In my last post, I alluded to the reactions I get when I tell people I am a librarian. Now, over the past several years, I have had many conversations and read countless blog posts regarding librarian stereotypes, so I am not going to go into too much detail about that right now. However, I did think it might be fun to reflect on some of the comments I’ve received regarding my profession over the past few years.
The response I hear most frequently is “You need a degree to be a librarian?!” In this case, my reaction depends upon the context. For example, I was asked this question by a stranger in an airport bar last week, and in that case I responded by laughing and saying something like “Haha. Yup, it turns out there’s actually more to it than stamping books and saying Shhhhh!” By making a joke out of it, I was able to keep the conversation light and he ended up asking some pretty thoughtful questions about libraries. Result!
However, even though I don’t mind it when some random guy in a bar is surprised that one needs to be educated in order to become a librarian, it does annoy me when teaching colleagues ask me the same question. In the school I worked in recently, many of the teachers seemed surprised to learn that there is a specific academic qualification for becoming a librarian, and some teachers were even surprised to learn that one needs a degree at all! Again, I tried to smile and explain the qualification process politely and succinctly, but we need to start thinking of serious ways to reach pre-service teachers so that they are aware of what librarians actually do.
On a similar note, I frequently am asked the question, “Is that what you really want to do?” Again, my reaction tends to be based on context; it’s one thing if I am asked this question by a stranger, but another when asked by teaching colleagues or former Smith classmates. Of course, I try not to let it get to me, and I remind myself that I am secure enough not to care what others think of my career choices. Still, I find it somewhat worrying when professionals in other fields cannot understand why highly educated, intelligent people would want to work as librarians. I think this is a larger issue, however, and it is not just limited to librarians. I know that some other Smithies have received similar reactions when telling people that they had chosen to go into teaching, so maybe it has more to do with the perceptions of “pink collar” professions as a whole.
A comment that I only received once, but nevertheless made me stop and think was, “It’s so nice to meet a school librarian who actually likes children!” This odd compliment was paid to me by an English teacher at my former school, and I can’t even remember how I responded. I think I just smiled and giggled awkwardly as I was so surprised by what she said. I remember thinking, “What kind of schools has she been in?! How can someone go into school librarianship and not like children?” Granted, this was only one opinion, but if there are other teachers out there thinking the same thing, then it’s time for school librarians to address this issue.
I’m getting too serious now, so back to random, sleazy guys in bars. I think my favourite response to my career revelation has to be, “But you’re too hot to be a librarian!” or “You must be the sexiest librarian ever!”* Although I do think I’m pretty cute, I must admit that I never heard the words “hot” or “sexy” very often until becoming a librarian. I guess it’s all relative.
As much as I laugh at these stupid chat-up lines, they do reveal that the librarian stereotypes are alive and well. Somehow, I can’t imagine dancers, actresses, or PR executives getting the same response. Oh well, at least it’s self-esteem boost! 🙂
* And no guys, this does not work!