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Defensive Librarians

We made it to May Day. The year seems like it’s flying by.

Before I get to today’s topic of defensive librarians, I want to introduce this bit of news to anyone who hasn’t seen it. A “father’s rights advocate” tried to get the Toronto Public Library to remove Dr. Seuss’ Hop on Pop, claiming it encourages children to “use violence against their fathers.”

I suspect that the children that book is aimed at couldn’t do a lot of damage anyway, but who knows.

Somewhere there’s probably a clean house advocate trying to ban The Cat in the Hat because it encourages children to mess up their houses.

But on to other business. Why is it that librarians often sound so defensive when talking about libraries? And why are articles defending libraries in general so weird?

We know people like libraries. Every study affirms that. We know people use libraries. The statistics confirm it. So why things like this: 7 Big Myths About Libraries? It’s both defensive and misleading, myth by myth, or, if their English were more precise, stereotype by stereotype.

“#1: Libraries are quiet spaces–all the time, everywhere”

Here we find that the “shushing librarian” is no more, and that not every spot in libraries are quiet. People who need quiet places to study might bemoan that fact. Trying to debunk the myth isn’t that helpful, though.

We’re told there’s a “concert series sponsored by Get it Loud in Libraries from the UK, or the lively Literacy Smackdown, a robot vs. monster battle facilitated by educator Dr. Matt Finch in Australia.” I don’t live in either of those places, as far as you know.

Libraries might be putting on more programs like that, but most libraries don’t. I checked, and there is no literacy smackdown at my local library.

“#2: Book clubs are snooze-fests”

First of all, is this a myth? Who says this? And does it help us to learn that “there are book clubs geared toward 20- & 30-somethings, like the alt+library Book Club from the Sacramento Public Library, or Let’s Talk About Texts at the Middleton Public Library in Middleton, Wisconsin.” What about at my library?

Maybe it’s not that people think book clubs are boring. Maybe it’s just that most people don’t read a whole lot. If you don’t read, book anything is boring.

“#3: Library craft activities are old-fashioned, boring, or for kids only”

Has anyone in the world who doesn’t go to libraries ever had a thought about library craft activities? I’m a librarian and I’ve never thought about library crafts. Can this really be a “myth” if no one ever thinks about it?

“#4: Libraries are about books–and that’s it”

Apparently, even if you “hate to read,” the library is still for you. I guess, but you’re going to feel out of place. Also, I seriously doubt that “most libraries these days offer really awesome classes.” And despite all the hype about maker spaces, most libraries don’t have one.

“#5 Libraries are boring”

Supposedly, “Behind many of these other misconceptions, there lurks a single, pervasive complaint: ‘Libraries are just so… boring.’ On this, we couldn’t disagree more!” Oh, you couldn’t disagree more? Then I’m convinced!

“Libraries are subversive” because librarians “champion banned books and challenging ideas”? That is exciting! Will I be able to see the librarians champion challenging ideas when I visit? What about being subversive? Can they subvert for me?

“#6 Libraries are for nerds”

Yeah, that seems the kind of thing grown ups worry about. Fortunately, they’re “happy to report that libraries are indeed for nerds and that everyone– everyone– is a nerd about something.” Really? Everyone? Doesn’t that make the word “nerd” unnecessary and meaningless? Are these librarians destroying the English language?

And do libraries really teach people “how to DJ”? Is that everywhere? Can aspiring DJ “nerds” in the middle of Ohio or rural West Virginia take a DJ class at the library?

“#7 Libraries are for little kids”

Well, libraries are for little kids. The “defense” against myth #2 implies this is aimed at 20-30 somethings. There seems to be a pattern of people returning to public libraries once they have children for the books and programs. But does anyone think libraries are only for little kids?

I found this a weird list because I doubt most of these are really “myths,” and from a certain perspective most of them are true of most libraries. If you don’t like to read, most libraries are boring.

Just because you can take a “contemporary dance class at Flushing Library in Queens” doesn’t mean that the run of the mill public library is going to offer you more than books, music, movies, and a handful of programs and book clubs.

So trying to dispel myths that aren’t myths might create new myths, that all or most public libraries offer the “exciting” programming that we can find a few examples of in a few libraries.

The big picture articles aren’t talking about a library. They’re trying to talk about libraries in general using examples from just a few libraries, but with over 16,000 public libraries in the country, that’s difficult.

Mostly, though, I just found the tone too defensive, like every article trying to fight librarian stereotypes, which is really what this is. Librarians pretend to have all this confidence about how great libraries are, but in these broad articles that confidence isn’t showing.

They do talk about what some libraries do, but it’s always framed against the stereotypes people supposedly believe about libraries. It’s always defensive.

Local libraries often publicize what they’re doing for the community without worrying about whether they’re fighting stereotypes or being everything to everyone. Hundreds of “this week at the library” articles are published locally every week.

The librarians writing those have confidence in what they’re providing. All the rest is just noise.

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Comments

  1. me says:

    Oh man, I was hoping you’d do a post about the kid who had the cops called on her for handing out Sherman Alexie books… http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2014/0428/World-Book-Night-cops-are-called-as-Idaho-teen-hands-out-challenged-book

  2. Minks says:

    Librarians do some weird stuff. Maybe that is why articles defending libraries are weird.

    Video of Dancing Librarians from a little bit ago –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0Jqm8SrWLA

    Is weird bad? Good? I dunno. But it certainly is weird. Unsettling even.

  3. Aj says:

    Now I need to find Hop on Pop and read it.

  4. Evan says:

    Regarding #1: When you have people loudly speaking into their cell or smart phones, something addressed in signage at my (public) library, “shushing” is done by the security guards as well as by the librarians.

  5. Sarah K says:

    Just to be contrary, a friend of mine is a branch manager and a fantastic DJ who has offered music-mixing programs at his library…in the middle of Ohio.

  6. Andrew says:

    They missed Myth #8 – There won’t be any more libraries in 20 years.

    Guaranteed to get librarians overly-defensive, whilst the rest of us keep planning our career path into something more sustainable. ;)

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