Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

How to Discriminate Properly

Someone left this comment on my post about old and young librarians:

Today I rang a potential employer and asked what their selection criteria of “Advanced computer skills” meant in a more detailed sense. Their answer was “Well, basically we are looking for a digital native.”

Oh well. Thanks for making me phone you to hear the ageism.

Wow, that’s a doozy. If true, that remark was obviously by someone who has no idea how to properly discriminate against people.

“Digital native,” if that phrase even means anything, is obviously age-based, so you shouldn’t just come out and say you want a digital native. What should you say instead?

There are a lot of possible words to use when you really want young people. A typical one is “enthusiastic.” You want someone who’s going to be enthusiastic about whatever frustrating, low-paying job you have to offer.

That’s probably not going to be any digital natives, by the way, because according to the best evidence that I read about in USA Today, they’re a remarkably entitled lot.

Or perhaps you want to discriminate against someone because of education or class. For example, they mispronounced the word epitome or used the lobster fork incorrectly at the interview lunch.

You can’t just come out and say, “You’re a lower-class person with poor breeding!” That’s usually what I hear librarians yelling to each other at conferences, and it’s probably the reason for the new ALA conference code of conduct.

No, instead you have to be more subtle. “You’re not a good fit for the organization” is always good. It’s vague and probably true. No one will be happy as others glare at them for slurping their tea or saying expresso instead of espresso.

That one works pretty well for a lot of things. Don’t like a candidate’s race or religion? They’re not a good fit for the organization!

One could also say something like, “we want someone we think will interact well with the community.” If you’re African American and from an urban area, for example, and the “community” is mostly white suburbanites, the library is saying they want someone white. You see? Subtle, but effective.

That might also work for some class-based discrimination as well. If the community is upper middle class and you sound like an illiterate stevedore, the library could use that one on you. If you have a really thick Boston or southern accent, for example, it might also be a way to discriminate against you politely.

Being a good fit for the organization or interacting well with the community are both excellent ways to discriminate against just about anyone you don’t like. Transgender? Devout Muslim? Well, you see, sir or madam, we really need someone who’s a good fit for the organization and the community and our community isn’t made up of transgendered Muslims.

So, in future, please try to be more subtle in your blatant discrimination. We’re librarians, after all, and have certain standards to uphold.



  1. I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but I had an interview at a public library for a teen librarian job where the assistant director had gems such as:

    1. It’s good you’re so young. You’ll work well with kids.
    2. It’s good you’re a male. You have to work with the local school’s librarian and she doesn’t like other women, but she really gets along with the guys.
    3. This job doesn’t pay much. It’s a good fit for a new graduate and she felt bad for all the older people with careers who were laid off and applying.

    I was glad I didn’t get a call back on that job.

    • I wonder how she has a job if she made those comments in the interview. It doesn’t sound like it would be a good place to work and you dodged a bullet there.

      Maybe when that library is looking for a new assistant director, they can put in as a desired qualifications “must have more tact than the last assistant director” and “must be interested in creating a positive work environment”.

    • Sadly as far as I know she’s still there. Getting one of those jobs in a small town is the next best thing to tenure.

  2. I once had to set up three new Linux servers at a university in an area known for its cafes. I called them “Latte”, “Macchiato” and “expresso” (note the spelling on the last one). I then had to figure out how to change it.

    BTW I am digital native. I was born with ten fingers.

  3. Kudos to you for pointing out the biases hidden by the phrase ‘not a fit for our organization.’ Brings to mind Orwell’s warning about language in the service of hiding, rather than revealing, meaning.

  4. I know that based on my experience with other youngish people in my LIS classes, digital native doesn’t mean a dang thing.

    • Amen! And being on Facebook and owning an iPad don’t count as “advanced computer skills” in my mind…

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      Well, I’m Gen X, and in my mid forties…but since we invented the stuff (along with Al Gore, of course) I’d like to know exactly how I’m not a digital native.

      GOTO: Getoffmylawn

    • I was once told they were looking for a “fresh new face” – read: minority.

    • Pigbitin Mad says:

      Yes, since I read that “Digital Natives” were born around 1998, that means I have been using the Internet longer than them since I started using it in 1994 (longer than almost everyone except the geeks in the Defense Department).

      And I have been using computers since the 1980s. Just because the kids grew up with it, does not mean they know how it works. It’s as idiotic as saying that because the boomer’s are the first generation to grow up with television, that they actually know how to build one.

      I know a lot of people older than myself have trouble with computers. But at 50 to say that we are all computer illiterate is stupid.

  5. What is a digital native? I just assumed that the person on other line had absolutely no idea how to properly convey what s/he was talking about, so the person made up a term that sounded intelligent.

    I know from working around library managers and HR personnel, many times it’s not the managers or even the library’s HR coming up with the criteria, it’s Metro HR. So, it might not be ageism per se, it could just be s/he not knowing what Metro HR’s criteria is for advanced compter skills. Therefore, the person who answered the phone was just making a very poor/rude/stupid assumption.

