I didn’t get into librarianship for the shushing, but when the opportunity arises, I seize it. Particularly when it’s someone being wrong on the internet.
That’s what happened this week, when Andre Walker, a columnist for the New York Observer, presented this insight on Twitter.
Nobody goes to libraries anymore. Close the public ones and put the books in schools. https://t.co/Cimy1V81n5
— Andre Walker (@andrejpwalker) October 22, 2017
A day later, having stewed about it for a while, I responded thusly.
Hang tight folks, because I am about to drop some necessary knowledge on you. First off, library usage is on the RISE motherfuckers. https://t.co/reWrJj3XCo
— The Angriest Librarian (@HalpernAlex) October 23, 2017
While I never intended to become The Angriest Librarian, a lifelong inability to hold my tongue—and my frustration with the permeating stereotypes of 1950s-era public libraries—seems to have made it inevitable. So, when I was confronted with yet another blowhard who couldn’t see the value his tax dollars were placing right in front of his face, I had no choice. Over the next few days, I picked up 15,000 followers and found myself in a position to become a public face for my besieged profession.
For far too many people, the word library conjures up an image of a dusty old building, full of dusty people reading dusty relics. For others, it’s the stereotype of the “sexy librarian,” the nubile authoritarian who shushes you into the stacks. In reality, what public libraries have become in the 21st century is a model for building community and enhancing opportunities for underserved and marginalized people. Those dusty books still exist, but today they’re side by side with technology, maker spaces, interactive learning environments, and librarians that are trained to teach their communities how to use them.
The rant that led me to my brief bout of Twitter fame was likely popular because of my stereotype-defying profanity and insults, but the fact that it resonated so strongly with librarians was what convinced me that we are on the right track as a profession. Those mousy, quiet librarians are a thing of the past, if in fact they ever existed at all outside of Hollywood. Today, depending on the community they serve, a public librarian is part educator, part social worker, and part Human Google. What they aren’t is a living anachronism, an out-of-touch holdout in a dying job who’s consigned to a desk, scolding kids for returning books a few days late.