and Role Models
Social and Cultural Impact of Information
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.
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?
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.
Mike Peters, Mother Goose and Grimm, 18 January 1987
Asides Section for additional Conan the Librarian
images and poetry.
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,
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.
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
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
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.
of a scene from "Buffy":
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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: try your traits
before trying fate. [Online]. Israel. Available at: http://www.humanmetrics.com/
Accessed 16 October 2001.
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
Kwak, Gail. Modified
Librarian. 1999. [Online]. Available at: http://www.BmeWorld.com/gailcat/
Accessed 14 October 2001.
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.