Monkey’s Paw

I had gone to Marrakesh because I had seen a movie once. Actually, a few movies, and in them it always looked so particularly strange. I don’t think I’m the type to use the word Romantic but I thought, “Definitely mysterious.” I wanted that.  Something foreign; a place that smelled like strong spices and weird smoke. I don’t mean that in a racist offensive way, I mean that it looked like a place that had a culture different from Pittsburgh, PA. Or, you know, had culture at all.

A culture other than “urban commute” anyway, which was how I spent a good chunk of my time at that point in my life. I took the train most days to work, if I didn’t oversleep or need to be somewhere at a specific time. Public transit usually would eat up a good three hours of my day when you factored in the walk to and from the station, the waiting, and then the actual travel time. That was on good days when there weren’t fatalities or suicides. But I didn’t have a car, which was good.

So the idea that I might want to do something more exciting with my life should be understandable if you have ever experienced repeatedly watching the same ugly mass produced buildings slide by you while you’re going somewhere you don’t want to go. In my case, it was the cement colored tech sector the Pittsburgh downtown marketers were dubbing “Silicon Strip”. I had been grinding away there in what I’d been told was one of the last unexploited job markets; a place where a reasonably bright man might still make a name for himself.  Because like everyone else on every other urban commute, I knew that to be employable you had to be a wunderkind, and everyone I knew was competing for that title while running out of time.


But Marrakesh. Going there could make me a much more interesting person. Then I would have stories to tell, insights to share, things which might give me an edge in interviews or on dates. Maybe I would accidentally smuggle hashish and end up in an Arab dungeon. Or maybe I would meet a woman that was bad news who’d break my heart, leaving me dark and brooding. Maybe I would discover the meaning of life? Something to single me out from the millions of other drones just like me.

Once I’d thought up the idea I was off and running. It’s funny, as a person, I have never been particularly impulsive. I guess back then I thought I could make up for it by doing something bold for once. I didn’t even shop around much for flights. I think once I made sure my passport was still good I just did a general search and let the algorithm decide.  Because it would have felt good. Different. Which would mean maybe I was going to be different. Let’s call that the beginning of my complete departure from the rank-and-file-young-professional-with-a-conscience-and-24-hour-wireless-access.

I took a leave of absence from work, which they and I both knew equated to quitting, because  they certainly weren’t going to hold my place for me. But the pretense avoided the awkwardness of goodbyes or insinuation of judgement on either of our parts. For someone who relied on job security for peace of mind, this was huge, although somehow it didn’t feel huge.  I guess I figured I was going to come back a different, better person anyway and would then deserve a job that would meet my expectations while recognizing my increased market price. Other than that, I didn’t really have anyone I needed to say goodbye to.

After the long and very cramped flight, the ride from the airport to my airbnb was an unexpected but pleasant surprise. The guy was just waiting for me when I got off the plane. At first I wasn’t even sure he really was there for me, as I hadn’t arranged for a Lyft,  but he had a sign with my name on it and was smiling. It naturally made me suspicious, but I shook that instinct off, I figured it was more like the “new me” to take a chance. It was a really good step in the right direction. The guy walked me to a rusty looking motorbike and climbed on. He gestured to the seat and told me to get behind him. I did.

It was amazing. I wasn’t even wearing a helmet and the guy driving made me feel huge. He must have weighed ninety pounds. But it’s hard to take pictures riding on the back of a motorcycle, even if you’re just holding on to the back. It was then I had my first cultural epiphany: “pics or it didn’t happen” is retarded… (as in completely backwards, not in the offensive way).

It turned out the guy on the bike, Mehdi, was also my host. This was convenient but honestly I was a little disappointed. That meant one less person in Marrakesh I could call my friend later on. But then Mehdi showed me my room which had hot tea and cakes already laid out for my arrival. The walls were sweating and there were the necessary cockroaches and a TV from 1987. It was great. I was exhausted and the mattress was clean enough, but I didn’t sleep well. I was worried about what I’d gone and done with my life. The next morning Mehdi looked me over and recommended that I get lost in the souks as soon as possible.

The souks. My god! It was an assault on all my senses at once. That wasn’t as pleasant as I thought it would be, but man, it got the brain going. It actually made me kind of ill, but in a good way. The charcoal soot briquettes they used at the food stalls made dark clouds of smoke that mixed with the smell of toasted sesame seeds and anise. And in between it all, hundreds of cars and motorcycles poked and prodded their way around streams of people and carts full of garlic, ginger, hot chiles or freshly dyed scarfs and hats and everything was red, orange or blue. And everyone was yelling. Sometimes over the traffic, sometimes to get my attention. I don’t know.

Now, like I said, back in Pittsburgh when I used to shop online I’d buy stuff for work like nice suits and travel bookings for conferences. I would spend hours price comparing and doing per-hour cost breakdowns. I didn’t have an assistant like I had been led to believe I would, and so I did a lot of that kind of work myself. I thought I was pretty good at it. Turns out, online negotiating has absolutely nothing to do with an actual Arab marketplace.

Instead of me being in any sort of control, it was like, every time I picked something up or even looked at it too long a whole dramatic production would be set in motion all around me, without me noticing. There were elaborate plots played out featuring multiple characters, heroes and villains, and beautiful girls in trouble, and me as the gaping audience, all just to get me to buy a tassled hat or a teacup. At first I had no idea about any of it, but slowly  I got to know the stock characters well: the kindly but greedy old man, the young seemingly sympathetic son, the lurking owner in the back, the suspicious shop next door, the doe-eyed ingenue, and an endless and sordid crowd of extras. In every transaction they all had their part to play, and they would simply switch roles with somebody else the next day. It kept it interesting.

