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” because honestly, it’s… awkward.
Usually people don’t get what librarians do, which I understand. I can try to explain it, which will either be illuminating and interesting for them, or result in a vacant expression. It helps me sort out whether this is a person I’ve just met has the potential for friendship or if we have little in common.
Sometimes people are 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?