I spent the weekend in Minnesota for Mother’s Day, and made a few observations about the public reaction to the profession of librarianship. 

It started when I was renting a car. First I was asked if I am a professor at the university, which I choose to take as flattering.  When I said I work at the library, for some reason she responded, “Oh, so you do the filing or whatever?” Now, I’m not quite sure in what context she meant “filing”.  Like the card catalog? Or is it her impression of the library that we all stand around alphabetizing files all day?

The next day I was chatting with a friendly guy outside a coffee shop.  He asked about the Michael Gorman book I happened to be reading, which invariably led to a question about why in the world I would voluntarily read such a thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Michael Gorman, but Our Enduring Values isn’t the biggest page-turner in the English language.  Anyway, the mention of my chosen profession led him to respond, “Oh, so you get to read all the time”.  Hahaha! As I told him, I’ve had less chance to read (other than reams of library journal articles) since starting library school than ever before in my life.  But honestly, there are many people who conjure up (for whatever bizarre reason they have cause to do so) images of librarians sitting around reading the latest bestsellers all day long.  Because what else could we possibly be doing after the filing is done?

Sigh. 

I was a bit concerned by these casual interactions, but the most disconcerting thing was that I was not really surprised.  We know that’s what most people think about us.  What will it take? A marketing campaign? A documentary? Perhaps YouTube has the potential to save us, though as Joe Janes pointed out in his MPLA keynote address this year, thusfar we have used it in rather pathetic and half-hearted replications of traditional library videos.  I have seen a couple cool ones lately, one of them actually a music video.  It may not do much to dispel stereotypes, but at least we look darkly mysterious and omnipotent rather than bored and without purpose.  

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