The month of May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. I will start off with that. What I want to say is that I follow the creed of financial expert and television personality, Ms. Suze Orman: “People first, then money, and then things.” I live by that order and almost always execute it in anyway I can. I don’t know if that’s normal. People don’t usually give up their time for others to an extreme, or do they? I volunteer in homeless and soup kitchen shelters because I want to. I help my friends or anyone in need of my “brain” or “time” because I want to. When people need my support, I am willing to sacrifice or “invest” my time on their behalf.
It’s kind of infectious, you see. I do my best to empower people around me because that’s what I seem to be good at. I love inspiring and motivating people to do their best because I believe in them, I see that they can do their best, and they deserve to be recognized for that. They, in turn, do the same for others.
However, this is ironic because I also see that I am unable to empower or inspire myself. I am constantly discontented and largely dissatisfied with myself. I see, all too clearly, how my life turned out differently from my own vision, which was largely borrowed from my parents. It seems that I have set an almost impossibly and invisibly high bamboo ceiling of expectations that no one can see or break, even myself. I don’t know, maybe it’s how I was raised: a defense or survival mechanism?
The drive to succeed and be “overly” or “super” ambitious is quite a common “gene” in Asians and Asian Americans. It is not a totally exaggerated stereotype in popular culture. There’s some truth to it. We were natured and nurtured to be workaholics of perfectionism, or at least in the eyes of our parents.
Like most Asian immigrant parents raising Asian American children, my parents expected my “academic and behavioral perfectionism” as forms of “normalcy” or “normality” or “normativity.” It is normal to get 100s in calculus exams, write perfect essays on literary epistemology of Victorian novels, and to greet and pay respects to your grandparents, even after the derision and irrelevant criticism you receive from them. On the contrary, it is not normal to refute your parents’ wishes, not normal to not go to Ivy League schools, not normal to not go to law or medical school, not normal to not be perfect.
Anything less than the ideal perfection is an insult to your family history and reputation. It questions your identity, the very essence of who we are. I learned to cope with that the best I could. The ever-present voices in my mind say: “You are not good enough. You will never be good enough. Now get back to work. Don’t waste any more time.” Those voices belonged to my parents, but I have now “embraced” them as my own. Maybe I like playing librarian because helping people allows me to escape from my own personal misery, self-loathing, and defeatist attitude?
From time to time, I think I did something right with my life at one point, though I did not fulfill my parents’ expectations. I didn’t go to Ivy League schools. I am not a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker. I am not making six figures now or having children at the moment. Those factors are not important to me, but somehow I feel I am missing something here. Maybe I feel like a “loser” because I’ve disrespected my parents and that makes me lack something–self-dignity, perhaps?
Is it normal to feel lost or strayed from your parents’ idealization of your life or am I simply living a normal life beyond the confines of my parents’ expectations? I don’t know and I don’t think I really want to know.
Amy Chua’s work, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, sparked a lot of anger and debate over the years. The infamous Tiger Mom. Yes, my parents were indeed Tiger Parents. I don’t need to say more about that.
If I have kids in the future, I’d drive them insane, too. I am not here to put the blame on my parents. They are who they are. They probably went through a similar hell with their parents, too, for all I know. I don’t pry, but I do theorize: is there a perpetual cycle of parental condescension from one generation to the next? Maybe or maybe not. It also doesn’t help that I think like an American, but embrace my Chinese cultural roots. I am an amphibian. I can switch my mind from Chinese to American to Chinese again, but I do not share the same mindset with my parents.
This reflective essay is not supposed to heal or relieve myself or anyone else’s emotional burdens from their childhood roots. It is to illustrate that we may or may not share similar life experiences. Our parallel memories and experiences define who we are and our relationships to our parents and to each other.
If this somehow made you question or at least made you concur with what I had written, then I’ve said what I needed to say. I’ve “contexualized” my “normal life” experience and perspective to best fit the reader’s needs and understandings of life, or at least the life that I have. It is and isn’t normal, depending on when you ask me.
