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Off-Topic: Messages from the Bus, Women’s Work, Babies, and Libraries

July 17, 2008

This morning a guy on my bus gave me a book. It’s about “boring” and “ordinary” “small-town librarian” who decides “it’s time to get a life – and a sex life.” I don’t know what this means exactly, but I’ve never spoken to this guy until yesterday, and we did not talk about my being a librarian.

My local daily paper has a piece today, “State’s underfunded libraries struggle: Tennessee is almost last in spending.” We reportedly spend $16.32 per person on libraries in this state, compared with the U.S. average of $31.65. Needless to say, services to library visitors suffer. And then…

Tennessee librarians are expert community networkers. Don’t have the budget to put on a children’s program? Find a community volunteer. Don’t have enough meeting space in the library? Get a local business to volunteer a room. Don’t have enough money to build a new library? Form a community partnership and raise private funds.

“Our librarians are wonderful people,” said Jane Pinkston, assistant state librarian for planning and development. “They work long hours for next to nothing, and they try to do the best with what they have.”

Well, that’s just great. I’m glad my state’s public librarians are being portrayed as savvy, creative, resourceful, and dedicated. However, I think it would be much, much better if, for librarians as well as for teachers, childcare providers, and other service work and traditionally women-dominated professions, we funded adequately and stopped pretending getting by on less than is needed is some kind of unique womanly virtue. It has taken forever to get the people in charge of these types of institutions to realize that these forms of service work are valuable, and that the women doing the work need to survive, not just earn a little pin money. Working long hours for next to nothing is never the ideal to be celebrated. So good for our librarians, but shame on our state, and our stereotypes.

Speaking of “women’s work,” Renee at Womanist Musings has an excellent post on motherhood and perceptions of the value of different women’s children, “Whose Children Count?” She writes:

As a society we pay a lot of lip service to respecting motherhood, but in truth unless you are of a certain colour or class, it is more likely that you will be punished, or somehow stigmatized for “choosing” to give birth. The pro life movement has dedicated itself to ending abortion but offer no good solutions to help women who decide to keep their babies. There is no social conversation about socialized daycare to make it easier for single mothers to work and raise their children. We “support” a woman staying home to raise her children but if she has to be on social assistance to do it, she is labelled a “welfare queen,” and is told to be grateful, as it is the social myth that these women are living in luxury.

She continues:

Our social obsession with the pregnancy of celebrities is a confirmation of which bodies matter in this society. We care more about these privileged babies than the children that everyday go to school without breakfast.

Good discussion in the comments, too. Tanglethis and Mack, I think Renee’s post may offer some insight as to why the pro-lifers aren’t more worried about the baby in the case of Juana Villegas DeLaPaz.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. library_chic permalink
    July 17, 2008 8:41 am

    I used to work in a public library, in a pretty well-to-do county here in TN, and would get so frustrated that our patrons kept asking for more and more things from us without fighting for more funding for us as well. It got to the point where I was trying to convince the library that they should say something like “We’d love to offer [whatever], but we can’t do that without cutting something else or receiving more funding”.

    If we’d stop working “long hours for next to nothing”, and stop making do with whatever we can beg from the community, maybe people would realize that libraries *do* need money to do all the things we do.

  2. July 17, 2008 10:38 am

    Ha, I thought you’d write about this, Rachel. Nashville has the worst collection of any public library system I’ve ever dealt with. Not only don’t (well, can’t) they buy a lot of books I’d like to read, but several times a year I request a book that’s supposedly in the collection but has gone missing (i.e. someone walked off with it). And I admire the hell out of librarians who manage to make the system work for most of the patrons. But you left out what, to me, was the most striking point of the article, the part that explains the low funding and which ought to make Tennesseans more ashamed that anything else: TN also has one of the lowest rates in the country of people who use libraries. People here don’t read! I’m on the bus every day, and in any other city I’d expect to see a quarter of the riders with their noses in a book, magazine, or newspaper. Here, it’s more like one in ten riders. I don’t get it.

  3. July 17, 2008 11:08 am

    Well, we rank pretty poorly on education as well – something a vibrant library community might be able to help a bit with. It seems like kind of a vicious cycle.

  4. July 17, 2008 12:15 pm

    Oh, sure, and you have those who do read feeling like they don’t want to wait until the copy of whatever book they want gets found so they just go out and buy it, so why should they pay higher taxes to support a library they don’t use? Not me, of course, since I can’t afford to buy books, but a lot of people generally. And those same folks send their kids to private schools, so….

  5. July 17, 2008 12:23 pm

    nm, those people have no feeling for the joy of discovering the old, the non-commerical, or the unexpected.🙂

  6. July 17, 2008 2:38 pm

    Well … sometimes they just can’t wait, ya know? When I had a bigger income I bought books right when they came out, myself. But I agree that the greatest pleasures a library can bring are often found by browsing the shelves. I never feel the same way about browsing on-line catalogs; there’s something about picking a book off the shelf because it was next to the one you were looking for, dipping into it, and finding out that you like it.

    I’m ready to bet that the book the guy gave you on the bus had nothing non-commercial or unexpected about it, but did have plenty of detailed descriptions of petting above the waist.

  7. July 17, 2008 4:34 pm

    Good point. I think that there’s an extension of that cultural myth that middleclass heteronormative white people become parents*, and everyone else breeds because they simply can’t help themselves. That kind of thinking – which isn’t even thinking, it’s just a pattern of assumption that’s somehow gotten lodged into American imagination – makes La Paz responsible for the unfortunate treatment of her baby because it was her fault she had a baby in the first place, let alone in the United States.
    Sigh.

    *I was thinking about the “heteronormative” part recently in a discussion with a girl about Thomas Beattie. She said, “I just think pregnancy should be natural!” and I didn’t think fast enough to say, “How do you feel about fertility treatments?” I’d actually kind of like to hear your thoughts on “male pregnancy” sometime, Rachel. It seems to get people pretty riled up about what’s “right,” but you’re pretty consistently interested in what benefits the wellbeing of women and mothers.

  8. July 17, 2008 6:08 pm

    nm, I think your description of the book is going to be accurate.🙂

    tanglethis, I’m going to have to think about that one some more. Good post topic for sometime…

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