Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Don't Fight the Stereotypes

That library marketing librarian blogger person always has some ideas on library marketing. This time, though, I'm not so sure.

She writes about the Tylenol website, where she says you can find Tylenol "employees talking about their work and perspectives." She thinks this would be a great format for librarians, so that librarians can fight against the stereotypes.

"I think it would be nice idea if patrons could find their librarians talking about the issues they're concerned about, projects they're working on, hobbies they have, and so on, to put a friendly face on our services. I realize there are privacy issues implicit in this, but I just like the idea of patrons getting to see a more-well rounded version of us has human beings rather than one-dimensional bookish-types."

I see a huge potential problem with this. What if it turns out that librarians really are one-dimensional bookish types, who knit and play with their cats when they aren't reading cozies? Or that they're mostly helpful, overweight, middle-aged white women who are for the most part kind of boring? What then! Or worse. What if it turns out librarians are all annoyingly "hip" like those "hip" New York librarians? If you have to fight the stereotypes, the stereotypes have already won.

The most foolish of the stereotype fighters these days are the hipsters, and oh they don't seem to go away. Any claims about how librarians are all "hip" and "cool" now can be easily dispelled by wandering around the convention floor at an ALA Conference or looking at pictures of librarians online or just going into a library.

Unless that library is in Pittsburgh, I guess, where apparently all the librarians really are hepcats who dress in black and know a lot about heavy metal music and stuff. Those Pittsburgh librarians must really connect with the alienated teenage boy goth set. I wanted to write more about the Pittsburgh Hip Librarian Consortium, but after the New York hipster piece I just don't have the strength anymore. I feel as if I'm failing my faithful readers. Also, unlike the NYT article, these Pittsburgh "hipsters" didn't seem quite so full of themselves and the news article itself, though still "correcting those stereotypes," didn't seem like it was written by an idiot. And besides, who cares what happens in Pittsburgh.

I wouldn't mind if people thought of librarians as well rounded human beings (I'm passing up a bad joke there), but I don't think it will happen. People don't care what librarians are like. My advice to librarians: don't fight the stereotypes. It won't do you any good. News articles about how hip we all are just make us seem desperate. If you're really hip, you don't have to tell people. And if you're a normal person, you don't have to tell people, either. They'll just know.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

My new motto: "...if you're a normal person, you don't have to tell people, either. They'll just know."

Could I have your permission to print this out and post it in my office? I might need to make a second copy for the reference desk as well.

Truly, a perfect way to start the year.

AL said...

Fine by me, but if you make any money on it, I want 20%.

Anonymous said...

Random idea - a reality show filmed in a library: non-library loving patrons, who can find everything online, field reference questions, catalog, deal with surly folk and homeless, go to really dull meetings, etc.

I personally think the "day at the gov docs desk" would be most entertaining.

janitorx said...

People don't care what librarians are like. My advice to librarians: don't fight the stereotypes. It won't do you any good. News articles about how hip we all are just make us seem desperate. If you're really hip, you don't have to tell people. And if you're a normal person, you don't have to tell people, either. They'll just know.

Unless directly asked, I rarely talk about my hobbies and outside interests. I don't have a blog. I am not on Facebook. All my hobbies defy the librarian stereotype, but I don't feel the need to describe how. When people comment that I don't seem like a librarian, I just shrug my shoulders. The only professional image I care about has to do with my own job performance.

I've never encountered a group of professionals so concerned with their image! I have wondered if some of these self-conscious individuals tend to have low social intelligence, and therefore, poor management styles. Maybe if they focused more on self-actualizing accomplishments outside the workplace (meaning--get a life!), a lot of them wouldn't be so toxic to work with.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that this stereotype thing is getting soooo old. And it is pretty obvious that fighting stereotypes does nothing for our profession and libraries.

Do librarians really think we will have more support, more patrons, higher circulation statistics if we can all show how we do not fit the stereotype?

Anonymous said...

The worst stereotype I dealt with was the "secretly freaky librarian." It is truly creepy to have a perfect stranger tell you he would love to see you "let your hair down" - literally. I prefer that they believe I am just an efficient dork.

