Surprising Realities of Being a Librarian

I’ve written about my career as a librarian a few times. Most notably, I battled some common misconceptions in my article Shelving the Stereotypes: When I say I’m a Librarian… mentioning such issues as the picture of a conservative, uptight older woman, what exactly it is that I do, and how the Internet is not putting me out of a job. However, even the positive assumption that I spend my days singing on rolling ladders, is pretty far off the mark. I have rarely addressed some of the more sensitive topics, because I love being a librarian and see them as little more than a penance. Recently, however, I’ve noticed some consistencies in the #LibrarianProblems Twitter feed, such as…

… BEHOLD: the sexism.
I’ve touched on this a few times, usually and most recently in my dating rants, but library patrons and people in general can be extraordinarily sexist towards women who work in libraries. In fact, I once stopped by the gas station on my way to work, not even considering the ID badge I had clipped to my dress:

Attendant: “A librarian. Niiiice.

Um, dude. You are at work. What. The. Fuck? Recently, one librarian on Twitter posted several examples of sexist remarks made by patrons, including the following:

5-21-15This fucking happens, y’all. I once had a customer raise his hand for help on the computer, despite being perfectly able-bodied and capable of coming to ask for assistance. When I looked his way, he snapped his fingers and pointed to the computer screen. That doesn’t even touch on the flirting. I am to the point that someone blatantly checking me out no longer phases me. It’s just a weekly occurrence. Yes, I dress nicely for work, in dresses and flats, but they are in no way inappropriate. Nothing is printed on my ass in glitter. Yet, I still get men who ask what I’m doing after work. While the pictured comment would be met with a stern “I’m sorry sir, but that’s completely inappropriate and you need to take your prints and leave,” this one doesn’t warrant such a harsh response. I’m left to awkwardly fumble through a rejection, while hoping I don’t offend him, which by the way, I fail at every time. It’s bad enough to be winked at and called sweetie, but it’s also intensely uncomfortable to have a man hand you his phone number and have to smile at him, because he is still a customer. It’s far worse when a patron asks you to help him in the stacks only to get in your space and tell you how beautiful you are, out of sight and earshot of your coworkers. It’s scary to have a known rapist catch you in his sights, because…

… being a librarian can be dangerous.
None of the above things are exactly specific to librarians. I’ve directly informed patrons that they cannot touch the staff, in general. Yes, “do not touch the staff” is a rule I’ve had to repeat, in part, because The Rapist isn’t just a pet name for one of our customers. It’s not always sexual, though. Libraries are open to the public and accept all kinds, including homeless, the mentally disabled, the mentally unstable, and the addicts. Most of them have their good days, but in every public library, there are regulars who sit and have lively, heated debates… with no one. They carry suspicious parcels. They get arrested on our property and we never learn why.

We take those fines damned seriously.

Sometimes these people get frustrated. Sometimes they get angry. Sometimes they scream at us. Sometimes they grab us. Sometimes they threaten us. Sometimes, walking to our cars is scary. Sometimes, those cars have been vandalized. There are library workers who have had their tires slashed. There are lists of customers who have been banned. Some locations are lucky enough to have security guards, while others are just close with the local police and glad to know in advance when a gunman is loose in the area.

It’s also extraordinarily common for customers to angrily insist that library staff are being racist. Even in the most diverse areas, where 90% of the customers aren’t white, that is still the default for some people, because we represent The Man, and it’s infuriating. I wish I could say “I don’t care that your daughter is black. I care that she just shoved someone out of a chair and called her a bitch.” “No, m’am, I’m sorry, but we can’t tailor more classes to specific racial groups, because ‘Finance for Black People’ is not going to go over well. Please stop screaming. Yes, I would ask a white woman to stop speaking at that volume.” “Sir, you can’t insist the circulation clerks are just being racist when they don’t want to give you their phone number. Please don’t speak to the staff that way.” I can’t, though, at least not in so many words, and I’m just left with another angry customer.

Some days the issues are milder and we just have to inform customers that they cannot ask random customers for their phone numbers, look at porn on the library computers, bathe in the water fountain, carry around jars of urine, but we still have no idea if those patrons are having a good day or a bad day. We don’t know what kind of reaction we’re going to get as we walk up to them with our Codes of Conduct in hand. Even on a good day, though…

… being a librarian can be really gross. 
Once again, we have patrons of all kinds. A good library is a diverse library, because a good librarian can treat anyone with respect. It’s a little harder to make that respect apparent, however, when I scream and throw your materials across the counter as roaches pour out. It’s also more difficult to politely explain that we can’t check in items that are covered in urine.

