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kyle cassidy

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[Feb. 18th, 2014|07:28 am]
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"If I can put you in front of 50,000 people to tell them one thing about libraries and librarians, what would it be?"

That was my pitch to librarians at the ALA midwinter conference in Philly a few weeks back. I had this idea to introduce a bunch of people on the Internet to some librarians so they could hear about what libraries do, why they're relevant, and what they're facing in an age where most of us have easy access to an awful lot of books and information.

I figured it was going to be pretty straightforward and was totally unprepared for the Great Librarian Firestorm of 2014 that it created, and ultimately an awful lot more than 50,000 people saw it. It rapidly became one of Slate's most popular photo essays ever. I imagine radio hosts saying "you may remember him from his controversial photo essay about librarians" and it seems unlikely, but the piece, when it appeared in Slate started a fistfight that was carried out over Twitter and in blogs across the country.




Erin Berman, San Jose Public Library: Libraries are centers for knowledge
that everyone in our society can access. They provide a place for
discovery, creation and innovation. Libraries are our future
without them our democracy is lost.

Erin's photo is one of my favorite, though it didn't get picked by Slate. You may clickenzee to embiggen



In 2007 I did a really huge photographic cross section of gun owners called "Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes" which, I believe, was actually less controversial. While people agreed or disagreed on guns, people pretty much got along and behaved politely in the discussions. I learned then that there is not "a gun culture", but rather that there are many gun cultures, and they don't always agree. In fact, they vehemently disagree about some things. The same is true, I discovered, about librarians.

Some people objected to the plethora of tattoos, the style of some people's clothes, and (over and over) eyeglasses. Others objected to the breakdown of jobs the various people in the story did.

One of the common criticisms was "who cares what we look like? it only matters what we do" -- which may be valid. But if I'd gone to Slate saying "I have 28 quotes from librarians about what they do and the problems facing libraries today" I doubt they would have run it. My work, for a long time, has revolved around introducing readers/viewers to people in the belief that when we see someone in front of us, we listen better to what they have to say.

But there were a lot of other criticisms and I want to draw attention to a pair of blog posts that I think are really relevant to the reaction.


Understanding what the fight is about

This blog post, from The Librarian Kate outlines why a lot of people were upset with the photo essay: Reflections on What a Librarian Looks Like. It's a very meticulous outline and covers, step-by-step, concerns that Kate, and others, had with the piece.

Ingrid Abrams, the librarian whose face and pink hair is now indelibly tied with "librarian" when you Google wrote a really nice blog post called Slate's This is What a Librarian Looks Like: This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" about the fight and about what it's like to suddenly have a whole lot of people looking at you in a spotlight.

Have you seen (or written) other blog posts important to understanding the argument? Post them in the comments.

Is there something you liked or didn't like? Let's hear it.

(Also, I'm planning on being at the American Library Association's annual conference in late June of 2014 in Las Vegas to continue this project. Hope to see you there.)


***EDIT***
1) Librarian Andrew Woodworth writes eloquently about demographics, things that are important, and the image of librarians, in
This is what a blog post about what a librarian looks like looks like.

2) The Librarian in Black (aka Sarah Houghton, Director for the San Rafael Public Library in California) is swift and to the point with her essay Something's wrong when Sarah's quiet (plus she mentions this post, so now you can go in an infinite loop between the two).

3) PC Sweeny a branch manager in Atherton & East Palo Alto (go observatory) writes about image and public perception and what communities should do to shepherd how they're perceived.

*** EDIT: ALSO, ALSO WIK ***

The Librarian Wardrobe blog has weighed in.

Another librarian who wishes that librarians would either stop dressing like hipsters or stop getting photographed dressing like hipsters (I'm not sure exactly which) blogs about it here.




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Comments:
[User Picture]From: boutell
2014-02-18 01:10 pm (UTC)

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Psst! LJ is complaining of broken markup and rendering this article as source. Something about one of your links missing a = I think.
[User Picture]From: ladycelia
2014-02-18 03:19 pm (UTC)

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I love that your work so often inspires lengthy dialogs. Isn't that what art is supposed to do? Congratulations on a good piece.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-02-18 05:50 pm (UTC)

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I'm happy with my piece. I think it's a really good start, and a good opportunity to get to the heart of something.
[User Picture]From: nagasvoice
2014-02-18 03:33 pm (UTC)

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I love the fact your work inspired that whole conversation. Not terribly helpful when people are yelling at each other and at you, I know, but still, a good conversation about democracy itself? Worth it.
[User Picture]From: whiskeychick
2014-02-18 04:20 pm (UTC)

working on one...

