When I meet new people, pretty much the first question they ask me is, “what do you do?”
I feel like I need a better answer than “I’m a librarian”.
It is sometimes awkward, especially when I supplement this information with the fact that I’m also studying a Masters in… Librarianship.
“Wait, you can get a degree doing that?”
I really don’t mind if people don’t know that much about librarians or their work. I’m cool with that. But I need a way to briefly summarise the actual content of my job, not the name, because for many people “librarian” too riddled by stereotypes. Sometimes I say, “I’m am information services librarian… I help students find stuff.” That usually starts a better conversation.
Sometimes they’re strangely hostile. I’ve had someone say “what do librarians actually DO? Because they seem to be paid a whole lot for not doing very much!” This might have been an outlier response, because I have never met anyone else embittered about overpaid librarians. I’ve also had someone say to me, point plank: “That sounds really boring.” I mean, what the hell? Are people this rude about other professions?
The other manifestation of this ignorance is well-intentioned, but patronising.
“Aren’t you cute! But isn’t it terrible how everything is online these days…..”
(No, it’s not terrible. But thank you for calling me cute.)
“Do you get a lot of time to read the books?”
(No, no-one’s paying me to read books. That would be nice though.)
At a dinner party one time, upon hearing that I’m a librarian, someone said to me, “Oh, a part of me has always wanted to be a librarian!”
I knew what was coming next: “because I love books / I would love to be able to read all day / because it seems like such a quiet peaceful job, etc”.
But the next sentence surprised me.
“…because I like INDEXING THINGS!” And she proceeded to explain how she tries to keep a database of all the books, CDs and DVDs she owns. I was overjoyed to have found another nerd who gets it. That the core of librarianship is managing information and resources.
Fellow librarians, how do you explain your job to people?