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The Hipster Librarian: an Oxymoron

ALA in Chicago brought many good things, including some tasty food and drink. It also brought yet another tedious article about librarians and hipsters and possibly hipster librarians, if there can be such a thing.

According to the article, “the librarian of the future (and, arguably, the present)…is not a shusher, but a hipster, only more tolerable.” Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The journalist also “met four graduate library students from Indiana University [who] said that just that morning they discussed the rise of the hipster librarians,” making them possibly the shallowest conversationalists at the convention.

Because immersing myself in the concerns of fashion conscious young people is a tedious waste of time, I turned to the Urban Dictionary to try to figure out just what these hipsters are, and why some people can’t stand them and some librarians desperately want to be one of them.

I decided to take the top definition, because it had by far the most upvotes. It’s a hilariously smug and self-serving definition most likely written by someone identifying as a “hipster” whose lack of self-awareness is matched only by his resentment for other people.

Here’s what I found out. “Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20′s and 30′s that value independent thinking.” That’s what we’re told, anyway. The rest of the definition depends on stereotypes and prejudice, but at least it’s “independent.”

I was reminded of a Woody Allen line from Annie Hall. “I’m a bigot, but for the left, fortunately.”

Supposedly “hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but what it actually means is that hipsters are very concerned with what “mainstream” people do. “Culturally ignorant” at best means unaware of or unconcerned with things hipsters think important.

Resentment of athletic people comes next.  “The muscular and athletic all-American male ideal is not seen as attractive by confident and culturally-empowered [sic] hipster women who instead view them as symbols of male oppression, sexism, and misogyny,” writes someone who never recovered psychologically from being bullied by football players.

What’s odd is I know a lot of confident and “culturally-empowered” women, and a whole bunch of them are athletes.

The stereotyping then ramps up a bit more when we find out that “culturally-vapid sorority-type girls with fake blond hair, overly tanned skin, and “Britney Spears tube-tops” are not seen as attractive by cultured hipster males who instead see them as symbols of female insecurity, low self-esteem, and lack of cultural intelligence and independent thinking.”

They could be written by a  “cultured hipster male,” or ” a skinny guy who got rejected by cute girls in high school and now seeks his revenge on the Internet.” You decide.

There is at least a small appreciation of irony here. “Although hipsters are technically conformists within their own subculture, in comparison to the much larger mainstream mass, they are pioneers and leaders of the latest cultural trends and ideals.” Let’s all be nonconformists together!

Apparently some people don’t like hipsters. Now, it could be the arrogance, bigotry, and complete hostility to anyone not like them that’s so amply demonstrated by this definition, or – wait for it – it could be “feelings of insecurity and resentment in people who are no longer a part of the cultural ruling class.”

Yeah, that’s probably it. Feelings of insecurity, because nothing says “I’m not insecure” like constantly fretting about how other people dress or what they buy.

For evidence, we get some more bigotry and stereotyping. “For example, a lot of anti-hipster sentiment evidently comes from culturally-clueless [sic] suburban frat boy types who feel that the more sensitive, intelligent, and culturally aware hipster ideal threatens their insecure sense of masculinity.”

These aren’t even frat boys, but frat boy types. Nothing screams insecurity more than trying to psychoanalyze a stereotype just to make yourself feel superior.

Okay, so the feelings of insecurity are from those “who are no longer a part of the cultural ruling class,” and the example given is “culturally-clueless suburban frat boy types”? Umm, what?

Disregarding the arrogance, bigotry, and stereotyping, we can ask the logical question: how can culturally ignorant people be insecure that they’re not part of the cultural ruling class? Does that even make sense? Since when have frat boys ever been concerned with whether they were part of the “cultural ruling class”?

It’s not just the insecurity of “frat boy types.” “Anti-hipster sentiment often comes from people who simply can’t keep up with social change and are envious of those who can.”

Is there any evidence whatsoever that any human being on earth has ever been “envious” of anyone like this? This whole definition reeks of insecurity and jealousy especially by defining “social change” as “trendy stuff I like.” It’s not like we’re living through a revolution in this country. I think we can keep up.

Based on this definition and the obsession some librarians have with defining themselves as hipsters, let’s do a little comparison between hipsters and librarians.

Hipsters are apparently all about excluding other people to make themselves feel superior to the majority of people who range from indifferent to hostile. How does that mesh with the library ideal to serve everyone?

If the insecure and confused hipster of this definition worked in an academic library, what would he say if a tall, muscular college boy needed help on research paper? Would he even be able to contain his rage that athletic men exist in proximity to his sweeping bangs and skinny jeans?

And you know who uses public libraries a lot? Those “mainstream” folks that are obviously beneath contempt, what with their having small children and shopping at Walmart and not having the sense know how culturally backward they are and how envious of hipsters they’re supposed to be. So much for that public getting served.

