My librarian intuition is tingling…

26 Dec

Bright colours in no particular patternThis holiday I took a stash of magazines with me as Christmas reading – I think any other Ph.D. Students out there will appreciate a lighter read is welcome in the holidays!! – and one of my favourites is Psychologies. What I love about this magazine is it always lifts me up – compared to gossip or fashion magazines which I love to read but then typically make me feel fat/unfashionable/poor or whatever…yes I am an emotional reader! So I was reading Psychologies today and BOOM! There was a bit of librarian-bashing. Boo to librarian-bashing! And you know me, not one to put up with that quietly, being a Noisy Librarian and all…

Imagine someone described like this: ‘Steve is shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and a passion for detail.’ Now answer this- is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

Daniel Kahneman, “How reliable is your intuition?”, Psychologies, January 2012, p.38 (travel edition)

I don’t really take issue with the example, people have this inaccurate stereotype idea of what kind of personality a librarian might have, and I guess some of the traits described may form part of that. I get the point, and it isn’t really about librarians at all, it is after all an article about intuition.

It has reaffirmed for me why bother with this blog, because everywhere I look there are stereotypes of librarians and a) I think they are wrong b) I think we should kick up a fuss about it, all the time, every day, until people have a more accurate picture of what we do, because c) I think libraries are brilliant, important and useful, and should be celebrated. If society at large doesn’t know what librarians do, we need to be making more noise and telling everyone…but I have blogged about this before…

For the moment, I want to tackle this perception that librarians are shy, retiring types “with little interest in people or in the world of reality.” My experience is the total opposite of this. As a librarian, I dealt with different people all day every day. You never know what someone is going to ask for help with, often people come in and are shy about asking for help, or sometimes they only have a vague idea what they do want, and it is the librarians job to tease this out. This is not the place for hard sales tactics, so maybe people get the impression that librarians are not outgoing. I don’t know how anyone could do this job and not be outgoing. Never knowing who is going to come through the door, and what they are going to ask for help with, requires quite a bit of people skills. If you go to see your doctor, for example, do you want someone who really stamps their personality on your consultation?? Or someone with good listening skills and tact?

On the tidiness and order thing, so, yes, librarians do attempt to organise collections in such a way that they are accessible. However, the reality of this is no collection is ever perfectly organised and librarian are more aware than most people of the issues involved and works to make things accessible. It is not about some ideal of perfect organisation, but about ‘where can I most usefully put this? Where is the best place to put this for the user to find it in?’ Compromise is constant, and most librarians I know are pragmatists. In school libraries, some teachers are forever apologising for kids leaving the place in a mess – I was forever assuring them it was fine, and that the books are there to be used, it is good to see them being used, and I would actively encourage browsing, having a look around, having a look at a book for a while to see if it suits…OK when someone hides *all* of the A-Z signs, that is annoying, but that only happened twice till I found out who the culprit was…! In fact, I was discussing with some other professionals just recently about being able to observe certain books being used by how often they turn up elsewhere in the library, and that I thought this was a good way of measuring resource use and wondered about how that could be measured – see, librarians actually like you to pick up and use the resources in the library, so something being ‘out of order’ is by no means an irritation! It is a positive sign of resource use. And it is also a never-ending job, resources in a library are always shifting and changing as stock comes in and out, is replaced, is used etc. So actually, librarians like managed disorder, not order.

Anyway, must go now and eat some more Christmas leftovers, I think having had a couple of days off I was having withdrawal symptoms from a lack of library chat…! (although according to the stereotype librarians couldn’t possibly be chatty either….)

More information on Psychologies magazine is available at:

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