Alchemical Thoughts

I am not hip, so what?

Posted on: July 10, 2007

By now, The New York Times story about the hipster librarians is all over the place (written by Kara Jesella and published July 8, 2007 in case you have to look it up). The library sector of the blogosphere had a field day with it, mostly to skewer it the piece for promoting another stereotype. I saw on some discussion list or other someone who said that by the time the NYT picks up on some trend or fad, it's pretty much old news. That is how the story felt to me when I read it. It was old news. It seems that hip, cool, and geeky is to become the new form of old, grey, and shushing. I am not thrilled with that idea, plus it does not really reflect what librarians actually do.

The article gives the impression that we just spend our days playing with technology all day. Not that it makes a difference because we just do it to pay the bills. We really want to pursue other things, but we need a day job, so we become librarians. Jesella writes,

" And though many librarians say that they, like nurses or priests, are called to the profession, they also say the job is stable, intellectually stimulating and can have reasonable hours — perfect for creative types who want to pursue their passions outside of work and don’t want to finance their pursuits by waiting tables."

Hey, librarianship beats being a waiter. I was a waiter at one point, and I think that claim is at least open to debate. I am not saying you should not have your life pursuits and passions. On the contrary, having diverse interests is a strength in our line of work. But it's not about how many concerts you go to, how many overpriced Dewey-numbered drinks you can gulp, or how many tattoos you have. And by the way, I want to know where exactly is that $51K job located at. Certainly not here.

The story, as Dorothea Salo (Caveat Lector) states so well, is in what we do. That is the story that each of us librarians should be telling. I do disagree a bit with Ms. Salo that librarians don't inflict some of this on themselves. A cursory look at a few librarian bloggers would provide the evidence. But I agree with her that we should be cutting off the supply from those fluff reporters. In addition, Mary Carmen Chimato (Circ and Serve), reminds readers that it is not all roses and daisies.Unlike Ms. Chimato, I could not fling the paper because I read it online, and I happen to like my computer. Ms. Chimato writes,

"I found it interesting that no one quoted in the article stated that they are becoming librarians because they like to work with people, or that they enjoying teaching. Jessamyn is not hip and cool because she uses IM. She is valued because she has chosen to work in a small, rural public library assisting the community in becoming more aware of and adept with new technology. She is also a tireless advocate of small public libraries. That has cool written all over it."

Indeed, that reporter and her ilk should be looking at the actual work people like Ms. West (librarian.net, and by the way, here is her take on the article), and Ms. Salo, and Ms. Chimato are doing. That is where you will find the story.

So, if I had to play the game of what they would write about me (this is inspired by Dorothea Salo's brief description), this is what they might do to me:

  • I am in my thirties. I am not single and unattached and with oodles of free time.
  • I have no tattoos. Unlike some of my colleagues out there, I don't despise tattoos. By the way, the rest of David Durant's (Heretical Librarian) post is worth reading too. Personally, I think some tattoos are great works of art. However, I would not look good with one, so I will spare the readers out there.
  • I drink socially. I prefer wine. This is an appreciation I acquired from my godfather, man who taught me many things in addition to knowing the difference between a cabernet and a merlot and between a Chilean versus an Australian or Californian. I do drink some spirits as well. I like some beer, preferably a good brand. Having said that, if you offer me a cheaper brand, I will be happy to share because in the end it's about the fellowship and the good times rather than the drinking per se. I don't do bars (been there, done that). I would rather mix my own with friends and/or family (this is cheaper too by the way). And I don't give my drinks Dewey or LC numbers. I also drink coffee, but I prefer to brew my own than to pay tribute to Starbucks. If I have to get it from a chain, I would rather go here (and now that they opened one in Houston, I am happy).
  • I blog. I am a fan of Unshelved.I read graphic novels. I have a profile here and there on social websites. I use IM now and then. I use a few other online tools like del.icio.us. However, I don't care who goes potty or lost their puppy or did who knows what on Twitter every five minutes, and I don't live in Second Life. I am happy with my First Life, thank you very much. In other words, I am willing to try out new things and incorporate things that work into my toolbox. I don't go drooling over every 2.0 new shiny gadget. They are not all hot.
  • I wear glasses. They are not "retro granny glasses." They are just practical things which look ok and, more importantly, allow me to see what I need to see without any fanfare. I have colleagues who wear contacts. Why the article's author thought this detail, visionwear, was important is beyond me.
  • Like many other librarians, I came to librarianship from somewhere else. I was a teacher once (public school). Guess what? I am still a teacher. To me, this is a calling, but it is part of the same calling that brought me to teaching.
  • I already pointed out I don't make anywhere near $51K a year. No, I am not telling you how much. However, I am a state employee, so if you really wanted to know, come over to my campus and ask for the Budget document. My salary would be listed there. If you ask me, they are getting a good bargain given what they do pay me.
  • I enjoy what I do. Like other jobs, I enjoy some days more than others. For me, this is a line of work where I have to continue learning, and not just from books and other information sources. I learn from my students as well. Some days, they teach me more than I could ever teach them.

Perhaps, if we just told our stories, the real stories, we would not have to worry about Google displacing us or feeling insecure. In the end, I think our stories are not told because we are still living them. We work in diverse settings with a broad range of patrons, and we do our work with quiet professionalism and a soft human touch. There is the story, but you would have to go out looking for it.

If you want some snark on the story, the Annoyed Librarian has you covered as she begs you to take the hip librarians.To Meredith Farkas (Information Wants to Be Free), this "story" was breaking news. Over at the Library Tavern, they ask if you can afford your 2.0 biblio-lifestyle. Karen G Schneider (Free Range Librarian) asks if "To be cool is to be young and male?" These and other librarians took a look at this article. Some were less pleased than others. Go look at their work and see what stories you might find.

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3 Responses to "I am not hip, so what?"

Thank you Liz and Mary for stopping by. Best, and keep on blogging.

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