My road to becoming a librarian was somewhat winding and involved a few false starts, but most days I’m very content with the job I have now. A few recent posts by my friends about egotism and recognition have made me think a bit about why I talk so much about my job online. Why isn’t it enough for me just to be a good reference librarian who helps the patrons at my library? I know I’m not in it for the money, but maybe it’s for the glory?
My experience as a full-time librarian has coincided with the rise of social media. I joined Twitter in 2007, but it took me a few years to figure out what to do with it. For the past several years, however, my goal with Twitter and other forms of social media has been to relate what it is that I do every day as a librarian. Yes, I use Twitter as a way to meet other librarians of all kinds and to have my burning collection development questions answered, but what I want to be known for is the “slice of life” posts that I make. This is the same reason I participate in Library Day in the Life and other similar projects—I want to be known as a librarian, and I want people to understand what librarians actually do. That’s why I put library-related updates on Facebook; update on Tumblr; write here and co-write a blog on collection development, and spend a good chunk of every day broadcasting my life at work. When interacting with librarians, this can lead to cathartic commiseration, but many of my posts seem to strike a chord with my non-librarian contacts as well.
There are never-ending debates about the future of libraries, the future of books, and the future of librarianship. How do we make ourselves relevant? How do we “reinvent” ourselves? Should we go completely paperless? (No.) But libraries and librarians are doing awesome things with their collections and programming every day. The greatest barrier to the future of libraries, in my opinion, is the fact that many of our patrons have no idea what we are already doing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone say to me “I didn’t know I could do that here!,” which is unfortunately often coupled with “I haven’t been to the library in forever” … Even though we should definitely be aware of the next big thing, we also need to do a better job of marketing the resources that we’ve already got, and have always had: books (in whatever format) and programming. Experienced librarians with reader’s advisory skills. Awesome children’s librarians, who often see more kids and families in a day than I see in a week.
When it comes down to ego, yes, I admit to having one. I want people to pay attention to my work. And I’m not perfect, either. Some of the posts I make may tend toward the snarky, but I hope that some love for my patrons shines through. I hope it’s clear that if I had to choose between presenting at ALA and helping someone learn how to cut and paste, I would choose the latter every time. I’m happy to be known as a librarian by people I went to high school with, people I interact with on twitter who are not in the field, and people I meet on the street who ask me how late the library is open. Many of my patrons don’t have computers and can’t afford a device that would allow them to read ebooks. They’re looking for jobs. They want something to read or watch for education and entertainment. They don’t care about the next best thing, they just want us to be open as many hours as we can. I don’t give a damn if I’m famous in the field if I can help someone with their résumé.
Last week, a non-librarian that I interact with occasionally on Twitter sent me a direct message to ask if I could look something up for her that she’d had no luck finding herself online. We don’t talk much, but she knows I’m a librarian. This is what being a librarian in public should be—helping people understand that the library is a resource waiting for them to make use of it. Reminding people that libraries still exist, and that they’re pretty damn cool. That’s why I’m going to keep tweeting from the trenches, and following people who do the same. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the real rock star librarians.