It could be the Urban Dictionary definition was written by the worst example of a human being ever to identify as a “hipster.” I’m not going to make any more fun of the hipsters, because if this definition is representative at all, then hipsters have some serious psychological problems to work out. People that desperate for attention and praise deserve to be pitied, not ridiculed.

If this definition is at all accurate, the comparison is quite favorable to librarians.

Hipsters: people desperate to exclude other people from their tiny tribe and focused on what they see as the flaws of the mass of human beings so they can have a reason to feel like superior creatures.

Librarians: people who devote their lives to promoting literacy, fostering community, and trying to enrich the lives of everyone equally.

That makes librarians better people all round, and the “hipster librarian” an oxymoron.

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Comments

  1. rodrigo says:

    For me professionalism is more important than validating ones individual style, however I do think allowing employees to embrace their jobs as themselves is important. If that personal expression is deleterious to a professional atmosphere I have little tolerance for it. I often think administrators make a key miscalculation about younger patrons, thinking that making the service hip is important to younger users. I often find quite the opposite, younger patrons respect competence and services and materials that meet their needs efficiently in a nice environment. The need to feel hip is more of an issue/psychological problem for administrators, thus we have these inane articles parading stale tropes. Whenever people try to distill human beings to broad stereotype, serious problems exist. Thanks AL for highlighting this farce.

  2. William Manley says:

    I say live and let live. Leave the hipster librarians alone. They give journalists in ALA convention cities something to write about.

  3. Cindy says:

    If hipsterism gives us librarians a different stereotype to use in book and movie portrayals, I welcome it (for now, until it gets overused and becomes trite).

    • me says:

      Have you seen Monsters U.? We’re getting new stereotypes all the time. Now we have tentacles and can launch patrons out of the building.

    • Huh? says:

      It *has* become overused and trite at this point.

  4. Nicco says:

    the author seems to miss the irony (or hypocrisy, rather) of “nothing screams insecurity more than trying to psychoanalyze a stereotype just to make yourself feel superior.” not to mention that discussing hipsters is inevitably boring, at best.

  5. The Librarian With No Name says:

    John Hodgman has constructed a working definition of hipsterism which I find pretty helpful. He defines people by how they utilize information, placing them on a spectrum between “hipster” and “nerd.” (This is more inclusive than it appears, as he defines football fans, for example, as “sports nerds.”)

    A hipster is a hipster because they use their cultural knowledge as a cudgel to assert their superiority over others. They tend to value obscure bands, books and brands of coffee because every time they reference something that another person does not recognize, they win. They are savvy, and the other is ignorant.

    Nerds also tend to accumulate a great deal of information about a favored topic, but they are excited to share this information with others. They “win” when they pass their enthusiasm onto another person and the band/book/brand of coffee is enjoyed by someone else.

    So by this definition, a hipster librarian would be objectively terrible at their job. Possibly people are confused because the hipsters who aren’t ironically dressing like truckers who have accidentally put on their little sisters’ pants are ironically dressing like 1950s movie librarians.

    Then again, “The Rise of the Nerd Librarians” probably isn’t going to set the blogosphere on fire.

    • C says:

      I just have to express my admiration for this line “Possibly people are confused because the hipsters who aren’t ironically dressing like truckers who have accidentally put on their little sisters’ pants are ironically dressing like 1950s movie librarians”. I almost chocked on my starbucks when reading this…

    • Suzanne Stauffer says:

      But we could go back to dressing like 1950s movie librarians, and proclaim ourselves “Mad Librarians.” Joan has worn some dresses worth blogginh about.

  6. Suzanne Stauffer says:

    What I find offensive is that, yet again, our professional organization has demeaned and denigrated traditional conservative librarians by characterizing us as “shushers” and suggesting that we need to embrace a new stereotype. Is there any other professional organization that spends valuable conference time chiding its members for the way they dress?

    Well, I say, how about we embrace individualism and encourage librarians to be whoever they are?! IDIC and all that. If you’re a shusher, shush away. If you’re Goth, go for it. If you’re a steampunk librarian extraordinaire . . . steam or punk or whatever it is you do. And if you’re a hipster, well, you just hip your bad self right on over to that reference desk and provide some public service.

    And I agree with rodrigo that there is nothing that a teen despises more than an adult trying to ape teen behavior. That’s invading their territory and appropriating their identity.

    • Joneser says:

      So, “traditional librarians” are “conservative”? How do you mean? Clothing? Behavior? Politics?

      I was young once. I also spent alot of money on clothes and high heels. Then I got over it.