So far, life as a librarian is quite a “normal” life because I like the work. I get to help people (anyone, really) in an extraordinarily (non-social, work-like) way: I empower and encourage them to read, research, and think differently about things beyond their own horizon.
Raymond (Ray) Pun is a writer, librarian, and thinker in New York. He has written essays for The Huffington Post, Colleges and Research Libraries News, World History Bulletin, Business and Finance Bulletin, and more.
Asian American Biography edited by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall
Asian American Psychology: The Science of Lives in Context edited by Gordon C. Nagayama Hall and Sumie Okazaki.
Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity edited by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
The Asian American Movement by William Wei
Asian-American Pacific Heritage Month: History and Resources at The NYPL by Raymond Pun
Name: Alyssa Mendoza Jocson
Hometown: Fremont, CA–but I currently call Seattle my home!
Education: I am a full-time MLIS student at University of Washington’s iSchool where I am focusing on reference services and community programs. Before coming to the UW, I graduated from Seattle University with a BA in English/Creative Writing (with a second major in Spanish) and spent two years as a Literacy*AmeriCorps member teaching ESL and GED students at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC).
Current job: My time as a Literacy*AmeriCorps member at SCCC has led me to two part-time positions in other departments. First, I became a Fiscal Assistant for Workforce, which has given me valuable skills in budget management. And second, I was hired as a Reference Assistant at the SCCC Library, where I get to spend whole shifts at the reference desk helping students with their research assignments and computer skills.
Ideal job: I graduate in June! As I start my job search, I’m looking for a librarian position in a community college or public library where I can serve diverse populations.
APALA: I’ve been an APALA member since spring 2012 and soon volunteered to be on the Newsletter Committee and its Web Content Sub-Committee. When I first started my MLIS program in which I’m one of the only Asian Americans, I struggled with finding a sense of belonging within my future profession as a librarian–joining APALA helped me find community and grow professionally. I appreciate this group of people so much!
Other extracurriculars: To supplement my MLIS curriculum, I joined and became a core organizer of iEracism, a student group designed as a safe space to discuss issues of race/ethnicity and social justice. It is also important to me to to make time to volunteer. I’m currently volunteering at the Wing Luke Museum’s Gov. Gary Locke Library; I completed a guide for Asian/Pacific American genealogy resources and have started working on a “wish list” for the library’s collection. Also, this quarter I have a Directed Fieldwork at Seattle Public Library’s Ballard branch. My learning objectives include reference services, collection development, and one-on-one technology instruction. Ballard is one of the system’s busiest branches, and I am learning a lot!
Currently reading: America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene.
Professional Portfolio: http://alyssajocsonmlis.weebly.com/
It’s a Mad World.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “normal” as conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern. It seems that this definition of “normal” could easily be applied to librarianship in many different ways. We instruct, conduct reference interviews, create library policies, catalog items, create metadata standards, gather circulation stats, and develop collection assessment plans. For most of us, we feel like this maybe our normal, because we may answer the same reference questions, teach the same workshops, and take several iterations to complete a project until our world of information is normalized or until a new set of standards, policies, and plans emerges that requires implementation. As a result, our profession may appear to be normal or even seem neutral to people outside of our profession.
In “The Myth of the Neutral Professional,” Jensen (2005) states, “A claim to neutrality means simply that one isn’t taking a position on that distribution of power and its consequences, which is a passive acceptance of the existing distribution” (p. 30). Does this “myth of the neutral professional” apply to the field of librarianship? Unfortunately, I think so. We have accepted the norm with respect to library employment. In the blog Hiring Librarians, it has been noted that months to year-long job searches are common (Weak, 2012). It is not unheard of for recent LIS graduates to take paraprofessional positions, continue internships, volunteer, or work other jobs in different fields (Vincent, 2013). Traditional librarians will have to contend with the advent of digital libraries and possibly the full automation of technical services. I think it will be the norm that coding and technical skills will be part of the job description for librarians. INALJ (I Need a Library Job) blog advocates “walking the line between computer science and library science will afford you more opportunities, and better your chances of landing a position” (House, 2013). Again, I believe we have accepted this norm of library employment and job duties. Do new librarians and recent LIS graduates have a place in today’s world of librarianship?
