Memo to “Hipper Crowd of Shushers:” It’s Not All Roses and Daisies and Cool Technology

July 8, 2007

I just read the article that ran in the Fashion & Style section of the NYT about librarians titled, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers.”

I am so embarrassed and aggravated I actually threw the paper across the room after I finished reading.

I would love to know when this became the new stereotype about the profession (urban hipsters, sipping $10 cocktails who became librarians because it seemed like a cool profession).

Maybe 5 years is a long time, but when I graduated from library school, none of my classmates became librarians because it seemed cool. They were interested in teaching, collection development, preservation, outreach, literacy, web development, etc. Trendiness had nothing to do with it.

Why are we allowing ourselves and our profession to have one stale stereotype swapped out for a younger, “hipper” one that may be even less accurate than Marian the Librarian ever was?

After some thought, I think I can boil my issues with this article down to two points:

1. Admittedly, I have never worked in a public library, so I have no idea what the “office culture” is like in them, but I am sure many of my fellow large academic librarian colleagues and those who work in a corporate environment will agree when I state that while the academic environment can be fairly liberal, there is a definite culture of professionalism. In some places it is more evident and adhered to than others, but it is there. You want to be taken seriously and advance in your career, then you have to play the part. Yeah it is a game, just like most things in life. I am not sure how far a pink-haired, openly heavily tattooed librarian would go in some academic environments. I have worked in some that could care less, but I have also watched librarians sink in other, more rigid work environments. Never underestimate how important a skill being able to navigate your organization’s political climate is.

This is not a judgment, just an observation. I feel like this article has chipped away a bit at the professional aspect of our positions. We are professionals and I think part of our problem when it comes to salary, benefits, and library school curriculum is that people tend not to view us as professionals. Nothing in this article helped clear that up. And I would *love* to know where the $51,000 salary positions are in NYC.

2. Secondly, and this is probably the bigger issue for me, social networking software, web design, programming, and L2 tools are not new anymore. They are increasingly becoming the tool kit that many of us are using in our daily work. Highlighting these tools as the reason people are becoming librarians does a huge disservice to what all of us do everyday.

I found it interesting that no one quoted in the article stated that they are becoming librarians because they like to work with people, or that they enjoying teaching. Jessamyn is not hip and cool because she uses IM. She is valued because she has chosen to work in a small, rural public library assisting the community in becoming more aware of and adept with new technology. She is also a tireless advocate of small public libraries. That has cool written all over it.

I guess I am the Grinch who stole Library School Graduation. The article mentioned one library student talking about their career path after they heard a zine curator speak. That absolutely is an awesome and interesting job…if you can get it. Updated to add: The student quoted blogs here, where you will find a thoughtful post about what interested her in librarianship and greater detail about the speaker she heard. I wish the article included more of this and less about the clothes, the IT toys and the cocktails. The reality is that being a librarian you find yourself doing things that are not cool a lot more than you’d like to admit. See this post for my list.

We do these things because we care and they need to get done. And while a position such as a zine curator does sound pretty awesome, there is not an overabundance of them in the job pool. Distance education librarian may not sound cool, but I guarantee that there are plenty of them out there who think they have the best job in libraries.

I don’t want to see a new crop of librarians who joined the profession because it seemed cool and they thought that they would work with technology all day. I want new colleagues who are committed, engaged, energized, willing to go the extra mile to help a patron, will advocate for change and who want to be taken seriously as educators.

This article didn’t touch upon any of those things, nor did it even paint a portion of the picture of true librarianship. Unfortunately, I think it successfully made those of us over 30, who are not urban hipsters feel slightly more alienated than we have before.

Age has nothing to do with it. Nor do your clothes, body modifications, the type of cocktails you drink, or where you hang out after work. It’s what you do when you are in your library assisting a patron that matters. You want to be valued and respected, do something that is relevant and that matters to your patrons and your colleagues.

This article begs the question: Are we failing library school students in another way by not giving them an accurate depiction of the profession and the types of positions that are available? I hate to beat a dead horse, but again, this would be one of those issues where working while going to library school, or doing an internship pre-library school would solve some of the confusion and misrepresentation.