As for the merchants, from them the whole glorious world of language was opened to me. Not just Arabic, French and pidgin-English, but all sorts of subtle body language, facial expressions, and finger gestures. Everything took on meaning and indicated something very specific, if I paid close enough attention.  It seems almost wrong to just call it “haggling”. It set my brain on fire. How quickly the thoughts came and went. It was beyond imagination.

The first few weeks learning all these new things were a blur. Every day I found myself lost and wandering through the marketplace, eating just to have a place to sit down. I found out everything was delicious. I finally realized why people like tea. One day I’d somehow haggled a good price for a hammam, which is sort of like a Turkish sand massage and so even  my skin was raw and exposed to the weird sun. Maybe all these things combined with the spices in the air and the language in my ears produced a kind of sensory overload that made me kind of perpetually high. I think my senses had been dulled for so long eating WholeFoods, looking at cement and cement-colored buildings, listening to my earbuds, checking my phone and smelling nothing but dude deodorant and laundry all the time that it all overwhelmed me. But whatever it was, for the first time in a long time…the first time maybe ever…I was happy. I was living.

It must have been about a month and some change into the trip that I sort of came out of the daze, if you could call it that. The intoxication of intense life being lived around me finally became second nature and my money was beginning to run low. I wasn’t going to last for too much longer. This woke me up a bit to the reality that II had to start getting some real adventures under my belt if I was going to make this trip a worthwhile endeavor.

Mehdi’s cousin, Youssef, and his wife Imane lived upstairs and they or one of their kids or cousins (I was never sure which) was always checking in on me or making me try something strange to eat. One of them had been telling me about this place called Ait-Benhaddou in the High Atlas mountains.It was supposed to be some ancient city that had been the center of the world once upon a time but now was pretty creepy looking. I decided that sounded like a good place. Hiking up a big mountain named after a Greek demi-god…or was Atlas a Titan? Either way, it was something specific I could later point to. Maybe I would be hurt or need a sherpa or oxygen.

Youssef and Imane insisted I not go on one of the pre-packaged tours because they said they were scams. So with some help from the kids, I somehow figured out the bus schedules. Needless to say my phone had been useless since I arrived and anyway I’d sworn off internet.

I was at the pickup point behind the Koutoubia mosque before 3:30 am and lo and behold, a bus rolled up out of the half-darkness. It was me and a couple of National Geographic reporters on board. Everyone else seemed to be locals who I guessed lived or worked up there in the mountains. The bus was old, but had carpets and curtains on everything. I had by this time gotten really good at sleeping anywhere, so by keeping my head down I was able to snooze until the sun came up and it got too warm. When I woke up I found myself looking down on the smog and dust of Marrakesh through the window to the valley below.

It was still afternoon when the bus got to the end of the paved road. You had to either walk or take a taxi to get up the dirt lane that led into the clay city of Ait-Benhaddou and I chose to walk. It was about five miles, which was just long enough that I passed once again into the hyperreality of an ancient city. I was really thirsty by the time I got there so I went first thing in search of something to drink.. I found a crumbling hookah lounge and let my feet rest as I smoked the sweet tobacco and drank cup after cup of mint tea.

Within an hour, it seemed the cafe was filled with fezzes and men. The air got so thick my eyes started to burn and I couldn’t see or breathe. I jostled to get out, finally stumbling through a side entrance onto one of the endless connected rooftops that comprised the heart of the old city.

With clay walls and ladders practically surrounding me, a scrawny man with snarls for a beard beckoned me over to his blanket. I actually rubbed my eyes like they do in the movies to make sure the smoke wasn’t making them tweak out, that I was seeing what I saw. That crooked man could have been forty-five or he could have been a hundred. His teeth stood like lonely sentries positioned intermittently around his tobacco stained smile. He invited me to sit down. Mosque bells began ringing and the streets emptied out below us. His blanket was empty of any goods, save a small cushion I proceeded to sit down on

“My friend, you have come a long way to get here,” he said knowingly and with a slightly British accent. “Isn’t it about time you got what what you came for?”

“And what did I come for?” I challenged him, but playfully. I had learned the initial moves of negotiating. I figured he would reveal something truly useless, but I might get a good history out of it along with whatever souvenir he was hiding.

“Fame, riches, eternal life…it all depends on you, my young friend.”

“I suppose you have something that will bring me all of those things?”

“No. But perhaps one of those things…”

From under his kaftan he revealed a battered golden box, although it may have been brass. He placed it before me as though he had the hands of an elegant woman, instead of the yellowed fingers and thick ribbed nails of an old beggar.

“Open it.” he flashed that crooked smile at me again. I was starting to feel lightheaded.

“Shouldn’t you be, like, in prayer with everyone else right now?”

“Leave my own salvation to me. Right now we are concerned with you. Go ahead. Open it.”

Maybe it was the altitude catching up with me. But this seemed like it. Like the thing that was going to transform me forever. I lifted the lid.

Inside, set carefully on a tiny silk cushion, was a small shriveled hand that had been cut off at the wrist. Coarse long hair hung about it in matted, pale whorls. The fingers were blackish, the pads of them pressed flat.

“It’s a monkey’s paw.” I said in disbelief.

“A Moroccan Barbary macaque to be precise. Very rare.” He was so sincere.

“I know this story!” I really was excited, and truly appreciative of his sense of humor. I realized I was probably the thousandth young American searching for his soul to pass by his blanket. It was so postmodern and self-aware. I was really impressed.

“Yes. It’s your story, my young friend.”

“No! I mean, it’s that story were the guy makes wishes on a monkey’s paw and they come true in messed up ways. I think it was CREEPSHOW or The Twilight Zone Movie, whichever had the one with Stephen King,”

“Creepshow? How interesting. So then you know what you must do?”

“Well, if this was real I would get three wishes and then…”

“ONE wish!” he interjected, harshly.

“Well, in the movie it was three wishes. I mean it’s usually three, isn’t it? With stories?”

