I should start off by saying that my hope is that soon the era of rockstar librarians comes to an end. We brought them into this world and we’ll have to take them out.
I keep racking my brain about this week’s drama in librarianship. One librarian is suing two others. You know the story. I wish it hadn’t gotten to this point and I’m saddened that it has. But maybe it might just be that we can have some open dialogue as a profession and talk about what has happened over the last five or six years and how we got here. I’m writing this really free form and trying to get something out of my head and onto “paper” that’s bothering me. I mean absolutely no malice or offense towards any one.
I think this era of rockstar librarians has directly contributed to the current climate at conferences and the current legal case dominating our professional discourse. I want to try to frame the “rockstardom” without naming anyone in particular. You all know of a person that does a lot of speaking gigs, maybe who holds a lot of sway in conversation on social media, has maybe won awards or whatever. Sometimes they are also a bit of a jerk. In their minds, they’ve become better than others. They start to dominate all conversations, reject other opinions. They become a librarian rockstar. You might have someone in mind who fits this description. For the record, not all are men, in my opinion. How did we get here? I think there’s blame to go around and here are some of my initial thoughts:
- Our vendors pay money for some people to give talks. Maybe that inflates their egos. Maybe they drop great talking points that get us excited about librarianship. Then another vendor hires them. More ego. I have personally heard “rockstars” bragging about having their rooms paid for at conference and giving talks and getting free dinners and drinks. Those perks shouldn’t mean you can be a jerk.
- Fine. I think the Movers & Shakers may contribute to this. Please no offense to those who did not let it turn them into jerks. Ditto Emerging Leaders. Anytime you bestow an honor like this on someone in librarianship, there’s a chance it may make them a jerk. (Not all. I know.) But, I will admit to being at a social event at an ALA and hearing a new Emerging Leader (I think the first year or so) bragging about how he wasn’t really doing anything and getting a free conference and getting drunk. And I thought: so that’s worth my dues.
- Social Media. There is power in thousands of followers. It creates a feeling of self-importance. (Yes, I realize I have them but they are not all librarians. Also, I used to act like a bit of a jerk a lot. I admit that. I’ve apologized. I’m not a jerk anymore and haven’t been for years and somehow they still stay. I’ve blogged about the evolution of my own changing social media use elsewhere.)
So, somehow, these things have helped create a generation of librarians who are extremely popular, both socially and professionally. Again, without pointing out anyone in particular, they are popular speakers and they are popular on social media and the social circuit during conference. Sometimes they are popular mostly just on the speaking front or the social front, but I’ve seen a lot of overlap. A lot of us attend these conferences, go to their talks, and then maybe some of us even hang out with them. So, in part, we’re feeding the beast really.
Some of us have wondered how certain individuals keep getting hired to give keynotes. All flash, no substance. Yet, it happens. Why? Because someone’s attending the talks.
I also really don’t want to turn this into a rant on what adults choose to do at conferences. I have not witnessed the plaintiff in the legal case sexually harass anyone. But, I did witness a different rockstar getting what I would call a little too cozy with a friend of mine, who was super enamored with this person due to their social media presence. That day, I stepped in and got her out of there because I knew she’d regret it. I never said another word about it. But, I think about it at every ALA.
So, librarians, what do we do now? I wish I had answers. I don’t. I mostly just want to have a conversation about the lack of civility and conversation and the aura of rockstar librarians and how it’s turning everything to shit. And then maybe figure out how to fix it.
*Please note: Not all popular librarians that give a lot of keynotes and win awards are jerks. I know that and you do too.