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My name is Beth Jarrell, and I am a co-chair of the Online Programs Committee. This year, the Online Discussion Committee and Online Programs committees have merged into one big, fabulous committee. Each month we will be posting discussion questions on various topics, some silly, some serious, all about librarianship! These posts are designed to encourage discussion among colleagues in a fun, casual environment.
For our first post, we're going to start with something fun: what is your favourite (or least favourite) stereotype of librarians and library workers in pop culture? Do you think these media examples help the profession, or hurt it?
We hope you will join in on the discussion right here in the ALA Connect forum- just hit the reply button to share your thoughts.
Great question! In general, I think many librarians are portrayed on screen as being reserved and hiding behind stacks of books. They are often portrayed as shushing patrons and trying to maintain sterile, quiet environments. In earning my LIS degree, I learned that in many cases, quite the opposite is true. Programming and increasing community engagement in library events is a huge part of a librarians work, particularly in public libraries. This requires generating excitement and interacting with the public, not hiding behind stacks. The stereotype of the stodgy librarian may make for some funny scenes in movies or tv shows, but I don't think it captures the essence of the profession as it is in the 21st century. Being social can be a very important part of many LIS jobs!
I agree with the shushing stereotype (and how it needs to go!) being harmful for our profession. We know libraries and library work is ever-evolving and changing, and it would be nice to see that represented in media!
My friend sent me a FB reel earlier this year where a librarian was gifted a cardigan from other library employees, and I love that stereotype! I currently have 2 cardigans on my chair and 3 on a coat rack :)
Ashley, YES, the cardigan stereotype is absolutely true and accurate. Once at my home library, a patron came in with a box full of cardigans for staff, saying they didn't know where else to take them! I'll take the cozy cardigan stereotype any day!
I just want to agree with Ashley and Beth, the cardigan stereotype is definitely earned. I also love Rachel Weis in the Mummy! She's got some of the shush-y behavior but she's also insatiably curious and I think that's another fairly accurate stereotype.
I love this question and look forward to the future ones as well! I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with library/librarian stereotypes. Most I think are charming, but the "old lady with a bun and glasses on a string who always shushes people and glares" is my least favorite. It has perpetuated the stereotype that libraries are serious, quiet places (and some still are!) when that's pretty outdated. However, I adore Sylvia Marpole, the librarian in A Goofy Movie 2, and how they chose to portray her!
Colorado Mountain College
Thank you for your kind words- I am looking forward to engaging with you more in future discussions. I agree that the love/hate relationship really depends on the individual media you're consuming- or what your patrons are! Working in a public library we have people every day who hush their kids, or apologise for not using a quiet voice, and I love to tell them "we're not like that!" I hope they start to consult actual librarians next time we're going to see representation of the profession in film or tv (but like you, my absolutely favourite is Barbara Gordon in the Batman comics- she kicks butt as a librarian!)
My least favorite stereotype is that librarians are elderly women with glasses on a chain, though thankfully that stereotype is starting to go away.
I do agree that the cardigan stereotype is well-earned - my office is COLD and I keep forgetting to bring in a cardigan to leave at my desk.
There are so many stereotypes about librarians and library workers. I think one that stands out is that librarians are "mean" and "don't really want to help anyone" or that they "always seem bothered". While I don't think these examples help the profession, I sometimes seem to struggle with finding the opposite of these sentiments when I myself go to a public library. I don't think that this is the case for most, but I wonder every now and again, if it's not that they do not want to help others but perhaps the amount of tasks at hand that begin to burrow into the little frown lines in between eyebrows. Gone are the days of a Reader's Advisory Librarian AND a Reference Librarian AND a Librarian to man the circulation desk. Today, one librarian man's all tasks and adds on any extra tasks (perhaps maintaining virtual library sites as well). Perhaps advocating for the library and all that provides in services for the public might reinforce the need for libraries and even more so the need for MORE librarians.
I agree with the stereotype that the older librarian with a bun/glasses shushing everyone needs to go. I work in academic and public libraries, and I find that many patrons of all ages have a fear of coming into the library and asking for help, because of this stereotype. I often notice that they feel relieved at the end of our transactions, and some have expressed that they thought the librarians/library staff would be mean. Many of us are not mean at all and enjoy helping our patrons.Another stereotype that needs to go is that librarians/library staff of color don't exist. We may be smaller in number, but we're here and we want to help you!
Great points here! I enjoyed reading through this thread and found it very helpful! I think one thing that stood out was the idea that a librarian can be active in the cultural scene of the city, getting out there and meeting folks through things like going to concerts, gallery openings, stage performances and so forth to become a living breathing element of the community. I think this helps with people getting to know the librarian personally so that is dissolves a stereotype and makes not only individuals but the role in general seem more approachable, welcoming and kind.
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