Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Metadata Update #21: Standing on the edge of something new

This blog post was written at a point where my term position was coming to an end and I didn’t know if I would get the tenure track position which I did eventually get.  It seemed to make sense as a “metadata update” at the time but when I rediscovered this post the other day, I was less convinced of its relevance.  In the end I decided to edit the post and share it.


The summer of 1984 was about as hot as it gets in Saskatchewan, at least that is the way that I remember it.  All of my friends were getting summer jobs. With up-coming band trips and my budding interest in the latest clothes and records, I decided that it would be good for me to break out beyond the world of paper routes and babysitting to get a “real job”.

I don’t actually recall the details my first little resume but I’m sure that it was an impressive little sight with all of my babysitting experience, the various paper routes I had over the years and a reference from my piano teacher who I considered to be a very strict and “tell it like it is” person. I guess that I figured whoever read that resume would know my piano teacher and understand that if she says it, it must be true.

At any rate, on a hot summer day I braved the sweltering heat and headed out downtown on the bus in a too-heavy-for-the-weather purple top and pants.  I don’t think that I have ever owned anything so purple in my life since.  I think that I must have thought that I looked like Olivia Newton John or something!  At any rate, I went up and down the halls of the downtown mall with my hot little resumes in hand.  I stopped in at any store I thought might be of interest to me.  Most weren’t hiring or if they were, they didn’t want people who just wanted summer jobs.  A handful of the women’s clothing stores had me fill out applications but as I began to write my name in address, I felt in the pit of my stomach that selling slouch socks and stirrup pants and trying to look busy when the store was dead wasn’t exactly my thing.  However, I had resigned myself to giving any job that I could get a try and to be open-minded and adventurous.

Little did I know then that a decade later I would be the one who would take applications from young men and women who are all nervous and excited by the prospect of getting their first “real job”.   While it’s not something that is part of my work anymore, up until about 5 years ago I would get these resume treasures handed to me and I recognized the simple hopefulness, excitement and a little bit of fear in both the resumes which essentially have nothing to report and the eyes of the applicants which reveal a mind that really doesn’t know what to expect.  In the last few years when I was involved with hiring entry-level staff I noticed an increase in applications being randomly emailed to me or job searches that seemed to be largely guided by parents.  I sometimes wonder if some young people are missing out on the right of passage whereby they stand on the edge of adulthood with a practically empty resume in hand and a big hope in their hearts that someone will be willing to take a chance on them and give them a job.  Some may say that I don’t have a right to comment on the lives of today’s youth and maybe there are things about their world that I don’t understand.  A lot of change can happen in 30 years.  That being said, I believe that there are certain common human experiences and that we can experience them in cycles as our lives go through their various seasons.  I believe this as I find myself, in 2014, in very much the same situation as 1984.  I stand with my CV in hand and hope in my eyes.  Rather than hoping that those who read my resume understand what it means to be recommended by my piano teacher, this time I hope that those who read my CV understand and find some value in the work I’ve been doing for the last 30 years.  Maybe the people making the judgement are 10, 15 or 20 years younger than myself and I wonder what they think of what I have written.  As I find myself standing on that edge again, all that I can think of is that it is much easier to go through all of this as a teenager….

But, is there anything more annoying than someone beginning a story and not ending it?  Well then, I will finish my story.  After going through the mall I sat on a bench with two more resumes in my hand.  I thought about where else I might apply.  I pondered working in fast food but changed my mind as this is what many of my friends were doing and I had a feeling that I should try to do something different.  At this point the photocopied paper was a little soggy from warm hands in the hot weather.  I didn’t think that I should hand these resumes to anyone at that point so I started to head back to the bus which I ended up missing.  As it turns out, the bus stop was in front of the public library.  I decided to get out of the heat and go inside.  I walked upstairs to my favourite part of the library which had records and books about arts, crafts, movies and music.  I loved this part of the library and really enjoyed the fact that it was nicely air-conditioned as I flipped through records.  As I selected a few records from the “rock” section, I was distracted by someone who was shelving records.  I looked up and saw a young woman taking records from a cart and putting them into the bins.  People were trying to look at what she was putting away so that they could snap up the “best stuff”.  I thought to myself, “what a good job, you get to see all of the records before everyone else”.  I flipped around the bins for a while looking at records and then got up the courage to ask the young woman if she knew if the library was hiring people to work with the records.  She looked annoyed and grunted at me “in the admin office” as she turned so that I couldn’t ask any more questions.  I continued to look at the records for a bit and then walked over to the checkout desk where an elderly woman with a German accent was signing out records.  After the woman signed out my records I got my courage up once again and said that I wanted to apply for a job and needed to know where the admin office is located.  She corrected me by saying that I was looking for the “administration” office, not admin, and that it was located directly across the hall from the record department.  I turned to see the words “Administration Office” written in a dark black script on a glass door.  I felt a little embarrassed, thanked the woman and headed towards the office.

