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The use of the word “librarian” here seems designed to evoke stereotypes of a short old computer illiterate lady who fought The Man and won. Jessamyn West is not that kind of librarian — see her Wikipedia bio for more detail.

It would be not more accurate but perhaps more clear to say “Well-known author and activist wins case against Equifax.”




Arguably, it is this stereotype that needs to change. She seems to identify with being a librarian, and librarians these days work intensely with digital systems cataloging, digitizing, restoring, and providing access to all kinds of informational media.


Our local librarians are amazing. They help manage/operate the 3D printers including helping you fix/convert your files. They trouble shoot the PCs themselves, help connect people's random devices to the WiFi and manage the network. They know more about the books than I can ever comprehend (oh you're after a book on Japanese wood joinery? Sure 3 aisles down, about halfway down the aisle on the left, 2nd shelf from the bottom!). They're experts on information storage and searching, crafting complex queries in seconds for the various digital databases the terminals offer there. They do kids story times, and manage out of control families and troublesome patrons. All while being the friendliest staff of any Government amenity I've been to.

Such an underrated role in the community.


Agreed. I got a library science degree ~20 years ago and it was more about data structures/organization than "libraries" or "books".


even when she was mod at metafilter and writing books and things, she always presented herself 100% as a librarian, though. jessamyn.com starts off with "Hi, I'm Jessamyn./ I am a Vermont librarian." She owns librarian.net.


Yes, but calling her a librarian is like calling Dennis Ritchie a programmer. It’s 100% true but doesn’t really tell the full story.


Is there a name for this phenomenon, where a category is defined so much by "weakened" examples of it (e.g. your average 1/10th programmer, or your average mostly-just-a-library-clerk librarian) that, upon seeing a central example of the category with all the features the category is denotationally supposed to have, it actually seems non-central (i.e. "not really a librarian" or "not really a programmer")?


I don't think the parent's point is that she's "not really a librarian" but that she's not just a librarian. In the sense that Usain Bolt isn't just a runner. An extremely prominent person in any field is (perhaps counter-intuitively) never going to represent the majority of that field.

In that sense I suppose this phenomenon is called "understatement."


My point was more that, in this case, she is “just a librarian”, because this type of thing is what being a librarian is supposed to mean—it’s just that most people suck at being librarians, kind of cargo-cutting the actions librarians have traditionally taken rather than looking around and trying to embrace the spirit of the goals librarians try to accomplish with the highest ROI possible for a modern context. When “librarian” was invented as a term, it referred to people like this.

The same is true of Dennis Ritchie: he’s just a programmer—because the word “programmer” was originally invented to describe people like Ritchie. But by that same historical standard, most modern “programmers” aren’t; they’re just code-monkeys.

The Usain Bolt example is different—Bolt really is an exceptional runner, rather than being a denotationally-central example of what it means to be a runner. When the word “runner” was invented, it referred to the lesser thing, with plenty of central examples; and by that yard-stick, Bolt is more like a “super-runner” or some such. (Similar to how the word “food” developed to refer to a category where the central examples were nutritionally merely-adequate, so now we’ve had to invent the word “superfood” for foods that are, like, really dang good at being food.)


The word programmer was not invented to describe people who invented an operating system and then invented the canonical programming language for operating systems.


> My point was more that, in this case, she is “just a librarian”, because this type of thing is what being a librarian is supposed to mean—it’s just that most people suck at being librarians,

In my experience (working in an academic library and interacting a lot with employees of other academic libraries), most actual present-day academic librarians do not suck at being a librarian. They're not as high-profile as Jessamyn West, but neither are they "computer literate old ladies" -- they use computers constantly in their daily work and are at least aware of issues with digital privacy, copyright law overreaches, etc. I suspect anyone who thinks "computer literate old lady" is still the normative example of a librarian, hasn't interacted with many librarians lately (or perhaps has limited experience e.g. in a small town library).


LessWrong calls it the "non-central fallacy". [1]

"Martin Luther King Jr was a criminal! Taxation is theft! Capital punishment is murder! Abortion is murder!", etc are examples of that sort of misrepresentation.

[1] https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yCWPkLi8wJvewPbEp/the-noncen...


I think you’re confused. We’re talking more about the kind of thing where there’s a distinction between a “programmer” and a “programmer’s programmer”, where being too much of a programmer (i.e. a “programmer’s programmer”) makes you less like a “programmer.”

The noncentral fallacy is somewhat opposite to that—MLK is certainly not a “criminal’s criminal”—the reason people don’t identify him as a criminal certainly isn’t because he’s too much of a criminal.


It's much the same. Both are exceptional and atypical (non-central) in many attributes but fit the definition.

"MLK is just a criminal!" and "Jeffrey Dahmer is just a criminal!" are both non-central attempts to use extreme outliers.


No, it's not the same. The MLK equivalent of what's being discussed is introducing him as "Martin Luther King, a minister from Georgia...". It's using a very plain language to introduce someone quite exceptional.


The formal definition clears things up a little:

>"X is in a category whose archetypal member gives us a certain emotional reaction. Therefore, we should apply that emotional reaction to X, even though it is not a central category member."

The difference between calling MLK a minister and calling him a criminal is that being a minister isn't as negative. Nonetheless, calling him only a minister does evoke an emotional reaction that doesn't quite capture the power of MLK's role in society. Introducing him as a minister is an example of the non-central fallacy, but it's played for ironic effect.


Try "dysphemism," while not exact, kind of gets at the preconception angle.


Yes, it's called misrepresentation.


It's a mixture of misrepresentation and denigration.


It is generally respectful to call people what they want to be called.


Good point. Perhaps the best would be "Prominent librarian wins surprise judgment..."


I guess it's a matter of what she is a librarian of. Maybe she doesn't spend a lot of time in the library, but she is a cultural librarian 100% of the time.


or calling sir Tim Berners-Lee a web developer.

Oh wait, that actually happened: https://twitter.com/MSalt69/status/476684833221926912


Libraries were computerized long ago. Why would you have a stereotype of "a short old computer illiterate lady"?


Honestly I had that stereotype loaded in mind myself too. I think it's probably because I've not been in a library since the days of librarians being short old computer illiterate people

All my book needs were digitised long before our local library caught up, and then of course Amazon happened


How old are you?


30 on the dot this year


For me, it's because my school librarian DID fit that description, and I never met my University librarians (everything was automated).


There was a city library near me. There may be one near you too.



Public libraries themselves are relatively radical anyway. And librarians have often been defending free speech w.r.t. books being banned, and privacy of who read what.


Her dad was also the subject of the book: ‘the soul of a new machine’


Do you mean that he was at Data General at the time?

The subject of the book was the machine itself (the so-called "bag on the side of the Eclipse", IIRC).


I assume he is Tom West, the leader of the team that developed the machine...


> Do you mean that he was at Data General at the time?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_West


"The soul of a new machine" is one of most interesting books I've ever read.


A really great book, very entertaining and interesting.


no, it is the stereotypes that are inaccurate. not the article.

it would be more accurate if people stopped believing in stereotypes.




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