30 Days of Innovation #2: Get a New Wardrobe

Because of my job I get to travel around to conferences and meetings and talk with librarians all over the place. Wherever I am I spend a lot of time discussing advocacy and the importance of helping members of a community understand the value of teen services. We frequently talk about the image that people have of librarians and how that image is often not based in reality. We also discuss how hard it is to change how people see librarians and libraries.

During these trips and in these conversations, it often feels a bit strange because I’ll be talking to someone about library and librarian image and that person will be wearing a book t-shirt with a cute saying, or book earrings or necklace (or both), or a book themed-watch, or….. you get the idea. I don’t believe I can say during these conversations, “Have you ever thought about the image you portray by wearing book related clothing and accessories?” Even though I really really really want to.

I know it’s fun to have these pieces of clothing and accessories. Sure, it’s entertaining to see them at conferences. But in the outside world when we are working with community members and need to be seen as professionals who are knowledgable about teens, the world they live in, and the way to help connect them to an array of “stuff” (from people to materials to each other to librarians), the book-themed clothing and accessories just has to go. I’d say when at work, whether hanging out with teens or at a meeting with the town council, even wearing just one piece of jewelry that has a book theme is not going to help you gain the respect you deserve.

Think about it: if we want people of all ages in the community to stop thinking of libraries as a place just for physical materials, then we have to stop promoting the library that way. If we want community members to see librarians as well-educated in all things teen and as people who have a strong understanding of education, youth development, and so on, then we have to stop dressing up in book-wear. Cute, book-related attire is not the way to get the message across, to anyone and everyone, that the library is a place that supports teens in their acquisition of skills of all kinds and is a strong and important educational link in the community

For those who know me and are asking, “Would she say the same thing about cute technology-based clothing and jewelry?” the answer is “Yes, I would.” Anything that focuses on one aspect of what a library staff member is passionate about, whether it be a social media t-shirt or a book necklace is a bad idea. Just think about who that clothing or accessory connects to in the community. It likely only connects to one portion of who you serve – teens or adults. If wearing book-themed attire is common in your library, what does that say to teens who are not book focused?

Making sure that community members take libraries and librarians seriously is a key aspect of the job of all library staff members. It requires being able to talk about what teens get out of what we do for and with them. It requires an understanding of youth development, education, literacy, and more. It requires holding back on tendencies to show your passion through clothing and accessories. It requires knowing what not to wear.

Innovation in the clothing of those working with teens doesn’t mean dressing like a teen and it doesn’t mean wearing cute theme-based pieces. Instead, it means getting outside of the library and book box in your dress and thinking about how you present the value of teen services to community members through your wardrobe. It may seem crazy to call this innovative, but if you’ve seen as many library-themed outfits as I have you know that it certainly is. Take the plunge and be professionally innovative in your wardrobe. It will be good for you, and for the teens that you serve.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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9 Comments

  1. Disagree a bit. Not completely, but… here’s why. Every time I go to a web developers’ conference, I only pack jeans. That’s what they wear. They’re usually a lot younger than me & seem most comfortable with people in much more casual wear than we see at library conferences. So, again, it depends on where you’re going to be, but for the techie world, casual wear (inc., horrors, jeans & tshirts) are de rigeur. Then again, I’m not trying to establish my “authority” or “expertise”. They’ll know if I’ve got the goods or not from interacting with me.

  2. Sharon good point. I am talking less about conferences and more about being in the community and showing the value of the library and what we do for and with teens to those who aren’t a part of the library world. I think what you are getting at is key, be smart about what you wear and where you wear it. Cats and book themed jewelry might make librarians at a conference smile but that attire is not for wearing professionally in your local community.

  3. Ok, so what would your perfect outfit be for a regular day at work as a teen librarian? Jeans and a plain old T-shirt, dress pants, what do you think is right?

  4. I am a teen library and I wear nice slacks (think NY&Co, Express) and either a sweater, tank and cardigan, or other top you’d find in the women’s (NOT junior’s) section of Kohls. Clothes that fit well, look professional, and are versatile enough to assist at the Reference Desk, go out in town, or talk books, games, and school with teens in my Teen Center. I don’t feel the need to dress like a teen in an attempt to gain their trust and friendship. My attitude and enthusiasm does that for me 🙂

    Linda, great article! While it’s funny to be stereotypical (cardigans! comfy shoes!), there is no need to perpetuate the unkempt, child-like, or fussy personality that many people associate with librarians. We should let our attitudes shine, not our choice of t-shirt.

  5. Linda et al, I’m going to side with Sharon as well. Though I do agree that “dressing the part” of professional is certainly key here. I’ve managed to create a collection of “cute-book T’s” specifically because on days when we are allowed to “dress down” at my job (ie. wear jeans and t-shirts) I want to continue to represent the work I do in my community. Of course, not all the shirts are “books themed” but I would argue that it helps my colleagues (I am a school librarian) see that I take my work seriously, even though it could be seen casually. But I appreciate the stress on professionalism.
    Sadly, I can use the tumblr http://librarianwardrobe.com to show students what does and doesn’t qualify as “Western Business Attire.”

  6. I’d say that April hit it right on with what I might suggest in terms of what to wear that takes the place of wearing library themed clothing. Those who have seen me face-to-face know that I have a sort-of uniform of black top and black pants. While I don’t think everyone needs to be monocrhome like me, the concept of wearing a top/shirt that isn’t themed along with pants or skirt that is professional I think is key.

    I think April said it really well with the point about attitude over book-themed clothing. If we are excited by what we do whether it be related to books, or technology, or youth development , or all of those wearing something themed shouldn’t be required to show that excitement and dedication.

  7. I do see your point. There is a fashion direction I associate with the eager children’s librarians of yesterday: applique sweaters, corduroy jumpers, holiday theme wear. It’s probably best left in the past.

    But, II think it depends on how cutesie and how obvious. I actually save my book/fandom themed shirts for my days off but I do have a few necklaces. One is a small owl with a letter in it’s claw, the other is a silver silhouette of a stack of books. I also have bracelets made of data cable. I don’t think it’s any different than someone wearing a small piece of jewelry with a tennis racket or music note. I’ve had a few chats with patrons over my Hedwig necklace, but I don’t think it’s unwelcoming to my non-reader kids.

    As for general wardrobe I do think it depends on where you work and what you do all day, but I’m thinking all black shirts isn’t a bad idea.

    I also think teens are aware we are not cool and they care way less about what we wear than it would seem. In other words, if I greet them with a smile they probably won’t even notice my shawl.

  8. I disagree. My teens care much, much more about what I do than what I wear, and are much more likely to bond with me if I’ve got one of my Doctor Who pins on. I get what you’re trying to say, I think, and understand what you’re getting it, but it is far more important to be yourself and be comfortable around patrons. The first rule of teen librarianship is: Never, ever, try to be cool.

  9. I have to admit I’m on the fence about this one – while I don’t think holiday sweaters or book-themed t-shirts should be anyone’s uniform, I also don’t think there is anything wrong with having the occassional piece as a wink and a nudge to those in the know. I dress professionally whenever I’m working in the library, whether it’s in teens, adults, reference or running a program. But I also often have a Mockingjay pin on. Those who have managed to avoid the Hunger Games simply think it’s a nice pin. Others beg me to tell them where I got it. I also have a pin of a snitch from Harry Potter, and I have a hard time hiding the deathly hallows tattoo I have.

    Keep it professional, and in line with your personality. But the odd nod to your favourite book ro TV series here and there isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion of your ability to do your job. And if it does, maybe you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing if it’s your wardrobe that leaves the more lasting impression.

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