I believe all publicity is good publicity - a podcaster friend always reminds me "haters still count as a download." But, San Diego's KPBS gave a clear example of pure bad publicity this week, in a piece profiling "librarian/stand up comedian" Meredith Myers timed to coincide with the ALA Midwinter Meeting hosted in their city this past week:
Reaction towards what was probably intended to give younger library professionals a larger voice and break down traditional librarian stereotypes was swift and negative. Public librarian Janie offered the following:
I am no longer "young and emerging", but I am very open-minded, always seeking change and tech savvy.
I agree, and look to my mom for inspiration. Mom is of the boomer generation and quite competent with a computer. She has her own Facebook page, pays all her bills online, spends more time watching TV on her laptop than the 52 inch LCD TV in the family room, and was an early adopter of a cell phone. She may not have a smartphone yet, but I would not be surprised if she decided to get one in the near future. (And her Generation X daughter will be more than happy to help her learn to use it!) I remember wise words from the HR director at my former law firm - "When you stop learning, you're in the box." Flippant, but pointed - education is a lifelong process, and one's age on one's driver's license should not be equated with the capacity to take on new technologies. To do so is absurd and an insult to all who live up to Janie's beliefs.
My problem with the KPBS article extends past the smugness and implied notion that the libraries needs the dreadlocked, Doc Marten*-wearing MLS to remain relevant in the digital age. Where were Meredith Myers' librarian credentials? She only talks about the profession in the vaguest of terms. Nowhere does it mention where she works, her job title or duties, or if she even has an MLS. (Venturing over to her blog found that yes, she does have the MLS - she is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida - but does not have a job.) It would have lent our subject much more credit if she talked to KPBS about her studies, internships, work she actually did in a library, etc. rather than ambiguous statements that smack of ego. And why interview her at all, a woman who seems to be making more of her mark as a comedian and actress who just happens to have an MLS? KPBS could have chosen from any one of the 83 ALA Emerging Leaders** or scores of other young librarians (thousands if you count virtual participation) to interview to show the good that young librarians are doing in our community. Instead, they pick someone whose comments and attitude makes the generational divide worse. As Buffy, an Emerging Leader mentor*** and school librarian, states:
"Young and hip" does not always equate with "innovative, thoughtful, smart, and passionate." I really hate articles like this--I think they create additional stereotypes, polarize the profession, and don't really focus on what IS changing the profession...I agree we need to put forth a positive image, but you need more than flash and "cool" to make the difference in the long run."
John, an academic librarian, questioned on Twitter why there is even a perceived link between dress and commitment to change:
I don't think older librarians "resistance 2 change" should b equated w/ lack of fashion sense. it's silly.
School librarian Sara offers the same idea:
Substance triumphs over style. What makes me a good librarian who creates an inviting space for teens has nothing to do w/ my shoe choices.
Rather than go on ad infinitum about the generational divide as it is a known concern throughout the field, what solutions are out there? My fellow EL Brandon offered his own lessons from the workplace:
I learned awhile ago that, when it comes to moving the profession forward, doing my damn job and giving my patrons as much of what they want as I can is far more effective than wearing Jinx clothing and dying my hair purple.
Another Brandon over on Twitter shares similar thoughts:
Generally speaking though, wouldn't hurt to work on image assuming the core competencies are being met and prioritized. (Emphasis mine.)
This is practical, simple, and profound advice. In the movie Stand and Deliver (if you haven't seen it, rent it and thank me later) math teacher Jaime Escalante encouraged his students to go past the socio-economic roadblocks in their way to find their ganas - their desire - to learn calculus. He was closer in age to parent than peer, though he and his students bonded on an ethnic and cultural level. Escalante's lesson can be applied to the library workplace. Do your job, do it well, and project a positive, service oriented image and philosophy to patrons. Show your ganas from the moment you walk in to the moment you lock the front doors. Then it won't matter whether you're in dreadlocks or a cardigan and bun. (Just be sure you're meeting your workplace's dress code.)
Buffy's final advice:
[M]ake a difference with what you do and how you treat people, not necessarily how you look.
KPBS may have had good intentions at heart, but did more harm than good. I expected better from a public television station. If anyone from the station is willing to speak with me on their rationale for this, I will be more than happy to grant you equal time. The media should know that what you see from KPBS will not be tolerated, and that librarians of all ages are eager, willing, and able to show you what we have done to make our libraries fun, engaging community spaces.
We already have a generational divide - let's not make it a generational Grand Canyon. Those kind of gaps are much harder to close.
* The misspelling of Doc Marten as "Doc Martin" was one of several basic errors throughout the piece, including what I thought was a very blatant one in the first paragraph - characterizing the Midwinter Meeting as "its national conference," implying that there was only one association conference per year when in fact, there is two.
** Full disclosure: I am an ALA Emerging Leader.
*** Full disclosure #2: Buffy is one of my Emerging Leader project team mentors.