Do you have a deep appreciation for the library system and wonder what kinds of ethical and political concerns those in the field deal with every day? Are you curious as to why someone would choose this career path? Are you thinking about this career path yourself? For insight, listen to my three audio essays in which UMich librarians/archivists and I discuss these questions and concerns.
As you peruse my site, send some good thoughts my way. This has been my last wonderful semester as a University of Michigan undergraduate student. I graduate this week, start my brief hiatus from school, and await grad school application decisions. I send good thoughts to all of you as fellow Minors in Writing. You’ve got this!
After so many weeks (thirteen? fourteen? I’ve lost count) of thinking about my capstone project and wondering what it’s final form will be, I’m finally putting it all together on a project website.
What a relief it is to realize that this whole time I was really creating something cohesive and fully formed! I wasn’t so sure for a while. But making something public-facing kind of forces you to get there, I think.
My website features three complete audio essays, a nice About Page, and some pretty cool bios (my case studies are incredible people, please see for yourself when I launch the website!). The color scheme is reminiscent of a public library– just what I was going for.
The project is wrapping itself up, and I do feel as if it’s been pulling me along throughout the semester, not the other way around. Making a project site, where this work will live as long as the internet does, is a sure sign that I’ve accomplished something. Things are starting to feel complete.
Until this week, I had only a vague concept of my project’s final form. That can be expected when you decide to center your whole project around case studies, and you want to leave room for the interviews to go in a variety of directions. It’s difficult to express the scope of your project when you need your subjects to define that for themselves. I don’t want to speak for my subjects; the goal of my project is to learn from them.
I got very lucky in that each of my three case studies represents a distinct aspect of librarianship. I’ve interviewed an archivist, a librarian, and a curator. The themes of their work and their most prevalent concerns regarding ethics in the field as a whole are both separate and intertwined. The interviews were highly informative and just so exciting for someone pursuing a graduate degree in the same field that these people have been so successful in. The scary part of this is now having to draft narratives around their experiences in a way that does these individuals justice and is contained within the bounds of my research. I know a fraction of what they know, but I have to somehow become familiar with a lot of it in the next few weeks.
What do I know about donor consent for archival materials? Archiving activism in the digital age? Systematic inequality within librarianship? The problem of the MLS degree? Digitizing material that wasn’t originally meant to be public? Undergraduates access to archives for research in a time when everything else is online? The answer is: very little. But my incredible case studies have taught me a lot and pointed me in the directions of notable primary and secondary sources for people who want to learn about these issues. I have a lot to learn before I can write successfully about where I see myself in this field.
My biggest fear with this project is not producing something that reflects my passion for librarianship and that does not adequately convey the respect I have for my case studies and their work. I’m worried the narrative won’t be clear, the project site won’t match the content, and that my case studies might be disappointed. At the same time, these interviews have been so exciting, and I’m feeling incredibly motivated in my pursuit of this career. That was the whole purpose of doing this project now, in my last semester of undergrad as I prepare for grad school. One of my case studies even offered to stay in contact for when I finish my degree and begin looking for a job. In that sense, it’s already a huge success. Fingers crossed all other big hopes for the project work out.
This Albert Einstein quote appears on a bookmark that was brought home to me from the British Library this summer. It’s currently tucked inside the last chapter of Jia Tolentino’s new book (which is incredible, by the way). Often, when I tell people I’m studying to be a librarian, they laugh and say they’ve never heard someone say that’s what they want to be. But I do. This career perfectly incapsulates everything that I value. I’ve decided to use my Capstone project to explain why.
I came up with four pitches for the Capstone project, as instructed. They were not thought through as well as they probably should have been. I know myself. Either I formulate half an idea and call it good or I spend hours making elaborate plans for just one idea until I absolutely hate it. My first two ideas drew on previous research I’ve done. Those projects define my undergraduate experience as a fledgling archivist and historian, but I just didn’t see them fitting into the realm of this class after talking them through with my classmates and T.
