One of the odd things about being a librarian is that people expect you to know things. Not just “library stuff” but things about the world in general. Politics. Foreign affairs. Baseball statistics.
It’s a bit much and a role we librarians, as a class, are utterly unprepared to assume.
Some of us can, some of the time, spout long and reasoned opinions about specific topics that happen to interest us. And, working as we do in the open-to-the-great-unwashed framework of public libraries we often have a pretty good idea as to what our users find interesting or important.
Unfortunately, there are two major problems with assuming the role of Public Intellectual.
First of all, we aren’t trained for it. We’ve usually got a graduate degree in librarianship, but our undergraduate degrees can be in anything … and a BA really doesn’t mean much nowadays, does it?
Second of all, intellectual life is all about truth telling (as one sees it), and as Jack Nicholson’s character put it (in A Few Good Men), “You can’t handle the truth.” Leastways not coming from a civil servant who doesn’t know anything about the politics or beliefs of the person he/she is speaking to.
It’s a lot easier to stay quiet and speak in generalities.
So, instead of being “Public Intellectuals” we are merely some-time intellectuals who work in the public eye.
Even when you ask us about something we actually know something about.