Those who are interested in this career path, have started on this career path, or are far into this career path already are familiar with some of the top responses to “I’m going to become a librarian.” Unfortunately, many of them feature condescension (such as laughter) , a limited scope of what we do (“you need a degree for that? for checking out books?”), objectification (“sexy librarian”) or prophesies of doom (“But does anyone really need libraries anymore? We have Google…”). Sometimes it seems rough to explain to other people what you are in school for, often what you are PAYING to go to school for, especially on those days where not even NPR is on your side*.
To fight back against the stereotype, focus on the truth of librarianship. The truth is that librarianship is one of the most radical professions you can be out there in the world today.
Public libraries are community centers. As of 2012, there are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the United States. People flock to public libraries in droves, and according to the latest research two thirds of the population would consider their families impacted if their local library was to close down. Additionally, public libraries are integral resources for those who do not have internet at home, need help looking for a job, or are trying to succeed in school. In difficult times, the public libraries remain a bedrock for their communities. Ferguson and Baltimore libraries remained open during city-wide turmoil, and now are working to build stronger relationships between the police forces and their populations through actions as small as police officers leading storytimes.
People often talk about how they want to change the world, but working in a public library means you can actually have a dramatic impact on the lives of others. Public libraries are a major part of community building in the United States, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
But being radical isn’t limited purely to the realm of public libraries. Academic libraries are reaching a targeted population of students in huge numbers. As of 2012, that number was 44 million users a year. Imagine, 44 million people that you as a librarian get to help mold and shape via their research, schoolwork, or however else you impact their lives; that is the sort of power that supervillains dream of. What are academic librarians doing with this power? Rather than taking over the world with an extremely information literate task force, they are creating safe spaces for ideas. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 2,500 academic libraries were open for 60-99 hours a week, with nearly 500 more open for over 100 hours. During this time, libraries are available to offer everything from study spaces, collaboration spaces, makerspaces, and possibly most importantly, spaces in which students can encounter new and diverse ideas.
By being open, and safe spaces, Libraries become the center of campus. At the University of Michigan, I regularly see alumni bring their children in on Football Saturdays, shushing and gently herding them into the reference room. Why? Because to the alumni, the libraries are indivisible from their glorious college days gone by.
So next time someone scoffs or puts down your chosen profession, remember that you are a badass, and smile confidently at them with the knowledge that you are changing the world.
*The researchers for this NPR piece should spend one week working in a library. If they can survive the week without coming up with “clever solutions” or “personally helping others,” I would like to hear what library that is, and how they deal with problems caused by flying pigs and frozen hell.
This article by Kathy Kosinski was originally published on November 3, 2015.