Academic Acquisitions Librarianship – Quarantine Edition

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Brown Library Main Floor view from Circulation Desk (Photo by Holly Dameron)

I sometimes forget that there’s a pandemic going on. It’s not that I’m ignorant nor am I choosing not to pay attention. I subscribe to multiple news outlets and the first task I complete each day is reading through the top news stories. No, I forget because of the location of my office. I know. This sounds ridiculous. But as my office is back in the technical services area of the library, it’s pretty cut off from the noise and sight of where most people congregate when school is, usually, in session. The university library I work at decided after the extended Spring Break to remain open but only for current students, faculty, and staff (as opposed to normal operations, when we are open to the Abilene community at large).

All of us who work at the library have the choice of working from home or coming to the library. I am part of the latter group. Working, even in isolation, has kept me sane, while also helping me to forget. Once I finish going over the news, I start going through the rest of my emails, then checking off the typical tasks I complete in a day. Some of these tasks don’t take much time, others do. Depends on the day, the time of year, and if anyone has actually submitted any book requests to their spreadsheets! Right now, there has been an influx of book purchases, quite a few more ebooks than usual, due to COVID-19. If a task does take more than an hour, then I am in the rhythm of my work. I usually already have my headphones in listening to an audiobook or a true-crime podcast. (Okay, more often than not it’s a true-crime podcast.) There are days where I am so locked into work that I don’t realize what time it is until the mail comes or I have to go talk to a co-worker. At that moment, when I open the door to the main area of the library, it hits me all over again like a wave I never saw coming. Oh, right. It’s not summer vacation. It’s still May, school hasn’t ended, COVID-19 still roams the earth. I remain calm on the outside. I don’t know why, but the idea of letting people know I forget seems inconsiderate to the ones who are gone and the doctors, nurses, firefighters, grocery clerks, and so many others who are risking their lives on the front line. Yet, the next day or maybe the day after that, the cycle starts over. I’m absorbed in work as if the computer has taken me hostage, and for those few hours, I can forget. I can empty my mind of all the confusion, the misinformation, the fear, the anger, and a million other emotions, as I search for books or type in orders into our system. 

While the moments I forget I am peaceful, the rushing back of all the emotions is when I wonder if I am doing enough. Should there be more that I am doing for others on and off campus? Am I keeping track of my student workers enough or too much? Is there something a co-worker needs that I haven’t realized? (You know, because I learned how to read minds during all of this.) The basics of the job haven’t changed much since this started, but the feelings of not being there for my students, co-workers, and everyone who works on campus can be so strong sometimes that I feel as if I will collapse under the weight of them. My freshman roommate one time compared me to Atlas trying to hold up the earth. I guess, during times of stress and uncertainty, I revert back to my younger self, thinking if only I did this one thing or said the right words to that person, then I could solve everything. Unfortunately, I did not go to school to become a doctor or researcher, nor do I work in immediately necessary services like the food industry, and I cannot do anything to help on the front lines. However, I can be there for co-workers or my student workers when they ask. I can continue plugging away at work, helping to provide the information students need. 

It’s not that I’m forgetting with the intention of being mean or inconsiderate or ungrateful. It’s my brain’s way of giving myself a few minutes or a few hours of unencumbered peaceful time, so I don’t try to take on all the world’s problems. Where all I have to focus on is inputting the next number or trying to find a copy of a book in the best condition for the lowest price. Life is strange and while none of us planned for it, we are doing whatever we can to get by, whatever that looks like. And I guess for me that looks like spending hours in my hobbit hole office plugging away at the tasks ahead of me. 

Holly_D

My name is Holly Dameron and I currently work at Abilene Christian University’s Brown Library in Abilene, Texas, USA as the Acquisitions and Periodicals Coordinator. This university is also where I received a MA in English Literature. I’m currently working remotely on my MLIS at the University of North Texas. I want to continue to work at a university/academic library. I’m quite a nerd, and proud of it! I don’t have a favorite genre for books – I’m all about a good story. 

