I always suspect that those people who become public librarians are the sort of people who have wanted to be librarians since they were children frolicking in their public libraries, the ones who found a home in the library they couldn’t find elsewhere. Likewise, I suspect that a lot of the people who become academic librarians are often the people who were picked last on the playground. That would explain their inferiority complexes and their desperate desire to be liked. This is something of a sweeping generalization, I realize, but as we’re all aware by now, sweeping generalizations are the stuff the Annoyed Librarian is made of.
As I mentioned in the last post, I was at ACRL, attended a number of sessions, talked to a lot of librarians, had some dinners and drinks, and generally hung out and had a good time. At ALA, I pal around with librarians of all types, but obviously at ACRL I was surrounded by other academic librarians, and occasionally found myself thinking of them as an anthropologist might. What’s it like to live in their little world?
Academic librarians feel inferior, and their desperate desire to be liked seems to be centred on a mythical beast called "the faculty." This "faculty" is endowed with impressive qualities. They sit on their Olympian thrones far removed from the daily concerns of librarians, whose earnest efforts they take little notice of. This is a pity, because librarians are always trying to engage the attention of this "faculty." They want to be invited to "faculty meetings." They want the "faculty" to like them, and what’s more, to acknowledge their worth. Academic librarians want this "faculty" to consider them partners and perhaps even equals. (Please, no laughter!) This is especially ironic for those librarians with "faculty status." This status doesn’t seem to help much, but that’s not surprising. Librarians with "faculty status" are neither faculty nor have status. (Discuss amongst yourselves.)
Librarians go out of their way to develop relationships with this "faculty," and the slightest positive relationship or feedback is considered a major victory for the librarians’ side. Oh, a member of this "faculty" spoke to you as you haunted the hallway outside his office? Go team!
These librarians desperately seeking attention and respect from this "faculty" will always be disappointed, though, because it should be clear that the "faculty" for the most part don’t really care that much about librarians, and they certainly don’t consider them equals or even partners. Servants might be a little too lowly. More likely, if they think of librarians at all, their first thought is of "the people over in the library who check out books and keep trying to infest my classroom with something called ‘information literacy,’ whatever that is." The second thought might be, "they should just leave me alone and get on with their job, whatever that is."
Librarians are busy over in the library thinking they’re an essential and important part of the campus. They are, but they always miscalculate and overvalue their importance, especially to the "faculty." Librarians have a job to do, and it’s a job worth doing, but they’re mistaken when they think that the library is the heart of the campus, or that education really has something to do with "information literacy" (thus increasing the importance and centrality of the only group of people annoying enough to use such a phrase, i.e., librarians).
Librarians would probably be happier if they gave up this obsession with the "faculty" and just did their jobs. Since the "faculty" don’t bother much with the librarians now, giving up the obsession wouldn’t change the daily life of the campus very much. The "faculty" would go about their business just as they’ve been doing for the past few hundred years, and the librarians could do their jobs without feeling so inadequate.
Far be it from me to deliver a pep talk, but academic librarians usually have worthwhile jobs to do. It’s just that those jobs have little to do with the job of the "faculty." The "faculty" are busy teaching, not thinking of librarians and their fragile egos. Librarians are busy doing library work. The "faculty" don’t want to be bothered by the librarians; they just want to the library to work properly. If they get what they want from the library, they’re happy. If they want anything from the librarians, they’ll ask; heck, they might even demand. Until then, they just want to be left alone.
But too many academic librarians can’t do that. They are desperate to prove their worth, but they don’t realize their worth isn’t measured by how many of the "faculty" will talk to them or allow them in the classrooms. At least, I hope their worth isn’t measured by that. Otherwise, those academic librarians aren’t worth much.