Home > Librarianship > Librarians, Enough With the Hero Complex

Librarians, Enough With the Hero Complex

Last week, I was chillaxing on my couch, enjoy some crackers and cheese whilst watching tv, and I checked in on my twitter feed.  My twitter feed is an interesting mix of folks–writers, publishers, libraries, gardening tips, celebrities who amuse me, veg folk, real life friends–but predominantly other librarians.  Well, suddenly everybody started tweeting at once.  The freak-out was over loss of funding for Florida libraries.  This turned into everybody bemoaning the fact that nobody understands the importance of libraries.  Then out of the blue, a male librarian said, “Simple truth- police & firefighters can always rehire when times get better. Close a library & what are the chances they’ll bring it back?”
I replied, “Well, y’know, I’d rather my house not burn down than be able to use old crappy computers for free.”
To which a different male librarian replied: “If a fire starts, no matter how much you spend on fire fighters, your house it totalled in a matter of minutes.”

I have refrained from naming them, because this isn’t about these individuals.  It’s about a general attitude going on among librarians that is just wrong and self-centered, and I wanted to illustrate it with actual quotes.  The attitude that libraries are the most important public service, and they–and by extension, librarians–are misunderstood and under-appreciated.  I mean, a book just came out whose subtitle is How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (LibraryThing record of the book here).  You know what? No.  We’re not more important than policemen and firemen.  We’re not even as important.  As librarians, we’re not out there risking our lives to save strangers’ lives.  Contrary to what male librarian #2 said, not all houses burn down anyway, and even if they did, there’s still people to save.  There’s also the fact that the blaze needs to be prevented from spreading, but I digress.

We are librarians.  We are not out there providing for the safety of lives.  The fact that we exist doesn’t make it so people can sleep at night safe in the knowledge that if a fire starts in their house, someone will show up and run into the blaze to save them.  Public librarians, at best, provide educational support outside of the public school system.  At worst, public librarians are providing entertainment to the low income masses, and do you think the low income would rather be entertained or be alive and able to walk down the street safely?

I don’t enjoy the fact that libraries and fire departments are pitted against each other for money.  However, it is an economic crisis.  The money just is not there.  Of course I would rather see libraries’ hours cut instead of the doors closed, but if the choice is keeping the library open a few hours a week or maintaining a safe number of firemen for the community, I would choose the firemen.  You know why?  Because I don’t have some hero complex.

What we’re really seeing is people freaking out because they think either their job won’t exist in the short-term or that libraries are going to cease existing entirely, making their career choice a really poor one.  I get it.  I do.  It sucks to be worrying about getting laid off.  It sucks to wonder if your career will still exist in 10 years, but you know what?  Almost everyone is having to worry about their job right now, if they’re even lucky enough to still have one.  There are also plenty of people worrying that their careers will cease to be an option due to technological advances, changing world economic climate, etc…  I saw it happen to people I care about when the Silicon Valley happened.  Yes, it sucked, but maybe it’s time to admit that you chose your job because you like it.  Because you enjoy organizing things, helping people, books, literacy, and more, and yes that’s more noble than becoming a back-stabbing CEO.  However, it’s not this superhero career.  It’s just a nice one.  One that I certainly hope continues to be needed, but I’m not about to go out there and over-inflate it because I’m worried about jobs.  I’m realistic, and the fact that other librarians are being so unrealistic in the face of this economic crisis is just making us look like a bunch of snobby, privileged, unrealistic bookworms.

(Yes, I realize this post is mainly about public libraries, which is something I strive to avoid, but I haven’t been hearing much of the same thing regarding academic or special libraries.)

  1. March 15, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Oh yes! I totally agree with you on libraries providing less expensive entertainment. The issue is tat with advancing technologies and other means of entertainment, the reading habit is slowly going out of vogue. For the youth, it’s more a tasking experience for their projects/ papers rather than a quiet place to read some good books.

    • March 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm

      Ah yes, literacy is a very complex issue, one I should address in a future blog post! However, in brief, I believe that we should try to make an impact in our immediate surrounding areas, which is why I advocate for donating to charities close to home. For literacy, this means that I try to encourage reading among those I know. I recommend books to friends, I loan my books out and don’t freak out about whether or not they’re returned, I try to help friends find genres or formats they’d find more appealing. What is most important though is for parents to instill a love of reading into their children.

  2. March 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Love it! While I might disagree to some points (being the one who started this discussion on twitter) I think this is a super important topic right now. Too bad this didn’t fit into 140 characters or less. Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

    • March 15, 2010 at 10:27 pm

      LOL!! There was much effort not to name people and keep them anonymous in this post! 😀

    • March 16, 2010 at 9:46 am

      Thanks for such a positive response! Yes, my blog exists for those times when what I have to say can’t be clearly stated in 140 characters or less. 🙂 Thanks for tweeting my post as well.

  3. March 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    The question shouldn’t be Public Safety vs Libraries. Obviously Public Safety wins. The question is can we reduce the # of fireman or peripheral services so we can keep the library? It would likely just be a small dent in Public Safety’s budget.

    • March 17, 2010 at 9:19 am

      In this economy in some cities, the question is public safety versus libraries. Suggesting reducing the number of firemen to save libraries is exactly the hero complex I’m talking about. The number of firemen exists because it’s a safe number. Asking to reduce the number of firemen or policemen is a selfish request.

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