“I don’t know if maybe a pet got to them or…”
“I don’t have any pets.”

Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.

“You’re still going to have to pay for these.”
“The were like that when I got them.”
“They’re still damp.”

When people talk about how they love the smell of books, I assume they buy new, because I, most definitely, do not love the smell of library books. Too often, if I notice the smell, it’s because it resembles warm and fetid fecal matter and requires sincere effort to quell my imagination as it conjures images of a patron’s home. It’s not just the books, either. I once walked out the back door to see a teenage boy relieve his bowels on the fence around our trashcan and nearly vomited. That was actually better than the times I’ve had to clean up feces in the public restroom and really quite preferable to the aforementioned pests that can be found in the book drop. Folks, these are smells you cannot unsmell and sights you cannot unsee. Yet, we’re all still here and love our jobs. In fact…

… being a librarian is extremely competitive and not for the reasons you’d think.

 After men who lick my neck at the gym (exaggerating), my least favorite part of dating is explaining that I only work half time as a librarian. I shudder at what goes through a man’s mind, because I’ve heard it spoken out loud more than once. They assume that the reason I can’t find a full time position is that libraries are a thing of the past and eventually I won’t have a job at all. It’s not just them, either. I’ve been asked, by family…

“Do you worry that you won’t have a job in 10 years?”

Short answer: no. Libraries are one of the few remaining free resources equally available to all people and are adapting to accommodate modern needs and wants, with computers and WiFi, tablet rentals, movies, magazines, expensive database subscriptions, and even the occasional equipment collections that include shovels and cake pans. If the community needs it, a good and well-funded library will have it. I, myself, am fortunate enough to work in one that fits that description. The trouble in the job market, though, is that more and more people are going into this field. When I entered the graduate program, we were informed that we were the biggest class in history. The community needs librarians and while there are many retiring, they aren’t doing so quickly enough to leave the openings needed to satisfy all of the new graduates. Ultimately, working half time, at this point, is exactly where I should be in my career. I’m lucky to have a place in my system, as there are people who have been applying for years with no results. In 15 years, while I will have a position, it may be damned near impossible for anyone new to get one… because being a librarian is awesome, despite the challenges we face.

Are we seriously having this conversation in 2015?

Y’all know I’m a librarian. It’s in the URL. It’s in the tagline. I practically introduce myself with it to everyone I ever meet, in person and online, because I am the old guy declaring “What you do, is who you are.”  Maybe it’s because I’m so passionate about my job. Maybe it’s because everyone in my family has that mentality. Whatevs. Just as some people are doctors and proud, nurses and proud, lawyers and proud, I’m a librarian and proud. It took seven years of college and an embarrassingly high amount of student loan debt for me to earn this title, so it feels pretty redundant when I have to ask that people not fucking mock it. 

I get that to other people, who don’t work in the field, it doesn’t sound like the coolest job. Fine. They’re wrong, but fine. Regardless, I’m horrified by the number of men who contact me on online dating sites and openly insult my career.

“So you’re a librarian, huh. I bet that’s tough with the internet now.”
Why, because you Googled free access to Ancestry.com, the entire archive of National Geographic, free e-media downloads, books a 14-year-old boy will actually enjoy and receive credit for in class, a complete resume that will get you an interview, and that news article about your grandmother from 1956? Google is a keyword search. If anything, the ubiquity of Internet access has given me more to do, because most people’s research and fact checking skills suck, because of GOOGLE. Obviously, if I’ve just gone into this field, it’s not dying. Perhaps you should Google that.

“I don’t think I could work in a quiet library all day. I’d get so bored.”
Thanks for calling my job boring, even though I clearly love it enough to include the title in my screen name. By the way, at first glance, “oil” has me on the edge of my seat.

“I didn’t even know there were still librarians.”
“Obsolete.” I think that’s my favorite pet name.

“It takes a master’s degree to do that? Why?”
Please. Inject a little more dismay into that question. Obviously, if it’s required, it’s necessary, and there are respectful ways to ask about my specific duties.

“My dad tells people I have a master’s degree, even though I’m not finished with school yet.”
“I’ll bet he doesn’t tell them what it’s in.”
Dude, did you just tell your date that her dad is secretly ashamed of her? It’s been two years since that date and I’m still at a loss for words beyond “bag of dicks.”


