What I call an advocacy fail (it was an advocacy fail)

And now from the librarian who brought you the business information point success story yesterday – today, in stark contrast a tale of failure to even things up a bit… Did you watch last night’s episode of Miranda? Yes, lots of it was hugely funny, especially the ‘sweeping’ bits, although I could have done without the stereotypical librarian shushing our heroine in the library. I expect more of Ms Hart I really do. Anyway, my disappointment at the librarian scene runs deeper than you might first imagine.

I actually saw the clip the first time it was ever shown to the public – a few weeks ago at BBC TV Centre – as a Miranda audience member. While the majority of the episode was recorded right in front of us (great seats – second row centre) the librarian scene was one of a number of video inserts played to us so our laughter could be recorded.  Throughout the evening, during recording breaks, the warm-up man (Stu Goldmsith – who will go far – watch out for him) asked questions of the 200-strong audience, while Miranda and her co-stars prepared for the next scene.

Now Stu was stood right in front of me and was almost looking me directly in the eye when he asked “Anyone in the audience love their job?” Now let us be in no doubt, if anyone loves their job, it is me. I’m passionate about the variety inherent within modern librarianship: the teaching, the social media engagement, the education, the technological aspects, the marketing, the er… well everything to do with it really. So much so, that this almost felt like a feed line that Stu and I had worked out in advance so that I would have the floor to tell the audience (and Miranda Hart) how amazing librarianship was these days and how the stereotype was no longer true.  So of course I… immediately looked to the floor and shuffled a bit in my seat. The rest of the audience were also silent. The question came again. This time a perky girl near the back shouted out that she loved her coffee shop job.  There was a bit of gentle banter between the girl and Stu (right) about this, before he asked again and  eyeballed me once more – no word of a lie! Bloomin’ heck I thought, does this really have to be so uncomfortably like Peter denying Jesus three times in the Garden of Gethsemane? Again a long silence, before Stu started to tell us how miserable we British were in our jobs and wasn’t it a crying shame. A crying shame indeed I thought as I belatedly contemplated blurting out a last minute dramatic appeal to the contrary.

I should explain at this point in the narrative that it was about now that in my mind’s eye I was suddenly gripped by a (almost ethereal) vision of Ned Potter (advocacy supremo), however he wasn’t beaming like he does so nicely at the top of the Library & Information Gazette, and his face was probably a hundred times bigger than it is in real life (I will find out its true size for definite in January when I finally meet him in person) and let’s just say he didn’t look very pleased, in fact I’d go so far to say that he looked extremely disappointed in me. And as he bore (bears?) such a close resemblance  to Jesus it made my denial so much worse. And after this vision receded, just when I thought my shame couldn’t get any worse, they played that bloody librarian clip!

OK so in my defence I was asked the question by a stand-up comedian whose job it is to rip people with apparently ‘sad’ jobs to bits. And I was not the only ‘engaged’ librarian there who said nothing. Bizarrely one of my marvellous Cambridge colleagues was also present (meeting in the Strictly Come Dancing-bedecked foyer beforehand was quite a surprise). May we both be forgiven.

So why was I struck dumb, other than the tangible threat of the comedic put-down? Well I think partly because however much I don’t want to believe it, deep down in my heart of hearts I still don’t believe the perception of librarians as anything other than stampers, shelvers and shushers will ever change – ’15 years of hurt’ has played its part.  And yet the fact that I felt so deeply guilty this time (and Ned filled my head) at least suggests that I conversely recognise that if ever there was a time for advocacy (because the profession has changed) its right now and that however small the opportunities we are offered we should take them. Although I’m great at promoting my service and what I do to my immediate stakeholders and to other librarians, ‘advocising’ beyond the echo chamber still eludes me. I should have been able to say I love my job and reveal that “I’m a librarian” (as proudly as the very lovely Rachel Weisz does in The Mummy – gratuitous photo left) regardless of what cheap joke Stu would have come up with next.

The bottom line then: I must try harder.


7 thoughts on “What I call an advocacy fail (it was an advocacy fail)

  1. Anne says:

    Hmm mockery by professional standup as advocacy opportunity? Let’s think about that for a moment. Why would he ask about jobs before a clip mocking librarians? In the hope that one of us would stand up and go on about how cool the job is … And then let the clip refute it. You might beat the comic but you won’t beat the telly – which gives even the most ridiculous of tales an air of veracity. I’d say well done to all info pros there for not taking the bait.

