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28 May 2008 / Julie

the perception of librarians Or so you like to read

Every day after work I go to the gym down the street. To help me get home faster for dinner (for which I’m usually starving for after the workouts my trainer puts me through), i drive the block and a half to the gym parking lot from my work parking deck. (yeah yeah, better to walk- whatever). Every day when I leave the gym parking lot, which the gym validates, between 6.30 and 7 Anthony takes my ticket. At least, I think I remember his name correctly. I’ve been giving him my ticket and showing him my gym card for about a year and a half now and it wasn’t until late April that I finally introduced myself.

Before that it was always, “Have a good evening!” “Thanks, you too!” But now it’s “Hi again! How are you?” “Fantastic, yourself?” etc…

Tonight, when asked if i was enjoying the weather, I mentioned how it’s a shame i work indoors.
“Oh, you do?”
“Yea, I work down the street in the library.”
“So you’re a librarian?”
“I am!”
“You like to read?”

Let’s pause the conversation here for a second and analyze this.

We’ve all been there- we mention to someone who doesn’t work in or with a library and chances are it’s followed by “Oh so you like books/to read.” If a masters degree was mentioned, there’s usually shock, followed by, “there’s a masters degree for that?”

It is these interactions where we have the power to change the stereotype of libraries and begin, in a small way, each time, to transform the profession and position ourselves as the AWESOME, NEEDED FIELD we really are. It is these interactions where we should say, “Well, I like to read as much as the next guy, but libraries aren’t just about fiction books- they’re places for information. And librarians aren’t just people who shelve the books and know where books are [never mind that the shelvers usually aren't librarians]- they are people who can find information you need. You think Google can wow you? Try a librarian.” (ooh, i like that for our marketing campaign…)

Librarians need to take more credit for themselves. I’m always surprised when librarians wonder “why couldn’t they do that, that was easy!” Well, not everyone can practice law, medicine, or squash and be good! I think it would help if we saw ourselves more as professionals in a business industry than… whatever it is people see themselves as. It would help us take more credit, change the stereotype and public perception, and more importantly, help change the world. (Too lofty? I don’t think so.)

So the next time someone says to you, “oh, so you like books” when they find out your a librarian or work in a library- even if you do- use the opportunity to enlighten them as to the higher purpose of libraries.

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