Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Quiet Librarian.

I wanted to find the earliest reference I could find (with an easy search) about librarian stereotypes, like quiet, bookish, shushing, etc. and ended up finding some other stuff that made me glad I looked:

For example, there was a National Conference of Librarians. From the NYT, September 16, 1853.
"The tastes of Librarians were of too quiet a turn to enter upon long addresses and he [Professor C.C. Jewett, the Smithsonian Institution] hoped they would have a quiet, dignified, informal, social, genial conference together."
But in the same story, there's also some freaky crap about, "Too many bad books make their stealthy advances that need to tracked to their dens even as the pestilence that walketh in darkness needs to be hunted to its hiding place."

Yeah, hunting pestilence is pretty genial stuff.

And what's pretty cool is that this was before any standardized anything. Most libraries with smaller collections just arranged the book on the shelves in alphabetical order.
The President presented the members with some copies of the "Smithsonian Calalogue System," printed under his direction, requesting that they look it over, as he intended to make the system the subject of some remarks. The system embraces two plans:
1. A plan for stereotyping catalogues of libraries by separate titles, in uniform style,
2. A set of general rules, to be recommended for adoption by the different libraries of the United States, in the preparation of their catalogues.
I'd never even heard of the Smithsonian Catalogue System. Did it lose a fight with the Dewey Decimal Classification system?

Another goal of the convention was to create a
Library Manual, which shall embody the most important information:
1. The best organization of a Library Society, in regard to its officers, laws, funds, and general regulations
2. The best plans for Library edifices...
3. The most approved method for making out and printing library catalogues
4. The most desirable principle to be followed in the selection and purchase of books
And the most interesting find was that the Librarians at the Convention had their lunch choice of either baked chicken or vegetarian lasagna. Wow. That never changes.

From the Reading Eagle, Oct. 15, 1941, I learned that libraries have been, at times, loud:
You know how libraries are. About like church. Whisper loud and you get shushed by ten old gents reading movie fan magazines. Small wonder I started to call the cops when I heard fox trot music coming from our great main library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street a few nights back! Sacrilege! But when I poked in I found a dance going on in the sacred main hall-- a merry-making farewell to four library veterans, including Miss Anne Carroll Moore, long head of the library's work with children. It was a very nice party indeed. Next morning the big place was all dignity again.
And from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Sep 16, 1948, Librarians Must Know More Than How to Say "Shhh"
If most people were asked what qualifications are necessary for a librarian, probably most of them would say a soft voice with which to say "Shhh."
This story is about the Carnegie Library School with 24 students where the associate director said, "we could place five times that many" every year. Some of the students are men attracted by the new courses in science and technology. I don't have any idea what 1948 library technology might be. And I don't even have a joke.

From the San Jose News - Oct 26, 1943, I find that the librarian was already tired of shushing:
"We simply refuse to shush [the children] all the time, [Mrs. Gertrude Jansens, children's librarian] adds."

"Librarians today are utterly different from yesterday's bookworm."
Yesterday's?? So librarians have been fighting the stereotypical librarian image for over 60 years? So I'm guessing that people will always have that image regardless of my many eyebrow, lip and nipple piercings.

So how do these stereotypes persist? Are librarians, themselves, perpetuating this image? Is the uncool, unhip image something we maintain, by desire? If so, what is the goal?

Maybe we appreciate the stereotype because any advance we make in fashion will seem huge. Or maybe the pendulum swings regularly from librarian unhipness to hipness and it's an ongoing cycle, like caterpillar to butterfly.

Maybe it keeps us interesting. It keeps everyone guessing about us. If so, that's kinda cool.