Ask a librarian to describe the stereotype of librarians, and you’ll undoubtedly hear something like, “Wears thin wireframe glasses, hair-in-a-bun, drab sweater-vest or cardigan, long wool skirt, owns a cat, doesn’t like loud noise…” and the list goes on. I’ve even heard some librarians describe the stereotype as “Full Cat-bag.” In my experience, librarians – especially the ones who claim to hate the stereotype – have a crystal-clear picture of the exact librarian they don’t wish to be.
Non-librarians, though, might describe the stereotypical librarian if pressed, but if you simply ask them to picture a librarian chances are good it will look nothing like the stereotype. Librarians have been working long and hard to change the perception of librarians in popular culture–now, though, it’s our turn. If we keep working from the assumption that the stereotype is the place we have to start, suddenly we run the risk of perpetuating it.
This is an unusual post for me. I’ve been mulling this over since the wonderful Librarian Wardrobe conversation starter about librarian stereotypes at ALA Annual this past summer, and I still don’t know what I think. The topic needs to be discussed, but I don’t necessarily think I’m the one to lead the discussion.
Still, I wonder how we can turn the discussion into a proactive one. What do we, as library students, want the perception of our profession to be? Isn’t it more important that we start thinking about the profession and the cool stuff we’re doing than it is to worry about conforming to, or breaking away from, the stereotype?
We aren’t the only profession that has started to break away from traditional perceptions. Science, in all its many-headed forms, is dealing with much the same issue, and their solution, “This is what a Scientist Looks Like” has been copied by librarians as well.
At the recent R-Squared conference, one of the most interesting opening exercises was an 8-by-10 wall divided into three columns, asking participants to add cards listing things they were passionate about, things they were skilled at, and things they could teach. Instantly, it became clear that it was impossible to consider “librarians” as a one-dimensional group of people.
I contend that the stereotype is already broken–now, what perceptions of librarians should take its place? It’s in our hands–as we graduate and enter the field, we get to decide how we want it to look.