There is a flash flood in my pants, right now.

The responses toward my bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences are just as appalling.

“What’s the technical name for a home-ec teacher? Domicile Engineer? LOL.”

As frustrating as these misunderstandings are, I’m relatively used to them. I’m happy to explain why I needed a master’s degree to be a librarian or sing the praises of family and consumer sciences, when asked politely. I love talking about my work. I’m horrified, however, that anyone thinks it’s okay to talk down to me about my field, especially when I’ve already explained what it entails. Just last week, I was trading messages with a man on Plenty of Fish. I’d told him all about my field, how I had to get my MLIS to work in the position I love, and that I was trying to work my up to full time, because it’s extremely competitive.

“So, are you planning to make a career out of it?”

Um… what? Is this an attention span issue? I just explained that. Also, dude, you just told me you’d be working again “when oil picks up,” so I really think there are more pertinent questions regarding your career than mine. No one would ask a nurse if she was planning to make a career out of it. No one would ask a teacher that.

Karol: “Yes, they would. ‘Are you just doing this until you get married and have kids?'”
Me: “Fine. No one would ask a biologist that. No one would ask an accountant that.”
Karol: “What you mean is that no one would ask a man that.”
Me: “Ew. If that’s the case, then just ew. It’s 2015!”

You know, it’s really something that never crossed my mind. I thought people mocked my career because of a stereotype. Then again, there’s a pretty persistent stereotype among accountants, too, and they require less education than librarians. Sure, they’re assumed to be boring, but even with e-filing options, no one insists they’re redundant. Everyone concludes there must be more to the field than tax time, so why don’t librarians get the same respect? Why, before insulting me, don’t these men think ‘Wow. I’ve clearly got the wrong idea about this’? Well, according to Karol, the reason I’m not taken more seriously is…

Google this: “vagina gif”

It’s a frustrating idea and I sincerely hope Karol is wrong. Could it really be that the reason so many men mock my passion is because I’m female? Are these comments actually an effort to diminish my accomplishments, because I brought my ovaries with me? Is the “sexy librarian” line not only tacky, but actually a 1950s slap on the ass? Are we seriously having this conversation in 2015?

Ultimately, I’m just pleased to have met men who are impressed by my level of education, admire my passion for my career, and are open to learning more about a topic they don’t understand. It has happened, as many times as (if not more than) the above incidences. I can just let the probable sexists continue ranting about how they can only meet gold diggers and be thankful that they’re so transparent.

Still… ew.

 

There Is No War on Women

That’s right. I said it. I’ll say it again. There is no war on women.

inspire

Fine. Perhaps I need some qualifiers. There is no legal war on modern day, American women… says this modern day, American woman.

Up through recent history, I would have vehemently disagreed with the above statement. For most of time, physically, women were the weaker sex, by nature; while intellectually, women were the weaker sex by design. Both ideals were perpetuated on a global scale. Not until 1870, were married American women allowed to own property. In 1918, Great Britain granted the vote to women over 30. It was 1920 in the U.S., before women finally won any rights to vote. Britain then took a few leaps back, deciding acts of lesbianism shouldn’t have the same punishment as male homosexuality, because women were too naive to comprehend such behavior. In the U.S, it was not until 1960 that the FDA approved birth control pills, which was leaps and bounds ahead of Great Britain’s 1974 availability.

Depending on your theological beliefs, man is potentially seven million years old and the institution of marriage (as we think of it today), is estimated to be around 4,000. Still, I was five on July 5, 1993, when it officially became illegal, in all 50 states, for a man to rape his wife. That’s right. Twenty-one years ago, women were still considered property of their husbands, in the same sense as a fleshlight. So… I am not saying that there has never been a war on women, in this country. I am saying that it has been won.

Where, exactly, am I hearing of this “war on women”? Well, let’s start with… 

The Trivial Crap

Recently, some very successful women have declared that they’ve been held back (clearly, Condoleezza Rice) by the male sex for calling them “bossy.” I’m not going to write about how ridiculous this is, because so many other bloggers have already covered it, but to sum it up, these women are demanding that we stop using the word bossy. This is a thing, y’all! This is a pretty minor issue, sure, but isn’t that a point in itself? Have we run out of evidence of a “war on women”, so thoroughly, that we have to ban words that are completely gender neutral, while enabling young girls to blame their failures on mild extrinsic factors? I’m sure this one will blow over quickly enough, but I’m also sure some equally stupid movement toward “gender equality” will rise up, drastically favoring women; such as when parents were appalled by The Children’s Place’s distribution of a t-shirt implying that girls would rather dance than do math.

children's place

Admittedly, it was a terrible idea, but was it the horror that mommy blogs made it out to be? No. Especially considering that little girls will still wear this to school.

boys are stupid
“Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them.”

