Monday, December 20, 2021

Idiocracy - the movie

I learned about this film through the Librarian Memes Facebook Group. I also learned that it was available to watch for free on YouTube - albeit with ads, which I very much try to avoid. I bit the bullet though and my husband and I watched (with the occasional short interruptions). This film stars Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers (the librarian) and Maya Rudolph as Rita (a sex worker). Joe and Rita agree to be part of a top secret military experiment on suspended animation. Scheduled to be awakened after one year, instead they wake up 500 years later, to a world where these two rather average people are the smartest in the country. 

A few comments about this work:

  • It miserably fails the Bechdel Test.

  • Joe's title as a librarian is questionable - he works in a library which means he may or may not be a librarian. According to his supervisor he doesn't do anything but sit on his ass. Library stereotypes will live forever.

  • While Joe is given the title as the smartest person on earth when he wakes up, I expect it was actually Rita. Joe takes an IQ test which Rita is never given the chance to do. But, anyway, he must be smarter, right? Because he's a man, right? 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Melvil Dewey - by Fremont Rider

December 10 was Dewey Decimal System Day  The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of the system's namesake Melvil Dewey. In honor of this day I checked out a biography of Dewey from the library where I work (which does not use the Dewey Decimal System). I noticed that his birthday is mentioned several times throughout the work, starting with the first page, and including the fact that he was appointed to the New York Board of Regents on December 10, 1889 (this was included without highlighting the fact that it was also his birthday). 

The book, simply titled Melvil Dewey, was published in 1944, and mostly has praise for the man we now recognize as sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic. Although there is some mention in the work of these latter two identities they are downplayed. His clear bias toward Christianity can be found in the Dewey Decimal Classification system itself. The 200 range of the system is where books on Religion are found. Christianity is covered in the range of 220-280, and "other religions" are relegated to only the 290s.  

His sexism is disguised in the book with passages such as this one: 

All through his life, women were more congenial intimates with him than men; he was more at ease with them; he worked more to more purpose with them; he played with them with greater zest. 

While he did admit women to the Columbia University, essentially forcing the University into co-education, when he started the Library School, we now know that his reasons were less than altruistic. While he believed that well-educated women would make jim-dandy librarians he also left a legacy of low pay as women "were also more likely to get sick or leave the profession to pursue 'home life'". Furthermore, male librarians deserved more pay than women because they "could also lift a heavy case, or climb a ladder....There are many used for which a stout corduroy is really worth more than the finest silk." (See the link at the end of the post for more information on this.)

About 20 years ago the then-president (a man) of my university actually told the librarians (all of whom at the time were women) at a meeting to discuss salaries that we knew when we went into a female-dominated profession that we would make less money - that it was "societal". And that, after all, he couldn't be expected to solve this "societal problem". Why he couldn't try to solve it on our campus is another question. That president's sexist legacy lives on here as well. Librarians continue to work a twelve-month contact for less money than our faculty colleagues who work a ten-month contract. 

Melvil Dewey was also obsessed with simplifying things, especially spelling. He learned and taught shorthand, and changed the spelling of his first name from Melville to Melvil. As well, he attempted to shorten his last name to "Dui". 

An example of his writing included in the work reads

In skool in Adams Center I rebeld agenst compound numbers. I told the teacher that jeometri taut us a strait lyn was the shortest distance between 2 points & that it was absurd to hav long mezur, surveyor's mezur & cloth mesur; also absurd to hav quarts & bushels of difernt syzes & to hav avoirdupois, troy & apothecari weits, with a pound of feathers hevier than a pound of gold. I spred out on my attik room table sheets of foolscap & desyded that the world needed just 1 mezur for length, 1 for capasiti & 1 for weit, & that they should all be in simpl decimals lyk our muni.

He very much liked the metric system and advocated for the United States to adopt it. I remember when I was in Junior High in the mid 70s that we had to learn the metric system in math class because it was coming to the United States, and soon! President Gerald Ford and after him President Jimmy Carter were going to make it happen. Then Ronald Reagan was elected and just like that people stopped talking about the metric system and we are left only in the company of Liberia and Myanmar as the only countries not to have adopted the metric system as the standard system of measure.

