Thursday, April 03, 2008

I feel so good I'm gonna break somebody's heart tonight

rain on a columbine leaf

I used to be a serious metadata standards geek. Nigh-on world-class, jettin' off to meetings around the world, people askin' me serious questions about TIFF headers, naming algorithms, finely-crafted XML (you're supposed to say "well-formed" but that was my little joke - as if stylesheets were artisanal cheeses). I worked on the development of some kind of data standard that would allow museum collections to be searchable across collections, a Worldcat for objects.

I liked being that girl. It's one of the reasons people become librarians, so that they can be the one with the answers. I even kind of enjoyed that persistent low-level panic, dreading the moment that someone drops a new acronym that you've never heard of and oh shit, all these people are going to find out that I'm not a coder.

Super people, in that milieu. A disproportionate number of them are like something out of Tolkein (yes I'm talking about you Paul Miller) - with pointy ears, or very small hands, or lots and lots of hair - but they're funny in the way that some really really smart people develop so that they don't get the shit kicked out of them in school, and, as I mentioned, they're really really smart.

So now, here I am. Forty-year-old part-time librarian in Baltimore. Today I did three loads of laundry and cooked for two families, all by noon. Could I have whipped out a pork roast and mashed potatoes for a family that's having a rough time when I was in NYC and working in museums? Jesus, between trips to Minneapolis and Birmingham, and given the logistics of carting a pork roast across town on the subway, I think we would have to say NO.

The other day our local candy therapist had a post about kind of just this very thing. She was talking about being "little", about how having a candy shop and cooking dinner and airing her grievances at the kitchen table felt better than charging around the Big City (in her case, D.C.) and trying to bellow a little louder than everybody else.

I'm for it. Every now and then I pick up a little piecework at one of the local art museums. I get kind of a charge out of sliding into the old familiar lingo, flexing a few muscles that don't get much play lately, discussing how best to get from Point A to Point B, where Point A is x$ + y museum objects + your existing lame-ass tragically inconsistent and potentially inaccurate objects database, and Point B is Getting Everything Cataloged and Online.

I mean, nowadays, for me, Point A is mostly "I need a book?" and Point B is "Here is a book."

But the fact is, "Here is a book" right now feels more important to me than Everything is Cataloged and Online. I know good and goddamn well how many people in the world benefit from having the world's largest collection of transferware porcelain fully described and online for the world to see. (That collection is - debatably - at the Met, and the people who are devoted to it are DEVOTED to it. Weirdos.). But I also know how many people benefit from me saying "Here is a book."

Over the course of, I don't know, 7 years working toward a museum interchange standard, we did not, as one might say, get that done. I did, however, assist several museums in getting their shit online.

On the other hand, I have been a part-time public librarian for 4 years this month, and I have helped approximately 33,696 people find that book (or phone number, or Internet resource, or movie, CD, game, magazine, legal citation, recipe, definition). That's based on 12 interactions per hour.

However, Jessamyn West, co-editor of Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out and all-around admirable person, linked to my Fug the READ poster posts today, and I got what for me would be a week's worth of hits in ONE DAY, and I felt a little... big. And it felt pretty neat.