Rachel Loria, Head Editor, INALJ Colorado
Shifting the perspective: Implementations that will help to overcome the librarian stereotype
Boring. Long dresses. Quiet voice except when she is scolding the room to keep the noise level down. A “fussy old woman of either sex, myopic and repressed, brandishing or perhaps cowering behind a date-stamp and surrounded by an array of notices which forbid virtually every human activity.” These are some of the stereotypes we face routinely as librarians—and yet—I envision a day where I can sit at the Thanksgiving dinner table and enjoy a meal with my family without them asking if I have been practicing the many ways in which I say “Shhhh.” I aspire to one day tell a stranger about my educational background, without him/ her having a dumbfounded look of “Oh? Librarians need a degree to do that job?” I graciously look forward to the day when I am no longer dating men who tell me that my career is “sexy”— completely undermining the gritty, dusty, stressful and time-consuming labor I sometimes subject myself to. But mostly I envision a day where the librarian stereotype is a distant memory and a speck in the rear view mirror. Still, I must ask myself one simple question: how do I feel that these visions are still possible?
In the book You Don’t Look Like a Librarian! Shattering Stereotypes and Building Positive New Images in the Internet Age, author Ruth Kneal explains that the best way for librarians to dispel the typical librarian stereotype is through marketing. Marketing, she asserts, will allow for the spreading of ideas—something that librarians can certainly do well. She explains:
- We need to get busy spreading the great ideas about our remarkableness, our profession, and our capabilities. On a one-to-one basis, things may not seem that bad. Librarians tell me about receiving effusive thanks from a patron for helping them—generally, a patron who hadn’t realized before what librarians could do.
She then questions however, how many patrons are being shorthanded because they are simply unaware of the capabilities of librarians. This question is crucial; not only does the librarian stereotype affect the librarian perception, but it also affects the way in which patrons may utilize the library. Perhaps then, we must not only market our own capabilities to dispel the fallacies of the profession, but must also market them to increase the benefit our resourcefulness can and will have on a patron who utilizes the library.
Librarians continue to work in libraries because they provide the environment where people can constantly utilize the opportunities to excel on a number of different levels. Librarians juggle technology issues—balancing software understanding with ever-changing hardware—management, user needs and fulfillment, scholarship, and public relations constantly. Librarians “require a graduate degree because only the best and brightest need apply.” As John Cullen brilliantly asserts:
After working as a librarian, other careers seem monotonous and one- dimensional. We have much to offer the world, but we don’t often get the opportunity because of the negative impressions soaked up by the people who would most benefit from our expertise.
I must (with only some biases) agree. Librarians hold the key to access information. Perhaps if library students, patrons, professors and professionals alike all make a collective effort to continue marketing the capabilities—through programs such as elementary school visits, online blogging, freshmen orientation programs—the media will stop stereotyping, and more persons will start benefiting.
The Following References Were Used in Writing this Article
Cowell, P. Not all in the mind: the virile profession. Library Review, 1980, 29, 167-75
Cullen, J. (May 2000). Rupert Giles, the Professional-image Slayer. American Libraries, 31, 5. p.42
Kneale, R. (2009). You don’t look like a librarian: shattering stereotypes and creating positive new images in the Internet age. Medford, N.J.: Information Today, Inc..