Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Orthodoxy and Fantasy

     Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Orthodox writer and speaker who happens to be good friends with my priest and his wife, made me aware of this conference, being held in July. 
Where Faith and Truth meet Science Fiction and Fantasy
     This looks like the first time for this conference, I hope that it goes well. I would very much like to attend this conference, but the blogging isn't paying as well as I thought it would . . .

     I was particularly struck by this quote, from St Basil the Great: "Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest.” (emphasis mine)
     To me, it seems that St Basil is saying go ahead and read what comes to you, and don't confine yourself to only 'Christian' books. Know what you're reading, and be ready to discern the good and true parts from the bad
     I am all too aware that for many American Christians, things like Sci-Fi and Fantasy are scary, frightening evil things that will lead to their children becoming Radical Liberal Secularists. Or something bad, anyway. I disagree. Sadly, many of these people have also taken up the notion that as long as a fictional work has the label 'Christian' applied to it somehow, it is henceforth OK. Again, I disagree. By what authority are these books being labeled 'Christian'? Who's checking the doctrine or 'worldview'? A publishing company?  For comparison, the Church Fathers got to have that title because the Church over the centuries and around the world read their works and said 'This is good.' No one got a free pass, or blanket commendation. Even a saint can err, and there are a number of Fathers who have had part of their writings condemned. The Church read their work and discerned, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what was good and true, and what was not. 
     So read or watch what you will, and discern what is good and what is bad. Even the bad can teach us, by a negative example. When in doubt, our spiritual fathers can steer us away from the bad and towards the good.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Are Librarians Faculty?

      A recent article published at the Chronicle of Higher Education website (sorry, the full article is subscriber only content) caught my eye. It is a report about a few schools that are considering or have begun changing librarians from faculty status to professional staff. This may be an indication of a trend among higher education generally. Nationally, the article notes, about two-thirds of all academic librarians are faculty, whether tenure-track or not.
      At my institution the librarians are non-tenured faculty. The library gets a delegation to the faculty Senate, and librarians serve on faculty committees. We've just recently been asked to update our faculty portfolios, for some kind of accreditation requirement. Or maybe it's bragging rights. For several years now I've been part of the faculty team in the annual showdown between us and the student Quiz bowl team. We hold our own.
      Over the years working in higher education, I've heard, as many have, the stories about professors who put themselves on permanent vacation or indulge in selfish & unprofessional behavior as soon as they get themselves tenured. So I'm not convinced that tenure should be expanded or even continued. I'd be fine seeing it phased out of higher education all together. But that's another topic. Do I think that it is important for librarians to have or keep or be given faculty status? Yes, I do. Very much so.
Librarians are part of the research and learning process. We're a big part, to be plain about it. Professors tell the students what information they should learn, the librarians tell them, and more importantly, show them where to find that information. We impose order on the world of information resources which is big, getting bigger all the time, sloppy & disorganized, littered across the Internet and polluted with all manner of misinformation, distortion, falsehood and irrelevant junk. Librarians pick out good stuff, organize it and put it within the student's grasp. Go see my old post about Why Librarians Rule. Humorous, yes, but it speaks truth. To state my point simply, we teach students. What do you call a group of university employees who teach students? Faculty.
     Several of the commenters to this article asked the same question that I asked upon reading this article. To wit: how does being removed from the ranks of faculty make librarians do their job better? The University of Virginia cites “the difficulty of defining the role of academic librarians today” as a reason for making the job classification change. The article does not elaborate on how the “role of academic librarians” is different in 2013 than it was in say 2009 when their librarians were faculty. Librarians are not surprised by change, our profession has been adapting and many think adapting well to all the changes in technology, fields of research and communication. We get the necessity of learning new skills and applying new capabilities. But we haven't forgotten how to 'kick it old school' and just know our collections so we can be that responsive search interface no computer can match.
     At East Carolina University, they're looking for greater “efficiencies” and deciding what “a library of the 21st century” looks like. Great. What they're not seeing, I think, is that the library is more than the stacks, and tables, and databases and print stations. To quote an old French guy, “Sans Maitrise, la Puissance n'est Rien” - (Without Mastery, Power is Nothing) and guess who provides the Mastery? The Librarians do.
      So I'll ask the question again – how will changing librarians' status from faculty to staff make us do what we do any better? Neither UVA nor ECU have an answer for that, at least not given in the article. One of the changes that I expect would happen as the result of such a move would be the withdrawal of librarians from much of their interaction with the professors. No more attending faculty meetings to learn what's going on, and the professors get no more input from other professionals with an “in-it-but-not-of-it” perspective. At least at our institution, the librarians do a lot of the book and resource selection, as many of the professors are too busy with classroom work to search catalogs and review sites to determine what resources to add to the collection. Would staff be given the authority to make those decisions? I don't know.
If librarians are not considered faculty, what is the point in requiring the advanced degrees in Information & Library Science? Why hire professionals if it is considered more of a clerical/administrative job? Well, there is the likelihood that the University could pay them less without the Masters' Degrees. Don't imagine that this thought has not crossed the mind of some Finance Officer somewhere.
      Well, to wrap up, it is not my responsibility to prove that making this change would be worse, it is the responsibility of the University administrations to prove that it will make things better. At least as far as this article explains the situation, UVA and ECU have not made this case. It is not wisdom to make changes without understanding why things are the way they are, and without a solid case for why the change is needed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

