Do you know Penelope Trunk? I don’t always agree with her, like when she says students should spend less time in libraries, but I like how she arrives at her conclusions.
This week she’s writing a series about Asperger’s. It’s autism lite and was first diagnosed in 1994. After working in libraries for 16 years, (whoa) and encountering a majority of quirky personalities, I bet that 30% or more of librarians have Asperger’s syndrome/disorder.
Asperger’s is about social skills: The lack of them. Those dealing with the disorder don’t pick up on social cues that most everyone else does. They don’t make eye contact, or, they make it inappropriately. It’s one of those balance things. And, for the most part, their social skills are unbalanced.
For example, as they speak about their interests, they often don’t realize that they’ve picked a bad time to approach a colleague. Sometimes they’re caught in a loop, and only talk about one thing, say: Politics. Or Zombies. They don’t pick up on cues that the listener has disengaged. Or they crash and burn at small talk, by changing the conversation to something they’re comfortable with. They stand by and nod. They “chime in with nonsensical things.”
Perhaps the stereotypes of librarians as being bookish, shy, standoffish, and socially awkward has a basis in history and a connection with mental handicaps that librarians have never considered or acknowledged. Many people with Asperger’s are bright, and do well professionally and intellectually, but it’s in the social, or collegial, arenas where they tank. How many of us know colleagues who spend each evening playing the accordion by candlelight for their bevy of cats?
There’s no research to prove my theory that 30% of librarians are/were Asperger’s. Asperger’s is a recent, trendy thing when it comes to being diagnosed. And there are a lot of retro-active diagnoses, too. If you have Asperger’s, then you’re in good company with these famous folk: Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Elvis, Leonardo da Vinci, Virginia Woolf.
Those affected make poor eye contact, are aloof, don’t use gestures or point or show, and lack interest in their peers. They find social situations and relationships with peers challenging. Their symptoms make them seem odd or ill-mannered. Sounds like a stereotypical librarian to me.
A search of LibraryLit using the words “mentally handicapped librarian/s” returns no results. Years ago I read about Asperger’s in academia. Surely it was in the Chronicle. And that’s how I developed this theory about Asperger’s and librarians. Not just academic librarians, some public, and special, too.
Disclosing Asperger’s in application materials helps those with the disorder get hired, possibly. But there is reluctance to out oneself as Asperger’s in academia. Pity or being considered “less than,” or have their failures blamed on their disorder is unsavory.
And yet, Asperger’s is a disability. Those so diagnosed have recourse under the law for unfair employment practices or discrimination.
Anyway, it’s an area that interests me and I wish there was more research on personalities and mental handicaps in librarianship.
Do you see evidence of Asperger’s in yourself or your colleagues? I’m halfway convinced that I’m Asperger’s now, but I know it’s simply not so. I’m curmudgeonly, but can turn on the charm like a spotlight when so inclined.