EAT, DRINK, BE LITERARY From left, Jessica Pigza, Maria Falgoust, Jeff Buckley and Sarah Murphy at a social event for librarians where the author Robert Sullivan, far right, spoke. photo: Michael Nagle for The New York Times
A Hipper Crowd of Shushers
By KARA JESELLA
Published: July 8, 2007
ON a Sunday night last month at Daddy’s, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, more than a dozen people in their 20s and 30s gathered at a professional soiree, drinking frozen margaritas and nibbling store-bought cookies. With their thrift-store inspired clothes and abundant tattoos, they looked as if they could be filmmakers, Web designers, coffee shop purveyors or artists.
“Maria Falgoust, 31, is also a founder of Desk Set, which took its name from the 1957 Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy romantic comedy. A student who works part time at the library at Saint Ann’s School, she was inspired to become a librarian by a friend, a public librarian who works with teenagers and goes to rock shows regularly.
Since matriculating to Palmer, Ms. Falgoust has met plenty of other like-minded librarians at places such as Brooklyn Label, a restaurant, and at Punk Rope, an exercise class. “They’re everywhere you go,” she said.”
When talk turned to a dance party the group had recently given at a nearby restaurant, their profession became clearer.
“Did you try the special drinks?” Sarah Gentile, 29, asked Jennifer Yao, 31, referring to the colorfully named cocktails.
“I got the Joy of Sex,” Ms. Yao replied. “I thought for sure it was French Women Don’t Get Fat.”
Ms. Yao could be forgiven for being confused: the drink was numbered and the guests had to guess the name. “613.96 C,” said Ms. Yao, cryptically, then apologized: “Sorry if I talk in Dewey.”
That would be the Dewey Decimal System. The groups’ members were librarians. Or, in some cases, guybrarians.
“He hates being called that,” said Sarah Murphy, one of the evening’s organizers and a founder of the Desk Set, a social group for librarians and library students.
Ms. Murphy was speaking of Jeff Buckley, a reference librarian at a law firm, who had a tattoo of the logo from the Federal Depository Library Program peeking out of his black T-shirt sleeve.
Librarians? Aren’t they supposed to be bespectacled women with a love of classic books and a perpetual annoyance with talkative patrons — the ultimate humorless shushers?
Not any more. With so much of the job involving technology and with a focus now on finding and sharing information beyond just what is available in books, a new type of librarian is emerging — the kind that, according to the Web site Librarian Avengers, is “looking to put the ‘hep cat’ in cataloguing.”
When the cult film “Party Girl” appeared in 1995, with Parker Posey as a night life impresario who finds happiness in the stacks, the idea that a librarian could be cool was a joke.
Now, there is a public librarian who writes dispatches for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a favored magazine of the young literati. “Unshelved,” a comic about librarians — yes, there is a comic about librarians — features a hipster librarian character. And, in real life, there are an increasing number of librarians who are notable not just for their pink-streaked hair but also for their passion for pop culture, activism and technology.
“We’re not the typical librarians anymore,” said Rick Block, an adjunct professor at the Long Island University Palmer School and at the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, both graduate schools for librarians, in New York City.
“When I was in library school in the early ’80s, the students weren’t as interesting,” Mr. Block said.
Since then, however, library organizations have been trying to recruit a more diverse group of students and to mentor younger members of the profession.
“I think we’re getting more progressive and hipper,” said Carrie Ansell, a 28-year-old law librarian in Washington.
In the last few years, articles have decried the graying of the profession, noting a large percentage of librarians that would soon be retiring and a seemingly insurmountable demand for replacements. But worries about a mass exodus appear to have been unfounded.
Michele Besant, the librarian at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the Association of Library and Information Science statistics show a steady increase in library information science enrollments over the last 10 years. Further, at hers and other schools there is a trend for students to be entering masters programs at a younger age.
The myth prevails that librarians are becoming obsolete. “There’s Google, no one needs us,” Ms. Gentile said, mockingly, over a drink at Daddy’s.
Still, these are high-tech times. Why are people getting into this profession when libraries seem as retro as the granny glasses so many of the members of the Desk Set wear?
“Because it’s cool,” said Ms. Gentile, who works at the Brooklyn Museum.