December 22, 2006

State your purpose

There are some people that always seemed to have a purpose, or at least a clear set of goals. They came to college knowing what they would major in and left college knowing where they wanted to work, and planned where they wanted to live, and knew they wanted to get married and have a family, etc.

Not me. I don’t generally have a clear plan for next week, let alone the next few years of my life. I’ve been told that having a clear sense of what you want to accomplish makes it easier to actually accomplish things, but usually I think that’s just crazy talk.

So when I had to write a Statement of Purpose for my grad school application, I struggled mightily at first. I couldn’t just say “I want to be a librarian because I really like books and working for a gigantic corporation doesn’t always sit well with my activist tendencies,” though that’s pretty much how I decided to go to grad school. However, I soon discovered I had a lot of very strong opinions about what being a librarian might mean. And this week I was wondering how I would feel, after several semesters in the program, about what I wrote back then.

In my Statement (and yes, I always do think of it as a capitalized "S" Statement), I talked about how similar my role as a systems analyst is to being a librarian. Both roles are ultimately about getting relevant information to people in an accessible and useable format. My classes, particularly Services to Underserved Populations, reinforced, and actually politicized, the value of this function. I fiercely believe equity of access to information is one of the fundamental prerequisites for a functioning democracy. Inequity of access, due to disability or poverty or lack of educational opportunities, is a worthwhile thing to fight against.

In the second part of my Statement, I was much more explicit about the activist potential of librarianship. I said:

While several of my friends complained recently about the dearth of good role models for teenage girls, I realized I did have many of them as a teenager, courtesy of my mother the librarian and her insistence that I balance my steady diet of Sweet Valley High and Seventeen Magazine with a very different kind of literature. I grew up reading stories prominently featuring bright, brave, physically strong women and girls: the female knights and sorceresses in Tamora Pierce’s novels, brave and brainy Meg from A Wrinkle in Time and many others whose triumphs and struggles had little to do with a dreamy boyfriend, radiant complexion, or giraffe-like thighs. I want to help promote these radically different visions of femininity and success by exposing other young women to these kinds of role models at the critical juncture of adolescence.

Two years later, I still believe this. My Young Adult Literature professor did manage to convince me that teenage boys exist and are important too, but really, I got into this business mostly because of the girl books.

And that’s why what my mom sent me yesterday is so incredibly touching.

On the outside they look like just another teen fantasy series, perhaps featuring a feisty young woman who triumphs over various obstacles through her courage and pluck. While I do adore those sorts of books, it’s actually ever so much cooler.

Check it out.

Tamora Pierce is pretty much my hero - though she herself, adorably, prefers the term “shero” for her characters. She has been my hero since I first read the novel Alanna close to twenty years ago. Every time I open one of her novels, I am intensely grateful someone is writing these lively, wonderful, empowering-but-not-preachy stories for young girls, and she continues to inspire me whenever I reread her books.

So having a book signed “women rule” by her? So freaking cool.

And my mom? So freaking awesome.

No comments: