The Modern Librarian: A Role Worth Checking Out

"I hope this movie busts some myths," said Nathan Bomer, a librarian from Tulsa who walked the red carpet at this week's American Library Association convention here. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2007

Men in tuxes and women in gowns smartly walk the red carpet at the Washington Convention Center, to the "woo-hoo!" of adoring fans. A cameraman records the procession, photographers angle for close-ups. One carpet-walker, a woman in blue sequins, strikes a come-hither pose, and a security guard taps a female spectator on the shoulder.

"Are they famous?" he asks.

"No," she replies. "They're librarians."

Librarians, with the notable exception of Laura Bush, aren't often in the spotlight and publicly appreciated -- which is exactly why Ann Seidl decided they deserved a movie.

Seidl, a 43-year-old consultant, first became inspired to create a cinematic tribute in 1997 while pursuing her master's of library and information studies at the University of Denver. There, she realized that the sourpuss book-marms long depicted in film bore little resemblance to her passionate colleagues. Her decade-long campaign for librarian respect, fueled mostly by private donations, has culminated with "Hollywood Librarian."

Friday evening, the first night of the 128th annual American Library Association convention here, Seidl premiered her $185,000 opus to an audience of 5,000 very, very grateful colleagues.

"I hope this movie busts some myths," said attendee Nathan Bomer, a 29-year-old librarian from Tulsa. "Our profession is in need of a serious image change."

To illustrate his point, Bomer opened his backpack and produced a souvenir, just purchased at the convention's gift shop. It was an action figure. Of a librarian. Her weapons: a stack of books and a pair of Coke-bottle glasses. Her superpowers are limited to "Amazing Shush-ing Action!"

"My life," Bomer said, "is nothing like that."

Precisely the problem, Seidl said. Today's librarian is less likely to be a mousy Marian than the highly trained captain of a one-stop community center, navigating everything from social services to fundraising socials -- and doing it all on tightly bound budgets. Over the past four years, local governments, which provide the lion's share of funding, have cut library allocations by a total of $188 million, including decreases of as much as 10 percent in some communities.

"Hollywood Librarian," one of 65 sessions or events during the six-day conference -- intersperses clips of some of the silver screen's most celebrated book lovers (Katharine Hepburn in "Desk Set," Parker Posey's "Party Girl") with interviews with librarians from across the country. We meet the misunderstood cataloguer. The noble researcher. The director of the Houston Public Library, who, with 600 employees, sees herself first and foremost as a businesswoman.

We also meet a half-dozen small-town librarians, whose days are filled with tasks they never anticipated in "library school," as some affectionately call it.

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