St Cuthbert's Day

     Today, March 20th, is the feast day of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Wonder-worker of Britain, a saint who is particularly revered by our little parish. So I present here some information about our beloved Cuthbert:   
       He was born in c. 634 in Northern England, in the area of the present Scottish Border. Of noble Anglian birth, at the age of eight he was taken in by a foster-mother Kenswith, a widow and nun. Aged seventeen he became a novice at the monastery of Melrose (now in southern Scotland). With other monks he followed his Abbot and moved to Ripon in Yorkshire to start a new monastery. Later he moved back to Melrose and then to Lindisfarne, an island off the north-east coast of England. On small islands nearby, called St. Cuthbert's Isle and Inner Farne, he was to live as a hermit. Visitors noised his holiness abroad and in York on Easter Sunday 685, much against his will, he was consecrated bishop by the Greek St. Theodore of Canterbury and six other bishops. He reposed two years later, aged about fifty-three, on 20 March 687.
Ancient Faith Radio podcast of St Cuthbert

The Orthodox Wiki entry on St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

This link takes you to a longer telling of the tale of St Cuthbert by the Venerable Bede

An icon of St Cuthbert from Durham Cathedral, England

Kontakion, Tone 1
Having surpassed your brethren in prayers, fasting and vigils, / you were found worthy to entertain an angel in the form of a pilgrim; / and having shown forth with humility as a bright lamp set on high, / you received the gift of working wonders. / And now as you dwell in the Heavenly Kingdom, our righteous Father Cuthbert, / intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Librarians and their Books

     While perusing Inside Higher Ed  today I came upon this little essay by a fellow librarian on the sad issue of Losing Touch with Books. He laments that since entering into our academic and esoteric profession, he spends less time reading his own books than he did before. That, and the fact that people he meets assume that he spends his whole day doing nothing but reading books. This is of course, rubbish. Much as I would likely enjoy getting paid to read, it just does not happen. Oh well . . .
     No one has ever, that I recall, accused me in so many words of getting paid to read books. But it is not uncommon that when I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living I get in response a blank look and some vague reply like "that must be very interesting," while looking completely disinterested. Others have expressed jealousy for my being surrounded by books all day (I'm not, in fact. My office is above the main stacks area)and every now and then someone actually asks me to tell them more about what librarians do. Well, you asked for it . . .   

