Information Update - Spring 2013

Introducing Our Staff: Kevin Kocur

Kevin KocurKevin Kocur, who joined our staff in May 2012, works as cataloging clerk at the Weinberg Memorial Library. Kevin Norris, editor of Information Update, interviewed him via Facebook Messenger.
KN:Tell us about the work you do at the Library.
KK:The bulk of what I do is cataloging the new titles. In the near future I will be doing some original cataloging; I'm really looking forward to that.
KN:Could you tell us something about the newspaper project that you have been working on?
KK: The newspaper project has been fun. Over the years articles about The University of Scranton from newspapers around the country were collected into close to 100 scrapbooks. We even have a clipping from a newspaper in Nebraska. These scrapbooks are being digitized under the leadership of Kristen Yarmey. A number of employees and students have taken on the project. It's truly a cross-departmental effort. So far, we have over 11,000 articles that can be accessed here on campus, with plans for wider access down the road. I've been helping out by providing bibliographic info and tagging the articles with specific keywords.

There are some interesting stories that develop through going over the articles. Some of the football and basketball stories keep things moving along.

KN: Tell us something about your background, where you're from, and how you came to library work.
KK: I'm from Youngstown, Ohio. They've always had a good public library system. They have two newer branches in the suburbs, and they also refurbished a grocery store on the city's Southside. Growing up in an area that has valued libraries probably got me interested in working in a library. When I went to John Carroll I worked the circulation desk. Over the past eight years I've taught social studies at a military school and I worked at a library in Casper, Wyoming, among other things.
KN: You and I are from the same area originally. I'm from Sharon, Pennsylvania, which is just across the border from Youngstown. You worked in a video store for a while, too, didn't you?
KK: Yes. I worked at the once mighty Blockbuster Video as a part-time job and a manager over the years. I always like adding the titles that Media Services acquire for our library.

The Warner Brothers, the big movie moguls, had connections to the Youngstown area. My great-grandfather ran a movie theater during the Depression, but he didn't make it as big.

KN: A shame he didn't make it big like the Warners; you could be in Hollywood instead of Scranton.
Are there any skill sets you carried over from video store manager to librarian?
KK: Even though I'm not working directly with the public anymore there is still a good deal of satisfaction helping co-workers track things down for students and faculty members here at the University. There's a service imperative in both places, and there's job satisfaction when patrons get what they are looking for. I've noticed that the people behind the scenes are equally committed to the folks in circulation and reference to make things run smoothly.
KN: Blockbuster, of course, is out of business now. How do you see the future of home entertainment delivery? Are DVDs on the way out, or do you think people will still want them?
KK: In 1996 a guy came up to me in the store and said, "All of this will be obsolete. All this will be available over fiber optic lines." I think, or maybe hope, a niche will remain. A while back you sent me an article about a video store in New York City that specializes in Argentinian movies. There's also an independent store that's thriving in Brooklyn. So maybe a specialty market will continue to exist. But it's also nice seeing documentaries available digitally through our library catalog. You can't beat that.
KN: There's a lot of debate nowadays about print versus ebooks, and that print is read differently than text online. Also, that people enjoy and feel more secure with ownership of the printed page. I remember in the 1980s when CD ROMs first came in, savants predicted that the "paperless society" had arrived -- which it hadn't, at least not in the way they envisioned. Do you think streaming and online will replace the sense of ownership and the security of having a book or DVD or whatever in hand as opposed to having it over the web, where it can disappear at the whim of the provider?
KK: It does destroy the concept of supply and demand. Companies are now being accused of price fixing and collusion. Along with the economics there's a sociological dimension to the changes. Paul Fussell, a social scientist, wrote about books in the homes of middle class families. They're generally neutral. Not too political, one way or the other.

I think there is a danger of handheld devices becoming status symbols. I like to think of books as an equalizer in society. I think books can be conversation starters. Maybe electronic devices will destroy this opportunity for socialization.

Also, it wasn't too reassuring when Amazon didn't secure the rights to George Orwell's 1984 and ended up erasing all of the copies off their Kindles.

KN: I think the same thing about electronic devices being status symbols, considering how much they cost and how quickly they become obsolete. After all, the idea of the public library was that all you needed was a library card -- which was free.

I'm curious, though. Why do you feel electronic devices might destroy the opportunity for socialization? Aren't we always being told that Web 2.0 sites are making the world one big interactive community?
KK: "Destroy" may be too strong of a word; "alter" might be better. If I visited a professor after a class and asked him/her about something and he or she turned around and pulled a book off their shelves and handed it to me, I felt a sense of equality or respect. Wow! They trust me with this! However, if my teacher is a faceless flashing cursor in a chat room, I'm not getting the same social experience.

I'm not going to deny the advances in technology. Great amounts of information can be accessed. While I've often spent hours looking at things online, such as Central American boxing records, for example, I've also found myself asking people questions about things, even though it would be easier to look it up on a computer. I really think there should be a definition for the act of knowingly disregarding technology in order to affirm one's place in society.

Here's another example. When I worked at a public library we had our regulars. Maybe I was breaking a privacy barrier, but I would say: "So you like this? Have you read . . .?" That was an opportunity for social interaction. And I think there is a lot of value in that kind of interaction.

KN: And where are libraries going with these new trends?.
KK: There's something called the "Third Place." These are bookstores, libraries, bars, coffee shops, social clubs and other hangouts. People have their home and their workplace. They go to a Third Place to relax and meet. With advances in technology libraries can free up space and develop spots for people to congregate. I started here when there was a massive serials collection on the first floor of the Library. Now it's being developed into a dynamic meeting place. I'm probably stuck between two worlds. I could never imagine bringing a cup of coffee into a library in the early 90's. I think there were signs up that said, "No food or drink allowed." But when I go to bookstores or coffee shops, most people are so focused on their phones. I think Orwell had it wrong. Seems like small screens in people's palms are more powerful than massive screens on walls.
KN: Well, I'm old enough to remember when there were smoking sections in college libraries—even at the University. Imagine having that now!

Speaking of the past—and the future—where do you hope to see yourself in 10 or 20 years, professionally speaking?

KK: I think a good job would be something related to the history of New York City. I've been there a lot since I moved here and have read several books. And I'm addicted to a podcast called The Bowery Boys. I really like the interaction of ethnic groups and assimilation into American culture. I think it's an amazing place, and I can always find something to do. But Scranton still has better pizza.
KN: Well, wherever you are, good luck.