MTV and the 20th Century Library

June 25, 2009

Well, our friends in pop culture continue to perpetuate tired stereotypes of libraries and librarians. The new kid on the block is MTV‘s Silent Library. Oooh, interesting! A reality show based around a library?

Um, no.

Actually its a game show where contestants have to be silent while their friends and competitors perform wise-cracking pranks. What about the title? Doesn’t it have anything to do with libraries? Well that’s just it.

Aside from being filmed in a room with books (again, is this all there is to libraries?), the library connection is “SILENCE.”

Yeah. Thanks, MTV for maintaining last century’s tradition. Apparently to MTV, the defining characteristic of a library is that it is absolutely silent. I wonder if the show hosts hold up their index fingers and “shush.”

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“Librarians Can’t Spell.”

March 30, 2009

Whatever your brand is, you will lose followers if you say you are great at something but you actually don’t deliver. Even seemingly trivial mistakes can alienate the public. A fly in a soup at a restaurant can be catastrophic (because food is their brand). A misplaced gas tank in a Pinto? some might say that was the beginning of the end of Ford’s credibility (because cars are their brand).

For librarians who claim a special knack in literacy and research, basic spelling and grammar errors do not bode well. I looked at the site in question and there doesn’t seem to be errors “abounding” (maybe in the comments?), but the principle is still the same. Be good at what you claim to be good at or expect to be marginalized.

Librarian App: Shushes Instead of Searches

March 24, 2009

When I saw the tag line on this post, “Librarian is now LIVE on the iTunes App Store,” I thought, “Oh this will be interesting, another way to search for stuff from a phone or other personal device.” Not a new concept, but always interesting.


The entire app just shushes those around you if they are being loud. It is sad when this tired image of the shusher (re)defines our profession to the public. Even more ironic: one of the fans of the app calls themselves a librarian:

Please, please, please—-program this for the ITOUCH too. I love this idea and would love to use it in my library!!

I have written about the need for group work space in libraries but also how this trend has made some users even more annoyed with “loud” libraries.

Afraid this just reinforces the 20th century librarian stereotype.

Am I wrong in believing that librarians have evolved past this?

librarian shushing image from Guidance is Internal

Library Names

October 6, 2008

Dan Maas writes at the Littleton Public School’s blog about a possible name change for libraries and librarians (thanks to Tame the Web for the link). Maas utilizes the ever-popular etymological argument: library = books. We know that libraries are no longer all about books and the printed word but Maas makes the case that our name should be something else…something more nebulous. His picks: Library to Scholar Center and Librarian to Scholar in Residence. Check out his post for the whole story and don’t miss the comments, particularly Maxine’s about A/V “Specialists” instead of “librarians.”

Regardless of the word choice, Maas brings up a valid point. Libraries are not all about books anymore. The question that no one has really been able to answer, though, is what do we do about our name?

Library Science nomenclature really is an issue in a 21st century library. We have tried “informational professional” but that hasn’t really stuck outside of our own sub-culture. Most users still call us “librarian.” Any time you talk about renaming a traditional service in any field there is a lot to consider. I work in Interlibrary Loan, but we don’t just deal in loans anymore. Sometimes we purchase the item outright and just give it to the patron. We also work with a lot of electronic PDFs which we allow our patrons to copy for their personal use–again, not a loan, since they do not have to return it. Resource sharing is a new buzz word in my field because we are more than loans, just like libraries are more than books. I suppose this is a more accurate, but similarly nebulous, description of what we do; however, to add more complication, our department section also includes campus delivery to faculty and graduates. We deliver books and articles our library owns or borrows to the various campus departments. I have considered switching our name to Resource Sharing and Delivery, but there is no Interlibrary Loan in that title. The main concern: will our users even know what we do?

Inevitable conversation I (at an awkward family reunion):

“What do you do for work?”

“Oh, I am an information professional.”


“You know, people who help others find research materials. I work with books, journals and databases to try to find the best information out there for my patrons.”

“Oh, you mean you’re a librarian.”

Inevitable conversation II (on campus):

“Where do you work?”

“I work in the Resource Sharing and Delivery department.”


“I find research materials for users at other universities or public libraries. The other libraries send their stuff to me so I can check them out temporarily to my patrons.”

“Hey–I know that place…interlibrary loan, right? I love that!”

“Well, we also deliver the materials to faculty and graduates around campus.”

“Oh really? So you do interlibrary loan and delivery? That’s cool.”