     Like the essayist, I am dissatisfied with the amount of time I  devote to personal reading. The author identifies his problem as having so much professional reading to do that it squeezes out the reading for personal gain, whether entertainment or edification. How much time do I spend with my books, whether fiction or non-fiction?  Not as much as I would like, and my reasons are different from those of the essayist. Maybe I've been at this longer than he, so my learning curve doesn't require as many hours of Pro reading as his does (no judgement, we just have different requirements put on us). I try to keep up with some Pro Lit; I consider it part of my job to be at least a little informed about the state of our profession. My reasons for not having as much time as I would like are my wife, my kids, my church, my house and my dogs; none of which I would give up just to read more. Well, that explains most of it. I could surely put more time towards reading, once the dogs are walked and the kids are in bed.
     However, I can't read in bed. I really can't. I try and try but it just puts me to sleep very quickly. I've never had trouble going to sleep anyway, but put me in bed with a book, fiction or non-fiction, and I'm asleep inside of ten minutes. And whatever I did read, I didn't comprehend, so I'd have to go back and read it again when I'm awake anyway. So that's no option. I've recently begun an experiment in getting up when my alarm goes off (instead of using the snooze button) and reading downstairs before my kids wake up. We'll see if that works any better.
     Some of the commenters on this essay who are librarians express concern that even at work they don't spend that much time with the books in their collections, probably as a lot of librarian jobs are administrative, or work with electronic resources rather than print. I appreciate the time I get to spend  with the print books, which are my particular charge in my library. I spend time every week down in the stacks (Hence the title of this blog, btw) looking for lost books, or evaluating condition and relevancy. I even allow myself some time to sit down with a book I've come across and read bits of it. You just never know what interesting tidbits you might learn from a book chosen semi-randomly. I got my idea for the Reading Lists display I mentioned here while reviewing the books in Class Z. That's Bibliography, Library Science and Information Resources (General), for those who don't use the LC system.
     Another commenter says that she still has to deal with that other librarian misconception, that we go around "shushing" people. I've had to, in the last week, explain to someone I'd met that no, we don't really do that anymore. I will tell the really raucous students to keep it down to a dull roar, but that's not the same thing. Last week I had something that's never happened before; a student reading outside of my office came over and just about asked me to turn down my music so he could study. My colleague, whose office is right next to mine, pointed out that he couldn't hear the music, and directed the student to a dedicated quiet zone on the first floor. Yes, folks, a librarian almost got "shushed". Go try to process that idea. I'm off to read an article about the library's role in dealing with textbook affordability.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Lists and Best Books

     "Best Books" is a Library of Congress Subject Heading for works that list and annotate, well, the best books on a subject. At our library, I'm preparing a new display for one of our display cabinets on some of these "Best Books" books, and the reading lists contained therein. My hope is that the display, along with handouts with the book lists will get some circulation with the books on the reading lists, and encourage students to discover the joy of reading beyond their class assignments.

     Some of the "best Books" works to go into the display are:

"25 Books Every Christian Should Read"

"100 Best Business Books of All Time"

The Great Books: A journey through 2500 years of the West's Classic Literature"

"Great Books of the Western World" (Series)

"100 Best Books for Children"

"10 Books Every Conservative Should Read, Plus 4 Not to Miss, and 1 to Avoid"

"Reading the Right Books: a Guide for the Intelligent Conservative"

"The Great Books of the Christian Tradition"

Modern Library's List of 100 Best Novels

"How to Read a Book: the Art of Getting a Liberal Education"

"Great Books, the Foundation of a Liberal Education"

     Now, these links won't get you to the full content of the books, the 'why we included this book in the list' part, but the Google Books preview will in some of these cases, give you the reading lists. Happy Reading!

Wisdom from the Fathers - St Gregory Nazianzus

From the book Festal Orations of St Gregory Nazianzus
Oration 45 'On Holy Pascha'

     O the new mixture! O the paradoxical blending! He who Is comes into being, and the uncreated is created, and the uncontained is contained, through the intervention of the rational soul, which mediates between the divinity and the coarseness of flesh. The One who makes rich becomes poor; he is made poor in my flesh, that I might be enriched through His divinity. The Full One empties himself; for he empties himself of his glory for a short time, that I may participate in His fullness. What is the wealth of His goodness? What is this mystery concerning me? I participated in the divine image, and I did not keep it; He participates in my flesh both to save the image and to make the flesh immortal.