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13 Jun 2008 / Julie

Changing screennames or Fembrarians want to be Guybrarians?

All of the librarians who provide chat through Maryland AskUsNow! have a standardized screen name- MD [County Abbrev here] Librarian [first name here]. So mine would be “MD BCPL Librarian Julie.”

Research shows* using a first name to identify yourself (as well as using their first name back to them) helps to build rapport and reminds the person you’re chatting with that you aren’t a robot (hmm, Robobrarians? Robrarians?…). Our policies/guidelines as well as those of the (now international) 24/7 Reference cooperative reflect the need to use a first name as well.

Here at AskUsNow!, while we require you to use a “realistic-sounding first name” we don’t require it to be your real first name. I respect when one of my librarians want to use a name that isn’t their own, but I’ve come to realize that I don’t necessarily understand it.

I tried to think about situations where I wouldn’t want to use my real name. Sometimes it is for selfless reasons (i sign those $1 balloons for cancer (or whatever) as Santa because it doesn’t matter that *I* donated). Sometimes it is because I want to be free to do things that I don’t want to be connected to my real world reputation (hmm, i can’t think of an example.. ;-)). Sometimes it’s to protect myself (the witness protection program come to mind).

Even more interesting to me than the desire for people to not use their real name, is the desire for female librarians to use a male pseudonym. As of yet, I’ve had a handful of females switching to male names and (shocker) no males switching to female names.

Why is this? Well, without delving into the psyche of the librarians who chose this option, we may never *really* know but here’s my theory:

Men have traditionally been the symbol of power (gr, patriarchy). This may mean they get less flack less often in chat from customers who are frustrated or playing around. They may be perceived as a more authoritative source than a woman might be. Are we trying to protect ourselves from customers by doing this? (update: They may want to reduce the frequency of come-ons usually directed to female names.)

If that’s the case, whatever people’s issues are around the perceptions of male/female power, isn’t the best way to change the stereotype to represent a different position under the same label? For instance- the only way we’re going to change the librarian stereotype (you know the one, old woman w/ glasses who loves to shush… libraries as books only) is to a) not fit the description of old, unhelpful shushing woman and b) be out in the community as a librarian, representing as one, and talking up the awesomeness that are libraries and librarians. So if you use a male screen name, are we reaffirming something?

And if my librarians think they need “protection” from customers- where did i fail them?

I totally and without question, support whatever name my librarians want to use (providing it sounds like someone’s first name- Donald Duck doesn’t cut it. Donald, Don, or Donna are perfectly fine) but i’m curious as to the reasons people don’t want to use their own real name.

I use my real name because i have no reason not to- I want to be recognized for the good work that i do. I want to build relationships with the people that i help and perhaps (if it was possible w/ this software/coop set up we have) be able to help repeat customers who come back to *me*. Plus, it’s easier to recognize at a glance who’s who when looking through surveys or transcripts. You start to see the same names after a while.

I’m sure i have more to say on this issue, but i think this is a good start. What do you all think about using a pseudonym or a different gendered pseudonym?

*Unable to find at the moment the thing I want to link to, this works just as well (thanks Laura!) “Assessing the Virtual Reference Success using the Revised RUSA Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers“, page 17-18.

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