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Library Videos Will Survive, Unfortunately

Libraries Will Survive is the most depressing video I have ever seen, and in so many ways.

In case you don’t want to torture yourself watching it, I’ve fallen on that grenade for you. In the “long version,” we see a busy librarian (or library worker of some sort) running around the library helping out various freaks as best she can, even though budget cuts have eliminated many of the computers and equipment she needs to do her job. The freaks, with their serious “information needs,” are unable to play great video games or watch Star Trek. It’s all very sad for them. The narrative portion segues into a montage of librarians “dancing” to the tune “I Will Survive,” while singing alternate lyrics about how libraries have missions to uphold and how pretty manga displays are.

And why is this depressing? Some people might be depressed by the consequences of slashed library budgets, but since everyone in the video seems cheerful enough over the fact, I won’t let budgets get me down.

No, it’s more depressing because of all the things it says about our so-called profession.

First, we’re not a profession to be taken seriously. This is the implication of every silly video librarians produce, and this one only reinforces it. I’m aware of no other profession – from lawyer to social worker – where so many members are so professionally frivolous in public.

This might be why we’re not a profession that fights for ourselves effectively. Budgets cut? Given an abacus instead of a computer? Printers don’t work properly? Working conditions bad? Can’t afford decent clothes or gym memberships? No problem! We’ll survive! Please tread on us!

The video also implies that only freaks use the library. Freaks who walk around in Snuggies. Freaks who desperately need their Star Trek fix. Freaks who renew 1995 video guides year after year. If this is who uses the library the most, that would explain why budgets are cut.

It also shows that we’re confused as a profession. There’s a line about libraries having a mission, but it’s not at all clear from the video what that mission is, unless it’s being a doormat to every crazy that walks in the door. That might indeed be a mission, but it’s not one that I want associated with the profession.

Oh, I know, all you bright-sided librarians out there are thinking, but where’s her sense of humor? This video is FUN!

I have a sense of humor, but nothing about this or any of the other librarian videos is funny in any intentional way. Whether they’re writing and performing bad, self-indulgent pop songs or dancing to Lady Gaga, the whole idea behind them is annoying. The librarians involved in all these videos probably think they’re throwing off the stereotype of the shushing librarian, but at best they just create another stereotype that’s no more flattering..

The inimitable Rebecca West once wrote: “ I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” Whenever I see librarians being cheery rather than indignant under exploitative conditions I think of that quote. To me, anything expressing the sentiment this video seems to reminds me of the overeager compliance often found in victims of child abuse. I find that sad and depressing rather than funny.

Instead of videos showing how silly librarians can be, why not make some videos showing how truly helpful they can be? And I don’t mean helping people get a videogame or an episode of Star Trek, but helpful for more serious purposes. Don’t any normal people use libraries? Doesn’t anyone who’s not either crazy or poor ever use them? Why don’t we get that video?

Are librarians all so desperate for affection? So compliant about budget cuts and poor working conditions? Aren’t there librarians out there who stand up for themselves? Why aren’t they making videos?

I wish librarians would declare a moratorium on making any more cutesy videos of themselves, so that the public wouldn’t have the impression that all librarians are like this.  And anyone who liked the video should keep one more thing in mind. That woman who sang, “I will survive, I will survive” – whatever happened to her?

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Comments

  1. GDL says:

    These videos always make me cringe. Despite the cheery tone, all this video does is complain and it is not something that makes me excited to be a future librarian.

  2. Bruce Campbell says:

    I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like something that would make me want to hang myself in my garage.

    I always took the lyrics of the song to be about an abused woman. Not something librarians should associate with.

    Great post, AL. I think librarians are so hell-bent on disproving the stereotype of being uptight that they overcompensate with these ridiculous videos that make them look pathetic. “NO REALLY, I’M A FUN PERSON, YOU WOULDN’T THINK I COULD SING KARAOKE, BUT I’M THE WILDEST PERSON IN MY KNITTING CIRCLE, LOL.”

