June 24, 2017

NextGen: The Men Among Us

By Rachel Singer Gordon

Male NextGen librarians remain a rare breed. In fact, 82 percent of librarians are female, according to 2002 U.S. Statistical Abstract figures, and 21 percent of 2002 LIS grads were male, according to "Salaries Stalled, Jobs Tight " (LJ 10/15/03, p. 28). I decided to get to know some of the men who make up this minority. Fifty-one younger male new librarians shared their stories.

Professional paths and ambitions

Most male NextGens stumbled into librarianship, though they took various routes to the profession. Some, like Joe Hardenbrook, 25, a reference librarian at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, explain that stereotypes prevented them from considering librarianship earlier. "To be totally honest," Hardenbrook says, "I didn't know a guy could become a librarian until I saw my first male librarian in college. I didn't know such a species existed!" Others became aware of the field recently. As Aaron Schmidt, 25, a reference librarian at Thomas Ford Memorial Library, Western Springs, IL, says, "I first learned about the discipline of librarianship from a bad search on Google. The irony!"

Our female-dominated profession tends to have administrations that are male-dominated. NextGen men seem to share such managerial ambitions. Most, like Brandon Dudley, 31, systems librarian at Innovative Interfaces, Inc., Emeryville, CA, are deliberately gaining some premanagement experience. "I'd like to get a couple of years under my belt and then move on to management," he says. Fred Dingledy, 32, a reference librarian at College of William & Mary Law Library, VA, says he wants to be a director one day, though he knows he is "not quite ready yet."

Unsurprisingly, NextGen men note that their workplace management still appears male-dominated and that men's premanagement salaries tend to track a bit higher. This may be owing to the encouragement men receive. "A male supervisor commented to me that males typically take administrative roles in the profession and he inquired whether I saw myself going that route," says Brian S. Mathews, 29, a reference and instruction librarian at George Washington University, DC. "That conversation has stuck with me over the years. A female colleague who also worked for him… said he never spoke to her about [professional] goals."

Challenging stereotype

A major NextGen concern is challenging stereotype. Male NextGens buck librarian stereotypes by their very presence—both as male librarians and as energetic (and occasionally tattooed) younger professionals. Many actively try overturning traditional images. Hal Kirkwood, 36, associate professor of library science at Purdue University, IN, epitomizes this attitude. "I'm loud. I'm energetic. I wear fun ties," he says. "I argue and inform people that what we do matters." C. William Gee, 25, a student library assistant at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, reminds people that "librarians do more than shelve books and that we are not, obviously, all old spinsters."

Some of these men experience unexpected stereotyping. For example, patrons tend to assume male librarians are supervisors. Patrons, Gee notes, "automatically treat us as if we are in charge." They also assume that a male NextGen is "the systems guy," even if his job is completely nontechnical, as is the case for Scott Duimstra, 29, Los Angeles PL adult librarian.

Gender diversity helps

Male NextGens do feel some tension as minority members of a female-dominated profession. Alex Sarkissian, 24, a student and circulation clerk at Monroe County PL, Bloomington, IN, says, "Let's put it this way, my girlfriend said she was glad to find me, because I was the only straight, unmarried male library student in our program. Seriously, though, I am very much a minority both in my school and at my workplace. It gets a bit unnerving."

These male NextGens feel more connected to others their age, whatever the gender. Marc Vera, 26, Entertainment Weekly database librarian, New York City, explains: "There is a definite connection with NextGen librarians. You see them at conferences and automatically know that this is someone you can talk to—that this is someone who really cares about furthering the field of librarianship."

Most stress that a changing library environment requires diverse perspectives, including those of male librarians and younger librarians. Specifically, some feel male patrons, especially teens, are better able to relate to them than to female or older librarians. "I believe that diversity helps to improve libraries," says David Wilson, 29, a senior library assistant at Roanoke County Public Library, VA. "By having a mixture of people from different genders, generations, races, ethnic backgrounds, and social classes, the library is more equipped to assist patrons."


Author Information
Rachel Singer Gordon (rachel@lisjobs.com) is webmaster of Lisjobs.com and part-time librarian at the Franklin Park Library, IL. She is the author of The Accidental Systems Librarian (ITI, 2003) and The Librarian's Guide to Writing for Publication (Scarecrow, 2004) and writes LJ 's Computer Media column
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