I have been enjoying a professional renaissance for the past couple years, finding new joy in libraries and my identity as a librarian. Certainly, I had to get real low before I could be lifted up but the rise has been lovely. In a recession, libraries are especially valued. The materiality of our collections are a salve to people overwhelmed by their digital lives, our Internet access is as comforting as a free cup of coffee, and social media regularly delivers inspirational and validating quotes from famous authors and thinkers (Neil Gaiman is a favorite of my crew, what with the edge he imagines us having and his comics cred).
This other quote, however, reminded me that not everybody thinks we’re cool.
“I’ve always viewed Librarians as my natural enemy. For years, the Library was a contest between my wish to get access to The Good Books and the Librarian’s wish to make sure I stayed quietly in my place.”
— Mark Bernstein, August 31 2014.
Ouch, right? You might be feeling like this guy has no idea what a librarian actually does, that he has clearly had a bad experience with one ornery librarian in the past, and that you promote reading, support your community’s desire for The Good Books, and would never ask someone to stay quietly in his or her place unless that place was a chair in the library in a quiet zone.
And I would feel the same, except I started to question myself: how many times at the Circulation Desk did I have to refuse a renewal, or call back a reserve item, or take yet another recall request on a book? Did I not once tell someone “You really shouldn’t be reading that”? (I was young, headstrong, and super-arrogant.) Didn’t I get irritated at John, the (most likely) homeless guy who came in every day to read the paper?
After running through those questions, I Googled the phrase “I hate librarians” and spent a sad twenty minutes browsing the results. Most of the complaints were in one of three areas: librarians are elitist smarty-pants with no customer service skills; librarians are hypocritical liberals who want to use my tax dollars to let kids look at porn; librarians won’t stop homeless/stupid/young/old/dirty/smelly/creepy/unemployed/weird people from coming in the library.
So enough of that. These are not problems to solve in a blog post or even in an ALA policy discussion. What I discovered down this rabbit hole of librarian hate was that not everyone thinks well of us despite how awesome libraries, librarians, archivists, and archives are. The everyday conflict of whether 50 Shades of Grey is on the shelf or the bathrooms are open to the public keep us from remembering that the library and archives are collective work, built in collaboration with our community, for the benefit of all. I won’t stop enjoying the praise from Neil Gaiman, Anne Lamott, Stephen Fry, et al., but I am going to take a little more time considering the criticism from the people using my library.