Friday, November 20, 2015

Librarianship as Emotional Labor

This post is a little different from my previous ones - basically, I want to gather my thoughts on a topic that I recently read about. Rose Hackman wrote an article earlier this month for The Guardian, arguing that emotional labor is the next frontier of feminism. Emotional labor refers to the type of work that count on "service with a smile," and historically there has been a "positive bias" toward women in these roles. Hackman also argues that it is work that is not accounted for in wages.

“The way I think of emotional labor goes as follows: there are certain jobs where it’s a requirement, where there is no training provided, and where there’s a positive bias towards certain people – women – doing it. It’s also the kind of work that is denigrated by society at large.”

The article does not mention librarianship, but I immediately thought of this profession, especially as it evolves away from the "shushing librarian" image and more toward positive user service interactions. Librarianship is an industry of knowledge, but human interaction has always been an essential part of the equation. I'm really interested in  the question of why predominantly women have historically been drawn to this field. Is it part of a positive bias? Or are there particular benefits offered in librarianship that are appealing to women (who are also often working mothers)? Are these benefits or labor conditions transferable to other fields where women have been missing (think: STEM)?

This positive bias is also not necessarily better for us lady librarians; it's damaging to women who are expected to fit this image, and damaging to men who might be seen as incapable of filling these roles. In my own personal experience, I have been hired for a job where I was explicitly told "we wanted to bring fresh, positive energy to the team." Maybe that positivism is part of my personality - and part of me is glad to be seen this way - but, after hearing that, I also felt a weird pressure that my job description included this unwritten duty to lift my team's (often negative) spirits.
Back to Hackman: She talks to a male friend who asks her whether the expectation that women excel in emotional labor is necessarily a bad thing:

"My friend would probably never dare say: “Oh, but women are better cooks,” “Women are more talented cleaners” or “Women are better with children.” And yet, that he was suggesting that maybe some women “are just like that” – better at emotions – seemed to be the argument I was bumping into most frequently when I brought up the argument. But this essentialist view doesn’t hold up academically."

I'm hoping to pursue these kinds of questions academically, and I am curating a Google doc of articles to look into when it's time to write a capstone paper. In the meantime, I would love to hear experiences from other librarians on whether they agree that this a field of occasionally under-appreciated emotional labor. Is the gender imbalance within librarianship the next feminist frontier??

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pickles and PhDs

As I approach the end of this semester (my final assignments are due 12/3 and 12/8) I am feeling an increasing sense of urgency, but also a feeling of confidence. Part of this is likely due to the fact that I have a whole weekend ahead of me with no plans, except making pickles. I've never pickled anything so it should be an interesting journey. Anyway, it will be nice to make some real progress on my research this weekend.

Last night I indulged in a night of crafting, Gilmore-Girls, and no-homework. I stitched initials onto some Christmas stockings that I bought for our apartment, and then started making a hat for my boyfriend. I learned how to knit from my old bosses in my job at the Saint Michael's College library, Kristen and Naomi. It's an unspoken law that librarians must learn to knit. I also have a cat, so I can check off that box too.

Last weekend I came very close to being the owner of two cats, when I heard that the MSPCA was waiving their adoption fee for adult cats (older than one year). We've often talked about getting a second cat as a playmate for our ornery and constantly hungry cat, Maverick (he is very well fed on an expensive diet, but Maverick considers anything less than 8 meals a day to be utter depravity). In the end, it wasn't the right time, but eventually I think we will get a kitten. Possible names are Professor Minerva McGonagle, Zipporah, and Tesla.

Yesterday at work, I found a cool (but maybe not surprising) link between school and my job. At a meeting for our Information Services team, our training group gave a presentation about how they had recently changed their curriculum for new attorneys at our firm, and one of their goals was to provide information on a topic as the need arose, rather than give them everything they might in a long, six-hour session. They found that this prevented information overload and that the new hires are able to retain more of what they learn.

This is really relevant to the literature review that I am writing for my Foundations class, especially because I have chosen to track the information behavior of lawyers. We had to choose a population to review and I selected lawyers because I thought it would be useful to me. What I hadn't planned on was the fact that my work and my colleagues could be a resource as well. I had some help from a coworker in our law library, who told me about some journal databases to try; then, yesterday, I even found myself thinking about my topic at the meeting. Basically, our training team was trying to identify points of uncertainty in our lawyers' work and resolve the issues pro-actively.

I can't really use this real-time information in my paper, because my assignment for Foundations is not an original study, but rather a literature review - though it certainly requires plenty original thought. Still, it's useful to have context as I begin my research. My first piece of reading is a PhD dissertation that someone has already written on the topic, and it's 300 pages. TGIF.

PS. Good luck shout out to my fellow woman-in-technology role model/superhero Coleen as she leaves our firm and begins a new career adventure. I feel honored to have her read my blog, and I promise to write back to her e-mail soon ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Temporary Disturbances in the Force

Hello there!
I've had trouble finding time to write recently because work has been incredibly busy. I like my job for many reasons, one being that my firm offers great benefits, like sabbaticals every 10 years; however, in the last two weeks, one coworker's sabbatical overlapped with another person's honeymoon. Doing the job of three specialists has made me feel like a battle droid running around with its head cut off. This week, one of my coworkers is back, so things have quieted down a bit.

Finding time to celebrate Halloween!
I have definitely started to find a healthy balance when it comes to school work, and my last few assignments have come back with high marks. I felt confident enough, when I registered for classes next semester, to sign up for 9 credits instead of 6 - kind of.
It will work like this: during spring break in March my adviser, Jim Matarazzo, is teaching a week long class called "Special Libraries," which is 3 credits like any other course, but meets from 9-5 like a regular job. This means that I will have to plan to use some of my PTO from work, but I can cut out a class later in my program and finish sooner than the 2 1/2 year track that I am on now. This works out well, because I was worried when I found out that it's not really possible to do two classes during the shorter summer term.

My other two courses next spring will be one of our core requirements, LIS 407 (Information Sources and Services a.k.a. Reference) and the more focused LIS 437 (Legal Information Services). 437 should be especially applicable for me, as I hope to eventually work in a law library or similar space. My foundations course requires us to write a literature review (due in less than a month now, on December 3!) on the information behavior of a specific user group, and I chose lawyers because I thought it would be interesting and useful. I also had the idea to reach out to a colleague in my firm's library, and he helped me to identify some helpful resources. This weekend I plan to dig into the reading phase of my research!

Outside of school, there is something interesting that happened at work. I'm on the "Innovation Board," which fields and implements project ideas from our Information Services group. One of the recent ideas was to host targeted TED talks for IS and then have a discussion about the video. My colleague in DC and I took this on, and a few weeks ago we hosted our first one. About 30 people combined attended our events, and discussed a talk by Tony Fadell called "The first secret of design is . . . noticing." It was so successful, that I had the idea afterward of counting these quarterly events toward our firm's required annual training hours. This week, after getting clearance, I e-mailed our participants to let them know that they would be given credit for the event, and to spread the word to boost attendance in the future! Hopefully training will be a great incentive, and people will continue to come to these casual but educational talks. I really enjoy them because my department is a little separate from the rest of IS, so it gives me a chance to get to know people in my local office. I also love any chance to break my normal routine and get away from my desk.

Just for fun, here is a picture of my boyfriend and me in our Halloween costumes this weekend. Can you tell which one I am?