I don't think I could stomach watching the conference the Webtamer was so excited about a couple of weeks ago, but one remark did catch my eye. They were doing something somewhere that's supposed to be exciting about Library Five-O or something. I couldn't even stay awake for the insubstantial description. Nevertheless, someone was quoted (approvingly, of course) by the Webtamer as saying: "If you have staff who have butts in seats and they are just sitting...show me a retail operation that would let people sit." This is the sort of stuff that makes it hard for me to keep from swearing, but as this is a family blog I'll refrain from such a vulgarian response.
Let's put it this way--I don't have to show you a retail operation that would let people sit, BECAUSE I'M NOT A &*%#ing RETAIL CLERK!!! There, I used both the caps and the exclamation points and the little pseudoswearing symbols to try to get the hyperlibrarians excited about something besides the idiotic manure coming out of the business world.
Since apparently there are some people who either confuse me with a retail clerk or want to turn me into one, perhaps I should point out some differences between the two of us. I realize this may not apply to a lot of librarians, but I thought I should make the effort.
The first obvious difference is appearance. I don't wear a name tag that says, "Hi, I'm AL, please abuse me." I don't have a polyester polo shirt with my library logo on it that matches all the other little retail librarian polo shirts. I don't have to submerge my identity into the corporate structure. And I don't even have to dress for success. I dress more like a grad student, frankly.
And then there's something called education. Perhaps you've heard of it. I use mine a lot in my job. I'm not talking about that library school stuff, either. If you want a retail clerk, go pull some pimply teenager off the street, but don't bother me. What I bring to my job is in my head, not on the shelf behind me. I'm an intellectual worker, believe it or not, and comparing me to a retail sales clerk is inappropriate and insulting.
And another thing, I don't sell stuff. Period. I don't even "sell" stuff. Not everything is about selling, and believe it or not there are higher purposes in libraries and in life than mimicking retail sales. If your metaphor for life is sales, then you are a spiritual pauper. If your highest standard of value is retail, then I'm really not sure what to say, because I doubt we could even communicate with one another. If your standards for librarianship come from retail sales, then I also think you're doing a disservice to the profession.
In retail, there is the old saying that the customer is always right. Very different in my world, Mr. Hypersaleslibraryperson. I don't have customers. I don't try to figure out what people desire and then give it to them to make them happy. Making them happy at all costs is not my job.
What do I have? Perhaps the best label is "clients." I have clients, and they're not always right. Sometimes they don't even know enough about what they're doing to even know whether they're right or wrong. That's why they come to me, because I already know what they need to know and I can teach them. I'm more like a lawyer or doctor than a retail clerk, except I don't make as much money. On the other hand, my malpractice insurance is considerably cheaper, and if I'm wrong, nobody dies. Usually.
I don't walk around drumming up business, either. One obvious reason is I have no incentive. Perhaps you've heard of the term "nonprofit." A sales clerk needs to sell stuff. I don't. I don't work on commission. If someone wants what I have to offer, fine. If not, fine. I'm there to help, and if they don't want my help, I really don't care. I get paid the same regardless.
"But you sound all jaded, Annoyed Librarian. You don't have the sort of slaphappy personality we want in public services!"
Wanna bet? I work in public services among other things. And I'm good. I might even say I'm great, if I weren't the incredibly modest gal you all know me to be. Since I happen to be more modest than anyone in the entire world, I won't brag, though. However, my clientele love me, and they always come back for more. I don't have to peddle my wares like some door-to-door sales schmuck because this stuff sells itself, or at least it would if I sold it. But I give it away, and there's always plenty of takers, because what I give away is valuable. I don't have to push it on the resistant public, because they know it's valuable.
They don't always need it, of course, and when they don't need it I don't push it on them. When they need it, I'm there for them, and that's all that matters. People don't want pushy librarians in their face all the time trying to "sell" them stuff. When they don't need it, they don't care about it, and pushy librarians seem just as annoying as pushy sales clerks.
I at least try to deceive myself sometimes that librarianship has a "grand purpose," that it's a meaningful career and not just some hack job. A gal can dream, can't she? But it's impossible to think any such thing if librarianship is so degraded that is has to look to retail sales as the model to be emulated. So why don't you take your nametags and your polyester shirts and your rah-rah sales pitch and your "motivational" speech and go back to the Walmart, because in case you haven't heard, about the only thing good about working in a library is that it's better than Walmart. Take that away, and what's left?