Monday, January 10, 2011
SAN DIEGO The American Library Association capped its national conference at the San Diego Convention Center by honoring creators of children's books. One recurring theme at the conference was how libraries stay relevant in the lives of young readers as many librarians near retirement.
Meredith Myers, a librarian and stand-up comedian, says she knows the answer: hire younger, more hip librarians.
“I think we need cool librarians,” said Myers, who sports a stylish hat, bright red hair and black biker boots. “Image is important. (Younger patrons) are more likely to ask for help from people who they can identify with.”
Myers is part of a growing number of young librarians who are busting stereotypes of the “typical librarian” and forcing change within their own libraries.
They said it is not uncommon today to see librarians wearing Doc Martin boots, tattoos and dreadlocks. And some new librarians say they are more interested in pop culture than historical text.
Library advocates said it is all part of the 21st Century library – a place with cool technology and cool people.
“For 32 years we’ve been fighting this stereotype of the typical librarian who is old, has a bun and glasses. We haven’t been that way for a long time,” said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association. “I think the excitement of new technologies and new ways to respond make it really exciting to this upcoming generation.”
Organizers with the American Library Association acknowledge libraries need to do more to attract younger patrons – especially teenagers.
In response, many libraries across the country began to hire younger librarians to create teen reading programs, teen events and supervise teen centers within libraries.
Aspiring librarians, however, said they’ve seen a leveling-off of employment possibilities in the past year as libraries across the country are reducing hours and staff.
And younger librarians are now competing with unemployed librarians with years of experience for a coveted position.
Young librarians say when they do secure a job, the next challenge is working with veteran librarians who might be resistant to change – especially when it comes to staying on top of trends in information technology.
“We need to come to a total melding and blending of talents and personality types,” said Allie Flanary, librarian of Portland Community College in Portland, Ore.
Flanary said more students approach her than the older librarians because she likes to talk “zombies, mummies, tattoos and weird junk.”
Her struggle is connecting with older patrons who “may not have the manual dexterity to use a mouse.” She says her personality and physical appearance may intimidate another population of library users.
The Young Adult Library Services Association offers online tips and training to help young librarians deal with conflicts over change at work.
Myers, the stand-up comedian and librarian, said despite the challenges, librarianship is the ultimate job.
“I’m someone who has a lot of ambitious and heart, and I’m going to do what I can and dress in fabulous heels in the process,” said Myers.