Stereotypes, snark, and sarcasm
Librarians are very fond of pointing out that we are not our stereotypes. We’re not all shrill older ladies in horn rimmed glasses with a wicked “Shhh!” We’re not all meek or mild-mannered men in V-neck sweaters. We like relaxed dress codes, and we’re very comfortable with tattoos and bright blue hair. When we’re not getting people books, we’re putting on pub trivia nights or showing off 3D printers. These are not our stereotypes.
Another thing about us is that we’re far more snarky than most people realize. Truth is, a sense of humor is a prerequisite. Like so many other service jobs, sometimes we need sarcasm to relieve tension and get through the day. I suspect we’ve always been this way. But while librarians in Alexandria were presumably just as snarky as we are, the modern world has given us a new place to express it: Twitter.
Librarians on Twitter
This is the focus Roz Warren’s Huffington Post article, “Librarians! Here’s a Little Snark to Brighten Your Day,” which focuses on the anonymous tweets of @LousyLibrarian. Here are two examples:
“Can you help me find the self-help books?” “I kind of feel like I shouldn’t.”
Storytime is every Monday and Wednesday at headache-thirty.
I myself have spent some time at work doing…um…research into sarcastic librarian Twitter feeds. Turns out, there are a lot of them. My personal favorite is @RantyLibrarian. Two examples:
Yes, we have books on Paleo. And yes, also Cross-Fit. And alcoholism, for me, because of patrons like you. #StopReading
Sure we carry #AynRand. She’s in the “You Should Make Better Life Decisions” section. #TerribleDecisions #StopReading
For a few more funny library themed Twitter accounts, see the bottom of this post.
We don’t all do this…but most of us do this
Many of these feeds are anonymous, of course. But I’ve never worked for a library where a certain amount of behind-the-scenes sarcasm wasn’t the norm. That we make jokes about library-life should surprise no one. Servers and bartenders do, too, and our jobs are similar in many ways— highly specialized, existing in every town and city, operating at every level of the economic spectrum, and most critically, finding out what you want and bringing it to you. But let’s not read too much into the service industry comparison. I’m quite sure every industry has a discrepancy between how its professionals act in front of customers and how they act with each other.
Hey, people are stressed. Humor helps.
Because the librarian stereotype varies between calmness and austerity, it doesn’t reflect the very real fact that librarian work can be stressful. Many of our patrons are stressed. A person who hasn’t used a computer in fifteen years but has to pay bills online, a homeless patron who needs medical services, a high schooler prepping for an AP exam, a person with severe mental disorders, or even just a well-meaning patron who’s obviously on a lot of speed—these people are stressed, and often create stressful situations for everyone around them. Sometimes our patrons are difficult to be help, or even be near. Sometimes they mistreat each other or us.
If we take part of our break to giggle at Twitter feeds that express what we’re feeling or provides some catharsis, that’s a lot better than sassing patrons at the reference desk.
Twitter feeds and hash tags (a small representative sample)
American Library Association. “Programs for Millennials and more.” July 15, 2015.
Scott, Clare. “American Library Association Continues to Stress the Importance of Public Access to 3D Printing.” 3dprint.com, December 10, 2015.
Warren, Roz. “Librarians! Here’s a Little Snark to Brighten Your Day.” Huffpost Books, January 5, 2016.