    The real opp was the chance to write about the experiencem

    But, I have to say I remain a bit mystified by the current push to advocate librarians as opposed to libraries. Libraries are under attack and I don’t think it’s cause the media shows an uncool stereotype – it’s a complicated political matrix around national overspending, a lack of interest at governmental level in retaining a place for self-education and, sadly, a (hopefully mistaken) perception of an easy target. One thing we’re not short of is people who want to be info pros. Library schools turn more down each year than we can possibly take! What we need is to make sure the libraries continue.

    Enough of a rant – what I wanted to say is don’t beat yourself up – either about this event in particular or about the librarian image in general. Accountants, lawyers, estate agents have worse stereotypes than ours and don’t agonise so much. What’s under threat is our workplaces. Focus on that big fight – get your library users advocating on libraries’ behalf. Random comedy audiences? Helpful not so much.


    1. libreaction says:

      You’re not the first person to have said that to me and they weren’t a librarian either. However, they did say that reading it made them feel a little guilty for their stereotype jokes so that was good I guess. As to the current advocacy focus on librarians rather than libraries, I have a different opinion as I think the cuts and closures are inextricably linked to outdated perceptions of what librarians are like and what we actually do in our libraries. And I wasn’t really beating myself up too much, I also posted it because as a narrative it flowed rather nicely!


  2. Anne says:

    Main thing is not to take the blame for stupid political decisions.

    The stereoytpe was there even when libraries were well-funded. Didn’t stop use, or others aspiring to become librarians. Similarly accountants and estate agents have stereotypes to battle. Don’t see accountancy firms being closed, or even government accountants being cut cause of that. Estate agents are closing but noone blames their professional image – it’s about money.

    I’m not saying there’s no case to answer for stereotyping. I just feel there’s a danger (not in this blog post specifically but in the general thrust at the moment of librarian image and library cuts being conflated by a disinterested media into a sort of “Well, turkey’s don’t vote for Christmas” dismiss.

    This isn’t the place to go into that, but thanks for an interesting, well-written post that is prompting me towards some sort of opinion piece.

    Whatever happens, it’s brilliant that so many people are fighting the good fight to keep our libraries open.



    1. Céline says:

      Anne – write your opinion piece as it sounds very interesting and I’ve got lots of things I’d like to say on the topic but (as you said) this isn’t really the place for that. I will come and comment on your blog if you write there (not sure whether that’s a threat or a promise!).


    2. thewikiman says:

      Anne, I agree with your point about the Turkeys, we do have to remember that. But I’m with Andy on the stereotypes issue.

      Yes, the stereotypes were there when libraries were well funded – but they were closer to being TRUE then. The important thing about the stereotypes is that they stop people finding out what we can do for them. They stop people updating their perceptions of the librarian’s role. It doesn’t matter if we really do all go around with buns, cats etc – what we DO day to day is very different from 20 years ago, so we have to communicate that. Our roles are more dynamic.

      Accountant stereotypes exist but as far I know they’re about them as people – they don’t reflect badly on their ability to do their job (in fact, they reflect well. We WANT our accountants to be boring people with good attention to detail). So it’s different, for me.

      I also think it’s worth trying to protect the librarian as much as possible, as they’re likely to survive longer than libraries.

      Andy, re the whole Jesus thing… I must admit, I’d’ve probably done the same. I’d’ve been having a right old internal battle, weighing up my fears and natural shyness with the need to Do the Right Thing and practice what I preach. But I’m pretty sure I’d have #failed.

      Adrienne however (@SphericalFruit) – I reckon she’d’ve nailed it. 🙂


  3. LK says:

    Oh dear – I have to admit I was in the audience and when the comedian said does anyone like their job or have an interesting job my hand started to rise and then I stopped. Having seen him ribbing people for the places they came from, their laughs and generally anything going I didn’t feel strong enough to come under attack. Funnily enough if he had asked the question after the librarian clip I think I would have been more likely to say something.
    I also suppose I have never been very good at that lift moment where you have to sell yourself in 5 minutes. Condensing down what you do and make it sound interesting is not easy – especially when people were there to laugh. Not sure any of us could have competed with the worker in the kinky coffee house either!


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