In hiring practices, most entry-level reference library job posts require a combination of library experience and technical skills. A recent ACRL article published in November 2012, written by Detmering and Sproles, compiled a literature review on job advertisement analysis. Results show entry level positions were mostly in academic libraries. In the article, the authors cite Reser and Schuneman’s study of job ads from 1988. Reser and Schuneman found only 20 percent of positions were classified as entry level and there was a trend for librarians to acquire more specializations and to hire from outside the library field. Also, librarians needed to have practical experience and tech skills. More recently, about 49% of job ads stated project planning and implementation, 26.6% included supervision and managerial duties, and 54.7% required technologically focused responsibilities (Detmering and Sproles, 2012). These findings illustrate entry level job ads put an emphasis on tech skills and practical experience. As one job applicant said, “you can’t get a library position because you don’t have experience and you can’t get experience unless you have a librarian position” (Detmering and Sproles, 2012, p. 543).
My normal has echoed the very same thing, a circuitous, hopeful journey to being gainfully employed at an academic library. It has been over two years since UNC-Chapel Hill conferred my MSLS. I have submitted countless applications, attended over 20 library interviews, which most notably included a UC Santa Barbara Library Fellowship interview via Skype, a University of Maryland Data Research Librarian Fellow phone interview, and a University of Southern California GIS Fellow Skype interview. I have yet to find full-time library employment. Since graduating from library school, I have been underemployed as a temporary library assistant, worked in private industry, and volunteered in different libraries.
In October 2010, I accepted a temporary library assistant position at University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and the position ended three months afterward. So, I decided to continue my journey to find full-time library employment in January 2011. During my employment search, I received several phone interviews. After several months, I received a rejection letter that stated, “we were greatly impressed with your background and qualifications, and we enjoyed talking with you to discuss the position. It was not at all easy to make a decision. Given the impressive strength of your resume and your accomplishments, we think it is very likely that you will be offered a challenging position elsewhere in the very near future.” The near future could not come soon enough.
In July 2011, I moved in with my grandmother in Los Angeles, California to save on food and rent. I continued my job search and settled for employment outside of librarianship. I accepted a data analyst position at LA Yellow Cab and started full-time employment. I began to hit the ground running with quickly learning new taxi cab terminology, taking on projects, and acquiring new technical skills. After six months, I decided to leave my position because I was not fulfilled and did not feel it was in alignment with my career interests. So, I started my library job search again and I felt I was not making any progress.
At the end of May 2012, I moved to Santa Barbara to take a break from my job search. It was a much needed break and I felt rejuvenated. I began to volunteer as a computer coach at Santa Barbara Public Library in August 2012. I was very fortunate to be part of a progressive volunteer program and acquired much needed practical customer service and instructional experience. Due to financial constraints, I moved back in with my grandmother in November 2012. Currently, I volunteer at East Los Angeles College Library, Pacifica Radio Archives, and work as a part-time tutor. I am very grateful for the continual support and practical training that I have received from my supervisors. Both volunteer opportunities have proven to be invaluable library experiences, which I hope will lead to full-time employment at an academic library.
I want to urge APALA members, library professionals, and hiring managers to not buy into the “myth of the neutral professional” and to defend our profession. As library schools continue to turn out new library graduates into an already saturated job market, I want to pose some questions. Do library schools need to curtail student admission? How can library schools better prepare librarians to enter the job market? What qualifications do new graduates really need to become employed? Do the job descriptions for an entry level academic library position realistically meet the skills and qualifications of new library graduates? There are post-MLS programs or library fellowships to further develop new librarians. Do we have enough of them? How successful are these programs? I believe these are important issues that we currently need to confront as a profession. I hope APALA members will seriously consider them as future topics of discussion, both verbal and written.
