Thursday, 29 October 2009

"On the Fulfillment of a Dream."

I’m very happy to announce that next month one of my short stories will be published in First Edition Magazine #10.

This represents the culmination of three years of trying to get my fiction published either in print or on the internet. It fulfils the dream that I referred to in this post as the only life dream I had. I could not be happier with the magazine that finally accepted my work: First Edition is one of the few printed fiction magazines in distribution in the UK and is the second magazine listed in my guide to short fiction publications.

The story itself is the first one I wrote after an extended period of not writing fiction. During my third year of university I couldn’t find the time to indulge my hobby but immediately after my dissertation and my exams were finished, I started writing again: over the summer I produced 4 short stories and 2 pieces of ‘flash fiction’ of varying quality. The story that is getting published is actually the one I’m most proud of (even though I could never find the perfect title for it: the one I settled on feels somewhat disingenuous). The story is a conscious attempt to write in the style of Jorge Luis Borges and one of the characters is named for Italo Calvino.

First Edition #10 will be published mid-November and is available from specialist stockists like Borders and Waterstones or can be purchased online.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

"Things worth fighting for."

Tonight’s episode of Question Time -10.35pm on BBC One – will feature the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin.

This appearance follows a debate concerning censorship and the objectivity of the BBC. A number of people would censor Nick Griffin on the grounds his far-right opinions are offensive, ill-considered, illogical, hateful, and harmful; that by allowing him to have his say, his opponents give legitimacy to his vitriol; that the best way to deal with the hate-filled individuals who vote for the BNP is to treat them like children and ignore them.

The wonderful thing about logic is that the logical option does not always benefit the person who holds it: logic allows us to overcome our prejudices and selfishness by giving our thought processes over to something larger than ourselves. My moral principles are based on logic and so while I would like to censor Nick Griffin, my principles will not allow it: if all human beings have equal rights and all have an equal right to express themselves, then even humans whom I disagree with have an equal right to express themselves. Logically they must then extend the same courtesy to their opponents lest they get mired in contradiction.

I feel this requires further explanation. all people have the equal right to express themselves but that does not mean that what they express is equally valid. Statements have values: the statement 'Whales are conspiring to destroy the Moon' has less value then the statement 'Plants perform photosynthesis to produce energy' - I am therefore legimately entitled to refer to the first statement as 'stupid'. Inductive reasoning of Nick Griffin's past statements reveal that his statements tonight will probably lack qualities of education and reasoning and will hence probably have less value than those of his fellow panellists. The point is that he has an equal right to say them. Freedom of speech requires that we allow all statements to be equally said not that we have to treat all statements as equally valid.

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” – John Stuart Mill.

Such logical reasoning is typical of the political left and liberals. We quietly intellectualise and point to logic and history as indicators of the contradictions and horrors that a far-right agenda can allow. When a group of people arise whose argument is too stupid to debate, we fail to engage them: ‘Why treat people equally? Well, the contradictions arising from the alternative are too numerous and obvious to go into.’ But then stupid people listen to the stupid argument and soon two of the stupid people are voted into democratic government.

Freedom and equality are so obviously good things that we didn’t think we had to fight for them. We allowed our parents and our grandparents to do that for us. And now people who don’t understand want to take them away and the time to fight has come. We have to let people like Nick Griffin onto the political stage so that we can fight them. We have to show that our ideas are stronger and that logic defeats hate. We have to fight for freedom even if the battle is a small one.

“If you're in favour of freedom of speech, that means you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” - Noam Chomsky.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

"The blind leading the blind."

This week I have an interview for a part-time Library Assistant job in a university library. I’m more nervous than usual about it because this is a job that would be enjoyable, great for my career, and good for my studies. In other words, it is a job that I actually want. Past experience of interviews for library positions gives me some idea of what to expect.

