As cheap shots go, there may be none cheaper than poking fun at librarians. Slinging a barb about a librarian’s sensible shoes is so easy, anyone can do it. The stereotype is practically hard-wired into our collective conscience.
Librarians are indeed among the world’s “Most Frequently Stereotyped People” – but it’s kind of an exclusive club, in my view. (You see, I compensate for mass opinion by regularly reminding myself how desperately smart and well-read we all are.) So imagine my surprise when I came across this list in a professional librarians’ manual and discovered that we librarians share our special domain with teenagers. It had never occurred to me that there was any such thing as a “stereotypical teen” – or that our respective stereotypes would ever usefully appear side-by-side in the same chart.
Am I serious or joking? Perhaps both.
First, an admission: this chart* winds me up and spins me out in ways I can’t explain. The idealist in me says no good can ever come from publishing such a list (and thus reinforcing any stereotype). The realist says maybe there’s some truth here; and from truth, can come understanding. The humorist says the material is useless: way too cliche. What do you say?
I asked moms, students, and librarians for a little insight into the potential truth and utility of these lists. Guess what: there’s no definitive answer to be found among my admittedly unscientific panel. Still, their observations are priceless. One mom says neither list describes any teen or librarian she knows… except maybe the grumpy librarian over at Next-Town Public. A perceptive teenager says, “Some of the stereotypes seem so outlandish but at the same time, some do ring true.” She explains there are “some truths to both lists because they are stereotypes” by definition: opinions built over time from common experiences. One librarian suggests there’s value in revisiting stereotypes from time to time: “… I find I do subscribe to some of the teen stereotypes; likewise, it is good for me to be reminded of how I might be perceived by some teens.” She says if the lists make her stop and rethink her own assumptions about her patrons, then they can be helpful. Another agrees: “It may help [for some librarians] to take a critical look in a mirror.” Yet another, with self-described “great hair and an amazing collection of shoes,” optimistically suggests using the list as an icebreaker: “If it gets teenagers and librarians talking and maybe laughing together, that’s a good thing!”
Special thanks to my informants for reminding me that everyone – idealist, realist, and especially humorist – has a place at the table. And the table is a better place for it.
* from “Connecting Young Adults and Libraries,” 3rd ed., by Patrick Jones, Michele Gorman, and Tricia Suellentrop, p. 26.