I also want to encourage my fellow job seekers to continue on their arduous journey to become professional librarians. l leave you with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, from his article “Returning Home” reprinted in Your True Home (2011). It has provided me with much inspiration: “Your true home is the here and now. It is not limited by time, space, nationality or race. Your true home is not an abstract idea; it is something you can touch and live in every moment. With mindfulness and concentration, the energies of the Buddha, you can find your true home in the full relaxation of your mind and body in the present moment” (p. 1).
Graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
School of Information and Library Science, 2010
Chu, M. (2009). Ageism in academic librarianship. Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 10(2). Retrieved March 19, 2013, from http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v10n02/chu_m01.html
Detmering, R., & Sproles, C. (2012). Forget the desk job: Current roles and responsibilities in entry-level reference job advertisements. College & Research Libraries.
House, N. (2013, Mar.18). Skills in need: Why coding and technical skills can benefit our job hunt. INALJ. Retrieved from http://inalj.com/?p=12916
Jensen, R. (2005). The myth of the neutral professional. Progressive Librarian, 24, 28-34.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. (2011). Your true home: The everyday wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh. Boston: Shambala Publications.
Shaffer, C. (2011). Best practices for hiring academic librarians with faculty status and rank. The Southeastern Librarian, 59(3). Retrieved March 19, 2013, from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1403&context=seln
Vincent, A. (2013, Mar. 6). Re: Making it work: Surviving as a librarian employed in another field [Web log comment]. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2013/making-it-work/#comment-36092
Weak, E. (2012, Sept. 14). Further questions: How long did it take to get your first library job? Hiring Librarians. Retrieved from http://hiringlibrarians.com/2012/09/14/further-questions-how-long-did-it-take-to-get-your-first-library-job/.
Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, author, playwright, teacher and library aficionado. In 2009, she won the Wisconsin Library Association: Literary Award and the Eisner Award for her book What It Is. Her works of fiction and comics include Cruddy, Ernie Pook’s Comeek and One! Hundred! Demons! In One! Hundred! Demons!, Barry uses vivid imagery and words to bring to life an “autobiofictionalography” of experiences such as her Filipino upbringing and the growing pains of childhood, adolescence and friendships.
In Spring 2012, Lynda Barry was the Artist-in-Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she taught “What it is: Manually Shifting the Image.” She had her students (including me) refer to her as “Professor Lynda.” Currently, Professor Lynda is teaching a course called “The Unthinkable Mind” at UW-Madison.
Below is an abridged and edited version of an interview I had with Professor Lynda discussing the role of picture books libraries and librarians in her life. The interview took place on August, 30th, 2012 at City Bar in Madison, WI.
The first part of the following interview is available in the Winter 2012 issue of the APALA newsletter.
Dawn Wing (DW): In the class you taught during Spring 2012 at UW-Madison, “What it is: Manually Shifting the Image,” you emphasized the importance of reading stories we wrote aloud. Why do you think hearing a story read aloud is important?
Lynda Barry (LB): I think our brain is developed with this – our way of understanding the world is through story and metaphor – so if you think about stories came first, libraries became as a home for a lot of stories, fiction and non-fiction – But I think there is something about reading aloud – and if I had had the kind of parents that kids seem to have today, you know, to take you to story time at the library – and have that long tradition of sitting on another person’s lap with a book in front of both of you – it’s almost like when you jump off a plane with a parachute, you jump with somebody – you jump to this ability.
I was never read to at all, and I still find it to be this astonishing thing. And the cool thing about technology right now is there are more opportunities for people to hear stories read aloud whether it’s live, somebody talking or you have a choice, maybe driving into work, where you can listen to stories being read aloud. And that didn’t happen when I was younger. It could’ve happened on a piece of vinyl somebody read – the 100 vinyl set, you know.