Anonymous said...

I really doubt the Tylenol people were just random employees put in front of a camera; big companies in particular would screen out only the most photogenic and..."representative" candidates.

That said, there are two librarian stereotypes I've seen fairly regularly. One is librarians tend not to be happily married people (not just women) with children and a normal nuclear family. And yes, there are librarians with kids, but the majority of people I worked with tended to have no kids, or be divorced, single for life, or deliberately "unclassified."

The other is librarians do have poor social skills, and have trouble presenting themselves as normal and likable people. I can't count how many times I had to tell coworkers something like "No, people don't ask for me at the desk because I'm playing some political game to subvert you". The truth was the patrons didn't like them.

And yes, no other field obsesses about their image as much as the librarians. I'm happy just to do my job and go home, and not blog my spleen to the whole damn world.

Dances With Books said...

I think your concluding line about if you are normal, no need to tell others, brings the post home for me. I have to agree with the others, I may need to print and enlarge that line.

Having said that, never underestimate the "alienated teenage boy goth set." You never know when they will grow up, dress "normally" and then vote for that library levy. Anyhow, I liked the idea of a librarian being able to tell between "Norwegian castle metal" and "Egyptian-themed death metal." I bet the twopointopians can't do that (ha!). Practical knowledge, that's what will do it for the profession, not some 2.0 fad.

AL said...

The Juvenal of librarianship, huh. That's okay, I suppose, but I'd prefer the Dorothy Parker of librarianship.

Dances With Books said...

BTW, I saw the link to that Juvenal article. Well worth a look. Do note the people who get a bit "miffed" over it in the comments, probably adding to Wayne's points in his post.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyones really trying passionately to "fight" the stereotypes. Those "hip librarian" articles are merely painting a picture. Now a different demographic of people are attracted to the profession. At times it's a more artsy/bohemian crowd. I don't see the harm in these types of articles and I don't think they really aim to change people's perceptions. If anything they just demonstrate how the profession has changed. Why make it into this big deal that librarians are on this huge stereotype-changing mission?? I don't really know anyone who is like that and I encounter all types of individuals on my job. If anything the "hip librarian" articles may show that anyone can and has entered the field.

janitorx said...

Why make it into this big deal that librarians are on this huge stereotype-changing mission??

Because this defects from more salient issues at hand such as the job shortage, low salaries, etc. Also, these articles are used for recruitment which this profession does not need.

One is librarians tend not to be happily married people (not just women) with children and a normal nuclear family. And yes, there are librarians with kids, but the majority of people I worked with tended to have no kids, or be divorced, single for life, or deliberately "unclassified."

I can't speak for all childfree librarians out there, but perhaps the reason for choosing this status is that is very difficult to support a family on a librarian's salary. Also, the work hours, especially for reference/access services librarians, aren't exactly family friendly. That said, I have met/worked with a lot of unhappily married librarians.

I would also add that many are in poor physical health, but perhaps, this just reflects the adult population at large.

Josh said...

What if it turns out that librarians really are one-dimensional bookish types, who knit and play with their cats when they aren't reading cozies? Or that they're mostly helpful, overweight, middle-aged white women who are for the most part kind of boring? What then!

Geez, I'm for the most part kind of boring and still in my late 20s with no cats or crafty hobbies. I'll have to concur, AL, since my facility with LCSH is only slightly more useful to my 18-year-old undergrads than my encyclopedic knowledge of 90s indie rock. Just because i have some interests outside books doesn't make me any more interesting to our patrons and I'm fine with that. They don't have to think i'm either hip or boring, just helpful.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the librarians, rather than fighting the stereotype should take a cue from Leonard Nimoy (Spock for the culturally handicapped) and hang onto it for dear life.

Listen to Byelorussian death metal goth--heaven's no, they listen to NPR. Tattoos and piercings--they'll stick with the bun, granny glasses, and sweater, thank you. Pet ferret? pot bellied pig? Adder? Mr. Scrumpy the cat makes fine company. Talk about politics, religion or who shot JFK--that's a nice big "Shhhhh!" to you mister.