    • Suzanne Stauffer says:

      Don’t ask me — ask ALA. They are the ones setting up that false dichotomy — if the librarian of the future is hip, then it follows that the librarian of the past is “not hip.” The librarian of the present is, apparently, maybe hip, maybe not hip. I suppose I could have said “not hip,” but I take that to mean something like “traditional conservative.” They apparently mean dress and possibly behavior.
      Most of the librarians I have known have been individuals, with their own style, who were not terribly worried about what the rest of the world thought of the way they dressed. They were professionals who were perfectly capable of dressing and acting appropriately — and still are.
      Funny how people latch onto a phrase without taking the rest of the comment into account.

  7. Joe Schallan says:

    If I have to work with a male librarian wearing one of those little hipster porkpie hats, I shall surely plotz.

  8. Amy Kirchofer says:

    Dear Annoyed Librarian, I read your entire article with my jaw hanging loosely from my face. I am dumbstruck and more than a little disturbed by the venom and rage that you apparently harbor towards the hipster librarians that you so recently learned to define from an entry in Urban Dictionary?!

    I am quite surprised that you would consider Urban Dictionary as a reliable source, and even more surprised that you used it as your ONLY source before forming such a strong opinon! I agree with Nicco that your vitriol against the “hipster librarian” says much more about your mindset, than it does about the hipsters. It also paints a rather unflattering picture of your ability to accept others, serve the public with unbiased professional courtesy, and collaborate effectively with your colleagues.

    On another note, hiding behind an anonymous psudonymn like “annoyed librarian,” while spewing hatred (and yes, bigotry) on the internet is doing no credit to our shared profession. If we do not lead by example in using the internet responsibly, how can we expect our customers/patrons to do so?

    NO H8!

    • whyyesiamalibrarian says:

      I suspect that AL’s vicious diatribe was-like much of her postings-somewhat tongue-in-cheek. No need to get your skinny jeans in a wad. :)

    • DaNC says:

      Anonymous blogging actually has a fairly “long” and noble tradition. But who know, maybe the old 18th century anonymous pamphleteers weren’t using their printing presses “responsibly” either. Anyway, the issue isn’t whether hipster librarians should be allowed to live or procreate–it’s whether they deserve to be the new face of the profession. I personally find hipsters off-putting. Am I a hater/bigot, or is it just that alienating us normies is a central feature of hipsterism? I can’t be sure, but I smiled my way through the original post.

  9. Elder Librarian says:

    AL has a lot in common with Nadia G. who mocks hipsters and nerds a lot.

  10. Mister Naxal says:

    Are hipsters even “a thing” any more? My impression is that identifying as a hipster or being labeled a hipster is more of a fashion statement these days than an actual culture. About five years ago, hipster culture began diffusing into the main stream. From skinny jeans to cycling to DIY rock shows, hipster culture now has bled over into main stream culture. Can you really write about the evil of hipsters as librarians when their fashion and attitude and affections have become so every day?

    I would argue that hipsters are the new hippies. “Hippies” became the catch-all term for everything that 20 years of mainstream culture found objectionable: rebellion against authority, casual drug use, casual sex, degenerate music, sloth, and many other perceived moral failings. Hippies became a repository for folks’ perceptions of what they disliked. In other words, hippies went from being a fairly descriptive term applied to a distinct group of people to being a catch-all for what mainstream America didn’t like.

    That’s what is happening to hipsters today. If someone is a snob and they wear skinny jeans and Buddy Holly glasses, we chalk it up to being a hipster. Chances were that person was a snob before they started affecting the fashion trappings of a hipster. They’ll be a snob 10 years from now when they’re no longer rocking the hipster accoutrements. Why call them anything other than what they are, a snob?

    • me says:

      “rebellion against authority, casual drug use, casual sex, degenerate music, sloth”

      My five favorite past times.

  11. Jo says:

    I don’t hate hipsters. What I don’t like is how I feel that some of them emanate a sneering attitude towards other librarians who are over 30 (like myself). Some of us have always been on the front lines of learning/teaching new technology, but just didn’t have a title that identified as such (because the general title of librarian meant you did it all). Some of us have had tattoos longer than certain hipsters have been alive, and definitely before it was hip and alternative to have them. Some of us grew up listening to vinyl and liking how it sounded ….. so please don’t gush on and on about it, hipster dude, because I’ve been there, done that – it’s not a new concept. Some of us, in our younger days, lived in places like Wicker Park and Bucktown (back when they weren’t such nice neighborhoods), and went to the Double Door, bought zines at Quimby’s, and ate at Leo’s Lunchroom. And then we decided to move on to other things as we got older. The fact that we’re a little older doesn’t mean that we didn’t have moments of awesomeness in our younger days (either as librarians or before we became librarians).

    I know you’re thinking, Geez… rant much? I guess I’m tired of the focus on hipsters as being the cool librarians when there are a lot of us who were cool, and are STILL cool, and are awesome librarians.

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