Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Do You Respond to "That" Question?

I'm going to have to do a bit of venting, and then I want your opinion.

Today I was at the gym, minding my own business, wearing a shirt that said "faculty" on it I got from my school when we did a farewell flash mob for the seniors a few years ago.  A guy that I would guess was in his late forties I've never seen before comes up to me and says, "I've seen your shirt and I've always wonder what school you work at."  So that's kind of weird, but OK.  So I tell him, and he asks what I teach and I say I'm a librarian and he says, "That's must be fun.  I have a friend who's a librarian.  Do you have a library science degree?" "Yes."  "I've always wondered why a degree is needed." "..."

This has probably happened to you.  It has happened to me multiple times.  It never stops making me angry.  This guy managed to say the two things that piss me off the most.  First, "that must be fun."  I love my job.  I love being a librarian.  I do it because I love it and I think it's important.  And yes, it is often quite fun.  But it's a job, and it's hard work.  I don't sit around reading all day and cutting out paper hearts.  It's that, "Oh, what a cute job.  How fun.  You must really love kids."  Does anyone say to a plumber they must really love toilets?  Does anyone anyone tell a stockbroker, "Oh, I envy you, that sounds like fun?"  It's insulting.  People who work in the arts, kindergarten teachers, and people who work with young children get this too.  "That must be fun."  Yes, it can be.  But when someone says that there's such a lack of respect for what we do.  Such a lack of understanding.

The second is even worse.  "Why do you need a degree in that?"  Why do I need a degree for my professional job?  Why did I take two years studying so I could perform my job to the best of my ability?  Does anyone ask a lawyer why they need a degree in that?  Why is this any different?  I got a degree so I would have a background in children's and young adult literature.  I got a degree so I would know how to manage a library.  I got a degree so I would know how to teach information literacy, to collaborate and work with faculty members, and learn how to stay up-to-date on constantly changing technologies.  I got a degree so I could learn how to integrate the core curriculum standards into my teaching.  I got a degree so I would know how to support whatever community I was in, and know how to chose items that community needs.  I got a degree so I could learn how to catalog all the items I purchase, maintain and weed my collection, and find the answer to any question that gets asked of me.  I got a degree so I could stand up for books that might be questioned by some, so that everyone in my community can feel they are represented.  I got a degree for a lot of reasons.  No, not just anyone can do my job.  Or at least not just anyone can do it well.  I guess I could be a lawyer, just a really, really crappy one.

It does not help that librarians are constantly being fired in times of budget cuts and replaced with paraprofessionals.  No, it's not the same.  It's not the same at all.  Because we don't just check out books and tell people to be quiet and read stories aloud.

Also, how do people not realize how offensive it is to ask someone why they need a degree for their career?  Especially someone you don't know?

I've decided I need to have a stock answer prepared for when this happens.  Something that I have memorized so when I'm in the moment I can just fall back on it rather than either being too angry to say anything or deciding it's not worth it and laughing it off.  I could recite Joyce Valenza's Manifesto for 21st Century Teacher Librarians, but it's kind of long.

What do you say when someone asks you that question?


  1. Girl, I totally understand you!
    I'm studying to be a teacher and my dream is to be a kindergarten teachers. And everytime I tell anybody about it their first reaction is: "OH! It's must be a fun job!" or "You probably never get tired working with kids"
    Are You F** Kidding me??? Teaching is not an easy task, I don't do it just because I like kids and I want to play all day with them :)
    I hate people that makes us feel inferior :)
    I love that you are a librarian -I always wanted to be one :)



    1. I have such respect for people who work with young children. There's a misconception that all that's done is "play with kids all day." They don't understand that there's a pedilogical reason for every single thing that's done. You are awesome. Carry on.

  2. I think maybe he is confused at what you do exactly. My husband is a guard/check out person at our libraries part time and anyone can get that job. So maybe he was thinking of that while you actually do more then that?

    1. I think part of the problem is definitely that people just don't understand what I do. I need to work out how to explain it in a way that a lay person will understand. I'm working on it.

    2. I definitely think there is a misconception that a librarian only checks out books. That when we say there's a degree for librarianship it means that we have a higher degree to scan a book. There's no disambiguation between a library assistant and a librarian for most people. I have not thought of a good response to this yet other than,"I am an educator, of course I have a degree." The jerk-face is more conveyed by facial expression.


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