In the office I was greeted by a thin middle-aged woman with dark hair.  She looked very serious and was extremely soft-spoken.  I asked about applying for a job but almost as soon as I asked, I remembered my embarrassingly soggy resumes.  Fortunately, I didn’t need a resume.  I just copied information from it onto an application form.  I put a note that I really wanted to work with the records.  I then handed the application in to the woman at the desk who said thank-you and turned to make the piece of paper disappear somewhere behind the desk.  She then said goodbye so I figured that it was time for me to leave.  I went down the stairs with a bit of spring in my step and some hope that I might be asked to work in the record department.

A couple of weeks went by and I had, in the meantime, become busy with more babysitting and odd jobs.  I nearly forgot about the library until one day I got a phone call to come in for an interview.  As it turns out, it was August and the time for summer jobs was over.  However, the library was looking for someone to work with records and films on Sunday afternoons during the school year.  This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but I thought that it sounded interesting and decided to go for it.  Once again, it was a very hot day and I had worn a black woolen suit for the interview thinking that this is what a person should wear in order to look “business-like”.  The woman who interviewed me seemed very shy and she looked at her hands the whole time.  I later worked with this woman and found out that despite her shyness she is an intelligent, interesting and dedicated librarian but at the time I had a hard time understanding why she was more interested at looking at her hands and the desk than at me when I answered questions.  It worried me that I was doing something wrong so I was a little relieved when the questions were finished and I was asked to put some books in order.  I did the best that I could and another woman came to look at them and said that I got the order right.  I was then thanked for my time and sent on my way.  A few days later I got a telephone call offering me the job.  I would train in August and then start my regular shifts on Sundays.  And, from then on I have pretty much always worked in a library.

So really, what does this all have to do with a metadata update?  The reality is that just as a middle-aged adult, for any one or more of various reasons, can be thrust back into a situation where the comfort of an established career and position are pulled, pushed or stripped away and find him or herself with toes hanging over the edge to some great unknown, so do I think many libraries are having a similar experience as they stand on the threshold of major change.  Some say that RDA stands for “retirement day approaching” while others are fascinated by the possibilities what linked data offers for the integration of library metadata with other types of metadata and structured information as well as what it means for the discoverability of library resources.  Of course, there are many other feelings along the way which run the gamut from doubt and scepticism, to fear and general discomfort, and to curiosity and the desire to experiment and innovate.   Maybe we are like the over-dressed teenager, walking around in confusion with sweaty, uninteresting resumes in her hands.  Maybe we need to give up on our resumes and black woollen suits and remember that deep in our hearts we think that it would be cool to work in the record department.  Maybe we need to find that vision that got us here in the first place.  What does that vision mean today and where might it take me?  I know that work is no longer about air conditioning and getting to see the cool records first.  In reality, that’s about as good of a vision as most adolescents can formulate.  The question is how that vision passes through 30 years and lives today.  I think that the first part of the vision is that I see myself working in a healthy, stimulating, supportive and energized environment.  Air conditioning is so far back in history that it doesn’t even hit the radar anymore.  That being said, if it were to disappear on a +35C day, I would likely start to think about it again.  The second part has to do with being part of the new and exciting developments and seeing how they all turn out.  As a teenager, I was excited about hearing new bands and new songs, deciding whether or not I liked the music and then seeing how well the music would do on the charts.  Once again, my teenaged vision was quite narrow and specific.  It’s not that I wouldn’t mind listening to the latest music every now and again in order to form my opinion, etc. but this isn’t exactly what turns my crank anymore.  It’s not that I like change for the sake of change but I love to watch how things develop over time and learn to see signs of when things are starting to really take off or when they start to falter and what happens after either of those scenarios.  That being said, I realize that not everyone has the same vision and that the change we are facing doesn’t inspire in others the same curiosity and energy that is stirred in me.

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