Staring into the depths of a book review on Freud or the depression-heart disease connection, I often feel cut off from my beloved audience. The hallowed halls of LJ at 360 Park Avenue South are not exactly akin to the aisles and open spaces of libraries. For one thing, where I work is relatively quiet, aside from bursts of harried typing (blogging and high-speed feature writing) or raised voices (editors argue, it’s true). This kind of noise does not come close to the supercharged hum of all walks of humanity seeking out Information–or the brain power meeting their calls.
Frankly (and I’m sure my colleagues would agree), editing book reviews in corporate isolation is boring. That’s why I love going to ALA. It’s one of two times a year I get to connect intimately with librarians, the people for whom, I am gratefully reminded, I put in 40-plus hours a week. And what a species of professional they are. I’m always tempted to try to describe them en mass, but to do so would undercut my belief that librarians are hard to define owing to their many aims. As a young, North Carolina-based librarian said to me on the way to a session this morning, "I do ILL and reference. Oh, yeah, and everything else."
In my sixth year of attending ALA, it dawned on me that maybe a better way to sketch librarians is by what they are not or do not do. As Jane and Joe Public would see inside the beige and periwinkle walls of the Washington, DC, convention center, they are not sitting around reading books. They are not quiet-mongering, old, unattractive, or all female. They are not all registered Democrats or Libertarians willing to buy the revolution-urging T-shirts of street activists. And get this: They do not necessarily like to be called librarians (as I learned at our Paraprofessional of the Year reception last night).
The moral: Just when I think I’ve got my audience figured out, I do not. So I’m going to keep on keeping my eyes and ears peeled the remained of my time in DC. And I look forward to getting surprised.