My Happiest Place on Earth

Picture this: a 10-year-old girl, with thick glasses whose dad cuts her hair, who spends recess reading and hasn’t really picked up on the nuances of socializing. That was me 12 years ago. It still is me now, just to a lesser extent.

Needless to say, I had kids bullying me quite often. They flocked to me. I was too smart, too smart-mouthed, an overachiever, a foreigner; a small, uncoordinated girl. My sisters didn’t like me. My mother was very critical.

During those years, books and especially libraries became my refuge. I lived a hundred lives in the library; I was Harry Potter and Hermione and Nancy Drew and anyone else I happened to discover as I whiled the hours away. I’d take out ten, twenty, sometimes thirty books at a time, read through them all in two weeks, then run up $10 in late fees because I could never remember to return them on time.

As I got older, I developed the sort of secondary sexual characteristics and social skills that would define me as desirable by today’s societal standards. You’d think I’d have forgotten all about the solace books provided me now that I had a life, but it’s never gone away. I was five years old when I learned to read; I was 8 when my dad’s friend bought me the first Harry Potter book, and I have been fascinated by literature ever since.

I’ll always have a soft spot for libraries, for helping me get through my more-awkward-than-most years.

For this assignment, I decided that after 12 some-odd years of living in this country, I would finally take a trip to what I’d always known would be a magical place for me: The New York Public Library. More specifically, the Stephen A. Schwarzman branch, which is the central branch (housing one of the most extensive collection of humanities texts in the world) located on 42nd & Fifth. For a more culturally relevant reference, I believe it’s where Carrie Bradshaw plans to get married to Mr. Big in the first Sex and the City movie.

I intern in an office that is four blocks down from the Schwarzman building, and I’ve been telling myself I was going to go in there one of these days, and earlier today I finally did. And I was not disappointed. The New York Library is my Disney World.

As a nod of respect for the point of this assignment, I sat in the Art & Architecture room, located on the third floor pretty much in the last corner of the building. There’s no photography allowed but I was not about to let some pesky librarian stop me. (I totally would have stopped if any librarian had so much as breathed in my direction. I am not brave enough to take on the Guardians of Knowledge, such as they are.) Here’s my illicit photo:

I figured that I might as well be as productive as possible during this little outing, so after doing the touristy thing of walking around with my mouth wide open and my iPhone out snapping pictures of everything, I sat down to do some work. It took some time until I became productive, because I spent quite a stretch pondering the beauty of the building. It looked like Hogwarts. It was beautiful. If I ever come across someone who doesn’t understand why libraries are so special, I’m going to take him/her to the NYPL with me, because I think it’s the pinnacle of what libraries aim to become. I think I’m going to try to go every week now. I’d like to thank this assignment for forcing me to go inside this beautiful place of learning and take in all it has to offer.


On the Subject of Creative Commons

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I am licensed to drive, licensed to save lives (lifeguarding gigs pay my rent), and now, I am licensed to blog. (If only I could get that 007 license…just kidding).

I must say, the idea behind Creative Commons is fantastic in my opinion. I think websites like Creative Commons and Wikipedia and any other site that provides a useful, arguably necessary service to the general public and generally promotes Internet-style democracy. I like that Creative Commons never asked me what I’d be using the license for. Everyone, no matter what you’re writing about or whom you’re critiquing, gets to blog with a Creative Commons license, if they so desire. I like their ultimate goal, too: “The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.”

Like almost everything else I think or write about when I consider the Internet, it comes back to the idea of net neutrality. Creative Commons isn’t playing Judge of the Internet; they don’t ask for samples of your prospective posts before deciding to grant you a license. They, like other websites, believe that their role in the Internet world is to act as facilitators; they believe in open access to all content, and they don’t see it as their job to filter the Internet. One of the greatest things about the Internet, after all, is the immense variety of information one can find here.

But back to Creative Commons individually. In the last assignment (which a flaw in my time management skills kept me from finishing), we were asked to follow a five or so blogs/accounts that pertained to a topic of our choosing. I had a hard time figuring out what my topic would be, because I tend to follow different interests on different kinds of social media, playing to the strengths of the medium I’m using. I’m a big fan of cooking for example, and cooking is a very visual task/art, so I follow the Food Network and Bobby Flay on Instagram, because the main thing about Instagram is the picture a user posts and its accompanying caption. I also follow National Geographic and Nat Geo Travel on Instagram, because they have breathtaking images from all over the world, and unlike many other accounts, I can trust that their photos are actually from the place they are naming. The journalist in me never stops fact-checking sources.

