Do you know Annie Easley?

 

On Saturday, I had a high school student come up to the reference desk with her mom.

Her mom said, “Go ahead, ask him.”

“Good morning, can I help?”

“I’m looking for information on Annie Easley.”

Do you know Annie Easley? If you do, I’m impressed. I have never heard of her.

So we went to the OPAC, or Online Public Access Catalog and typed in the name.

0 results

“I found some things on the internet, but I need a book source,” she told me.

So I asked the student, who I will call J, what she had already found out about her. Easley was a scientist, and a mathematician.

“Follow me,” I said, confident that I could find a reference book with her name in it.

I pulled some subject encyclopedias on science, and women in science. Nothing.

Bound and determined to find J. some print on paper, I conducted my reference interview, then grabbed some sources. J and I scanned and skimmed alphabetical entries and indexes. Still nothing.

I learned more about Easley along the way, interviewing J about how she learned about Easley. J was African American, and so was Easley, and it’s February (African American History month), but she was not on a teacher’s list of people to research. Easley was also born in Birmingham, Alabama.

Earlier in the day, I had messaged a fellow student about what librarians without a master’s degree are called.

“Feral Librarians,” Ginny remembered.

I was a feral librarian rabidly interested in finding a book source for this shy, yet curious young student.

“They called her the Human Calculator,” J said, and added that Easley worked for NASA.

Doesn’t she sound like a woman who should be in book about mathematicians and scientists?

J also called her a “programmer.”

I told J, her mom, and now her younger brother, who had joined our tour of reference, that I just learned about this new documentary called, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap.

This documentary shows the large gender and minority gap in the world of science, specifically, computer science. Sadly, our collection was helping prove their argument and this student had done her homework. She knew Easley’s middle initial, “J.” I learned later that Easley actually developed code for NASA.

Walking back to the catalog I asked J to check the general encyclopedias. She confirmed my initial doubt and there was no mention of her in Worldbook, or Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Who is this lady?” J’s little brother now wanted to know, as we grabbed two more books from the stacks. From then on, he joined us in our search.

J’s dad came by, and seeing the stack of books, suggested to his daughter that maybe she needed to find another person.

She was thumbing through a book, and looked over at him. I could tell she was ready to give up.

“No way,” I told the whole family, then looking at J I said, “You need to champion Easley.” I’d gone feral, and decided book sources be damned. “No book sources from the public library, well, use that in your paper,” I said. I smiled, she smiled. Not a Cheshire smile, but the kind of smile that said, “I’m not sure if this librarian is crazy or just more curious than a cat.”

 Some books without Annie Easley

“I’m sorry,” I said, frustrated and angry that I could not find a print source for her. This young woman had found a person, an African American like herself and a mathematician, programmer, and NASA employee and my resources failed. The whole family and I went back to the computer and found Easley’s Wikipedia page.

“You stumped the librarian today,” I told them, and was disappointed I did not have a book sources.

J knew about Alabama Virtual Library, but she hadn’t looked at Wikipedia’s sources.

Easley’s Wikipedia page linked to a 55 page PDF from NASA’s “Herstory” Oral history project. The document was the transcript of an interview with Easley about her life.

“That’s better than a book,” I said pointing at the screen, That’s a primary document. This is her own words.” J, and everyone in her family, thanked me. Her dad shook my hand. As they headed to circulation to check out some items, I realized that Wikipedia, libraries, and librarians do not compete. They compliment.

My name in a Textbook

It happened February 13, 2016 at 6:23 Eastern Standard Time. In my second semester of online library school at the University of Alabama.

I was reading Reference and Information Services: An Introduction by Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath (2013).

On Page 115 it states:

In the past, the stouthearted librarians of the New York Public Library

would prove this time and time again as they ventured into schools to

play the game, “Stump the Librarian.”

 

 

 

 

What Can You Learn From Steinbeck’s Classic?

Our book club, “Drinkers With a Reading Problem” met at Fairhope Brewing on Sunday evening. Thirteen of us, a large turnout for our group, came to discuss John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Grapes Cover

We agreed to let Betty take the lead for this book. She immediately suggested we go around the table and air our impressions.

Irene talked about Steinbeck’s “marvelous descriptions.”

