Librarian as Superhero

I recently had to go to urgent care for a stomach virus that had gone on too long. I like my regular doctor. She never seems to be in a rush and we’ve talked enough times that I’m completely comfortable with her. But, she wasn’t in the office; so, I headed off to the urgent care center near my workplace. It’s outfitted with zen doo dads, fresh water in a glass jug with lemon slices, a bowl of fresh fruit and a friendly staff.

The doctor who examined me was young. If I had to guess, I would say early thirties. When she asked me my occupation and I replied, “librarian,” she looked surprised. We talked some more about my stomach and then she said, offhandedly, “I guess your work has changed a lot, kind of disappearing.” I tried to explain modern librarianship in 60 seconds.  And took another 30 seconds to plug public libraries for all that they do beyond checking out books and one sentence about how librarians don’t just work in libraries.  But, I left feeling weird about it.

Mostly, I was so disappointed. Here is this young (and I might add, hip) physician who is so far removed from current methods of research and library service that she thought libraries would be disappearing with “everything online.”  And as if libraries were just  places where people went to get books.

It got me thinking. What are we doing wrong? Why doesn’t this highly educated, young woman understand the value of libraries and librarianship? Is it arrogance? Does she think that if she needs to research something for her job, even using a medical database, that she wouldn’t need a librarian’s help to execute a great search? If she seeks out a journal article, who curates those journal titles for the library?  Does she not understand that her public library is not only used by people  looking for a book to read; but, also by people who can’t afford to buy books.  Her library is serving people who don’t have internet access at home.  Her library is serving people who are looking for jobs, looking for group activities, looking for story time for their kids, looking to read magazines for free, looking for some new music to listen to or a movie to bring home, looking for a class that teaches them how to download books to their new e-reader, or just looking for a free lecture on an interesting topic?

I think maybe we just need to be better at sharing articles about all that libraries are doing for their communities.  We need to have a sweet or funny 3 minute spiel on the awesomeness of libraries, ready for just these moments.  Someone (was it Jessamyn West?),  said we need to have our “elevator speech” ready and I agree.  I tend to end by urging them to go visit their library and see what is happening there.  At the very least, they can sign up for a library card and borrow e-books!

Stuff like this either drives you crazy or invigorates you to go out and spread the word.  I hope you choose to take a deep breath, shake off the disappointment and go spread the word!!

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2 thoughts on “Librarian as Superhero

  1. My most recent post addresses this issue, too, but from a different perspective. I suggested that these opportunities are the perfect time to ask questions and learn rather than educate. In fact, you listed several questions that remained on your mind after you left. I wonder what would have happened if you would have actually asked some of them. I think we can learn a lot from people who are dismissive of libraries if we ask the right questions rather than trying to tell them why they are wrong. But a good elevator speech/story never hurts either! : )

  2. I totally agree. I love having these discussions. Most of my non-librarian friends are not regular users of the library. They aren’t necessarily dismissive; but, they do not use it. When I pursue further inquiry, I come up with a few different camps: I have so many fines that I’m blocked. Oddly these folks are embarrassed to go in and try to clear up their accounts. I try to reassure them that fines are quite ordinary and folks coming in to clear up their fines is an every day occurrence. There is also the contingent that just buys whatever they want. Some of these folks have expressed they didn’t want to keep track of due dates and schlepping items back and forth. If these folks have e-readers, I try to turn them on to the availability of e-book borrowing. Some folks have expressed that the hours of their branch library are inconvenient. I am happy to report that all of my friends who have children are regular patrons of their public libraries. Of all the people in my life, my parents are the most avid and regular library patrons. They go once a week. Is it any wonder that I ended up in the library field?

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