 

Spooky Librarianship

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Ghostbusters, 1984

I love a good spooky story.
This hasn’t always been the case. Until my college years, I was afraid of my own shadow. However, I now indulge in creepy podcasts and horror flicks, even if it means that from time to time I avoid the stairway in my apartment at night. My former housemate Pete (another librarian) has told me before that he could tell when I’d overindulged on Spooky Content when he woke up to find the hall light still on. As a catalogue-minded person, I’ve recently become interested in looking into the way that libraries curate and manage this genre. Which shelves do books about the paranormal live on? Is there a difference between a book on Marian apparitions and one on Bigfoot sightings? Do these materials even belong in libraries? Well, yes.
“But Maggie,” you may be saying to your screen, “we can’t prove that Marian apparitions OR Bigfoot even exist!”
Well … yes. We can’t prove whether or not the paranormal is real. But that doesn’t mean the information is entirely “bad” or otherwise worthless. If nothing else, studying the paranormal and those who investigate it can provide insight into the way people interact with and process the unknown. Take, for example, the well known EVP “Did you hear that?” moment: Ghost Adventures‘ Zak Bagans lets the viewers at home know that they should have heard something in that scratchy nothingness by repeating the sound over and over again with words layered over the scene until we hear what he wants us to hear. On the surface it seems, well, silly, quite frankly. A scare tactic. However, this method is actually linked directly to the way we process information. Research has shown that along with psychological pareidolic predispositions brought on by religiosity and/or generalized Mulder-ness (Riekki et al., Nees & Phillips) and the presence of evolutionary hyper-active agency detection devices (Guthrie, Barrett, Barrett & Lanman, van Elk), this type of cognitive priming heavily influences the ways that EVPs are understood by listeners (Buckner V & Buckner) by manipulating the biological processing of sound through the verbal-transformation effect (Warren, Natsoulas, Nees & Phillips). Behind the scenes: real science.
But I digress. Libraries. There are certainly big-name libraries that can be used as models for paranormal curation. The Senate House Library houses relics of psychic and paranormal researchers, occultists, and spiritualists. Documents from the CIA’s Stargate Project can all be accessed (with redactions) online. The Library of Congress American Folklife Center online repository includes recordings in which unnamed interviewees recount their interactions with ghostly apparitions. Smaller name, specialized groups like the Scientific Anomaly Institute in Austin, Texas have their own libraries that house collections with materials covering topics like Fortean Phenomena, “human potential”, and cryptozoology. EVPs themselves are frequently archived in public internet platforms, where paranormal investigators create YouTube channels such as H.O.P.E. Paranormal White Light and personal websites such as EVP Voices to catalogue and share their own evidence in what are essentially non-traditional libraries.
This is information that, while not taken very seriously by many (particularly in fields so closely tied to academia as ours), has merits. In the study of the paranormal, we aren’t only exploring what may or may not be beyond us. We are exploring the way people in the here and now think. By curating the paranormal, perhaps we can open our doors just a bit wider.

This article was adapted by Maggie McAlister from her paper ‘Electronic Voice Phenomena, Paranormal Investigations, & Sociotechnical Approach’, submitted to Dr. Lai Ma for the module Foundations of Information Studies. Maggie is currently working on her childhood dream of being a cryptozoologist while being happily employed as a cataloging librarian. You can follow and/or contact her on Twitter @librarian_maggs.

