I was in the emergency room with my son and the EMT was taking my information. He asked me what I did for a living and I said, “I’m a librarian.” His reaction was comical. “Whoa!” he exclaimed, “I didn’t see that coming.” “No one ever does.” I smiled. I cannot tell you how many times this scenario has replayed itself in my daily life since I started my career. It started me thinking about several librarian myths I have encountered.
Myth #1: Librarians are frumpy, grumpy spinsters.
If you are like most people who hear the word “librarian” the image of a stern, plain, bespectacled, middle-aged spinster who wears her hair in a bun with a tweed skirt suit and orthopedic shoes immediately comes to mind. I assure you this is for the most part a Hollywood reality only. I have yet to see a librarian who fits that description exactly outside of a movie theatre. As for grumpy, well we are human after all, but except for an occasional bad day are quite pleasant and helpful. If we look grouchy, most likely we are super focused on the task at hand and it takes us a moment to refocus our attention.
Myth #2: Librarians “sit around reading all day.”
Maybe on our day off, but the library is a busy place. If you do happen to see us reading, it is likely not for pleasure, at least not at the library. Most likely, we are reviewing journals in order to make purchases for the collection, perusing a book for reader’s advisory, or reading a book that was challenged by a patron. The reality is that most librarians have no time for pleasure reading while at work and sometimes not even outside of it.
Myth #3: Librarians don’t want to help you, that’s why they ask all those questions.
Visit any Reference Desk in any library and you are likely to have your question met with a question. Why is this? It is known in the library world as “the reference interview.” Realize that the librarian has much information about the library’s collection in their head. They are trying to winnow down the titles and section of the library based upon how you answer the question. If your question is “I’m looking for books on law” you could be looking at thousands of titles on your own. The librarian’s job is to figure out exactly what information you seek, so they can find the best resources to help you.
I still laugh when I think about the time in the ER with my son (he was fine, by the way) and the EMT’s look of shock and surprise at my occupation. I would like to think that I am changing the public’s perception of “librarian” one patron at a time.