Guys, Seriously, We’re not Cool (But we are Awesome)

posted in: Libraries | 0

David Lee King posted last week about librarians as rockstars, an idea which comes down to promoting your staff as well as your collections/events/buildings/services etc. Let me start by saying that I really like this idea and agree wholeheartedly; working in several very different types of libraries over the years their unique user bases didn’t change the fact that people often developed a rapport with a specific librarian or staff member, asking for them whenever they were in. Good staff are an important and essential asset to a library, they lend life and health to an old institution and connect the community with the resources they oversee. I wish every library realized and shared just how vital their staff are.

But could we please not try to brand our staff as rockstars or celebrities?1

There has been a trend over the last year of tacking on “cool”, trendy monikers to ones title: guru, ninja, and rockstar all come immediately to mind. Social Media Guru. Coding Ninja. Rockstar Librarian. Account Sherpa. Yeah okay, I made that last one up, but you see what I mean.

Most libraries are going through a particularly rough patch right now and even in the best of times many still struggle to provide the best service they can to their communities. We’ve suffered something of an identity crisis in recent years, so many articles and blogs tossing around theories trying to figure out what we are in the wake of Facebook, Ebooks, and instant news in the palm of our hands. Are we libraries? Community centers? Computer barns? Job centers? The debate has quieted lately but we still haven’t answered the question. Or, more likely, no single definition can be applied to every library; a library is molded by, and a reflection of, its community, just as it helps to mold and reflect its users. There is no The Library, that archaic institution left over from the last century. The Library is a place one went to sit in silence and study from books, perhaps to check microfilm, and to get shushed by the librarian if they were too loud. The library, the modern library, our library is not one size fits all, it is made of its staff and users, without which it would cease to grow and change, and in the end, to exist.

But unfortunately, for the most part, libraries and librarians are not cool and apart from our five seconds of apparent hipness a few years ago, we are not trendy. I’m not sure if the library has ever been properly cool; back in the early days they were essential, providing a service to a population that really couldn’t get it elsewhere. These days you don’t need to go to the library to get a book of recipes, or a copy of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, or to check the dictionary. You can get all of those things in moments online, for as free as you would get them at the library but without the price of gas.

But for all our innovation we do provide some of the very same services as we did to those in our past. We provide a place for those who can’t get things anywhere else to better themselves, through books on job searching and every skill imaginable, internet access to apply for jobs and benefits, through workshops and programs, and computer classes. We raise spirits with leisure materials and teach children with stories. We provide access to materials for researchers they could not get elsewhere due to cost. We preserve our history and the words of scholars. And we have amazing staff who give so much of their time and do all of these things with limited resources.

We provide these things but even so that does not make us cool. I don’t know if we ever will be. And you don’t make yourself cool by shouting it desperately from the rooftops, clothing yourself with the mythos of the latest pop culture icon. Cool is subtly understated. Cool is not having to tell anyone you are, they just know.

Besides, why would we want to be rockstars or celebrities anyway? We’re librarians. We know we’re awesome (even if we’ll never be cool), and it is that we need to impress and impart, rather than wasting our efforts trying to keep up with the cool kids.

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  1. David added in the comments that he used the term because it was originally used by their marketing person. Is this marketing person a librarian, I wonder? []

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