Friday, August 26, 2005

Impromptu Information Literacy Training In Local Bar Leads to Revelation about Librarianship

OXFORD, OHIO (ZP) - Last night, I stopped by a local watering hole on my way home from work to relax and grab a pint. Its, unfortunately, becoming my regular Thursday and Friday afternoon ritual here in Oxford.

As I sat at the bar, I struck up a conversation with a local retiree. We talked a while - about the firing of Bob Huggins down at Cincinnati, the future of education, the lack of analytical skills displayed by Gen Y and, oddly enough, the unifying power of Walt Whitman.

As the conversation progressed, we began talking about the Internet and modern society's seemingly niave approach to information security. We discussed cookies. We discussed datamining and tracking software. And we discussed worms, viruses, and anti-spyware and anti-hacking technologies.

The bartender ended up joining in on the conversation - a 21-year-old marketing major. A local contractor joined in, as did a former member of the local community government. In between sips of LaBatt Blue and frantic discussion about web content evaluation, I scribbled URLs to Spybot S&D, AntiTracks, and SpywareBlaster on cocktail napkins.

And then it happened. I realized for the first time why librarianship, as a whole, is in such sorry shape.

Librarianship is, in modern times, too full of its own bullshit. Budgets are being cut left an right, public libraries can't fund programs, academic libraries as a whole are overly obsessed with playing at being faculty in an effort to stay relevant while the cost of scholarly publications skyrockets. Our archives and rare materials collections are literally rotting in antiquated storage facilities.

The worst bullshit of all is the belief that somehow people give a rat's ass already and that all of our technical jargon, generally irrelevant scholarship, and collective hand-wringing actually matters to your average human being.

The truth is we've done a damn lousy job communicating our relevence in the modern era. We've devoted so much of librarianship's collective efforts to patting ourselves on the back when we host boring conferences, workshops, and, more positively, launch a new service.

Librarians, for the most part, have begun to lose touch with the ability to communicate what we do to those from whom we need their support.

I spent at least 20 minutes talking to a rather attractive brunette (the bartender) about becoming a librarian - a student who has undoubtably been through at least two BIs given her major. In her experience, librarians were simply helpful people who helped find information. She had no clue that librarians know how to do anything beyond that - that we know about tracking demographic changes, we know about metadata, the nuts-and-bolts behind website evaluation, and the like. I gave her my business card and told her to look me up ... I hope to God she didn't think I was making a pass at her (find me one female bartender in a college town that hasn't had guys slip them phone numbers in a futile attempt to get laid, and I'll find you beachfront property in Wyoming), because I think she'd make one hell of a librarian.

By the end of the night, I'd had two extra rounds paid for by bar patrons for helping them out. Its the first time I think anyone's tried to get me hammered simply for doing my job, off-the-clock, as an information professional.

I'm sure some libby out there will find it totally distasteful that I would dare to call my bar banter Information Literacy training. Honestly, I could care less. I helped show a couple of Oxford residents how to scrub spyware from their machines, how to better utilize Google and other search engines, and how to install software to keep companies like Amazon.Com from making use of their search behavior as a way to make a buck.

I feel pretty damned good about it, actually. I feel like I helped make people's lives better, which is so much cooler than simply being helpful and finding information.


Ms. Monkeythong said...

Yeah, well, you're just too spiffy for words! I'm not so spiffy technologically! Only quasi-spiffy. i wish someone would buy me a beer for doing my job! Heck, i wish someone would pay me correctly!

Hey, so i need any of that stuff for my Mac? So far i have had zero spam or pop-ups, but i am unsure about spyware and all that.

The ZenFo Pro said...

The thing I figure is we need to make public library branches more like bars...

Errr...maybe not...

Anonymous said...

Hey! You'rethe guy from Mac and Joes last night! The site rocks!

KFigment said...

I have known you for the better part of 8 years and I still have no idea what you do.

Chewie said...

dude that sounded just like what used to happen in college.. we would go out somewhere strike up a conversation.. and all of a sudden we had 10 other people talking to us... it is the gift of gab...

and it is true most people don't understand what you do.. but that is all the more reason for you to get out there(not you perosnally but the profession itself) and make people aware that the trade of librarian is more than the dewey decimal system

Stacy said...

Why am i not surprised by this? Now we just have to find you a girlfriend...hahaha. why didn't you mac on the bartender dude? At least get a phone number or something?

Stacy, UNLV

The ZenFo Pro said...

Hey, no prob. You'll get it eventually.

Yeah...thanks for the professional shout-out...does sorta sound like Greeley, don't it? I miss that Denny's in Garden City. And the Ultimate Skillets at Village Inn.

LOL...didn't mack on the bartender because, well, that's just wrong. I don't rock that way...anymore ;-)

zenkrak said...

It is all part of the magic circle of "B"s.
Beer, Books, Bar

IvyGrad said...

I hear you and agree.
Would have bought you a drink had I been there.
I done that.
I "got out" and am now stuck in the stratosphere of development.
So I'd better learn my stuff.
And I "keep intouch" with liberrians by blogging reading blogs and listservs (oh how quaint already) ... It's still InformationScience to me!