Thursday, June 11, 2009

I Heard it On the Radio

by Jane Gilvin

Twice a week, I walk up 4 escalators and 1 set of stairs in the San Jose King Library to the 5th floor. I started my first library job at the San Jose King Library’s Special collections at the beginning of the year. I decided a few years ago that I wanted my career path to be in the library world, but I had never worked in one. My two favorite things are music and books. The library is one of the best places to get both free. The radio is another great place to get the former for free. Before working at SJSU, you could find me at KUSP-FM, a public radio station in Santa Cruz. So, how did I go from an office where I could blast and sing along to Nirvana to a reading room where only pencils are allowed?

Radio stations are one of the most overlooked information centers. They can compete with the internet for immediacy of access, and with the exception of satellite radio, listening is free once you have a receiver. In my experience, radio stations are loud, chaotic, crazy, and fun places to work. A somewhat surprising aspect of my former job at KUSP-FM was handling what the library field calls reference questions. I often fielded phone calls from listeners who had questions about what they had heard on air. Usually, it was a matter of looking up a show that had been on-air earlier in the day. For example, last year, a caller wanted to know what piece of classical music she had heard in 1981 on a locally produced music show. She thought it had an oboe solo, maybe with a quartet, and was written in the 20th century. She also thought the quartet was written about the Holocaust. I correctly identified the piece as French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time), written while he was a German prisoner of war during World War II. Almost immediately, I thought this was the correct piece, but I doubled checked Wikipedia’s description of the piece and the spelling of the composer’s name. The piece has unusual instrumentation, featuring clarinet, piano, cello and violin, and has beautiful, haunting melodies. So I understood why the caller decided to find out what it was after 25 years.

Regardless of what type of radio station - small or large, public, commercial or college, talk radio or music – there are many people coming and going. Musicians, politicians, and community activists show up, along with people simply interested in radio. The mix of people who walked through the front door of KUSP-FM was always one of my favorite things about working there. I knew when I handed in my notice to KUSP-FM, it would be one of the things I missed most.

However, every day an incredible mix of people walk through the front door of the San Jose King Library, too. I was recently at the library cafe on a sunny Sunday afternoon before the library opened. I was not only impressed with the number of people waiting outside, but the diverse age range of the patrons. Not all of them make their way up to the 5th floor to the Special Collections Reading Room, but enough do to keep it interesting. People might come by to do research for a paper on the history of San Jose State University, or to look at some of the rare art books in the collection. So far, none of the researchers are carrying guitars, but it could happen.

On the days we don’t have many visitors, we work on processing archival collections or other projects like transcribing recordings of oral history. This medium for recording historical events and biographical information fascinates me. Public radio stations are no strangers to oral history. Studs Terkel, the people’s oral historian, began his work in collecting oral histories at a public radio station in Chicago. The non-profit StoryCorps travels the country recording oral histories from everyday people, archiving them at the Library of Congress and broadcasting selections on National Public Radio weekly. Terkel and StoryCorps were my introductions to the power and grace of oral histories.

My work at the radio station concerned classification and organization, much like my work at Special Collections. In fact, processing the archival collections of the University Archives exposes me to some of the same types of files I was responsible for organizing and keeping up to date at KUSP-FM. The two institutions are very different, but keep similar records for personnel, procedures and policies. Having kept neat and organized files at KUSP-FM makes the transition to good archival practices easier.

It turns out that a noisy radio station and a quiet reading room aren’t all that different. I won’t hear any live rock and roll bands playing in the reading room any time soon, but the Beethoven Center is next door and they have a harpsichord and a fortepiano. I’m glad to be at the reading room, but I know I’ll visit KUSP-FM occasionally to get my radio station fix. And I hope people will stop by the San Jose King Library to come to the 5th floor and say hello!

Jane Gilvin is a first year SJSU-SLIS student living in Santa Cruz, CA. She’s a student assistant at SJSU Special Collections in the King library. You can also occasionally hear her on air at KUSP-FM.

Photo taken by Steve Laufer.

No comments:

Post a Comment