A customer is approaching the information desk. I am available, as are my colleagues. Who will the person choose to approach? In the slow times of exam periods or late shifts, I often stand wondering why the customer didn’t approach me first. I was definitely sporting the mandatory “I am the happiest person in the world” smile, so really, they should have picked me. But they didn’t. So how do I cope with such rejection? I can either push my colleagues out of the way, or I can solve my problem like a true librarian. So off I went to do some research.
I was in luck. Really, it was fate, serendipity, or maybe just plain old coincidence. An advance view of First Impressions and the Reference Encounter: The Influence of Affect and Clothing on Librarian Approachability was available through The Journal of Academic Librarianship. It was twelve pages, so I skimmed. I only needed the conclusions and I did not have time to waste. My career and my self-esteem depended on me being the most popular person at the reference desk.
So what did I learn?
1. Smiling consistently increases approachability. But I was already smiling like I’d won gold at the Olympics so moving on…
2. Don’t look down. Especially if you’re a woman. Unless you are young and looking at a book. Oh the confusion. I’m young, must go find a book. But I’m also a woman, so should I just hold the book up to eye level? Yes, that could work!
3. Wear a name tag. Especially if you are young. Hmmm, I wonder if I make my name tag bigger, will that help?
4. Formal clothing – a must for men and older people, and a definite no for women and younger people. Well this is cause for celebration. I’m kicking off my heels and stepping into my Cons. And as for that pencil skirt. It can go to Vinnies. I’ll stick with my jeans.
5. Last lesson – even clothing colour matters. If you are a woman, don’t wear red. This is funny because red is supposed to enhance attractiveness. So evidently, if you’re pretty, you’re up the creek without a paddle. Ok, off to the shops to stock up on white and blue t-shirts.
So where does all this leave me? I’m smiling, I am reading a book BUT not looking down. I’ve got my name tag on and looking like I’m going to the movies. I’m all set to be inundated with pleas for assistance.
PROBLEM. I’m 25. Told I look around 18. I have been asked if I’m a student on many occasions. I’ve also been asked “Can I speak to someone more senior?” – even when that senior person will give the exact response that I did. Usually, they’re not even more senior, just older. So now I’m standing in my casual wear looking even younger. I just don’t get this research, but how can you argue with evidence?
It’s easy – I’ll argue with the arrogance of youth.
So I think I’ll continue dressing like I’m going to a job interview. Let’s face it, appearance matters. But more than looking approachable, I want people to trust that I know what I am taking about. I’ll wear my jeans on Fridays, and see if I notice a difference.
Dimity Flanagan is an Information Services Librarian at UNSW Library