Saturday, July 7, 2007

"They’re Everywhere You Go”: Hip and Cool Librarians

NYTimes July 8, 2007

A Hipper Crowd of Shushers

By Kara Jesella

ON a Sunday night last month at Daddy’s, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, more than a dozen people in their 20s and 30s gathered at a professional soiree, drinking frozen margaritas and nibbling store-bought cookies. With their thrift-store inspired clothes and abundant tattoos, they looked as if they could be filmmakers, Web designers, coffee shop purveyors or artists.

When talk turned to a dance party the group had recently given at a nearby restaurant, their profession became clearer.

“Did you try the special drinks?” Sarah Gentile, 29, asked Jennifer Yao, 31, referring to the colorfully named cocktails.

“I got the Joy of Sex,” Ms. Yao replied. “I thought for sure it was French Women Don’t Get Fat.”

Ms. Yao could be forgiven for being confused: the drink was numbered and the guests had to guess the name. “613.96 C,” said Ms. Yao, cryptically, then apologized: “Sorry if I talk in Dewey.”

That would be the Dewey Decimal System. The groups’ members were librarians. Or, in some cases, guybrarians.


Librarians? Aren’t they supposed to be bespectacled women with a love of classic books and a perpetual annoyance with talkative patrons — the ultimate humorless shushers?

Not any more. With so much of the job involving technology and with a focus now on finding and sharing information beyond just what is available in books, a new type of librarian is emerging — the kind that, according to the Web site Librarian Avengers, is “looking to put the ‘hep cat’ in cataloguing.”


[snip] And, in real life, there are an increasing number of librarians who are notable not just for their pink-streaked hair but also for their passion for pop culture, activism and technology.

“We’re not the typical librarians anymore,” said Rick Block, an adjunct professor at the Long Island University Palmer School and at the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, both graduate schools for librarians, in New York City.

“When I was in library school in the early ’80s, the students weren’t as interesting,” Mr. Block said.

Since then, however, library organizations have been trying to recruit a more diverse group of students and to mentor younger members of the profession.

“I think we’re getting more progressive and hipper,” said Carrie Ansell, a 28-year-old law librarian in Washington.


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.

“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.”


Since matriculating to Palmer, Ms. Falgoust has met plenty of other like-minded librarians at places such as Brooklyn Label, a restaurant, and at Punk Rope, an exercise class. “They’re everywhere you go,” she said.


How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

And though many librarians say that they, like nurses or priests, are called to the profession, they also say the job is stable, intellectually stimulating and can have reasonable hours ... . [snip]


Michelle Campbell, 26, a librarian in Washington, said that librarianship is a haven for left-wing social engagement, which is particularly appealing to the young librarians she knows. [snip]

Ms. Campbell added that she became a librarian because it “combined a geeky intellectualism” with information technology skills and social activism.

Jessamyn West, 38, an editor of “Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out” ... [snip] agreed that many new librarians are attracted to what they call the “Library 2.0” phenomenon. “It’s become a techie profession,” she said.

In a typical day, Ms. West might send instant and e-mail messages to patrons, many of who do their research online rather than in the library. She might also check Twitter, MySpace and other social networking sites, post to her various blogs and keep current through MetaFilter and RSS feeds. Some librarians also create Wikis or podcasts.

At the American Librarian Association's annual conference last month in Washington, there were display tables of graphic novels, manga and comic books. In addition to a panel called “No Shushing Required,” there were sessions on social networking and zines and one called “Future Friends: Marketing Reference and User Services to Generation X.”




John Meier said...

You are one of the few of us to have enjoyed the article.

Gerry said...


I thought the overall framework in an OddWay stereotyped Librarians ... But Then Again ...