“No. It is not. It is ‘usually’ none!” He chastised me like a boss.

“So how much are you asking?”

“Two thousand dirham,” he insisted.

I thought about it. The initial price was way too steep for a morbid souvenir. Too bad, it really was pretty unusual. I reached out my hand to pick it up. As soon as I touched it a freezing shock ran down my spine. It was a neat trick.

“One thousand dirham.” I countered, the paw in my hand. He spat over his shoulder to announce his disgust.

“This is not a bargain. This is an opportunity.” His milky eyes glazed with disappointment. “I thought you were different…”

Looking back, was I different then? Had I changed at all from who I’d been? I thought the answer was yes. I took out my wallet and handed him his money.

Now an approving smirk replaced his scowl.

“You have taken the opportunity. Good. Now. What will you do with it?”

“It might make a cool keychain”, I said.

“No! It is NOT a keychain.” His anger was real this time as he pulled the box away from me.  I thought it must have been a religious thing and I guess it was.

“You do not get to keep the paw. The paw stays with me! One wish. That is what you have contracted for. You make it . Now!”

“Shit,” I thought “I’ve gone and let myself be taken.” This ugly little man had hustled me good. He’d already gotten my money and what did I have? I should have known better, hadn’t I learned anything? I was angry, sure, but more at myself for being so gullible. I must have been fooling myself that I’d learned a damn thing in those souks and sheesha bars and bathhouses in the last few weeks. I was just as mediocre at the game of life as I’d ever been. At that moment, I knew that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d never been good enough. I needed to be better than I was if I was going to make it. Sharper.

With the bitterest words a clever guy can muster I shot out

“Okay, I wish I was smarter!”

The old man’s face registered the words I’d said. I thought he was about to cry. I swear there were tears. But then he just started laughing. It was this really hard, raspy laugh that seemed to come up from his guts or the center of hell.

“Your stories have taught you nothing.” He  removed the paw from my hands and placed it back in the box.

“Go home. You have gotten what you wanted.”

And so I went home. Defeated by the shysters all over again. I packed up my worthless belongings over the next few days and said my goodbyes. I left Mehdi what remained of my money, which was considerable. I gave the souvenirs I’d bought to the kids to sell, if they could. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d failed. I certainly didn’t feel any smarter, that was for sure.

I arrived back in Pittsburgh without any fanfare  on Monday, November 7, 2016. The next day, to my utter horror and amazement, the wish I had made back on the monkey’s paw came true. It came true for a whole lot of us. And it was horrible.  Not because I had become a genius. No. It appeared that overnight, the vast majority of people in the United States had become imbeciles. Sure, I was smarter, technically but only because I was surrounded by morons.

The old man was right. I had learned nothing from the stories.

me and monet

Competency A

Statement of Competency

Core Competency A: demonstrate awareness of the ethics, values and foundational principles of one of the information professions and discuss the importance of intellectual freedom within that profession.


In order to comprehend Competency A, I had to understand and reflect on the value the profession places on ethical responsibility and its relation to good librarianship. In the information culture of 2017 I would define the library’s ethical mission as follows: to promote equal access to information for all while respecting privacy.  This emphasis on equal accessibility of shared knowledge is what steers many, if not all of us, towards public librarianship, and certainly is what sparked my decision to pursue a career in public law librarianship. It is important for librarians to be familiar with the values prescribed to our profession. A love of books and interest in the community, although nice, must come second to a librarian’s dedication to the principles that govern the profession. This is because library and information professionals may be viewed as an army of workers, who, if we remain united in our moral base, can help others facilitate great change and growth. The principles that guide the profession are articulated in several core documents drafted and revised by the American Library Association. These documents are particularly important to an information professional engaged in law librarianship, as there are additional ethical standards connected to the legal profession that must combine (and may conflict) with the principles of public librarianship. In such instances, it is necessary to remember that I am a librarian first, and a legal professional second. The following outlines the controlling documents that guide my conduct:

Intellectual Freedom and the Library Bill of Rights

Because librarianship is an ancient profession, stretching at least as far back as Ashurbanipal in the 7th century BC, it has always been necessary for the mission of a library to be in flux. Recorded information and the principles that guide those charged with maintaining it have evolved over time and reflect the values of their era. In the United States, the ethical constant of those principles is that they must reflect the intellectual environment and cultural landscape they support.

The Intellectual Freedom Manual, 7th edition (ALA, 2006) was created by members of the Office of Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) of the ALA.  This manual offers day-to-day guidance directly from the American Library Association (ALA) on maintaining free and equal access to information for all people.

Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate, and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of work, and the viewpoints of both the author and the receiver of information. 

                                                           -Intellectual Freedom Manual, 7th edition

The history of the Library Bill of Rights is described in librarian and advocate Trina Magi’s History of ALA Policy on Intellectual Freedom (Magi, 2015), which is a supplement to the Intellectual Freedom Manual (ALA, 2006). In 1939 the American Library Association’s Council adopted the Library Bill of Rights (Magi, 2015) a document outlining basic policy on intellectual freedom . At that time, the country was in the midst of confronting the intolerance, both ethnic and political, that was devastating Europe during World War II. It is no surprise then that the focus of much of the Library Bill of Rights then was placed on providing equal representation to the full spectrum of political thought.  Race, nationality, politics and religion would play no part in the selection of materials, except as related to what the people wanted to know about (Magi, 2015). The people should be free to read about whatever they wanted to learn about. It is in this spirit of intellectual freedom, according to Magi (2015), that the ALA defined the library as “an institution to educate for democratic living” (p.44). Similarly, during the era of McCarthyism, the ALA added principles to the Library Bill of Rights to reflect concerns over censorship of media other than books, in the 60s to address issues raised by the civil rights movement in regards to social equality, and again in the 70s to direct gender equality in light of the Feminist movement (Magi, 2015).

