Another Avenue

(Ethan Gates)– It comes with the territory of being a senior that you will constantly be barraged with questions about your plans for the future. Friends, family, professors, casual acquaintances, the barista at Starbucks, that crazy homeless man hanging around outside Bank of America; as soon as anyone finds out that you’re in the last year of your undergraduate experience, they immediately interrogate you about your life goals, and generally conclude with an insistence bordering on the fanatical that you MUST enjoy these precious moments at Amherst while you still can. Oh, and by the way, how was your weekend? Existentially fraught, thanks.

When I have this conversation with anyone who even vaguely knows me already, they pretty much just assume that I’ll be heading off to grad school for film study. I can hardly blame them; that is, after all, the logical next step for the film snob persona I have cultivated for myself. And that’s still the strongest possibility knocking around in my wishy-washy little brain at the moment, although going to grad school for film study is more complicated than most people think: you have to decide whether you’re going to specialize in film theory and criticism, production, or archiving and preservation, and the schools you want to go to can vary widely depending on that choice. What’s an equivocating movie geek to do?

And then there’s library science. Every time I think I’ve made up my mind, I’m just going to apply to the Selznick School or USC or NYU or wherever, something reminds me how much I love libraries. Maybe it’s just talking with my mother, who’s been working at our local public library back home for years now. Maybe it’s just perusing the stacks down in C level, that unmistakable musk of aging paper tickling at my senses.

This is where T. Marx is hanging out these days, btw.

Yesterday, it was an appointment with one of the reference librarians in Frost. I was looking for help finding sources for my thesis; locating Russian texts in particular has been an intimidating prospect. I showed up for the appointment and the librarian had already printed out an entire page of promising sources for me to investigate on my topic. For the next hour he proceeded to guide me through every possible avenue of research available to me, pointing out search aspects in the catalogue I had overlooked, demonstrating how to find Russian language texts with the click of a button, and even recommending that I talk to a couple specific professors whom I hadn’t even considered consulting.

There’s so much information available to us these days, the pure volume of it all can be overwhelming. Libraries and librarians can serve as guides through the chaos; they sift through and sort millions of books, articles, DVDs and essays for us, so that we can have an inkling of what’s relevant to our work.

Yet funding for public libraries is getting slashed nationwide. Somehow, somewhere, somebody decided that libraries are obsolete, just because everyone can get the Internet now and find out what they need from Wikipedia. (Plus, who reads BOOKS? eww, gross, why doesn’t it have a touch screen?) But access was only ever a part of what libraries could offer: they are navigators on an endless sea of words, and I know I for one would rather not just float around by myself and hope for the best.

Yet having met my mother’s co-workers, I can kind of see why libraries are seen as the refuge of technophobic Methuselahs. They’re in desperate need of young blood, people who are familiar with modern methods of information gathering and capable of innovating the traditional circulation model to include e-books and streaming video rentals.

The general attitude of many public librarians.

I still have no idea if I’m going to actually end up applying to any library science grad programs; but I do know that it’s a field in the middle of a fight that I’d be willing to join.