Male Librarians:

Stereotypes and Role Models

 

DarLynn Nemitz
IS209: Social and Cultural Impact of Information
Fall 2001

A positive public image is vital to practitioners in any profession and library science is no exception. Stereotypical images of librarians in popular culture has resulted in many male librarians feeling limited or even ostracized as a result of their occupational title. Librarians have suffered with a terrible image problem which ranges from the bespectacled spinster librarian with her hair in a bun to the effeminate male librarian with a penchant for orderliness. The question posed is whether it popular culture, society, or librarians themselves that are at fault for perpetuating this stereotype? Research provides a clue to this question and provides some useful suggestions for those working in the library field to improve this dismal public image.

Male librarians are discussed somewhat less often than are female librarians, but a stereotypical image exists for them as well. As one study in 1994 indicates, male librarians often perceive that there are more gay males in librarianship than in a typical cross section of the U.S. population. In reality, statistics have proven this is not the case. Therefore, is it society, or male librarians themselves that perpetuate this image?

We have seen cartoon images of Conan the Librarian, the burly reference librarian featured in Mother Goose & Grimm, Saturday Night Live skits and various websites that pay tribute to the character. The humor of the imagery lies in the fact that society's stereotypical image of male librarians does not include the sort of character featured.

 

Source: Mike Peters, Mother Goose and Grimm, 18 January 1987

http://144.162.80.232/lrc/conan.htm

See our Asides Section for additional Conan the Librarian images and poetry.

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Selected Resources

JOURNALS

Carmichael, James V. 1994. Gender Issues in the workplace: male librarians tell their side. American Libraries, March, 25(3):227-230.

In October 1991, the author conducted a survey of male librarians intended to capture sentiments about gender issues. Librarianship, according to the author, is perceived as a feminized profession but 32% of the respondents felt that the technological revolution in librarianship had changed this perception. Individual quotes to the survey are provided and indicate that often male librarians were asked to do "scut jobs"; those tasks deemed as physically demanding or undesirable such as moving tables, cleaning up after sick children, and dealing with unruly groups of teens. Men were assumed to be more computer competent, were assigned to night and weekend work as they supposedly didn't need to care for children, and when assigned to children's work, women and children were sometimes uncomfortable with a male children's librarian. Male librarians perceived that a higher percentage of gay males were employed in the library sciences than were employed in other fields. This same survey requested respondents to indicate if they were gay or straight and the reported percentage of gay males was not significantly greater than the percentage of gay males in society as a whole. This seems to indicate that male librarians have a misconception about themselves and perhaps changes in perception need to come from within the profession before librarians should expect society to change their perception. One survey respondent remarked that as there is an active gay and lesbian contingent in ALA and no comparable group in other profession, the library profession must have a greater percentage of gays than others professions. Perhaps, but it is also possible that this field promotes the freedom and rights of individuals and therefore gay and lesbian librarians feel more accepted by their peers and are thus inclined to be more open.


Cullen, John. 2000. Rupert Giles, the professional-image slayer. American Libraries, May, 42.

The author refers to GraceAnne DeCandido's article titled, "Bibliographic Good vs. Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer". He states that although Rupert Giles, the school librarian seen on Buffy the Vampire slayer has propelled the image of male librarians into the millions of homes, the image is negative and oversimplified. He mentions media in which librarians are depicted as murderous, dizzy, absurd, or unhelpful. The author contends popular entertainment does not depict librarians as professionals, but rather they are depicted in an unrealistic and inaccurate manner. It is through this entertainment media that our future politicians, university deans, and other fund managers will acquire their early perceptions of librarians. Therefore if we do not change current misconceptions into positive images which depict librarians as professionals with highly valued skills and experience, the society will increasingly consider us less valuable as resource and a profession. The author concludes by pointing out that Rupert Giles, is not heroic because he is a librarian, but heroic despite being a librarian.

DeCandido, GraceAnne A. 1999. Bibliographic good vs. evil in Buffy the vampire slayer. American Libraries, Sept, 44.

DeCandido feels that perhaps only Katherine Hepburn in the motion picture "Desk Set" has done more for the image of the library profession than the character Rupert Giles on the television series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Giles is a Watcher, a keeper if you will, of a Vampire slayer and after Buffy's former Watcher is slain, Giles is assigned to advise Buffy. Rupert Giles is the high school librarian as well as the source of training, research, guidance, support, and a father-figure for Buffy. DeCandido describes Giles in many ways: occasionally befuddled, very wise, elegant, deeply educated, well if fussily dressed, tweedy, handsome, and charged with eroticism. One would say he fits the bookish, bespectacled image that librarians are trying to break free from if it weren't for the fact that this professional's " love of books and devotion to research hold the key to saving the universe - every week". Giles is one of the few stable, friendly, and supportive adults in the series and his character has depth as he has romantic interests in the series and and a touch of darkness in his own past as well. Discussions between Buffy's supporters and Giles often take place in the school library where Giles keeps arcane tomes on a plethora of preternatural topics such as vampire and demon lore, the occult, witchcraft and spellcasting.

Excerpt of a scene from "Buffy":
Giles: They're confiscating my books.
Buffy: Giles, we need those books.
Giles: Believe me, I tried to tell that to the nice man with the big gun.
Giles: This is intolerable. Snyder has interfered before, but I won't take this from that twisted little homunculus.
Snyder: I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning.
Giles: You get out... and take your marauders with you.
Snyder: Oh, my. So fierce.
Snyder: Just how is, um, Blood Rites and Sacrifices appropriate material for a public school library? Chess Club branching out?