Given the choice between the two, I’m really more concerned that one shirt incites violence, than I am that the other declares shopping to be more fun than equations. Why is there no emphasis on the villainization of little boys and how that affects them? Why are we only supposed to be concerned with the mental health of our little girls, with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, when society regularly tells little boys that they need to look like Chris Hemsworth in Thor? How is self image even gender specific?

The Glass Ceiling and Equal Pay

Alrighty then. Let’s address a less trivial issue.

– glass ceiling –

noun

an unfair system of attitudes that prevents some people (such as women or people of a certain race) from getting the most powerful jobs

Well, the woman whose life has been so irreparably damaged by a fairly innocuous insult, that she must start a movement to ban words – suck it, first amendment! – is the COO of Facebook and worth $1.05 billion. I think Sheryl Sandberg’s very existence kind of covers the issue of whether or not women can find “the most powerful jobs.”

What about everyday women, though? They still only make .81 for every dollar a man makes, right? Well, no… not really. When this subject comes up, I have to remind myself that Research for Fun is not a game normal people play. I’m a librarian. I’m a researcher by trade and by heart. This topic happens to be one of my favorites to study and in fact, the 81 cents on the dollar statistic is intrinsically flawed, because it’s figured by averages and nothing more. Many studies show that when all factors are considered, such as the fields women choose, the hours they work, leave time, priorities such as pay vs. working conditions, et cetera, the perceived “wage gap” closes itself. The differences remaining are often so negligible that they can be attributed to aggressiveness in pay negotiations and things of that nature. While a man will probably choose a more stressful, time consuming, but lucrative career path, such as petroleum engineer, a woman is still more likely to choose something in a caretaker field, with more vacation time, steadier hours, and lower pay, such as librarian. 
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Reproductive Rights
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Finally, the biggest claim I can find that declares a “war on women” is made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in regards to an attack on women’s reproductive rights. Before 1936, it was more or less illegal for a woman to learn about birth control, as the topic was considered “obscene” and banned from distribution through the mail. Today, for better or for worse, any 12-year-old can perform a Google search and walk into a drugstore to grab some condoms. As a society, we don’t hoard information on the subject at allWhereas a woman’s doctor might have been able to tell her father or husband if she was using contraception 50 years ago, now HIPPA laws mandate doctor/patient confidentiality, no matter the individual’s age or marital status. Those issues were an “attack” on women’s health and reproductive rights and are, clearly, no longer the norm. In regards to abortion, not until 1971 did Roe vs. Wade actually grant a woman the right to the procedure (as long as the fetus was not viable outside the womb), without explanation, in defense of her privacy. 
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Now, I am not going to debate abortion here, because that is not my point. My point is that abortion is debatable, as a moral issue, not a gender issue. Nationally, 51% of Americans consider themselves pro-life and the make-up of pro-life men vs. pro-life women is actually at about 50%. These people, both men and women, are not attacking women. In their minds, they are protecting the innocent, and don’t want to personally fund their destruction. Regardless of your take on the issue, you cannot argue that these laws are gender biased, because their proponents are distributed fairly evenly, between the sexes. Yes, a woman is the only one who can get pregnant, so these laws target her. By extension, however, a man is the only one whose potential child can be disposed of without his consent, so these laws target him. The presence of gender, does not make the subject gender.
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ACLU also mentions “medically unnecessary ultrasounds.” Define unnecessary. Personally, I feel that any medical procedure, should be thoroughly explained. When I miscarried, I had to look at an ultrasound of my emptying uterus, as the doctor explained what was happening. I had to look at the bloody fucking wandbut it’s too much for someone to be informed about what’s happening to them by choice? I’m not suggesting anyone play clips of crying babies as they perform these ultrasounds, but that’s not what’s being done, either. “Here’s the heartbeat” is hardly the same as “here’s the eyes you will never see open.” If that is what your doctor said to you, then get a lawyer.
