This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

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Feb. 11 2014 12:21 PM

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

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"No one is better at fostering intellectual curiosity than children's and teen librarians," said Ingrid Abrams, a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library in New York.

Kyle Cassidy

When you think of a librarian, what image comes to mind? Photographer Kyle Cassidy ventured to the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia in January to explore that question. In between networking, educational events, and panels, librarians from across the country stopped by Cassidy’s makeshift studio to sit for a portrait. The result is a celebration of the diversity in the librarian community. “I realized I had a stereotype in my mind of what a librarian looked like, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this project. Whenever I think something is true, I'm often wrong,” Cassidy said. “I tend to think of librarians as the ones I know from my public library and from school. But there are librarians who are researchers and archivists doing extraordinarily technical work. There are librarians who work in specialized fields who have to know about archaeology, for example, or medicine or research science. The field was broader than I had gone in there thinking.”

Ingrid Abrams, a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library who participated in the project, said diversity among librarians extends beyond their professional expertise. “If you haven't been in a library since you were a little kid, or maybe have only seen libraries in movies, you might think we're all a bunch of humorless, shushing curmudgeons,” Abrams said via email. “The truth is, we're a variety of ages. We're every race, ethnicity and religious background imaginable. We can be the type who wears a suit and tie every day or someone like me, who has pink hair and dresses in bright colors. Not that any part of how we look really matters, but if the only librarian you've ever seen is the librarian ghost from the first scene of Ghostbusters, I assure you we're a really dedicated and friendly bunch.”

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"As a librarian for an AIDS service organization, I am able to deliver services and design and conduct projects that improve access to HIV/AIDS-related health information for patients, the affected community, and their caregivers. Libraries are epicenter for access to information, and librarians have the unique opportunity to help users build digital and information literacy skills that are transferable and applicable in everyday life," said Megan Threats, AIDS Library of Philadelphia FIGHT.

Kyle Cassidy

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"I have two things I'd really like to say about libraries. The first is that libraries are a place to make it happen. And the best quote I found about libraries is actually by Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. He says, 'When you're growing up, there are two institutional places that effect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you.' The public library is a great equalizer," said JP Porcaro, New Jersey chapter councillor for ALA Council.

Kyle Cassidy

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"Libraries are the centers of the community, the last place to receive truly unbiased information. Libraries are the poor man's university, the place where you can have access to all the knowledge of the world for free," said Edwin Maxwell, a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library.

Kyle Cassidy

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"Libraries and librarians are important because they can open entire new worlds to the people in their communities. Not just through books—everyone knows about the books—but librarians are super smart. They know things, and they know how to find the things they, and you, don't know," said Tina Coleman, member specialist for the membership development office of the ALA.

Kyle Cassidy

Cassidy’s project also seeks to address the budget cuts and understaffing plaguing libraries across the country today. In interviews, Cassidy asked librarians to talk about the challenges libraries face and why now, perhaps more than ever, they’re important. “I see this really as battle. I don't think it's too much hyperbole to say it's a fight in their communities for civilization, to give people access to not just knowledge but technology,” Cassidy said. “It's easy to dismiss libraries as something superfluous if you have a connection to the Internet at home. But for people in many communities, the library is their lifeline to the modern world. It's the only way they can do research, it's the only way they can apply for jobs and file taxes. This is a class of people that is easy for many of us to miss. This is who librarians are especially fighting for.”

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Cassidy was inspired by his experience and said he hopes to continue the project in the future. “I found myself meeting and spending time with people who I found heroic in an uncelebrated way—people who were cheerful and joyful and serious and devoted. These are people who often spend their own time and money helping people. They work extra hours during which they're not being paid because they're passionate about the results and the communities they're serving,” he said.

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"Ideally, the library is an equalizer, where people can go and not feel judged. Even if this isn't always the case, library staff can and should advocate for libraries as equalizing community spaces," said Lalitha Nataraj, youth services librarian at the Escondido Public Library in California.

Kyle Cassidy

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"Libraries encourage creativity and innovation and provide opportunities for life-long learning. Librarians are the ultimate search ninjas," said Mel Gooch, a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

Kyle Cassidy

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"Libraries are the last safe, noncommercialized space that truly welcomes everyone in the community and brings them together. They're the great equalizer," said Jenny Levine, the ALA's Internet development specialist and strategy guide.

Kyle Cassidy

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"Libraries are important because students these days are not actually competent at navigating the digital world, but we as librarians help them not only navigate the digital sphere, but become better global citizens," said Fobozi M. Ettarn, who is studying for a master of library and information science degree at Rutgers University.

Kyle Cassidy

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"Libraries are vital to the community not only because they provide free access to information, but also because we provide the tools for people to learn how to navigate the ever-changing and new digital landscape," said Sarah Jane Levin, a librarian at the Urban School of San Francisco.

Kyle Cassidy

Update, Feb. 21, 2014: This post has been updated with a newer version of a photo of Edwin Maxwell.

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