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.