Sunday, July 08, 2007

Oh, but we use this other signal! As soon as your back is turned, in fact!

A gentleman walked up to the Information Desk the other night shortly before closing. Early middle-aged guy, probably not older than me.

"May I help you?"
"Yes. Is this signal no longer in use at the library?" he asked, laying a finger crosswise to his lips.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Is this no longer a signal that you use?" he repeats insistently, doing it again. While glaring at me.
"Oh!" I smiled merrily, as if he were just being clever, "No, we don't do that anymore."

I should have pointed out our special Quiet Area, but he was already steaming out the door. I kept smiling. You play passive-aggressive with me and I guarantee you will walk away unsatisfied. I am a librarian.

Now, here's someone who really shouldn't play...
Librarians? Aren’t they supposed to be bespectacled women with a love of classic books and a perpetual annoyance with talkative patrons — the ultimate humorless shushers?
That's from the New York Times. TODAY. Granted, it was in the Style section, but come on - who thinks that anymore?

Here's who thinks it, or at least she thinks that people think it: her name is Kara Jesella, co-author of How Sassy Changed My Life, and she was so blown away by meeting young librarians with cute haircuts that she entitled her article "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers." Jesus save me. (Actually, Jesus save her. Do you know how many librarians have blogs?)

In the first place, "hipper shushers"? I don't want to be a "hipper shusher," that's grotesque - not to mention the fact that it's making my spell check scream bloody murder. So does that mean that I have to get my tattoos removed? Or am I ineligible because I'm over 40?

Now, I will concede that a little revision of the librarian image is probably not a bad thing, but it's just so damn trite (not to mention shallow, naive and patronizing) to portray a batch of tattooed, vintage-clad twenty-somethings as New and Improved. If someone wrote the same article about, say, teachers, indicating that the profession is changing because some college grads with eyebrow piercings have joined it, you wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry. And, as is the case with every fresh crop of teachers, a certain percentage of every year's library school harvest will be creative and dedicated, and a certain percentage will be in it for the job security and the reasonable hours.

Oh and besides, all twenty-eight-year-olds go for drinks and are on MySpace - it's just news when librarians do it?

And furthermore, the librarian image has been cranking right along, thanks to new cutting-edge facilities, political activism, and, of course, The Society for Librarians* Who Say Motherfucker. We don't need the New York Times to tell us we're cool.

Alliance Library System's Second Life branch. Dude, we're all virtual an' shit!

I went to library school in NYC, at Pratt Institute. The majority of my classmates had jobs, and some, like me, had jobs in libraries. Some of them were straight out of undergrad, and a few, bless their hearts, would warble, "I've always wanted to be a librarian because I really love books." Most of us already knew that it's pretty much not about the books, and we knew that those Gentle Reader types would either sack up and learn to raise their voices, or they could take jobs as serials librarians.

What impresses me about librarians are the things that these youngsters are discovering as soon as they are yoked into the team at the reference desk. You take your average 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old librarian, and she can answer 95 out 100 totally random questions fired at her during a shift, including complicated legal and financial stuff. She's going to use Internet sources better than your average teenager. She believes in your privacy. She will satisfy your request for a book that can tell you whether or not you are possessed by a demon, and not bat an eye. She's the most ethical, equitable creature you'll find. She raised her kids and never lost her professional chops. She keeps her cool even when her patron is losing his shit.

And even when her patron is a shit.