"Dear Bella": An Informal Response

Walt Crawford, 3 January 2000

American Libraries for January 2000 has a charming letter from Bella Hass Weinberg, commenting on my November 1999 article "We Call Them Libraries: What the 'L Word' Means to Me." Weinberg notes that St. John's University's Division of Library and Information Science meets my criteria for an MLS-granting institution and indirectly suggests that I consider applying to St. John's.

Ms. Weinberg notes that St. John's program could be completed in less than the two years I discussed in my article, which is actually my estimate of how long it would take me to complete an MLS program going on nights and weekends while continuing to work full time at RLG. She notes that they would consider granting me credit in areas where I'm an expert (a remarkably generous offer) and that a year spent in New York's libraries and museums would be great experience. She finishes, "He could surely do much of his work for the Research Libraries Group and American Libraries via e-mail, using St. John's ubiquitous computers."

What can I say? First, I can and should apologize to San Jose State University for not mentioning their program by name--since that's the accredited MLS program I would most likely attend under normal circumstances, and since SJSU's program also meets my criteria. Not that San Jose needs the publicity; at this point, the home program and their Southern California satellite programs dominate California library education.

What about St. John's? I have no doubt it's a fine program. I've been acquainted with Prof. Weinberg for some time, and I don't think she'd be part of a program that wasn't first rate. It's certainly true that New York has a range of libraries and museums worth visiting (many of them RLG members). I've visited a few, either during ALA conferences and, more recently, when I've spoken at NYLA and at other library conferences within New York state. Without doubt, my occasional contributions to American Libraries could be done just as well from Jamaica, New York as from Mountain View, California.

That may not be equally true for other writing commitments, and I'm fairly sure it would not work well for my day job. "CD-ROM Corner" in EContent and portions of Crawford's Corner (in Library Hi Tech News) depend on CD-ROM and DVD-ROM reviews that, in turn, require a predictable multimedia PC environment under my full control. The rest of Crawford's Corner and "PC Monitor" in Online require substantial amounts of reading in the PC field and thinking about what I've read. I'm sure the resources would be available in Jamaica, but I'm not sure where I'd find the time.

More significantly, I don't believe I could phone in my day job. I have an ongoing problem with getting paid time for speaking engagements within the library community, even when such engagements appear to provide publicity and indirect benefit to RLG. My supervisors seem to want me around. While I may disagree on the details, I agree on the generalities. Realistically, my core job--guiding the ongoing improvement of RLG's end-user interfaces and helping to develop new resources--requires a lot of work that can be done most effectively at RLG headquarters.

That's why I estimated two years for the MLS. I'm not ready to give up my day job for a year in order to get the degree; I can't justify that in terms of either eventual financial gain or career development. Barring giving up my day job, it still seems as though I'd need to take a two-year sabbatical from speaking, writing, and quite possibly the world travel that means so much to my wife and me. I only have so much energy, and I'm as lazy as they come; adding an MLS program to my current load just doesn't seem workable.

But wait: there's more, to be perfectly honest. I'm a Northern California native. I grew up in Modesto, spent a long time in Berkeley (and a few years in Walnut Creek), and have spent the last 21 years in the central portion of the San Francisco Peninsula. I lived in Redwood City for more than a decade, where the town motto is "Climate Best by Government Test." Before and after that I've lived within ten miles of Redwood City, and the climate's pretty similar throughout that area. Frankly, when it comes to weather, I'm spoiled, as is my wife (also a native Californian).

I'd be hard pressed to spend a year away from my wife in order to get an MLS. I'd be hard pressed to spend a year in New York for the same reason, as much as I love the people and places of the Empire State. We own our modest little house (or at least more than 90% of it), six minutes from RLG, in a nice neighborhood and with some of the world's best weather. It's unlikely that we'd consider moving except to a climate that's even warmer and maybe drier--Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Hawaii, something like that. At age 54, I'm a weather wimp and proud of it.

Thanks for the suggestion, Bella. For now, at least, I think I'll pass. The fault is not within St. John's; it is within me.

Written and posted January 3, 2000