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May 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more Real-Life Reference
For most of the weekend I am eager—maybe too eager—to help my children with their research. The exception is my Sunday night chat reference session; then it becomes “Don’t interrupt me unless somebody is bleeding.”
So picture a recent Sunday evening. I’m juggling one patron fussing at me about e-book downloads, two people with papers due in six hours who do not know what databases are, and somebody from Asia who wants to apply to a California school but can only find the list of Nobel Prize winners on its website.
I’ve got the chat software up alongside Facebook, which provides quick access to my social-media geek squad in case I get aeronautical-engineering questions. Or psychopharmacology questions. Or wicked-weird history questions. Or strange legal issues. Or whatever esoteric journey my Sunday night chat shift can conjure.
Suddenly, I get a message:
Mooooooooom we need your help!
My son needs me! Number One Son was in his room, headphones on, laptop open, doing a collaborative discussion on Skype with classmates.
Me: Are you bleeding? Can it wait?
Son: Karl Marx. Just stuff you can tell me off the top of your head.
He’s still scarred, I guess, from my enthusiastic reference work on previous assignments. I call it thorough; he calls it overload.
Son: “How can unfree labor alienate a worker?”
It’s an oddly worded question. But it is a reference question, and I was eager to be of assistance. So I sent the admissions-office link to the guy from Asia, sent database links to the procrastinators, and asked the e-book person to start downloading Adobe Digital Editions. Then I started my response:
Me: Since work is not voluntary—
Son: They’re being paid though—
Me: They are not part of decisions being made about their work—
Son: If I’m being paid for something—
Me: They are treated like cogs—
Son: Cogs? What?
Me: Little gears . . . part of a machine . . . just a means to an end.
Also Me: No, you do not apply to colleges through the library—you have to do it through the admissions office.
Also Me: No, you cannot avoid downloading Adobe Digital Editions. It is kinda the window you read the e-books through. You’re right, it is not the most intuitive thing in the world.
Son: Well I know what cogs are.
Me: They work for the betterment of the people that they are working for while they struggle—
Son: So being paid is dehumanizing?
Me: It’s not just being paid. Basically, the worker is a means to an end and therefore dehumanized in Marx’s view.
Also Me: Exactly. Good luck with your application!
Also Me: The reason I suggest JSTOR and not CQ is that CQ pretty much is only political and not so much the history stuff you are writing about. That is why you are not finding anything in CQ . . .
Also Me: OK, see the books on that page, and how they have a sort of picture of a book in the corner? If the book is black you can check it out. If it is gray, you can place a hold . . .
Me: In a capitalist society, the worker’s alienation from his humanity occurs because the worker can only express labor or work—which is a basic social aspect of personal individuality—through a privately owned system of industrial production in which each worker is an instrument, a thing, not a person. They are not designing the work. They are not the ones in the long run who get the profits. They get paid enough to keep churning out the product or service but not enough to fulfill higher needs. Think of the workers in Panem. The Capitol treated them as disposable.
Son: This is confusing.
Me: Alienation of the proletariat is confusing.
At this point I am patting myself on the back because I remembered Marx despite not having read him since 1982, and I provided a short but comprehensive explanation, working in a reference to a popular teen book and a movie series.
However, when I later asked Number One Son if my information was helpful to his group, he was less than effusive:
“I guess. Were you trying to be all relevant to my generation with the Hunger Games reference?”
“I contextualized political history and an analysis of The Communist Manifesto with a relevant pop-culture example on the fly while doing a million other things, precisely at the time I had asked you not to ask me anything. You are so lucky I am your mother!”
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