When asked what I do, the answer is simple upon introduction: “I’m a librarian!” What are my career goals? “To be an archivist!”
The response is usually something like this: “Librarian? That’s not something you hear everyday.” That is code for, “libraries exist? And you want to work in one?”
The response to my wanting to be an archivist is usually bafflement — the conversationalist doesn’t know what an archivist is, and I tell him/her, or complete bewilderment, in the form of, “a pretty girl likes you wants to hide away in the basement all her life?”
If you’re a woman, you probably are familiar with the “twenty-something” archetype which plagues Facebook and Instagram these days. It’s the intended audience of Cosmopolitan in snarky insta-facebook posts, tv shows and, yeah, real life.
Who is the intended audience of Cosmo? It’s the Twenty-Something, endlessly single/sarcastic 10-to-15 lbs overweight but not-too-out-of-shape female, working a nondescript office job and using her low, but not too low wages to satisfy her spending habits (read: she’s not rich enough to move forward but she IS well off enough to buy Starbucks, designer clothes, and pay rent for a small apartment in The City). What city? We don’t know, just that if you don’t live in a city, you can’t possibly be a single twenty-something. She goes to bars and clubs regularly, dressing to impress and to get drinks, brings men home, but remains single somehow, even though she uses Cosmo’s 109 sex tips that are sure to turn an average encounter into an unforgettable steamboat.
TV and Chick Lit? Your average twenty or thirty-something is surely working an office job. She can’t have a successful career without a bitchy boss above her, fun coworkers her age that invite her to bars (including DAT HOTTIE who’s in love with her) or– if she has a business of her own — she’s probably only got one idea in mind: something undeniably feminine. Probably a fashion line. Maybe, if she’s really ambitious, she wants to own a boutique. In Suits, she’s so ambitious that she’s a paralegal. In Gossip Girl, there’s a scene where a male character is so arrogant that he mistakes the esteemed corporation’s co-owner to be a secretary. Because she’s a young woman.
So, it’s not surprising that people that ask — typically men — look at me with total confusion when I describe my career. As a librarian, I’m not going to shy away from the fact that I work in a female-dominated field. But hear me out — it’s thanks to Melvil Dewey, the famous librarian, that women dominate the field at all. He opened classes to women in an era (late 19th century) in which women were kept from higher education and MLIS courses at all costs. Dewey, who quite frankly didn’t give a hoot, decided to invite women to his courses — and surprisingly, it was women who made up the majority of his library classes, and so the trend continues today.
But there’s the image of the librarian as the nasty, scary”shusher” who went from unattractive, mousy, uptight young woman to old lady spinster. I suppose there’s something society wants to tell me about being in a professional career.
Since it’s often assumed thanks to my eternally youthful face that I am just in high school, there is sometimes confusion as to why I am behind the library desk and speaking with authority to those more than twice, three or four times my age. The confusion continues when I explain that I am a professional — in fact, I am working on my MLIS.
I’m not down for the press, the pictures, the magazines, or the video coverage. My name will be in print. So will my words. And I will be in the basement.