Working on a Book about Work
On September 20, 2001, I sent out a proposal for a book project that was ambitious and yet very personal. The book, the timing of the book, and the role of the O’Neill Library all evoked an interesting confluence of events and experiences during the past few years, creating some insightful observations about scholarship in the 21st century. In this brief article, I will present some musings about writing a scholarly book that has sought to move readers emotionally as well as intellectually. This story will also touch on the changing role of the O’Neill Library, which is evolving and transforming as we move into the 21st century.
Sending out my book proposal on September 10, 2001 left me with some time to reflect on the mammoth project that I was undertaking. The next day, I awoke to a beautiful day as I started the second sabbatical of my academic year. As the morning broke, news of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon soon filled the day and the coming weeks and months. At that point, it seemed hard to put all of my heart and soul into a project that, while relevant and timely, seemed to pale in comparison to the pain caused by 9/11. However, the advent of 9/11 also shifted how I viewed my writing project and how I viewed access to the resources that I would need to make this book come alive. The role of 9/11 played a subtle, yet pronounced role in the preparation and execution of my book. For me, 9/11 underscored the reality that life was precious and short; moreover, it affirmed the critical role that inequity plays in creating a world of haves and have-nots. While there are many complex ways to construct the 9/11 narrative, one means of understanding this horrific event is that the rage of the have-nots became intolerable and was no longer confined within the boundaries of a nation or a culture. Although I would not suggest that access to work is a panacea for the ills of our world, I do believe that work plays a major role in providing structure for people’s lives and in sustaining the hope and connection that help to create meaning in our lives.
The book that I have written, entitled The Psychology of Working: A New Perspective on Career Development, Counseling, and Public Policy (published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates) has sought to transform the field of career development. The area of career development has focused for the most part on helping people to make wise choices about their educational and vocational options. While this field has blossomed in the 20th century, yielding informative theories and useful tools (such as interest inventories and other forms of self and career exploration), something important was missing. In short, the field of career development became a discipline that essentially favored the privileged who had access to volitional careers. People without much, if any access, to the resources that are associated with successful educational and career experiences, have been left to fend for themselves.
Another limitation in existing scholarship, which my work has sought to redress, is the marginalization of discussions about work within psychology and counseling. Clients in psychotherapy who present work-related problems were often informed that their issues were manifestations of unresolved family issues, thereby invalidating their concerns. The psychology of working perspective that I have advanced has sought to place working at the center of psychological discourse, with implications for counseling practice, public policy, and research.
In order to achieve these lofty goals in the post 9/11 world, I needed a way to speak to readers so that they would experience as well as reflect on the issues that I raised. My intention with this book project was to transform the nature of academic scholarship in my field. Rather than relying exclusively on empirical research and scholarly theories, I wanted to give readers an experience-near connection to the full scope of working. Using the narrative approach, which is gaining increasing popularity in the social and behavioral sciences, I integrated traditional academic scholarship with the use of song lyrics, poems, memoirs, and excerpts from plays and novels to give voice to the diverse array of working experiences.
The task that I assumed was daunting. I needed to familiarize myself with bodies of literature that were well outside of the scope of my training and experience. Moreover, I was faced with the need to collect large volumes of literature and store them in my office or home, both of which are currently limited in space. Here is where Boston College’s electronic library that has emerged in recent years became invaluable. First, I was able to gain access to an incredible number of journals via the on-line library, which helped considerably in locating resources for my book project. Second, the staff of the O’Neill library briefed me in accessing literature outside of my field. This later point is particularly helpful in the era of increasingly specialized scholars who rarely venture outside of their fields. Without the input of the library staff, I would have struggled to make sense of the vast array of options that exists in our library.
In closing, the recent publication of my book has been a wonderful experience that reflects the contributions of so many people in my life. Often the libraries that provide the resources for our scholarly efforts remain in the background, without any overt acknowledgement. I hope that my brief vignette about this book gives credit to the library and to its excellent staff who often stay behind the scenes without the acknowledgements that they well deserve.
Director of Doctoral Training, Department of Counseling,
Developmental and Educational Counseling
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