This is my 2nd time interviewing Frederic. The first time he was applying for a job at the institution where I worked. As I walked out of the first part of the interview I looked at my colleague and said "OMG! We have to get him here!" Luckily for the institution we got him. Even though Frederic is a transplant from way up North his passion for indigenous peoples librarianship makes him a wonderful asset to have in state. And here is my interview with him for you to enjoy.
Q. What's your background (library, personal, whatever)?
A. I have a fairly colorful background. My mother was born in Yurimaguas, Peru, a thriving port town in the northeastern part of the Peruvian Amazon. My Grandfather was the Captain of a riverboat that plied the waters ferrying passengers and trade goods. The name of his ship was the Huallaga and was featured in Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo; in fact the ship is the main character. We have the film in our library as part of the Criterion Collection and it’s a source of great amusement when I come across it in the catalog.
My Mom immigrated to the States in the Fifties as a Pediatric Nurse and met my Dad at the University of New Mexico where he was working on his doctoral dissertation on Iberian Civilization. He was born in the upper reaches of British Columbia, near the Fraser River, and came to the States from Canada as a child. My sisters and I are First Generation Americans, the children of immigrants. So Lou Dobbs and I see the world quite differently as you can imagine.
I grew up in Illinois and attended the University of Iowa where I earned my B.A in Political Science in 1985. I then took a twenty year hiatus from Academia so I could get some reading done. My wife and I were married in San Francisco seventeen years ago and have lived all over the West. We spent seven years living with the White Mountain Apache in Arizona and the Hupa of Northern California. I spent those years writing fiction, while my wife established her nursing career. We had a couple of kids and I realized that what I enjoyed most about writing was the research so we started shopping around for Graduate Programs.
I earned my M.L.I.S. from the University of British Columbia in May 2006 and signed on with Southwestern Oklahoma State University that same year. While I was attending UBC I was fortunate enough to get my first library job at the First Nations Xwi7xwa Library. I knew I wanted to be an Academic Librarian and having never worked in an academic library, or any other type of library, I knew I needed the experience if I was going to be competitive in the market after graduation. I went after that first job pretty hard and Ann Doyle, the Head Librarian, gave me a chance. Thanks Ann!
Q. What's the first reaction people have towards you when you say you are a librarian?
A. It’s always positive, which is a nice change. When I was writing full-time and people asked what I was doing they tended to look at me like I was crazy. It was like that scene in The Unforgiven when Clint asks the sleazy dime-novelist about his work as a writer
“You’re a writer? What… Letters and such?” A few people understood, but mostly they asked “no really, what are you doing?” It was pretty funny; all my friends thought it was scam so I could live in beautiful wild regions and fish. It’s lonely work and to be honest it’s much nicer to be on the other side of the Reference Desk these days. Librarians have such a stock of good will, people trust us, and it’s important that their trust be honored.
It’s incumbent on our profession that we deliver the goods, and not cut any corners. In terms of service and quality of information we have to hold ourselves to the Gold standard. It’s what keeps our patrons coming back.
Q. What is the one thing you wish they had taught you in library school that they didn't teach you?
A. The program at UBC was pretty good. It had it’s detractors, as do all things, but from where I was coming from which was Sum Zero in terms of library work, they did a pretty good job of orientating me to Library Land. Graduate work is really about setting your own mark. I know a lot of people feel that more “real life” technical experience should be taught, but developing habits of mind, of inquiry, is an aspect of higher education that has real world value. My own experience told me that most jobs are learned first hand, and I had no reason to believe that libraries would be an exception to this rule. Now, I knew a lot about libraries as a User, but nothing about the level of Human/Computer interaction that has become a staple of the job these days.
That said, what I needed was hands-on experience, so I went out and got my job at Xwi7xwa, but a lot of my fellow Graduate Students didn’t get library jobs. It was very competitive and very free market for the jobs on campus (and this was Canada!) and a number of students didn’t get employment. The Department should have had a formal relationship with all of the campus libraries to give the students more than the required two-week practicum. I’m sure this kind of venture would be a giant Academic Thorn Tangle, but that’s what the Administrators get paid the big dollar to do.
Q. Do you feel librarians/libraries are active enough in helping preserve and promote the history and culture of indigenous peoples?
A. Currently in Oklahoma there are eleven Tribal Libraries, as well as the American Indian Resources Center run by Teresa Washington Runnels in Tulsa, so at least in this state the Tribes themselves seem to be doing a pretty good job of preserving and promoting their own cultures.
Is there room for improvement for the rest of us? It’s a good question. For years there has been a simmering debate regarding LCSH and the inherent bias found in classifying the history of Native Americans. Sanford Berman raised some hackles with his work but Tribal people have been segregated from the United States; and American Indian history has been arranged with bias.
That said, there has been a concerted effort to bring a number of heretofore hidden histories into the light. Writers, Artists and Filmmakers are standing up demanding to be heard and that’s a good thing. I don’t think we have ever lived in a time where so many voices are raising themselves up to be heard. Oklahoma City University is sponsoring a film series right now: Myth and Imagination: Shaping Meaning and a number of the films deal with indigenous themes. Libraries, I am proud to note, have no small roll in making sure these voices, these books, films, comics, databases, find their way onto our shelves and into the hands of the people who want them or need them.
In Oklahoma City last week (Oct 22-25) there was a conference for Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums. The conference sold out and there were something like 400 people from all over the country attending. It is very satisfying to see this kind of work happening, and as it happens it is incumbent for non-Tribal libraries to participate.
Q. What words of wisdom do you have for people thinking about librarianship as a career?
A. A career is a long-term job or lifelong activity. A vocation is a profession demanding special commitment. Librarianship is a vocation. I’ve had several careers but this is the first time in my life where at the end of the day I feel the work I’ve done has tangible benefit for someone else other than me or the cash register. I spent a lot of years in the business world, working in finance and management, and that has its own rewards, but I was never satisfied with the meaning of the work. I believe in Libraries and the democratic impulse they represent. We’re not just warehouses or access points, we’re the centuries old institution representing Knowledge with the big K and we are at a crucial point in our history. Yikes! On the other hand…
It’s a good job in a pleasant environment with engaging materials at hand. If you’re thinking about it, pursue it. If it turns out it’s not the type of work you want, the skills you pick up will have you well positioned in today’s information economy.
Q. What is one material (book, video, etc) every library should have and why?
A. The U.S. Constitution: And Fascinating Facts About It (Paperback)
By Terry Jordan (Editor)
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: OAK HILL PUBLISHING COMPANY; 7 edition (May 1, 1999)
A copy should be at Circulation and Reference. On permanent display: The reasons are obvious.