Saturday, June 17, 2006

Librarians, Co-Dependent Profession? LICKS

Do you find yourself trying to solve your friends' every problem? Do complete strangers approach you in museums, stores and public transit to ask you questions -- Like you work there? Perhaps you are a librarian, actual or in potentia.

Yes, experts now have proof that librarians have a compulsive need to help others. Investigators at the prestigious Milliwether Institute of Professions (MIP) have been working for decades to tease out the most important characteristics of each profession. For librarians, it seems to be HELPFULNESS, closely followed by a NEED TO ORGANIZE.

While this is all very well and good for the patrons, librarians can suffer from an over-dose of this characteristic. For instance, Mr. X (all names changed to protect privacy), can no longer go to the grocery store. He goes in at the produce section, and immediately loses himself in sorting lettuces and straightening the rows of vegetables, re-piling fruit in order of size, etc. While he is thus engaged, shoppers regularly ask him for directions and information -- where is spaghetti sauce? Do you carry Havana Peppers? Poor Mr. X feels he MUST try to answer the questions, and will take the patron (er, sorry) -- the shopper to the correct aisle. As a result, Mr. X never gets his own shopping done. His wife refuses now to let him shop, either alone or with her.

Ms. Y, a reference librarian for 15 years, is regularly approached on the subway and street by tourists asking how to find landmarks in her city. She has taken to copying and carrying with her the sort of city maps handed out at hotels. Ms. Y will use a pen or highlighter to show the questionner how to get to their destination. Ms. Y has been chronically late to work as a result of these questions, and now must leave for work 2 hours before her scheduled time.

Miss Z is a cataloger. She finds she can no longer go to book stores, or even music stores. She has a compulsive need to re-organized the stock on the shelves by call number order. This, of course, upsets the staff in the stores no end. She has narrowly avoided being mistakenly arrested as a shoplifter several times. Even visiting other libraries is beginning to cause Miss Z problems. She has fallen into a fugue state, and wakened to find herself, pen in hand, correcting and amending call numbers on the spines of books. Gardens are beginning to be a problem as well. Miss Z states that she itches to rearrange the plantings into alphabetical order, or some better order than the haphazardly aesthetic organization she finds.

And Mr. and Ms. A-W, dozens of librarians, find themselves in classic co-dependent relationships with their patrons. Attorneys who left the research until the last minute, students who don't really want to do their own worksheets, all can depend on walking into their library and finding Mr. or Ms. A-W to pick up their crisis, carry their homework to a conclusion, and generally rescue them from their fecklessness.

If you see yourself in the descriptions above, consider seeking professional help. Librarians In Co-dependent Knowledge Systems (LICKS) has been founded by caring colleagues who found themselves eaten alive by their work. They have developed a 12-step program for breaking this cycle of co-dependency. If you think you or a loved one may be a co-dependent librarian or librarian in potentia, call 1-800-LIB-LICK today! Don't let your profession define your life!


Marie S. Newman said...

So this is why I was asked for directions on three separate occasions while I was in Manhattan yesterday??? The high point of the day came when I was sitting in a park and a tourist approached me; he said that he and his family wanted to have a picnic on the grass, but wondered if they would be breaking any laws by drinking beer? I assured him there would be no problem if he and his family drank beer on the grass, but wondered why he chose to ask me when there were hundreds of other people sitting in the same park.

The reason I was in Manhattan, by the way, was to visit the newly renovated Morgan Library. What a treat, and not just for librarians! The new addition works very well, and allows the Morgan to display treasures I didn't even know it had--an excellent collection of cylinder seals from ancient Mesopotamia, a stunning collection of works on paper by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Constable, Rembrandt, and a host of other great artists, and a splendid collection of music manuscripts, including works by some of the great masters--Mahler, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, and Strauss. Mr. Morgan's office has been opened up, and it is now possible to see his three Memling paintings up close. In the library itself, the display cases have mostly been removed, except for one displaying one (!) of the Morgan's Gutenberg Bibles, and two more displaying an Etrusan cosmetics pot with a small rendering of a female gymnast serving as the handle, and a Roman statue of Eros holding a torch--both magnificent works. The only downside I saw to the new space is that one no longer has the feeling of entering a luxurious Manhattan Gilded Age mansion. As in the past, however, the Morgan is well worth a visit. And it has a great giftshop!

Betsy McKenzie said...

How helpful of you, Marie! :)

Connie Crosby said...

Oh good--I've been waiting for the Morgan to reopen so I can visit it again!

Betsy, what a wonderful post. I can totally see myself here! For a number of years I volunteered at a popular tourist destination in my city giving out information and directions, just for the fun of it. People would stop me anyway to ask for directions, so I figured I may as well get a free T-shirt for my efforts! Heh.

I sometimes wonder if I have the word "information" across my forehead. The scary thing is I usually do know the answer to the question....

I have caught myself putting bookstore books into proper alphabetical order, saying to puzzled staff, "don't worry, I'm professionally trained!" Needless to say, I now try to stay away from the shelves and stick to the unorganized display tables. Better yet, I just avoid the bookstores altogether. It is difficult to leave those places without a few of the books following me home...

Betsy McKenzie said...

Awesome, Connie! I don't know that we need a 12-step program for real, but I certainly have had many of the experiences I put in there -- I keep my hands off produce, though.