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So there it is. There is no war on women. Sure, there are still some kinks to work out of the system, but I don’t think we gals are unique in that. A gentleman at a gun store once responded to my request to look at a Springfield .45 XDM with “You don’t need to be messin’ with that.” Was it sexist? Yes. Was it a declaration of war? No. When I Google image searched “international abuse toward women”, I found pictures of decapitated heads shrouded in burkas, children undergoing female circumcision, and women in various stages of recovery from acid attacks. We’re awfully quick to throw around the word “war” in a society where both of these things are pretty universally abhorrent. Perhaps some households, some religions, some small sects of society hold strictly traditional gender roles, but if they’re forced on adults, we consider it abuse.
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sexist children's book
“Boys fix things. Girls need things fixed.”
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In the 70’s, When my Gramma’s boss found out that she was going back to school, he told her that he didn’t care what degree she earned, she would 
never be an accountant. Today, though? The only job I can’t hold is King, and I don’t think any American is entitled to that, anyway. Every now and then, my Gramma will say longingly “Women can do anything, today.” Yet, as a society, we don’t seem to see it. We’re too busy demanding equal pay for kindergarten teachers and physicists. Personally, I chose a less lucrative field. Some claim that that’s because women are socially programmed to do so, and to that, I say fuuuuck you. How dare you tell me that, because I’m a woman, I’m not intelligent enough to form my own opinions and set my own priorities? How dare you say that to any woman, be she the stay-at-home mom or Sheryl Sandberg, herself? I didn’t become a librarian because someone called me “bossy” when I was little (and they totally did) or because society told me I wasn’t capable of more. I wanted this, because I’m an intelligent and capable adult. So, suck it. 
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The same goes for this reproductive rights argument. If you’re not happy with the fact that a woman can get a medically safe abortion in all 50 states, you need to have a sit down with my great grandmother and her wire hanger. No. That’s not a joke. I’m not entirely sure what more you want out of abortion laws, but I am certain that my views on the subject are not an attack on women. Again, how dare you say that I’m not capable of forming that opinion on my own, that it’s some brainwashing accomplished by man as they feel the need to assert their control over the female body? How intensely arrogant that I can’t just disagree with you, while remaining fully informed. I write this blog for fun and I’ve got over15 citations listed. I promise, I’ve done the research.
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From what I can see, the only “war”…
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acid attack
Acid attack. Still wanna go with that word?
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… on women, that I’ve experienced, is when other women tell each other that they’re making the wrong life choices. (No, that doesn’t apply to pro-lifers in general, because they feel they’re considering a different life, that cannot speak for itself.) Despite the fact that I’ve survived a wretched marriage, obtained a master’s degree, begun a professional career, and cared for myself financially and physically for years, I’m making less money than men, because I was programmed to do so. Similarly, that girl from high school, who wants to become a professor, surround herself with cats, and never get married or have children? She’ll change her mind. She’ll see the light and realize the right way to be female.
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It’s not possible for me to have a different interpretation of the concept of “life.” I just must not be informed of the biology behind Plan B and can’t defend an innocent without attacking “all women.” On the other side of the debate, a woman can’t take Plan B, without being called an irresponsible slut or being told that if she gets pregnant, she asked for it. It is possible for us to have differing opinions without insulting each other. From what can see, it’s not men flinging these comments. If there is any remaining war on women, it is being waged by women.
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Citations

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline1.html

http://www.mmu.ac.uk/equality-and-diversity/doc/gender-equality-timeline.pdf

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/aprilholladay/2004-12-10-

http://bigthink.com/dollars-and-sex/the-origin-of-marriage-and-the-evolution-of-divorce

wonderquest_x.htm https://www.rainn.org/public-policy/sexual-assault-issues/marital-rape

http://banbossy.com/

http://www.parents.com/blogs/parents-news-now/2013/08/07/must-read/the-childrens-place-apologizes-for-offensive-girls-t-shirt-2/

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/glass%20ceiling

http://www.forbes.com/profile/sheryl-sandberg/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/04/16/its-time-that-we-end-the-equal-pay-myth/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-abortion-timeline,0,7911413.story

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/us-abortion-map/

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/314640/abortion-and-gender-gap-numbers-ramesh-ponnuru

http://www.gallup.com/poll/118399/more-americans-pro-life-than-pro-choice-first-time.aspx

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/01/no-women-don-t-make-less-money-than-men.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/us-abortion-map/