Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Meeting Maddow: "Thank you for being a librarian"

If you are friends with me on Facebook or follow my twitter account you probably already know that I am a big Rachel Maddow fan. Big, big fan.

When I heard that she would be coming to town to support the release of her new book, I bought tickets that very day. In what seemed like an act of divine intervention, I ended up getting the last copy of her book on display at the downtown Powell's store the day it came out. Getting my hands on that book felt like fate.

And I felt pushing that fate.

Somehow I got it in my head that I should show up at Maddow's reading with my resume and a letter on why she should hire me as her personal librarian or a research assistant. Granted, she is one of the only political commentators I watch with any regularity, but she seems to be one of the few who actually value accurate information. Which is refreshing. And it would seem logical that her staff would have a librarian on board.

The day of the reading was a pretty big day. I met up with my friend Jimmy Radosta (Communications and Fundraising Manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, who interviewed Maddow in 2006) and his friend Peter Zuckerman (a local writer who is about to release a book and was featured on the on the Rachel Maddow's Show, seen here at the 4:50 mark) two great guys to spend the hour with waiting for Maddow to take the stage.

Maddow was excellent, as expected. She was witty, eloquent and thought provoking. She offered great advice on booze (did you know that vermouth has a short shelf life?) and research (she loves researching the Presidents, because everything is online - including a recording of LBJ ordering pants, with specific instructions for the crotch). 

After the reading, the event staff did their best to have the book signing proceed in an orderly fashion. But there were 300-500 fans there, and it was a bit chaotic. Much like a Southwest boarding queue, we were broken up into groups. I was one of the last to go. At this point my nerves were getting the best of me. Was I actually going to do this? What was I going to say?  I was flip-flopping back and forth between chickening out or not. But as I got closer, I knew that I had to do this.

The moment of truth came. Maddow took my book and I asked her if I could give her a letter.

"Sure," she said.

"My name is Turner. I've graduated with my Masters in Library Science. I really want to move back to New England. If you ever need assistance with researching, I hope you will consider me."

She signed my book, looked me in the eye and said "Thank you for being a librarian."

"Thank you for putting on an excellent event." We shook hands, I took my book and left. With a giant smile on my face.

I will share my letter, but first, a note: this is not a very good cover letter. A good cover letter does a much better job highlighting the applicant as an excellent employee, featuring accomplishments and what you bring to the table. This is a letter written by an appreciative fan. Going into the event and even now, having given her my letter, I am realistic. I will be thoroughly surprised if anything were to come of this experience. But those six words, "thank you for being a librarian," made the whole experience worth it. 

April 15, 2012
Dear Ms. Maddow,

I am writing to you both as a fan and as a bourgeoning librarian, and as a librarian I believe that I can help you with your work. 

I have been watching your program since the 2010 elections. I had just started a project harvesting metadata from historically significant medical articles, and having your commentary play during a tedious task made the job pass quickly. Soon I became hooked and now watch your show daily. Your ability to pick up on patterns in the socio-political discourse is a breath of fresh air in the modern media machine. You were presenting stories such as the “republican war on women,” “John Boehner is bad at his job” and “the need for an Iraq War Veteran’s ticker-tape parade” to the general public long before other journalists. This might sound vapid, but you make me want to be a better librarian.

One of the cannons of library science is that of “sense making.” It is the belief that people seek information to add meaning to their experience. If we were to create a Venn diagram of librarianship and your role of a television host, sense making would be the overlap.  In receiving the Steinbeck Award, you said that “people who are better armed with useful information about their world are better able to make change in their world.” You do this. You help your viewers make sense of our world. Much like a librarian serves students, you serve the general public, and I very much want to help you in that endeavor.

You always ask your guests if you are telling a story accurately. Your dedication to quality information is what makes your show stand out. As a researcher, this is where I can help you. I have the tools to seek out quality, accurate, timely and fascinating sources to add texture to your stories. Using my degree and my enthusiasm for information dissemination in the adrenaline-laced world of media would be a dream come true.   

My passion for librarianship and information science comes from a dedication to service. Seeking information in the 21st century is a complicated and messy process. Being able to make that process easier to people I serve is a motivating and exciting career. My career has just started but has already been quite the journey, taking me from early childhood reading services at a public library to various medical research institutions to offering virtual reference services to Oregon residents. However, as a young librarian I realize that my skill set does not have to be confined to the traditional library institution. Your visit to Portland happening as I finish my Masters in Library Science is fortuitous timing. My skills could be an excellent asset to the Rachel Maddow Show, and now I have the opportunity to make my case to you. 

Yes, I am asking for a job that is unsolicited. It would be a dream to assist you as a researcher or librarian, however I realize this may not happen. At the very least I am thankful for the opportunity to hand you this letter, being able to communicate how much I value your work. But, if you do give me a chance to join the Rachel Maddow Team, I promise I will deliver. 


J. Turner Masland