19 November 2005

The Truth About Libraries and Librarians

I'm getting sick of all these stereotypes about libraries and librarians. When I tell people I'm a librarian, I get the same bad jokes and annoying questions: "Do you wear your hair in a bun?" "It must be an easy job to get paid to shush people?" "You must like to read." If you haven't been inside a library in a while, go, whether it be academic, public, or private, and note the staff: I bet your librarian is wearing a sweater with barettes in her hair, assisting users in finding information as opposed to shushing. (And I'm sure somewhere there are the old school librarian stereotype but I am not that.) I am a librarian who lives alone with her cat, and yes, if T and I break up, I will get 12 more cats and then I will become a stereotype. But that's in the future, when I have enough money for cat food for 13 cats.

So here are some stereotypes, and my comments and corrections on them.


All libraries are not quiet. Noise levels differ--have you ever been in the children's room during story hour?

"Do people still read anymore?"
Yes, people still read. Fiction circulations are soaring in many libraries. Many people, including older people and young children, find books more user-friendly than computers. You can bring books anywhere--on the train, to the country, in the bathtub--and a lot of writers and others prefer the tactile book. Have you ever read a computer screen for hours? Would you want to read an ebook that way? Not for me.

"Are libraries irrelevant? We have computers, and Google for everything now."
If you think Google is god's gift, you need to speak with a friendly librarian for further input. Google is an unacademic search engine full of highly irrelevant information. Since anybody can put anything (yep, I mean anything and everything) up on the Internet, when you search on Google, you get false hits, websites without authority, inaccurate information--often seeming to be correct. Online databases are extremely valuable, especially for scholars and students--and online databases are available through your library. Libraries purchase databases, research tools, indexes, full-text articles, books, specialized encyclopedias and reference sources, etc, and other things that are not available on the internet. Librarians spend great amounts of time advising users on how to find trustworthy sources and reliable electronic materials.

"The Dewey Decimal System..."
Yep, and Dewey does have flaws, and so does the Library of Congress Call Number System, but it makes it quite easy for browsing. For instance, if you are at a library, and you are doing a research paper on say, Allen Ginsberg, you would search in the 800s or the PSs (depending upon if you are using Dewey or LC), and find relevant materials in the surrounding areas, and then, oh, there's a book on Kerouac, who I also need information on...Browsing is easy, and fun with our displays, and who can say that about a computer screen?


I have never shushed people. Yesterday, a patron complained about the noise: "I can't study in this place, it's so loud." What I did then and do when the noise level is up is say, "Please keep your voices down it is disturbing to others." I have worked in libraries with all different noise levels; my previous two jobs were quite noisy for libraries, especially with screaming coworkers and my boss's radios.

"All you do is read books?"
No. If you work in a public library, and serve as a readers' advisory librarian, part of your job duty is to keep up-to-date on popular fiction so that you may advise readers--and you'll often read in between other tasks or during slow times at the reference desk. Neither of my jobs includes any sort of leisure fiction; I do review reference books, and help users find information in books, but no, all I do is not read books.

"You must love to read."
Actually, I do. It's not required of my job, and my attraction to words has also made me a writer. But loving to read was not the reason I became a librarian. I enjoy helping others, and researching, which are the two main things a librarian does.

"So what is it that you do?"
I help people develop practical skills for personal and academic research, and help them research and find information. I help users navigate the excessive amount of informaiton out there, teach them how to phrase search queries, check authority of information.

"Where's your bun and glasses?"
I usually wear my long hair down and have perfect vision.

"You work for the book."
No, I work with and for people, not books. You need customer service skills.

"Spinster librarians."
Librarians are very diverse--all ages, all races, all sexes, all sexual orientations, all kinds of looks, all kinds of people, from radical librarians to romance-reading librarians, we're staffing your libraries, waiting here, for you to ask us for help.


jessies_gyrl said...

Well put. My personal favorite inquiry about our profesison is: "You really need a master's degree to be a librarian?!"

Uh, yeah, you really do.

Susanne said...

This is an excellent blog, cherie.

batgirl said...

cherie, where did you go for your MLS? also, what did you major in for your undergrad?
i want to apply for an MLS programme, but i did pre-med without much liberal arts/humanities....

Anonymous said...

Ha. I enjoyed this post.

Anonymous said...

I have an answer for batgirl. Everything you study as an undergraduate will be useful when you become a librarian. That's what makes the work so exciting. I should know, I've been alibrarian for forty years.It's wonderful when the staff at the reference desk have backgrounds in different disciplines.
Cheri, do you love Brooklyn? I had to leave New York twenty years ago and miss Brooklyn every day.

cherie said...

Yes, I LOVE Brooklyn. I don't want to leave NYC anytime soon although I knew healthwise, it's probably not the best place for my asthma. I figure I'll spend another couple of years here, then move on. I have international librarian dreams.

Whatever you do in college is useful. Many librarians are humanities/liberal arts sorts of majors, so it totally doesn't matter. It's great because you bring your experience to the desk. The other day at work I brought in an old paper I wrote in college for one of the patrons, and have referenced, "Well, I had done a project about this actually, and focused on this..." or "My friend's mother had experience with this, and we used..." that sort of thing. I love that librarianship applies to every facet of life. When I was traveling, I did a lot of research before, during, and after. When I want to take up a new hobby--be it crocheting, getting a cat, decorating my apartment--I use my research skils to help me!

Anonymous said...

yeah, i love the city too, but i can't breathe there! esp. in the summertime, down in the subway in the choking heat and humidity! not to mention the buses! gotta love those fumes! =(

now, if i could only find a corner of the city (in any boro, not just cooler-than-thou Bklyn) that's still in "The City" where a girl can B-R-E-A-T-H-E a little!