How can Libraries and Librarians get a stronger positive toe hold in Popular American Culture?
Unfortunately, even folks who love the library feel that they have to apologize for their love. This was underlined yesterday when I read a blog post on our local patch, in which a young local wrote,
“When my mom poked her head in my room this morning around 9:30 a.m. to inform me that the Arlington County Public Library was hiring, I literally lept out of bed to shower, change, and deliver my application. (Awkward: I love the library. Get over it.)”
So when I’m developing my videos, I want to communicate how vital libraries are and all the amazing things librarians can do. I want viewers to think of the Library as cool and exciting – an essential resource filled with professionals who can be noble, tough, brilliant, and hard-working in pursuit of our work.
I try to tell stories that communicate all of these things. Unfortunately, telling library stories on the Library’s website isn’t enough – those stories have to be told everywhere, and I don’t have that kind of reach. At least, not yet.
Money, Respect and Pop Culture
If you spend much time in a library, you quickly learn that librarians don’t make a lot of money, libraries are chronically underfunded, and that’s probably never going to change. If it does change, it’s going to be because of some other, much bigger change – our culture would have to internalized the message that we can’t live without libraries and librarians.
I know that sounds really hard, but we’ve managed it with Doctors and Lawyers.
Everyone knows that being a Doctor is pretty cool, and that Doctors are essential. Doctors know a lot, they get to help people, and they can make a lot of money using their knowledge and skills to help save people’s lives. Doctors also have complex and exciting personal lives. We know this because we see it on television all the time: Greys Anatomy, Private Practice,and House are all great current examples.
Everyone knows that being a Lawyer is pretty cool, and that Lawyers are essential. Lawyers know a lot, they get to help people, and they can make a lot of money using their knowledge and skills to help save people’s lives. Lawyers also have complex and exciting personal lives. We know this because we see it on television all the time: Law & Order, The Good Wife and Damages are all great current/recent examples.
Let me try this with Librarians….
Everyone knows that being a Librarian is
pretty cool really nerdy. And that Librarians are essential being replaced by the internet. Librarians know a lot, they get to sometimes help people, and they can make a lot of some money using their knowledge and skills to help save people’s lives take care of books. Librarians also have complex and exciting personal lives. Librarians also have no fashion sense, and are only interested in books, not people. We know this because we see it on television all the time: the nameless librarian on Glee, Madam Irma Pince of Harry Potter (both books and films) and the Rugrats Librarian are great current examples.
Yeah, that pretty much stinks.
Of course, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the big exception to the above statement. But most of us don’t get to train slayers and guard Hellmouths as part of our job description. (Last year I did make the argument to my colleagues that if librarians carried swords, and were trained to use them, we’d instantly up our cool quotient. But no one followed up.) Edited to Add: A friend also pointed our that Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and Evie Carnahan of The Mummy movies are both awesome librarians – but again, their adventures take place outside of their work.
So how do I get the stories of cool, noble and brave librarians into pop culture?
I know that I can’t write a great Hollywood TV Drama about Librarians, but maybe we can start to affect the people who are going to pitch that great TV Drama about Librarians in a few years. At the moment, my goal is simply to reach more of my own library’s community. So I’m thinking about:
- Library-sponsored short fiction contest – The story has to take place in a library or feature a person who works in a library. Work with the creative writing classes at the highschools, and maybe at the college in town?
- Library PSAs – In January, we’re creating a pilot tv show for kids on the local independent cable station. The creators want to run PSA videos between segments.
What else? I’d love feedback and more ideas.
In defense of JK Rowling, she did say of Madame Pince:
“I would like to apologize for you and any other librarians present here today and my get-out clause is always if they’d had a pleasant, helpful librarian, half my plots would be gone. ‘Cause the answer invariably is in a book but Hermione has to go and find it. If they’d had a good librarian, that would have been that problem solved. So … sorry.”