In which I go on a rant which has been building up within me for 25 years. Some librarians may get their noses out of joint. But I don’t care. For mine has been out of joint for far too long……
People who discuss librarian stereotypes and overcoming them annoy me. It is a tired, bleating sound that has turned into a stereotype itself. There is nothing new about this move to “reject the stereotype”. When I started my LIS course in 1988 some fellow students were discussing that they <insert disdainful tone> “weren’t the typical librarian” and the need to <disdainful tone again> “challenge stereotypes”. This attitude surprised me in 1988 and completely spins me out that it still exists a quarter of a century later. I worked hard throughout high school to ensure I got into a library information course and my aim was always to be a librarian for the ones that I had come into contact from a young age were all brilliant people. My list below shows a broad mix of personalities that were the librarians I cam into contact with prior to going to uni:
1. My first children’s librarian – tall, skinny, long hippy hair and hippy fashions. Always wore wedged clogs, allowed kids behind the desk to help and always chatted about books.
2. My second children’s librarian – Curly black hair, male, always smiling but didn’t know how to rec books like our first one. This was dissapointing to us kids (but he was still cool and let us hang out).
3. My high school librarian had gnarled arthritic hands and was the antithesis of my local librarians. She was dour but always knew how to help us with school asignments.
4. My first foray into the adult library librarian was a cool chick. She wore funky clothes, had a funky haircut and loved Mills and Boon.
5. The librarian that cool chick librarian worked alongside with was male and only spoke to people who had literary tastes in reading. As a teen, this did not rule me out as I read lots of literature both in English and in Greek. He relished this and was always very nice to me (but was standoffish to others).
6. Desk Set. Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and a bunch of bright fabulous librarians being threatened with being closed down as computers can do a librarians’ work (sound familiar? This movie is circa 1957 – Knowledge trumps data in this one).
What I’m trying to demonstrate above is that I came in contact with a broad variety of librarians and I am sure that if you were to make a list of those you came in contact with, you too will have a similarly broad list. So, to still be discussing librarian stereotypes nearly 25 years later shows a lack of understanding of the profession and that there are some people who may have their own personal image problem with their choice of career. (I did say I was going to get ranty). It is like begging for acceptance. Hand up in the air, waving to the cool kids and saying “Hey I’m hip even though those before me weren’t”.
In my opinion, the only librarian stereotype is a person who is always able to help you locate the information you need and can usually be trusted to be objective. That is it.
For I don’t care if someone wears their hair in a bun, wears glasses or asks people to keep keep the noise down (actually I lurrrrve these librarians but here is not the place to write about my opinions on libraries and cacophony). I won’t pass judgement if a librarian is toting a book or e-device of their choice, is in a suit, is in jeans and a polo top or in a flippy skirt or a pair of cinos. I don’t care if librarians choose to wear sensible shoes or stilettos (well – in a workplace where you are expected to climb step ladders I do care but that is an OH&S issue not a librarian issue). I don’t care if the librarian wears converse, a cardigan, sports a beard, a mohawk, ponytail, support hose or has ink and piercings. That’s right, for the tattooed librarian is a stereotype too. Not because they have a tat but because they have delivered an information service.
What I do care about is the disdain with which librarians of the years gone by are being subjected to by proclamations of rejecting the stereotype. These are professionals who went through amazing technological changes in their libraries during the twentieth century, some of them as drivers of change and others who were implementers and, of course there were those who didn’t like the changes too. These “stereotypes” that image conscious information professionals are trying to not emulate were responsible for the transition of the profession from the 19th century industrial era library through the modernist 20th century into the digital information era of the early 21st century. These book peddling, knowledge sorting, program delivering librarians have inspired and changed people. They have delivered them from a tradition of taking on your family’s work to inspiring them to look beyond their personal experiences and to dream of the places that they have read about in books and magazines and movies that would not have been available in the home. The whole thing about librarians is that they are an agile profession providing information and experiences to an agile community.
So those of you who want to be hip and reject YOUR perception (not everyone’s) of librarians of a past era to show how alternative and edgy you are. Well here’s my challenge to you. How about being the alternative to the alternative. Rather than join the herd and rally against the stereotype – just be yourselves, work hard, deliver the information service, give a nod to those that went before you and a leg up to those that will follow.