It’s time for yet another Member Spotlight interview! How exciting is that?! This month features Carol V. Jarvis, Contractor Cataloger of Middle East Materials at Brigham Young University. Read our conversation and learn all about Carol’s passion for languages, the struggles of contract work, and how she thinks the library profession has changed over the years. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Carol!
AC: How did you get into librarianship?
CJ: Well, I’m in my second library cataloging career. I went to the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies from 1985 to the spring of 1987. I got my master’s degree in information and library studies from the University in 1987. In that first career, I was a music librarian, a music and audiovisual cataloger. Most of the work I did in that early career was at the University of Utah Marriott Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I worked in that position from the summer of 1990 until the end of the calendar year of 1996. I became disabled, mentally disabled, in the mid-1990s, and I actually had to stop working at the University of Utah Marriott Library and leave the profession. I was out of the profession for over twenty years. But by the time 2011, 2012, came along, I decided, “You know, I’m tired of this. I’m tired of social security.” I wanted to make a comeback and have something really good and useful to do.
I wanted to make a comeback and have something really good and useful to do.
In the fall of 2012, it turned out that Salt Lake Community College had a continuing education division and a number of online programs in that division. One of them was Library and Information Science. I thought, “Okay, I already have the master’s degree, but I’m obviously not current in my knowledge and skills,” so I did that community college program. I might have thought I was going to get back into music cataloging, but it turned out that the younger generation of music librarians and music catalogers didn’t understand me, and I wasn’t really getting very far. And along the way, relevant to my joining Atla, was the fact that way back in 1985 and all through my studies at the University of Michigan, I studied the Arabic language.
By 2015, I contacted the person that was in charge of a music contract cataloging company, and she looked at my resume and saw that I listed the Arabic language skill. She told me, “Get any job with that language skill.” I listened to her, and since I was still in Utah, I then discovered that the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, where I’m now a remote cataloger, had a substantial Middle East collection. I knew the music and dance cataloger there, and then she got me in contact with the head of the cataloging and metadata department. I’ve been doing the work for the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University for five-plus years now.
I started the job knowing only Arabic, but then in November 2015, I expressed an interest in cataloging books in Persian, which were written in a modified Arabic script. I gave myself a crash course in Persian, lasting about a week before I felt confident cataloging in that language. Since that point, I’ve learned and cataloged in modern and Ottoman Turkish, Pashto, Urdu, modern Hebrew, Latin script Kurdish – all these languages. I clearly have very rare and unusual foreign language skills. And I know I could learn more. I know that I could learn Syriac. I know I could learn Aramaic, the language that Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples and followers. In fact, I have a new international version of the Bible that’s half Arabic and half English. I kind of like being able to compare in the Arabic text, the words that Jesus Christ said on the cross and see how similar Aramaic, an ancient language, is to Arabic, the modern language. I’m really fascinated by things like that. That’s kind of how I got into this.
Since that point, I’ve learned and cataloged in modern and Ottoman Turkish, Pashto, Urdu, modern Hebrew, Latin script Kurdish – all these languages.
I live in Bel Alton, Maryland, clear across the country from Utah. I only do remote cataloging work for Brigham Young University. I guess the only thing I wish is that I could work on-site and do substantial work. I’m kind of not getting anywhere towards my goal of becoming financially self-sufficient, but at least I’m gaining a lot of experience. Right now, even though it’s not theological, I’m kind of setting my sights on the Library of Congress, to see if I can get any kind of work there.
AC: Have you always been interested in languages?
CJ: Yes. I have a brother who is four years older than me, but he was five years ahead of me in school. We grew up in St Louis, Missouri; that’s where I’m originally from. When I was in seventh grade, he was a senior in high school, in the Kirkwood school district in St Louis County. I remember back in my brother’s high school years, he was studying German and practicing his German on our dad. And I was always listening. I was always listening, paying attention, learning from my brother and everyone else. Even in seventh grade, I knew how to say “Die Katze ist krank.” “The cat is sick.”
I got my bachelor’s degree at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, affiliated with the Reformed Church of America. The Dutch Reformed Church – I’m actually part Dutch. My maiden name is Van Eenam.
Anyway, I went to Hope College for my bachelor’s degree work from 1982 to the spring of 1985. I transferred there. I had what they call a composite degree – not a triple degree – a triple major degree that included music, French, and German. It wasn’t a bachelor’s of music, but it included the foreign languages. So even then, having a degree like that, you know that I had a real strong language interest.
Then, as it turned out, during my final semester at Hope College, in the first half of 1985, two young Arab women entered my world. One of them was from Beirut, Lebanon, and the other was from Manama Bahrain, which is a tiny island off the coast of Saudi Arabia. They were young women and Christian minorities in Muslim countries. They entered my world, the woman from Lebanon became my roommate, and her best friend lived down the hallway from us in the dorm. They were constantly together speaking in Arabic, and I was going nuts. I was really curious, wanting to know what they were saying, and I asked them if they would teach me Arabic. My roommate turned me down, but the other person agreed. If ever you feel like God calls you really strongly to do something, that was basically what it felt like.
I studied it even during my studies for the master’s degree in information and library science at the University of Michigan. I discovered that the University of Michigan, as big as it is, had a department of Middle Eastern studies and it had students, doctoral students in Arabic linguistics studying there. I studied Arabic informally through someone working on their doctoral in Arabic linguistics. On top of all the homework for my regular degree program! I exhausted myself. By the time I finished in the spring of 1987, I was intermediate level in Arabic. I kept the language skill alive all the years I was out of the profession. I kept the language skill alive in very interesting ways. And then it got rediscovered in 2015.
