It all started with a tweet. A Houston-based librarian named Naomi Gonzales reached out to a photographer on Twitter to let him know that librarians were coming to Philly. “We are friendly and fabulously photogenic,” she said.
Kyle Cassidy, a Philadelphia-based photographer, was immediately interested. He tweeted back and she directed him to the right people. A few weeks later he was setting up a portrait area at the Midwinter Meeting for the American Library Association at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
His portraits challenge the buttoned-up, stiff librarian stereotype and instead highlight the personal style of each person. Some appear stoic, while others have huge smiles. Some of the proud bookworms don funky glasses, pink hair and quirky hats.
The equally powerful quotes from the subjects highlight their passion for the work. “Libraries and librarians give back to society, humanity and culture and I am unimaginably proud to be counted among their number,” said one of the featured subjects, Megan McFarlane.
Cassidy holds a special place in his heart for librarians. His mother was a librarian, and the time he spent walking and browsing through aisles of books helped shape him as a person.
The day after the conference he contacted online culture magazine, Slate, hoping to run his photos on the site. Even before he began the project, he thought the media outlet would be perfect for publishing his work. In his interview with Slate, Cassidy said the portraits are partly a fight for those forgotten souls who depend on the libraries. It’s a fight against those forgetting the importance of the librarian. “It's easy to dismiss libraries as something superfluous if you have a connection to the Internet at home," he told the mag. "But for people in many communities, the library is their lifeline to the modern world. It's the only way they can do research, it's the only way they can apply for jobs and file taxes. This is a class of people that is easy for many of us to miss. This is who librarians are especially fighting for."
The Slate piece has been shared over 38,000 times on Facebook but the responses have been mixed. While some praised it, many objected the look of the librarians, and a few commenters argued against the need for any librarians at all. Others, including some librarians, seemed to think the diversity within the librarian community is irrelevant to their work and their cause. Cassidy disagrees. He started the project to put faces on this fight, to celebrate librarians and their hard work. He believes adding a personal element will force more people to listen and understand. “My work, for a long time, has revolved around introducing readers/viewers to people in the belief that when we see someone in front of us, we listen better to what they have to say,” he wrote in a blog post.
Cassidy plans to continue this project by attending another ALA conference this summer. You can check out more of his work on his website.