Last Saturday, there was some drama about the ACRL closing keynote speaker, Clinton Kelly. The host of the television show What Not To Wear was the subject of discussion as to why there was a non-librarian chosen to give a keynote at a major conference and the subject of fashion within the library community.
In tackling the first point, I don’t see the problem with having a non-librarian give a keynote. We invite authors to do it all the time; as Clinton was there as part of his book tour (which knocks down his speaking fee to dirt cheap), it sounds like business as usual to me. I would certainly hope that we could get more non-librarians to speak at our conferences. And for that matter, why not someone controversial? Why not speakers like PZ Myers, Rick Warren, Al Franken, or Bill O’Reilly? For a profession that proudly touts how libraries should contain material that is potentially offensive to everyone, the inclination to pick the least offensive speaker seems to be a conference norm. Break out of the echo chamber, people.
In addressing the second point, I’ll just relate my experience. When I started, I just wore some inexpensive dress shoes, a button down shirt, and khakis or slacks to work. After a couple of months, the attire really made me feel (for lack of a better term) unprofessional. I felt like I was dressed for a high school presentation. In looking to add something, I bought a few pairs of decent dress shoes as well as added sweaters and sweater vests to my wardrobe. In coming to work, I felt that I presented more like a professional. I’m thinking about taking another step and adding ties and vests to my wardrobe to give me some other options (especially in the summer). I’ve come a long ways from the grungy jeans and flannels of commercial nursery work.
I know that my attire works for me as an adult services librarian at a branch library; it may not work as well with other jobs and positions within the library. The point I am reaching for is that there is a benefit to both dressing and looking the part within the profession. The attire works towards self-image and self-confidence; it also influence how the public perceives the librarian. Like it or not, personal appearance matters and it is judged; how librarians come across in those initial non-speaking moments matters as a first impression. You really don’t get a second chance for that.
So, pick your comment poison: non-librarian speakers at conferences or the fashion of the profession. And let’s hear it.