So the third and fourth pitches came to the front. One of them was about sexual abuse in Opera, and that got the best reaction from the class. I expected that. It is the most timely, so it resonated. My partner is an opera singer, and she’ll be in the chorus this fall for the very show I pitched doing a case study on. The idea came from her, really. The concept is compelling, and as much as I respect the genre and would love to do research about it, this idea just doesn’t feel like mine. Which brings us to pitch number four: the preservation of knowledge, or who bothers to care for books? Something like that. I don’t want to speak too soon. We all know how these things tend to change form over and over again. It happened in Gateway, it’ll certainly happen this semester too.
Speaking of this semester, it’s my last one. I’ll graduate in December, do some more work in archives and the Donald Hall Collection (the film/screenplay library on the sixth floor of North Quad– please consider it as a resource!) for eight months, and then head to graduate school. So I’m thinking a lot about this next phase of my life, and why it’s so important to me that I pursue a career dedicated to preserving and talking about history. For me, right now, a project like this needs to grapple with those questions. As hard as I tried to pitch a project that dealt with a new topic, it always comes back to what I’m passionate about. I know I’m super lucky to already know what that is. I can’t wait to articulate to you all, in a new format, why librarianship means so much to me.
This past weekend, I did nothing but write and reflect on my content for this project. I did a set of brief interviews with Women’s Studies majors and faculty to assess generational differences in feminists, and I got incredible results. I’ve struggled the most with feeling like my reflections and introductions did these women justice. I didn’t want to sound repetitive, obvious, or out of line when engaging with their quotes. After seeking a lot of advice, and revising countless times, I think I’ve found a good balance. I’m excited to share my finished project with you all at the end of the week!
In 2007, Joyce Johnson did an interview with Laura Barton for The Guardian about navigating the 1950s as the girlfriend of a huge novelist and as an aspiring writer, and how that role overshadowed her own work. In this interview and in many others, Johnson heavily references Kerouac, which Barton notes. Johnson recounts their relationship, most of which is mentioned in her memoirs, but is still very interesting and generous to her listeners. As I finish reading about Johnson’s life and her work, this interview sums it up nicely. Johnson is talented and passionate, and determined to live outside of the shadow Kerouac cast on her life and her success. Even in 2007, she was still working to be known apart from her relationship with Kerouac. All of her work has been well reviewed, but many people still only know her in the context of her writing about her former boyfriend. I hope that changes at some point.
Barton, Laura. “Interview: Joyce Johnson, former girlfriend of Jack Kerouac.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Oct. 2007
Johnson’s novel Bad Connections is characterized as a work of Psychological Fiction and Romance. She writes about a woman who is determined and unyielding. During the Sexual Revolution where there was a great deal of “husband-leaving,” the main character frees herself from one suffocating relationship with a dangerous and unfaithful husband, only to enter into another with a pathological liar whom she shares with another woman. The most notable trait of the main character, Molly, is her sense of irony that ultimately saves her.
Bad Connections was published in 1978 by Putnam Publishing Group.
In Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958, Johnson reveals the letters written between her and Jack Kerouac during their short relationship that began nine months before On the Road was published, and Kerouac became instantly famous. They were two very different people, Johnson being young and determined, and Kerouac nearly burnt out, who were set up on a blind date by Allen Ginsburg. The book fascinates people because it shows a kind and soft side of Kerouac that most were not aware of. She pairs the letters with commentary about being a young woman during the Cold War fifties and her affair with one of America’s most interesting writers.
Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 was published in 2000 by Penguin Books
One of Johnson’s later books, Missing Men: A Memoir, is considered a classic memoir about growing up female in the 1950s, and also chronicles her two unfortunate marriages. The story is both Johnson’s and her mother’s, and describes a life build around absent men. Like most of Johnson’s work, the book is compelling and unique, and captures yet another image of her New York life. It is one of the first in its genre: stories of minor characters in history. The cover of the book is haunting and completely perfect for the story it tells.
Missing Men: A Memoir was published in 2004 by Penguin Books
Johnson’s third novel, In the Night Cafe, is based on the story of her first husband, the painter James Johnson, who was killed only a year after their wedding in a motorcycle accident. A chapter of the novel was first published in Harper’s as a short story, and won first prize in the O’Henry Awards. The story is sad and doomed from the start, and it depicts the debilitating power that memories sometimes have. This novel is said to be the one that established Johnson as one of the best authors of the Beat Generation.
In the Night Cafe was published in 1989 by Washington Square Press