Sunday, January 16, 2011

What my choice of footwear has to do with my being a good librarian. (Hint: Nothing)

Full, unsurprising, disclosure: I was never a cool kid.

Which may be why articles like this about the invasion of the cool librarians get my hackles up. Librarianship was supposed to be a place where I wouldn’t have to be “hip” in order to be taken seriously, a place where my substance mattered more than my style.

I have met “young, hip” librarians who are very, very good at being young and hip. What they’re not so great at is being librarians. Being young and hip doesn’t make you good at anything else besides being young and hip. So go be a trend-setter or work on Madison Avenue. But don’t act like, ipso facto, it makes you a better librarian.

I am playing post-conference catch-up with my GoogleReader, so you may have already had your fill of discussion of this article (whether or not that's true, you should check out The Librarian Kate’s excellent post on the subject), but since it still has me saying "and another thing!" while I make dinner, I figured I'd add my $0.02.

My students don’t like me because I have cool shoes, or tattoos, or like the same bands they do, ‘cause none of those things are true. I do keep up with general pop culture trends; even though I won’t be adding A Shore Thing to my collection, I am aware of Jersey Shore. I think it’s important for me (for anyone who works with teens) to be aware of what my students are interested in, and what’s important to them; it doesn’t mean I have to be interested in the same things, or find them as important.

So if I don’t have the latest style, or the same iPod playlist, why do my students like me?
  • Because I can help them find the just right article for the paper they’re writing.
  • Because I can find a book they’ll love to read--and then find another one that they’ll love just as much.
  • Because I can help them figure how to open the paper they e-mailed to themselves (and that’s due in five minutes)--and show them how to avoid the same problem in the future.
  • Because I can explain how to cite a source for the millionth time with the same level of patience as I did the first time.
  • Because I will sit and guide them through the research process for as long as it takes.
  • Because I find and create ways for them to find success as learners.
These, and many other things I do, make me objectively good at being a librarian, regardless of how subjectively “cool” I am.

I know that many of these articles about “hip” librarians are probably a well-intention attempt to push the librarian stereotype in the other direction. But stop it. Seriously. Just stop it.

I’ve written about this before: no matter what the stereotype, our patrons do not judge librarians collectively, they asses us as individuals. And while public perception does matter, it will not, ultimately, be changed by broad generalizations; they will be changed by each of us, one at a time, working with the people who come into our libraries.

But, despite the agita this gives me, I know, ultimately, that none of these articles matter. Just as we know the shushing librarian stereotype is nonsense, we know this is nonsense. And, more importantly, so do the people we work with. So who I am, and what I do, matter far more than any fluff piece.

1 comment:

  1. Hooray! I'm wearing a cardigan and a pleated skirt, but I can give a student a book they like by asking them three questions. So I'm cool. I've never understood the concept of "hip" librarian.