Preemptive apologies may be necessary for the library neepery.

…..and she breaks her (completely unintentional and oh my goodness how did the time get by me like that?  I know: we’ll blame school) silence.  Lucky you, reader, you get – well, not so much a cabinet of curiosities but a catalog of irritants.  But they’re themed irritants, at least.  They are on the subject of libraries and perception.

Yup – just lost 80% of my librarian and librarian-to-be readers.  We hear this stuff all the time.  We say this stuff all the time.  Well, at least I will have vented my overloaded spleen.

Irritant #1: I recently had a brief conversation (well, okay – it was on Twitter) with an acquaintance.  He moaned about information overload (with the corollary that most of the info he found was crap).  I quipped, “sounds like you need….a LIBRARIAN! (cue triumphant music).”  His response?

“Google is my librarian.”

Let’s back away from that statement for one tiny moment.  Take whatever it is you do for a living – bonus points if you’re passionate about it and think it’s a worthwhile thing to do.  Then, at a cocktail party or on Twitter you find someone who is in need of the services of your profession and they respond that a tool of your profession is your profession.  Just think about that for a moment:

“This pencil is my architect.”

“AutoCAD is my industrial designer.”

“This sledgehammer is my contractor.”

Fill in your own blanks for your own profession.  It somehow manages to miss the point and be rather insulting at the same time, doesn’t it?  Yes, librarians use Google.  They/we use it all the time.  It’s useful in a similar way to Wikipedia – easy, fast, imprecise, with lots of suspect sources.  A pilot trusting to Google’s output for plotting a course might get you to where you’re going efficiently and safely, or they might well be Bugs Bunny: “Dang.  I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque!”

So, Google: interesting tool?  Yes.  Librarian?  No.

Irritant #2: John and I were recently given a copy of This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  I snagged it for train reading (where I really should be doing homework, but that’s a different post).  It is, I have to say, about what I expected.  Even though the writer takes the public and the media to gentle task occasionally for clinging to old stereotypes about the profession, there is a whiff of Margaret Meade or “Wild Kingdom” about the book.  Watch as Bob stalks the librarian in the stacks – note her colorful plumage, achieved with three colors of Manic Panic, a nose ring, and barely-visible tattoo.  This seemingly shy creature can be found in any urban library when she’s not participating in an ALA Book Cart Drill Team.

Fancy that, librarians are individuals too.  Who’da thunk it.

That part really doesn’t irritate me that much, though.  Yes, librarians can be incandescently weird.  So, I am sure, can the members of any profession.  But the weird does make for better reading and I know that I’m not necessarily the prime audience for this book.  For the most part, I am enjoying the picture of the (mostly public) librarians she paints.  She clearly has affection for those of us who are info-geeks.

The irritant was actually a throw-away bit in the second chapter, where the author describes looking for a copy of Easy Travel to Other Planets.  She finds a copy on microfiche and states, “Though it’s a literary novel, Easy Travel had been stashed on a reel with a bunch of science fiction.”

Excuse me?  A book set in the future with extrapolations based on current science being stashed with science fiction?  Call the cataloging police, because we know that if something is “literary” it couldn’t possibly be science fiction.


  1. Anyone who thinks Google is his librarian has clearly never used a library for anything serious. I shudder to think at how much of my dissertation wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the librarian at one archive where I was toiling patiently for weeks, who happened to notice my topic and said, “Hey, you might be interested in this box of stuff under my desk I haven’t had time to catalog yet.” Suffice it to say that the contents of the box were a game changer. And he was only one of the many.

  2. I’m not a big scifi person -yet, I guess – or a cataloguer, but I don’t know which part of the science-based work of fiction the author mentioned didn’t belong in science fiction. Perhaps I need more schooling.

    The Google thing drives me nuts. It is a great tool, but it is not the only one out there. I love how you extrapolate to the pencil and sledgehammer analogies. It SHOULD make people think twice. Then again, we still have Congress, so people are obviously still recalcitrant about giving up on idiots.

    I offer you Rehumanizer #1: Yesterday at the library reference desk, an archives staffer walked up to me as a last resort on his way out of the library. “I might as well ask you, while I’m here. It would be silly not to use help, right?” I replied, “Well, sure, what might I help you with?” Turns out the gent is writing a paper for a mystery class, and he wants to do this on DC in the last hundred years, and he would like suggestions on resources to use. I ask, “Wow, how long is the paper? What *part* of life in DC in the last hundred years would you like to focus on?” So he thinks aloud and decides to focus on taxes, which is a good start, and he keeps emphasizing that it would be a shame for him to write this paper without using the vast resources available for him every day at our esteemed place of business (NARA). I stopped him there.

    “Well, yes, we do have a lot of information. But it’s just like you said, it’s here every day, it’s all around. But it’s nothing to us if we aren’t looking for anything in particular. It’s just stuff. When it answers your question, THEN it’s information. You need context.”

    This apparently helped him. He loved it. But really, it helped ME. I was so proud of myself, and not because I sound like I could teach 601. It’s just that yes, this whole world is full of information. I don’t know how to identify many types of birds or flowers, but there are resources to teach me that if I want to know. That information exists. But if I just type “flowers” into Google, that doesn’t answer my question, because I haven’t formulated it yet. I just don’t think we are so quickly replaced, because the other intelligence is still so artificial. It can’t work through your question, and it can’t yet tell you you don’t have one. So, go Jill and John. Yay.

  3. Di, I love love LOVE your story. You eloquently articulate why having “stuff” (e.g. information, but you could easily extend it to things like objects or money) is not enough.

    I think a lot of the thrill of helping people does come from the warm glow it gives you to contribute to our fellow humans’ development, but that moment of also working something out for yourself in the process – that’s good too. It is valuable in that it reaffirms our commitment to what we do and reenergizes us for those moments that aren’t so fulfilling.

    As to the science fiction thing, I didn’t extend it because I was just too mad and didn’t want to get too rude, but let’s just say there are a lot of people out there who get unbearably sniffy about how a novel that is well written (or “literary” – whatever the hell that means) couldn’t possibly be science fiction, because everyone knows science fiction is TRASH, darling. To those people, I say: go read selected books by Margaret Atwood or Kurt Vonnegut and tell me that isn’t science fiction – while attempting to maintain a straight face. I dare you.

  4. If it makes you feel any better, we philosophers get that sort of reaction,too. Well, provided we don’t get, “oh. I hated that course,” we get: “Hey, you’ll like Bob, Bob’s a philosopher! Bob, come over here and share your thoughts on…” (Bob is a person with an opinion, which is all people think philosophy is).

  5. Le Guin’s Changing Planes is almost always shelved in mainstream when it’s really SF.