Image of Libraries and

Librarians in Literature


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

We have established the stereotype of the librarian and she looks like the character featured in the gif above. This animated gif has been offered free by The Animation Factory and is unceremoniously titled "Librarian Shhh Quiet Please". We see the classic stereotype for a female librarian: an unattractive, bookish woman with her hair in a bun, wearing black horn-rimmed glasses who only pauses from contemplating the novels on her bookcart long enough to shush the viewer. This same character is featured in additional images at the Animation Factory through a keyword search. The other gifs tell more about the stereotype: the woman wears long-sleeved blouses over floor-length skirts with sensible shoes. Other library gifs include a filing cabinet and a bookcart. The general public still views librarians in this antiquated manner as noted by the absence of barcode scanners, computers and other modern conveniences.

Images of this bygone era remain with us all, perhaps because we are not vocal enough about the disparity between reality and fantasy. Few champions for improving our image in the library field exist within the industry so we often rely upon others to do it for us. Perhaps those who put us in the limelight most are authors and illustrators who feature such characters in their novels and art. Illustrators vary in view from the stereotype to friendly and more progressive characters. See the bibliography of Children's Fiction about Libraries or Librarians in Literature Literature section of this project. In regard to adult fiction, do all authors portray librarians as either retired women who discover dead bodies and investigate murders at the drop of a hat pin or as old maids who are avid romance readers but have yet to discover their true love? Yes, some of these stereotypes still exist in modern literature, but there is a definite trend to modify the stereotype.

The Image of Libraries and Librarians in Literature List provides a list of recent fiction which primarily feature a library professional as the focus of the story, whether the character is a cataloger, an archivist, a reference librarian, a children’s librarian, or a retired librarian. A few of the titles feature authors and references to libraries were substantial enough to include them in the list.

The Selected Resources List below provides bibliographies of literature that feature librarians. The resources are in a variety of formats and provide further discussions about the image of librarians in adult reading level literature.

Fiction Reading List

Bibliography of Adult Fiction About the Image of Libraries & Librarians

This is a reading list of fictional novels featuring librarians, archivists, cataloguers and libraries. Additional bibliographies about libraries, librarians and related topics are available at links below.

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Selected Resources


Burns, Grant. 1998. Librarians in Fiction: A Critical Bibliography. McFarland.

374 plays, short stories, and novels are presented in this fully annotated reference book. Stereotypes of the bun-wearing librarian are not always the case. This source details novels in which the librarian is the quick-witted and wise individual out of the characters. This is a must for the discerning librarian who wishes to inform themselves as to the image of librarians in literature. Consider this a very useful source in avoiding the stereotypical images of librarians.

Cart, Michael. 2002. In the Stacks: Short Stories about Librarians and Libraries. Overlook Press.

Former Beverly Hills Library director and author Michael Cart has compiled a wonderful collection of short stories that celebrates libraries and librarians. Titles include: "The Public Library" by Isaac Babel, "Exchange" by Ray Bradbury, "Hard Luck Stories" by Alice Munro, and "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges.


Alderman, Ellen and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Can a journalist's novel be libelous? ('Primary Colors' by Joe Klein). Columbia Journalism Review, 36(2):55-57.

Librarian Daria Carter-Clark, played host to Governor Bill Clinton at her adult literacy program in Harlem and has filed a suit again author Joe Klein and his publisher Random House. She claims the author defamed her as he portrayed the visit in his book, but not in a flattering manner. "In the first few pages of Primary Colors, a southern governor contemplating a run for the presidency visits a Harlem adult literacy program run by a female librarian named Baum. A few pages later, the governor and Baum emerge disheveled from a hotel room." Clark says everyone knows the fictional governor is intended to be Bill Clinton, but she did not have sex with him. The image does not portray her in a flattering light. Temporarily anonymous author Joe Klein accompanied Clinton when he made the visit to Carter-Clark's adult literacy program.


BookBrowser. 2001. Sleuths By Occupation: Librarian [online]. Bloomington, IN. Available at: Accessed 2 December 2001.

Sleuths whose occupation is 'Librarian'. The list provides the character's name and links to the author's BookBrowser listing with all the titles for that character.

Cobrinik, Laura. 2000. Librarians As Characters In Fiction: Biographies, Poetry and the History of Libraries, including textbooks. in Marginal Librarian. [online]. McGill Library and Information Studies Student Association. Los Angeles, CA. Available at Accessed 21 November 2001.

Billed as "books for all readers", this website provides a list of fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children. The list of histories about libraries provides an extensive resource.

Johnson County Library. 2001. Librarians In Fiction. [online]. Johnson County Library: Bookmarks & Bibliographies. Shawnee Mission, KS. Available at Accessed 2 December 2001.

Lists authors of fiction works and some of their titles.

Gunn, James. 2001. Librariaes In Science Fiction. [online]. University of Kansas, English Department. Lawrence, KS. Available at: Accessed 4 December 2001.

Discusses the history of science fiction literature and the role libraries played within several texts. Discusses "Cerebral Library" (1931) and "The Eternal Conflict" a 1949 novel about wish-fulfillment both by David H. Keller (1931). Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" (1953) and H. P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936) and Jorge Luis Borges's 1956 "The Library of Babel" as well as many others are summarized and discussed briefly.

McCurley, Marsha. 2000. Bibliomysteries Web. [online]. Los Angeles, CA. Available at Accessed 27 November 2001.

Mysteries that have settings, plots, or substantial characters in them related to the world of books, writers, archives, and libraries. Author, title, publisher and date are provided along with a one line summary of each work listed in these bibliographies. A very nice list of reference resources is included.

Parnell, Stephen. 1991. Literature, libertines and Lenin's wife: Famous People and Libraries. [online]. University of South Australia Library. Adelaide, South Australia. Available at Accessed 8 December 2001.

Casanova, J. Edgar Hoover and Mao Tse-Tung have all been librarians. The list doesn't end there, in fact, the Brothers Grimm, philosphers David Hume and Immanuel Kant, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow and at least six popes have worked in libraries. These librarians wrote literature that has stood the test of time.

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