While we cannot deny the legacy Dewey has left on the library profession, we are also experiencing a reckoning of the damage his legacy has left. Two years ago the American Library Association changed the name of the Melvil Dewey Medal to the ALA Medal of Excellence. More about Dewey's sexism and racism can be found in this article from 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Time of Green Magic - by Hilary McKay

When Abi's father remarries and they move, along with her new step-mother and step-brothers, to a tall, narrow, ivy-covered house with colored glass in the windows, and an arched front door with a lantern "straight out of Narnia" her grandmother in Jamaica tells her "So much ivy, so much news! What a time of green magic". Abi and her new siblings soon discover that there is magic in the house as they begin to experience things they are reading in books. Abi gets wet reading about a raft, and animals from the stories begin to appear. 

Abi seeks the help of her father, Theo, a nurse to find out if books can be magic.

'At the hospital', said Abi, 'do people ever come in because of books?'

'They'd be disappointed if they did,' said Theo. 'We're a bloodbath-and-counseling service, not a library. We've got a few kids' picture books and Willy-the-mop keeps a stack of newspapers for emergency puddles, but that's about it.'

'Yes, but do people ever come in because they've had accidents with books?'

'Ah...Right, got you! Yes. Yes they do. Books are dangerous things'.

And Theo goes on to explain how people hurt themselves by reading while walking, or dropping books on their toes, or getting locked into libraries after they close and "get injured breaking their way out". Frustrated, Abi tries harder to explain that she is more interested in magic. Theo then describes how children have hurt themselves by "trying to get through the backs of wardrobes...or "running trolleys into brick walls..."Sitting on broomsticks and launching themselves out of bedroom windows! Bothering dragons!"

Of course books are magic. But are they dangerous? Current events would tell us that they are. Right now, all over the country organized groups are attempting to have whole categories of books removed from school libraries. Books with LGBTQ themes or race or racism are being especially targeted. It is important to note, however, that there are attacks are coming from the left and the right. It seems that the word "harmful" has become a catch-all term for any book that someone doesn't like, and is afraid that someone else might.

Although this was about the magic of books there was only one  other place, near the very end of the story, where a library was mentioned. Abi's stepbrother Max goes to the library to find a book that he hopes will help recreate some of the magic he had experienced with their French nanny. 

I found this one in a Little Free Library. It was a quick fun read.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

America for Beginners - by Leah Franqui

Recently widowed Mrs. Pavil Sengupta of Kolkata, India decides to venture out of her bubble and travel to the United States in search of answers about her deceased gay son Rahi. She employs the First Class India USA Destination Tour Company to hire her a tour guide (Satya) and a traveling companion (Rebecca) for her trip. The three set off on a cross-country trip and learn not only about the United States, but some things about themselves as well.

One of the stops on their trip was the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Mrs. Sengupta asks her guides if  there were "many places like this...places where things can be studied"? To which Rebecca responds "Oh, yeah. Tons. My dad always said growing up he learned more in museums and libraries than anywhere else".

Mrs. Sengupta does make a stop in a library at the end of her trip, at UC Berkeley, where she reverently "touched the pages of [Rahi's] thesis, printed, bound, and carefully stored in the university library".

I marked one other passage of this book while I was reading it, although it had nothing to do with libraries. This is my only book blog, so I have no where to vent on this particular topic but here: 

During a regrettable night of drinking in New Orleans' French Quarter Rebecca refuses "to have sex in a public bathroom for reasons of hygiene, good taste, and physical comfort." I have noticed recently that a public bathroom sex scene seems to be de rigueur in twenty-first century television and movies. Every time it happens I roll my eyes and make a snide comment to my husband about "here we go again". For the exact reasons that Rebecca gives, I am having a hard time believing it is as common as pop culture might lead us to believe. I can only hope that this tired trope, along with  "making up your bed to look like you're sleeping in it", and "crawling through an air duct to escape a locked room", has a  screen time to real life ratio of something like a bajillion to one.