Simply put, the ALA looks to expand the Library Bill of Rights as demanded by the society it supports. Today, amendments to the Library Bill of Rights have been focused on matters of the impact of new technologies on user privacy, copyright and the confidentiality of electronic records (Magi, 2015). This is in no doubt prompted not just by the explosion of electronic records, but also by the country’s current concerns with cyber-security in light of terrorist attacks and intellectual property theft. During its 2013–2014 review of ALA intellectual freedom policy statements, the IFC proposed revisions to fourteen existing interpretations, all of which were approved by the ALA Council at the 2014 Annual Conference in Las Vegas (Magi, 2015).

Report of ALA Task Force on Privacy

In 2000, the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) undertook the creation of the American Library Association’s Task Force on Privacy and Confidentiality in the Electronic Environment. The task force’s subsequent report in 2000 (LITA, 2017) outlines recommendations for how librarians should handle privacy in the electronic age. The report urges librarians to become responsible for monitoring informational transactions between large for-profit database companies and the patrons that use their information (LITA, 2017).

LITA’s stance on public versus private information is essential in guiding my conduct as a librarian in situations that often arise in a public law library. Electronic records of legal research and documentation conducted in a public law library by both attorneys and the general public includes especially sensitive information. Court records, police videos, child custody agreements, wills and bankruptcy declarations are only some of the extraordinarily personal and often incriminating information that passes through the library each day. The public uses our law library because we provide access to exorbitantly priced legal databases and materials owned by enormous international information conglomerates (like Elsevier/RELX group), databases that they would otherwise not be able to afford.

I had always approached electronic records in respect to the private companies like WestLaw and LexisNexis, who are quite adamant in their contracts about us providing only limited public access. Users must agree to abide by the company’s terms of use (Thompson-Reuters, 2017) before accessing materials and cannot to create digital copies or post information publicly or for profit, as according to the contract held between the library and Thompson-Reuters, who currently operates WestLaw . However, it was by reading the LITA task force’s report that I became cognizant of the two-way street of these informational transactions. As a librarian, I am also responsible for maintaining the privacy of the patron who uses these databases. As the conclusion to the task force’s report explains “libraries have an important role in educating the public about privacy especially where libraries provide access to technology.” (LITA, 2017) It encourages librarians to inform the public about  user tracking by remote sites, transmittal of personal information in personalization features, subsequent user access to other people’s logs and caches, and screen view privacy. For example, now I inform database users that each time they email themselves a document or conduct a search from a database that a record of the transaction would be recorded by the database. However, this is tempered by the fact that many people use the computers and databases over the course of the day, which ensures a fair level of anonymity.

ALA Code of Ethics and Equitability

There are eight principles stated in the ALA Code of Ethics, statements drafted specifically to act as a guide in the moral and ethical grey area that can arise in library services. Commitment to equal and equitable access to information is the underlying theme of ALA’s Code of Ethics (ALA, 2017). In fact, the first stated principle of is dedicated to providing fair and impartial service to the community the library serves. Of these eight principles, 5 directly address impartiality in the profession. These are listed below:

      I. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.

    III.      We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

   IV. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.

  VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

  VII.    We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources (ALA, 2017).

Overseen by the Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association aimed to translate these principles into actions. It is important to remember though that COPE was and is careful to specify that these statements provide only a framework and that “they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.” (ALA, 2017).

Certainly, full impartiality and equality in access to information is an ideal to strive for, if not an executable reality. Although the framework ALA provides gives us direction, in practice it is up to the librarian to determine what is ultimately the most ethical option. For example, in the law library I have often been exposed to situations where patrons are prevented from performing the research necessary to represent themselves in court by a lack of technological understanding. Databases, websites, and catalogs (even without legal terminology) require a certain level of familiarity with technology that not all sections of public exhibit. The information profession has come to refer to this disparity as digital divide. This this issue has not been given a lot of attention lately (perhaps in the misconception that it will get better with time), the disparity remains a problem.  On too many occasions I have seen patrons in their sixties, forties, and even twenties being unable to navigate websites, use a mouse or type due to lack of exposure to technology. In these instances, I have been asked to perform research and technological functions on their behalf. However, such personal engagement in private interests would cross the line of impartiality as well as privacy. Thus I am forced to weigh the principles of equal access against other ethical concerns.  Guided by the Code of Ethics and the Intellectual Freedom Manual, I have to set and communicate the limits to my technological assistance for the public.

Access and Usability

The “Digital Divide” brings up the subject of usability, a term to describe how easily one can use electronic resources. Usability needs to be considered as a form of access: if the way information is organized by an institution is too specialized, how can it be accessible and how can we, as information professionals fulfill our mission of “promoting equal access to information for all while respecting privacy”? Reference and User Sevices (RUSA) is a division of ALA “interested in the improvement and extension of informational, bibliographical, and research activities in all types of libraries, at all levels and in every subject field” (RUSA, 2017) . Established by the ALA Council in June 1956 (cite), RUSA provides guidelines for maximizing usability. A RUSA task force produced Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians (RUSA, 2003), a guideline that stresses how reference librarians are entrusted with ensuring usability. “Consistent assessment of resources in the context of users’ needs is essential to keep any information service vital and relevant.” (RUSA, 2003). For example, although library technical services methodology, such as MARC 21 records and now RDA may be attempting to standardize the way information is organized, it is only those trained in MARC 21 and RDA that will be able to effectively access and amend those records, thereby undercutting wider access to information.  Another usability barrier to access is lack of streamlined organization. Government websites in particular feature labyrinthian website organization that easily jump you from one government entity to another, leading you off the correct path to gather the information you were initially seeking. A third usability barrier to access is language. For example, if library resources, both electronic and print, are limited to English, this prevents those that do not speak the language from accessing information they may need.