Here are the citations for the linked articles that may be barred because of paywalls:
Barrett, J. L. (2000). Exploring the natural foundations of religion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4(1), 29-34. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(99)01419-9
Barrett, J. L., & Lanman, J. A. (2008) The science of religious beliefs. Religion, 38(2), 109-124. doi: 10.1016/j.religion.2008.01.007
Buckner V., J. E., & Buckner, R. A. (2012). Talking to the dead, listening to yourself: An empirical study on the psychological aspects of interpreting electronic voice phenomena. Skeptic Magazine, 17(2), 44-49.
Guthrie, S. (1980, April). A cognitive theory of religion. Current Anthropology, 21(2), 181-203. doi: 10.1086/202429
Natsoulas, T. (1965). A study of the verbal-transformation effect. The American Journal of Psychology, 78(2), 257-263.
Nees, M. A. & Phillips, C. (2015). Auditory pareidolia: Effects of contextual priming on perceptions of purportedly paranormal and ambiguous auditory stimuli. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 129-134. doi: 10.1002/acp.3086
Riekki, T., Lindeman, M., Aleneff, M. Halme, A., & Nuortimo, A. (2013). Paranormal and religious believers are more prone to illusory face perception than skeptics and non-believers. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27, 150-155. doi: 10.1002/acp.2874
van Elk, M. (2013). Paranormal believers are more prone to illusory agency detection than skeptics. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1041-1046. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2013.07.004
Warren, R. M. (1961). Illusory changes of distinct speech upon repetition – the verbal transformation effect. British Journal of Psychology, 52, 249-258. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1961.tb00787.x

Reading is Fundamental: Some Fan Faves for Pride Month

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Dublin Pride 2018, photo by Maggie McAlister

Happy Pride y’all! In honor of our coworkers, patrons, friends, and family who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, I asked library and information professionals to write to me about their favorite Pride books. They are listed here, with clickable titles that lead their respective webpages for ease of access to you!  

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller, Supernatural

Content Warnings: Mental health, anxiety

Identities: While their sexualities are never labeled, the main character and her wife are both women, and the book has been nominated for the 2019 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery

Target Age Group: YA+

Alice Isn’t Dead follows Keisha Lewis as she travels searching for her “dead” wife, Alice, fighting para-military/secret government agency hate zombies, heartache and loss, and her own anxiety to get her back. A book about the paranormal that is deeply human, this one is immediately relatable for people who have their own battles with anxiety. 

 

Iron Council by China Miéville

Genre: Fantasy/New Weird

Identities: Gay & bisexual men

Target Age Group: Adults

Set in China Miéville’s bizarre and wonderful Bas-Lag universe, Iron Council follows three characters: Judah a railroad scout, as he helps in a socialist revolution during a war between two city-states, Cutter a friend and former lover of Jonah, who is trying to warn him of an incoming attack, and Ori, a revolutionary back in the city of New Crobuzon. Iron Council is filled with strange creatures, trains and golems made from a wide variety of materials. While it’s the third entry in the Bas-Lag series, the novel stands on its own and doesn’t require you to read the previous two novels. 

 

Midnighter: Out (Volume 1) by Steve Orlando

Genre: Superheroes, Action, SciFi, Graphic Novel/Comic Book

Identities: Gay men

Target Age Group: Adults

 “One of my all-time favourite comics.” Midnighter is an overly violent superhero with a supercomputer in his brain that allows him to predict how to win any fight. The book starts shortly after Midnighter has broken up with his fellow superhero, Apollo. Midnighter investigates a robbery of weapons from the God Garden as well as a file that contains information on his past. Written by bisexual author Steve Orlando and has absolutely stunning art by ACO. 

 

The Last-Herald Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey

Genre: Fantasy

Content Warnings: Parental abuse, depression, self-harm, sexual assault survival, character death, slight bury-your-gays 

Identities: Gay cis men

Target Age Group: New Adult+

This trilogy tells the story of Vanyel, a privileged, beautiful, but perpetually disappointing son of a socially conservative and isolated noble family in a fantasy kingdom where the benevolent and moral law-keeping force are (basically) knights who ride semi-divine talking horses. The trilogy belongs to the world of Valdemar, and could act as an introduction to a rich universe with characters of myriad backgrounds and sexual identities. When we meet Vanyel, magic seems to be disappearing and outside forces are making suspicious moves, but Vanyel is about to come of age with a bang – and fall in love with his aunt’s protege. This series was written in 1989-1990 and has some of the issues you’d expect, including a predilection to whiteness, but it is still a beautifully written high fantasy story of self-discovery, first love, lost love, and doing your best even when hate everything. While ultimately a tragic hero, Vanyel is a character worth knowing who chose the hardest road and is ultimately remembered for his bravery and power. 