    Cultivate some gravitas about the profession, FFS. People aren’t so dumb that a message has to be delivered to them with pop hooks and dancing.

  3. Sam Popowich says:

    Thank you. This articulated something I’ve been feeling for a very long time.

  4. AL – in my blog and personal appearances, I’ve suggested that attempts to dispel librarian stereotypes may actually reify them instead. So I agree with your thesis here.

    Readers may be interested in “Libraries protect that brand” and my advice to flatter your spokespeople: http://www.radicalpatron.com/libraries-protect-that-brand/#stereotype.

    What I’m having difficulty reconciling is how this blog differs from some of the other efforts you’ve labeled as doing more harm than good for the profession. It’s been a question in my mind, and much moreso since the previous author departed in April of this year.

  5. Daniel says:

    I was in total agreement until you implied that poor people aren’t normal. Public libraries should go about their operations with a heaping healthy dose of Liberation Theology. I actually think we spend more than enough time trying to woo the upper middle class and upper classes and not nearly enough time reaching out to other workers. Despite most public libraries coming from rather paternalistic beginnings, it took generations of class struggle to achieve the expansive public sector that was the foundation of prosperity in this country during the Post-war period.

    Anyway, implying that poor people don’t have serious research needs is really offensive.

  6. Anonymous Librarian says:

    I am enjoying your posts. I’m afraid that too much of our library outreach includes awful print and video media. Benny Hill music? How sad and not at all what I feel is the soundtrack to my work.

    We used to have this teacher in our elementary school who liked to say, “Can’t never could.” This saying perfectly fits this video. There are creative solutions to budget cuts; it seems that no one is willing to find them.

  7. Oh good gosh, I’m glad I’m not the only one. One wonders how much time these library workers have since their budgets were cut. Due to a hiring freeze and a “separation plan”, I have no time to breathe.

  8. I actually listed stupid cutesy librarian videos in my “7 Things I Hate About Librarianship” post a few days back. I am linking to this and adding an update. The comments are also good, especially about the original song being about an abused woman. Do we, as a profession, really want to go there and be associated with imagery of being battered?

    Another good post, AL. Keep it up.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    This is amazing– I never knew where all the caricatured, curmudgeonly, sour-faced librarians gathered to discuss the gravitas and dignity of their profession, and now I do!

    The real thigh-slapper was when AL professes, “I have a sense of humor” and then goes on to make a heavy handed comparison between the dancing & singing librarians in the video to… child abuse victims. “I find that sad and depressing rather than funny” she concludes. I bet you do.

    I get the distinct feeling that she finds many things sad and depressing rather than funny, including… oh, I don’t know… a cat chasing a flashlight. There’s always a spin.

    Speaking of sad and depressing, why in the world am I here?

  10. Bruce Campbell says:

    I thought you were pretty good in the video, Elizabeth. You really move fast and are a decent singer.

  11. Jamie says:

    Abused women are not the proprietors of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. I think anyone who has struggled to overcome a hardship, including the broken-hearted, gays, and even exhausted librarians, should be allowed to sing it with pride and not be made to feel pathetic. It’s a great anthem for the downtrodden and shouldn’t be pigeonholed.

  12. Conan the Librarian says:

    Couldn’t you have posted the link to the short version? After watching the first 45 seconds or so, I had seen enough. We’re all busier than one-armed paper hangers, we all have reduced budgets. Get over it already. Instead of whining about what we don’t have, we need to ensure our libraries are indispensable. When’s the last time that the library hosted a city council meeting? Provided reference service to the mayor? If there’s time to record a song, lip-sync it on a bad video, edit the thing, and post it to YouTube, there is certainly time to make the library more valuable to the community, and I don’t mean the community of hand-wringing librarians, either. Yeah, this video is an easy target, but there are plenty more where that one came from. Why are librarians around the country trying so hard to make us all look so goofy?

