Sunday, March 04, 2007

At Home with the WDL

As a special supplement to the regular blog, an interview was granted inside the author's home.

We sat down with Matthew, a.k.a The Well Dressed Librarian, on a cold and windy afternoon. We were treated to coffee and little cakes in front of a delightfully warm fireplace, situated at the front of a large mid 19th century house. Our interests were with him, but he often and unexpectedly turned the subject back towards the state of libraries today. Our focus remained steady - and here, we present the Well Dressed Librarian at home.

Frequently talking with his hands, and with a very large Russian Blue comfortably seated next to him, we began our interview as the deco mantle clock chimed 2.

Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging back in the fall of 2003. I originally started as a way to connect with other librarians my own age. I was honestly surprised when I started graduate school and learned that the field was non-traditional in that many people became librarians after having already earned one or two other Masters degrees. I felt alone at times, and realized I would be able to reach out to a larger body of "new librarians",he noted while making quotes with his fingers, more easily. I had no idea that I would still be blogging 4 years later.

How has your blog changed over the course of four years?

I think that I originally started out to document my experiences - anecdotally. Someone called it blogging from the trenches, and actually, that was quite an apt description then. I would make my experiences into little stories -people responded right away. I think it made other young librarians realize they weren't alone in this venture. At times I used it as my bully pulpit, and as my voice developed - I began noticing what other blogs didn't do. The blogs that existed were about people who happened to be librarians -avid readers, knitters or the like...then there were the technical and scholarly blogs. I didn't want that voice either. I wanted something more niche market - that's really when the WDL blog started to evolve.

What do you mean by evolve?

Grow, change. I had to make sure that the tone was consistent - never falling into the scholarly or technical. I was in grad school - I wasn't an expert - who was I to talk? At that point it was safest writing about what I did know - my own experiences. After I graduated with my MLIS, I didn't feel it was fair to continue that tone anymore. Now that I was a real librarian, I had to figure out what this blog was going to be about. So, I decided I would not write about what was happening in libraries - plenty of other people did that already. I decided I would write about what I wanted to happen in libraries. That idea blossomed into something I never imagined. Not even I realized at that time I had quite so many opinions!

An almost suppressed laugh and ,from what we realized as the interview progressed, a characteristic smirk crept across his face. Opinions indeed. How do you choose what you'll write about on any given day?

I carry a little black moleskine in my bag. Ideas come into my head all the time. I jot them down, and when I feel that I have enough to write about - I compose something. One small rule - when I read it out loud to myself, I have to laugh at some point or it doesn't get printed. Honestly, the things that I write often surprise me. I'm willing to go for weeks without printing something if I don't think it is any good. Mind you, this doesn't mean I'm not writing.

So there is stuff out there that we haven't seen?

Oh God YES! Piles of things. Admittedly, some of the stuff I've written and printed was crap. People generally let me know when it is. I don't go back and remove it though. I just move on.

So, back to our question - have you found your voice?

Sure. I don't know. No one else is doing the Miss Manners thing, well, except Miss Manners. I find the tone amusing - not too "know it all", but not too editorial. I'm not telling people what to do, or how to do it. I'm just setting an example by writing about how one little librarian does it. I just happen to like the way I do it. Kind of AARC2 with a twist of lime. Library Science has a bad reputation stemming from deep stereotypes within our profession. Injecting humor into it just does it for me.

You said people let you know when you've written something bad....

They let me know when I've written something good too. It is not all negative. I admit, I'm addicted to technorati [], I'm always looking to see if I've been linked, mocked, called on the carpet, or enjoyed.

What draws you to blogging, rather than writing a column or writing a book?

Hmmm. I do write columns for the local newspapers - obviously, I can't use the same tone I use in my blog.I think I'd get fired. I never thought I had enough ideas to write a whole book, but after looking over everything today - I see I have enough material to have written something! Blogging is quick, easy, and instantly gratifying. I don't have to wait a week to see what I've written. I have 100% editorial control - and I don't like giving up control. No one tells me what to write. I like the feedback random strangers give me, as well as the commentary from regular readers. And I'm fairly anonymous. That is fun in and of itself.

But you call yourself a celebrity! How can you be anonymous and a celebrity?

It is part of the character in the blog - there is a lot of me in this celebrity librarian - strong opinions, a slight air of elitism, a dash of bitchy. I'm not the celebrity. The Well Dressed Librarian is.

And you are well dressed....

Thank you.

What do you do? We know you are well dressed and a librarian - but what do you actually do?

I'm a full time adult services reference librarian at a public library, and a part time Visual Resources Librarian at a University. At the public library I work with a team of librarians on public and staff training, as well as doing PR. At the University, I am a "pioneer", mostly working alone - and sometimes with IT. I'm in the process of digitizing the slide collection, as well as searching for a DAM to help me store and deliver moving images, sound, and nearly a century of campus event photographs. It keeps me busy. I like being a librarian.

Do you think that your blog makes a difference?

Loaded question! This gives me the perfect chance to be totally egomaniacal. But sure. I'm not teaching people how to use an iPod, or embrace Library 2.0. Aaron Schmidt, Michael Stephens and Stephen Abram have that covered. Jessamyn West keeps the home front on its toes, Rachel Singer reminds the Gen-Xers we aren't alone. We can't all be soldiers. Some of us are nurses. My blog is the equivalent of the Andy Rooney spot at the end of 60 minutes. A laugh to remind people that our job isn't all work and no play.

What blogs do you read?

I keep them linked in my sidebar. I could spend my day reading everything - but the ones I've linked keep me laughing, and informed. There are many other great blogs out there, new ones everyday. Who knows who I'll add to the sidebar next. If they a) are librarians and b)make me laugh, chances are, I'll link to them.

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring librarians or bloggers?

Come to the table with an open mind. The era of stodgy, shushing libraries is over. Those librarians are on their way out because of retirement. Gen X is pouring in. Know that public libraries are community centers, where we act almost as Social Workers with Information Retrieval backgrounds. Be prepared.
Academic libraries can be just as demanding as graduate school! We are there to provide information, not to decide what information people get. We are not filters, we are retreival experts.

Bloggers should find a unique voice, and run with it. Look for what you want - if it's not there, create it. There are many types of bloggers, and you don't have to be curing cancer with your blog. Then again, if its crap - don't write often. Cue smirk.

Thank you for sharing with us this afternoon.

Thank you for listening. Now leave.

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