Open Thread Thursday: Rock Lobster

New Jersey ex-pat and fellow librarian Tom Bruno wrote a post recently entitled “Rock Stars and Superheroes” where he talks about the status of rock star librarians or celebrarians or whatever you want to call librarians that are known within the community. I’m flattered that he would call me out specifically and in such excellent company. Here’s the money quote:

We’re all so busy grinding through our daily workflows, monthly statistics, and annual reports that it’s easy to lose sight of what makes our job so awesome:  listening to people who are in need of information, navigating our library’s resources in order to locate that one all-important thing, then sharing it, not for profit or personal advancement but for the expansion of human knowledge and the simple joy of sharing.  If you can imagine that exact feeling I’m describing and consider it one of the most wonderful things in the universe, then you might just be a librarian yourself.  Since then I’ve tried not to end my workday without finding a way to commit at least one random act of kindness, and I’ve found myself infinitely more energized as a librarian as a result.  I dare you to try it yourself…  there’s always room for another library superhero.

(Emphasis mine)

It’s a pretty timely post since I’m going to be making the case for the rock star librarian at the ALA virtual conference tomorrow at 11:30am (my co-speaker, Nancy Dowd, will be talking about librarians as advocacy deal makers).

While I don’t want to spoil the talk I’m going to give tomorrow, I thought it would be a great question set to toss out there in general. So, without further ado:

When you hear ‘rock star librarian’, what do you think that means? How do you feel about the term and why? Is it a term for good, for bad, or does it need to be retired?

I’m looking forward to the comments on this one.

That’s our starter topic for this open thread. Post away or talk about something else that’s on your mind. Anonymous comments are certainly welcome.

(Consider reading Will Manley’s American Libraries column for his take on library heroes.) 

11 thoughts on “Open Thread Thursday: Rock Lobster

  1. Every profession needs heroes, role models and mentors … but it’s important to remember that leaders are only leaders because they have followers. In our field that usually happens because someone is willing to share their ideas, information and opinions in emerging fields via blogs, twitter and presentations.

  2. Pingback: Open Thread Thursday: Rock Lobster « Agnostic, Maybe « Agnostic « Church Leadership

  3. When I was trying to explain to a non-librarian friend how exciting it was that Will Manley complimented my new blog, I said that Will is a celebrity librarian. My friend’s response: “‘Celebrity librarian.’ Possibly the nerdiest phrase I have seen in months, if not years.”

    So we can call our grassroots leaders “rock stars” or “celebrity librarians” or “celebrarians” or whatever else. I don’t think the labels matter so much as the work being done. One of the things I love about being part of this profession is what Mylee said. Our leaders are our leaders because they have ideas and are willing to share their knowledge.

  4. I wouldn’t say that I’m against the rock star librarian, but I’m wary of them. To begin with, I think most librarians are superheroes. And I know the rock star librarians are supposed to be out there getting recognition for the rest of us, but. . .much like the difference between good candidates and good politicians, I’m not always sure that that people who become rock star librarians are the people who I most want representing our profession. Some of the celebrity librarians I know are AWESOME, and some are not anywhere near as cool, or doing as cool of stuff, as other obscure librarians I know. There is an impulse I see to be famous within the profession, and it’s not one I want to reward. . . I guess I mean that there are celebrity librarians and celebutante librarians, and the line is thinner in some places than others. One concern I have is that, you know, the average librarian is busy as hell, with outreach and their daily work and keeping their funding and committee work. If they spend enough time getting noticed to become celebrities. . .I worry that their actual patron services may suffer, and I think of that as part of the lifeblood of librarianship. I am more fond, I guess, of the grassroots kinds of superhero-ship than the splashy national kind, although God knows work needs done at the national level. I know, I sound bitter and cynical. I really like a lot of those people who are becoming leaders in the field. I like you a lot! I just am wary of the rock star label, in this context.
    I’m still short on coffee though, so after 9 hours dressed as Tonks and hanging out with excited kids at Harry Potter Day today, I may have lost all my cynicism and feel amazing about the whole concept.

  5. I’m going to be the wide-eyed optimist here and say any librarian can be a Rock Star Librarian. Yes, it is a little about recognition for doing a great job, but it’s not necessarily about national recognition. If I do an awesome program for my teens, or help a patron find books for a picky ready, for that little bit I feel like a Rock Star Librarian or be recognizes by the people I helped as awesome … I helped someone, I went above and beyond, I made sure they had a good experience at the library. Does everyone in America know that I did this? No, but that doesn’t matter because to the teens or the patrons, I was a Rock Star. While there are celebrity librarians and known rock star librarians, everyday librarians can also be rock stars by just doing their job and being great at it. In this way the term is more about a personal feeling of accomplishment and success than an outside recognition. Yes, it’s wonderful to have that other person/organization/world recognize you for being a great librarian, but that’s not your job. Your job is helping people and sometimes it’s that simple to be a rock star.

    So, basically similar to others’ thoughts on grass-roots rock stars.

  6. When I hear the term “rock star librarian” I think of folks within our profession who seem to prefer to have a following as opposed to a network of colleagues. Superhero has a better tone to me. I would rather have a superhero advocating for libraries. Better box office too.

  7. I’d call librarians who are well known within the Library community ‘prominent.’ Rock star or celebrity librarians need to break into wider society and be known there – on Oprah, or Today, or Jimmy Kimmel. It happens with other professions so it’s possible (Johnny Cochran, Dr. Drew, Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars fame).

  8. I have to agree with Alex. Celebrity transcends profession. Nancy Pearl may be the only celebrity librarian by her stints on NPR (and the action figures). I’d like to see her on Fox or CBS, etc advocating information literacy and how public institutions (libraries, but not just) benefit the social fabric. When I see a librarian on a talking head show I might be convince.

  9. As a non-librarian, I’d like to live in a world where the notion of a “rock star librarian” doesn’t produce a cynical snort. You all are in a position to have a significant impact on the publishing industry. As a writer of fiction,I know that this pretty damn important right now.

  10. So I’m terribly sorry Andy but I’m going to join the Haters Club on this one: I hear the term “rock star librarian” and I immediately stop taking the conversation seriously. As already stated, I don’t think there is a single librarian known outside of our profession. There are famous people who have library backgrounds (e.g. Laura Bush) but none that I can think of who are known for their library work. Maybe Dewey or Conan.

    Even inside the profession, I wouldn’t put money on anyone [alive] being a rock star. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve mentioned some seemingly popular librarian and the room fell silent. The profession is so huge, at best, we can only be known in small pools (and yes, the internet is merely a small pool in this regard).

    And why would we want to be Rock Stars anyway? (Warning! Hipster moment coming)… Aren’t most rock stars people whose celebrity outshines their actual work? This isn’t to say that rock stars are lazy or washed up, but really, how many musicians out there currently labeled as “rock stars” are simply riding the wave of past accomplishments? (I’m talking to YOU Roger Daltrey)

    That said, there are plenty of you who are rock stars in my book. Those of you who build things and bring people together, those who work hard every day for dismal pay and little respect. Those who want nothing more than to connect people with information come hell or high water! You people are rock stars. Metaphorically speaking ;-)

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