Friday, June 30, 2006

All the World’s a Stage

One thing I learned about librarianship is the amount of responsibilities and different roles required for this profession. Recently, I read A Dramaturgical Perspective on Academic Libraries, which makes a fascinating comparison between libarians and performers. In it, Brian Quinn points out that dramaturgical theory has 6 themes which relate to the library:

(1) Performance – a librarian is always an acting, from answering reference questions to directing staff meetings. In the library, he plays the role as information gatekeeper, but outside of the facilities, he is a son, father, husband, and/or multiple other roles. It is interesting though that the higher the position in the administration hierarchy, the greater the performance is required.

(2) Teamwork – All plays need a cast, and such is the case with libraries. Librarians often help each other out with reference questions when they are stuck, very much like an actor who helps out with an awkward pause when another player has forgotten his or her line.

(3) Regions – Performances take place at the “front,” and in the case with libraries, the circulation desk. The “backstage” is where players are out of view of the audience, and in the library is usually technical services (e.g. cataloguing) and the staff lunch room. What is most fascinating is the “make work” role-playing, where librarians are supposed to appear as if they are working even though they are playing sudoku on their computers, looking busy as if they are at work when in reality they are just “phasing out.”

(4) Other roles – Librarians and users often play roles outside of their realm and not in the script. For example, librarians might clean up after a flood even if this is not written in the contract; however, this is a duty that he must perform for the play to function.

(5) Communicating out of order – Even the best librarians cannot be in their roles 24/7. Hence, it is not uncommon for them to talk “out of character” with expletives and loose their cool from time to time.

(6) Skilled Performers’ Attributes – Loyalty, humour, thinking on one’s feet. Ah yes, the questions that interviewers ask. The skills for success in performances are often the very ones required of librarians. If a rowdy patron stirs up trouble by refusing to leave during closing time, much like an audience member who heckles the actors during the play, it is ultimately the skilled librarian who defuses the situation with as little damage and notice as possible.

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