Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Hipster" Librarians

Greg McClay and Annoyed Librarian have already weighed in on today's New York Times librarian article. In case you haven't seen it yet, the piece discusses the "increasing number of librarians who are notable not just for their pink-streaked hair but also for their passion for pop culture, activism and technology." There's so much red meat on offer in this article that snarky comment on my part is mandatory.

Our story begins as follows:

ON a Sunday night last month at Daddy’s, a bar in Williamsburg, 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.

In other words they look and dress just like the rest of the urban dwelling liberal herd. I, for one, can't really criticize the clothing part, but I am more than happy to comment on the pathetic penchant for self-mutilation as self-expression. I think Theodore Dalrymple put it best:

What is striking about these “tattoo narratives” (as the author calls them) is their vacuous egoism. The interlocutors speak, and appear to think, in pure psychobabble, that debased and vague confessional language that allows people to imagine they are baring their souls when in fact they are exposing their shallowness. This is something the author does not notice because she herself belongs to the psychobabble culture. One cannot but feel sorrow for people who think that by permanently disfiguring themselves they are somehow declaring their independence or expressing their individuality. The tattoo has a profound meaning: the superficiality of modern man’s existence.

Alright, now that I've gotten my loathing for tattoos off my chest, back to the article:

“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,” Ms. Yao replied. “I thought for sure it was French Women Don’t Get Fat.”

Ms. Yao could be forgiven for being confused: the drink was numbered and the guests had to guess the name. “613.96 C,” said Ms. 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.

Yeah, because nothing makes librarians look hip instead of nerdy like assigning Dewey Decimal numbers to drinks. "Guybrarians"? Wow, just wow.

“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.

Ms. 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.

An FDLP tattoo??? I am now officially embarrassed to be a government documents librarian.

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.

Yes, the library profession is trying to become "more diverse", and its efforts are paying off. Soon, the old, graying, dour generation of liberal and leftist librarians will be replaced by a young, hip, creative generation of liberal and leftist librarians. Give it up for diversity, baby!

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 think a woman I went to library school with put it best when she said that "librarians are surplus intellectual labor".

Alright, here's the part you've been waiting for:

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,” Ms. Campbell said. “We see what happens when information is restricted.”

Ms. 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 (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.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The cycle perpetuates itself. Librarianship is now so politicized and laden with left-wing group think that it attracts people looking for such an environment. As for "social responsibility in librarianship", what can I say that I haven't already said before? Considering how that term is usually defined, put me in the social irresponsibility category, thank you very much.

To sum things up, the library profession has apparently made itself "hip" and "more diverse" by recruiting people who are indistinguishable in look and thought from the typical young urban ultra liberal. Yeah, sounds awfully hip and diverse to me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi dave - i'm so glad you posted on this - i hit it from AL's page and just knew you'd get your teeth into it. thanks for making my monday.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how many of your colleagues fit this mold at ZU?-

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free Mumama

9:11 AM  
Blogger Yachira said...

Power to the People!

Off the Pig!

Speak Truth to Power!

Breasts, not Bombs!

We're hip, we're kewl, we're the New Left (same as the Old Left), WE ARE LIBRARIANS!

See also:

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post... This NYT article really got under my skin, and you've summed it up. "The cycle perpetuates itself. Librarianship is now so politicized and laden with left-wing group think that it attracts people looking for such an environment." Yes... so true.

11:21 AM  
Blogger The Topiary Cow said...

Thanks for the comments about self-mutilation---Cow has just never seen the appeal and laughs to think of all these "trendies" being dated in ten years or so by their scars and washed-out tats.

As a degreed librarian, though no longer working in the field, thought this article was hilarious both for what it said and didn't say.

What wasn't said is that the library degree is one of the few master's which doesn't require a couple years of pre-requisites and yet offers a decent salary upon graduation.

Also, because the degree usually isn't too technically rigorous, it can be earned while the student holds down a job, unlike many more time-intensive masters.

So, they're trying to make their practical choices seem like a social statement--what else is new?

And personally, the dialog about the drinks made Cow want to barf. In twenty years of working in libraries and being around librarians nobody she ever met talked about the Dewey Decimal System off work...maybe because only public libraries use it anymore.


2:53 PM  
Anonymous Jim Elliott said...

"HIP" "COOL"????

Are these terms still even 'hip' or 'cool' in this day and age?

Sounds kind of 'dated' to me.


7:46 PM  
Anonymous bookish1 said...


11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a New Yorker I fully get your commentary, but you should take a lesson from your own pen.

Try being happy by enjoying what you prefer in your life and by allowing for others to be happy with their own choices and viewpoints.

If any of this really bothers you then how much 'deeper' are you than those you accuse of being shallow.

Don't worry though, if what I just wrote doesn't make sense to you, you could always write it off with some profound straw man like 'psychobabble.'

12:12 PM  
Anonymous melanie said...

It's kind of rude to say that "young" is better.. I really don't know about that. You're also using the term "hip" really loosely, I'm am not convinced that this group is going to be any different than the current batch of libarians...

11:43 AM  
Anonymous melanie said...

Nevermind Dave, you've got me confused. Your entire post is paraphrasing the NYTimes article..

11:45 AM  

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