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Librarian Trading Cards

December 3, 2010

Ben Ostrowsky, Systems Librarian from

It could be said librarianship has a perpetual identity crisis. A profession oft-misunderstood by many of those outside of it and some of those within, there is no shortage of literature or opinions on the professional and personal image of a librarian. With the advent of social media tools and the buzz around their use in libraries, this struggle was suddenly thrust into the view of friends, buddys, contacts, and followers the world wide web wide. We weren’t ready yet!

Generally I am inclined to ignore the idea of librarians’ image as a real issue. Sure its fun to read about, but is this something that can really be generalized to a whole profession? Like everyone else, librarians are individuals and I would argue that it is their service and actions that define them, not Barbara Gordon or the New York Times. Are a given patron’s impression of you and your job really informed by anything other than…you…and your job? Librarians unfortunate enough to have misunderstood social media tools as a way of reinventing their libraries as “cool” may be trying too hard. People (especially teenagers) see right through this and in the end authenticity and self confidence will always be the coolest.

Now this is not in the least to say that social media and 2.0 tools shouldn’t be used for self expression, professional networking, and a good time or two. The  Burlingame, CA  Public Library’s AV and Teen Librarian Amy Pelman, has maintained the Librarian Trading Card Blog since 2005, creating personalized trading cards for  interested librarians including who, what, and where information and  a short interview with personal and professional interest questions. Amy’s goals are to stay “in touch and in the loop” and highlight “all the great people in our profession because we work so hard, usually love what we do, and almost always defy stereotypes!”. Trading cards are posted on the blog which is highly responsive to its readers, who are quite literally its content.  The blog’s popularity has spawned a Flickr group with various libraries contributing their own versions of the trading cards. A Standout contributor is the Carlson Library of Science and Engineering at the University of Rochester who provide a direct link to their impressive Flickr account from their homepage. Carlson trading cards employ some slick Photoshop work to transform their staff into the “League of Librarians” even going so far as to have the cards printed and distributing them to freshmen at orientation events, which is pretty much the greatest thing you could get at a freshman orientation event. There are a lot of good ones in there, but I think this is my favorite.

So a bit of creativity and a highly individualized approach to librarian image work with social media/photo tools to make a pretty nifty outreach tool. Juxtaposing the librarian with the baseball and hockey player is a charming bit of self-parody and Amy Pelman’s interviews give those of us who are interested an sightful glance into our colleague’s lives. The trading cards are a familiar format with a modern spin and it would nice to see more librarians getting involved with the project and getting creative like Carlson. I would be inclined to email Amy for my own card if she is still doing it in a couple years.

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