Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Why, oh why can’t CNN just leave librarians alone? Someone there must have a librarian fetish or something. Perhaps the news director has secret fantasies where prim, slender librarians shake the buns out of their hair, take off their glasses, and tie him up with library chains. Or her up. Or whatever.

The latest CNN story sent on to me by a kind reader has the same problems most news stories about librarians have. Supposedly it’s on the "future of libraries" (where library = public library, natch). It reads like it was written by someone who hasn’t been in a library since the 1950s, if ever. The opening couldn’t have been written by a regular library patron: "The stereotypical library is dying — and it’s taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it." Dank smell? Since when have libraries ever had dank smells? The writer must be thinking of the books he has stored in his parent’s basement. Maybe the shushing lady is his mother.

Then we hear that "Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas." That part’s true, I guess. Replacing books with "gaming areas" allows libraries to replace librarians with arcade attendants, which fortunately for those of us whose taxes pay for libraries are a lot cheaper than librarians. Naturally, we are also told that "Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians." Does blogging make one a hipster? I don’t "chat" on Twitter, but I also don’t care about theDDC. I think I might be a hipster! The AL a hipster. Who knew?

And can one really "chat" on Twitter, anyway? Isn’t Twitter just another example of the "one-way flow of information from book to patron" that we’re told later in the article just "isn’t good enough anymore"? And if you blog without allowing comments, which I’m told some people do, that’s the same old one-way communication as we’ve always had. This story is confusing me.

We’re also presented with what CNN apparently thinks is ironic. "Authors, publishing houses, librarians and Web sites continue to fight Google’s efforts to digitize the world’s books and create the world’s largest library online. Meanwhile, many real-world libraries are moving forward with the assumption that physical books will play a much-diminished or potentially nonexistent role in their efforts to educate the public." What does this "meanwhile" mean? How are these connected at all? Is it supposed to mean that librarians are trying to eliminate all books, both online and in their libraries? Does CNN think that opposition to the Google project is the same as the opposition to online books? I’m getting confused again.

We also get to hear that there’s been a "revolution" in libraries. "Think of the change as a Library 2.0 revolution — a mirror of what’s happened on the Web." Where does this rhetoric come from? I haven’t noticed any revolution in libraries. There hasn’t even been evolution so much as there’s been addition, but I guess saying libraries have been adding services since the beginning of their existence and still are doesn’t make for an exciting news article. Libraries still do what they did a hundred years ago, and they do other stuff, too. Where’s the revolution?

Mirror of the Web? Doesn’t that just mean that librarians are doing some of the same things that lots of other people are already doing? People write blogs.OMG , librarians write blogs! People use Twitter. Librarians use Twitter! People play games. Librarians play games! This is just craziness!

For some reason, we have a public policy center director telling us that, "libraries always have served two roles in society: They’re places where people can get free information; and they’re community centers for civic debate," and that, "As books become more available online, that community-center role will become increasingly important for libraries." Librarians love the community center idea, but I’m not sure how videogames, for example, have anything to do with civic debate. Let’s leave out the civic debate part – which no one’s interested in, anyway – and the free information part – which most people can get online elsewhere – and you have the future of libraries: recreation centers for the middle and lower classes.

I got really excited by this part: "This shift means the role of the librarian — and their look — is also changing." The "and their look" bit is priceless. I wonder if people who stereotype librarians are so obsessed with looks and fashion because they objectify women and librarianship has always been a feminized profession. It’s a thought, anyway. The general characterization of the "look" isn’t changing anyway. Too many librarians still look like they bought their clothes at rummage sales. They’re just attending those sales in different neighborhoods.

The president of ALISE (who thus is most likely not a librarian) tells us that "A rise in a young, library-chic subculture on blogs and on Twitter is putting a new face on this changing role." This sounds nifty, except I can’t figure out what it means. Since when are the bloggers andTwitterers young? Or library-chic for that matter? What is young? Under 30? Under 35? Surely not over 40. How many librarians out there blogging or are under 35? How many over 50? Plenty. And Twitter for the young? Based on what I read, the young ‘uns stay as far away from Twitter as possible. It’s the old folk who have picked it up and run with it. This article seems to be claiming the young-old divide happens sometime around age 70. We’re so busy bucking those stereotypes we don’t even make sense.

The last little quote from a library school student stood out for me as well. ""Sure I love to read. I read all the time. I read physical books. But I don’t have the strange emotional attachment that some people possess…. If the library is going to turn into a place without books, I’m going to evolve with that too." That sounds like a pragmatic and intelligent approach. Working in a library is a job, not a calling. But I guess I haven’t seen much of the "strange emotional attachment" to physical books that this student seems to have. For the educational role of the library, the attachment is intellectual, not emotional. People can sit in their info echo chambers and chatter at each other all they like, but there are some things they are never going to learn unless they read books.

But that’s neither here nor there. Personally, I don’t see that libraries have changed that much. They seem to offer the same services as always, some familiar ones in new guises, and some new ones that are already popular with masses of people. This is hardly revolutionary. But if there’s been a revolution in libraries, it’s clear there hasn’t been a revolution in journalism about libraries. It’s got the same dank smell and endless confusions as ever. I guess stupid publicity is better than no publicity at all.

Contact the AL:



  1. Yawn.

    Boy, the AL is on top of things.

    Digging stories our of CNN is really an asset to the community.

  2. i blog, i twitter, and i’m under 30, but i have a particular love for the DDC. i also love the LCCS. i also love specialized classification systems. i don’t love book store-style organization or alphabetizing the whole bloody library.

