Sunday, September 9, 2012

Personality Plus

There’s more than one librarian who performs stand-up comedy (it’s me and one other person) but due to fear from the library she worked at over free press and library promotion, she was “let go”.  Libraries could use a little fun, and they could especially use some decent advertising.  Jobs are being cut, funding is being slashed and libraries are being accused of becoming obsolete.  So they should be taking what they can get in the realm of positive PR.  Instead, libraries insist on personality-less librarians whose anonymity is somehow connected with keeping library users’ information private.

One of the biggest downfalls of public librarians is in their staunch approach to remaining anonymous while providing very personal services to people.  From finding the next book to read, to looking up information on health issues and legal matters, the people who patronize the library often have to open up to a librarian about their personal lives in order to find the materials that they need.  From the point of view of a librarian, remaining anonymous keeps the library services consistent and keeps people who have personal questions from embarrassment.  Legally, every library user’s information is kept unidentified and their searching and borrowing histories are cleared systematically.  So there should be general concern for privacy, but does there really need to be anonymity on both sides of the reference desk?

Imagine your favorite coffee shop or bar, isn’t part of the appeal the people who work there?  And you probably have a favorite bartender or barista who you hope will be working when you stop in.  Personal relationships between people are important, especially at the places outside of our homes that we choose to spend time.  We want to feel welcome and comfortable.  Shouldn’t a library feel the same way?  We should be able to get know the librarians who help us find interesting things to read, who help us use databases and perform research, and who are behind the desk when we walk into the library. 

In all reality, librarians need to lighten up in order to shirk the image of the crusty, hermit crabby lady who sits behind a large stack of books muttering about the demise of the card catalog.  Libraries need to be more than books, information, and a physical building.  They need to be a place that people want to go, a place to spend time, a place with personality.  That’s what informs almost every decision we make about where we want to go outside of our homes.  There are enough painfully boring and inanely infuriating trips to public agencies that we have to make, the library is not and should not be one of them.  It’s a choice to patronize the library (that’s why we call people who use library services, patrons), and it should be a fun, inspirational, or at the very least - enjoyable experience.
Personality in government means a lot.  It means giving a face to a name, and it means making connections with people.  Librarians with personality give the entire library a better reputation.  Librarians who talk about the library outside of work are some of the best advertising the library has.  Libraries need people who are fun, outgoing, and engaging to greet and welcome people into the free public space that we all pay into.  What libraries don’t need are more rules, policies, and procedures that often boil down to fear of progression and change.  People need stimulation, knowledge, and human contact.  Libraries have those things, but people need to know that.  Personality is not just a plus, it is a must have for any business to survive.  Libraries that want to survive need this as well.

So let’s stop telling people what they can’t do in libraries, and let’s stop stifling librarians’ personalities and ideas.  Professionalism can encompass knowledge and respect while still allowing people to be people.  And that’s really all anyone wants.