Thursday, May 27, 2010

Miss Manners' choice words to cranky librarians

Today, while I was reading the American Libraries Direct, the e-newsletter from the American Library Association I came across a link to this article by Miss Manners in Mercury News.

As much as I would like to think public perception of librarians is changing, I must reluctantly admit that many current librarians are actively enforcing the stereotype of the dour, cranky woman behind the reference or circulation desk. The official ALA interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights includes a section on the importance of patron privacy, stating that “Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association.” Since 1939, the ALA has recognized that protecting patron privacy is an integral mission of libraries. That is, patrons must know that the questions they ask, the books they check out, and the information they pursue will not be a matter of public record or scrutiny. This nosy librarian, in addition to perpetuating an unflattering stereotype, is actually violating a core principle of the American Library Association.

Miss Manners’ response, however, provides a glimmer of hope. She recognizes that the library profession is one that increasingly requires technological skills and the ability to ferret out information regardless of medium. However, in her own glib way the maven of etiquette tells her reader that librarians (or at least this one in particular) don’t fit their market. They are still dowdy, cranky, nosy, and inhibited. If the public perception of the librarian profession has changed enough so that a Miss Manners in San Jose, California has recognized its need for technologically savvy professionals, when will the perceptions of librarians change? Moreover, when will the librarian who perpetuate these stereotypes change?

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