Considering usability as a measure of equality in information access is a topic that I have explored in several classes and papers I have produced since I began the iSchool in 2013. These explorations prove that I am dedicated to maximizing access through usability to promote equal access to information for all.



In my final paper for LIBR 200, Information and Society, I was invited to explore an area of personal interest as related to the field in greater depth. I elected to explore the limiting factors of cataloging practices that rely too heavily on rigid standards, particularly in an information culture that now relies so much on images as visual communication. Research conducted for the paper RECORDING RECORDINGS AND DIRECTING DIRECTORS suggests this is in large part because library catalogers are often not keeping the end-user in mind, stuck instead in formalized conventions of the field, using cataloguing language that those outside the field would be at a loss to understand. Cataloging standards are therefore inadvertently limiting access to information. The diverse forms of media information that we are now communicating with are not being integrated effectively into library catalogs, resulting in clunky, difficult to navigate online catalogs.



In INFO 221, Government Information Sources, I explored the cluttered world of Government information and documentation. In my paper ASSESSING USABILITY IN POPULAR GOVERNMENT WEBSITES I developed a usability evaluation rubric for three government websites, supported by existing literature regarding government website evaluation. Drawing upon concepts examined in the course and  my own original ideas about accessibility, I determined that. The recent surge towards government transparency has led many government organizations, small and large, to offer massive amounts of government information online. This has proved to be a double-edged sword: there is a lot more government information available, but finding precisely what one is looking for has become more difficult. Government websites that maximize usability ensure that greater access to information is the result instead of an overwhelmed user lost in an informational deluge. As a librarian (and particularly as a public law librarian) I am responsible for being aware of usability of public government information. I am now able to assess and navigate common and often complicated government websites to more efficiently provide patrons access to legislative information they need to be effective citizens.




Language can be a barrier to any communication in any context. However, it is in the library profession that we are charged with minimizing barriers to information. How does an information professional deal with issues of language? By learning more languages. According to Camille Rogers survey of the 2010 US Census, Language Use in the United States: 2011 (Rogers, 2013) of 291.5 million American citizens aged 5 and over, 60.6 million people (21 per-cent of the population) spoke a language other than English at home (Rogers, 2013). Of those that do not speak English, almost 37 million people speak Spanish instead, meaning that over 12% of the US population speaks Spanish. Therefore it seems imperative to have at least one Spanish speaking staff member or else deny members of the community access to library resources.  With the principle of promoting equal access to information for all, I enrolled in SPAN 132, Beginning Spanish. This class was a joint venture of the School of Library and Information Science and the Department of World Languages and Literatures. In this course I was introduced to the foundations of the Spanish language. The course focused specifically on situations in the library, preparing us to better assist patrons whose primary langauge is Spanish with their research needs. The course activities emphasized the reference interview, as well as the use of information and communication technologies to assist with language translation. The recording included below, “¿Tienen películas…?” was an oral assignment centered around directing patrons towards particular areas of the library, with a focus on multimedia holdings. This was a partnered project and I worked with fellow MLIS student Mindie Marsh to draft and record a Spanish dialog. I am now able to greet Spanish-speaking patrons and offer them limited assistance, rather than referring them to other organizations or turning them away.



I have demonstrated my achievement in Core Competency A through the focus on usability and end-user issues. In both my research and my conduct in the law library I have . I am now able to navigate difficult situations where conflicts of ethical principles arise by using ALA’s core documents: the Library Bill of Rights, the Code of Ethics, and ALA’s specialized task force reports by LISTA and RUSA as reference to guide me. My evidence and the experiences I have described above show that I have internalized the values, ethics, and foundational principles of the information profession and can use them to dictate my actions, ensuring that I will promote equal access to information for all while respecting privacy.


Sources and Citations:

American Library Association (2006). The American library association’s task force on privacy

and confidentiality in the electronic environment. Retrieved from


American Library Association (2017). Code of ethics. Retrieved from


Magi, T. (2015). History of ALA policy on intellectual freedom. Chicago: American Library Association editions.


Office for Intellectual Freedom (2006). Intellectual freedom manual, 7th edition. Chicago: American Library



Rogers, C. (2013). Language use in the United States: 2011. United States census bureau.

Retrieved from


RUSA Task Force on Professional Competencies (2003). Professional competencies for reference and user

services librarians. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 42(4), 290.

Retrieved from


Thompson-Reuters (2017). Terms of use. Retrieved from

Statement of Philosophy



A personal philosophy is a difficult thing to express, particularly in one piece of writing, because a personal philosophy (if it truly is philosophy and not dogma) must continue to undergo examination and evolution. In classical philosophy, rational theory is applied to real life scenarios, and the results constitute experience. In this manner thought, action, and proof combine and slowly, knowledge develops into wisdom. In the course of this program, I have seen the refinement of my core principles regarding librarianship as exposure to here-to-for unfamiliar theories of library and information science have led me to apply new values to everyday scenarios. With this statement, I hope to articulate the virtues that led me to pursue a degree in Library and Information Science, the standards that I have learned through the MLIS program, and the moral direction I hope to take for the future.

When discussing the virtues that led me to librarianship as a career, I must first contextualize my concept of librarianship within the area of public law librarianship, as it is public law librarianship that is my area of interest for long-term career development. It is in this area of practice that I am morally invested and ethically passionate. Public law librarianship refers to assisting the public (including legal professionals) with access to print and digital collections of legal materials. Each public law library collection is specifically designated for use by any member of the public in the pursuit of legal knowledge. Usually, regular public libraries do not have the necessary funding or expertise to include and support professional level legal materials within their collection. The extraordinarily expensive and highly specialized legal information and literature represents a level of scholarship usually reserved for elites and academics, therefore databases are members-only and collections are usually housed in private law firms or law schools with private librarian staff support. Public law libraries, capitalizing on the progressive movement in the early part of the 20th century, attempted to expand access to expensive legal materials by forming collections funded by the court system to serve the community.They were a result of the many membership sharing programs to grow out of the Carnegiegolden age of libraries in America.

