The Don Draper Librarian

One of my favorite shows of all time is Mad Men. It scratches every itch I tend to have with my entertainment and pop culture. One of the many aspects I love about it is how main character Don Draper is so entrenched in media. Being an advertising executive, he’s producing some of that media, but I loved that the show demonstrated how into it he got. Early on we see him read bestselling book Exodus by Leon Uris as the firm is hoping to sign the Israeli Tourism board. (That book happened to be a favorite of mine in middle school, back when I barely understood the politics behind it.)

In a later season, the firm is hoping to land Honda, and Don apparently is the only one who read the book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword and quotes from it as he comes up with a game plan for a pitch. It gets commented by a few characters throughout the run of the show that he sees all the movies being released. He sees everything, so he’s quick to make connections and recognize what the general public will connect with when they encounter the ads he makes. Don doesn’t make much of a big deal about it, it’s just a part of who he is and helps to make him the brilliant advertising mind everyone knows him to be.

Don’s character development brings to mind a quote I first heard early in my library career that, for me, has given me encouragement when I have wondered if librarianship was a good fit:

“In order to be really good as a librarian, everything counts towards your work, every play you go see, every concert you hear, every trip you take, everything you read, everything you know. I don’t know of another occupation like that. The more you know, the better you’re going to be.”

— Allen Smith, Simmons library school professor

The longer I’m in the profession, the more I agree with this quote. The whole point of being a public librarian is connecting with the public, with the community around you. Like Don Draper, you get immersed in what the community and people are talking about and taking in, and then you’re able to create new connections and relationships because that’s a thing you now share. Obviously this means you can better know what books to get for the collection that will check out, but it can also influence the displays you create and the programs you put together.

For Don’s career in advertising, knowing the latest pop culture references is important to know what’s in the zeitgeist and what people will positively respond to. And something similar can be said for library workers. We can bond with our patrons when they know that we get their references. We understood their joke. We know why a certain thing is important to them. We recognize what they want to learn about and can help them find what they need or want, sometimes with a personal recommendation.

“The successful man knows something about everything.”

— Frank Gilbreth

What helps me to be a better librarian is knowing a little bit of everything, so much of which stems simply from me being an active observer of my world and community. Just a little knowledge to get a foothold in, and for the few minutes you have of an interaction with a patron, you’re the smartest person in the room.

The fast typing skills I acquired from late nights on AOL Instant Messenger mean I get to help a patron on the computer even faster. The random news item I recall reading a few days ago will help jog a patron’s memory for an unrelated book they’re looking for, and they’ll look at me with a little more respect. I don’t have to know everything, and I know I never will. Nor do I really want to. I’m not interested in everything that deeply. But by having just a little bit of knowledge to work off of, to improve the Google search, or to have another person look at you differently because you knew The Thing… that goes a long way.

“I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.”

— Tess McGill, Working Girl

I was recently able to bond a little bit with one of the newer library clerks on my staff. She’s an older woman, a grandma, and like many older people who don’t know me assumes that I don’t understand the pop culture references she makes. But as we talked about the passing of Kirk Douglas, I made reference to him breaking the black list, and related to her that particular plot point from the movie Trumbo. (That movie’s not the greatest, in my opinion, but I enjoy it for the story it tells and read and enjoyed the book it was based off of.) Suddenly she can see me in a different light and know that I *get* her to a degree she didn’t think of before. We bonded. I now have a deeper connection with a staff member, and I can use similar tactics to gain trust with the rest of my staff and with our library patrons.

Keeping on top of current events helps me as a librarian. Knowing what books the celebrities are hawking helps me as a librarian. Remembering a meme from three years ago helps me as a librarian. It’s astounding to me all the random knowledge and trivia I’ve amassed over the years that builds and strengthens my career as a librarian. Never feel bad or weird or awkward for whatever interests or experiences you have — it’s helping make you the Don Draper of librarianship we should all aspire to be.

Amanda Mae is a librarian who has lived in too many states and enjoys anything involving books and American history.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store