Recently articles in two New York City newspapers have set the library world abuzz with their coverage of hipsters who happen to be librarians. Or librarians who happen to be hipsters. Either way it seems that everyone has an opinion ranging from “it’s cool to be getting positive media attention” to”this is condescending trash!”
I’m a bit behind the times on this but as a responsible librarian-blogger I should 1) read the articles, 2) review the response, and 3) offer my own take. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll probably just cut and paste what other people write again.
1. The Articles:
Jesella, Kara, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” New York Times, July 8, 2007.
The myth prevails that librarians are becoming obsolete. “There’s Google, no one needs us,” Ms. Gentile said, mockingly, over a drink at Daddy’s.
Still, these are high-tech times. Why are people getting into this profession when libraries seem as retro as the granny glasses so many of the members of the Desk Set wear?
“Because it’s cool,” said Ms. Gentile, who works at the Brooklyn Museum.
Ms. Murphy, 29, thinks so, too. An actress who had long considered library school, Ms. Murphy finally decided to sign up after meeting several librarians – in bars.
“People I, going in, would never have expected were from the library field,” she said. “Smart, well-read, interesting, funny people, who seemed to be happy with their jobs.”
Shapiro, Gary, “For New-Look Librarians, Head to Brooklyn,” New York Sun, July 5, 2007.
How badly does the image of librarians need updating? A private school librarian, Natasha Cane, recounted how she knew someone whose mother cried when her daughter told her that she wanted to become a librarian. Ms. Cane, who was wearing a pin that read “Can I help you find what you need?” said the Desk Set could help provide an “alternative vision” for being a librarian today. Ms. Cane, who grew up in New Jersey, recalled having had “too much fun” at her local library growing up, but now her job includes shushing kids behaving as she had.Asked how she can tell the archivists from the librarians, Ms. Cane said, “Different gang colors.”
2. The Response:
librarian.net (July 7)
The fashion section of the New York Times has an article titled A Hipper Crowd of Shushers which, despite the title is less annoying than the usual “librarians, they’re not as lame as you think!” articles that we see about the profession.
librarian.net (July 9)
So, I don’t care much what you think about hipsters. I’m personally proud of the braininess of the profession and if it comes with dowdiness I’m all for it. However, a few things should be clear. The author of the article is trying to say something nice about hipsters by associating them with librarians and librarians by associating them with hipsters. Maybe you don’t share her cultural associations, but it’s not a negative piece. Everyone in the article is portrayed in a positive light. How often does that happen in anything but “puppet show a complete success!” articles about the library? The popularity of this article is likely not because people are sharing it saying “Heh, librarians are such total dorks and losers they think they’re cool and they’re not!” it’s because the framing of this story seems to resonate with people in some way.
A nice article about today’s hipster librarians in the New York Times…
It’s not a bad article about how librarians are hipper than our stereotype.
Random Musings from the Desert (July 9 #1)
Random Musings from the Desert (July 9 #2)
Randoms Musings from the Desert (July 9 #3)
As the self-styled Maven of All Things Librarian Image (*laugh*snort*), I just want to add two more cents to my earlier postings. (1) Both articles were in the, shall we say, “fluffier” sections of the respective papers, and I didn’t expect anything serious at that point; (2) Sometimes just getting us out there in front of the public in a way that isn’t behind the desk is good; (3) epithets are bad; and (4) I don’t expect these articles will do much to affect the overarching image we have to Joe Q. Public. On the other hand… small steps, people, small steps, and the more of them the better – maybe J.Q.P will surprise us!
It’s great that some good PR is coming out about libraries and librarians, showing how we’re a profession of technology-gurus and research experts more than anything else…not book-stamping shush monsters.
…although I take exception to the implication that we weren’t hip in the 70s.
Huffington Post (Nicole Scherer)
As a profession, I don’t think librarians care if the public thinks we’re cool: We just want the people we work for to know what exactly it is that we do. For all its emphasis on hipster librarians as another example of nerdy chic, the article’s title perpetuates that most outdated image of librarians — the Shusher — implying that while these new young professionals might be trendy and — dare I say it — sexy, they are still fussy librarians who want to keep it quiet.