Inevitable conversation III (at the main desk):

“Hi, I am returning a book I borrowed through Interlibrary Loan. I tried to take it back to the place I picked it up but there is a new department there now–Resource Sharing something-er-other. Can you tell me where ILL relocated?”

“Actually that is just its shiny new name. The department still does the same thing.”

I wonder if the switch from stewardess to flight attendant shook up the airline industry as much as a switch to Resident Scholar would the librarian world… I mean the “information professional” world. All jokes aside, at least flight attendant has an internal explanation of the service built in, in fact, it is even more descriptive than its genderized predecessor. How do you define what a librarian does in one to two terms…and still have non-librarians know intuitively who/what you are talking about?

For now, I am a librarian and I work in the library in interlibrary loan.

Image originally uploaded by Faeryan

Improving the Librarian Image (ALA 2008)

August 1, 2008

I decided to attend a session (which had people standing all the way out in the hall to listen–125 was the number I overheard on the way out) at ALA on Improving the Librarian Image because I am always interested in hearing about how the rest of the public perceives us and how to facilitate change. Donna Cardillo is a Registered Nurse and so that was also interesting.

A big take home for me was the use of credentials. I know it may be a bigger issue in nursing to show you have the full credentials to be a nurse but I can see a reason in libraries as well. Cardillo noted that, like in hospitals, patrons often do not know who is a librarian and who is a secretary or student assistant in libraries. She recommended having business cards made up with your name, title and credentials. The title also helps to further differentiate you; in this way the public can see that librarians are not all identical. The credentials can also help patrons, students, or faculty realize you have a Master’s degree, possibly adding more respect and buy-in from the communities we serve.

As an introduction she said, “Now some of you may be wondering why an RN is speaking at a library conference. What do nurses have to do with librarians?” My notes (including answers to this question) are below:

  • Nurses and Librarians?
    • gender
    • shortage
    • undervalued and underpaid
    • image problems
      • stereotypes
    • genetics?
      • how many of you are former nurses or studied nursing? (10%)
      • How many of your siblings/family members are nurses? (40% in the room!!)
  • why does our image matter?
    • budgeting issues
    • legislative issues
    • morale issues
    • recruiting issues
  • Personal Image
    • appearance
      • dress well: conveys confidence; sets them apart
      • hair–“serious hair” Working Girl
    • body language
      • you don’t have to feel confident to act confident
      • look in the eye, but not too much
        • don’t be the first to look away every time, just sometimes
      • stand up straight, head up
        • authoritative and assertive
    • speech…
      • most of us talk too much and have trouble getting to the core message
      • say things in different ways hopefully eventually it will come across
        • think of your most important message
        • think of how few words you can say it in
        • say it
        • then stay quiet
      • we have a bad habit: Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll come back…
        • unless you truly have something to be sorry for don’t say it
      • eliminate qualifiers: controlling the reaction of the listener before you say anything
        • you probably have heard this, but…
        • you probably won’t like this, but…
        • Problem: it takes to long to get to your point, lose your audience
      • You need to realize when you do this–self-awareness is the first step to eliminating the bad habit
        • Think before you speak
    • workspace/carspace
    • learn how to take a compliment
      • you did great: don’t mention it
      • thank you for your help: it’s my job
      • Accept it
        • you dishonor the person
        • yourself
        • your profession
      • Say: it was my pleasure; anytime; thank you for telling me that; let me know if I can do anything else for you.
      • appearing modest and humble is okay but you don’t have to be self-deprecating
    • Have a business card
      • have your academic credentials
      • carry the cards where ever you go, not just on your desk
      • have them made from where you work
        • not in the budget?
          • it costs next to nothing–people just never bother to ask
    • peoples’ impression is how they will treat you
      • we believe more of what we see than what we hear about or of people
  • Harnessing the power of the media
    • monitor images of librarians in the media–this is people’s perception of you
      • movies
      • sit-coms
    • stories about libraries or librarians
      • library budget cuts?
      • positive? negative? “Hipper Crowd of Shushers” positive but the stereotype is still there
        • let them know why it is detrimental
    • write letters to the media
    • Six Steps to Free Publicity, Marcia Yudin
      • Some people shy away from the media; read about it;
      • How can I say no, my whole profession is counting on me
        • clear communication is important; you are coached on general questions prior to recording
        • break down and eliminate industry jargon and acronyms
    • contact local media directly
      • I am the librarian at…
      • use National Library Week as a spring board
      • “You might be interested to know that…”
      • write letters to the editor if the information is accurate: offer additional resources and offer yourself as another resource
    • Being visible in the community
      • people will know you and your abilities
      • if you are unknown, it will not be hard to discourage bad local legislation
  • Promoting the profession
    • people don’t know about us; we don’t talk about ourselves enough
    • brochures and websites are not going to do the full job of educating peoples
    • don’t just say “I am a librarian, staff or MLS student”
      • add a sentence about what you did that particular day
    • get out to community fairs more
      • career fairs
      • scouting troops
      • school groups
      • Rachel Singer Gordon’s “How to become a librarian” article in Library Journal–this can help you describe what you do
    • Men/ ethnic minorities: people need to see people like them to go and pursue a career
  • Networking, getting visible;
    • attend a chamber of commerce meeting
    • a work meeting
    • women business owners in the community
    • promote our services on a regular basis
  • handshaking: important social custom; only form of acceptable touching connection
      • credibility
      • colleagues and clients; even children
      • sign of respect–levels the playing field
      • shake, eye contact, and smile
  • Marketing, staying visible
    • Always wear you’re name badge, title and credentials
    • photos of who works in the library with name, credentials and title for your users
      • you have to have the delineation: librarians are all different
    • sell your value on a daily basis
      • you can’t assume
        • people know who you are
        • know what you do
        • know what you have
    • consider writing a weekly/monthly column with your picture
      • tips
      • suggestions
      • different services
      • different materials
    • consider writing competitions
    • offer to speak at a local meeting on your paid work-time
      • propose these to the people you work for:
        • why do you want to go?
          • they vote
          • they donate money
          • they don’t appreciate/know our services
      • if you don’t ask you don’t get
      • even if it is no, it produces awareness
        • repackage it and try again
        • if we can’t do that, maybe we can do this
        • “When the customer says no, the selling begins.”
    • other ideas
      • Comment: in the public: at the gym or the grocery: what do you do: “I am your librarian”
      • Comment: offer comments and questions
        • always identify yourself by names and permissions
      • Comment: contacted local assembly person; they told her about meetings they are looking for speakers
        • if you don’t know your local assembly person is you can find out easily;
      • Comment: a lot of libraries have public meeting space: always make myself known and who I am
      • Comment: we have a speakers bureau and offer speakers in their interests
      • Comment: passed over for promotion; one of the reasons why I came I felt I might need to change my image…but I am becoming cynical and bitter; how do you turn that around?
        • A: changing your image is a good thing; there are a lot of reasons why people are hired; make an appointment to speak with your supervisor; let your goals be known and ask for advice; can you suggest other projects I can get involved in?
      • Comment: new hires get a mentor who give candid feedback and help them in promotion
      • Comment: enewsletter: would you like to sign up for our monthly newsletter with tips on research?
  • Getting involved in national/local associations
    • joining isn’t enough, get involved
    • dues are too much
      • ask for help from your employer
        • ask for help to go to conference
        • ask for it every year even if they say no every year
        • if you don’t ask you won’t get
        • nos still create awareness
        • why is it important to be a member?
          • why is it important to go to a conference
          • Comment: when you get back meet with supervisors and tell them why it was beneficial;
          • D: write a report, give the boss material
      • cost is relative to value
      • you can probably deduct this on taxes
    • they won’t listen to me; too much politics;
      • even if you put something out there and they don’t follow, you are still feeling empowered and your voice is heard
    • you will also need to sell this to other people
      • you join associations for what is in it for you
        • you are an informed member of the profession–pipeline of information
        • garner support
        • let off steam
      • join a committee
        • hones your leadership skills
        • your communications skills
        • your networking skills
    • run for office in your organization
      • this holds a lot of wait in your employment evaluations
  • Develop speaking and writing skills
    • promotion method
    • it is the good communicators who get ahead in this world
      • articulate
    • anyone can learn how to write and anyone can learn how to speak
      • more technique involve than most people realize
      • develop it and cultivate it
    • start small and start local
      • write about something you love
      • write about something you know
      • write about something innovative
      • write in an association newsletter
      • it is the doing that grows into ability
    • Getting a rejection letter
      • when I got my first one and vowed I would never write again
      • the editor had actually taken the time to make some suggestions
      • I never resubmitted that article, but I went to the public library and got a book on how to write for publication in journals
      • today I am doing a column for that magazine now
        • I almost let one rejection letter keep me from ever doing it again
      • WHEN you get a rejection letter, you celebrate that–it is a rite of passage
        • writing and submitting is the part of publication that is important
      • Speaking? I looked up books at the library on that as well