"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Aug 8, 2009

ALA Annual recap: Correctional facility librarians

Here's the first of my (by now slightly belated) summaries of the various sessions I attended at ALA Annual.

The first thing I attended was a presentation on being a librarian in a correctional facility (which seems to be the politically correct term for "prison" these days). I will admit to some curiosity about prison librarianship. There was an option to do an internship in a prison library during SI's Alternative Spring Break program last year, and I nearly chose to do it. I'm intrigued in part because I don't know much about that kind of career, and in part because it seems like an even more focused way to perform service and advance social justice through libraries than working in a public library does. But it is also something I'm pretty tentative about. My impression is that prison librarians work in isolation compared to most of their public-library colleagues. Working in a prison would also, obviously, be inherently stressful.

I unfortunately came in a bit late to this presentation, so I missed a lot of the stuff about the typical working conditions in a prison library. The part that I was present for confirmed both my tentative interest and my reservations. The presenter argued that prison libraries share a lot, philosophically, with public libraries. She also noted that prison library patrons tend to be much more appreciative and polite than public library patrons (a point which I could believe, upon a little consideration). Prison libraries often are havens or "neutral zones" where conflicts that may exist elsewhere in the prison are temporarily shelved (no pun intended). And of course, they are vital for helping to educate and improve the literacy of prisoners, through programming and through their simple existence, thereby contributing to the rehabilitation of offenders such that they are more likely to be productive members of society when released.

But of course, the job has its stresses. Beyond the evident stresses of working in a prison (enclosed space, potential of going into lockdown if something happens, etc.), funding can be extremely scant or totally nonexistent (even for materials!), it can be difficult to build a rapport with other prison staff, the librarian is often isolated from colleagues in the profession, and the librarian must always be "on" -- there is usually no one else to manage the library or take over supervision for a bit if one is having an off day, and it is vital to be able to keep control of every interaction.

I'm debating whether the potential interest of the job for me is outweighed by the potential stresses. In particular, always having to watch what I say and maintain control of interactions could be quite stressful for me. I am also concerned that I'd feel too isolated from colleagues. I discovered in my two summers in archives that I really need interpersonal interaction as part of my work day, and I don't know if interpersonal interaction with patrons (as opposed to coworkers) would be sufficient to keep me from going stir crazy.

On the other hand, I am excited by the possibilities to effect real change. My interest in public libraries remains very strong, but in many ways running a prison library does not seem all that different from running a branch library, which is something I think I am quite interested in as well. And I do want to keep my options open, given the economy. Public and prison libraries are sufficiently similar that, should I be able to manage the stresses specific to work in a correctional facility, I think I would probably enjoy either career. Perhaps it is time to look into scheduling some informational interviews. Or perhaps I could get the ALA student chapter at SI to sponsor something on correctional facility libraries. (Other SI LIS folk: any interest in this?) At any rate, it's definitely something I'll keep in the back of my mind as an option to explore.

Nearly done...

The day at the branch library went pretty well (except for when I circled the entire building in the morning, trying to figure out how to get in... it's the details that get you sometimes!). I had a great time and now feel pretty confident doing basic circulation tasks. I also got to help with the hold list that morning, so I was able to see for myself how that works. It was also good to observe some of the differences between a branch and a main library.

It's hard to believe I only have three days left! Most of what I'm doing is ongoing kinds of things, but I do have one big project still incomplete: dealing with the local history archives. Unfortunately, there are some boxes I just can't get to in time. They are the ones whose contents aren't even included in the master list of documents in the collection (some of them aren't even organized). But I'm reorganizing the part of the collection I could deal with, creating finding aids (by folder and by subject), and hopefully also getting some of the more delicate items into Mylar. If I have time I'll also write up a little scope and content note. We'll see...

Aug 2, 2009

Read Something! -- _The Husband Habit_ (Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez)

The Husband Habit

370 pp. (ARC) / 384 pp.
Romance / Chick Lit


Vanessa, a successful chef, has a problem: She keeps inadvertently becoming romantically entangled with married men. Trying to break the pattern, she swears off dating -- only to meet charming, sexy Paul, a war veteran haunted by what he's done overseas. Vanessa's mind (and sister) says no; her heart and body (and dog) say yes. But what if Paul isn't all that he seems to be? Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez tells an enchanting story of romance, the bonds of family and friends, and a woman finally coming into her own.

Appeal characteristics (pacing, story line, characterization, frame)
  • Pacing: Very fast, and increases tenfold in about the last quarter of the book -- this reads quite quickly
  • Pacing: Quick wrap up of the plot
  • Story line: Straightforward resolution of most conflicts (the minor ones often just disappear entirely with no official resolution other than the implication that they've been solved)
  • Story line: A couple of subplots, but they are not fully developed and usually just feed into the main romance plot at some point
  • Story line: Nothing overtly left dangling at the end (though there are some themes, conflicts, etc. that are never resolved because they just drop out of the book by about the three-quarters point)
  • Story line: Happy ending
  • Characterization: Intelligent, independent-minded female protagonist
  • Characterization: Female protagonist appears strong but never actually acts on her own; she just reacts to or acts because of other characters
  • Characterization: Male romantic interest with a troubled and somewhat mysterious past
  • Characterization: Male romantic interest who comes in and mostly fixes the majority of female protagonist's problems
  • Characterization: Characters are very human; they have real, believable problems and issues, and nobody's perfect
  • Characterization: Fairly small cast of characters, and characters appear only when they need to do something to move the plot forward
  • Frame?: Quite erotic in certain scenes (but no actual sex is depicted)
  • Frame: Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico; lots of local detail and strong evocation of a sense of place
  • Frame: Lots of detail related to food and cooking
  • Frame?: Metaphor is important, both to Vanessa and as an element of the style of the prose
  • Frame?: Prose is carefully chosen, somewhat literary -- it is acoustically attractive and precise in imagery and meaning
  • Frame: Subtle, sly sense of humor underlying much of the book
  • Frame: Mentions of Victorian English literature throughout
Similar titles/authors
  • Possibly Jane Austen? (I haven't read enough of her to really judge, but from what I have read and heard, the plot structure sounds somewhat similar, and the language/style may be similarly polished; also, the mentions of Victorian English literature throughout this novel suggest that Valdes-Rodriguez may have had something like Austen in mind while writing.)