10 Questions with Librarian Dan Mack
We here at Onward State wanted to get to know one of the campus’s favorite librarians a little better, so we sat down with Dan Mack, and asked away. Dan Mack is a humanities librarian at the George and Sherry Middlemas Arts and Humanities Library, and responsible for the ancient history, classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, German language and literatures, Jewish studies, philosophy, and religious studies collections.
1. What made you want to become a librarian?
I was into a lot of things when I was in college: history, philosophy, classics, art history, music. I had a work study job in the library shelving books, and the librarians talked me into applying to graduate programs in library science. Librarianship allows me to work in a variety of subject areas. And I like people, so I enjoy helping students find the information they need for their research. I’m also interested in emerging technologies, and academic libraries are on the cutting edge of info tech.
2. What’s your favorite book?
Recently, my favorite book is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s an amazing novel spanning continents and generations, and the narrator is a Greek American hermaphrodite. Eugenides transcends issues of race, ethnicity, age, and gender, to investigate the fundamental issue: What does it mean to be human?
3. Who is your favorite author?
Do I have to pick just one? I’ve been a lifelong Tolkien fan, decades before the movies. I love fantasy, science fiction, and horror: Steven King, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, Ursula Le Guin. I also love the literature of ancient Greece and Rome: the epics of Homer and Virgil; the poetry of Pindar, Horace, and Catullus; and the ancient historians Thucydides, Livy, and Tacitus.
To find out Dan Mack’s thoughts on his trip to Rome, Kindles, dinosaurs, and more, read on after the jump.
4. Recently, you traveled to Rome, how was that?
I was on sabbatical in Rome during the spring and summer of 2008, doing research on Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor. I had a four hundred year old apartment in the old medieval neighborhood of Trastevere: narrow and twisted cobblestone streets, centuries-old apartment buildings, churches dating back to the end of the Roman Empire, and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Rome is the greatest place on earth! The cooking is amazing, the wine is cheaper than bottled water, and the coffee is the best in the world. Gelato, Italian ice cream, is so good, you can’t compare it to anything we have here. And I love the Roman people. They are intense yet laid back at the same time, friendly and interesting.
In Rome, they almost never get rid of anything. Instead they just build over, around, on top of, and inside of earlier structures. So you’ll see a 17th-century baroque church facade sticking up out of an ancient Roman temple, or a parking lot full of Fiats in front of a medieval church, or an apartment building with ancient marble and brickwork incorporated into the construction. And everywhere you turn is art. You walk down the street and pass church after church, palace after palace, ruin after ruin, twenty-five centuries of civilization right there in front of you, not behind glass or roped off: kids playing soccer around an ancient statue of a Roman emperor or a sculpture by Bernini; friends chatting over a drink next to a church with a facade by Michelangelo or frescoes by Raphael; folks having a picnic on the field that was the Circus Maximus, the great chariot race track of ancient Rome. If you ever go to one place overseas, go to Italy. And if you go to one place in Italy, go to Rome.
5. What’s your opinion on schools using Kindles?
This is an interesting question. Lots of colleges and libraries, including Penn State, are investigating this. Kindles are a type of device for reading books. There are other types as well, the Sony Reader, for example. You can actually borrow a Sony Reader from the Penn State Libraries; they’re pre-loaded with various current best-sellers, such as Stephenie Meyer’s vampire books. I’ve used both Kindles and Readers, and they do have some benefits: they’re lightweight, they can hold lots of information, and you can increase the font size to make it easy to read. Still, for leisure reading I prefer paper; maybe I’m just old fashioned. Where I can see e-books making a difference is in college textbooks. How much do an undergrad’s textbooks cost a semester? It’s hundreds of dollars, sometimes even more. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make a one-time purchase of a device costing maybe a couple of hundred bucks at the start of your freshman year, and then each semester you could download your books to it for ten dollars a title? We’re not there yet, but I think that there are all sorts of ways we can use this technology to make it easier and more efficient for students to get access to the materials they need for a course.
6. What are some future goals you have for yourself?
Besides the usual ongoing goals of exercising more and eating better, I have a few short-and medium-term goals: learn to read and speak some Arabic; get my digital sourcebook of ancient Rome up on the Web; paint the inside of my house; and plant an herb garden.
7. For Penn State?
The University Libraries has outstanding collections and a first-rate staff. I want to see us continue to set the standard for cutting edge information technology in support of both the formal education and the lifelong learning of the Penn State community. The library should be the center of any university. It should be a physical place for students and faculty to conduct research, study, and collaborate; a digital clearinghouse for information in all subject areas, media, and formats; and an ideal that forms the intellectual heart of the academic community.
8. What is the best thing about working at Penn State?
Definitely the people. We have world-class faculty in every discipline and dedicated, talented, and hard-working staff. And we have great students: smart, creative, and intellectually curious students from across the United States and around the world. I have worked at a variety of types of institutions in my professional career, but never with a better group of people.
9. If you weren’t a librarian what would you be?
I think I’d be a cook. I like to cook, and I like nearly all food and nearly every type of cuisine. It would be great to travel around and learn to prepare dishes in their home environments, using locally raised produce and meat, and using local techniques and equipment.
10. If you could be any dinosaur, which one would you be and why?
I would be a pterodactyl so I could fly and catch prehistoric dinosaur fish. I’d decorate my wings by tattooing really cool psychedelic designs on them. Then I would catch fish and drop them on people so they would look up and see my fancy decorated wings, and then I’d laugh at them like a maniac while I swooped around overhead. I would encourage all the other dinosaurs to decorate themselves as well. Being a triceratops with horns and a big armored head would be fun too, though. I would use my own head as a bulldozer.
If you’re a Dan Mack fan, then nominate him for the “I Love my Librarian” contest. Each year, The Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times lends their support to American Library Association to recognize the accomplishments of elementary, secondary, and higher education along with public librarians who make a difference in their communities. Up to ten winners will receive $5000 cash prize, $500 for travel, a nice shiny plaque, and, most importantly, bragging rights.
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