Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Weeding Librarians

Edie is upsetIn case any of you have not had the good fortune to watch Grey Gardens, I will quickly recap the documentary for you.

Fabulous, gorgeous socialite & model little Edie moves in with her equally illustrious socialite mother, Big Edie. Big Edie is a first cousin of Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onasis. They live in a tremendously large 28 room mansion in East Hampton, Long Island.

Then they become crazy cat lady recluses, who feed raccoons entire bags of wonder bread, order in groceries, and fill their home with garbage, which leads them to live in only 3 rooms of the whole house.

A documentary was made in the mid 70's, after the house was going to be condemned, but Jackie BKO jumped in to rescue them. The house became habitable, but barely.

What does this have to do with librarianship? Further what does it have to do with Well Dressedlibrariaship?

Faded Glamour. nope. Good guess though.

It has to do with living in a bubble, not realizing everything around you has changed, except for you.

When I stepped off the MLIS luxury Liner, diploma in one hand, suitcase in the other - into the new world of libraries, I barely spoke the language. I was fortunate to fall into a position that fostered and guided me, so that my native appearance was more than a facade. I could talk the talk, and walk the walk - all while keeping my bow tie and straw boater straight.

But that was the pretty, back room, administrative side of libraries. My previous experience in a corporate library was the equivalent of staying in a 5 star hotel, only with more cocktails served at your desk.

Then I wandered out into the public space. I sat reference, I answered phone questions, I e-mailed replies. It was beautiful. Finally, the things I'd been practicing and writing about were really happening. A bonafide librarian.

But as things go, I am new on the playing field. There are still some things I don't know, like, how much child support you should pay your ex-wife /sister-in-law, or where exactly you should apply the numbing analgesic on your invariably privately located wound. Outside of that I'm doing great.

So why is it that people are shocked that I'm a librarian? What exactly are librarians supposed to be? Or look like? Or behave like?

Will my ardor and passion fade to the fashionably crazy mind set of Little Edie? Will I think I am tremendous even when I am not? Will someone let me know when I am past my prime?

Reading articles, especially the article written by the cranky old Charles Robinson, makes me wonder if when librarians get ready for pasture, they are unaware of this. If you are still wearing butterfly collar shirts under polyester jackets that you actually bought in the late 60's, maybe its time to retire. If however, you've purchased them from a resale shop because they are chic, there is a difference.

I know I am over 50 years out of style, which is pretty good considering I am not even 30 (yet). I digress.

These archaic, out of pace, "how do I e-mail this?", what's a PDF? Librarians are really just detritus in the library community. At the same time, these librarians are scaring away the public with old school rhetoric - they are giving a bad name to up and coming librarians who can make a difference, but aren't given the chance.

The public begins to think we are all alike. I take enough calls everyday to know that one bad experience on the part of the patron effects the entire location they were at. "Jane was rude to me", becomes "The librarians there were awful"...

And don't be condescending. We are in a helping job. No matter what you are thinking, you can not say it to the patron.

The sad thing is, this won't reach the librarians who need to get out. We do extra work to cover for them.

And because our field is sooo non-traditional, a new librarian, just out of grad school could be 60 years old. It isn't age that defines the bad librarian. Its when they were last trained, or attended a training, and were made to incorporate that new work ethic into their daily lives.

The Edies didn't know they had descended into disgrace and squalor. No idea at all. Not even after they watched the documentary. They thought they were film stars.

Librarians, unlike the collection, can not be weeded. We will have to live with the few who still lament the demise of the card catalog, or those who liked it better when the library closed on weekends, or those who walk uphill to work both ways, in the snow.

Moral of this blog: How do we live with them? Just like they live with technology. Pretend it isn't there.

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