Sunday, 11 May 2008

Cool librarian: where do you look?

This was the heading on a recent article in The Age - a review of a show (Librarian Idol) by Andrew Finegan, a Darwin librarian.

"There are some professions which are quintessentially cool", the article (by Fiona Scott-Norman) begins, and even this early in the piece, we know where she is headed. "And then there are professions . . ." such as librarian, definitely uncool. I guess that there is good news and bad news here. We are always banging on about being recognised as a profession, and in this piece we are. On the other hand we are not seen as a cool profession.

But Andrew suggests that "being nerdy is becoming cool these days. Look at Harry Potter."

Rebecca, in a comment on a post last December, when I first used the term nerd chic, suggested: "I have heard less flattering terms than 'nerdy chic' used to describe librarians' unique style, Derek. Perhaps we should embrace the 'nerd chic' phenomenon. There certainly seem to be a lot of Dr Who / David Tennant fans in libraries ..."

Leaving aside the issue of Dr Who and his fans, should we as librarians embrace the nerdy chic tag? Is that the way we wish people to see us? As Rebecca says, we could (and often do) do worse, and I think we do need to embrace it, although not necessarily every exponent and exemplar of the style.

Now that I am about to assume power (almost certainly the wrong word) as President of ALIA, perhaps I will be able to use the formidable powers of the position (almost certainly a self-delusion) to nudge Australian librarians along the nerdy chic road. But how? I will put it as one of five goals in my first columns in our monthly journal, Incite. But how will we achieve it? I agree with Andrew that it is about the journey rather than the destination, and concepts like "arriving" and "victory" are not really relevant.

How about some suggestions of what we should be emulating? In clothing, the whimsical nerd style seems to have taken off - and here too. Librarians are often mentioned in this connection, as exemplars. But its not all about clothing (and glasses, of course). Librarians are curious and know things too. Like Harry Potter and Doctor Who.


Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

The image of librarian issue is complex. There are all kinds of people who work in our profession. Some cool and some lets face it - not.

What is cool anyway? I think Josh Lyman from West Wing is cool but does anyone else! Does that make me nerdy chic?

I am constantly amazed by the passion that librarians have for whatever it is that they are interested in whether it be, like me a penchant for Dr Who or some of my colleagues who love Japanese culture, cinema, photography, cats, art and so much more.

We should just celebrate the diversity. You just have to look at the number of Facebook groups for librarians.... tattooed librarians, Hollywood librarians etc... over 500+ groups to know that one label would never be adequate.

Andrew said...

For those who didn't see the show, I do come up to the conclusion that the mission for "cool" is perhaps a misguided one, and perhaps the best thing that we can do is just keep working at what we do best, and as long as there's somebody to appreciate it, then that's reward in itself.

Personally, these days, I'm not so worried about how people see the library professional.

What I do worry about, though, is a growing trend whereby "bookishness" (for want of a better word) is seen as "uncool", and reading is seen as one of those things that people "don't have time for".

Furthermore, I've noticed that some librarians, desperate to avoid the "uncool" stigma, will say things like "libraries aren't about books and reading anymore".

I do worry about this, because if there's one industry that should be flying the flag for books and reading, then it should be libraries. Reading for pleasure and maintaining reading stamina is an integral part of healthy lifelong learning.

And if anybody thinks that's "uncool", then that's their problem, but it's our job to convince them of otherwise.

On a slightly different note, I believe it was Roy Tennant who once said that "Librarians like to search; everybody else likes to find" (which I've probably horribly paraphrased). I don't think it really matters whether we're cool or not, or whether we have an unfortunate stereotype. However, there's such a strong branding of librarians who are passionate about searching for hours through dusty tomes (metaphorical or not) to find some trinket of information, that, should somebody need to find some hard-to-find information, they have the comfort in knowing that they can always call on their friendly neighbourhood librarian. And not only will they not mind if you bring them a tricky question - in fact, chances are that they'll relish the challenge.

Call me weird, but I think that's pretty cool.

Peta Hopkins said...

Here's a geek chic accessory "librarian glasses necklace"