Librarians and Mass Media – Where are the Role Models?

Librarians and Mass Media – Where are the Role Models?

By Lisa Iannucci, Senior Editor



I would like to think that we librarians lead fairly interesting lives. But apparently the powers that be in the entertainment industry seem to think we are capable of much more. A recent keyword search of the estimable yielded some fairly startling results.

For example, there are not one but two television series titled The Librarians. The first, which began airing back in 2007, is an Australian comedy the centerpiece of which is a head librarian with a narrow mind (!) and a panic disorder.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this premise, but after I thought about it for a bit, I decided it could be a kind of intriguing take on librarian stereotyping, since librarians seem to always be depicted in the mass media as “open-minded” and unflappable.

But the second show really caught my attention because it was originally a made for TV movie that was so popular, it became a series. It had its debut last fall on TNT, and features a group of librarians who have been tasked with saving some ancient artifacts. It’s a spin-off from a trilogy of TNT movies starring Noah Wyle as a “professional student” who has been banned from libraries (the horror!), but due to his prolific scholarship, is hired as a librarian. The tables are turned when he must search for a “magical” artifact that has been stolen from his library.

This Noah Wyle show is interesting to me. Although  it seemed like yet another take on the typical librarian stereotype, it apparently had resonated with the American public enough to be developed into a series. Why, I wondered? Well, clearly  the folks in The Librarians somehow must represent people who feel trapped in humdrum lives. And in this scenario, librarians must also have the power and the knowledge to bust out of this workday reality. Maybe we do have superpowers after all!

But seriously – where are the real mass media role models for librarians? Here are some recent examples of films that more closely resemble the real core values and skills we are taught as information professionals:

The Monuments Men: real life preservationists and historians who risk their lives to save priceless cultural treasures from the ravages of World War II. While the nitty gritty work isn’t shown – because really, who wants to watch paint dry – the act of cultural preservation as a valid objective for any civilized society is emphasized throughout.

Reversal of Fortune: defense attorney Alan Dershowitz and his team of wiz kids reverse a seeming slam dunk legal case not through trickery but sheer dogged determination, voluminous research and relentless pursuit of the truth.

Dead Poets Society: charismatic teacher challenges his students to think critically and act independently. Restricted (mostly) to books for entertainment, they are awakened to the power of the written word to transform lives.

The Book Thief: In World War II Germany, a young girl finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Literature and the life of the mind are a refuge from the horrors of war.

Of course, we know this is entertainment, that these films often stray from the reality of our daily experience as librarians, archivists, cultural historians and educators, and that we do need to work on how the public perceives what we do for a living. But even if we are not the truth-seeking crusaders of The Librarians, if we are not harboring an inner Indiana Jones, our field has certainly come a long way from “old maid” librarian Donna Reed of It’s a Wonderful Life, hasn’t it?

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