Friday, April 9, 2010

Marilyn Johnson is awesome.

Marilyn Johnson is awesome because she thinks librarians are awesome. And given her background as an an obituary writer, I imagine she can't wait for each of us to die (in a good way).

I just saw her presentation at the 2010 Florida Library Association conference in Orlando, maybe you noticed when I came in, a little disheveled and bloody from an altercation I had with the valet who refused to park my "piece of shit" Yugo. So I beat his ass with the driver's side door that conveniently fell off the car when I flung it open to argue with him. A Yugo car door is surprisingly light and I can hit a guy 3 or 4 times with one before I get tired.

But Marilyn is awesome because as much as she loves libraries, she also loves librarians. I've heard so many pep talks about how communities love their libraries or how everyone needs libraries, but not so much about the people who devote much of their lives to making sure that libraries are useful tools. I've heard many pro-library talks, but not so many that are so overwhelmingly pro-librarian.

Through Marilyn's book and her presentations (no, she did not give me a shiny penny to plug her site), she praises librarians for their uniqueness and their expertise. To listen to Marilyn is to learn that a librarian can literally do anything. A library without a librarian is just a Barnes & Noble. And I can never find shit in that place.

Marilyn talked about "street librarians." Damn. Now I want to be a street librarian. I want to take what I know out to the people. Like if our community was holding some large event, like a fine art and antique show or a concert or a walk to raise money for a cause, the street librarians could be there, with the people, answering their questions. But I don't know so much. I am pretty stupid. And I frighten children. And old people. So maybe I won't be a street librarian. But I think it's a great idea.

But think about that: tons of people have smartphones and apps and all that crap that's supposed to make them smarter. But most people are not any smarter with their smartphone. A librarian with a smartphone is ten times smarter than a regular person with a smartphone. Even with every useful application, a smartphone is still just a device for receiving data. Librarians are trained to take all this discordant data and make music. Data without a librarian is just a robot on Star Trek.

Librarians turn piles of books into libraries. Librarians organize and synthesize and compile and define and label, and generally make finding stuff a lot easier. So Marilyn reminded me that the library is the tool and the librarian is the craftsman. She reminded me that librarians are individuals, and from that I remembered that my library patrons are individuals, too.

Yes, there are times when I think of library patrons as a collective. I lump them all together and the burden of serving them wears me out. But I need to remember that each individual patron deserves my help and that I should use all my skills to assist her.

The library isn't my job, each patron is my job. The library is there to serve the needs of that customer. So I organize and maintain my tools in preparation for that customer. A few posts back, I went off against devices and how libraries should be about people and not their fucking iPricks: Oh, look, Steve Jobs had to make a bigger iPhone, what insecurity do you think that expresses?

But libraries are also devices. And in these lean economic times, libraries can't cut costs simply by trimming staff. What good is a library that's open all week if no one is there to help people find what they need, even if it's only to locate that recently returned copy of Zombieland? Libraries need librarians.

I'm going to keep reminding myself that the customer is the end result of my job. Yes, I can buy databases and DVDs and downloadables for their fuckingly-stupid devices, but all these things, books included, are just the tools to satisfy that outcome.

If the customer is King, then who can be above a King? God. Yeah, the Librarian is God. I like that. Now, I'm going out for waffles.