There’s been a little bit of fuss over Jay Leno’s monologue last week – you can view the offending spiel via Library Journal. He’s talking about the L.A Mayor’s budget cuts, and he says “People here in Los Angeles are upset that the mayor’s proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries… This could affect as many as nine people.”
So anyway, the City Librarian sent him a letter, and I’m going to take a leaf out of Library Journal’s book (or should I say ‘journal!’ Yeah – eat it Leno! You’re not the only comedian around here!) and embed the letter here:
I don’t want to rain on another librarian’s parade, particularly one who is fighting the good fight, but I’m not sure how useful getting upset about this can be. I very much approve of stepping up and fighting back when people criticise – wherever possible, I believe if someone says something derogatory and misinformed about libraries, we should use the same platform they originally used, to set them straight. I’ve tried to this myself in the past. But comedians… Comedians joke about stuff, it’s what they do. Leno has writers who write his monologue each night, and they pick something topical and have a go at it. Such is his status, it doesn’t even have to be funny (in fact he delivers this particular joke pretty badly) but it’s just something to say. Who cares? Much more awful things crop up in comedy all the time.
In the letter, Martín Gómez says Leno’s joke added insult to injury. Well yes it did – but the injury is so significant, the insult is really here nor there. It’s made a really bad situation infinitesimally worse, possibly. Admittedly there might be some ‘floating voter’ type potential library user out there who sees Leno and says ‘you know what? Libraries ARE useless – I’m going to decide against visiting one after all!’ but surely we can give people more credit than that. What might happen, though, is the story becomes (to the people who matter, ie potential users – we as librarians should have thick enough skin not care what Leno says, it’s a decent enough throw-away gag the likes of which we all probably make about other struggling industries all the time) about how ‘librarians got all fussy and upset – again’ when they were insulted, and look, they wrote a letter. Which would be a shame.
I want to make clear I am in no way belittling the plight of libraries in California, or their staff, or their users, or the commendable efforts of librarians to stand up for themselves. But you have to pick your battles. Sense of humour failure very rarely helps anyone – it has the potential to be particularly damaging for Information Professionals because of the joyless legacy we’re trying to shake off.
Despite this, I like the last paragraph very much. We should ALL do this sort of thing – we should be saying, as Gómez does, don’t take our word for how good libraries are; come and visit one. As I’ve said a bunch of times before – we can only show people what we do and let them make up their own minds as to whether they need us. The biggest threat we face is a lack of understanding as to our value stemming from a lack of awareness as to what we’re really like.