For the longest time, it seemed like I couldn’t turn around without reading another Librarians: Not Just For Books Anymore article or blog post. You know the kind–profiles of hip, edgy librarians by journalists who are shocked, just Shocked! to find a librarian running a gaming event, or teaching web 2.0 skills, or maintaining the library’s virtual presence with social networking tools. (Bonus points if the accompanying picture features a tattooed librarian!)
At the time, it was easy enough to just roll my eyes, or play Librarian Stereotype Bingo by looking for mentions of shushing or buns. (Seriously, did there used to be some weird hybrid of library and finishing school that churned out librarians with a uniform hairstyle? Is this a Thing? What is with all the emphasis on buns?!)
But now, it seems, we’ve reached new era when it comes to libraries in the news and blogosphere: the era of Libraries: Ur Doin It Rong.
You’ve probably seen one of these articles recently. They’re not really trend pieces, the way the Look! A Librarian With A Lip Ring! stories were. Many of them reflect the dire circumstances many librarians find themselves in–like the LA Unified School District Librarians, now forced to prove they’re capable of classroom teaching if they want to continue working. Lawyers there are outright demanding that school librarians prove themselves relevant. Elsewhere, however, librarians and non-librarians alike are giving sweeping predictions and advice on how the entire profession can stay relevant in the modern world.
So here’s what I don’t get: where, exactly, are all these “mere clerks who guard dead paper”?
Seriously. Seth Godin’s piece just happens to be the most recent, but I could’ve picked any number of blog posts or op-ed pieces that, frankly, come off as more than a little paternalistic, with authors scolding us silly librarians to get our noses out of the books and participate in the information age. Because when I read writing like this, I think, Who in the world are you talking about?
The librarians I know are the kind of active educators the LAUSD is (apparently) seeking. They are experts on the research process, they use social media, they advocate passionately for teens and libraries.
So am I missing something? Are there actually huge numbers of librarians (and libraries) dedicated only to outdated service models? Or are we, as a profession, suffering from a case of really awful PR? I would argue that librarians–or at least the librarians I know–are daily engaged in staying relevant. So how is it that we seem to be stuck in reaction mode, constantly responding to “advice” and prognostication?