    I know advanced computer skills with my job just meant knowing Microsoft Office basics, typing skills, and Millennium ILS.

  6. If you don’t know, the term “digital native” implies that you belong to a certain younger generation (like Millennial), as opposed to being a “digital immigrant”–those from older generation(s) who didn’t grow up with the Internet. It’s not just some term someone made up to sound intelligent–both of these terms are commonly used and debated. For someone to say that they’re only looking for digital natives is explicit age bias.

    One of my pet peeves when looking at jobs advertising for librarians (especially youth or teen librarians), is how often the criteria boils down to “we are looking for an enthusiastic person!” (!!!!) Is there some secret contest to try to use the word enthusiastic as many times as possible? Other ones I hate: innovative, dynamic. Overused to the point of meaninglessness. Especially when no other skills are really emphasized. It’s all code for, yes, YOUNG person. PERKY. SMILEY. POSITIVE. Honestly, why is it okay to advertise for personality traits? I don’t get it. Shouldn’t it be skills based and aligned to the duties of the job? It’s weird when you think about it terms of gender, too. I could not imagine this kind of language used in job advertisements for more male-dominated professional fields.


    • Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

      And after a couple of years that YOUNG, PERKEY, SMILEY, POSITIVE successful applicant will be as cynical and jaded as the rest of the staff that have been in the library for 10+ years

    • I still dislike using digital native although I commend your defense. Invasive is the much closer antonym to native, and people rightly take offense.

    • I don’t disagree that the term “enthusiastic” is a terrible way to convey what job ads want for skills in youth librarians. However’ saying that children’s librarian’s should be positive, smiley, etc. is another way of saying they need to be able to relate well with children, which is absolutely a skill.

      Believe me as an adult services manager I know I could never handle a youth position.

    • I made the orginal comment to which the AL is referring. I won’t name the library because there’s no point in shaming them, and because at least it meant I didn’t spend hours getting my resume together for them.

      The thing I find most annoying about this digital native thing is being continually told by people less skilled with computers than I am that they must be better because they are too young to have as much experience as I do.

      I’m 40, so I can’t be a digital native. One of our consultants recently told me so, before advising me that if I had any problems with Outlook that I should ask our children’s services assistant. Our CS assistant was, of course, horrified, because she uses Apple platform mobile devices and being an IT troubleshooter on Windows platforms is not part of her job in any sense.

      I mentioned ot her that I had Computer Literacy as a class in my high school, and had my first computer when I was 13 (yes, it had cartridge memory, a tape drive and I programmed it in BASIC, how did you know?) so I’m not quite clear how it is that I didn’t grow up with a computer. She was adamant though that people far younger than me have magical computer powers based on on experience or study but on casual use.

      As for key words I hate to see in ads: “bubbly”. If you want a female librarian, look, just say. We get it.

  7. Matthew Wiliams says:

    I don’t give any reason to people I don’t hire other than the general letter from HR stating that a lot of people applied and we chose someone else.

  8. “why is it okay to advertise for personality traits? I don’t get it. Shouldn’t it be skills based and aligned to the duties of the job?”

    Why? Because it sucks to work with grumpy, jerky bags of suck meat, that’s why!

    In my opinion, skills can be taught,,, but toxic personalities are cancer that need be be handled with a blowtorch. …or simply avoided in the first place. So yes, advertising for personality traits is a good idea.

    If perky happy people bother you then please quit and find a job that doesn’t involve people.

    • Not every person is going to be a pocketful of sunshine. Some people have more a somber or serious demeanor but are great at their jobs (and not toxic!). There is a librarian at my job who some people might consider to be “grumpy” at first glance. However, I’ve seen him handle patrons who ask the most vague or misleading questions with more aplomb and skill than “perky”, bubbly librarians. He figured out what these patrons wanted within minutes. It does feel that public libraries often discriminate against people who aren’t perky and extroverted.

    • I would challenge the idea that “perky and extroverted” go hand in hand. I’m extremely introverted, but I make sure I have a cheerful customer-service face on when I’m out at the desk. Then at lunch-time I can crawl back into my happy introvert shell… :)

    • Timothy Ferguson says:

      “If perky happy people bother you then please quit and find a job that doesn’t involve people.”

      That seems unnecessarily snarky.

      In this country (Australia) many organisations avoid terms like these becaise if the appointment is challenged, there’s no way to demonstrate the process was fair. How did you assess the person’s perkiness? What makes a person get a perky score of 5 when another gets a score of 4? How do you prove that the person who got a perky score of 8 but a shelving score of 5 is better than a person whose scores were reversed?

      In this country, these sorts of soft scores, unconnected to experience or demonstrable skill, were for a long time used to filter out aboriginies and women, and so we have a sort of distrust of them, even now.