  3. Attached emotionally and strangely says:

    I have a strange emotional attachment to a book called “London’s Churches,” because I’m interested in London and churches, and the book is full of odd, C of E anecdotes. So I guess I shouldn’t be a library student. Oh, well.

  4. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    My predictions for the future of public libraries in the next 25 years:
    1. Well-funded public libraries in financially solid areas of the country will flourish. This will account for maybe 10% of all public libraries.

    2. Public libraries in areas with stagnant economies and declining populations will face significant downsizing or just disappear completely. This will be about 5% of all public libraries.

    3. The remaining 85% of public libraries will remain open but simply hold the line due to the economic realities faced by their funding sources. They’ll have enough money to keep the doors open, the lights on, and pay staff, and beyond that not much else. These public libraries will become, to paraphrase the AL, recreation and technology centers for the middle and lower classes. Folks with more disposable income will have their high-speed internet connections at home, buy their own books, pay to download content, etc.

    The AL is also correct in stating that there has been no revolution or evolution in libraries. We’re still doing most of the same things we did 50 years ago, except now we use a computer to do them and we’ve added more services on top of what we already had. Terms like “revolution” and “evolution” imply that some things have been radically altered or left behind in favor of completely different models and methods. Where the majority of libraries are concerned, this is far from the actual truth of the matter.

  5. another f-ing librarian says:

    thing is, nb3kr, if the news media report this stupidly on something as easy to become informed about as *libraries*, imagine how badly they’re covering important things that are *hard* to become informed about. health care. the middle east. climate change. taxation. the media are lazy-@sses. al might be, too, but at least s/he’s an entertaining, smart@ass lazy-@ss.


  6. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    A faculty member sent me the article and I yawned. Nothing much in there about academic libraries – I think we’re here to stay. I’d hate to be working in a public library though – times are hard there. Glad I escaped all those years ago.

    And the library school student who reads? Might have a bright future ahead of him. My most dismal/unproductive co-workers have always been non-readers. I’ve been surprised over the years how many librarians don’t read. Then again, in library school I met lots of dimwits who “loved books” but had never worked in a library. I wonder where they are now.

  7. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    I became a librarian because I love reading and couldn’t think of a better place to work than being around literature. But I love technology as well. Today’s advances have made libraries stronger and more useful.
    As to publicity for libraries, I agree that even bad publicity is better than being ignored.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    author of THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale 2009
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print

  8. Every librarian saw the CNN article.

    We need AL to come up with the truly obscure and annoying.

    I think he phoned this one in.

  9. Every librarian saw the CNN article.

    We need AL to come up with the truly obscure and annoying.

    I think he phoned this one in.

  10. “…I wonder if people who stereotype librarians are so obsessed with looks and fashion because they objectify women and librarianship has always been a feminized profession.”

    I believe that banging sound I hear is a nail being hit on the head.

  11. Another poor librarian says:

    “…I wonder if people who stereotype librarians are so obsessed with looks and fashion because they objectify women and librarianship has always been a feminized profession.

    I believe that banging sound I hear is a nail being hit on the head.”

    Or that sound could be another nail being hit in the coffin of public librarianship and/or male librarians.

  12. double vision says:

    So nice, we say it twice.

  13. FancyNancy says:

    Apparently the “stereotypical library” has already died at Cushing Academy (near Boston). I thought for sure the AL would have commented on that one today. (Can’t post a link here but it was in last weeks Boston Globe).

  14. Boo to the naysayers, here.

    I caught this article a few days ago and was thinking to myself: I wonder if AL is gonna blog on this. And, of course, your comments synced up nicely with mine. “Library look?” So… tattoos are in for librarians, then? Should I finally get that, “PZs fo’ life, mofo!” on my forearm I’ve always wanted?

  15. What bothers me I think is how much the media continually focuses on how we look or are supposed to look instead of the lack of focus on the profession and its values. This is that horrible New York Times article from a few years ago all over again. I am in that age bracket (late 20s), could be accused of dressing like a hipster, but I still would not go to the library looking like I worked at Starbucks.

    I’d like to think that we could say our appearances didn’t matter if we hold and promote our professional values, which are at their core the same across librarian generations, but are beginning to manifest in new ways, but these kinds of articles never really talk about that.

  16. What a dead place.

    Either the AL has lost all significance, or all the librarians out there are getting their buns re-tightened, their sensible shoes buffed, and their glasses checked.

  17. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Thanks Midge that was another nail hit on the head. I think that was missing from this blog post nothing about librarian values. I am so tired of being judged by my looks and not my true abilities. This maybe because the original article like so many other poorly researched articles focused on us poor Public Librarians. We are caught between the true desire to educate and guide people as part of the idea of a self taught person and the public in general not wanting to be taught (not at the library for sure). The end result is we have to do PR stunts and provide entertainment for the masses.

  18. 0ver-40-blogger says:

    This was right on. Where did the “annoying” part of the “Annoyed Librarian” go? Oh, and just because I blog (and am over 40), doesn’t mean I’m against Dewey

  19. If you are over 40,you probably should seriously consider getting out of the profession and trying something a little less technically challenging and where your poor clothing choices will not be a problem.

    I hear that Wal*Mart is hiring greeters.

  20. 7pc85 you heard this because you got turned down there again. If you try harder you might get a gig managing a broke game/internet cafe. I have faith in you

  21. “broke game/internet cafe”

    You have just described the library of the future.


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