Often times it is somewhat embarrassing to encounter the mindless conception of ourselves and our profession among the uninitiated masses. Most people I encounter do not have an accurate representation of what libraries are or more importantly, what librarians do.
Part of that is our fault. Libraries serve as a refuge, and it has been out of our compassion to accept more social responsibility than to specifically limit our professional responsibilities that we do a great many things to a great many people. Typically, we are left picking up the pieces of our shattered reality before we can attempt to promote our significance.
Rather than outright say what we are for others, for that would be a really boring post, I’ve been concentrating on others’ misconceptions. Normally the first thing associated with us is some form of nostalgia commonly associated with a rural family farmhouse. A little outdated, we are represented by the elderly, matronly, meek and respected guardians of the nourishing, sacred tomes and the all-around country quiet; though not quite altogether upstairs, we however are quaint and eccentric all the same, deserving of some form of respect as well as a new coat of paint before we meet our abrupt and untimely foreclosure, mostly figuratively speaking. Sadly, our image, our stereotype is rapidly in flux and we must redefine it.
If people were to see our work more through our eyes, more would understand why we are a little off, why our conventions are typically booze filled and generally outrageous. But again, without spelling it out, I humbly present an analogy.
At the risk of sounding a bit too high and almighty or righteous I propose that in order to reclaim and expand upon our identity, we should think big and identify ourselves with the more recognizable figures, for example religious and philosophic deities. I nominate the Hindu deity Kali. The connections are simply too logical. Continuing the stately female-centric image, which as a male librarian I fully endorse, I can think of no more fitting stereotype…ahem, representation.
A symbol of death, destruction, even time, Kali first and foremost signifies the death of library patrons’ ignorance and the change that will slowly blossom from the ashes of our jarring instruction on the nature of information. We are an urgent force and need to get peoples’ attention. Kali demands attention: she’s naked, crispy, wears a necklace of bloody heads and carries swords, among other trophies.
Secondly, her image endures due mainly to her batshit rage emanating from her presence, inciting instantaneous fear in enemies. This is appropriate especially with those in the public service side of the profession, who incessantly deal with patrons trying to take our pens and staplers, deceive us out of their printing and late fees, as well as expect us to babysit their children while they’re off scoring their next fix. With a bit more of our tough instruction, people will learn to respect our professional boundaries and our wrathful knowledge.
Thirdly, she is a multitasker, as evidenced by her numerous limbs. I think nearly everyone in libraryland relates to this, though I couldn’t think of any deity possessing many emanations wearing an assortment of hats. In any case, we do a lot of different stuff, things not normally expected of us and often times without extra compensation or simple gratitude. I cite the wrath mentioned above, all things being feeding off each other and stuff.
So as a passing warning to library-goers, if you’re ever wondering why that circulation or reference librarian is looking especially pissed off, consider the Kalis among us. We are only invoking our disdain upon the complacency of the masses for their (your) benefit. We will happily destroy your ignorance with violent force by: simultaneously instructing you on OPAC searching techniques with one pointed, scarred hand, accepting your overdue fines with another clawed and outstretched palm, shushing you with a third as we hold a bloody finger to our charcoal lips before a dangling and frothy tongue, and grasping a mobile device in a final hand, tweeting your idiocy to the world as we dance upon your expired library card which we can make happen anytime we want.
So in our grand quest for identity, it may better for you dear patrons, as well as fellow librarians, to think of ourselves as such.