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March 22, 2007

   

Amanda Young '07 Wins Watson Fellowship to Explore Libraries in Transitioning Societies

young

Amanda Young '07, a major in history of art and a lifelong lover of libraries, is one of 50 students in the United States who have won the coveted Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for a year of self-directed study overseas. During her Watson year, Young will explore the role libraries play in civil society during times of crisis and transition. Her project, titled "A Revolutionary Quiet: Exploring Libraries in Transition," will take her to the Netherlands, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Rwanda and South Africa.

Young grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif.; her mother, a voracious reader, has been a cataloger in a university library for more than 30 years. Says Young, "I realize now that many of the political and ethical values that were so strongly stressed in our home — the moral obligation of sharing, both to reduce waste and to spread resources, the value of all public services — are ideas and ethics central to library life. My mother passed on to me a true passion for libraries for their services, their buildings, their environments — a love that has manifested itself in a string of my own library jobs and a love that is driving my Watson proposal."

A part-time job she held in high school heightened her awareness of the central role libraries play in a democratic society, Young says. During the two years she worked as a page in the Santa Cruz Public Library, the USA Patriot Act was passed and signed into law. The Patriot Act contains a controversial provision that requires libraries to provide records of patrons' activities to the federal government upon request.

"The board and the director of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries decided that dispensing these records was a violation of their patrons' rights and they very publicly refused to comply. Santa Cruz was the first library system in the nation to fight this aspect of the Patriot Act," Young says. The library's stand drew national media attention and, Young says, "had a real impact on the national consciousness, as it created awareness about potential civil liberties violations of the Patriot Act and the importance, so often overlooked, of the freedom to read what we choose without our choices being restricted or monitored."

Since high school, Young has become familiar with a variety of libraries, both as a researcher and as a worker. She has worked behind the circulation desk at an art library, relabeled slides in a slide library, and written collection guides to archives in a special-collections department. She spent a summer interning at a museum library, helping to digitize its photo archive as well as assisting a curator in the production of an exhibition catalog.

Despite her love of libraries, she has decided against a career as a librarian; she wants to write about art and intends, sometime after her Watson year, to pursue a Ph.D. in art history. But her fascination with libraries and their relationships to the communities they serve has not abated. As a Watson Fellow, she will observe those relationships in several disparate settings.

"Libraries have been a traditional symbol in the West of an educated, literate and stable society," Young's project proposal says. "They have become a statement that a nation supports the free supply of information to all its citizens, and as such they are widely accepted as a basic tenet of democracy. So what of countries that are still struggling to create a stable and democratic society? Are libraries an important part of their development? And how do libraries in so-called stable and democratic nations, nations with long traditions of a literate and literary culture, adapt to the inevitable changes in their culture and in the needs and interests of their patrons?"

As she completes a senior thesis on the work of Dutch artists Jan Vermeer and Jan Steen, Young has been busily cultivating contacts in the five countries where she plans to study. The Netherlands, she says, is the only one of the five countries she has visited before; after a semester of study abroad in Scotland, she traveled in Europe during winter break and spent about a week in the Netherlands "mostly in museums." Although she anticipates many challenges during her Watson year, she has plenty of experience at the most basic skill she'll need: working in a library, observing patrons.

 

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