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I bit my tongue and remained quiet, I simply shared the article, because I always appreciate your work. The dialogue (I'm being kind, I know) around it I also followed, yet continued to stay silent, while silently authoring my own dog in this fight. It will appear soon. You keep up the good work and I hope you didn't take the ugliness that was thrown at you personally. The Ur Doin It Wrong Culture needs to die. Conversations, on the other hand, that's a good thing.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-02-18 04:25 pm (UTC)

Re: working on one...

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excited to read your dog.

In all of this, nobody's said a bad thing about my photos, which makes me happy. Hopefully I do good work and it inspires people to talk about things and we all get to know one another a little better.
[User Picture]From: trishalynn
2014-02-19 03:24 pm (UTC)

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excited to read your dog

I totally love this sentence for how nonsensical it sounds until you read the preceding comment.
[User Picture]From: jillbertini
2014-02-18 05:54 pm (UTC)

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Not a direct response, but part of this blog piece responds to the Slate article.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-02-18 07:43 pm (UTC)

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I hadn't seen that one. It's very good. & a good insider view for the outsider
[User Picture]From: jillbertini
2014-02-18 07:48 pm (UTC)

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Cool! Yeah, I thought it was nice. I'm kind of an inside-outsider :P.
From: kathm14
2014-02-18 06:35 pm (UTC)

The Erin photo is gorgeous

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I may have gone to school with her, actually.
[User Picture]From: lawbabeak
2014-02-19 01:27 am (UTC)

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There's probably some overlap in membership, but there's also the SLA - Special Libraries (Librarians?) Association. My cousin is in it and possibly is on the board. She's the librarian for the American Philatelic Society. I should put you two in touch.

She's also a runner.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2014-02-19 07:57 pm (UTC)

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FWIW:
I am not a librarian, but I work in a library.
I wear glasses throughout my shift because otherwise I really can't read fine print. I wear my hair up in a bun because I'm too lazy to do my hair properly and I have a lot of it. I wear scarves and cardigans constantly because as a theater practitioner, I tend to be in places with high ceilings (cold) but at work I'm in a basement (hot). I'm white, female, and sometimes my hair has gray streaks.
So I look like the stereotype of librarians, but I'm not a librarian. But I work in a library.

People of a generation older than me look at me and love to barrage me with complex research questions requiring knowledge of databases, journals, special collections and I don't even know what else. I always say, "let me get you a better source of help," and then run and get my supervisor.

My supervisor is 10-15 years younger than me, with a partially shaved head, tattoo sleeves, piercings, and he wears tight t-shirts and skinny jeans. He looks like he should be tending bar at a rock club in a basement in the Italian Market or Fishtown. He has a masters in Library Science and loves helping people with research questions.

Inevitably, the person looks at him, goes into shock, looks at me, then back at him, then back at me again, then back at him. Then, before they can blink, he's halfway through solving their problem.

and they're grateful, and they walk away happy.

So, yeah, watching perceptions change is fun.
[User Picture]From: lawbabeak
2014-02-26 01:40 am (UTC)

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Ha.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2014-02-19 07:59 pm (UTC)

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Also, I love, love, love the contrast and composition of colors in this photo of Erin Berman.
[User Picture]From: spacedlaw
2014-02-20 02:42 pm (UTC)

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I love your pictures and I love Ingrid's article about it.
In particular her "If you think you can do better, don’t complain. Don’t bitch. Don’t Tweet. Go do better. Go make something better. Go create something you wished you would have seen. There’s room for all of us here."
Also: I love librarians.
[User Picture]From: damiana_swan
2014-02-25 06:54 pm (UTC)

Librarians are some of my favorite people, ever

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I know a whole bunch of them. I have an associate's degree as a library technician, and worked for a few years in our county library system, which (at the time) was the third largest in the country.

Librarians are AWESOME.

And your photos are so very gorgeous. The only thing I probably would have done differently would be cropping out that one guy's half-open fly.

(Lee & I actually talked about this the other day, and how frustrating it is when people get angry at you for doing something utterly awesome differently from how they would have done it... when they wouldn't, or couldn't, have done it themselves.)
[User Picture]From: livejournal
2014-03-05 05:23 pm (UTC)

Back to the links - 19 February -04 March 02014

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User silveradept referenced to your post from Back to the links - 19 February -04 March 02014 saying: [...] se to that, though, was a lot of complaining. The photographer was confused about this response [...]