LIS News Interview With Cynthia Wilson - I Am A Librarian

In a continuing effort to find out who librarians really are (in all their glory and diversity), LISNews author birdie recently interviewed librarian Cynthia Wilson about her project "I am a Librarian." Cynthia also tells Robin a bit about how she came to be a photographer/librarian, and how the process of creating her websites and the I Am A Librarian book came into being. So bye-bye to the old stereotypes and hello...real librarians. *       I was born in Abington, PA on December 29, 1976, but I grew up in Churchville, PA. I have five sisters, one of which is my twin, and two brothers. I currently live in Montgomery County, PA with my twin sister Christine and have lived there for two years. I received my Bachelor's degree in Communications at Beaver College (since renamed Arcadia University as those industrious little dam-builders are not appreciated by everyone) and my MSLS at Clarion University through a combination of distance learning at the Free Library of Philaldelphia and on-campus programs. It was nice to have the opportunity to mix the traditional and online environments for my classes and that was part of the reason I chose the program.     I spend my free time working. Yep, that's right, I'm a Capricorn. But if you enjoy what you do, then it's not really as bad as it sounds. I enjoy going to concerts and taking pictures of musicians. I also enjoy getting to know people, and I read tarot cards at some of my art openings or other special occasions. Otherwise, I like to hang out with my family and friends or make things, such as scarves, pillows, paintings, or jewelry. Lately, my websites are where I focus most of my energy. In 2002, I started my photography website www.cynthiawilson.net. Then in 2004, www.iamalibrarian.com and in 2006, I expanded that to include www.imalibrarian.com {ed. this has two meanings -- I'm a Librarian(contraction of I Am a Librarian and more importantly, I.M., or instant message a Librarian}. In 2005 I started posting some of my photography to Flickr . This has gradually expanded as my digital photography has started to become a primary focus.       1) Tell us about your self, past jobs, education, anything else a bunch of librarians might find interesting.       My first photo exhibit was in the library gallery of Beaver College, where I worked during my college years. For that show I combined short poems with black and white work, focusing on landscapes and portraiture.       After graduation I continued work in photography at Larmon Photo, and then at New York Camera and Video where I learned more about working in the darkroom. In addition to day-to-day work, I freelanced for Time Publishing Group. Then deciding to pursue a Masters degree, I took a job with the Interlibrary Loan department at Temple University. While working in Paley Library, I was given the opportunity to hold a self-titled show at Temple's Diamond Club, and was profiled in the Temple Times. I then transferred jobs to Reed Smith LLP to gain experience in a different aspect of library science and then added to that with an internship back at Temple University where I worked with the Urban Archives Photograph Collection. Next, I took a position as the Senior Library Assistant at Moore College of Art & Design.At this time, I also started taking photographs on a freelance basis for the Philadelphia Gay News. I had met the editor at a They Might Be Giants in-store concert at Borders in Philadelphia. Since I went by myself, I started talking to the people around me and we talked about what we did and then she told me that they were looking for a photographer. After I handed her my card she stated that she was willing to give me an assignment on a trial basis that led to shooting for them for just over two years.       To finish my Masters degree, I accepted an internship at Washington State University and experienced the conservation practices there. Shortly after getting my degree I got the job as Member Support Coordinator at PALINET. I was thrilled to get this position because I knew about PALINET and the people who worked there. During the time I got my degree, I volunteered to be on the Preservation Advisory Group. I was very happy that they gave me the opportunity as a student and Iwas impressed with the knowledgeable staff. The position seemed to be a great fit with all of my prior experience.       2) Who is your favorite current or recent author of fiction/of non-fiction?       Hmmmm...I don't really have a favorite author. But if I had to look at my collection I guess I would have to say the spiritual and metaphysical writer Ted Andrews. My favorite book of his is "Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small (1993)"; it was recommended to me at the first sweat lodge that I attended. In general I think my reading habits are geared more towards reference, how-to, poetry, personal journey, and short stories, although recently my reading has been geared towards news items and blogs. I recently finished reading "The Why Cafe" by John P. Strelecky. I picked it up at ALA and read it on the plane ride home.       3) Who is your favorite artist or photographer?       Well, as far as artists go I love Vermeer's perspective and Soutine's portraits. I enjoy the photography of Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, and Mary Ellen Mark.       4) What is your current position in librarianship?       I am currently the Associate Manager of Support Services for PALINET. I enjoy helping other librarians on a daily basis. It is very rewarding to work with the PALINET members and staff. I was promoted from my position as Member Support Coordinator in August.       I wrote a chapter for A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library &Information Science about my initial position with PALINET. The book is due to be published next year. You can go to LISCareer.com for more information and a table of contents.       5) How did you start out as a librarian?       