There have been a few articles written from a negative perspective lately about so called “rock star librarians.” Most notably these articles appeared in Publishers Weekly and, ironically, Library Journal. Library Journal, it is important to point out, just released their annual ranking of U.S. Libraries, and are gearing up for their annual Movers and Shakers issue. Both of these lists perpetuate the cycle of so-called rock star librarians and rock star libraries. So the fact that Annoyed Librarian (this blogger quite possibly also ironically meets the criteria for rock star) just wrote that famous librarians are “interchangeable entertainment” and that the people who show up to see them keynote at conferences are not there for the message, but for the atmosphere, seems a bit off.
First, I have a problem with using the phrase “rock star librarian.” This is another one of those empty phrases that gets thrown around, but has no real meaning or pertinence. What defines a rock star librarian? Somebody who actually got noticed for a cool program that brought in a fresh group of patrons to their library? Someone who can deliver a solid presentation at a conference and get the majority of the attendees to leave more motivated to than they were before? This all reminds me a bit of high school with the cool kids versus the outcasts. Do we really need to label people in our profession? Or maybe we should just judge people based on their performance and not whether they appeared in Library Journal or another major library-related publication.
I read pretty much every issue of Library Journal, American Libraries, Public Libraries, etc. and pay attention to library trends through social media as much as I can. Each publication has an audience they are trying to reach and there is also competition amongst them. Therefore, some of the articles may feel sensationalized since they are trying to get your attention. American media in general has become pretty sensationalized. As a result, some members of the library profession have also found unique ways to get publicity for either themselves, or for their libraries. This makes perfectly good sense to me since if nobody is paying attention to what you are doing in today’s competitive tax environment; you are going to lose out.
Personally, I understand why some of these famous librarians exist. Who wants to get paid what we get paid with an advanced degree and not get some recognition for it? Yes, I know we are here to serve the community, but doing just that can burn you out. Also, who wants to keep watching the budgets for police, fire, roads, etc. continue to be increased while the budgets for most libraries and schools decrease? Just like King Kong beating his chest for attention, we have to find a way to not only engage our communities, but also the glazed over eyes of the dead weight that permeates our profession. I say let the rankings continue, let the beauty contests go on all night. If this is what it takes to get people to take our profession seriously and motivates the smart and ambitious to come up with bigger and better ideas to make libraries matter, then go for it. There are always going to be a few rotten apples that ruin it for those who actually deserve recognition, but that should not be enough to derail the entire idea that some truly deserve their moment on the stage.