Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why I Chose Librarianship (So Late in Life)

Sometimes I wonder why I became a librarian, especially so late in life. I've had 49 years of life experience. I've gone through several careers, from janitor to soldier.  I've traveled the world and have seen a lot of things and people. I don't regret my choices. But why did I choose librarianship, especially when I could have chosen the more  lucrative and "masculine" professions of law and medicine?

I think my choice of librarianship was a political act. In my own small way, I wanted to increase the number of African American men in the profession while transforming the very nature of the profession. Of course,  my single action most likely will not change librarianship. At its roots, librarianship is a service-oriented profession largely dominated by white women and the cultural expectations often attached to that population.  We are frequently rendered invisible as we curate information infrastructures.  We selflessly take care of others, like a good mother selflessly takes care of her children.  I don't want to change the service aspect of librarianship. I want to transform how this service is perceived and rendered. I think my presence as a black man can affect that transformation.

I think this transformation begins with my very body. A Black man cannot sit at the reference desk or lead an information literacy instruction session without being noticed. I think it surprises people to see a black and male body outside of sports and entertainment arenas. Sometimes I am asked if I work in the library. Sometimes patrons seem to doubt my "right" to be in that particular space. On more than one occasion, I have had patrons go to a white and female librarian. Although I don't know for sure why they took that route, I often speculate that my black and male body "spooked" them.

I don't complain about that. I use my status to surprise people with a substantially different approach to librarianship. I like to collaborate with people. I don't simply answer reference questions; I dialogue with people to find solutions to problems. I don't merely facilitate access to information; I question the very nature of its production and dissemination.  As a Black man, I encourage patrons to question authority because it seems that this same authority facilitates racial and gender stereotypes about Black men and other men of color. 

So, why did I choose librarianship, especially so late in life? I think it took me so long to realize that my talents were suited to shake things up a bit in the information world. I don't know how that will eventually play out. I may be just another invisible, forgotten cog in the information infrastructure.  But if I do it right, I may be a footnote or an inspiration. One can dream, right?

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