GUEST POST #1: “How do you feel about the Librarian Image?” by Andy WoodworthAugust 26, 2010
Note from Will: Today marks a new feature in our blog: the inclusion of guest posts. As this blog has expanded so has my vision for the blog. I would like “Will Unwound” to become an online platform for a wide diversity of voices and viewpoints from within librarianship. Anyone who would like to do a “guest post” should e-mail me at email@example.com. I hope many of you take an advantage of this opportunity. If you prefer to use a pseudonym that’s fine with me.
Today’s poster is Andy Woodworth. Andy is an adult services librarian at the Bordentown Branch of the Burlington County Library System in New Jersey. He writes his own award winning blog at Agnostic Maybe. Be sure and check it out.
Every occupation has its stereotypes. Librarians are certainly no exception to the rule as I’m sure the Unwinder audience is acutely aware. I’m also sure they put up people’s hackles in one way or another for their uniquely annoying aspects. I know they’ve riled me up in the past, but in giving them more thought over time, I’ve come to accept and love them. Here’s how I learned to stop fretting and embrace the stereotypes.
Bookish. Nerdy. Brainy. All seemingly negative terms that revolve around one concept: intelligence. When you tell people “I’m a librarian”, by default people attribute a higher level of intelligence to you. (Note: this is a first impression, subject to revision on the basis of future actions and utterances.) Librarians are a profession that enjoys an association with intellectual prowess similar to doctors, professors, and scientists. Not bad for a profession with a master’s degree requirement, I might add. If this is the price of being ‘bookish’, I’ll take being thought of as being smart over other occupations that are, as you could say, less cerebral. Nerdy? Please. Nerds have taken the term back in a major way. They have built Silicon Valley, provide the innovation for the Internet revolution, and launched explorations from the bottoms of the oceans to the depths of space. They also make up some of the richest individuals in the world, if not some of the most respected members in their field. If it’s nerdy to be part of the communication and information revolutions that have lead to the greatest ongoing information exchange in the history of man, then librarians should wear this mantle well. Being a nerd in the service of a larger information future can’t possibly be a bad thing in this case. As to brainy, I only have one thing to say: intelligence is sexy. Perhaps it’s not up there with sense of humor, but beyond that, people want to know that you can carry a conversation.
Then there’s the image of the conservatively dressed librarian who (secretly) is a brimming cauldron of carnal desires. While I will concede this point in regards to objectification and interpretations of promiscuity (never a good thing), there is a underlying observation: passion. Rather than being the staid shushing persona, it pushes the notion that we are human beings with human emotions and needs (even sexual ones). It’s a crack in the stoic facade that has been built around the profession for the last hundred years. In conjuring the emotional element, it also invokes empathy both on our behalf and shows that we can in turn empathize with people. Passion is one of the qualities that should be associated with the librarian profession: it is a career for individuals who are looking to make a difference in the lives of people, either in person or by their action and advocacy for information availability and access. Compared to the stodgy image of a prudish library spinster, the chance for our emotions and devotions to shine would be a welcome change.
Intelligent and passionate. Not a bad underlying message in my estimation.
What do you think, Unwinders?