Librarians Hip!

The new generation of librarians is hip

High-tech revolution attracts a different type to profession

Kara Jesella, New York Times
Sunday, July 15, 2007

(07-15)
04:00 PDT New York — On a Sunday night last month at Daddy’s, a bar in
Brooklyn, more than a dozen people in their 20s and 30s gathered at a
professional soiree, drinking frozen margaritas and nibbling
store-bought cookies. With their thrift store-inspired clothes and
abundant tattoos, they looked as if they could be filmmakers, Web
designers, coffee shop purveyors or artists.

When talk turned to a dance party the group had recently given at a nearby restaurant, their profession became clearer.

"Did you try the special drinks?" Sarah Gentile, 29, asked Jennifer Yao, 31, referring to the colorfully named cocktails.

"I got the Joy of Sex," Yao replied. "I thought for sure it was French Women Don’t Get Fat."

Yao
could be forgiven for being confused: the drink was numbered and the
guests had to guess the name. "613.96 C," said Yao, cryptically, then
apologized: "Sorry if I talk in Dewey."

That would be the Dewey Decimal System. The groups’ members were librarians. Or, in some cases, guybrarians.

"He
hates being called that," said Sarah Murphy, one of the evening’s
organizers and a founder of the Desk Set, a social group for librarians
and library students.

Murphy was speaking of Jeff Buckley, a
reference librarian at a law firm, who had a tattoo of the logo from
the Federal Depository Library Program peeking out of his black T-shirt
sleeve.

Librarians? Aren’t they supposed to be bespectacled
women with a love of classic books and a perpetual annoyance with
talkative patrons — the ultimate humorless shushers?

Not any
more. With so much of the job involving technology and with a focus now
on finding and sharing information beyond just what is available in
books, a new type of librarian is emerging — the kind that, according
to the Web site Librarian Avengers, is "looking to put the ‘hep cat’ in
cataloguing."

When the cult film "Party Girl" appeared in
1995, with Parker Posey as a night life impresario who finds happiness
in the stacks, the idea that a librarian could be cool was a joke.

Now,
there is a public librarian who writes dispatches for McSweeney’s
Internet Tendency, a favored magazine of the young literati.
"Unshelved," a comic about librarians — yes, there is a comic about
librarians — features a hipster librarian character. And, in real
life, an increasing number of librarians are notable not just for their
pink-streaked hair but also for their passion for pop culture, activism
and technology.

"We’re not the typical librarians anymore,"
said Rick Block, an adjunct professor at the Long Island University
Palmer School and at the Pratt Institute School of Information and
Library Science, both graduate schools for librarians, in New York
City.

"When I was in library school in the early ’80s, the students weren’t as interesting," Block said.

Since
then, however, library organizations have been trying to recruit a more
diverse group of students and to mentor younger members of the
profession.

"I think we’re getting more progressive and hipper," said Carrie Ansell, a 28-year-old law librarian in Washington.

In
the last few years, articles have decried the graying of the
profession, noting a large percentage of librarians that would soon be
retiring and a seemingly insurmountable demand for replacements. But
worries about a mass exodus appear to have been unfounded.

Michele
Besant, the librarian at the School of Library and Information Studies
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the Association of Library
and Information Science statistics show a steady increase in library
information science enrollments over the last 10 years. Further, at
hers and other schools there is a trend for students to be entering
master’s programs at a younger age.

The myth prevails that
librarians are becoming obsolete. "There’s Google, no one needs us,"
Gentile said, mockingly, over a drink at Daddy’s.

Still, these
are high-tech times. Why are people getting into this profession when
libraries seem as retro as the granny glasses so many of the members of
the Desk Set wear?

"Because it’s cool," said Gentile, who works at the Brooklyn Museum.

Murphy,
29, thinks so, too. An actress who had long considered library school,
Murphy finally decided to sign up after meeting several librarians —
in bars.

"People I, going in, would never have expected were
from the library field," she said. "Smart, well-read, interesting,
funny people, who seemed to be happy with their jobs."

Maria
Falgoust, 31, is also a founder of Desk Set, which took its name from
the 1957 Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy romantic comedy. A student who
works part time at the library at Saint Ann’s School, she was inspired
to become a librarian by a friend, a public librarian who works with
teenagers and goes to rock shows regularly.

Since
matriculating to Palmer, Falgoust has met plenty of other like-minded
librarians at places such as Brooklyn Label, a restaurant, and at Punk
Rope, an exercise class. "They’re everywhere you go," she said.

How
did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a
certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and
library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but
also about organizing and connecting people with information, including
music and movies.

And though many librarians say that they,
like nurses or priests, are called to the profession, they also say the
job is stable, intellectually stimulating and can have reasonable hours
— perfect for creative types who want to pursue their passions outside
of work and don’t want to finance their pursuits by waiting tables.
(The median salary for librarians was about $51,000 in 2006, according
to the American Library Association-Allied Professional Organization.)

"I
wanted to do something different, something maybe more meaningful,"
said Carrie Klein, 36, who used to be a publicist for a record label
and for bands such as Radiohead and the Foo Fighters, but is now
starting a new job in the library at Entertainment Weekly.

Michelle
Campbell, 26, a librarian in Washington, said that librarianship is a
haven for left-wing social engagement, which is particularly appealing
to the young librarians she knows. "Especially those of us who
graduated around the same time as the Patriot Act," Campbell said. "We
see what happens when information is restricted."

Campbell
added that she became a librarian because it "combined a geeky
intellectualism" with information technology skills and social
activism.

Jessamyn West, 38, an editor of "Revolting
Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out" a book that promotes
social responsibility in librarianship, and the librarian behind the
Web site librarian.net (its tagline is "putting the rarin’ back in
librarian since 1999") agreed that many new librarians are attracted to
what they call the "Library 2.0" phenomenon. "It’s become a techie
profession," she said.

In a typical day, West might send
instant and e-mail messages to patrons, many of whom do their research
online rather than in the library. She might also check Twitter,
MySpace and other social networking sites, post to her various blogs
and keep current through MetaFilter and RSS feeds. Some librarians also
create Wikis or podcasts.

At the American Librarian
Association’s annual conference last month in Washington, there were
display tables of graphic novels, manga and comic books. In addition to
a panel called "No Shushing Required," there were sessions on social
networking and zines and one called "Future Friends: Marketing
Reference and User Services to Generation X."

On a Saturday,
after a day of panels, a group of librarians relaxed and danced at
Selam Restaurant. Sarah Mercure nursed a blueberry vodka and cranberry
juice and talked about deciding on her career after hearing a librarian
who curated a zine collection speak. Pete Welsch, a disc jockey, spun
records and talked about how his interest in social activism, film and
music led him to library school.

But some librarians have found the job can be at odds with their outside cultural interests.

"I
went to see a band a few weeks ago with old co-workers and turned to
one and said, ‘Is it just me or is this really, really loud?’ " said
Klein, the former publicist. Her friend, she said, "laughed and said,
‘You have librarian ears now.’ "

_____________________________________________________________________________
Sharon Bede
Teacher Librarian/Network Administrator
Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary

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