12 April 2009

BOOK REVIEW: You Don't Look Like a Librarian!

Ruth Kneale is one of our profession’s premier observers of professional image both in our minds and the minds of our customers. In her book, You Don’t Look Like a Librarian: Shattering Stereotypes and Creating Positive New Images in the Internet Age, she gathers many of her observations as well as the result of several surveys she has conducted.

The first chapter, “Stereotypes? What Stereotypes?” lists many of the public perceptions of librarians. You know, and older woman with her hair in a bun, glasses, and sensible shoes, or a gay man with a bow tie—both stamping books and saying shhh a lot. There are also many reactions by librarians to these images. The second chapter looks at “Pop Culture and Librarians” and highlights some of the depictions of librarians in books, comics, movies, music, television, advertising, merchandise, etc. Although very interesting, most of us have seen all this before. (I did, however, order a bunch of the books about libarians from my local public library.)

Chapter three, “Breaking the Stereotype,” describes 14 librarians who defy the standard idea of a librarian: Stephen Abram, Amy Buckland, Laura Carscaddon, Andrew Evans, Abigail Goben, Amy Hale-Janeke, Jill Hurst-Wahl, Jill Jarrell, J. Parker Ladwig, Jenny Levine, Joseph Murphy, Joshua Neff, Kathleen Robertson, and Shannon Smith. There are also bits about (and links to) groups of image-breaking librarians: Bellydancing Librarians, Butt Kicking Librarians, Librarians on Facebook, the Laughing Librarian, Librarian Avengers, Library Society of the World, Library Underground, the Lipstick Librarian, Radical Librarians. the Warrior Librarian, and a group I never thought I’d join (but I just did)—Modified Librarians (librarians with tattoos). This is fascinating stuff, and I had a great time following all the links, but it still is not the best part of the book.

That comes in the last chapter, “Thoughts on the Future.” Here she looks into the ways in which the roles of librarians are changing and the changes in our skill sets that will be needed. She also covers the role of librarians in virtual worlds and the evolution of the library into a community space. In the section “Now What?” Kneale writes, “To combat the stereotypes, we need to step up what we’re already doing. This, though, is just the first step. What else can we do to change the stereotype? Most importantly: Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid of technology. Don’t be afraid if you role changes to become more collaborative with your patrons (come out from behind the desk?). Don’t be afraid of your IT department…. Don’t be afraid to try something technologically new or to play with a new tool; you never know what you might find and how it might benefit you. Embrace new learning. Accept new modes of interaction. Lastly, start using social networking tools….”

The last words in the book may be the most important. “If you take one message away from all of this, above all, be ‘loud and proud’ about being a librarian, whether you have the word ‘librarian’ in your job title or not. Speak up! Step out! Stay out there, or get out there, to educate, inform, and assist!”

The book has two appendices with the results of her various surveys on librarians’ view of public perception in the Internet Age and patrons’ views. There are lists of references and websites by chapter and an index.

Bottom line: You should read this book and take its message to heart. If we don’t change, we’ll become irrelevant and disappear altogether. Great job, Ruth!

Kneale is an astronomy librarian in Tucson, Arizona and describes herself as “a librarian in geek clothing.” Check out her column “Spectacles: How Pop Culture Views Librarians” in MLS: Marketing Library Services, her website (http://www.librarian-image.net) and blog, Random Musings from the Desert (http://desertlibrarian.blogspot.com).

Bibliographic Information:
Kneale, Ruth, You Don’t Look Like a Librarian: Shattering Stereotypes and Creating Positive New Images in the Internet Age, Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2009, ISBN 978-1-57387-366-6, US$29.50.

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