When Gail and I go to a bar, there’s always this great moment where she says she’s a Mail Carrier and I say I’m a Librarian. We are both fully aware that we sound like we’re making up sexy alter egos and she’s just really bad at it. I’ve had high school acquaintances, dates, and even attendants in high-end shops assume I am joking when I say I’m a librarian. They aren’t being rude. I’m just 26 and they’re visibly waiting for the punchline.
However, when I say I’m a librarian…
… no, I’m not kidding.
Everyone pictures one of two people when they hear “librarian” and the frumpy gal with the bun is generally the first. I’ll get to the second in a minute. In actuality, about 50% of the librarians I know are in their 20’s and early 30’s. We’re also not typically ultra conservative. On the contrary, it is a hugely liberal profession and includes tattoos, pink hair, and piercings, depending on the library. Massachusetts even has its own Tattooed Librarians Calendar. While I have more conservative political beliefs than my coworkers, even in the Midwest, the Librarians for Obama bumper sticker is quite common. My point, though, is that most of us actually look a lot more like this…
This is the second most common image conjured. I’m sure most librarians like sex. In fact, if I could remember what it was, I’d probably like it, too. It is a biological drive. That does not mean that we do strip teases with ladders on rollers. Do you have any idea how many germs are in a library?!?! I think this fantasy actually developed as the result of the aforementioned “ultra conservative librarian” stereotype. We’re so prim and repressed, if properly triggered, we must go absolutely wild. On the contrary, librarians are in public service and just like cops and poison control operators, we have some of the most bizarre encounters. We’re all about free information, therefore, our calling is to give information freely; that means without judgement or surprise, regardless of whether it’s a 10-year-old’s request for Fifty Shades of Grey or a man’s desire for books on rape. We do not get to voice an opinion. If you ask your local librarian for books on sexual positions and STD treatment and she even bats an eye, she’s not doing her job very well. So, hearing the phrase “demure ladies in the streets, but utter freaks in the sheets”, in regards to my profession is neither going to scar my virginal soul, nor is it going to cause me to rip my tweed pantsuit from my swollen breasts. It’s a career path… a wonderful one. It does not, however, come with any sexual requirements. In fact, the beauty of being in such a liberal field means that heterosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, transgenders, and swingers would really all be welcome.
… no, Kindle is not putting me out of a job.
It used to really stress my out to hear these kinds of comments, as they were usually accompanied by the implication that I would never get to be a librarian. If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know how that usually went.
Today, I find the people who make the above suggestions have not usually been in a library in the last ten years. They aren’t library people, because they don’t know what libraries offer. In addition to programs, classes, access to technology, and on-site IT assistance, we do offer e-media… for free. Go ahead and spend $11.99 on J.K. Rowling’s new book for Kindle. That’s a bit redundant, though, because you probably already bought it with your tax dollars. The state of e-media in libraries is up in the air, right now, as publisher’s decide how it affects their profits, but a few facts remain the same. Someone has to decide how many copies to order in e-book versus hardback. Someone has to choose a vendor. Someone has to teach people to actually use the Kindle/Nook/Nabi/iPad. Furthermore, people freaking love books. I am a traitor librarian, because I prefer my Kindle. I’m sporadic in my reading and I love carrying 40 different titles at a time, but I’m a minority. Most people I talk to prefer to hold the book and feel the pages, without worrying about pdf/Kindle/adobe format compatibility. As there is a place for both radio and television, there will be a place for both hard copy and e-media, because not only does not everyone want to use an e-reader, but not everyone can afford to use an e-reader.
… no, Google is not putting me out of a job, either.
“So… no offense or anything… I’m actually curious… why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian? What do you actually do?”
I need a master’s degree, because we’re rendering bachelor’s degrees redundant in this country, by sending confused kids to college to major in general studies so that they can graduate and work in food service. That’s another rant, though. Ahem… I need a master’s degree, because I spent 44 graduate level hours studying program development, advocacy, public relations, grant writing, evaluations, books and materials for children, books and materials for young adults, the effect of technology and social networking on society, collection development and maintenance, cataloging, the very concept of free information, the organization of information, and the information seeking habits of individuals. They didn’t teach me that when I was getting my required bachelor’s degree. That’s why I needed a master’s degree.