On this blog I’ve created, which I may keep updating even after this assignment is over, I followed a lot of news blogs and a lot of media criticism blogs. I follow these same accounts on Twitter. On Facebook, I follow my favorite TV shows, because I never actually watch live television anymore so I have a hard time remembering when new seasons of my shows start, and their Facebook pages can be counted on to deliver that information (again. And again. And again).

But in the process of doing this assignment, I realized another area Creative Commons might be revolutionizing: scholarly research. I’ve been in school long enough to know that getting access to peer-reviewed journals can be done mainly through (pretty pricey) subscriptions. I don’t even want to think about how much money Rutgers libraries spend maintaining subscriptions to all those journals and periodicals and databases that allow us students to pursue our research topics. But I came across this Public Library of Science (PLOS) post that discussed just how many scholarly articles are starting to be published under Creative Commons licenses. According to their research, there are at least 1.2 million scholarly & peer-reviewed articles licensed under Creative Commons licenses. PLOS sees Creative Commons licensing of scholarly research so important, in fact, that they and over 80 other organizations have signed a letter calling to make CC licenses the new standard for scholarly publication.

So there you have it. I believe in Creative Commons, and the Internet’s potential to keep on being the ultimate source of all information. I think one of the greatest things about the human experience is our ability to share our findings, and I don’t want archaic copyright laws to get in the way of that.

My Dad is the Best Dad in the Universe and That is NOT Up for Debate

Growing up, my father had very few rules he enforced. Don’t talk with your mouth full. No drama. Do not lower your standards. Be your own person. His main belief is that education is the key to success. My dad has been a high school teacher, a journalist and a college professor for over 20 years, and a father for a little more than 22. As the offspring of two teachers, I can personally say that no one considers education more important than teachers.

From a young age I was brought into the wonderful world of books. I made friends with Harry Potter, Humpty Dumpty, and even the Little Prince. My dad taught me to believe in the magic hidden in the pages of a book. I became the first child in my kindergarten class to learn how to read. I read every book in my house in a matter of months. I began to read the dictionary, even. My father’s passion for reading was passed down to me, and my appetite for books has yet to be quenched.

When I was younger, I never realized that my father saw the world different from the other fathers. Other dads were outside playing soccer with their children; mine was cooking gourmet-style meals inside. The irony behind these meals is that we were actually very poor, but because of his efforts, I never felt poor. He and my mother raised my two sisters and myself in a two-bedroom, one bathroom house that we could afford only because it belonged to my grandmother and she wasn’t charging us rent for it. Small and cramped though that house was, I like to believe that my parents’ efforts kept the place from becoming suffocating.

When I was nine years old, we moved from Argentina to the United States. It was, without a doubt, the biggest and most life-changing event in my life thus far. I think that it was harder on my parents than it was on my sisters and myself, because we had barely been alive long enough to make a footprint in the world. My parents had a life, and friends, and a career in Argentina, and they left it all behind to improve our future.

My father grew up poor in a small house with his brother and parents. He wasn’t out attending the opera or a play on a weekend; he was home helping my grandmother with the housework because she was ill. When he was fourteen, he got a job at a local office, and even though he hated the work, he kept the job because the health insurance benefits allowed his parents to continue to take their medication. He did everything possible to get an education; he worked his fingers to the bone at college and managed to attain enough credits to obtain a Master’s Degree in Spanish Language Arts and Literature.

A conversation with my father is always a treat. The way he talks, especially in Spanish, is almost lyrical. He has a way of stating simple facts and making them sound eloquent and enlightened. He talks to us about everything, from the students at his school to the dangers of drug use, and he never makes one feel like one should be embarrassed to have these conversations. I think it’s an admirable quality to be able to have the “birds and the bees” talk with all three of your daughters without making them uncomfortable enough to jump out of their skin. He is a cultured man, and he has instilled the value of diversity in his children. I have friends who worry about bringing home a boyfriend or girlfriend from an ethnicity different from theirs. I never have to worry about that; I know that my parents will welcome any man that makes me happy and treats me well.

My friends all make fun of me because I have a father who never wanted sons, can’t stand sports nor understand them, and would rather read a good book than drink a nice beer. However, I am proud to have a father that can cook like Emeril. I’m proud of how books are his life, and what a big role they play in mine. I would not have him any other way.