Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Librarian stereotypes rant

The purpose of this blog is to be a resource for readers and I'm not going to make a habit of writing about library issues (unless I get comments from you all that you'd like me to, of course) but today I felt like writing a little rant.

I subscribe to a librarian news feed called Library Link of the Day. Yesterday I got this story as part of that feed.

You know, I hear a lot about librarian stereotypes. Stereotypes and fighting stereotypes. How it's so over to be one of those frumpy-mummy librarians with cardigans and cats. How it's hip and cool to be a kick-boxing, blog-writing, WoW-playing librarian. A recent New York Times article interviewed a bunch of pierced and tattooed librarians who live to social-network and do tag clouds, and they talked about how it's all about being techno-savvy and stuff. And how we're all so uber-hip now, not like those stuffy old ladies of yore, the ones with the buns and glasses.


Yes, technology is important, and every day changing technology impacts libraries and librarians and library patrons. And it's important to be fearless with technology, to be willing try new things, to push boundaries and find new ways to use technology.

But it's not all about the toys. Just cause it's on the web doesn't make it relevant. Just cause it's at the Apple store doesn't mean patrons (or anyone) need it. Libraries have always been, and will always be, about service, first and foremost. I heard a very well known library professional speak at a regional conference about how "everyone" would have an iPhone soon so we had to adjust library services to new broadband technologies ASAP. No, only middle class people are going to have iPhones and the like. What's the benefit of making all those shiny toys the center of library services when the majority of our patrons can't afford them?

And how superficial, all this talk about coolness and hipness. What difference does it make if library service is delivered by a dork with a bun and a long skirt (like me!) or by some ultra-cool hottie in a Threadless t-shirt and skinny jeans? Is someone a better librarian because she has better fashion sense?

Talk about high school all over again. I'm a librarian, and that's cool, but I'm still not one of the Kool Kids.

One of the things that drives me crazy is when 25 year olds stamp their feet and whine about how no one takes them seriously because they're young. No kidding. I know you were hot shit in college, I know you're totally into manga and that makes you awesome but you know what? If people don't take you seriously maybe you should spend more time developing yourself as a professional and less time deciding what to dye your hair this week and where the next piercing should go. Respect is something you earn. It's not something you're entitled to just because you waaaaaant it. I once heard a young librarian complain that the 50-something faculty members in her academic library didn't take her seriously when she showed up to give a talk wearing a miniskirt and dyed pink hair. Shocking!

And how disrespectful is that attitude of the people (mostly women) who built this profession? My mentors and role models are all those stodgy older women so deplored by everyone who wants librarianship to be ultrahip. And you know what? They know more than I do. They are more experienced than I am. Learning from them helps make me a better librarian every day. Even if I know HTML and they don't.

Listen- I'm not cool. I'm never going to be cool. And I've accepted that. But "cool" isn't what it takes to be a good librarian. Never has been, never will be. It's about having the skills to serve your patrons, and yes, that includes keeping up with technology but it also means old-fashioned things like judgment, people skills and professionalism. It's not about being young or old, or frumpy or fashionable. And who cares what the Kool Kids think anyway.

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled content tomorrow. :-)

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