That's right, in a society where everyone is getting covered in tattoos and piercings, maybe hanging onto their stereotype is the best thing to do.

Kevin Musgrove said...

If you're a normal person you don't have to tell people. They'll know.

If you're a professional you don't have to tell people. Professional is what you are, not what you call yourself.

Librarians.

Sigh...

Anonymous said...

I personally think stereotypes are kind of fun. We get to have a certain identity (correct or not) that other professions don't seem to have to such a degree. Why is this a bad thing? I love when I tell people I am a librarian and they are surprised because I don't fit the stereotype. Also, not every librarian stereotype is bad, hip, sexy, or bookish, why are any of these things negative?

Anonymous said...

So based on what your saying no one can say anything about librarians period? Good,bad or indifferent. Let's just stop writing any articles about "cool librarians" because everyone is going to rush to their local library and be librarian. Sorry but that aint happening no matter how New York Times articles are written. This blog--once funny--now seems to be griping about the same old crap. I know part of this blog is satire but can we get over the "hip librarian" articles?? If they bother you so much why draw more attention to them?? In fact I never encountered these articles until I saw them mentioned on your blog. Now I've been sharing them with everyone..uh oh. I may just recruit more librarians! Oh no! What will we ever do now?!

AL said...

I'm definitely beginning to think I can't please everyone all of the time.

Libraryun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Libraryun said...

I'm surprised no one has said this. (or maybe I didn't read):
...Tylenol "employees talking about their work and perspectives."

Who on God's green earth thinks this is even remotely interesting?

I feel no compulsion to go to that website.

Anonymous said...

In my mind I'm the wild child/ goth/ hip hop/ dancing on the tables/ tree hugging/ politically active/ martini drinking/ hipster librarian who is so cool that I don't want to be know as the hipster librarian. All things to all people.

In reality I'm the mostly helpful, middle aged, slightly overweight, dog loving, fairly boring stereotype who wants to be so cool that I don't want to be known as the hipster librarian.

Oh... and it has to be said...from Pittsburgh...

...there's such entertainment in the stereotype argument...

Anonymous said...

I keep remembering that Wal-Mart commercial where everyone talks about how great it is to work for Wal-Mart. In the meantime, the company was being sued by female employees alleging discrimination, and it locked its illegal alien cleaning crews inside their stores at night.

I am sure that Tylenol is an exemplary company but the ad was annoying.

Ananke said...

Stereotypes are a stupid game that people play far too seriously.

I'm a librarian. I'm also a writer, tattooed, scarred, pierced, married, overweight, boring, nerdy, obsessive, feminist and a billion and one other things. The most important one, as far as being a librarian goes, is that I love information and I wanna help people. Simple. The stereotypes mean I have to convince the bun-wearers that my tattoos don't mean I'll be advocating BME as a resource, and I have to convince the metal-contingent that I'm not actually censoring them, I'm just suggesting a different collection development strategy not based on NME.

public librarian said...

---Anyhow, I liked the idea of a librarian being able to tell between "Norwegian castle metal" and "Egyptian-themed death metal."---

Ooo, I can! I don't think my supervisor expected it when she gave me music ordering responsibilities, but we now have rather impressive, diverse punk and metal collections.

But I almost never discuss personal tastes/hobbies/views with patrons. I don't really care if they stereotype me. I'm more concerned with meeting their library-related needs. How I do my job is what really matters to the public. Fighting stereotypes is a waste of time and accomplishes very little if anything.

Jill said...

Yeah!! I made it onto the Annoyed Librarian blog! :-)

The Tylenol thing was obviously pretty carefully crafted, but it provides an idea nevertheless. I hate the "hip librarian" articles, which, you're right, don't do us much good. I'm not saying we should try to be hip (fake) just not caricatures. And, by the way, I've always thought your blog was the creation of very non-stereotypical librarian.

Emily Barney said...

ha! I dunno, AL sounds like a lot of librarians I know (and that's not a bad thing). And as for the hipster librarian article bringing people in, I met someone this summer who's starting her MLS because she always fantasized about fitting the traditional stereotype of a librarian - she's in it for the "fashion." :-P