My mother, a fourth grade teacher at a public school, asked several young STEM professionals (including me) to send photos & letters to her students about their jobs. The idea is threefold: to open their minds to different forms of science & tech (it’s not just using microscopes); to make the idea of going to college both normal and attractive; and to make them feel like they’re already part of the scholarly ecosystem, communicating with other scholars.
So I sent a letter describing, in short, my digital work on behalf of the library, mentioning that I had to learn computer programming. I sent them a link to the Digital Collections at John Jay, which I work on, and some photos of me at a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. They each wrote me back a letter. This packet of letters is already a treasured possession! Their writing is carefully crafted: they follow the letter format, they thank me politely for my time, they praise my achievements, and ask relevant questions. Some are below.
Questions and comments from children about my job
- Do you ever get tired of writing all those codes?!
- I think your work is smart building websites. I go on websites every day.
- Why did you pick this job?
- When I’m older I really want to be an Emerging Technologist.
- Is being an Emerging Technologist fun and do you get to use the iPhone 6?
- Is your job hard? I want to be an explorer. Is it like exploring in time?
- When you do your job do you discover anything new?
- I wish that I could be a scientist like you. I think you are smart and pretty.
- What were you like in 4th grade? Do you ever have problems?
- Is it cool being a librarian? I like your technology.
- I bet it was challenging to get to this rate of technology.
- I think you even made Minecraft look the way it does?
- When I first read your letter, I thought to myself, woo, she is amazing in so many ways! You must have worked very hard! I just want you to know that I support you and all that you do!
- When I grow up I want to be a mathmatian [sic].
- You inspired me to be a programmer. It sounds really hard and fun.
- I think your job is really interesting!!! When I grow up I want to be a professional gymnast.
- So I was wondering how you became who you are today?
- Do you like being a liberian [sic]?
- Do you work with any technology, perhaps a computer?
- I think your job is really cool and I’m wondering where did you apply for your job?
- Well I was not here yesterday, but I heard that you make websites and that you have to take care of your library. This is a short letter.
For the record, to the girl who asked if I “ever have problems”: yes. Sorry. Those don’t go away after 4th grade.
Interestingly, many of the students wrote to ask if my job is easy or hard, and there’s already an assumption that “writing codes” for computers is hard. I guess, thinking back to that age, we constantly classified everything—tests, teachers, classes, games—as easy/hard. Now, though, it’s not really something I think about, at least not in those terms. I classify tasks by how time-consuming they are.
With kids, it’s always interesting to see their assumptions about gender, too. In their drawings of me, I’m often wearing red high heels or a skirt or something pink, or hanging out with a blonde girl, or staring soulfully at the viewer… Then again, sometimes in their drawings of me I’m a truck, so.
Also, I loved that one kid asked if my job is like “exploring in time.” I giggled at first, but then realized—wait, yes, it totally is like exploring in time! I love libraries!!