Post Number Five: Hip Shushers?

It has been more than a week since the publication of the New York Times article “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers” (in the Style section, July 8, 2007).  This was an article on a group of young librarians in NYC who have formed a social organization called Desk Set which arranges meetings for drinks and noshes in the environs of art galleries  (this one has a library-themed exhibition) and other places with high intellectual-fun content.  This article makes much of the fact that these librarians, archivists, and library students behave like other young, smart urbanites:  they like to dance, they wear some thrift-store chic clothing, they are very tech-savvy, they have tattoos (one “guybrarian” has “a tattoo of the logo from the Federal Book Depository Program peeking out of his black tee shirt sleave”).

The appearance of the article has prompted reams of comment from library bloggers and library watchers.  As no one else in the LIS753 room has taken official notice of this article and the teapot tempest it has stirred up in the biblioblogosphere, I thought I might put in a word.

Many of the bloggers reacting to this thing have taken exception with the New York Times reporter Kara Jesella`s take on the stereotypes associated with the library profession.  Some think the whole concept of a stereotype-to-be-overthrown is false.  Others think she is replacing one sterotype with another: that of the ‘hip librarian,’ which could be just as deadly.  Some are annoyed that these young New Yorkers have been singled out by a powerful news source to represent the new face of the profession, when in fact the profession has many faces, and many of the older faces belong to librarians who believe that they are still ‘hip.’  The commentary has ranged in tone from  deliciously droll  to acidic.  One blog that has a nice collection of links to several of these blog reactions is that of Eric Childress.  I would recommend scrolling down to his comments collection for those links.

As for me, sure, I thought the Jesella article was a bit fluffy: it was in the Style section, after all.  And sure, there might be something about the piece that invites an unwarranted generalized image of young library professionals.  And O.K., I might agree that there is more self-promotion coursing through the NY metropolitan bloodstream than you might find elsewhere (one blogger cracked that the next article should be about young, hip NY sanitation workers).  Yet I can`t see why so many people are reacting with such apparent revulsion.

The Desk Set organization is quite new.  They seem to be people who are interested in having a good time and meeting other like-minded people in the library world.  I see nothing wrong with that.  Maybe some of them really are snobby, self promoting jerks— but I see no real evidence of that either in the Times piece or in their myspace page.  This group looks to me like a bunch of smart people looking for smart fun, and finding ways to promote literacy while they are having their fun.  I notice that they are selling a tote bag with their ‘Desk Set’ logo on it.  That sounds to me like a real organization, possibly the sort that will evolve into a fraternal/service organization, rather than the hipper-than-thou clique that some bloggers are portraying.

The overall tone of the NY Times piece was positive.  So much of the library-blogging reaction has been negative that I wonder why this piece should have struck a nerve.  Do the bloggers who disliked the piece because it partially dealt with stereotypes really think that these twentysomethings with their Dewey decimal designated cocktails represent some new stereotype?  Again, I don`t see that.  It looks to me like they are speaking for themselves and not presuming to speak for the profession.

Perhaps in the discussion of this little human-interest feature that appeared in the Times there should be less emphasis on who thinks who is ‘hip’ and more emphasis on the lessons one might take away from the creativity expressed by this Desk Set crowd.  That would be really hip.

3 Responses to “Post Number Five: Hip Shushers?”

  1. Bill Says:

    Interesting article, Eric. I agree that it’s good that there are people out there trying to destroy stereotypes. Unfortunately, those are often the next stereotypical people. It reminds me of bikers, for example. All of these ruggedly individualistic folks feel it necessary to put on a costume, exactly like everyone else’s (Black Harley T-shirt, boots, no helmet, etc. etc.) in order to go out for a ride. It kind of betrays the individualistic nature that the group likes to think it possesses. I think people need to just go out there and make changes, not worry about fitting in and try to avoid being pigeonholed one way or the other. People are dying to assign stereotypes to us, and I hate being identified by a certain category. It’s good to hang out with kindred spirits, but it is also good to understand others.

  2. macdjame Says:

    I missed the article first time around, and coincidently a friend that knew I am in Library School emailed it to me yesterday. As a lifestyle piece I thought it was quite funny, and very positive.

    I actually like the term “guybrarian” and may well use it. In one of my earlier posts I mentioned that according to a passage that I remember reading in the LIS701 Rubin textbook, the profession of librarian is considered the third most feminine profession after nurse and manicurist.

    Although the article describes some of these new librarians and wear thrift-store chic clothing and having tattoo, as we know from looking around the average GSLIS classroom that is by no means the new standard.

    The biggest stereotype that I hope this article dispels is that librarianship is all about books. I am hoping that the take away for the average reader is that:

    “a new type of librarian is emerging…so much of the job involves technology and with a focus now on finding and sharing information beyond just what is available in books.”

    “work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies”.

    For full article see:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/fashion/08librarian.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5070&en=60022a0da06f307b&ex=1184904000

  3. Ellen Kaiser Says:

    I find it ironic that the trends in fashion focus on the “geek” look and that reporters are finding it “amazing” that “geeky” librarians are now cool. I’m sure there is an ironic circle of justice there somewhere, but I’m not geeky enough to figure it out.

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