What do I actually do? I plan community programs that people may actually attend. I figure out which books aren’t being circulated and pack them for the annual book sale so I can make space on the shelf. I find the appraised value of a customer’s neighbor’s house. I find books at a sixth grade reading level that will interest a second grade child. I spend 30 minutes on the phone helping an elderly woman download an e-book. I look for poetry to read during an infant’s funeral. On an average day, I take on the roles of social worker, researcher, saleswoman, IT specialist, teacher, and babysitter. Some days, it’s Realtor, historian, scientist, and job coach. I wear many, many different hats and the most important one is the customer service hat. I do not get to talk down to anyone and I must always have a smile on my face. It’s exhausting… and wonderful.
I am an Information Professional. As technology takes root in our society, we have more and more information to sort through and the average person isn’t as well trained to do that as they think. Google, for instance, is a keyword search. There is no accounting for author, date, full text, pdf, peer reviewed, or content. You get to pick one, maybe two, of those parameters and hope for the best. Librarians are trained to use search terms and tax funded databases to narrow the results. For example…
My grandmother died in 1991. In the 50’s or 60’s, there was a newspaper that published an article on her influence as a teacher. I think she taught third grade. I want to find the article and don’t know what newspaper.
Go ahead. Google that.
In addition to the increase in information, for better or worse, this country is becoming more socialist, not less. Libraries are one of the only institutions that serves both the engineer and that man on the street corner that he just loudly suggested should get a job. It takes Internet access to apply for that job. It takes knowledge of technology to use the Internet.
Go ahead. Google that.
… no, I have not read that book.
When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned a 9-12 grade reading level. I was not allowed to read anything below an 8th grade level for credit. That meant no Harry Potter, no Babysitter’s Club, and no Ramona for credit, no matter how much I read. I made one C in K-12 and it was the year I refused to read on my level.
I was an advanced placement student in high school. I read The Inferno and The Bell Jar for fun, but spent more time looking up Sparksnotes summaries than it would’ve taken to actually read the damned book, when we covered The Great Gatsby. I don’t regret that. Daisy was a horrible heroine… like written by Nicholas Sparks horrible.
My bachelor’s degree is in family and consumer science education… home-ec. I was not required to read any of the classics for that. During my MLIS, I took Books and Materials for Young Adults, Books and Materials for Children, and Children’s Literature. It was in these classes that I did the last of the required novel reading I will ever do. So, when I read a librarian’s blog and she talked about all the varied reading of popular materials we all do, just to keep up with the interests of customers, I thought…
It’s not that I’m a lazy librarian. It’s that there are an assload of books out there. You can’t read them all. You can’t even read just the New York Time’s Bestsellers. I know. I type up the Bestsellers list every week and they’re listed by fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade, and young adult. That’s not even counting the e-books. I cannot read them all, so I read what I like.
“Have you read…?”
Unless the rest of that question is “that one where the hot guy morphs into a dragon to save his mate, only to find out she’s a unicorn?” then the answer is likely no. I primarily read paranormal romance, romantic suspense, memoirs, blogs, and articles on current events and information theory. Every now and then I’ll read something deeper or more popular, because I want to do so. Most librarians just read what they like, be that inspirational fiction, Amish romance (it is so a thing), or historical accounts. News articles may increase awareness, but romance novels increase vocabulary, graphic novels increase comprehension, and themes are universal. It all has value, so I’m not reading something just because the New York Times tells me, especially when it’s just as pretend as my werewolf porn. If you want a recommendation, I can recommend within my preferred genres, or I can suggest some awesome resources that cater to your own tastes like LibraryThing or Novelist. I’d rather see the occasional customer leave psyched about the three paranormal romance series I suggested than never please anyone, because I only read the most popular items in their genres, which they have likely already read.