“Miss, where are the books?”
“Miss, why have I got a fine?”
“Yo Miss, why do I need to swipe in?”*
I have no problem answering any of the above questions, I understand that University and Library rules and procedures often seem quite complex** before you get the hang of them (and sometimes even after you get the hang of them) so it’s really not the questions that I have a problem with. It’s the Miss. Or, to be more accurate, the Miiiiiiiiiiiiiss. It’s that long, whining I in the middle, Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiss. The only thing more likely to get my back up from the start of an enquiry is the thankfully rare “darling.”
What is the problem with Miss? I often get asked this by Americans, which suggests the irritation with the word is a UK thing (because I know from many, many conversations that I’m not the only librarian who feels like this!) In this country, the vast majority of children go to schools where, from the age of 4 to 16, they refer to their female teachers as Miss and their male teachers as Sir. There is nothing quite like hearing that whining Miiiiiiiiiis to send you straight back to the playground. And therein lies the problem; this is a University, not a school, and I am not their teacher. These are 18 year olds and this is supposed to be an adult environment. I understand that I’m here to help them, but calling me Miss puts me in a position that I am not comfortable with. It assumes that I have some sort of authority over them and their behaviour, and I don’t want that. If I did, I would have become a teacher!
Some people (see previously referred to Americans) argue that it’s a sign of respect, but I disagree. All of the questions at the start of this post would be perfectly polite and reasonable questions without the Miss in them. It’s not necessary! I wouldn’t go to the bank and ask “Miss, can I pay in this cheque?” Nor would I ring the Council and say “Miss, I already paid my council tax this month.” Nor, for the record, would I say Sir. Both assume a level of subservience; they are in charge and I am asking for help, when in fact, I am an adult speaking to other adults. I do not need to use a formal address, I merely need to be polite. Excuse me… Could I ask… Perhaps you can help… Maybe this is just a symptom of what the Daily Mail would call the Death of Good Old Fashioned British Manners, but I think that’s going too far. I just don’t think we’re going a particularly good job of teaching young people how to become adults. I’m doing my best to help, by encouraging them not to call me Miss!
There are other reasons that I dislike the word, one of which is that being called Miss is enough to make any young, fun loving librarian feel like they’re about 82 (because you never feel like you’re actually old enough to be a teacher.) The other is the assumption of knowing my marital status which does annoy the strident feminist in me, although I’m sensible enough to know that that is not the student’s intention and it’s just the patriarchy rearing its ugly head.***
Am I alone in this, lady librarians? Does being called Miss get your hackles up, or do you like it? Or do you not care either way? Have you been called Darling? Did the offender survive? And male librarians, do you get called Sir? And how do you feel about it? Let me know in the comments!
*Actual question that I just got asked. Innit.
**Kafkaesque, according to a student at the weekend, although he was caught in a loop where he couldn’t re-enrol because he didn’t have an IT account, but he couldn’t have an IT account until he re-enrolled, so that’s probably fair criticism.
** sorry, did I not mention that I’m a strident feminist? :p