Damn good answer.

Dorothea at Caveat Lector has a wonderful post on the recent New York Times article on librarians.

For those of you who haven’t heard about this article, it talks about librarians and how “hip” we now are.  How some of them are tattooed!  And wear cool clothes!  And are even GUYS!

ON a Sunday night last month at Daddy’s, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, more than a dozen people in their 20s and 30s gathered at a professional soiree, drinking frozen margaritas and nibbling store-bought cookies. With their thrift-store inspired clothes and abundant tattoos, they looked as if they could be filmmakers, Web designers, coffee shop purveyors or artists.


Librarians? Aren’t they supposed to be bespectacled women with a love of classic books and a perpetual annoyance with talkative patrons — the ultimate humorless shushers?

Not any more. With so much of the job involving technology and with a focus now on finding and sharing information beyond just what is available in books, a new type of librarian is emerging — the kind that, according to the Web site Librarian Avengers, is “looking to put the ‘hep cat’ in cataloguing.”

Dorothea takes exception to the article’s basic premise:

This image stuff? Is fiddling while Rome burns, people. It doesn’t matter what particular image the media decides to paste on us on a given day. What matters is that all they notice is image. They haven’t got a frickin’ clue what we do or why it matters.

Exactly.  And frankly, I find the article to be rather patronizing.

I’ve often wondered where all of this hand-wringing over image comes from.  I came to librarianship later in life, after having tried on a few different hats.  I’ve never been in a group of opticians or stockbrokers or higher education folks and had this conversation.  (“But what is our image as brokers?”)  Why on earth are we as a group so concerned with this nonsense?  Who CARES whether the image of The Librarian is some older woman with a bun, glasses, and sensible shoes?

As Dorothea points out, we should be concerned with what we DO:

I refuse to be defensive about my appearance or my hobbies. They impact my ability to do my job not in the slightest. I wish the profession would similarly refuse to be defensive—which means not hopping up and down yelling “See? See? I am too cool, see?”

How do we fix this? We damned well say no, loud and clear, the next time some brainless style reporter shows up to play image games. We say no. We say “you write about what I do at work, or you don’t call me a librarian in your article.” We say no. We say “I’m sorry, how is this story you’re planning relevant to libraries and librarianship?” and if they don’t have a damn good answer, we say no.

“I’m going to revamp the buns-and-shushing image of librarianship!” is not a damn good answer. It’s a damn bad answer. In fact, it’s unacceptable. So what do we say to it? We say no.

Absolutely right on.  No reporter goes into a brokerage firm and asks about what they do in their free time, or how their appearance validates or contradicts the “stockbroker stereotype.”

As I’m fond of saying, you will not get a group of accountants sitting about, wringing their hands over their image.

We need to get over this, people.  Right.  Now.  It’s juvenile and distracting.  Wear what you want.  (Though I would say that dressing professionally is appropriate for any professional, but that’s another blog post.)  Do what you want to in your spare time.  Tattoo and pierce whatever.

But for crying out loud, quit perpetuating this nonsense by continuing to whinge about it.


1 Comment

Filed under Libraries and Librarianship

One response to “Damn good answer.

  1. LuAnn


    I couldn’t agree more. The Annoyed Librarian has a slightly different complaint about the article. Do these folks really want to be librarians or is it just something they do to subsidize their “real” life?

    From the AL:
    “ ‘I think we’re getting more progressive and hipper,” says one librarian. Or perhaps they’re just getting shallower and more annoying. I think it’s an open call. They’re certainly not getting more critical, intelligent, or thoughtful, especially about libraries.

    And what attracts the annoying “hipsters”: “the job is stable, intellectually stimulating and can have reasonable hours — perfect for creative types who want to pursue their passions outside of work and don’t want to finance their pursuits by waiting tables.” That’s right, because the job is the functional equivalent of waiting tables while you go off to do the interesting things you really want to do, like be a “creative type.” Yuck.”

    And even if you don’t like the AL’s political stand, don’t skip the comment section. It’s full of thoughtful, intelligent and fun people – just like the librarians I met in school.


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