I love my job – headaches and all. But, I am constantly amazed by how many librarians, new and seasoned, who are surprised when I describe some of my responsibilities. There needs to be more honest discussion about job duties and responsibilities in library land. Articles like this one reinforce my belief that a lot of library school students have no idea what it means to be a librarian and they type of work that gets done on a daily basis. That worries me.

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10 Responses to “Memo to “Hipper Crowd of Shushers:” It’s Not All Roses and Daisies and Cool Technology”

  1. […] role that librarians can and do play within society. For me it was less, the job sounding “pretty awesome“, but more opening up the possibility of what the job could be. That it could be more than a […]

  2. Meg said

    A few comments on your commentary:

    1. I’d like to know where ALA gets its $51,000 median salary figure. I don’t believe it said starting salary, but even so, that’s ridiculously high, and I do think that it’s a rather misleading number, thrown off by a few high paying jobs.

    2. This was an article in the Style section of the NYT, so rather than focusing on what librarians really DO, it focused on their individual styles as a way to break the orthopedic-shoes-and-bun stereotype. While I’m sure most people would have preferred a more true-to-life portrait of librarians, it isn’t necessarily news that librarians generally work with people. It IS news to many people that they can be techy and trendy. Sad to say, that’s all this article was–not a balanced attempt to showcase the profession, but one to say, “Look! There are librarians with tattoos!”

    So while I think it’s fair to be a bit disappointed with what the article could have been, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to expect a style piece to be an in-depth examination of the state of librarianship today, especially when it varies so much from location to location. (Though for the record, as a public librarian for the past 9 years, I have yet to see anyone with pink hair get hired. I could maybe see it in a YA librarian, but I’m fairly certain it would be held against me in a job interview for an adult services or purely children’s position.)

  3. Meg, you’re right. It is a fluff piece, and after a couple of days to cool down, I do see that, but I am still miffed that the focus of the article was appearance, rather than ability. I know, Style section, but it still bothers me.

    And I guess the underlying anger I have is that I really hope most of the quotes included in the article were snippets of longer ones. Because, Style section or not, it does bother me that someone would become a librarian because they think it provides an opportunity to spend all of their day playing with cool technology and affords them the time and flexibility to pursue their true passions. I can’t help but feel a bit offended that our profession was alluded to as a job that you can do while you pursue other things you really care about. That is a bit degrading.

    But, admittedly, my head is much cooler than it was on Sunday when I wrote this entry.

  4. MLIS in waiting said

    I too got royally ticked after reading that NYT article. Actually, I was ticked immediately after being handed the clipping and before reading it! But, as you say, time to cool down and all that. The real issue for me is that librarians are so under the radar to many people, and even those heavy users don’t think librarians do much more than check out books, because that’s what they see. So a fluffy piece like this encourages the public to think librarians don’t do much, and now they’ll think we get paid a lot of money, and so why fund libraries? Hmph.

  5. Mary Carmen said

    MLIS: I think you really hit the nail on the head for me. People don’t know what we do, and this piece did nothing to help that problem. Bottomline.

  6. Liz said

    I keep reminding myself that the article was in the ‘Style’ section . . . still, I share your frustration. Here are my comments about it.

  7. […] Posted July 12, 2007 There has been a lot of talk recently on blogs (see here, here here, here, here plus the plethora of links fro any of those blogs), listservs, and among librarians about a New […]

  8. jim said

    The article was shallow, vapid, and perfectly suited for the style section. I’m really surprised by how insulting people found it. The comments on your post are quite funny, too. Full of stereotypes, they are! Librarians are poorly paid and we all want to work with the public. In fact, I’m always caught off guard when I realize that librarian are still so concerned with their image. Like we’re such a homogeneous group that we can share an image! I can’t wait for the day when we can all be a little more secure and not fret over our portrayal in the style section.

  9. I like to think that the traditional librarian, minus the dour meanness, it much more approachable than the hipster one. Just as the traditional portrayal of a grandmother in an apron is comforting, isn’t a smiling librarian in a twin set and pleated skirt cozy?

  10. Enriqueta said

    We have decided to open our POWERFUL and PRIVATE web traffic system to the public for a limited time! You can sign up for our UP SCALE network with a free trial as we get started with the public’s orders. Imagine how your bank account will look when your website gets the traffic it deserves. Visit us today: http://voxseo.com/traffic/

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