Is There a Psychopath in Your Library?

With the recent publication of the most and least stressful jobs, I suppose that it makes sense that there would also be a list of the types of jobs that attract psychopaths. 

These are the jobs that rate the highest:

Highest Rates of Psychopathy

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (Television/Radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police Officer
  8. Clergy person
  9. Chef
  10. Civil Servant

Now, I was not surprised to find that librarians did not make this list, but then our profession did not make the bottom ten either (those with the lowest level of psychopathy):

  1. Care Aide
  2. Nurse
  3. Therapist
  4. Craftsperson
  5. Beautician/Stylist
  6. Charity Worker
  7. Teacher
  8. Creative Artist
  9. Doctor
  10. Accountant

Kenneth Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, states that once we dissociate the word “psychopath” from the word “killer,” we can see that an element of good old-fashioned psychopathy can be quite helpful in the road to success. After all, the psychopath is fearless, charming, and persuasive. He/She doesn’t procrastinate or take things personally when things go wrong. Of course, the whole lack of conscience or empathy can be a bit disturbing but often effective.

Still, even granting that psychopathy has its positive qualities, it’s hard to imagine that libraries would attract many psychopaths. At least, at my college, we library people admit to procrastinating. We take failure extremely personally. We can be kind and gracious to people who need help, but we would rather stay in our cubicles than simply be charming for charming’s sake. And since we spend a great deal of time trying to encourage students to use scholarly articles instead of Wikipedia, I would argue that, many days, we don’t feel very persuasive.

Still, that doesn’t mean just because we’re not sociopaths, we’re don’t have our moments. When I meet people at parties (the few times a decade I’m actually invited to a party), there are two basic responses when I tell them I work in a library:

One: “Oh, I love librarians. They helped me so much on my research on (fill in the blank).” Or “Librarians are the nicest, most helpful people.” 

Two: “Librarians! This really mean librarian scarred me for life.” Sometimes the stories are decades old. One friend tells of being reprimanded for choosing the ‘wrong’ books the day it was his turn, as a second grader, to roll the red cart to the library and bring it back filled with books for his classmates. Some have more recent tales. One colleague remembers going to another college library to do some research. When he left, he somehow set off the alarm, and the librarian who confronted him refused to believe that he didn’t have a book or magazine hidden somewhere on his person.

Perhaps the lesson here is that people’s impressions of libraries are formed long before they meet us. Therefore, although we may not have Jason or Freddie Krueger working with us, we can still scare students away with a careless answer or a brusque response.



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