The Real Movers & Shakers

I have a confession to make: I don’t read librarian blogs.

A shocking revelation, I know, but there is a reason: they remind me of the stuff I should be doing. I need to be blended, embedded, gaming or xtranormaled into an alternative universe teddy bear blankly outlining its student loan woes and job prospects to its own alt-universe self. It’s bad enough I need all synapses firing at full throttle to keep up with Facebook interface changes, but learning Pat Benatar dance moves for a Rock Band 3/information literacy mashup? It’s enough to make a digital initiatives librarian cry.

But I have found myself drawn to the dust up generated by a posting by someone using the nom de plume Annoyed Librarian over hip librarians and self-promotion. How I came across it is irrelevant (*cough*, vanity search, *cough*), but as someone who feels responsible for (or agonizes over at 3:00 am) the current loud-and-tattooed librarian meme, I wonder if some of us are allowing the frisson of the anti-stereotype to overshadow the reasons why they became librarians in the first place. But rather than throw virtual gasoline over the issue, I decided the best way to make my feelings known is to post my speech I gave to a graduating library program cohort a few years back.

So here goes (with a few edits for brevity, believe it or not):

When I was asked to give the graduation speech I was honored. I then shuttered the request in a teeny cell of my brain until, as lovers of clichés say, the time came nigh.

And if any of you out there want to know when “nigh” happens, it was three weeks ago. So I did what comes naturally: I panicked.

Why? Not so much because I have to speak in front of an audience–I’m way too much the ham to be frightened. Or at least deterred. It’s because you expect me (or, at least I think you expect me) to be

  • funny
  • profound
  • wise
  • funny again
  • and rousing

All within the space of fifteen minutes.

I did the next thing that comes naturally: I procrastinated, or as I like to call it: “ruminating” (my husband, however, prefers to call it “forgetting”) It’s something I do very well, especially when “Sex in the City” is on.

You see, the thought of trying to be inspirational is intimidating. And judging from my past graduations, very difficult to do. Heck, the memory that stands out most from my graduation from library school at UC Berkeley is the red curry stain on my new dress from the Thai restaurant we went to afterwards.

So I began fantasizing about what I’d do today. I envisioned myself giving an electrifying speech, one so monumental that the minute the last canapé from the upcoming reception was finished, all of you would march right back to your computers, bang out at least twenty cover letters and write the seminal article on the online utilization of virtual hand puppets on social networking sites as an alternative tagging tool.

But when the ruminating was taking too long, I began reaching for platitudes, or as I like to call it, the Kasey Kasem school of public speaking:

Should I tell you to reach for the stars? That you should “just go, girl?” (or whatever gender you feel fits?) Do what you love? You all know that already-why do you need me to tell you?

Out of desperation, I decided on a different approach. I asked myself: if I were graduating from a library program today, what would I want to hear? Then I realized what I was going to say. I’m going to tell you the truth, at least how I see it. So here goes:

I want everyone graduating today to be the librarian stereotype. Seriously. I’m not saying you should go out and buy sensible shoes tomorrow. (I have a gut feeling most of you have done that a long time ago.)

No, I’m telling you this because right now it’s the bravest thing you can do as a librarian.

I know it sounds a bit disingenuous, especially when coming from me, but hear me out. Think about how many of us go around beaming over the fact that we don’t fit the librarian stereotype? Well, I think it’s time we do. Now more than ever.

Why the change of heart? Because it goes against the pop culture current so many folks now wallow in. For instance:

Librarians Empathize: in library school we’re taught to think like patrons. Isn’t that another way of saying you need to spend your professional life thinking about others? In a world that seems to prize being An Individual above everything else, isn’t it a rare thing to be the person who thinks beyond themselves?

We Worship Continuity: I know, sounds boring, but think of it: the most necessary things in life are boring: oxygen, plumbing and library listservs. But that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. Continuity ensures something we want the world to know will always be there, via cataloging or reference service. If we as librarians don’t provide continuity, most people’s information experiences (and ultimately learning experiences) would be a series of bright, shiny sound bites, floating in and out, never to be heard or seen again.

We Share: Our work centers around giving away what we do. We share our knowledge with the stranger who walks up to the reference desk and asks us questions. We share when we spend countless hours coming up with new ways of providing information access, then happily give away our work to others when they show interest in using for their communities. And you know they would do the same thing for you.

We Think About the Long Term: In a world that seems way too preoccupied with the latest ironic hipster twist of cultural values, we concern ourselves with what we hope will outlive us: our learning, our art, our beliefs. In short, our lives.

So be the stereotype. If wearing the bun and cardigan makes it easier, then by all means do so. But to me, the best part of the stereotype isn’t what we look like.

It’s what we do.