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Librarians look like people, and it is terrifying.

I was going to put this up on the Melville House blog before deciding it was quite literally insane. So of course here it is.

Let’s talk about This is What a Librarian Looks Like.

TiWaLLL is a tumblr that’s recently started getting a lot of press, at least in the circles of the internet in which Melville House staffers find ourselves. (Those circles are, of course, mostly constituted of book industry news, Bezos ire, and a heavy helping of the day’s breaking walrus videos.) It is a photo submission tumblr catering to librarians specifically, in which one MLS after another posts a photo and a brief paragraph about themselves.

If you, like just about everyone around the world, spend your time online thumbing through an endless rosary of photos of strangers, this is pretty run of the mill stuff. Some photos are meant to be provocative or sexy, some are showing off a particular hair dye color. There are many many guitars and much studious avoidance of eye contact with the camera lens. There are tortoises and cats and unbuttoned shirts. There is cleavage and bad lighting and forehead sheen. Many are taken in bathroom mirrors.

The motivation behind TiWaLLL is a fine one. Librarians, as ever, are under the impression that they have an image problem. Librarians seem to think that our collective unconscious knows librarians to be, I don’t know, old women with blue perms? Harsh, lacking in humor, sexless things? I don’t know how accurate that is, but those would seem to be the opposite images of what’s being submitted here. The librarians posting photos of themselves are often young, as often male. That is, it’s a realistic reflection of how librarians look, in my experience. And that’s part of the tragedy.

Librarians, gather round. Lean in to your screen. If we, all of us, have an image of a librarian as an old and musty individual, either too formally or too shabbily dressed, perhaps strict, perhaps suspiciously accommodating, maybe with a voice in a weird timbre, that is not wrong. We, most of us, were children when we met our first librarian. To children, children at the right age, ALL adults are strange. They are all old and slightly terrifying. You, you librarians submitting photos of yourselves in ill-fitting tank tops and hugging cats and running some kind of mud pit race as if that were a sport, you are exactly as terrifying to children. For all your virility and sex appeal, you are no less a stranger with a weird smell, imposing senseless rules on the young. If any of us were to meet the librarians from the Carnegie-built marble book-tombs of our childhoods today, they would be nice, normal adult people, just like you.

What’s more, you are making the profession—honestly one of the noblest around—look needlessly sad. You are all, almost down to the individual, trying too hard. You are trying too hard to prove something: that you are young and joyous? That you have a hobby? A boat? A zany outfit? And that need, that desperation to, what, to display your wholeness as a person, encapsulates its own failure within its effort. Do you see? Scrolling through this, like with so many facebook walls, so many other tumblr pages, I see little but pleading hollow skulls. Skulls throwing frisbees, skulls cutting wedding cake, skulls playing roller derby.

Librarians look like people. But librarians have always looked like people. And there’s your tragedy.

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