There are usually a few generic interview questions: the kind one would get asked for any customer service or administrative position:

  • Why do you feel you would be suited for this job? This is an opportunity to mention your skills, training, background in the relevant sector, and general passion for the work.
  • Give an example of your work with customers. Example questions call for specific anecdotal accounts. One can mention helpfulness, experience dealing with a range of people, and ability to work under pressure. Can be further specialised as Give an example of handling a difficult customer.
  • Give an example of your work within a team. This can be a struggle: I struggle to simultaneously show that I can work with people and maintain independent initiative. As above, it’s good to give specific examples and definitive teamwork results.

Then there are the library/information profession specific questions:

  • Why do you want to work in libraries? Nowadays it isn’t enough to like books and not be completely repugnant: libraries are often looking for people who aren't stereotypical hair-in-a-bun shushy librarians. It can also be good for males since the profession is currently dominated by females.
  • What developments will affect libraries in the near future? In the past I have tried to field this question by mumbling something about the Internet and using the phrase ‘digital revolution’ a lot. It’s better to have specific knowledge of current developments. Check out CILIP’s Library and Information Gazette.
  • What will happen to the library profession in the future? This question refers to the long-term future of libraries and the changing role of information professionals? Public librarians often tell me that they are expected to be all things to all people: to answer any question and provide any service. This is due to the growth of information as a societal commodity and librarians’ role as custodians and facilitators of that commodity.
  • How would you improve libraries in the [insert sector here] sector? This requires some prior consideration – I’ve discovered from experience that plans dreamt up on the spot are rarely feasible or coherent.
  • Where do you see your career in [X amount of years]? This is personal although it helps if you can show how the job you are interviewing for fits into your future plans.

Finally I was taught to always ask questions at the end of an interview – it shows your interest in the position and opens up a topic to talk about if you’re given a tour of the building or walked to the door. This is a good article about attitude and general interview tips. And though I’m sure it’s not required to memorise sections of the Dewey Decimal Classification, I found the time to do so anyway.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

"The Information Fraternity."

One of the library profession’s major attractions is the community. Since beginning to pursue this career, I’ve been surprised by the strong community of librarians and information professionals: the unique shared experiences and the unusual passion of such people creates between them a far stronger social bond than I’ve witnessed in any other area.

The nature of library work immediately brings a cornucopia of experiences shared with anyone else in the profession. Information work is filled with strange rituals, interesting characters, and a range of in-jokes: the customers who have only vague details about the book they want (“It has a red cover.”), the patrons who know more than you do about opening times and library procedures, the old men who return paperback Westerns by the shelf-full before returning with piles to check out, the sacrosanct yet completely arbitrary Dewey Classification. As well as this ‘nurture’ aspect, librarians often (but not always) share a ‘nature’: a desire to organise, classify, straighten, and above all read.

Perhaps because of this, librarians and information professionals maintain a vibrant and inclusive blogosphere. organises and categorises hundreds and library and librarian blogs. A good example of the library bloggers’ community spirit is The Library Routes Project. Little over a week ago, WoodsieGirl blogged about her beginnings as a librarian and in a series of comments, the wikiman developed the idea of collecting people’s library origins. In a matter of days, the wikiman launched The Library Routes Project inviting everyone across the library blog landscape to share their stories. Since launching a few days ago the wiki has collected over 20 people’s experiences.

In my previous life as a philosopher, I experienced the philosophy community – one that is aptly summed by Burke’s Unending Conversation Metaphor. The philosophy community is fun with interesting in-jokes and a penchant for novelty T-shirts but philosophy is essentially a lone pursuit and so the community is essentially an analytic aggregate of individuals rather than a synthetic whole. Prior to discovering librarianship, I dipped into the law community and discovered an ubër-capitalist, quasi-libertarian, ‘every-man-for-himself’ mentality such as that possessed by the contestants on The Apprentice. It left me cold and so I moved from the detached selfishness of lawyerly people to the warm friendliness of library people, a community like none of known before.