Celebrating colleagues with 25 years or more of ALSC membership
Ethical Culture School, New York, New York
Ethical Culture School, New York, New York
ALSC membership: 25 years
Where do you currently work?
For the past 24 years I’ve worked at the Ethical Culture School, which is an independent elementary school in New York City. I’m lucky enough to work right across the road from Central Park.
Where did you attend library school?
I first attended library school in South Africa, at the University of Cape Town. I completed a post-Bachelor’s library science diploma, which is the professional equivalent of an MLS. Shortly before coming to the U.S., I went back to do an Honors degree, for which I was able to focus excusively on literature and library services for children. And then, when I came to the U.S., I did an MLS at Queens College, CUNY, here in NYC.
What was your very first library position?
My very first job as a librarian was at the University of Cape Town Library. I was appointed to a position in the Social Sciences Library, which seemed like a great job for me as an African Politics major. But when I reported for work on my first day, I was told that instead I was being sent to the Science and Engineering Library to supervise the circulation desk. The combination of filing thousands of catalog cards for scientific books and reports, and having to supervise a person more than twice my age at the circulation desk, led to me leaving within three months. I took two part-time jobs: one as librarian at a labor and development research unit at the university, and the other as coordinator of a resource center for student activists. It wasn’t until four years later that I first worked as a children’s librarian, which was in a public library.
What do you love most about your job?
In addition to sharing great stories and books with children, which is my favorite thing, I love the way my colleagues and I are able to experiment with new platforms and ideas. Last summer, for example, we received support so that we were able to move from the lock-step approach of our long-time online library system to the empowerment of an open source system, Koha. It’s been both challenging and exciting to be able to make decisions about enriching our OPAC and being able to show books on order and e-books in an understandable way for the first time. My next big project will hopefully be to focus on really making our OPAC child-friendly. I think that the new developments in linked data and OPACs on the open web are very exciting, and I’m happiest when I’m on a steep learning curve, so hopefully I’ll find a way to learn some new things.
What’s your favorite myth, legend, or fairy tale?
I always find questions about a single “favorite” really difficult to answer, and one of my great loves is telling and reading myths and folk tales to students, so I have many favorites. But I think my favorite tale from my childhood is a version of “Many-Fur” that appeared in one of the Andrew Lang collections. In this version the young girl has three dresses: one as golden as the sun, the second as silvery as the moon, and the third as glittery as stars. All three dresses fold up so small that they fit into a walnut shell. This image, combined with the motif of the lowly and ignored servant finally being acknowledged as the princess, has the power to transport me back to my 8- or 9-year-old self who wanted so desperately for magic to exist that she (almost) really and truly believed in it.
What was the single most influential event in your lifetime?
As someone who was born and lived half her life in South Africa, the most influential event in my lifetime so far was the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, and the unbanning of progressive organizations in South Africa. Those events ushered in a political era that none of us could have dreamed of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. And of course many many people died in the process. But I think that South Africa showed the world that it’s possible to resolve serious, bitter, longstanding conflicts without an all-out civil war. Even though there are currently profound political complexities and challenges in South Africa, that development was possibly the most life-affirming and positive public event that I’ve experienced.
If you could close your eyes and be anywhere on earth when they opened, where would you be?
There are a number of places I’ve spent time that I love. But a few years ago on a visit to Hawai’i, I found myself feeling inexplicably connected to the landscape on a grassy hillside way above the ocean, near the tiny community of Paauilo. The combination of grasses and sky was magical; and the expanse of ocean around the island was somehow reminiscent of those days I spent as a child on South African beaches, looking (as I imagined) towards Antarctica and feeling awed by the distance. At the time, my feelings about Hawai’i seemed uncomplicated, but I have recently watched a documentary called “Noho Hewa,” about colonialism and tourism in Hawaii and their environmental, spiritual, cultural, and human consequences. So I no longer feel as comfortable about it, but the image remains powerful for me, and I would love to be able to go back to that place, just once more.