It’s pretty simple, really.
- Make a list of professions that includes librarians as the “best” or “worst” profession based on some vague criteria.
- Write a one or two paragraph justification for their inclusion on the list. Be sure to incorporate as many stereotypes as possible to ensure maximum outrage. (Good: “With everything now online…” Better: “These shushing people…” Best: “Surrounded by musty old tomes…”)
- Place this list on a webpage surrounded by ads. The more ads, the more profitable your link bait will be. Ad quality doesn’t matter so long as their checks still clear.
- Wait for the inevitable outrage.
There’s an article that is now making the rounds about the “least stressful jobs of 2013”. I won’t link to it directly, but putting everything in quotations into The Google will take you to it if you are still curious. As you can guess, librarians are on the list. While we’re not #1, the fact that we are on the list has caused some, ahem, stress.
The most prominent reaction to this non-stress stress was on Twitter through a hashtag appropriately named #librarianstress. What @bitchylibrarian and @winelibrarian started as satire was rapidly hijacked by other librarians expressing the stress that they feel on a daily basis. From difficult customers to hostile workplaces, I don’t believe there was a stone left unturned in the airing of the grievances. It even showed up as a top trend on Twitter briefly that afternoon as the number of tweets picked up the pace. Even as some (including myself) still played up the satirical elements, it was impossible to ignore the outpouring of statements and sentiments.
In taking a moment to look back on what happened on Friday, there are some observations I’d like to make. First, I found it remarkable that some people would actually chide others for saying that their job was stressful. It was rather judgmental and ironic for a profession that takes great pains to not do that when it comes to other people’s preferences, viewpoints, and opinions. This is a principle most commonly captured in collection policies and most succinctly summed up in the phrase, “Every reader their book”. It was a bit disconcerting to see tweets saying “Oh, your job isn’t stressful, stop whining” next to ones detailing personal harassment, confrontation incidents, and hostile workplaces. Yes, I will concede that such chiding could have been aimed at some legitimate whining, but without aiming it towards those direct comments it became inconsiderate generalizations. I would hesitate to tell anyone else their librarian position isn’t stressful without spending some time doing it.
Second, this kind of reaction touched upon a wide array of insecurities. Some of these are pretty close to the surface in the form of job security within tightening budgets. It’s hard to plan for a uncertain future, especially with some facing a constant struggle to keep their jobs. The threat of unemployment can wear down anyone over the course of time. Other tweets expressed a deeper concern relating to societal perception of the library as a institution, librarianship as a career, and the benefits that a library (be it school, academic, corporate, or public) provides their service community. Even minor slights like this article (and others like it) brings that feeling to the fore, eliciting a response to push back. It is part of the inherent reactive nature to the profession where services and highly sought materials are not always foreseen. The first instinct is to counter the notion presented, but it needs to be tempered with some objectivity.
These kinds of link bait web articles really shouldn’t be taken as gospel. It’s a list, a poorly written one at that, without research or merit. Should we take the word of a website using unknown methodology and specious rationale? This is the kind of stuff we warn our students and members of the public about and educate them in regards to evaluating sources for accuracy and authority. It suits the profession poorly to be taken in by the same drivel that we tell others to ignore in their own search results.
I understand the worry here, but I highly doubt that such dubious interent postings will result in actual erosion of public opinion. Even those who are ignorant of the value of libraries adjust their estimations after any sort of actual investigation; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Oh, I didn’t know the library did that!” when I’ve told them of a service or material. While these personal anecdotes are not universal evidence, it does give me hope that people change their minds when faced with new and accurate information.
In the meantime, don’t feed the trolls.