Right before closing yesterday, I helped a patron and the series of answers we found had led to a pretty interesting discussion on race and socio-economics in San Francisco. I mentioned that this topic was particularly interesting to me because my father is a sociology professor, but I didn’t think that the patron even heard me because he was pretty far deep into his own rant.
A few minutes later, he suddenly busts out with, “So why didn’t you decide to get a real job like your father? Too hard?”
It was so blatant that I thought it was a joke, so I laughed. My laughing slowly tapered off as I realized that he was completely serious. We stared at each other for a few moments, because I truly had no idea what to say that wouldn’t cost me my job.
Before yesterday, no one had ever called librarianship unimportant to my face. Sure, I’ve overheard people making fun of librarians, and I’ve read plenty of SF hipster criticism on the Main, but in the twelve years since I’ve first held a library job, no one has ever told me that it wasn’t real.
He went on to assert that he understood that women weren’t up to challenging occupations like men were, so he understood why I hadn’t followed my father’s footsteps, or “become a lawyer or a social worker, something that makes a difference”. He filled in his own sexist blanks for me, and left.
What galls me about the whole situation is that this patron is a regular who often takes up my time on the reference desks to ask me questions that I then duly research for him without complaint or editorializing. Even when he, on occasion, veers off into his political diatribes, I try to listen and sort out his questions from pure vitriol. In my six months at the Main, I have helped him at least twenty times.
And yet what I do isn’t real, isn’t important, isn’t making a difference?
I can’t even bring myself to address the sexism angle here. This coming from a San Franciscan who touts himself as “educated and refined” in the year 2008: “Women tend to avoid difficult careers because they just aren’t as good at handling confrontation and aggression as men are.”
Plenty of people think that librarians sit around and read books all day. If you are reading this, you probably know that that stereotype is complete fiction, no pun intended. You also probably know that I deal with confrontation and aggression every single day I am at work, and no, I don’t mean in meetings. You may not know that I do this because I love it, because I believe in it, and because I am fighting for a part of our culture that is sagging under the weight of apathy. Anyone who doesn’t think that is a real job is plain wrong.