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Self-proclaimed radical librarian to speak at MU on Monday

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 4:08 p.m. CDT; updated 5:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 13, 2012

COLUMBIA — A gulf exists between people who know how to use computers and those who don't.

This "digital divide" results in fewer jobs for people without computer skills and fewer opportunities to advance in the job market.

If you go

What: "An Evening With Jessamyn West"

When: 6-8 p.m. Monday

Where: Memorial Union S107 at MU

Admission is free.


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"Lots of people know how to use computers, and lots of people don't — more than you think," said Jessamyn West, community technology librarian at Randolph Technical Career Center in Randolph, Vt., and community manager for MetaFilter.com.

"If you don't know how to use computers, you have a lot of strikes against you," West said.

She said 19 percent of Americans have no Internet access at home.

West will be coming to MU to speak about the digital divide — what's going on, what she views as important and what library school students think is important.

"An Evening With Jessamyn West" will be from 6-8 p.m. Monday in Memorial Union S107. Admission is free.

Giving talks such as this one is nothing out of the ordinary for West — she considers herself a "radical librarian."

"Radical librarians are people who feel one of the things they should be doing as a public servant is advocating for the public," she said.

West thinks librarians should advocate for the public by making library services more accessible to people who have difficulty reaching them, such as the homeless and people in jail. It's also important to her that a library's collection represents all of the people of the world.

"We represent the public, so we need to serve the public," West said.

West's passion for social justice and equal access to library services is one of the reasons she chose to be a librarian, though that's not what she studied initially.

She attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts from 1986 to 1990 where she studied linguistics.

"They have a dynamite library and dynamite librarians who were an inspiration to me," she said.

After graduating, West was unsure of what she wanted to do and considered law school. Then she thought about what she would be doing anyway, even if it weren't her job — what she enjoyed. The answers were these: help solve problems, look things up in the library and advocate for social justice issues.

West discovered that it was possible to do all of these at once as a librarian, so she attended library school at the University of Washington from 1993-96. After school, she moved to Vermont.

Being from a small town, West thought it was only natural that she return to a small town. She uses her people skills and computer skills to serve there, but she also travels and talks about her experience.

"Having a lot of computer skills made my skill set unique in a rural area," West said. "It's an odd niche where I talk about a group of people who are not as often talking about themselves on a global stage."

One way West uses her skill set to communicate with the world about these issues is through her blog on librarian.net, where she posts interesting things about libraries. She started her blog in 1999, and her early entry into the blogging world helped introduce her and give her a voice in the national library scene.

This skill set and expertise also allows West to fulfill her love of traveling. When she travels, she prefers to stay with "real human beings and not crazy hotels."

She will be staying with "friends of a friend" when she arrives in Columbia.


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