I know I’ve written about how librarianship as a profession needs to (among other things) embrace and play with its kitschy, sort of retro public image to both make our profession more visible and show in the process that, hey, we do have a sense of humor about it. The Lee County Librarians, in the above picture, are doing just that, to hilarious effect.
To continue with this train of thought, I was surprised how ambivalent I felt when I saw the “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers” article in the New York Times today, especially when it did everything that I had stated I wanted:
Showed that librarianship, as a profession, is changing. Jessamyn West is even quoted as saying that it’s become a techie profession, and mentions that she checks Twitter, does IM reference, and, obviously (to the biblioblogosphere, anyway) blogs frequently.
- Profiled young librarians who reference but don’t fit the aforementioned stereotype. They’re literate, social, (sometimes tattooed and pierced) politically active “hipster” types.
- These librarians are no teetotalers. Several of the people who were interviewed mentioned being informally recruited by librarians they met…in bars. The lead photo and many of the interviews were apparently done in a bar. A pretty far cry from the stereotypical vision of the “dry” (literally), anti-social spinster librarian.
- There are “guybrarians.” That nickname alone is enough for that particular point.
After marinating on this a little more, I hit on what really bugs me. This article was written a lot more about the “hipness” of the superficial trappings of the profession than the profession itself. As one blogger put it, “The MLIS is the new barista.”
It smacked of the same attitude of people who listen to movies only long enough to parse out their favorite quotes and repeat them ad nauseum to their friends, or who listen to indie rock only long enough to figure out which bands are acceptably underground, solely for the purpose of buying that band’s t-shirt and impressing the emo hottie that they’ve been scoping all week at the bar.
Do I get a little kick out of the high-heels-and-pencil-skirt aspect of the public perception of librarians? Sure. Did I join the profession assuming that I would spend a lot of time mingling with well-shod, well-read hotties who were my age? Hell no. I assumed (and was largely proven right, in my case) that many people in MLIS programs are making a career change, and are closer to their mid 30s or 40s than mid 20s (my age). And, far from the impression that this article gives off, very few people outside of the profession that I’ve talked to have any idea what any actual librarian does on an actual daily basis (don’t even get me started on what people do and do not know about what archivists do), which is probably why I was initially so excited to see this article.
Well, this article does make it clear that not all librarians fit the stereotype of “frumpy, middle-aged ladies in bad shoes.” However, it also spends so little time on the actual mission of libraries and librarians that it makes library school look like the intelligentsia version of getting your “MRS Degree“…so that you can mingle with other socially aware, well-read people. Sure, that’s a great part of being a librarian or archivist, you often get to work with interested, interesting people. However, that is not, and should not, be your main motivating factor for entering library school or the profession.
Do you like to help people? Do you like to search for information in multiple ways and in multiple formats and customize and deliver it to your patrons? Yes? Good. If that is the case, I don’t care if you’re 25 or 75, cool or desperately unhip…you’re librarian material.