My graduate degree is a mix of in person and online classes. Even if the class is larger, many professors will ask us to submit a brief bio about ourselves to whatever platform we’re using so we’ll get to know each other. This is important, especially in a state like Ohio where all the librarians seem to know one another.
In my bio, I’ve started to include I am tired of people who write “I love books” to explain an MLIS degree. What else do you love about libraries? I posted this over Facebook—towering vision of Socratic process, I know—and got a bit of pushback, which is fine. But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to unpack some of this frustration. Specifically, I wrote, “’I love books’ should be a red flag for MLIS applications.” Just to be sure, I looked over my application essay to Kent State and at no point do I say I love books. I did go on a bit of a tear about public libraries and the physical ‘space’ of democracy, the corporatization of libraries, and the fallacy that knowledge and wisdom are achieved by reading the latest issue of The Walking Dead at a Starbucks inside a Barnes and Noble, which strikes me as some sort of niche marketing event horizon. For those weekends when I want to drink reliably bad coffee and read laughable erotica, thank God for the bookstore. The mission of the bookstore is to move product. The mission of the library is clearly different, even if I bring my Starbucks and laptop so I can read Something Short and Snappy’s latest post on Fifty Shades of Grey to my local branch. I digress—but I didn’t tell Kent’s LIS program “I love books” because I was applying to a LIS program. That I loved books was assumed—what made me different from the hundreds of other applications? $20k in tuition and fees is a big chunk of change to fork over for “I love books.”
Too many people are advised to enter librarianship because they are introverted or don’t play well with others, which sometimes manifests as “loving books” in childhood. Believe me, I understand. I am an avid indoorsman. I love my rescue cats. I play MMORPGs, and if I install Skyrim or Minecraft, the world may never see me again. I am grateful when I can’t make it to parties with dozens of people attending. I love my friends, but I want to see them in small groups over a nice dinner or out for a walk. Many of us hear ‘introvert’ and think this means a hatred of people. It doesn’t. It means interacting with large groups or endless streams of them in insignificant, small-talky ways becomes exhausting. I am terrible at schmoozing. Introversion and librarianship is not a problem, even in more intense public-facing positions like reference and circulation, or instruction. But saying you want to become a librarian because you only “love books” is a red flag.
Librarians have to be intellectually curious. I love books means you don’t know much about the profession and didn’t bother to Google it either. Libraries are more than books. We already have to deal with enough colleagues uninterested in technology, resistant to change, or who don’t want to learn anything new beyond the book loving part of librarianship. Many librarians don’t work with books at all.
What I’d like to hear is what comes after the love of books. I love books and I want to be an agent of change in my community with early literacy initiatives. I love books and I enjoy taking programs apart to see how they work so I can build something better. I love books and even though teenagers drive everybody crazy, I can put up with it and I sleep better at night knowing I’m a role model in youth services. While there are many jobs that don’t involve any of these things, LIS programs and your future colleagues want you to be employable. We want you to like your job. Forty hours a week is too much time out of your life to spend it at a job you can’t stand while you wait for your ‘ideal’ no-people-just-books position to open. Your supervisors will feel it, your customers will as well. Your and can be almost anything. Loving books is not enough. Loving books won’t get you out of bed in the morning, but your and will.
But if what comes after your and is: I love books and I don’t get along with people, then librarianship is not for you. Cataloging, archives, or museum work isn’t for you either. Not even tech services, where mortals fear to tread. If this is your and, consider finding a mentor or even a therapist. You might be—as William Gibson says—surrounded by assholes and that’s why you prefer books to people. But you have to live in the world with the rest of us. Find a better and. Then we’ll be glad to see what you can do.