However, like many progressive programs, they are being threatened by privatization of what used to be a public service. According to Washburn Law School, who maintains a vital portal for public law resources, there are currently only 160 law libraries in the nation that are dedicated to serving the public (2016). It is important to point out that several states have only one or two law libraries, such as Colorado, Wisconsin or Louisiana, while others like California maintain a law library in almost every county in the state. Some states, such as Delaware and Vermont do not have a public law library at all ( This seems in direct opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Faretta v. California, (U.S. Sup. Ct, 1975) which established defendants have a right to represent themselves in court. This is a growing necessity as attorneys fees have reached a level that is beyond what middle class people can afford. According to the San Mateo County Bar Association, an average range for Family Law attorney services is between $300 and $600 an hour (2017). This is quite staggering when you consider some family law cases can go on for years. These rates, on top of rising court fees means more people are trying to represent themselves in court. It is troubling that in a celebrated democracy like the United States that the general public is not ensured access to proprietary legal materials, a right secured to prisoners by Bounds v. Smith in 1977, when the Supreme Court said that prison administrators have the “affirmative duty to provide inmates with assistance or resources to allow them to meaningfully exercise their right of access to the courts” (U.S. Sup. Ct., 1977).

Although Google provides easy access to primary law for free, it is the secondary law materials that provide the meaningful procedure for exercising one’s rights, as treatises deconstruct how to use the law to get what you want. I usually explain to patrons that “Primary materials are like the ingredients, secondary materials are the recipes.” It is the secondary materials that are heavily protected by global information superpowers Thompson Reuters and RELX Group, with fierce copyright enforcement and teams of attorneys, along with exorbitantly priced database and print materials. One of the standard terms of their licensing agreements are that you are not even allowed to discuss pricing with other clients, so nobody knows what anybody else pays.

Cultural Influence

At this point, I would be remiss in not addressing American democracy in a discussion of the philosophies that compel me towards public law librarianship. Our country’s democracy was developed during the 18th century when the western world was set on fire by the principles of the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophy that advocated freedom, democracy and reason as the primary values of a society. The founders of our government were driven by Lockean philosophy and egalitarian principles which continue to influence all Americans, whether they know it or not and whether those promises are achievable or not. Bicameral legislature, the three-branch system of government, the electoral college, systems of checks and balances all are examples of how the American founders sought to apply Enlightenment principles in order to ensure the values of freedom, democracy and reason.  As an American raised in the public school system, Enlightenment principles of American democracy have shaped me prior to entering the MLIS program. Perhaps all Americans are inclined to staunch individualism, however I may be a particularly dedicated example of wanting to go my own way. The values instilled in me by our system of government have also provided me with a dedication to equal treatment under the law, the need for civic participation, and the belief in knowledge as a means to pursue happiness.

To me, public law libraries represent a perfect blending of these core American democratic values of liberty, equality and justice: providing the general public access to the very laws that govern them, as well as the information required to pursue justice in America. The public law library system supports each county in California, which means that there is also a local component to the work I do on a daily basis. Municipal codes, local court rules, local news sources, nearby building developments, county funding and city politics all play a part in being a well informed public law library professional. This knowledge and position also allow me to act as a conduit for encouraging others to get involved with local issues. Additionally, the county law library system is a function of the state of California, which means that state government issues are also relevant. Campaigning for library funding in Sacramento and meeting with legislative representatives on behalf of the access to justice cause allows me to actively participate in civic duty.  Although public law librarianship is not a popular field, with little funding or direct government support, public law librarianship covers the entire scope of law, from city ordinances to supreme court decisions, meaning that the scope of information is vast and powerful.

Academic Influence

The standards that I have learned through the MLIS program have equipped me with additional values to drive my work and professional career. For example, within the first year of the program at San Jose State’s School of Information, I quickly learned that equal access to information is a core value of the greater mission of libraries and forms the foundation for The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics (2016). In particular, what I learned in LIBR 200, Information and Society and LIBR 280 History of Books and Libraries has instilled in me these same values. Of particular importance to me are the requirements that:    

     I.  We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.

    III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted. 

IV.  We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.

VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

    VII. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources (ALA, 2017).

As a result of classes like LIBR 210, Reference Information Services, I have come to incorporate issues of privacy within the daily operations of our law library. I now try to conduct reference interviews in my office, rather than at the front desk, since sensitive topics and personal information like criminal history or domestic violence can come up. Additionally, our public terminals now get reset each evening so that no search history, saved documents or previous login information is stored. In 2000, the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) undertook the creation of the American Library Association’s Task Force on Privacy and Confidentiality in the Electronic Environment. The task force’s subsequent report in 2000 (ALA, 2000) outlines recommendations for how librarians should handle privacy in the electronic age. The report urges librarians to become responsible for monitoring informational transactions between large for-profit database companies and the patrons that use their information (LITA, 2017).

Perhaps more surprising to me was how the SLIS program has taught me the value of collaboration. Being a librarian prior to entering the program, I cherished the autonomy and independence of my position. I loved the idea that I could “do everything myself”, chalking this concept up to efficiency and resourcefulness. Certainly my love of books and chronic individualism fed into this sense of self-reliance, as did the size of my ego. Concepts of equality of service, equality of access, and commitment to unbiased service appeared to me as a personal crusade that I was solely equipped to handle. However, the SLIS program forced me to begin to work with other people on a professional level. Classes such as LIBR 204, Information Management and LIBR 244, Online Searching required me to engage with classmates electronically, and oversee multi-component projects. Suddenly, teamwork became an essential skill for my degree progress and I found myself relying on others in order to complete assignments. Collaborative writing, editing, and research were balanced by cooperative work in advanced search schema, query and synonym generation, and controlled vocabulary.  At some point, a psychic shift occurred: I realized when I worked with a group I was able to approach problems in ways that never would have occurred to me, practically tripling my brain power. Rather than being irritated for not having things done my way, problems were dissected in our individual ways and then the best results were culled and combined. Simply by sharing our collective experience we were able to develop new ways to approach old problems. are all you’ll notice each point in the Code of Ethics begins with “We”.  Valuing collaboration over autonomy also has the added benefit of helping to prevent personal bias and beliefs from dominating our professional duties.