Well, after being frustrated pursuing jobs in communications and photography, I decided that it would be a good idea to get my Master's degree. I had no idea what I would go for at that point. I thought that I could not afford to go to grad school without some financial assistance, so I decided to look for jobs at a university. Since I had worked in the library as an undergrad, I looked at this as my window of opportunity. I was able to get a job in the library at Temple University. While investigating their degree programs, I realized how much I loved my job. I learned of the distance program at Clarion University from Penelope Myers, Head of Access Services at Temple.       6) What work do you currently do as a photographer?       I am currently doing some volunteer freelance work for a local music magazine called the Compendium. I also have many of my photos up on my Flickr account.       7) How did you start out as a photographer?       I have been interested in photography since I was young, maybe 10, when I got my first camera. Recently my sister found a picture of my grandmother showing me a Polaroid and the look of excitement on my face tells me that I was probably interested in photography at a younger age. My first photography exhibit was in 1999. Since then I have showed my photography in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Florida.       8) How did the idea of I AM A LIBRARIAN evolve? Who inspired you or helped you formulate your plans?       I was working at Moore College of Art & Design and one night I was handed an article from my director that was from Bust Magazine. There were illustrations of a variety of librarians, but the only photograph that was in the article looked like it was taken of models reading. I was confused about why they didn't portray a more realistic image of the librarian. And I thought, well, I can do that. When I went home from work that night I checked website availability and ran the idea past my old roommate Josh. He asked me about costs and about what I would lose in trying. After we discussed it for a bit, he encouraged me to go for it and so I did.       My initial efforts were to send e-mails to listservs such as Next GenerationLibrarian Listserv, to ALA's American Libraries and to Librarian.net as well as to some other librarians. I never expected that word about my project would spread as far and as fast as it did. After I sent the first ten e-mails I pretty much lost control of where the information went. I have received messages from librarians all over the world (Cuba, Brazil, NewZealand, Nigeria, UK, Berlin etc.), despite the fact that my plans were only to photograph librarians in the U.S.       9) Who was the first person you photographed for I AM A LIBRARIAN?       The first person that I photographed for I am a Librarian was Mary Hammer.She was the Archivist at Moore College of Art and Design in PA. She has since become the Photo Archivist at the Washington State Archives.
        *       10) Who was the most memorable person you photographed for I AM A LIBRARIAN?       Oh wow! That's a tough one. There were so many memorable people. I met so many great people who helped me with the project along the way. I think that it would not be fair of me to select one person when there are just so many fabulous librarians who I have met.       11) Are you still adding pictures to the website? Is there a text that accompanies the pictures?       I am not adding pictures at this point. I have to save something for the book. I decided to include the pictures that were in the exhibit that I had in Florida at The University of West Florida's Fort Walton Beach campuslibrary for National Library Week 2005.       There is text to accompany the photographs and that is what I'd really like to have in the book. I don't want to give it all away, but I may add some to the website, if I feel the need.       12) You photographed another librarian who was interviewed here on LISNews,Desiree Goodwin. What was she like? How was the sitting?
        *       It was so random meeting Desiree. We were both running in between ALA sessions and stopped in a sushi restaurant to get lunch. We just happened to both be alone and seated next to each other. We started talking and she agreed to pose for me later that day. Desiree is very sweet and we have kept in touch at different conferences or when she has come into town to visit family. I actually lined a bunch of people up around the same time, so the sitting was fun. I just pulled the librarians away for a bit during a happy hour and tried to vary the surroundings. I learned about the whole Sexy Librarian thing after I took her picture.       13) Future plans for the project? Has it or will it be published in bookform?       As I work on the finishing touches for the book, I hope to get it published soon. I will be contacting more publishers in the near future to see what they think about the project. Going to library conferences and Book Expo has been enlightening. In the event I cannot get a publisher for the book, then I might self-publish. It's worth it for me to see this in published form. I received so much from librarians across the country; I want to share with others the image and voice of the number of librarians who have contributed to this project.       14) How has the "librarian community" reacted to your I AM A LIBRARIAN project, did it seem like librarians were generally supportive?       As far as I know, the librarian community has been extremely positive and supportive of my project. There has been mention of it on a number of blogs. I have really been lucky to experience the generosity of librarians in a way that most people don't. I was taking pictures of Elton John for the 4th of July celebration in Philadelphia and the next morning I got up and went cross country for the I am a Librarian! project. On my trip, librarians offered me a bed to sleep in and food to eat. I could not have made the trip without such generosity. Also, the time that I was given has been very valuable; just to hear the stories from these librarians makes it worth it to me. The actual driving was 12 days, but I had an additional trip to NY two days prior. It was a pretty crazy time - I went to Live 8 in Philly then to NY to take pictures of 4 librarians. There are many details of the trip posted in my blog www.iamalibrarian.blogspot.com .