Liebold, Louise Condak. 1997. Changing the Librarian Stereotype. Library Imagination Paper, Spring, 19(2):4.

Liebold discusses the motion picture, "Party Girl", in which a fun-loving party girl is arrested and sees employment as a library clerk as the profession that will turn her life around. At the conclusion of the movie, she decides to attend library school. A more stereotypical view of librarians can be found in "It's a Wonderful Life" which features Jimmy Stewart as a man who gets his wish to not be born which affects the life of his wife - she is no longer a happy and beautiful mother, but is instead, a withdrawn and mousy "spinster librarian with glasses and her hair in a bun". The author states that librarians and not the motion picture industry will change society's image of librarians. She suggest librarians allow the public to see the human size of librarians by inviting the public to spend a day with a librarian at work or by discussing hobbies, special interests and skills either in newsletters or in person.

Radford, Gary P., and Marie L. Radford. 2001. Libraries, Librarians, and the Discourse of Fear. Library Quarterly, July, 299.

Radford provides examples of representations of libraries and librarians taken from modern popular culture, including popular film, television, and novels. The library as presented in popular culture is seen as a heroic hall, a spartan cave, or generally as large, imposing structure. Based on Michel Foucault's control-fear approach to discourse, the library materials are not as forbidding to the user as the overpowering ritualism of the entire operational system of the library. This ritualistic system and its searching and retrieving methodology places the librarian, the intimidating gatekeeper between order and chaos, in a powerful position. An otherworldliness feel is ascribed to the library with its cathedral-like structure wherein the consequences of disrupting the sacred order of texts is severe and ignorant users are humiliated. The library is the ultimate symbol of discursive control and the production and maintenance of knowledge and power is controlled in secrecy and access is limited only to librarians.

Scherdin, Mary Jane, and Anne K. Beaubien. 1995. Shattering our stereotype: librarian's new image. Library Journal, July, 35.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) confirmed some of the most deeply ingrained stereotypes in the 1970s and 1980s: that librarians are process-driven and shortsighted, and tend to shy away from any type of confrontation. The MBTI was used to determine an individual's personality based on four dichotomous scales: Introversion/Extroversion (I/E), Sensing/Intuition (S/N), Thinking/Feeling (T/F), and Judging/Perceiving (J/P). The Scherdin Study determined the following percentages for librarians' personality traits: 63 percent Introverted, 60 percent Intuitive, 61 percent Thinking, and 66 percent Judging. Traditionally, ISFJ was the personality type assigned to librarians, but Scherdin determined that the ISTJ and INTJ personality types were most prominent in librarians and were also found in the following occupations: Computer professionals, chemists, electrical engineers, high-level corporate executives, auditors, life and physical scientists, school principles, dentists, lawyers, and judges, according to CAPT's Atlas of Type Tables. Scherdin asserts that an array of dynamic qualities are needed to meet the challenges of the Information Age and staff MBTI profiles can help create strong project teams that work well together.

Schuman, Patricia Glass. 1990. The image of librarians: Substance or shadow? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 16 (2):86-89.

Schuman acknowledges that although the public misconstrues the duties of librarians, they do respect the position and possibly view librarians as role models. She maintains that librarians should not be concerned with the spinster image, but rather with the image of being "foreboding, boring, complicated, largely inaccessible, or worse, irrelevant". Librarians need to promote themselves to the public as efficient and capable professionals who lend their expertise to her the public fulfill their educational, recreational, and informational needs. She is a proponent of actively demonstrating that librarians perform a wide variety of tasks and do not merely checkout books to patrons.

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NEWSPAPERS

Arnot, Chris. 1998. The Old Stereotype of fusty men and women among shelves of musty books is way off line. The Guardian Unlimited, Society Page. 26 August, 2.

Fountain, John W. Librarians Adjust Image in an Effort to Fill Jobs. New York Times 08/23/2001, Nat'l Desk, Sec. A, p.12, col.1

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WEBSITES

Hitchcock, Laura. 1999. Defiled: A CurtainUp LA Review. [online]. Los Angeles, CA. Available at http://www.curtainup.com/defiled.html. Accessed 15 October 2001.

This website is a review of the comedy, Defiled, which was featured at the Geffen playhouse. Defiled is exactly how Harry Mendelssohn, played by Jason Alexander, feels when his annotated card catalogue is slated to be removed from the library and replaced by a computerized one. Harry is a loner of a librarian in his 30s who resents the dumbing down of humanity to the point where he is driven over the edge. Harry straps a bomb to himself, enters his library and threatens to blow it up unless the card catalogue is retained. Harry is the pathetic stereotypical bookish male librarian: a book-loving, technology-hating insecure loner whose only friends are his dog and an absent friend from college with whom he maintains occasional contact. Peter Falk costars as Brian Dickey, a police negotiator whose duty it is to prevent Harry from bringing himself and the library to catastrophic ends.

Humanmetrics. 1995. Humanmetrics: try your traits before trying fate. [Online]. Israel. Available at: http://www.humanmetrics.com/ Accessed 16 October 2001.

Do you fit the stereotypical personality as determined by the Mary Jane Sherdin article above? Find out by taking the Jung-Myers-Briggs personality test featured in the upper left of the Humanmetrics webpage.

Kwak, Gail. Modified Librarian. 1999. [Online]. Available at: http://www.BmeWorld.com/gailcat/ Accessed 14 October 2001.

Librarians breaking free of the stereotype are featured at The Modified Librarian. Meet librarians who have modified their bodies with a variety of tattoos and piercings. Each name links to a page featuring photos of the librarian, their areas of expertise in the library science field, and photographs of their "body modifications". One link has been removed due to administrative pressure from the librarian's employer.

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