The truth is that I myself am not a hipster (although I am always ready for a Dewey cocktail) and I don’t see librarianship as an interesting-enough day job to support my ‘real’ life as a filmmaker or musician or actor. As it is for many librarians, this is my chosen career. Librarians are cool, not because of how we dress, what we drink, or who we associate with. Librarians are cool because our job is cool: We protect people’s freedom to seek out and find the information they need: All service and no shushing.
Maybe 5 years is a long time, but when I graduated from library school, none of my classmates became librarians because it seemed cool. They were interested in teaching, collection development, preservation, outreach, literacy, web development, etc. Trendiness had nothing to do with it.
Why are we allowing ourselves and our profession to have one stale stereotype swapped out for a younger, “hipper” one that may be even less accurate than Marian the Librarian ever was?
The basic gist of the article, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” (if the title wasn’t bad enough) is that these days, librarians are more than bun-wearing spinster book-lovers who hate to have their quiet and orderly library disturbed by human beings. Librarians can be hip, though still in a geeky tattoo of the federal depository library logo, trendy granny glasses and mixed drinks classified by Dewey numbers kind of way. And shockingly, librarians aren’t just women… there are “guybrarians” out there too. And we’re not just about books anymore, we’re also “about organizing and connecting people with information” (I guess I have to wonder when the profession wasn’t about these things). It felt to me like the author hadn’t been to a library in a long time, had never known a librarian personally prior to researching the article, and thought she was making an important discovery in finding that librarians are not how they’ve been portrayed in movies since the 1930s.
And as for trying to remake the image of the typical librarian, how about not going out of your way to tell the entire journalistic world ‘See, we’re normal. We leave our houses just like you do. Really, we do.’
I too feel condescended to, but not so much over the age thing as the now-codifed subtext that unless something (e.g., hobbies, fashion, professions) is adopted by blithe, dripping-with-irony and mostly white twenty-to-thirty-something hipsters, it’s not legitimate, or worse, uncool. (Actually, we’ve come to that point in our culture where once the masses deem something is uncool it immediately becomes cool. The cycling begins.)
Oh, and Kara Jesella set librarians back about 10 years… she’s living back in the roaring 90’s when the web was new and cool. Her article about hip librarians will do more damage than good. For me, changing the stereotype is done through actions, not through fashion. At the next ALA they’ll probably have hip librarian body wash, hip librarian hair spray, hip librarian lip gloss, hip librarian temporary tattoos, a mixed cd for Next Gen Librarians, the official “hip librarian” t-shirt, and so on. No thanks. The “hip librarian” is such a ready-made cliché — it’s fitting for New York City where style is more important than substance.
I am an aging, wrinkly thing whose idea of a wild evening is playing “Spin the Netflix” to pick a movie to watch while we fold laundry and pay bills. I dress like a square, will never get drunk enough to get a tattoo (especially one with the FDLP logo – do let me rant someday about gov docs), and avoid sleeveless dresses, as there are just not enough arm-curls in the world to defeat gravity times age.But I am cool in my subversive old-lady tech-loving the-user-is-not-broken way, and getting cooler all the time, and I count among my friends and colleagues librarians of all ages, dress codes, and evening habits. What we share is not a love of expensive mixed drinks or the ability to hang out in cliques, but a passion for the profession.
And some people responded the old fashioned way by writing to the editor:
Letters to the New York Times (July15)
3. My Take
I saw a lot of the outrage before I read the articles and now I’m kind of wondering why all the tempest in a teapot over a newspaper fluff piece. The rage against the hipster librarians is especially puzzling. I could see myself enjoying hanging out with the Desk Set as I too enjoy drinking and dancing. On the other hand if they kept insisting on calling me a “guybrarian” I may end up clenching my fists and rubbing my nose vigorously. Regardless, the amount of attention that these two articles on one group received seems to say a whole lot about the obsession with image in the librarian profession.