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I’ll be a participant in a panel during the Library 2.011 Worldwide Virtual Conference. Our program, Riding the “Long Tail”: Leveraging a Niche to Build a Network, focuses on the niche professional networks and interests enabled and encouraged by the use of social media tools. It will be moderated by USC’s John Jackson & the University of La Verne’s Young Lee and feature panelists Nicole Pagowsky of the entertaining Librarian Wardrobe and Micah Vandegrift of the HackLibSchool Blog. I am quite honored to be included in their company to discuss the Information Amateurs Social Club, the informal networking organization my friend Greg Borman and I created after graduating from library school in 2009.
Participation in the virtual conference is free — and highly encouraged! Our panel will speak at 10am Pacific Time on Thursday, November 3.
Jumping on board a presentation like this required me — for the first time — to write a professional bio, a decidedly odd thing to compose (particularly since custom dictates writing it in the third person). Here it is:
Daniel Ransom is the Librarian for Research and Electronic Resources at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. Daniel provides reference and research services and co-coordinates the university’s information literacy program. Daniel also serves on the committee for the California Academic and Research Libraries’ Ilene F. Rockman Scholarship, an annual award for library school students. He co-founded the Information Amateurs Social Club with Greg Borman after graduating from San José State University’s School of Library and Information Science in December of 2009. The goal was to create an informal online and in-person venue for early-career information professionals to stay in contact with their peers and share job-seeking skills and ideas.
I also had to submit a profile photo; I took this shot the morning of my very first day as a professional librarian 15 months ago and have used it as my professional profile ever since (that’s right, I like to rock the argyle sweater vest).
At some point soon I’m going to have to admit that I’m a grown-up.
To be fair, the recent Salon.com interview with writer Marilyn Johnson about her new tome, This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, is not the first place I’ve seen the “librarians can be hip! Librarians can have tattoos!” theme. In fact, that’s part of the problem — I’ve seen that canard a few too many times now and it’s beginning to bug me. Even the director of my graduate school is guilty of the same maneuver.
Of course librarians have tattoos.
Some even have professionally relevant tattoos! I have one friend, an MLIS, with an entire scene from Where the Wild Things Are across her back (the subject of a children’s lit research paper she wrote at SLIS). But tattoos are hardly new. Body art has a legacy stretching back thousands of years, and the contemporary, widespread popularity of tattoos — blossoming in the early nineties, still going strong twenty years on — shows no signs of abating. Tattoos aren’t limited to record store clerks anymore. My wife has two tattoos — and she’s an accounting paraprofessional. So are accountants considered hip now too?
At the root of all this is a defensiveness about our profession that some librarians have adopted. Are we really so afraid of hair buns and cardigans? Libraries and librarians have real-world challenges to deal with. Budgets are being slashed. Technology is transforming information use. We’re still figuring out what is the 21st century librarian’s skill set.
Meanwhile, any and all trades with practitioners under 40 are going to have plenty of tattooed or otherwise hip professionals, just as they are bound to also have a few nerdy, bookish types. Heck, there are plenty of people over 40 with tattoos. It’s become…unremarkable. So the more we remark on it, the more we try and make a big deal about the appearance of librarians, the more silly and vain we look. Librarians can and do come in every stripe, every style, every age. That’s no longer the point.
Johnson does point out a number of great things libraries do — this entire passage is on point: “As for librarians, they’re civil servants. They deal with all kinds of social welfare problems, from childcare to homelessness to people who can’t navigate the bureaucracy to get benefits or help finding a job. The buck stops at the library. If we keep cutting library aid, people who can’t figure out how to file for taxes, or how to use e-mail, are going to be out of luck. About 20 percent of the population is not wired; they don’t have Internet access or a smart phone.”
These are the talking points librarians should use when trying to influence public perception, not the punkish color of our hair or the trendiness of our musical taste (though it’s unfortunate, as my friend Nicole pointed out to me, that Johnson doesn’t highlight the value academic and special librarians bring as well; public libraries are only one sector of the profession).
When you get down to it, that kid who always talks about how hip or popular he or she is is never actually hip or popular. Let’s stop being afraid of a harmless stereotype and have a little fun with it, and get serious when we talk about all the good things we can do.
I’ve been remiss on recapping the card catalog cocktail party! Some two-dozen current or recent SLIS graduates assembled at our house a few weeks ago to celebrate the newest set of MLIS-degree recipients. And to put an entertaining twist on things, we all (well, most of us) dressed up in our best stereotypical librarian garb for the occasion.
My attempt to go a more formal route was undone by Tom and his husband Mike, who forced me to wear Dame Edna-esque cat-eye glasses, but I was impressed by the efforts of many of my peers. Of course, at least two party-goers declined to participate in the official costume contest on the basis that that’s exactly how they usually dress. Of course, I’m equally guilty. In the run-up to the party, my wife was surprised to see me changing clothes — since I had been already wearing an argyle sweater.
Here’s an assorted few photos:
Ironically, with all those MLIS-holders present, the winner isn’t a librarian at all, but rather my wife’s co-worker and best friend Anastasia, who came as an austere, stern shusher:
Her grand prize was a set of argyle-and-skull stockings, which she promptly added to her look:
The runners-up each won their very own stub-length pencil. To which Tom (a page at an SFPL branch) responded, “It’s my job to stock those!”.
Happy New Year’s, by the way…
This Friday night, my wife and I will be hosting some thirty-odd current and alumni students from San Jose State’s School of Library and Information Science for a graduation party in honor of all those who’ve completed their degrees this Fall (which, yes, includes me).
I’ve always been amused by the defensiveness I see from some quarters when it comes to “stereotypes” about librarians. Of course I understand the argument about how changing technology and information needs are altering the nature of the MLIS degree, and I know the core skills of the librarian are constantly in evolutionary flux. My own skillset, interests and education are all reflective of a 21st century librarian. But since when did a good argyle sweater become something to be ashamed of? Heck, even pop stars are mimicking librarian style these days (and I rock a good argyle whenever I can).
So for this party, we’re organizing a bit of a throwback: we’ll give a special doorprize to the best librarian “drag” worn by an attendee — sweater vests, lead-pencil hair buns, the works. And I borrowed a typewriter, bought some index cards, and pulled out the hole punch to create a cocktail menu on a set of catalog cards:
Of course, cocktails aren’t something you’d typically catalog for a library. So I used a little creative license: “The Great Gatsby” has been cataloged under its namesake novel’s Dewey Decimal call number, and the Library of Congress Subject Headings for the “Bloody Mary” have more to do with an English monarch than they do tomato juice. Here’s the complete set (10, one for each class under the DDC):