I was recently lent the apparent must-read of the librarian sphere entitled, “You Don’t Look Like A Librarian.” In her 2009 print publication, library professional Ruth Kneale takes on the issues surrounding the broad perception of librarians as professionals, tackling the persistence and consequences of stereotypes and offering a call to action for all those identified as librarians to actively challenge the harmful presuppositions all framed in a language so casual and so comic that she establishes herself as a co-sufferer and companion to the reader.
She starts out introducing the reader to the urgency of the matter. Kneale’s examples of real, serious consequences of the misperception of what librarians do, and moreover who librarians are got me to sit up and pay attention and gave me a vested interest in the topic beyond the humorous dimension of playing with stereotypes. It’s not simply reactions of surprise to the identity of being a librarian that is the issue… it is the decisions that are made that harm libraries, library staffs and the whole nexus of departments and services we are involved in. Ruth’s illumination of this criticality alone makes this book a must-read for anybody interested in our profession.
In this book she also weaves in anecdotes, both humorous and harrowing, from librarians all over the nation (including a familiar face from the SU iSchool faculty), that detail their respective encounters with the stereotypes that plague their identity as librarians. Along the way, we get introduced to a vast variety of unimaginable job titles, functions, organizations and events in the library professional world–which, for initiates like myself into the field is beyond any value. If anything she does so to a fault. At times, the lists of interesting organizations can become dizzying on the first read and trying to keep track of the things one wants to look up can distract one from the next anecdote, profile or even the point in general–we are library scholars after all.
Another point at which I’ll voice some criticism is her lack of synthesis. She frames a problem and neglects to reintroduce that urgency in the conclusion, where she recapitulates her call to action. I suppose that was a rhetorical decision on her part to launch her readers into action, but I would personally feel more of an impetus if she rearticulated the dangers of a future in which we DON’T actively reshape public thought on librarians.
The interviews are a tremendous resource for librarians at any stage in their respective careers. Having that collection of experiences goes beyond the intial argument of the book–which ends up being a REALLY good thing. (I came for funny anecdotes and left with that plus a series of snapshots of different manifestations of librarians at work)!
Also, the book has an appendix that illustrates the statistics that she employs throughout the text. The appendix can actually prove an infinitely useful resource in and of itself in addition to serving as an effective tool to further Ruth’s call to action.
“You Don’t Look Like A Librarian,” is more than just a comical survey of real librarians vs. the image that’s expected by the public. It is a sociological report of the epistemic violence that widespread notions of gender, age, techical capabilities, livelihoods, sexuality and scope inflicts on our careers. It is a study of the evolution of the portrayal of librarians in comic books, literature, television and movies. It is a survey of the ways in which ignorance threatens our jobs. It is a problem analysis with a mission. A call to action. And a staple of ANY library professional’s personal book collection. Whether you are a student, professor, librarian MLS or not, or related professional, thsi book is a must read! I’ll tell you one thing, I’m definitely going out and buying my own copy of Ruth Kneale’s text so that I can reread it whenever I need to reaffirm for myself the complexities of image and perception in my profession.
RATING: “Must Have!” aka 4.6/5 stars
PS: Ruth Kneale’s book also cites it’s companion website, where the author maintains her vigilent study of the image of librarians. There, you can also find a window to her blog.