WILL UNWOUND #79: “The Mice Arise” by Will ManleyApril 12, 2010
I suppose everybody has gotten fired for something at sometime.
My time came in June of 1992 when Leo Weins the President of the H.W. Wilson Company fired me from my job as the “Facing the Public” columnist for the Wilson Library Bulletin for running a survey on “Librarians and Sex” in my monthly column. By the way the results from that survey, which Wilson never allowed me to publish, are in yesterday’s post – Will Unwound #78.
At the time it was a real blow to me. I had put my heart and soul into that column for 12 years. It was a big part of my life and then it went up in smoke. Why me? That’s the question you ask yourself when you get canned.
Why indeed? I had heard through the office grapevine that management at Wilson didn’t object to my column until they had received one or two letters (email was not real prevalent in those days) from librarians complaining about a question regarding sexual experiences in elevators. Why this question was so offensive to these letter writers I have no idea.
My theory is that based upon these few complaints, Mr. Weins made what he thought was a good business decision based on the assumption that the survey was offensive to the vast majority of the members of our profession. Such a miscalculation, if that was in fact what Mr. Weins was thinking, could only be based upon a traditionally stereotyped view of librarians – that we are celibate members of some weird little religious sect that worships bibliographic records, overdue fines, and silence, and that the mere mention of the word “sex” makes us faint. In other words, quite possibly he thought that he was making a decision that would be popular with librarians.
I went from feeling sorry for myself to feeling angry. That’s because nothing gets me more bent out of shape than the stereotypes people have of librarians. You know what I’m talking about…the 19th century hair style, the comfortable shoes, the anal retentive demeanor, and the shy and quiet personality. In short, the sexless spinster, mousy bookworm. It’s demeaning, degrading, and completely false. Does it bother you? It sure as heck bothers me and it bothers me more that I don’t know how to change it. If you have any ideas please leave some comments below.
I try to laugh it off but it still bugs me. Maybe I need to lighten up a bit. Every profession has its unflattering stereotypes. Lawyers are probably the worst…lying, cheating, overcharging, conniving, loophole finding, back stabbing barracudas. Yes, they have a fairly dark image. On the other hand, when you really, really need a lawyer you want the most conniving, back stabbing barracuda of them all. Lawyers make big money for living up to their stereotype.
And librarians make modest money because they are seen as being meticulous and mousy. There have been times when I have thought that a meticulous and mousy image is actually not bad and that I shouldn’t be so sensitive and angry about it especially when I think about how low politicians, bankers, and financial advisors have sunk recently. Meticulous and mousy looks a lot better than lying and conniving. But our stereotype still bugs me because I don’t think it’s true. In reality librarians are smart, inquisitive, caring, up to date, and tech savvy. That’s my experience.
But how do you prove that librarians are not mice? Easy. Get them angry…very angry. This is the one good thing that happened out of the sex survey debacle. The H.W. Wilson learned a valuable lesson about librarians.
When librarians were told that they could not handle a sex survey in one of their major publications, they rose up in rebellion, and their rebellion became a national story in the mainstream media. Wilson Library Bulletin editor in chief, Mary Jo Godwin, resigned in protest and was awarded with the Robert Downs Intellectual Freedom Award for her courage. Five columnists for W.L.B. resigned in protest. Librarians in droves wrote letters of protest, cancelled their subscriptions to WLB, and demonstrated in front of the Wilson booth at the ALA annual conference. Under the leadership of Sanford Berman (who will probably go down in history as the greatest librarian in American library history), the American Library Association passed a resolution condemning Wilson’s “flagrant act of censorship.”
Several years later the Wilson Library Bulletin died an inevitable death. At the time the Wilson top brass claimed that there was no connection between the Bulletin’s death and the way librarians rose up to protest their blatant act of censorship in 1992. Yeah, right.
Now, two decades later, I’d formally like to say thank you, Wilson, for showing the world what librarians are really made of.