Every year on President’s Day, the public library where I have been gainfully employed for the past two and a half years holds a massive Staff Development Day for all of the employees – from front line staff like me, to facilities technicians and security, to administration. It’s usually a source of inspiration, bizarre guests (slight language warning on that link, but so worth watching), and snacks. This year we had a session from Andrew Shaw, the Communications Manager at the Salt Lake City Public Library on branding, and he said something that really stuck with me. He emphasized that there’s a portion of any brand that cannot be controlled – it’s based on internal perceptions, biases, and stereotypes and is difficult, if not impossible, to change.
I’ve also recently been binge-watching the Syfy show The Magicians in a bout of denial that I work two part time jobs, am in grad school full time, and need to be finding myself a job in preparation for graduating in June. Hey, we all have our coping methods, and apparently an overly dark show about a graduate-level magic school is just the amount of escapism that I need right now. However, one can never truly escape from one’s destiny as a librarian, because what does this show feature? A great library subplot, with a great librarian. This got me thinking – there’s a large part of our brand that we can’t control, largely based on outside perceptions (pop culture, say?), so why not review what people might think of when they think “librarian.” I’m also needing some life/style/professional inspiration, so without further ado, have some pop culture librarian goodness!
The Librarian, The Magicians
This librarian, the partial inspiration for this post, actually kinda freaks me out. First of all, she is alone in what appears to be a nearly infinite library in an in-between world called The Neitherlands that contains every single person’s complete life story (Borges’ “Library of Babel”, anyone?). How did she get here? Who does she talk to? Who covers her lunch breaks? What is her name? No wonder she’s so protective of the books if the only rare contact she has is an interlibrary loan request for a map that she really should have in her collection. And I’ll forgive her for banning our ragtag band of magicians from the library just because her look is so on point. #librarianwardrobe goals, honestly. Girl can rock an eyeglasses chain.
Tammy II, Parks and Recreation
There’s something incredibly satisfying about a librarian villain. Tammy II gave me all the inspiration I need to be a horrible, privacy-violating, gross, violent public servant. Okay, maybe not really – Tammy’s ethical values are totally misplaced, but bless her and Leslie Knope for giving us the title “punk-ass book jockey,” a calling I have taken personally and will treasure until the end of my days. And while she might not be the best library role model, her hijinks make for undeniably great television.
Margaret Gesner, Monsters University
Not gonna lie, I haven’t seen this film but a picture of this great monster librarian has been the cover photo for my cohort’s Facebook group for the past two years and it makes me feel inspired. Be the intimidating, eye-stalked, monster librarian that you want to see in the world.
Madam Pince, Harry Potter
Madam Pince might have been my first pop culture librarian, and unfortunately, she is also not a great library role model. In Half-Blood Prince, she’s described as “vulturelike” with “sunken cheeks,” “skin like parchment” and a “long hooked nose.” And lest we not forget about this little exchange, after she spied Harry’s copy of Advanced Potion Making:
Madam Pince: “The library is now closed. Mind that you return anything you have borrowed to the correct — what have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy?'”
Harry Potter: “It isn’t the library’s, it’s mine!”
Madam Pince: “Despoiled! Desecrated! Befouled!”
Harry Potter: “It’s just a book that’s been written on!”
What happened to Jo Rowling that she staffed the Hogwarts library with this monster? Is there a library school for wizards, or did Madam Pince have to go to muggle grad school? I mean, way to be a professional woman who doesn’t take any crap, but also maybe consider making the library a welcoming, accessible place to be.
The Librarian, Kimmy Schmidt
Yet another nameless librarian in the ranks of pop culture librarians, this is another of my favorites. If you need a lesson in effective (aggressive?) signage, look no further. Any librarian that has the audacity to shush Titus Andromedon and snatch his coffee away before he has a chance to blink is a certified badass in my book.
So maybe these pop culture librarians aren’t exactly #librariangoals, but what are these representations telling our users and potential users about who we are and what we have to offer? If you’d like to explore this in more detail check out other HLS articles, including a review of a book on librarian stereotypes, a guest post on pop culture in libraries, and thoughts on using these stereotypes to change the conversation.
Thanks for indulging this fluffy, midterm-induced romp. This list is by no means comprehensive, so please share any of your favorites that I’ve missed in the comments!