Librarian Stereotypes

It seems that no matter how much time goes by, people think of librarians as old ladies with grey hair pulled back in a bun, glasses with those beaded chains hanging on them, sweater sets, and “sensible” shoes.  Any time you see a movie or a TV show that has a scene with a librarian they seem to fit this to some extent.  Unless, of course, it’s Marian the Librarian from Beautiful Creatures or everyone’s favorite time traveling librarian, Henry de Tamble from The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Most writer’s get it – although L. J. Smith’s mention of a librarian that couldn’t help the group of psychic kids find a town landmark in her Dark Visions series ticked me off a bit.

A recent Kit Kat add took place in a library.  While the woman I assume was the librarian wasn’t old, she was dressed in the stereotypical knee length skirt, opaque tights, high neck blouse, cardigan, and ever present bun.  While I actually got a laugh out of the add, I didn’t like that the woman playing the librarian was dressed they way people perceive us to dress.

The new Hallmark show Cedar Cove seems to be doing a good job with their portrayal of the town librarian Grace, played by Stargate: SG-1 alum Teryl Rothery.  The best friend of the main character, Grace is modern and stylish.  No bun or glasses here.  In fact, her hair is cut ultra short and she has a grown daughter and a budding romance with a local ranch owner.  I initially wasn’t sure if she even had a library to work in since I never heard mention of work, just that she was a librarian.  I was therefore excited when in a recent episode she jumped on the fundraising bandwagon when the library was in danger of being shut down by the town council.  What a very librarian thing to do.

But my case in point is an episode of the popular TLC show What Not to Wear.  Everyone knows that Stacy London and Clinton Kelly dish out fashion advice no matter if you want it or not, and they have helped countless woman and a few men over the last few years to gain self confidence and a better body image while teaching them to dress properly.  While they have been harsh at times, I think overall they’ve done a lot of good.

However, in Friday night’s episode they staged they scene where they revealed to the unsuspecting mark (a twenty-two-year-old woman that wore camouflage and only camouflage) that her family had turned her in at an historic New York City library.  OK, I’m fine with that.  Then I see their “librarian”.  An old woman with her gray hair in a bun, glasses with the beaded chain to keep them on, and a sweater set sitting at a table reading a book while she waits for her unsuspecting patron.  I cringed.  She leads the unsuspecting young woman to the le gasp! card catalog – which I doubt the twenty-two-year-old even knew how to use – and tells her to find a book “The Art of Blending in”.  When she does, Stacy and Clinton pop out and explain in whispered voices that she is on What Not to Wear.  And every time someone gets loud aka uses a normal voice the “librarian” and the others shush them.  I kid you not they must have shushed three times.  In response, I sent the following Tweet:

Really TLC?  Is this what you think a librarian looks like and does in the 21st century?  I thought this show showed woman that they could be themselves no matter their weight or body type and that they don’t have to be a stereotype?  I know a lot of library students and recent grads who are between 25-30.  And none of us dress like that.  Not to mention the shushing.  Librarians don’t shush!  I’m so sick of the “You need a master’s degree to Shush?” mind set.  Obviously if you are unusually loud and disruptive we will ask you to be respectful of others, but not shush.  Perhaps you should check out the What a Librarian Looks like Tumblelog next time.

For the record, I’m 27, not 77.  I may wear glasses, but I do not wear my hair in a bun.  I’ll admit I own about three cardigans, but libraries can be cold and I only wear them in the winter.  Cardigans are probably the only thing that can be found in every female librarian’s wardrobe.  I do, however, have expensive and sophisticated taste.  I wear such brands as Anne Taylor, BCBGMaxAzria, Giani Binni, and Antonio Melani, and Talbots.  I am quite stylish, and I think Stacy and Clinton would be impressed.  But I do not fit a librarian stereotype.  In fact, that is one stereotype that doesn’t actually exist, at least not that I’ve ever come across.

Oh, and one more thing, card catalog’s went out with the ’90s.  Almost all catalogs are online and publicly accessible now.  Rarely does someone that age even know what one is let alone how to use it.


6 thoughts on “Librarian Stereotypes

  1. Great post and fantastic that you embedded the tweet here! You forgot Evelyn from “The Mummy.”

    Evelyn: “Look, I… I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.”
    Rick: “And what is that?”
    Evelyn: “I… am a librarian.”

    Journalists get stereotyped a lot, too. It makes me crazy. Because I don’t fit the stereotype, people sometimes question that I’m actually a journalist.

    • I had to take a screenshot of the tweet, but I had to include it. If I could have found a vid of the clip from the show, I would of.

      I love The Mummy and Evelyn! That’s my favorite line from the movie. But the movie is almost 15 years old already, so I was kinda looking at more recent portrayals that I’ve seen.

      I think a lot of careers get stereotyped, it’s a shame.

  2. ugh!! So annoyed with the constant portrayal. I am all over the board with how I dress. Some days I am vintage, some days I am modern/stylish. I have even worn the cardigan and skirt with glasses. I draw the line at a bun. Bleh..
    I did a survey at the beginning of library school. I sent it to my Mister’s co-workers and FB friends. I got a few old lady bun comments but, I also got the dirty sexy library lady with the short skirt and heaving bosoms. Really?? Cause shelving in a short skirt and hooker heels is always a great idea!

    • I am too. I can be Goth, or Vintage, I love Steampunk, but I love to by chic and stylish too. I have worn cardigans to work with suit pants in the winter. And I do too, I don’t wear a bun unless it’s with a costume.

      No, you can’t shelve in a short skirt and hooker heals, or do much of anything for that matter.

  3. The thing I am most tired of as a librarian is “shush.” I hate that word. Not only do I hate telling people to be quiet, I hate that they assume libraries are tombs and must be navigated in absolute silence. I especially hate when patrons come up and whisper/mumble their questions. Your regular voice is okay! Even your excited voice is okay, because knowledge is exciting! Just be respectful of others, and I don’t care what you do.

    • I hate the shush thing too. It’s everywhere it seems. Sadly, it’s one of the first things that comes to mind for most people. We always talk in our normal voices where I intern at, we don’t care! And we have some loud circulation staff!

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