So there’s something about hearing that read aloud – but especially hearing it read aloud at the library where it’s kind of this event, and I’m always really surprised when I’m at the library and there’s a story thing going on, I’m really surprised at how the kids are able to concentrate – you don’t think they would. Some of them don’t, but a lot of them do. And how much they like to make books.
DW: What are your thoughts on the book as a physical object versus e-books which are now becoming the trend?
LB: I think that there’s nothing like the frigate like a book. Was that Emily Dickinson?
I think it is. I think that there is a completely different experience of the book as a physical object even to the point where you know you are in the book. Like I’m half-way through, 3/4 of the way through – I think on Kindle or e-books, something’s really lost. Something’s gained because you can just pop it in your pocket. I have people tell me, “Oh, I have 400 books on this.” It’s like “Yay, that’s great. Here’s my little thumb drive and I have 400 songs. Ok, it’s like make ‘em play by doing what?”
It’s like this weird thing, but then again book as objects, I’ve always collected books. I have tons of them everywhere so it’s sort of that same thing: I have 400 books. I’m probably as likely to read all of them as the person who has them downloaded to their Kindle. But, I think for kids in particular there’s something about turning a page, pointing to the different stuff.
I wasn’t able to finish reading it, but there was an article I ran into today right before I left about actually touching the paper with your finger that that really helps people learn how to read and write. You know this pointing thing and touching. It turns out that touching those words – there was some study done that something about actually touching them with your finger. So I know that that can happen and it’s all going to go touch-screen – it’s already in that direction.
But I just think there’s something about paper and it’s going to be that thing when TV came and people who were really attached to radio talked about TV taking something away. And those of us who grew up with TV were like, “Pff, whatever it was I don’t miss it.”
And I think there’s something about books that that will be – even in my town now – Janesville – it’s a pretty significant sized town, there’s not one bookstore. So libraries are really going to be it. Libraries and online ordering. And that’s going to be it. That’s going to be where you find the books.
So, I also think that kids – it’s all the difference in the world when you’re making a book by hand, using your little stapler and drawing than designing a page on the computer.
They both have wonderful things about them. In my eyes, I love that with a book, you can be in any position that you want. You don’t have to be making your body accommodate the thing that you’re looking at. Although you can with a Kindle, I’ve never read anything on a Kindle.
DW: How has your work been received by the Asian American community when it became popular and available through the public library? Were people excited?
LB: Well, not in my family. But that’s my family. But for instance, the first time I wrote about being Filipino was in “100 Demons” and that was on Salon originally - it was a web comic. But since then, and that came out in 2002, I think – so it’s 10 years. Wherever I go, there’s always someone who comes up and a lot of times it’s a mixed person like me, a hapa, talking about how huge it was to just see someone speaking Tagalog in a comic strip. So that’s been gigantic. I’ve met more 1/4 Filipinos (I’m 1/4 Filipino) who look like me like you kinda look at their face, they look like they’re white but they’re not – something’s going on.
And whenever I tell people I’m part Filipino, then especially Filipinos, they’ll go (in Filipino accented English) – “I can see it a little bit in the earlobes, and hair. Oh, I can see it.”
So that’s been a really big deal and I know that’s been even in my own family – seeing a Filipino on TV, this was in the 60s, would just make everyone run to the television to see it.
The Asian community in general, we were relegated to Uncle Ben’s converted rice, not even Uncle Ben’s, it was some other rice thing- you know where they always play a gong -poor Uncle Ben, he’s not even Asian and he has to deal with converted rice – he’s converted. But you know that whole Asian thing where you only come on for one reason -so I think that’s been a big deal. And I think that’s a point of pride for me. It is. It means a lot to me.
My grandma, her ability to read was kinda limited. I think she could read, but not very well though. But she could speak English, Spanish, Tagalog and Bisayan . And she was a really really smart lady.
So that’s very interesting – three generations - to go from reading and writing were not part of the daily life to that’s all I do now. But I have to say it wasn’t a big deal in my family and it still isn’t. They weren’t readers. They did other things. There wasn’t a whole lotta interest in school. Me going to school when I went to college that was just like why?
