Fighting against the stereotype

by Jing Liu ~ July 28th, 2006. Filed under: Experience.

I believe most of us have encountered such a sad moment in our career path that when we told others about our professions, people would ask in a surprising manner “Really? Do we still need librarians nowadays?” or looked at us in such a sympathetic manner which you could understand the look meant something like “Are you going to spend the rest of your life stamping out books?” I usually take this kind of response as kind of ignorance and don’t bother to be upset with it. However, if this kind of attitude is held by your boss or your coworker, it is something that you cannot simply shrug off and walk away.

Two days ago, a volunteer brought over 200 student evaluation forms to the library asking me to enter the data to a database. She told me that the Academic Department Coordinator asked her to do so since “the library is so quite there”. Isn’t this typical that in most people’s eyes, the librarian is ONLY responsible for checking out books, so if there are not many students in the library, the librarian must have nothing to do but sit there idling? Personally I don’t mind helping with other departments, but since they sent out the forms to me based on an assumption that the librarian doesn’t have much to do, I consider this an insult to the library work. Moreover, my workload didn’t allow me to help out either. As I mentioned in my previous post, the library where I’m working now is a solo-librarian library. Right now the librarian is away for a 3-week vacation and I have to run the whole library by myself. Due to the limited resources of the library, I have to spend quite a lot of time processing interlibrary loan requests everyday. None of the databases we have access to provides fulltext articles, so normally the students would email me long lists of journal articles/conference proceedings citations asking for help to locate the articles for them, either from the open web or from our ILL supply library.

I decided not to do this data entry job in the end. It was not an easy decision to make at the very beginning, for I was a little concerned that other staff might think me unhelpful or nonflexible. But finally I made the decision not to do, for I regarded this an issue with the image of the library, rather than a personal affair. I emailed the Coordinator stating my willingness to help but due to my already full(if not over-full) workload, I felt sorry that I couldn’t help at this time. At the same time, I felt that I had the obligation to give a little bit ‘lesson’ to people like the coordinator who hold such a stereotypical notion of a librarian that we do have many important tasks to do other than checking out books. I wrote in my email about the amount of ILL requests I had to handle each day, and the backlog of cataloging we still had to catch up with in the library, etc.

Though I know it is an endless journey to fight against the stereotype of a librarian, and I know we cannot simply blame or angry with people for belittling our job, for we have our share of job in ‘educating’ people about the importance of our profession, still, from time to time, I feel frustrated when confronting with a situation like this….

4 Responses to Fighting against the stereotype

  1.   Lei

    Yes! Give them some color to see see.

  2.   Jing

    I think you did the right thing. It was a good opportunity to show what you are doing.

  3.   Linda

    To be the devil’s advocate, ILL and cataloguing are mostly done by Library Technicians for many years now, not by librarians. You often find that ILL and Cataloguing division heads are librarians, but the actual job is done by Library Technicians. Of course, in a solo librarian workplace, you do everything, including teaching/training, collection development, budgeting and management.

    Ming, cheers for your email. Hope you find an opportunity to educate them more. Have fun there!

  4.   May

    There is nothing more stereotyping when people would still ask if a librarian wears bun on her head and thick glasses? My response: “when was the last time you visited a library? In the 60s?”

    I’ve come across this interesting article “33 Reasons Why Libraries and Librarians are Still Extremely Important” by Will Sherman’s, published on January 30, 2007. I appreciate the fact that the author has done a rather good job in defending those who work in the library field.

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