Personal Experience

Prior to beginning my career at the San Mateo County Law Library, I had attempted to align my values with other industries, namely academia and Hollywood , but found neither to be a good fit. After graduating cum laude from University of Southern California’s film school, I took a job at an incubator program that specialized in the then-emerging field of multimedia literacy. Having a film and writing background, I was excited by the opportunity to learn new communication skills while assisting undergraduates with the skills I already possessed: I would learn, while helping others learn. This appealed to my egalitarian tendencies. However, I was quickly disabused of this idealistic worldview. The academic structure, as well as non-profit grant funded programming made it clear that there were preset classes of worker and that as a member of the administrative team I was not eligible for learning. Staff training in advanced photoshop, Flash, PowerPoint, and DreamWeaver were made available to staff, but my requests to attend were always denied. I was told that it did not pertain to my administrative duties therefore I was not qualified for training. Understandably, I was completely blown away by the hypocrisy of an institution of higher education being so opposed to learning. This applied not just to me, but extended to other staff members, such as the post-doctoral candidates who were required to produce grant reports and conduct tours rather than perform scholarly research and publication necessary for them to advance to a tenured position. The class structure of academia, as well as the massive amount of money that was handed off between vendors made me quickly recoil from a career in higher education.

I also pursued a career in the entertainment business. Armed with a dark-comedy script, I procured an agent and manager based on my writing. I was shopped around to various production companies who were seeking young, hip writers to create scripts for whatever story they were looking to develop. Sometimes I would be given novels to develop, other times I would just be given vague ideas for a story: “two girls stay in their aunt’s apartment in New York City.” I enjoyed parts of the creative process, which afforded personal freedom and examination of social issues. Additionally, I worked as a researcher for game shows, performing fact-checking for questions about lyrics, music publishing, and the Simpsons. These experiences allowed me a lot of autonomy and involved plenty of reading, learning and critical thinking. However, I had a difficult time with the impermanence of the work that was done. For example, I would work on writing a story outline for a couple of months, develop a pitch for it, then hear that the production company had changed their management and were not interested in that storyline any longer. Game shows were fun, but we would only be contracted for three months at a time, and then have to wait to find out if the show had been renewed to see if we still had a job or needed to look for more work. Although a lot of people thrive in this environment, it was not for me. I felt like I was not helping anyone with anything, nor creating anything of lasting value. Perhaps this was a cynical or ungrateful approach to what I was getting paid (occasionally) to do, but I could not escape how miserable I felt at the end of the day. It was very difficult for me to discover that entertainment would not satisfy my moral integrity and that I needed to invest my time in something that had more lasting value.

The Future

My goals for the future are in line with the moral direction I hope to take, which is to expand the scope of my work to a global level. This would be moving beyond what I have accomplished for my degree. Combining ALA values with cultural values and personal values is the goal I set myself when approaching the scholarship I performed during my degree progress. This combination is hopefully evident in e-Portfolio. In particular, I was interested in expressing issues with common impediments to public information. As a result, I focused on: learning to navigate government websites and locate government documents; learning Spanish for librarians to assist patrons facing legal issues that do not speak English; and demystifying national and  international standards for cataloging in order to try and develop more understandable and helpful classification and cataloging practices. Additionally, I have been heavily involved in developing and promoting the Expungement clinics and workshops our library offers, with the goal of helping people that have a criminal past clean up their records so that they may be considered for jobs. The general theme to my work is the intention of breaking through barriers. This includes the digital divide, as well as legalese, and the privatization of information. America was ostensibly created as a place where people would not be bound by their past, but rather where they could develop through hard work into something new. So too should citizens be able to not be bound by the person they were in the past, but should be defined by how they attempt to live up to their potential today. My overarching goal is to eliminate barriers that prevent any people from understanding and exercising their rights. I am not alone in this mission. The U.S. Department of Justice established the Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) in March 2010 to address the access-to-justice crisis in the criminal and civil justice system.  Similarly, access to justice has become a growing concern for the United Nations, who have made free access to the law a priority for our increasingly global society. As the United Nations has stated on their website in the section dedicated to international Rule of Law,

                     “Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard,exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable,” (United Nations, 2017).

I am particularly interested in getting involved in the the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM). FALM is an international voluntary association with more than 50 members organizations from around the world. FALM members provide and support free access to legal information, consistent with the principles of the Free Access to Law Movement and subscribe to the Declaration on Free Access to Law. On a larger scale, I believe that my involvement with the California Council of County Law Libraries (CCCLL), as a state organization, might be beneficial to fostering some partnering opportunities with FALM, bringing benefits to both organizations. On a smaller scale, learning more about how other countries are handling the issue of private versus public when it comes to the law and digital access can inform my decisions for the future. This might also be a forum where public law librarians like myself would find a community with similar interests as well as emotional support. In this way I hope to contribute to the cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of our global communities.

