Librarian: Accept Yourself
I would like to propose that the current era in librarianship, which is normally characterized as a “period of rapid change,” is perhaps better described as a period of denial. It is a period in which librarians are scurrying to disassociate themselves from their own profession as it tends to be thought of, with a sense of desperate shame.
What am I talking about? I’ll exaggerate a bit to make my point. I’m talking about librarians who say,
We’re not about books! We’re about computers! Don’t associate us with books! We don’t want to be saddled with that! When people hear the word “library,” we want them to think words like “Future,” “Hi Tech,” “Information Age,” and “Shiny Gadget!” Fellow librarians, don’t even use the word Book! It’s a no-no! Bad word! Hurts! Pretend you don’t even know what one is!
We’re not about intellect and studying or anything dull! We’re about video games and dance dance revolution! We’re about being hip! We have a new image and we must thoroughly suppress the old image because nobody likes it! Nobody likes a Plain Jane! Nobody likes a bookworm! We want them to like us and that means that we have to shed the old image of dull boring studiousness! We must portray a new glitzy, fun, with-it image! “Intellect and Studying,” to the extent that we admit any association with it at all, should become for us like granny-glasses as a fashion accessory for a party girl – a cute referent only, not something that should ever be taken to really describe us!
Times have changed! Government programs are out, and private industry is in! We must privatize, and if we can’t privatize, we have to imitate the corporate guys, because they’re winners! We want to be winners too, not losers eating government cheese! Libraries are a business and we need to start acting like it! Bring in the corporate sponsors and kick out the bums who can’t pay! It’s a lean mean world and if we want to survive in it we’ve got to go toe to toe with the MBA’s. If you want the library to be for losers, then get outa town! We must suppress all this depression-era loser crap about the Public Good. Socialism is a thing of the past!
And, they are beginning to say,
I don’t want to hear the expression, “Bibliographic Control” ever again! People think we’re control freaks! They think we’ve all got OCD! We need to show them that we don’t need to control anything in our libraries at all! And we’ll prove it! Down with controlled vocabularies! Up with folksonomies! Down with scholarly authority! Up with cooperative, user-generated content! We’re so 2.0, we want to let the users control everything! Sure, it will become a little unclear what we’re here for after a while, but no role at all is better than being thought of as a control freak! “Control!” The word has such a shameful sound! Don’t say it! That is not us!!
Plainly, there’s some repression going on. Librarians are repressing elements of the core of librarianship as a result of a self-image problem. The “image problem” is not about “changing how they see us” so much as it’s about accepting ourselves as librarians. We shouldn’t be afraid of being about books. We shouldn’t be afraid of being about intellect. We shouldn’t be afraid of being publicly funded and for the public good. And, we shouldn’t be afraid of being about bringing information under control. Now, if the whole of society were about those things, there might be a problem. But those things have their place, and that place is the library. And that is the way it should be. It concerns me that in this era of “rapid change” librarians seem to have so little confidence in themselves as librarians, that we seem to want to be something else, seem embarrassed or ashamed to be what we are. We don’t need to change our image. We need to re-affirm our image. We might find that we’re more appreciated than we realize.