Ok, so here’s the deal. I have a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies. When I started my degree, back in ye olde year 2000, everybody told me “oh, it doesn’t matter what you get your degree in! Having a degree in anything will get you a job!” Well, come to find out that’s not exactly true. I don’t regret my degree, don’t get me wrong. If I could do it over again I’d probably go back and get the same degree all over again, because I didn’t go to college to prepare myself for a career, really. I went for my own intellectual development.
Anyway, the end result is that I have a bachelor’s degree but I work in retail as a cashier (for now!) I am, as I’ve said before, going to grad school for library science, and it wont be long now until I am done. Come back in four months or so and you will find that I have become (as I tell JP) the MASTER OF (LIBRARY) SCIENCE. (Insert evil laugh here.)
Working in retail though, in the mean time and well… I have to tell you I am surprised at how unsupportive my coworkers are of my career goals. In passing, I mentioned to another associate that I was almost done with my master’s degree. “In what?” she asked. “I’m getting my MS in library and information science,” I replied. “Uhh, good luck with that” she answered. I chose to take that as an actual statement of good will and encouragement and thanked her. She clarified, in a nasty tone “I mean good luck getting a job doing that.”
Her reaction is typical among my coworkers, it seems. When they find out what I want to do with my life, their responses range from calling me a nerd to telling me I’ll never be able to secure employment doing that to saying things like “You must really like books, huh?” and then bragging (?) about how they haven’t set foot in a library or read a book since they were children. Uh, good for you? Does that make you cool or something? One coworker, upon hearing my plans, responded by asking me why I’d want to be the “nerdy librarian lady.” Um, I think you meant to say awesome librarian lady, right?
So I don’t get this really. What’s not awesome about librarians?
Reasons being a librarian is way cooler than working in retail:
- In retail, you are often involved in activities of dubious moral nature. You sell clothing made by child laborers in third world nations, you aid in the rampant capitalism and consumer waste that plagues this nation and you often assist a large corporation in collecting and selling customers’ personal information. As a librarian, your job is to help people obtain information and entertainment, to find good movies, to get their taxes done right, to research how to buy a house or write a computer program or make quilts. Librarians and libraries are the democratizing force that empowers all citizens to become better informed, happier, better educated, etc. And they do it for free because they’re awesome. They facilitate access to information and because their service is free, access is equal regardless of your socioeconomic status. I know I sound kind of like a left-wing communist nutjob here, and I certainly don’t mean to insult those in the retail industry, but you can’t really question the morality of helping a kid find a book for a school project. Anybody who criticizes the library as an institution risks looking like a huge jerk. However, you can certainly question the morality of retail. Watch this video on consumerism if you don’t follow.
- Librarians are fighting the good fight. They’re protecting your privacy and respecting it way more than anybody else is. In my job in retail, I spend all day trying to talk people into signing up for loyalty cards so the company can collect information on their shopping habits, send them buckets of invasive Emails, sell their information to other companies and do anything they can to get them to come in and spend more and more money. Librarians do everything in their power to keep your information secret. They’re not telling anybody what you’re reading. They’re not looking over your shoulder when you’re surfing the web. I remember a classmate talking about her first day at her internship at a library. She made a comment to a patron about a book they were checking out. Later, she was taken aside by one of the librarians and told that this is a no-no, unless the patron asks for your opinion. That is how seriously librarians take your privacy. And they’re not just protecting you from potential embarrassment. The ALA (American Library Association) says that “privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought and free association.” You can read their thoughts on privacy here. Librarians work not only to give everyone equal access to information, but to ensure that the government isn’t going to come knocking on your door for checking out a book on anarchism, or communism, or any of the books in the Twilight saga.
- Librarians are there to help create community. They organize free events for the public. They provide a space for knitting groups and book discussions and movie screenings and rock band (woo hoo!) nights. How often do you see stores in the mall do that? Yeah, I thought so.
And while we’re at it, is it cool to be functionally illiterate now or something? I must have missed that grammatically incorrect memo. I’m truly sorry some of these people haven’t read a book since high school (or so they say) but that sounds like a personal problem to me, not something to brag about. And honestly? I’m not your typical “book worm” either, and I don’t think that all librarians are. I love reading, sure, but on a grander scale I love information. I love finding things out. I love exploring, learning and using my imagination. And sometimes that means reading a book. Sometimes that means watching a movie, going for a hike, playing a game, having a conversation or making art. So yeah. I do happen to like books. But that’s not all this is about. It is something much bigger.