Sources and Citations:

American Library Association (2000). The American library association’s task force on privacy and confidentiality in the electronic environment. Retrieved from

American Library Association (2017). Code of ethics. Retrieved from

San Mateo County Bar Association (2017). Roster of attorneys providing sliding scale for family law. Published by the Fatherhood Collaborative of San Mateo County. Distributed through

Washburn University School of Law Law School. (2016). State, court, and county law libraries. Maintained by Staff of Washburn University School of Law Library,Topeka, KS. Retrieved from

United Nations (2016). United Nations and the rule of law: Access to justice. Retrieved from

U. S. Supreme Court. (1977). Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817.

U. S. Supreme Court. (1975). Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806.

There was once a very old tree that had gotten tired of living. It had been close on a thousand years that it had been standing in the exact same spot and believed it had seen and done everything there was to see and do.Image

The old tree was by now over 350 feet tall. It had looked up, then down on everything. It had seen other trees and plants and animals come and go. It had seen hillsides form and wash away. Streams flood to rivers and then dry up.

Some of it had been exciting, like the fires that had swept through the woods, sparing the old tree and all its species, but ravaging everything else that lived. Some of it had been depressing. The disease that dried from the inside out, killing all the new growth that had sprung from its own seeds when they had barely fifty rings to show for themselves.  The tree had watched them become brittle and grey, until a strong wind was enough to blow them over, and they were left to the termites and other bugs to rot and disintegrate. That had been a hard time.

But overall, the tree felt it had fulfilled its duty and wanted to once and for all set down the burden of survival. It had been long enough and the tree was so tired. The old tree called to its children:

“My daughters, I have decided to give up this living. I have thought long and hard about this and am at peace with my end. Who among you will help me?”

The young trees could not help but shudder at this news. Without the old tree they would be left all alone. There would be no one to tell them when the ground was going to turn from damp to dry so that they may store extra water for the years to come. There would be no one to advise them when it was best to shed their cones, or which of them would grow finest and which would need shade and protection? The trees could not help but begin to worry about their own lives and think of the possibility of their own ends… and they became frightened.

“Mother, don’t be ridiculous!,” one of the daughters proclaimed.”You cannot simply choose to die. It is not up to you, but is for the great mother Nature to decide.”

 “I do not wish to wait around for the impersonal pain of disease or drought. I wish to have my daughters help me. Isn’t that, too natural?”

Another cried “Oh mother! I could never do that! Help you die?  And me to blame?! Please do not do this thing! I cannot live without you!”

The old tree felt sympathy for her daughter, but disappointment in herself for failing to teach her daughter the way of life. She tried to explain…


What more can I possibly offer you? All that’s left of me is a sliver of life, one last remaining strain of activity running through me. Most of my branches are already dead. Most of my roots are already dry.  Year by year I am closing myself off from the parts of me that no longer function. And now there is more of me that is gone than is still here with you.


And it was true. The old tree was little more than a gnarled piece of deadwood … overlaid on one side by a narrow strip of living bark barely sufficient to connect the few remaining living roots with its few remaining living branches.


The third daughter thought quietly to herself before she spoke.  She thought back and back to all those years ago, when she was just a child and she had been denied the things she wanted most:  warmth of the patch of sunlight, the softest earth, shelter from the wind. She remembered how she did not always get the things she wanted. And anger sprung up in the third daughter, quick and sharp.


“You never supported me!”  she cried, while simultaneously reaching out her strongest root and wrapping it around her mother’s base and slowly squeezing the remaining life out of it.

Winter Stockings

After much not so subtle pressure from our head librarian, I decided to update my workplace wardrobe to something resembling a nun during her off-hours. In this spirit, I purchased some lovely thick cotton stalkings in an oatmeal hue, not unlike the color of a page from one of our varied legal resources (for those that wish to research, please consult California Forms of Pleading and Practice). Being terribly impatient, however, when shopping I bought the large size because it was all that was left, figuring the garment was made in China, and we all know how Chinese sizes run…It was this morning that I pulled these winter stockings up for the first time, only to discover they are much too long and bunch in the ankle. This bunching, coupled with the dowdy color and sensible shoes makes for what I think is a fitting adieu to any sense of sexuality I may have up to now been emitting from my clothes. Crisis averted.

Urge to Poeticize

No One reads this.

No One reads.

No One unknown, so none unlike.

She falters when the revolution comes to claim itself.

She fumbles when the 60’s copulate with the 30’s and it’s all she ever dreamed of.

And when her dress turns toward the light and there is someone there to capture it and she is able to find herself because she will be known for a half hour on an obscure website and up go her Google ratings and down go her inhibitions.

Then. Then she will be some one.

The touch, the feel of Monday

I believe that Monday is the most librarian of days.  It is a day to feel efficient and clean (Didn’t we traditionally do all the laundry on Mondays?).  It is the day for renewed new year’s resolutions and clean slates and by god, getting things done! Monday I feel most at home in my seat at the help desk.  I sit up a little straighter, come in a little earlier, and maintain a much more haughty and inconvenienced mien.  This may belie the fact that I am applying for other jobs and checking my email and even writing this blog entry. But I suppose this sense of responsibility and adulthood had already been shattered when one of the patrons stunk up the bathroom and didn’t even leave the fan on. Or it may have been when Ollie, our resident homeless man squirted the hand sanitizer all over the scratch paper and was so proud of himself. But I will have Monday again.

There is something dripping…

There is something dripping from above. It is not sacred. It is not holy. It is something much like resin and something that looks like coffee, but it is sticky and it is dripping onto my computer. I blame the bank that this library used to be. I blame the 60’s architecture for its fallible structures. I blame myself for my sense of fatality, as I wipe away the dark brown splatters that plop across my ergonomic desk, only to have them reappear like morning. But it is the library and I am only an assistant. It is a library, but not filled with fiction as one is accustomed to thinking of as fiction. It is a law library and the aisles and shelves are there to mock and repel. The books are for the desperate and dispossessed, that majority that cannot afford a lawyer, but are smart enough to realize that the law is hovering over them and they better damn well consult it. And so, I too have an issue hovering over me: a dripping, sticky substance that I cannot name. It is a metaph0r, I suppose.