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.)
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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