Which is really different from a lot of other Asian cultures. Filipinos are really interesting that way because other cultures, man, you had no choice. You’re going. And you’re going to study us worth paying for. So that part’s sorta interesting.
To read previous parts of this interview published in January 2013, please visit: http://www.apalaweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/APALANewsletter_Winter2012v31-2-1.pdf
For more about Lynda Barry’s work, visit:
Lynda Barry’s Tumblr -http://thenearsightedmonkey.tumblr.com
“The Unthinkable Mind” @ UW-Madison -http://theunthinkablemind2013.tumblr.com
Tinamarie Vella just joined APALA in August 2012, so please give her a warm welcome! She is part of the Literature Awards Committee for the adult non-fiction category.
Tinamarie received her M.S. in Library & Information Science from Long Island University’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science. She also holds a M.A. in English from Brooklyn College, which is part of The City University of New York (CUNY) system. She currently works as the Access Services Manager of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism Research Center in New York City.
Tinamarie is a wonderful, knowledgeable addition to APALA’s Literature Awards Committee. She writes:
I have a strong interest in Asian/Pacific Islander history and literature, having done my graduate thesis on Filipino American Literature in World War II. I watched a special on the Pacific Front on the History Channel, and I was hooked.
Tinamarie is also active in ALA’s NMRT, LLAMA, and her state’s library association, New York Library Association (NYLA). She was a participant in ALA’s Emerging Leaders program in 2011 and is currently the chair of NYLA’s New Members Engagement Subcommittee. She is currently running for the Leadership Development Director position of ALA’s NMRT. Please see Tinamarie’s campaign video on YouTube.
When asked about her cultural heritage and background, Tinamarie shares:
Being born in Brooklyn, New York breeds a sense of cultural pride for your hometown.
My parents both have diverse backgrounds. My mother comes from a mixed background, her father was African American and her mother was Italian (from Naples, to be exact). My father came to this country when he was 10 months old, he was born in Birzebbuga, Malta, and he came with his English mother.
If you mix it all up, you have me.
Tinamarie is a blogger and writes about her professional and personal experiences and thoughts. Please check out her work at Occasional Rants and Raves. On her blog, Tinamarie writes about her interests:
I love spending time with friends and family as cheesy as it sounds. I love discovering new things, cultures, and I really need to work on traveling more! I would like to read and write more, I have a dream of winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but I’ll settle for a published book/short story. I love capturing the moment, and have been called a camera whore on more than one occasion. I enjoy lounging around, abusing my DVR, attempting to be the Next Iron Chef, and of course online shopping. I could watch METS baseball all day. I used to love going to concerts, but I feel I’m getting too old for the mosh pit. I have recently discovered the surprisingly fascinating world of sci-fi, comic and horror conventions, and attend whenever I can.
As for her professional librarian goals and interests, Tinamarie is very much invested in building bridges between journalism and librarianship and nurturing new, emerging library professionals.
I work in a fast-paced news library. Much like in journalism, new and emerging library professionals must think fast and adjust to a quickly changing world of information gathering. I am working to strengthen the relationship between journalists and librarians, there’s the opportunity to work together, but it isn’t being nurtured properly.
I am also very interested in creating and cultivating leadership opportunities within our profession, we receive interns on a semester basis, and I love to have them here at this small yet distinct library that I work in, because it gives the interns the opportunity to create and experiment within all areas of librarianship.
Tinamarie is also an active volunteer of the NYC presence of Urban Librarians Unite (ULU), a “professional group created to promote and support libraries, library staff, and librarianship in urban settings. Urban Librarian Unite facilitates dialog between libraries and library workers, encourages new developments in library science, and advocates for libraries and librarians in urban areas.”
To connect online with Tinamarie, please visit her about.me page at: http://about.me/tinamarievella. Welcome, Tinamarie! We look forward to getting to know you better.