  9. “If perky happy people bother you then please quit and find a job that doesn’t involve people.”

    You sound like such a rose yourself.

  10. Okay, I’m back after taking a few minutes to decompress. I am not sure why my comment elicited such a bitter response–you must have experienced an unfortunate situation working with some toxic, negative colleagues. I have, too. I, too, am not a fan of passive aggressive, toxic, negativity in the workplace. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just think it would be helpful for all parties involved to use more descriptive terms in job ads (aligned to job duties like… providing superior customer service, etc.) rather than trotting out stereotypical cliches. I agree with points raised by some of the other commenters–that people can be great at their jobs without being some cookie-cutter, extroverted personality type. You just might be limiting your pool of qualified applicants if your ad sounds like you want a hallmark greeting card rather than a skilled professional. But, don’t take my advice. I’m an award-winning teen librarian. What would I know?

    • “But, don’t take my advice. I’m an award-winning teen librarian. What would I know?”

      Award-winning teen librarian translates to great evaluator of talent and superb writer of job descriptions? What is that award called? How’s your arm? Hope you didn’t injure it patting yourself on the back.

    • For somewhat obvious reasons (victim no more!) I am hyper sensitive to toxic people and those that would in any way defend them or defend any ideology or philosophy which in any way makes their behavior socially acceptable. This includes any hiring practice that does not take the personality of the applicant into serious consideration.

      I would rather spend a year or three training a capable non-toxic than spending career eternity with a toxic.

      Toxic and Bully are closely related, often overlapping, personality traits.

      The sad thing about toxic people is that they can be perfectly talented. Award winning even. But toxic to their organizations and those around them. That should be no excuse except in very limited situations. Libraries are NOT one of those situations.

      Lot’s of amazing people are/were complete toxic assholes. That does not make it right. That does not mean we should accept it.


      Let’s play a game. A takeoff of Jeff Foxworthys ‘You might be a redneck’.

      If you find bubbly people annoying, you might be a toxic. (or introverted)

      If you like negative gossip, you might be a toxic.

      If you have little faith in your coworkers, you might be a toxic. (or surrounded by happy idiots)

      If you defend toxic behavior, you might be a toxic.

      If you find yourself whispering a lot at work, you might be a toxic. (or have chronic laryngitis)

      If you regularly use the phrase “that’s stupid” or any similar phrase, you might be a toxic.

      If you use negative body language regularly (eye rolling, tsking, etc.) you might be a toxic.

      If you feel you are entitled to more of anything, you might be a toxic. (key word, “entitled”)

      If you find yourself doing a lot of criticizing, you might be a toxic.

      If you maximize undermining and minimizing supporting, you might be a toxic.

      If you are good at stating problems, but offer no solutions, you might be a toxic.

      Picks on anybody, for any reason, you might be a toxic. (ohh,, snap! Picking on toxics makes you toxic!)

      I could keep going, but getting bored. The point here is don’t do any of the above and you’re fine. …except picking on toxics. Never stop doing that. Expose them and force them to change or GTFO.

  11. “Award-winning teen librarian translates to great evaluator of talent and superb writer of job descriptions? What is that award called? How’s your arm? Hope you didn’t injure it patting yourself on the back.”

    Well, my arm feels pretty good, actually. Thanks for your concern. You’re quite an expert about toxic people, probably because you know yourself very well. I hope you’re able to do other things at work besides label anyone who disagrees with you as a cancerous growth.

    • I am pretty sure you have us mixed up. I am the “toxic people are cancerous growths’ person.

      I am quite ok with people patting themselves on the back when they do good. In fact, the more toxics you are around, the more you have to self pat…. because they sure as heckfire aren’t gonna do it for you.

      Protip: If other people ‘pat you on the back’ you are probably in a healthy workplace. That is actually normal, believe it or not.

  12. I really enjoyed the comments here. Pretty horrible how we have all suffered “Toxic Shock Syndrome” in the library profession.

    Getting back to the whole Digital Native thing. Sometimes people go to conferences and come back with all kinds of fuzzy-buzzy words to sound trendy and cool. Remember Library 2.0?” Yeeech! For sure the sweet thing who wrote the add was trying to build in some not so subtle age discrimination into the posting and thought this was being increadibly clever…..right.

    I am proud that I never went so low as to list personality traits when filling a position. That’s what interviews are for. And well, just like Lou Grant, “I don’t like spunk!” particullarly the phoney kind.

  13. Can everybody sharing these anecdata specify the libraries/postings they are referring to? What’s the point of calling out an anonymous institution? Public shaming would be so much more fun (and effective).

    • I’m not an American and have identified myself sufficently that my employer can be discerned. This means that were I to name the institution, that might be seen as something I was doing as an employee of my current employer, which could lead to various forms of legal action. To circumvent this, I’d like ot make it clear I’m posting as a private person whenever I’m on this board, and that I choose not to nominate the library service in Victoria to which I refer. 8)

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