Saturday, May 29, 2010

Library Superhero

My fellow classmate, Serenity Ibsen, is a library rock star. As well as being a library student, Serenity is the Manager of Access of Services for the Pacific Northwest College of Art's Library.

She recently went up to bat for those who work in the library/information industry, placing the smack down on those who try to perpetuate the image of a stereotypical librarian.

Let me break down what happened:

"Miss Manners" is a online advice column, and a recent edition focused on an individual who was upset with her local librarian's lack of respect and confidentiality. You can read the letter here: Nosy librarian prods for personal info.

If you read Miss Manners' response, you might get a chuckle out of it, but you see the danger in saying all librarians are awkward ladies who get off on sushing.

What follows is Serenity's AMAZING response:

Dear Miss Manners,

Your recent advice on May 19, 2010 to a reader who was upset by the nosy librarian was inappropriate. The problem that the library user writes about represents a serious breach of the American Library Association's Code of Ethics. Section III states, "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired, or transmitted." Not only do most libraries not keep records of patrons' transaction histories, most library staff are trained to keep their comments to themselves when helping patrons. A breach of patron confidentiality could lead to all sorts of unfortunate consequences, not least among them embarrassment to the user and the loss of much-needed patronage. Your response devalues the seriousness of the library worker's conduct and suggests retaliation of the petty sort.

Keeping in mind that your advice was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, I am still offended by the perpetuation of the librarian stereotype. Library workers are constantly fighting to prove the legitimacy of their professions and most work diligently to provide equal and confidential access to information for patrons. My advice to the library user would be to take her concerns to library management and arm herself with the ALA Code of Ethics. At the very least, you could have let her know that the library worker should have known better. We work extremely hard to make up for the "few bad apples" and revolutionize the stereotype of the information professional from the disapproving spinster to the socially and environmentally-engaged advocate and educator. In a time when libraries are experiencing extreme budget cuts, we need all the support we can get. Next time, please use your voice to laud our victories and virtues.

Serenity Ibsen


  1. Go Serenity! What an awesome response.

  2. Looks like Serenity wasn't the only one to get upset by this - the post was featured on ALA Direct, the ALA electronic newsletter...

  3. Another post from the Swiss Army Librarian about the Miss Manners Craziness: Bad Advice Serves as Good Reminder

  4. And Another! This one from A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette: Discreet, Being

  5. Besides the fact that Serenity is ahead of the curve, I also just learned some debatable information from a link to one of the links above: Ten Reasons Why ‘Professional Librarian’ is an Oxymoron. At the very least, you folks have some peer review opportunities to work on for the nextgenlibrarian.