  13. NA says:

    I have to say I disagree with your statement here:

    “I don’t mean helping people get a videogame or an episode of Star Trek, but helpful for more serious purposes. Don’t any normal people use libraries? Doesn’t anyone who’s not either crazy or poor ever use them?”

    Just because people want to watch Star Trek (one of the most intelligent and innovative shows ever put on television) doesn’t make them “crazy.” The Museum of Television & Radio is a highly respected institution and helping people locate archival television is an important service they perform. Ask any patron who was reunited with a cherish childhood TV memory. Or a historian doing research on the media’s effect on society.

    And what exactly is wrong with “poor” people using a library? Are libraries only for the fortunate ones? I certainly hope not!

  14. Karen Niemla says:

    When I made my own library anti-budget-cut video, I sought to make it clear that academic libraries have VALUE and that faculty/students NEED them.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZytnSCca68

    It is SHORT and has a POINT: You Need Libraries to do YOUR WORK. No cute “tee hee libraries” waste of time. Others DO NOT CARE about the library. They care about what they are doing.
    GD it, think about your audience!

  15. blacksquirrel says:

    That is cornier than my place of residence which is in the corn belt. I need some ear bleach. Our profession has been quacker factoried.

  16. brian says:

    Amen AL!!! The 3 Stooges are better portrayed than these hand wringing librarian videos

  17. Jinx says:

    Yes, most librarians suck at making videos.

    Public relations videos aren’t easy to make and libraries don’t have the cash to get a decent ad out so you get these train wrecks. It’s hard make a PSA without looking like an idiot if you don’t know what the hell you are doing.

    I don’t see how the videos will get better if they don’t keep trying.

    And if there is a profession, there is a professional making a horrible video. Grant it, librarians are really good at making bad videos but so are many other professions. Search for different types of PSA’s on Youtube and weep.

  18. tummytime says:

    For the sake of your health, do not watch that video and trust AL’s description. Also, why should our service communties throw money at us when apparently librarians are doing just fine as a bunch of lunatics?

  19. embarrassed colleagues says:

    My colleague and I just sat through this video and are horrified and embarrassed for the profession. Mr. Jinx (comment 19) says it best: “…libraries don’t have the cash to get a decent ad out so you get these train wrecks.” Enough with the “hey we’re cool too” library videos!

  20. NA says:

    “There’s a line about libraries having a mission, but it’s not at all clear from the video what that mission is, unless it’s being a doormat to every crazy that walks in the door. That might indeed be a mission, but it’s not one that I want associated with the profession.”

    A library’s job is to provide service to ALL in the community, not judge and dismiss certain people as “crazy.” Frankly, I’m more disturbed by the elitist attitude in this Blog entry, than by the video in question.

  21. Laura Solomon says:

    “First, we’re not a profession to be taken seriously. This is the implication of every silly video librarians produce, and this one only reinforces it. I’m aware of no other profession – from lawyer to social worker – where so many members are so professionally frivolous in public.”

    Amen. Please, PLEASE librarians, stop making these. I know you like to have fun. Please just cease doing it at the expense of our collective professional reputation.

  22. KidLib says:

    Egads. Oh, AL. The things in the beginning are way too true about libraries, but why do we put up with it????

    I wonder if they have to pay to apply for jobs here, like this one: http://www.lisjobs.com/jobseekers/details.asp?ID=43385

  23. Soren Faust says:

    AL, you’re like the Mrs Betty Bowers of Librarianship and that’s why I like you. My director sent this to us the other day, ostensibly, I suppose, in a positive light. I almost choked on my coffee, but didn’t because I had already seen enough of these laughable attempts to gain attention on YouTube to buffer a full-on epileptic fit from the strobbing idiocy of this video. Although, I do think your comment concerning the poor as somehow being equal to crazy was uncalled for, especially since most librarians are just this side of poor, the overall gist of your diatribe is well-founded.

  24. I Like Books says:

    I’ve actually been kind of disappointed in the results I tend to get when I go to librarians with serious research requests.