The truth is a cruel mistress, and sometimes so is the Annoyed Librarian
Last week a reader's comment provided a list of unpleasant and unattractive traits said by one experienced librarian to describe most librarians. The list was long, but here are a few of the characteristics that supposedly describe librarians. Librarians are not scholars, are intimidated by scholars, have low self esteem, do not generally have high IQs, do not have good social skills, do not value innovation, are reactive, are introverted, are underachievers, never question authority, avoid confrontation at all costs, design systems that serve librarians and not the public, have difficulty making decisions, and fear and resist change. Does that sound like any librarians you know?
Another reader hoped that no one was reading the blog. No, that's not quite right. Here's an excerpt: "I do hope intellectual, bright, energetic soon to be librarians out there are not reading particular thread of commentary.... Please do not call this a dead profession, it is only dead if you contribute to its demise."
The problem, apparently, is that if intellectual, bright, energetic soon-to-be librarians read the AL, they'll discover that a lot of jaded librarians think most of their colleagues are unintellectual dullards. I understand the intent of the comment. How are libraries ever going to attract bright, intellectual, energetic librarians if people like me go around pointing out how silly and annoying so many librarians are? Aren't I doing a disservice to the profession by telling it like I see it? And more importantly, aren't I doing a disservice to the brighter among us by possibly discouraging other bright people from joining us? Possibly. But please don't accuse me of contributing to anything's demise. I'm just calling 'em like I see 'em.
First, I should note is that it's not just me. I write a post about these issues, and lots of librarians leave comments. The AL attracts the disaffected, but the disaffected seem to be legion. I give one perspective, and then comes a chorus to confirm it. While I've gotten a lot of criticism about my political posts, rarely has anyone disagreed with me about library schools or library jobs. I get the occasional snipey comment, certainly, though I often suspect the snipey comments come from librarians who see themselves as the objects of my criticism. But I'm certainly not alone in my jaded view of librarianship.
I should also note that a lot of these librarian stereotypes are perpetuated even by the manic and frantic bloggers, especially all those techie bloggers who wet themselves whenever they use Twitter or make a wiki. They often write about the librarians who are reactive and slow to change, who don't leap aboard the "clue train" or whatever. The frustrated trendsetters say the same things about librarians, but approach the subject from a different perspective. They're so excitable and hyperbolic and you're so distracted by the pee pee dance video they've just posted to Youtube that you don't realize they're just as critical as me.
I'm trying to correct the record of typical library propaganda, in which librarians are saints and libraries the salvation of society, where we're all lovely people doing great work and making the world a better place. That may occasionally be true, but it's also true that a lot of library work is drudgery, that it could be done by a well trained monkey, and that it's not always easy to distinguish the librarians from trained monkeys except that the monkeys don't have such an unhealthy relation to chocolate. Future librarians need to know what they're getting into. It's time we stopped lying to them.
Of course I'd like to see more intelligent and even intellectual librarians join our ranks, but there's no way that can happen as long as library schools actively recruit anyone with a pulse and as long as library school is ridiculously easy and as long as so many jobs classified as "professional" are little better than clerical positions.
That's not true of every library job, but it's true of a lot of them. I do some pretty high level work in my own job that requires knowledge, intelligence, and skill, but the job could be done by someone much less competent than me. It wouldn't be done very well, but libraries have shown for decades that they'd rather pay poorly for shoddy work than pay well for great work.
As I see it, there are two questions involved--should I tell the truth (or at least a truth) about librarianship, and am I telling the truth about librarianship. I would answer "yes" to both questions. Maybe I'm wrong. As Cary Grant said in To Catch a Thief when Grace Kelly offered him a breast or a thigh--You decide.
The good news is that in a hundred years we'll most likely all be dead and none of this will matter anyway. There, I just wanted to bring a little Monday morning cheer into your life.