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Friday, February 15, 2008

"She's an old maid. She never married."

"She's just about to close up the library!" If you are not a librarian, or someone who loves a librarian, your only impressions about the profession may come from popular culture. Poor, dowdy spinster Mary - instead of marrying the gallant and selfless George Bailey, she's forced into a bleak existence, apparently devoid of femininity and fun. She's a librarian. Stephen King wrote a short story, "The Library Policeman," in his collection Four Past Midnight, which paints librarian-types as crazed, demonic figures obsessed with overdue materials. So it seems the world views librarians as one of two extremes: devils or duds.

The list of commonly-held stereotypes about librarians is as long as the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. We wear cardigans, buns in our hair, unfashionable eyeglasses and unflattering jumpers. We "shush" people all day and delight in it. We catalog our sock drawers (Mr. Lavalie, any comment on that?). We are socially inept and trollish. We are mostly female but only in terms of genetics. People even think that everyone who works in a library is a librarian. Perhaps more strangely, people often think that working in a library means being allowed to read all day. The only people who get paid to read all day are editors.

Keeping all that in mind, the latest U.S. News & World Report offers justice for librarians - for "Librarian" has just been named one of the "Best Careers for 2008." What makes for a Best Career? How about strong outlook and high job satisfaction? Want to read what U.S. News & World Report has to say about Librarians? Click on this link:
Best Career - Librarian Want to see the full list of careers? Click on this link: Best Careers (No surprise - "Editor" is also on the list. Those lazy people! They just READ all day! KIDDING, KIDDING! But now you know how it feels to be a Librarian!)

A few library mythbusters:
  • 28% of library workers are male - when you look specifically at Information Technology in libraries, the number jumps to 71% (source: Chronicle of Higher Education, February 20, 2007). We have 3 male librarians at DPPL and dozens of other male employees. In the same way a library's collections must be balanced and represent many points of view, a library's staff should be balanced, too.

  • Librarians do have to shush people on occasion, but I think I speak for many of us in saying there is no joy in it. We're much happier doing what we're trained to do, which is helping our patrons discover resources of information and entertainment. Besides, public libraries are lively, stimulating places. When I walk into a library and it's deathly quiet, I wonder what they're doing wrong...

  • With all sympathy for George Bailey, the wonderful ol' building and loan might have crumbled without him, but it's unlikely Mary would have led a lonely librarian life (once she ditched that hat, anyway). Most of my librarian friends have fulfilling and even hectic personal lives. Many of our librarians are married or have long-time partners and many have children. They sail on Lake Michigan, play in rock bands, work in church ministry, travel all around the world, cheer on the Chicago Wolves, ski the Colorado slopes and obsess about "Dancing With the Stars." In other words - librarians are just like you.

  • Helping people at the busy public service desks, answer calls, responding to online reference questions, updating our Web site and our events calendar, planning programs -- these things take time and energy. The only opportunity we have for reading while we're in the library comes during our lunch and dinner breaks.

  • More likely, however, is that our meal times evolve into a large group conversation, punctuated with laughter and not a small amount of rowdiness. We talk passionately about politics, the arts, food, family, sports. Librarians seem to have an opinion (usually a well-educated one) on just about everything, including designer shoes and exotic facial moisturizers. We would suggest that Mary grow out her hair, get some highlights, buy some new frames or even contacts, and maybe put on a touch of pink-brown lip stain. And ditch that hat.

  • The majority of people working at the Des Plaines Public Library, and in most libraries, are not librarians. Being a librarian usually requires a Masters' Degree in Library and Information Science (or a similar degree). The people who help you every day in our library include security monitors, circulation clerks, Readers' Services/Reference assistants, technology pages and the building management team. People working behind the scenes include processing clerks, delivery people, administrative assistants, graphic designers, a Webmaster, a public relations pro. And - yes - librarians. While we'd love to take the credit for all the wonderful things that happen in this library, we're just one part of it.

  • I am frequently frantic while getting dressed in the morning because I cannot find any matching socks.
Kudos to U.S. News & World Report for finally getting it right and letting the world know our little secret - librarians are often fun, fashionable, creative people and we love our work. I invite my colleagues here at DPPL to post their comments below and share why they think "Librarian" belongs under the heading of "Best Careers," not just this year but every year.

Follow this link and watch a classic, 1940s video on making libraries your life's work. It's corny, at times quite hilarious, and yet, you know what? They get a lot of it right in terms of why the librarian profession is important and meaningful. Looking at the technology in the video (the wonder of microfilm!), I'm extra glad to be working in the 21st century. And wow, the librarian assisting the scientist is feminine and just a little sassy! I do wonder what the Children's Librarian is saying in this video to cause such a sour facial expression on her young patron. :)

And say, here's a quartet of fellows that REALLY knows how to win a gal's heart. Thanks to Dennis Norlin for finding this clip from The Four Freshmen.


  1. What I love most (among many things) about working in a library is that, for the most part, people are here because they WANT to be here. It's just such a pleasure to be around people who love to read and learn!

  2. After working in libraries for over 8 years, I am excited to begin studies to become a librarian! I love many, many aspects of my job- the most rewarding are the children who are always eager to listen to a story, read and explore the world- all here at the library. I love being able to radiate my creative side in storytimes, programs, displays, flyers, projects, and even parades. Of course being around books, buying books, sharing books, discussing books, performing books is a thrill. In a library, every day is a unique exciting day!


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