So I guess the thing I can say is that although I know that I’m doing remote cataloging work for Brigham Young University, I just hope maybe, because of the Spotlight, somebody will take a chance and decide that they’ve got a backlog somewhere where I can help them out too. Backlogs in those languages. I certainly have done a lot of cataloging work in the area of religion: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And I’ve cataloged copies of the Koran with the title page in Arabic calligraphy, the hardest thing to read, with commentaries in Persian. I’ve cataloged Bibles in Persian. I am a beginner, with beginning experience, in cataloging in modern Hebrew. I really love this work and I just keep hoping for more.
And I’ve cataloged copies of the Koran with the title page in Arabic calligraphy, the hardest thing to read, with commentaries in Persian. I’ve cataloged Bibles in Persian. I am a beginner, with beginning experience, in cataloging in modern Hebrew. I really love this work and I just keep hoping for more.
AC: Do you find that once you’ve learned one language, the others have been easier, or is it just as hard with every language?
CJ: It’s hard. Obviously, when you’re learning another language, it’s different. It’s obviously different from the other languages I know. I will say that now the process of learning a language is a lot, lot quicker than it was for Arabic. But every language definitely has its challenges.
AC: Do you remember what your first impression of Atla was? Do you remember when you first encountered Atla?
CJ: Yes. I actually joined in the spring of 2016. I kind of felt all along that I’m making a comeback. Starting from nothing, for all those years, and trying to emerge again. I’m always thinking, “Okay. What might be the best way to meet people and have them understand me and be able to help me get work?” The best way possible. I had to make a choice between attending the American Library Association, a big huge association, that it is, or Atla, which is obviously a lot smaller and specialized. I don’t remember exactly how I discovered Atla, but I did. It was in 2016 after I started doing the work for BYU.
Yes. I actually joined in the spring of 2016. I kind of felt all along that I’m making a comeback. Starting from nothing, for all those years, and trying to emerge again.
Then in 2017, my partner and I actually attended the Atla conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember that conference. I was talking with Iskandar Bcheiry. I missed him at this virtual conference, I didn’t see him there. But I met him face to face at the 2017 conference. I really loved being around him and practicing my Arabic with him. I remember him saying that my Arabic speech was quite slow but clear, and I thought, “Well, I guess I like that okay!”
I also met Brian Shetler from Drew University also in person. He thought his institution had a backlog in Arabic and Persian, but it turned out they didn’t, so that didn’t quite pan out. Then after that, I just maintained my membership every year, and I read the newsletters and so forth. And then, of course, I attended the virtual conference this past June.
AC: How did you like the virtual conference?
CJ: It was okay. I think my biggest frustration was that there were a number of people I wish I could have been able to talk to, to chat with, and I just didn’t see any particular way I could do that.
AC: Cumulatively, you’ve been in the library profession for a long time. How do you think it’s changed from when you first were a librarian as opposed to now?
CJ: Yeah, there’s quite a bit of difference, besides the fact that I was a music cataloger in my first career, and I’m a Middle East language cataloger now. Obviously, there are differences with that. The other thing that I’m just noticing and seeing is that back in those days, the speed of cataloging didn’t really matter that much. Institutions were looking for real accuracy, top-rated cataloging. And, of course, we were doing AACR2 all that time, as opposed to RDA now.
I also see that back in the early days, most librarians that had a master’s degree in library science actually got employed by an institution directly. In my case, I got employed with the University of Utah directly, almost right away. Or you would work directly with the Library of Congress or work directly with Yale University or somewhere, early in your career. And then you’d work for your entire career there, until you were ready to retire.
Now, I was out of the profession for over twenty years. Believe it or not, my biggest frustration is that I can’t seem to find jobs where I’m employed directly instead of being hired as a contractor through another company. These days, there are so many people working as a contractor, as a cataloger. Of course, a lot more are working remotely. The big problem is, when you’re employed as a contractor, you don’t get any employee benefits – all that’s cut out. You just get compensated for the cataloging work you do and that’s it. I guess the positive side to being able to work remotely is you can be associated with an institution and not even have to live there. And obviously, technology has made it so that conferences can be virtual, which didn’t cost any of us anything, so we could just be at our own homes and not have to pay a huge motel or airplane costs and so on and so on. That was kind of nice. So yes, I see all those differences.
Probably just to not feel bad if things don’t work out at first. Just have a lot of patience. And when the right job comes along, just really love it.
AC: Is there a project or something that you’re most proud of when you look at your career as a cataloger?
CJ: Well, I already mentioned that I’ve been working for BYU for over five years. I think there’s one other thing I’m going to point out that I have a lot of pride in. I’m on Facebook and I have a few friends that are from the Middle East, from the country of Qatar. It turns out that there was one person that works for a company called Global Access Limited that has subsidiary companies, and one of them is called Fihrist, located in Cairo, Egypt. A colleague of one of my Facebook friends works at the national library of Qatar, in Doha, Qatar. My friend actually sent me a message saying that one of his colleagues was looking for somebody who could catalog in Ottoman Turkish and he wanted my permission to give my name to this project manager. So I said yes, and this past April I actually cataloged twenty-eight book scans in Ottoman Turkish for a client here in the US but through that company, Fihrist, located in Cairo, Egypt. So that means that my reputation as a Middle Eastern cataloger has gone international now.
AC: Is there anything that people might be surprised to know about you? Any fun facts?
CJ: I’m trying to think. I play cello, and I like cats! I go absolutely nuts for kitties. Maybe that’s about it, that’s all I can think of.
AC: If you were going to give advice to somebody who is entering theological librarianship, what would it be?
CJ: Probably just to not feel bad if things don’t work out at first. Just have a lot of patience. And when the right job comes along, just really love it.
Member Spotlight is a new series featuring interviews with individual Atla members about their journey in theological librarianship. Interested in being interviewed? Send us an email with the subject line “Member Spotlight.”
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