Monday, August 5, 2013

One Librarian’s Resolution for 2012: Battle the Stereotypes

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 4 January 2012.

WHEREAS, Librarianship is a changing field, and;
WHEREAS, too many people inside the profession seem content to rest on old habits, and;
WHEREAS, too few people outside the profession know what lies on the cutting edge;
BE IT RESOLVED, that I, Christopher Daniel Warren Lawton, refuse to be pigeonholed, and further resolve to spend 2012 combating the stereotypes of librarians wherever I encounter them.
In the last year—ever since I started talking about getting a degree in Library & Information Science—I’ve been constantly faced by the assumptions other people have about librarians, and librarianship. Even in the School of Information Studies, some of my colleagues are often surprised when I talk about the sheer breadth and depth of my degree.
Librarianship is an odd paradigm. We are at once expected to be both generalists and specialists, knowing something about nearly everything imaginable, and knowing a great deal about a particular topic of interest when people ask us for detailed information. Certainly, we learn and practice skills to help in that regard (yet another reason why you need a master’s degree to be a librarian), but even with experience, it’s not always easy.
Complicating things even further is an inherited series of stereotypes that every new librarian has to address. I’ve started to feel like a broken record, constantly advocating for a new approach for librarianship—unfortunately, some of the resistance even comes from practicing librarians, who seem to think that “We’ve never done it that way!” is a perfectly valid reason to dismiss ideas, innovation, and enthusiasm stemming from librarians-in-training.
Here’s the deal: I’m one of those librarians in training. I’m not exactly shy, and I’m already a contradiction to some of those stereotypes. How?
I’m male, and relatively young. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about becoming a librarian, only to be met by raised eyebrows. Even today, the stereotype of librarians is that they are women of a certain age, gathering dust behind a stack of books nobody will read. My cohort at the iSchool is one of the youngest they’ve ever had, with a number of my classmates entering directly from undergrad, or (like me) after just a year or two in the working world. Librarianship will change, as we change it—we’re a generation (or two) younger than many of the people we’ll soon be working alongside, with all of the differences that implies. We all can learn a great deal from each other.
I don’t have my nose stuffed in a book all the time. Or even most of the time. I read, and enjoy reading, but I also enjoy playing card, board, video, & tabletop games; writing, performing, & listening to music; and more! I read, but most of the time I’m not reading print books—instead, I’m following blogs, keeping up with my friends’ posts in the social universe, or link-diving on wikis, learning about whatever might strike my fancy.
I’m interested in technology. In keeping with “Books aren’t everything,” I’m curious about the future of technology. I like learning about haptics, guessing what might be next for information creation & retrieval, trying new apps, finding the coolest resources for my own use, and then sharing them with everyone else I know. I’m interested in web development, in coding. I like making things, both offline and in the digital space—and I don’t just mean knitting new socks for my cat.
I don’t feel forced to work in a library. More than that, I’m not sure I WANT to work in a library. Certainly, I’m becoming a librarian, and I will practice librarianship, but that could be with a library, embedded on a project team, in a hackerspace somewhere, or beyond. Librarianship is not so far removed from information architecture, information management, info design, taxonomy, education, leadership, or advocacy—I could easily see myself in any of those areas as well. Library & Information Science, as a degree, amplifies the skill set I already have, and gives me the tools to add to those skills.
I enjoy challenging assumptions, and I’m sure I’ll keep doing so throughout 2012 and beyond. Who’s with me? What stereotypes do you see in librarianship? Do you fit them? Do you break them? Let us know in the comments.

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