seemed to be. Definite difference, and every building you go into has metal detectors and security at each entrance.

I found some time to do some other things while in DC, though. Tuesday afternoon I walked 10 miles, visiting most of the Smithsonian museums. There are a lot of them, and they’re quite spread out. It was a blast to see some Van Goghs, Monets, the Hope Diamond, the Star Trek Enterprise model from the original series, mummies, and more. And I had some great food, of course. Fantastic gelato at Pitango’s, super pasta at Old Ebbitt Grill, tasty pizza at Matchbox, and more. I met with my agent, and a couple of guys I had been on my mission with in Germany. (Crazy to see them, almost 20 years later. When did we get older?) I also had the chance to visit with my brother’s family on Sunday afternoon.

It’s been a good trip. I understand a bit better how politics work here in America. That’s always a plus. I need to get my family down here with me sometimes. Until then, I’m looking forward to getting home and having at least a few days where I don’t have to worry about suitcases and travel plans.

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