Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Meditation on Being a Librarian in Public

My road to becoming a librarian was somewhat winding and involved a few false starts, but most days I'm very content with the job I have now. A few recent posts by my friends about egotism and recognition have made me think a bit about why I talk so much about my job online. Why isn't it enough for me just to be a good reference librarian who helps the patrons at my library? I know I'm not in it for the money, but maybe it's for the glory?

My experience as a full-time librarian has coincided with the rise of social media. I joined Twitter in 2007, but it took me a few years to figure out what to do with it. For the past several years, however, my goal with Twitter and other forms of social media has been to relate what it is that I do every day as a librarian. Yes, I use Twitter as a way to meet other librarians of all kinds and to have my burning collection development questions answered, but what I want to be known for is the "slice of life" posts that I make. This is the same reason I participate in Library Day in the Life and other similar projects--I want to be known as a librarian, and I want people to understand what librarians actually do. That's why I put library-related updates on Facebook; update on Tumblr; write here and co-write a blog on collection development, and spend a good chunk of every day broadcasting my life at work. When interacting with librarians, this can lead to cathartic commiseration, but many of my posts seem to strike a chord with my non-librarian contacts as well.

There are never-ending debates about the future of libraries, the future of books, and the future of librarianship. How do we make ourselves relevant? How do we "reinvent" ourselves? Should we go completely paperless? (No.) But libraries and librarians are doing awesome things with their collections and programming every day. The greatest barrier to the future of libraries, in my opinion, is the fact that many of our patrons have no idea what we are already doing. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone say to me "I didn't know I could do that here!," which is unfortunately often coupled with "I haven't been to the library in forever" . . . Even though we should definitely be aware of the next big thing, we also need to do a better job of marketing the resources that we've already got, and have always had: books (in whatever format) and programming. Experienced librarians with reader's advisory skills. Awesome children's librarians, who often see more kids and families in a day than I see in a week.

When it comes down to ego, yes, I admit to having one. I want people to pay attention to my work. And I'm not perfect, either. Some of the posts I make may tend toward the snarky, but I hope that some love for my patrons shines through. I hope it's clear that if I had to choose between presenting at ALA and helping someone learn how to cut and paste, I would choose the latter every time. I'm happy to be known as a librarian by people I went to high school with, people I interact with on twitter who are not in the field, and people I meet on the street who ask me how late the library is open. Many of my patrons don't have computers and can't afford a device that would allow them to read ebooks. They're looking for jobs. They want something to read or watch for education and entertainment. They don't care about the next best thing, they just want us to be open as many hours as we can. I don't give a damn if I'm famous in the field if I can help someone with their résumé.

Last week, a non-librarian that I interact with occasionally on Twitter sent me a direct message to ask if I could look something up for her that she'd had no luck finding herself online. We don't talk much, but she knows I'm a librarian. This is what being a librarian in public should be--helping people understand that the library is a resource waiting for them to make use of it. Reminding people that libraries still exist, and that they're pretty damn cool. That's why I'm going to keep tweeting from the trenches, and appreciating people who do the same. As far as I'm concerned, they're the real rock star librarians.

Patron Debris
Collection Reflection

Meditation Index


Jennifer Rummel said...

Great post!

Katherine C. James said...

I adore your Twitter library posts. Your love for your patrons absolutely shines through, and I don't see your posts as egotistical, I see them as entertaining and educational. My mom and sister are librarians. We are a family of librarians and researchers, as well as book sellers, buyers, readers, discussers, collectors, lovers and hoarders. My parents, to my unending gratitude, took us to the library every week of our childhood lives no matter if we were in our suburban winter location or our varied, and sometimes western-wild, summer locations. (Sometimes the western towns had the most architecturally beautiful old libraries.) When I was a little girl, the fact that I could go into a building and take out ANY BOOK I WANTED and pore over it AT MY HOUSE was INCREDIBLE. I remember oohing and ahhing over a gorgeous volume of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass checked out of the library in Logan, Utah, and a deluxe Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass from the same library. I lust after those editions to this day, even though I have wonderful editions of my own. My parents went to the library once a week until my dad died at 89. My mom, until very recently, and I hope maybe for a bit longer still, volunteers at the library where she lives, and checks books out of the county bookmobile when it stops by. On my 4 January birthday, a friend and I took a walk through the Berkeley campus where I went to college. I was overwhelmed by so many memories when we walked into the Doe and Morrison Libraries. When I was there, libraries had typewriters I could use to type my papers and listening rooms where I could hear T. S. Eliot read the poetry I loved over and over and over in his own voice. I realized that day that as the architect Mario Botta said about museums, libraries (and museums) are my cathedrals; my sacred spaces. I renewed my library card at Doe that day. The library clerk who helped me had just graduated from Cal with an Art History degree. I told him what a great degree I think that is and asked what he wanted to do next. He said he wanted to get a degree in Library Science. (Which, to my disgust, Cal no longer offers. Fools!) I got both verklempt and excited, and told him about how truly vibrant I think the field remains. Despite the cutbacks that distress me, there are many cities or neighborhoods around me that are rabidly supporting their libraries because they understand the richness a library adds to a community. I have met you, and I know how great you are, and I am delighted that you have chosen to point your intelligence, compassion, and humor at the nurturing of libraries and their collections. Keep tweeting and blogging about it. I hope your words will help educate all of us about the necessity for good librarians, and for libraries open long enough hours to support those who love them, but don't necessarily need them, and those for whom it is a lifeline.