There goes a failure in life
A friend of mine reported a Rodney Dangerfield moment to me yesterday, and it was something that I think I can relate to. This friend is a middle aged male reference librarian at an academic library, like me, and, like me, he stayed up late Tuesday night at an election party. Joe the librarian (not his real name) woke up late due to too much happiness as the election results came in the night before, and came to work without his usual shower, shave, and coffee. His first order of business was to do a BI for a small writing class. Though bedraggled and a little out of it, he was alert enough to do a good class and teach these bright students a few things about the library’s resources.
After the class, Joe the librarian headed back to the library, looking, as I said, a bit bedraggled and out of it. On the way he passed the Business School, where three frat boy types, who may or may not have recognized Joe as the guy who sits at the reference desk in the library, passed by him in the opposite direction. One dude said to his buds, “There goes a failure in life.”
Joe thinks that it was a combination of his unkempt appearance, tiredness, age, and familiar presence at the quiet reference desk that caused these future (potential) business leaders to form an impression of him as a loser. For many students who study at computers near the reference desk but never avail themselves of a librarian’s services, in many libraries we probably look like we aren’t doing much a lot of the time. I know that I have had numerous desk shifts with little action save fixing printer jams, lending out ball point pens, and directing students to the computer help desk. A student who forms his idea of what librarians do solely by being around the reference desk on days like that might understandably form the view that we have chosen to live as inactively and inconsequentially as possible.
For some librarians, that may actually be the case, but for Joe the librarian, it is not. Joe the librarian takes his work seriously and advances himself professionally, writing for publication and volunteering in his state association. He is doing fine financially and has a rich life outside of his job, including family, friends, and hobbies. He wasn’t wounded by the student’s comment, but he told me that it did end up making him wonder how he and his colleagues are generally seen by the students at his university, and whether students’ perceptions have some effect on their ability to provide optimal service. It seems to him that if librarians at a university have the respect of the students, then students will more highly value the library’s services, and that the reverse is also true. He said he is going to explore ways of better communicating the librarians’ academic expertise and general competence to students, without seeming to try too hard at it. Whether they understand that he has a life outside the library he says he is not going to worry about.