The latest round of the cyclical discussion regarding the concept of the ‘rock star librarian’ has been sticking in my blogging craw for awhile. Yes, I can read a calendar and notice that the publication of this post is about a month late (or roughly two Annoyed Librarian blogging cycles, based on the timeliness of their posts regarding current events). The term itself has shifted towards an ironic pejorative in which, unlike the many years of work, time, and effort typically spent by musicians to rise in their craft, the library version has slowly shifted to a second definition as a person who has name recognition in the field but no discernable or useful talent, content, or point. It now sits between a compliment and a slur, discernable only through the accompanying context.
There were certainly plenty of strongly worded opinions about how terrible a term it was, how terrible the people who are called it are, and how terrible its terribleness is. As much as I’d like to jump into that pit of rhetoric quicksand, it’s not what was keeping the topic on my brain’s backburner. What I noticed is what was missing out of the topic: what a role model in librarianship should embody.
Perhaps I’ve traded one quagmire for another, but there was much column space dedicated to saying what it was not without indicating what it should entail. Granted, some of the ideals could be inferred from the inverse of the discussed undesirable traits, actions, and other characteristics on display. But if the question was posed, “What should a role model (aka rock star librarian) be?”, there wouldn’t be enough words or terms discerned to satisfy a game of Mad Libs.
It’s a loaded question as well, threaded with all of the nuance that comes with human beings and their personality. Should a role model librarian be assertive, but not overbearing? Be outspoken, but not self-aggrandizing? Be confident, but not arrogant? And so forth and so on, a never-ending recitation of positive traits and their malignant cousins.
For myself, this intermittent topic seems like the symptoms of a deeper professional issue: the identification, nurturing, and enabling of librarian leadership. To oversimplify what I have observed in the last half decade, there is a distinct call for leaders in the profession that is counter balanced by suspicion for those who are put or place themselves in that spotlight. It’s pure cognitive dissonance to believe that a library should be in the heart of the community it serves but the librarians should act purely as background characters to the overall entity. That’s nuts. It’s untenable, undesirable, and now irresponsible when it comes to proving the value of the institution to our constituents.
In going back to the question as to what a role model librarian should look like, I don’t have an answer either. What I do know is that we eliminate any individual who isn’t a paragon of professional ideals and personal virtue, then the answer will be “no one”. I’m not saying this to advocate for anyone, but to encourage you the reader to consider what it means to be a role model to other librarians. Rather than just treating it as simply something we know when we see, take a moment to articulate it.