Punk-Ass Book Jockeys or Shushy-Spinsters? Librarian Stereotypes and LIS education.

Pagowsky, Nicole, and Miriam E. Rigby, eds. The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work. Association of College and Research Libraries, A division of the American Library Association, 2014. Paperback, $60.00. 

When I started Library School I could be often heard making the same semi-joke to all who asked about the decision. They’d ask oh “what do you learn?” and I’d usually say something “well you know shushing 101.” I’ll admit, it isn’t particularly true of LIS nor is it really very funny (especially after its been repeated a billion times). Just as my friends and family were attempting to see how I, a loud and absurdly unorganized dude, could fit into the ideal imagined librarian, I too was looking for that in. We are invested in these stereotypes in much of the same ways that popular culture is. Earlier Topher wrote about perceiving ourselves in terms of Librarian stereotypes, but I’d like to talk a little further about it.

Parks and Recreation, Punk Ass Book Jockeys. http://static.tumblr.com/f17d96b09c97a3f5543458d2548d5b16/wxifjbc/pb1nmmakf/tumblr_static_24i2emjryhr4c0w0cs8kcg0sw.png

Parks and Recreation. Episode 2-15 “Sweetums” NBC Universal.   Tumblr

Published last year through ACRL, the Association of College & Research Libraries, The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions & Presentations of Information Work is a collection of essays edited by librarians Nicole Pagowsky and Miriam Rigby. These essays take a humanistic and critical approach to the perceptions of our work as librarians not just in popular culture like Parks and Recreation or The Night Vale (both of which Librarians are seen with suspicion) but embedded in our field as a whole.

“We cannot separate,” explain Gretchen Kreer and Andrew Carlos, “our understanding of library stereotypes from the history of librarianship that influenced their development in the first place.” (63) If the stereotypes we encounter in our field are informed by historical reality, what can we do to combat them? For Pagowsky and Rigby, the ability to challenge provides the opportunity to control our own identity, personal and collective. In their introduction, the editors write that “the structures of power need to be examined, challenged, and reconfigured if we are going to take hold of our image and have more control over our identity. Positioning current, everyday images of librarians in the public eye is one way in which to dispel notions of shushing spinsters, which–perhaps surprisingly– still exist.” (Pagowsky and Rigby, pg3.) Pagowsky and Rigby here are talking about one of my favorite library blogs The Librarian Wardrobe which shows awesome librarians in all sorts of dress and forms challenging the, sometimes one note, stereotypes that dominate.

“Remember: if confronted by a librarian while looking for a book to check out, do not attempt to escape by climbing a tree. There are no trees in the library, and the precious moments it will take you to look around and realize this will allow the librarian to strike.” Cecil from the Night Vale podcast, episode 27 “First Date.” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, CarolynEBrown on Flickr)

What is often more insidious than the gross images of buns, cardigans and spinsterdom, is the ways in which information work is viewed through stereotypical obsolescence. Particularly, the 21st century obsession with the future and the existence of libraries. Will we exist tomorrow? Does google do our jobs? We get tired of these kinds of discussions (or at least, I do)

As we discuss, debate, and dissect this future in our classrooms and blogs, the “normals,” or the non-library folk out there, who are our patrons know and feel this conflict. During her fight with the “punk-ass book jockeys” our civil servant hero Leslie Knope asks her librarian enemies “what does feel like to be obsolete because of the internet?”  If the stereotype of the cat-lady spinster bun wearing librarian is fading it might only be fading due to the overshadowing by the “google obsolescence.”  So much of the book is exciting and fascinating, especially to new librarians. Highlights in this collection include, Sarah Steiner and Julie Jones, in a chapter on our “obsession” with these stereotypes, talking about self-image in libraries and academic thoughts through interviews which focuses on the trends, and possible stereotypings, that we do in discussing our own field. As well as, David Squires writing a chapter about the librarian in pornography, a fascinating if not a little queasy-making exploration of the “Sexy librarian” and Erin Pappas writing about tattoos and librarians in Chapter 9. Annie Pho, an HLS alum, wrote the final chapter with Turner Masland entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Stereotyped: Changing Perceptions through Diversity” which is particularly great about how we can change the perceptions of our field through encouraging diverse voices in libraries. Diversity, for Pho and Masland, holds the potential for the destruction of the stereotypes that dominate cultural perceptions of what a librarian “should be.”  All of the chapters are amazing though, and should be read by all LIS professionals new and old.

In the end, Librarians (and library students) come in a lot of shapes and tons of sizes, skin colors and genders, sexual orientations and hair/bun styles. Books like The Librarian Stereotypes help break the boundaries of “librarianship,” in terms of stereotyping in culture and in practice. I recommend every entering student, departing student, new professional, old professional that is interested in breaking out of the traditional librarian mode should read this book.

I mean you’re a librarian….you read all day long…..right? 

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