fatalist librarian

One of the things that they say about my region, the Mountain South/Southern Appalachia, is that we have a certain bent. An attitude. And its origins are religious. It is fatalism.

It is stereotyped as hyper-Calvinist, trapped in a fatalism and passivity that strips Appalachia’s people of power over their own destinies.

The quote is from an entry on Old-Time Religion appearing in the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.

While I pondered this entry, Penelope Trunk made an amazing, to me at least, connection between work and religion.

Adult life is often about making horrible choices that feel like blood letting.

Where else do you hear about this except in religion? Adam and Eve face this problem and that’s what the history of humankind is built on. That’s the narrative of religion. And it’s more helpful than the narrative that you can have everything. Because you can’t. And you need some preparation for that.

She writes that the thing to attend to at work is good deeds. Oh, and be personally responsible. The latter is at odds with the orientation of the native Appalachian.

Fatalism partially explains why the people of Appalachia are victims of corporate America. The reasons are complex, and not every person in the region has been victimized, but that’s too much to go into in this post. Appalachians don’t fight back because religion teaches them that suffering is good and that you shouldn’t worry with worldly things because you will get your reward in Heaven. It’s mixed with a bit of determinism and there you have a region of people who are complacent about their lot in life because they were taught they’re where God wants them to be. If you take an Eastern view, which the folk of Appalachia are not wont to do, then reincarnation is a suitable parallel.

If you think about it, librarianship is also fatalistic. We are powerless to do anything. Events are fixed and we have no recourse, no effect on the outcome. Then again, maybe, events are not so much fixed, as fated. Even, divinely fated, and who can understand the whims of their particular deity? Or a particular Board of Commissioners of University President?

Libraries are black holes. Libraries are under-funded, under-staffed. Librarians are unappreciated. Falling into a fatalistic mindset is easy. Stewing  in that attitude leads to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. Once you’re mired in those deep, deep mindsets, defeat is imminent.

Defeat is just hard. It’s physically draining. It poisons thought processes and doesn’t leave librarians with energy to get beyond the daily duties of running a library. It’s infectious, pervasive. If one librarian is defeated and brings that perspective to every encounter, every meeting, resisting the gloom is difficult.

Isn’t it great how everything turns out differently than you thought? For example,  the inspiration for this post grew when I read a summary of Robert Rubis’s  brand of fatalism.

This is what caught my eye:

Should I continue to obsess about flavor-of-the-week technological wizardry, or should I concentrate on rubber-meets-road learning skills that will transcend “the long emergency”, when being able to learn, from a technology not dependent on electricity, how to purify unsafe drinking water, will be a skill more prized than knowing how to assemble a cloud-based mashup of irrelevant extrivianza?

It resonated with me because my early religious indoctrination taught me to be skeptical of worldly things. You  know, the whole “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on Earth” (Matthew 6:19). It doesn’t make much sense to write about not storing up treasures on Earth in one sentence and then write about preserving print collections further on because its so contradictory. Because I’m contradictory. We all are at some level.

Print collections are “treasures on Earth,” right? They’re physical, worldy objects.

I value print because I expect that an energy crisis will wipe out computers and the internet. Maybe not in my lifetime. It will happen because no government is adequately addressing and planning for an impending energy crisis.

Why store all your treasures in Heaven, when you’ll need them on Earth? Why digitize books and articles and store the data online, when the medium hasn’t proven sustainable? We have server outages several times a year on campus and must rely on finding information the old-fashioned way, through books. Or we rely on memory and expertise.

So why teach students how to access databases that they’ll never be able to afford once they’re out in the “real world?”

One of the Twilight Zone episodes informed my philosphy, my beliefs about the endurance of the library. It’s intertwined with fatalism and irony.

Time Enough at Last was adapted from a short story written by Lyn Venable. Burgess Meredith, who many of us loved as Rocky’s trainer Mickey Goldmill, is a dreamer. And he loves to read. Each time he settles in with a book, he’s interrupted by his wife. By his boss. He imagines an utopia in which he has all the time in the world to read all the books of the world.

Disaster strikes. He’s the only man left alive on earth. He stumbles into a library. Ah, Heaven. Finally, he can be happy. He is actualized. He’s living the Dream. He stumbles and loses his glasses.

He steps on them and breaks them.

The concluding line from the episode:

The best laid plans of mice and men and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis…in the Twilight Zone.

So this wasn’t where I hoped to go with this post, as usual.

Instead of being motivational or offering strategies for dealing with problems facing librarians, I’ve simply taken a can opener to my head and spilled out the contents on this page.  It’s a jumble.

The problem is: How do you go on? How do you, as an academic librarian, prepare students? The answer is quite plain: We can’t. We do the best that we can. We teach them all that they’re interested in learning, and that varies from campus to campus. We teach for the present, not the past or the future.

7 thoughts on “fatalist librarian

  1. Your line, “I expect that an energy crisis will wipe out computers and the internet. Maybe not in my lifetime. It will happen because no government is adequately addressing and planning for an impending energy crisis.”

    is right where I’m at. If it’s not government bungling, it will be natural disaster (2 earthquakes and a tsunami in my neck of the woods this week), or the knock-on effects of global warming (100s dead in Manila from typhoon-induced flooding, with a “super-typhoon” about to landfall today)

    Thanks for picking up the thread of my post – whereever it leads us.

  2. Thanks for following up with me and commenting, Robert. Your concerns are ones that we all should share and prepare for. I hope that your post leads us to address the issue of disaster “management.”

  3. Ooh shoot i just typed a huge comment and as soon as i submitted it it come up blank! Please tell me it worked properly? I do not want to write it again if i dont have to! Either the blog glitced out or i am an idiot, the latter doesnt surprise me lol.

  4. Pingback: print-loving librarian « adj.librarian

  5. Pingback: realistic librarian « adj.librarian

  6. Pingback: cloudy librarian « adj.librarian

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