December 2002

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell

Rare birds

The worst part about school is school itself.

I'm badly paraphrasing the late great F.D.R. here, but less to add gravitas to my argument than to hopefully impress upon you my historical background. I have a fancy piece of paper hanging in my living room that declares me a "Master" of history. As a long-time Dr. Who fan, (To those who aren't up on Who's who, Dr. Who's greatest enemy was the Master) I cannot help but giggle slightly whenever I gaze upon that piece of parchment in a $100 dollar frame. I worked very hard for that piece of paper. In many ways, I feel I really graduated when I shook the hands of my various mentors just prior to that long ceremony. My name has often been a bane in my life, whether as fodder for playground taunting or as a source of constant mispronunciation, but on the day I graduated with several thousand of my most distant of acquaintances I felt blessed to be able to duck out just after Farrell and right before Ferrell.

After achieving my mastery of one art, I began to pursue another, the library sciences. Actually the last semester of my history degree overlapped with the first semester of my Library Science degree. This is a fact that seems to impress people. I think of it more as a display of my own severe lack of planning skills, but I've always possessed a somewhat pessimistic bent.

Library school is quite a mixed bag. Actually, bag would not be the word I'd choose. Perhaps 'can' is more appropriate than bag really, as in can of mixed nuts.

If one thinks about the sort of people that are attracted to libraries, the diversity is staggering. From the most ardent and studious of scholars who yearn to preserve the wisdom of the ages, to people who long to bring the simple joy of the written word to children, librarianship is a noble tradition that cuts across every segment and strata of intellect.

We also attract, as my Uncle James used to say, some rare birds.

Let us begin with the Technophobe. If you have been avoiding the library since the early nineties, perhaps frightened away by the disaffected antics of some Generation-X kids moping by the doors, you may be unaware that libraries are wired up places. So it is then that I react with some degree of surprise when the Technophobe seeks a career in this field. This breed of bird seems to be totally lost on the information superhighway. In point of fact, they got off the highway a few exits back and are trying to shake off their nerves in a roadside café. They are generally good-natured folk, but their questions can serve up some quality guffaws. "Where is the start button on the keyboard?" "Why does the computer need to save the screen, does the screen have it's own file?"

Then there are the cat people. Librarians as a whole seem to be cat people. Perhaps it's the subtle nature of cats, their innate grace and independence mirror the qualities we aspire to professionally. That said, some people go too far. Nothing is as frightening as a cat in a fancy outfit. On second thought, strike that. Nothing is as frightening as a Picture of a cat in a fancy outfit. Again, these folks are quite kind and gentle, loving towards man and beast alike. Though perhaps they do prefer the beasts a tad more.

Another breed of rare library bird are the over-achievers. Sometimes these people's behavior is a holdover from their earlier academic years. These are what hall monitors grow up to be. The assignment is five pages, they write 10. The journal is supposed to be a 'loose-collection of thoughts', they have a computer-created index with web links. In creating handouts the overachievers often go whole hog. Kinko's loves these folks. Full color digital imaging, intricate typesetting and hours spent on the most minute choice of font and text size.

Offshoots of the over-achievers are the micro-managers. These are graduate students who seem possessed of absolutely no time in which to do anything. Papers are always too much work, independent work is always too much of a hassle and in-class discussion is a waste of money since "I don't pay to hear some student talk!" Don't fear these gentle birds too much, they tend to burnout quickly and disappear leaving only a smoking Palm-Pilot and a badly overloaded day-planner in their wake.

What am I, you might rightly ask? I'm the very spirit of blasé. I was once very judiciously advised by a mentor "Life is far too short and far too interesting to be long-winded and dull." I'm a quiet sort, often earning the ire of fellow students who mistake my casual attitude for apathy. It seems that far too many people are under the mistaken impression that a career in library science is a wind sprint. Rather this is a marathon in which it's not the fastest of the strongest who takes the gold, but the one who simply keeps ahead of the pack.