Brian Alexander, who designs book- and video-return boxes for libraries, showed me a new large, sleek aluminum model, a kind of library-returns double-wide.
"We realized we have to go for size now," he said, "because as library personnel are condensed and libraries cut hours, there are fewer people to get books out of these boxes, which necessitates a much larger return box than we used to see in front of most libraries."
Depressing, I said.
"One way to see it," he said.
It's also too bad, because that means fewer librarians, and the librarian of the future (and, arguably, the present) — judging by "I Love Free Speech" T-shirts, piercings and tattoos on the younger librarians attending the convention — is not a shusher, but a hipster, only more tolerable.
Ahmed Johnson, a librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington, wore the hell out of a gray suit and pink checkerboard shirt. He's 41, specializes in genealogy and, looking around at the largely middle-aged, white female librarians in attendance, said: "You don't see too many librarians who look like me. I'm 6-foot-5-inches tall, and I'm black, and I'm bald. There are still a lot of people who expect a tiny elderly woman. But it's all changing."
Tina Louise Happ, an associate librarian at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago, wore cool white frame eyeglasses that screamed hipster librarian, a burgeoning strain of librarian. "Looking like a librarian is a self-fulfilling prophecy," she said. "But it's not like everyone's young now, of course. I was just at this panel. This woman says she doesn't want to be on Facebook. OK, you're resistant. But this is what we do now …"
I met four graduate library students from Indiana University. They said that just that morning they discussed the rise of the hipster librarians.
"I heard the librarian shawl is new librarian sweater," said Tiffany Saulter.
"We are all wearing shawls," said Lauren Shepard. She had a nose ring and a black polka-dot dress, the sixth or seventh black polka-dot dress I saw that day. To be specific, the black polka-dot dress is the new shawl.
If you're a librarian, anyway.