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Carrying Contraband across the Border

Mary Comstock


As a first year MLIS student, I fought the good fight to be admitted to graduate school.  I scoured websites, researched competition, and attended information sessions.  It was at the last information session, as eager prospective applicants listened to officials of the program describe the merits of the school and grabbed at any tips concerning the potential for admission, that I learned that I would need to hide my addiction. 

Those hoping to gain admission should not, under any circumstances, mention a love for books or reading in the required personal statement.  No mention at all of one of my great loves?  What if I couched it in terms of an infatuation, a mere passing fancy, even a one-night stand during a lost weekend?  It was hard to fathom, but here I was, in a bastion of intellectual freedom, surrounded by its acolytes, and I was being…censored?  I wanted to look around to see if my angst was shared, but kept my eyes low, worried I might connect with another and my secret would be out.  For I am an addict, a hopped up, jangly-nerved slave to the book, and to gain admission I would have to suppress, bury, deny.  And I did. 

For the first few weeks of the program, the excitement of joining the long line of procurers, protectors, preservers, and profferers who have shaped librarianship since the days of cuneiform and clay balls, was coupled with anxiety.  I hoped to avoid discovery; this school was about information, not books.  The monograph was dead, long live the digital repository.  True, I was excited to learn about information, knowledge organization, intellectual property, metadata, Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and yes, digital repositories, but what about the book?  Was there no place for it in the halls of an MLIS program training the next generation of librarians?  I was in the Promised Land, but I had crossed the border carrying contraband.

Many might ask, why come, and why stay?  To answer that question, I will paraphrase Peter, who answered Jesus’ offer of an out before the impending action in Jerusalem with, “To whom shall I go?”  Indeed, to whom else shall I go to procure, protect, preserve, and proffer the human record, and one more thing, to proselytize it too?  Like any dealer, I want to addict others to my stash, a stash of books and the peace in which to, well, read.  I want to stand on my figurative corner, the library floor, and give over the goods.  I long to do this as a librarian, trolling the stacks, or live chat, or e-mail, or blogs, calling in sotto voce, “what do you need?” 

I soon found I was not alone, fellow addicts began to appear; a tacit lift of a brow when an instructor declared the day of the book over, whispered confidences about professional aspirations involving books.  There was the blog post bemoaning the “I” in I-school and extolling, dear me, books.  Then the formation of an actual student book group, a second quarter elective on—gasp—Reader’s Advisory, the professional panel discussion where a public librarian declared, “reader’s advisory is our bread and butter”.  Then an article, from the OCLC Newsletter no less, about Library 4.0, not lamenting new technology as some recalcitrant members of the profession do, but describing the library of the future as a place which absorbs technology and is still “a retreat from technohustle, with comfortable chairs, quiet, good light, coffee and single malt” (Schultz).

I sigh, knowing I am in the right place, hold my contraband close, and rejoice.


September 20 2008
Vol. XIII Issue 1

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Summer Reading Lists
What was the iSchool reading this summer?

Nancy Pearl:
Searching for Caleb, Cryptonomicon
Trent Hill: The Donut: A Canadian History, Tunesmith
Stuart Sutton: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Mike Crandall: Annals of the Former World, I See a Voice
Joe Janes: The Man Who Made Lists
See more....

Spring Fling 2008 photos
Emergency Librarians at Spring fling

All photos by Jill Hardy

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