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Young, Hip Librarians Take Over

— 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.

Stand-up comedian Meredith Myers is part of a new group of young librarians w...

Above: Stand-up comedian Meredith Myers is part of a new group of young librarians who are busting stereotypes about who is a "typical librarian."

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.

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Avatar for user 'RealityCheck'

RealityCheck | January 13, 2011 at 3:10 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

"Hipness" should not be measured in years or fashion, but in Open-Mindedness.
Age is always an easy target for humor, but I'm surprised by the lack of knowledge in Equal Employment Opportunity Laws.

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Avatar for user 'shinylib'

shinylib | January 13, 2011 at 5:58 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

I'm frustrated by the misrepresentation of my comments regarding age of library patrons. I was speaking, contextually, to the importance of employing frontlines staff of a variety of ages because of the aforementioned potential for intimidating appearances of overly "hip" librarians (including myself, of the hot pink hair and tattoos). Patrons who may already be overwhelmed by the process of returning to the academic environment after many years away (or for the first time ever) may be more apt to gravitate toward librarians who offer a comforting "sameness" of appearance.

Agreed with RealityCheck regarding the importance of open-mindedness. I'm all for hiring anyone with a current, relevant skillset.

I was unable to catch the audio version of the interview with myself and Chris Davidson (Northwestern University) but I hope that it was a more faithful accounting of our perspective on the changing landscape of librarianship and the perceived values rift within multiple generations of librarianship.

We also talked about the importance of understanding different library environments and the appropriate staff/faculty for each. As for example, a community college in which patrons are between 16-80 years old and may need help operating a mouse versus a large academic research library in which patrons have specialized subject research needs.

Overall I am grateful for the attempt to call attention to libraries and librarians, but disappointed in the manifestation. I care not for your dress, shoes, or ambitions, frankly, and am interested in your skills and what you bring to the job. I stand behind my assertion that our patrons benefit if we “come to a total melding and blending of talents and personality types.”

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Avatar for user 'librariankate7578'

librariankate7578 | January 14, 2011 at 9 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

There were 83 of ALA's best and brightest, participating in the Emerging Leaders Program (full disclosure: I am one of them), and scores of other young librarians in San Diego last week for the Midwinter Meeting who are promoting change in their libraries, reaching out to young people and bridging the digital divide.

And you choose to interview a hybrid "librarian/stand up comedian" who does not even name her place of employment, her job title or duties, or where she got her MLS. (Does she even have one?)

This piece hurts the generational divide in our profession more than it helps it.

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Avatar for user 'jdaleprince'

jdaleprince | January 14, 2011 at 9:07 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Seriously, KPBS? Was the status quo "Old, Clueless Librarians In Charge"? In 1986, a man with a pierced ear was hip, and there were many male librarians with pierced ears back then. You can still see the holes even if you can't see the earrings. It's kind of embarrassing now. Like wearing two Swatches at once. Which some librarians did. In 1986. Those people are still librarians. I suppose you could have written, in 1986, that they had "taken over": "Young librarians with Swatches and Slouch Boots Take Over."

If I read that, somehow, tattoos have any bearing upon one's ability as a librarian, I'll be convinced that the only people currently writing about librarianship are suffering from some sort of complex. Don't get me wrong: I have no doubt that I'd want to hang out with Ms. Myers; she seems fun and I'd hire her in second if she met the job qualifications. One of which cannot be "young" or "hip." Sorry. It's illegal and probably not as germane as you make it out to be.

Remember, though, young and hip at one time meant dressing up like Culture Club. Thank god it takes only a couple of years to grow out of hipness. My sister got really tired of me stealing her eyeliner.

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Avatar for user 'campbell_bb'

campbell_bb | January 16, 2011 at 3:29 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

@librariankate7578: All you ever wanted to know about Meredith Myers : Stand-up Librarian | --Bryan, your local library assistant

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Avatar for user 'anarchivist'

anarchivist | January 18, 2011 at 7:35 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

From Ms. Myers' blog: "I still don't have a job in a library but perhaps my job for now is just to be the voice that maybe once in awhile people listen to."

The reality is that painting the profession as "hip" is going to lead us to have further competition for fewer jobs.

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Avatar for user 'kgs'

kgs | January 18, 2011 at 3:51 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

The reporter (who graduated from college in 2005, according to LinkedIn) spun Myer's comments to fit her own worldview. Most young librarians I know appreciate a workplace of mixed ages. That sort of comes across in the article... a little, anyway.

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Avatar for user 'Delatte'

Delatte | January 5, 2012 at 7:46 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

I garnered financial sponsorship for my participation in the San Diego conference due to my participation in the American Library Association 2011 Emerging Leaders (EL) program, and I'm surprised by this EL snobbism towards a librarian who is new to the field.
(A quick search will reveal that, yes, Myers does hold the requisite graduate degree.)
Myers' path may not be a traditional route to leadership, but I hope that this snobbery from colleagues does not deter her from continuing to pursue a career in the library field.
Myers has a voice.
Whether or not everyone agrees is not important. Please consider supporting and mentoring the newest librarians among us, just as we hope colleagues will continue do the same for us. At the very least, please do not rub it in Myers' face that you are on a strong path in your career while she is just becoming established.
The unique personalities in libraries make us strong. This March of the Librarians video clip is a fun reminder of that:

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