Librarians are good people

Right then, ‘attempt to blog every week or two’ take two.

I was thinking today about ‘faith in humanity’ and such like. In libraries, and the ‘field of librarianship’ (which sounds a bit pretentious, but I’ve been busy editing articles and it would seem that I can’t think of an alternative and less academic-y sounding phrase) it’s not hard to find examples of people being nice. Yes, this is a massive stereotype, and yes you get people working in libraries who are in love with the books and couldn’t care less about the people, but very frequently people who go into librarianship and work in libraries are interested in things like encouraging learning, helping people, and social values.

I was talking yesterday to the Manager in the Library where I’m currently volunteering (who is an Archivist), about the applications I have submitted and an upcoming interview. She was very encouraging, and was also giving me the usual wise words about gaining experience from interviews, and learning from your mistakes, and regardless of if I get the job onwards and upwards etc. etc. She was telling me about different interviews she had experienced in the past – both as interviewer and interviewee; positive and negative – including the following anecdote:

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I had an interview where I was explaining how beneficial libraries and archives can be to older people, and how I’ve witnessed this first hand in various projects, and when I finished giving this example, the interviewer snarkily replied ‘we’re not the social work department’.

I was so shocked. That is just not an altruistic people-centred attitude. And how rude! Even if you have obvious differences about the role of your library, the direction it should be taking etc. surely you either question the interviewee further and bring up your concerns, or if it’s a write-off then you don’t hire the candidate. You don’t shoot them down mid-interview. How unprofessional! AND, even if the social or humanistic benefits aren’t your priority, if someone’s sitting there telling you how they’ve seen firsthand the potential value of archives for elderly people and success in using archives with this group, they’re also telling you ‘here is a particular stakeholder group to whom our materials can be delivered’, so to ignore that potential avenue is just blinkered.

Now, I don’t know what the job was she was interviewing for, and I understand that different libraries and archives have different roles and different priorities – for example that certain libraries will develop collections that are primarily important for historical or academic research, or the legal deposit role of a National Library has a duty of collecting and compiling that’s very different from the role of a public library – and that there’s a balance to be struck between allowing people access to use material, and the preservation of fragile and valuable items….but….if you’re not collecting and safeguarding and maintaining these books so that they can be preserved for people now and in the future to use or study or enjoy, then really what is the ultimate point?

So, as I said, I was shocked – ‘I was agog, I was aghast’ – and I think a lot of that was because I felt, ‘but…but…but…librarians and archivists are supposed to be nice people!!!!’

In the face of such minor tsunamis creating waves across my happy little world (and in addition to deciding that this interviewer obviously wasn’t a real librarian/archivist, and was most definitely an imposter) it’s nice to reflect on all the instances that have occurred this week confirming that librarians are nice people. From the staff at the library where I’m volunteering who have – unbegrudgingly and without hesitation – sacrificed their time to help me with applications and give me instruction on specific tasks; to the librarians I have contacted for feedback on unsuccessful applications, many of whom have happily talked me through my responses and their criteria and judging process, giving help and advice and encouragement about both applications and job-hunting in general; to the interviewer at my upcoming interview who seemingly wants to take me for lunch afterwards (although, I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t a test to see if I can eat without skittering food all over myself, in which case I will most assuredly fail)…

I don’t care if it’s just a comfortable stereotype and rose-tinted spectacles. Until I have significant evidence to the contrary, I will continue to believe that librarians are good people.