        * (Michael Stephens)       15) Did any people you asked to photograph refuse to be photographed or have an objection to your project?       Well, I had one librarian tell me that he responded as a joke and by a push from a co-worker. I never tried to force anyone, so if they did refuse I would have left them alone.       16) What is your interest in instant messaging in libraries? Why is it important?       Well, it seemed like a very logical progression for me to go from I AM A LIBRARIAN to IM A LIBRARIAN. I got the additional website and linked it because I wanted to do something to help give back to the librarians and libraries that have given so much time and energy to me. Since there has been a large focus in the library community on promoting library services, I saw it as an opportunity where I could try to help.       Instant messaging is so common these days, at least within my social circles, and I think it's a great way for libraries to reach patrons where they already are. I hope that the redesign of my website is helping to inform patrons of this service. I would also like to see more libraries on Myspace and to see a networking category for libraries there. I think it could be a great way to market to the younger communities and for librarians to connect. I get messages from authors and librarians all the time.       17) As a chronicler of librarians images, what do you think of the newanti-stereotype librarian (tattooed or pierced librarians for example)? Or the image of librarians in general?       Well, I have a tattoo and piercings, nothing too crazy, but I could still look like the stereotypical librarian if I choose. In certain respects, it may be a fashion choice and in others just a comfort with an era. My goal is to show a realistic image. In my discussions with people the typical image of a librarian is still a woman, regardless of style. I hope that one day people can envision a more diverse group with both men and women. I didn't want to know what the librarians I photographed looked like before I met them to take their picture. I relied on them to recognize me from my photograph.
        * (Molly Knapp)       18) How about you? What do you look like? Do you look like a librarian? Do you look like a photographer? Both, Or....????       Well, I don't shy away from telling people that I am a librarian or a photographer, so I hope that others can realize that some do look like me. I don't really categorize myself a certain way. I can change my clothes and hair and I will look very different. I have brown hair with red highlights (this changes from time to time...). I have 9 holes in each ear and a small nose ring. I have a small tattoo on my shoulder that most people would never notice. I tend to dress a bit trendy sometimes, I would say along the indie rock lines, but I add my own style too. I'm almost 30, but most people guess my age is around 24 or 25. I guess I look and dress young sometimes.       19) What do you think is the biggest problem facing librarianship today?How can we resolve it?       Well, as it has been addressed many times, I really think that there is a lot that can be done today with marketing and promotion of library services, not only ro get the population to realize how important library services are, but also to help the libraries to get more money. The goal should be to get people to information. Libraries can help direct them. Sometimes I wonder if there were a monetary value associated with information, as if it were on sale, then more people would come running to get it.       I think it is important to reach people where they are and through methods that work for them. There are many different areas in this country and we need to address their needs separately by analyzing the target audience.Libraries should try to go to where people are and promote their availability, whether it be physically or virtually. Ask the patrons what programs they would like to see or what they think the library can do for them.       If I were working for a public library in my area I would probably try to get them on instant messaging, Myspace, Facebook and Flickr. There are a lot of colleges in my area and I hear the young adults talk about these things all the time. On the social networking sites, the libraries can do outreach to the population that would really benefit from the services that they provide. All of these are free or somewhat inexpensive to set-up as programs. The largest cost factor is staff time.       20) Does the librarian stereotype still exist? When, if ever will it be replaced by a more realistic vision of how librarians look?       Well, for the amount of times that I hear people tell me that I don't look like a librarian I would say that it still exists. I can keep trying to enlighten people about how diverse the field really is, but it is hard to change a stereotype. I hope that the image will transform into a more realistic view over time, and I'll just keep talking to people along the way to help move it along faster. The more others do as well, the faster we will see that people have a more realistic view of the people who make up librarianship.

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Classmates :-)

I had been wondering what Ms. Wilson has been up to lately.......

Thanks

Thanks to both of you, that was quite interesting. I never met up to have my picture taken because of my travels, but I did volunteer. Oh, well the world will have to subsist on my vacation snaps.

Re:Thanks

Thanks Matthew! I still plan to include the voice of many of the librarians who I was not able to meet by using quotes from their survey. I want to try to include as many librarians as possible in the finished product.

I am a Librarian

Your interview was very interesting. I myself was interviewed by a local newspaper and had an opportunity to give a glimpse of what librarians do. This article was placed on LISnews October 24. I am a library director at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa.
I sent the article and a link to what I thought were places I could spread the word about our profession. I have found it pop up in many places. I would suggest that the interview be sent to different web sites and media. I myself sent the article and link to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and suggest that her staff use our library for background information for their stories. She said she would. People really do not understand what we do and who we are, we need to do our own public relations.

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