I mentioned that I had read the book in high school. It’s been thirty years since I read the book, and I explained to the group that the movie “clouded my memories of the book, especially the end.” I praised Steinbeck, as most did, and compared him to Hemingway and Sinclair.

While I could not recollect any memories, feelings, or reactions when Rose of Sharon lets a dying stranger suckle from her breast, many book clubbers commented on the scene.

Bob mentioned that the title of the book was a verse from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and The Bible. He offered some Midwestern sensibility by suggesting that Rosasharn, if you are from the Midwest sounds an awful lot like rose is sharing, demonstrating the epitome of the word in that final scene.

Bob also felt that the Joads “lost a human scale,” once the tractors arrived.

A newcomer to the area and the club, who had not finished the book, used the opportunity to network. She’s in need of a job teaching High School English.

Judy talked about the significance of the turtle in Chapter 3 and it’s larger meaning for the Joad’s and humanity. She pulled out some notes about the shrub, rose of Sharon, and it’s horticultural properties, many of which aligned superbly with the character traits she was given by Steinbeck.

Betty quoted the scene with Casy the preacher and the roadside burial of Grampa.

This here ol’ man jus’ lived a life an’ jus’ died   out of it. I don’ know whether he was               good or bad, but that don’t matter much. He was alive, an’ that’s what matters. An               now he’s dead, an’ that don’t matter. Heard a fella tell a poem one time, an’ he says             ‘all that lives is holy.’ (144)

Wilson had started to read the book for a second time but got derailed by “the dialect.” He wound up listening, then playing his guitar and singing some Woody Guthrie tunes.

Robert called the book the “consciousness of America during the Depression and the labor movement.” He recommended another book by Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.

Donna praised the novelist for his, “use of description and for the evolution of the characters.”

Suzanne, and a few other, noted how depressing the book was, but empathized with the characters, and so continued to read. Despite these tests or perhaps because of them we read because we all endure.

After we all had a chance to comment we listened to Guthrie’s “Tom Joad, Part One and Two.” I think it was our second Bob, from Kentucky and a fan of Guthrie, who called the song another form of “Cliff Notes.”

I mentioned how the book was banned and how literature transcends the arts as The Grapes of Wrath is told in music, first through Guthrie, then Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which was covered by Rage Against the Machine, a song I carry with me on my phone.

Elliott, the club’s founding member, selected this month’s book. He arrived late, but quickly dove into the music conversation.

When I left the meeting, I didn’t know what to write about. It was my own fault that I was stumped. I didn’t bring one of my favorite scenes for consideration. In this scene Tom Joad and his brother Al meet a slovenly man with one eye. Tom doesn’t give a crap about his disability. Fix yourself up, get clean, put a patch over that eye Tom says. Then he tells the junk yard man a story.

Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time. Think she was takin’ two bits in a           alley? No, by God! She’s gettin’ half a dollar extra. She says, ‘How many one-legged           women you slep’ with? None!’ she says. (179)

My regret was not hearing from others about this scene, given that I’m an amputee. After some reflection and distance from our wonderful discussion on a literary classic, I found my notes, and stuck my nose back in the book.

IMG_2211

It turns out that Tom needed to learn that all living things, the turtle, the one-eyed man, and the one-legged whore are all holy.

Then I reread this oft quoted passage where Tom Joad, who is hiding out in his own wilderness, is telling his Ma what he learned from Casy.

Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul an’ he foun’ he                 didn’ have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he just got a little piece of a great big           soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good           less it was with the rest and was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn’ think I was               even listenin’. But I now know a fella ain’t no good alone. (418)

The wilderness is where we do our thinking, if we are lucky to have the inclination, freedom, and time to do so. You can’t spend your whole life in the wilderness.

I can’t say for sure whether I’ve got a soul when I’m alone, thinking, and wandering around in my writing wilderness. I know I need that time, but I know I can’t stay there forever. I’ve been going to the “Drinkers” book club off and on for more than five years because I enjoy the fellowship.

We need time to be alone and together. Solitude for thinking and public areas for conversation are the fuel for community.

As we were leaving book club, I mentioned that I work at Fairhope Public Library.

A woman said, “I’m in the library four times a week and I’ve never seen you.”

I didn’t say anything, but later on I thought about how the rest of the conversation between Tom and his Ma went.

Next time you come in, look for me, I’ll be there.

Grapes Back