 

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Content Warnings: Descriptions of past trauma/attempts at abuse, mental health, homophobic royals

Identities: Major characters reach across the spectrum of sexual and gender identities! So much healthy representation! 

Target Age Group: New Adult+, but appropriate for older YA readers as well

What happens when the son of the first female President of the United States and the Prince of Wales (who hate each other) fight into a wedding cake at a royal wedding? Damage control fake friendships, of course. In this enemies-to-lovers story, we get to enjoy a (mostly) happy love story in a world where the good guys win, both inside and outside of politics.

 

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Content Warnings: Homophobia, Torture

Identities: Lord Ballister Blackheart & Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin love each other. Full stop.

Target Age Group: Appropriate for YA+

Nimona the orphaned shapeshifter & Lord Ballister Blackheart the supervillian need each other. For villainous acts, yes. For revenge, absolutely. For survival, tangentially. But mostly, they need each other to prove to the world that the “good guys” aren’t really that good. 

 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Fanfiction

Content Warnings: Suicidal/self harm tendencies, depression & mental health (not related to sexuality)

Identities: Baz & Simon are both LGBTQIA+, as are two minor characters, Ebb and Trixie. In fanon (and we can hope in the upcoming sequel, Wayward Son), Agatha is ace. 

Target Age Group: YA+

Carry On’s Simon Snow is the Chosen One, and he’s terrible at it. He’s also sure that his roommate, Tyrannus Basilton “Baz” Grimm-Pitch, is a vampire who is plotting his death. Oh, and there’s the Humdrum (who causes magic vacuums), homework (they’re students, after all), his girlfriend (who is endgame … right?), and a lot of magical class tension. The book itself is the Harry Potter-adjacent fanfiction referenced in a previous book by Rainbow Rowell that’s worth a read, Fangirl.  

 

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Genre: Horror, Horror-Comedy

Content Warnings: Suicide, mental health, body horror, out-of-date terminology

Identities: Throughout the story, Alex’s gender and sexuality are both brought to discussion; however, it seems that she is perfectly happy to just be Alex. This discussion ranges in levels of respectfulness from character to character. 

Target Age Group: New Adult+

Thirteen years after solving their final case as the Blyton Hills Detective Club, the remaining members of the group return to find out what really happened that night at Deboën Mansion  on Sleepy Lake, each with their own baggage. In this blend of Scooby Doo, Cabin in the Woods, It, and Lovecraft, those meddling kids fight for the town that built them once and for all.

 

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Genre: YA

Identities: The LGB of LGBTQIA+

Target Age Group: High/Secondary schoolers

“One book I loved when I was first coming out was Geography Club.” A classic identity-exploring and coming out story about a high/secondary school-aged boy who gets involved in his school’s Geography Club, which turns out to be a Gay-Straight Alliance of sorts.

 

Deep End by Ger Philpot

Genre: Memoir

Content Warnings: Homophobia, hate speech, death and dying

Identities: All of them, as all were (and are) affected by the crisis

Target Age Group: New Adult+, predominantly history scholars

Philpott’s memoir describes a devastating period in which government institutions, state organisations and Irish society ignored a particular groups public health needs, as Irish queer men and women increasingly died from AIDS related illnesses throughout the 1980s. The book in particular documents Philpott’s tumultuous relationship with his lover Paul, one of the first people to die from AIDS in Ireland. Confronting an unaccepting and morally strict society with monstrous grief, Philpott chronicles the developing AIDS crisis in Ireland and the struggles to force a society mired in a culture of silence to confront the harsh realities of an epidemic. A crucial insight into a historical moment written and ignored from the annals of Irish history, indicating how the personal is always political.

 

This list was gathered together by our LGBTQ+ and Children & Youth Services Committee Member, Maggie! She is deeply grateful to everyone who submitted their favorites for this list, and opted to leave them anonymous for purposes of safety and potential issues with employment that could arise. She can be reached through this site, or via email at mcalistm@tcd.ie.