Do Glasses Make the Librarian?

What Do You See” by BecaShoots @Etsy

Myopia is a condition that plagues many-a librarian – or, rather, that is what film and TV would have you believe. People who wear corrective glasses are often stereotyped as bookish, intelligent, and socially inept.  The glasses are a shield, a barrier.  They are props to be adjusted and cleaned when the moment calls for it.  They are fragile and expensive; they can also be smacked aside, stepped on, or otherwise damaged.  Finally (and perhaps most importantly) they can be removed from a mousy boy or girl, woman or man, in order to let a dormant attractiveness and sensuality shine through.

Eyesight, whether it’s perfect or messed up, is largely genetic.  I’ve been nearsighted all my life, the product of a nearly blind mother and a 50/50 sighted father.  I wore contacts in middle school and high school, but switched to glasses my first semester of college after realizing how difficult it is to stab little discs of plastic into your eyes after you’ve slept too late and are now running late for class.

However, according to Wikipedia, there have been studies which show the incidence of myopia increase with level of education.  And!  Other studies have shown a correlation between myopia and a higher IQ.  This is an interesting factor, seeing as how a large percentage of Asia is myopic compared to those in the United States.  When one considers the stereotype of the “nerdy Asian kid” who crushes test scores and wins first place at the science fair, glasses are usually part of the equation.

So where do librarians fit in all of this?  Well, librarians are a smart, typically well-educated breed.  We also tend to engage in activities – whether it be reading or sitting in front of a computer screen – that can certainly put strain on our eyes.  Despite my Google-fu being quite strong, I was unable to come across a study along the lines of “percentage of librarians who wear eyeglasses,” but I think it’s safe to say that a large percentage of us do.  Stereotypes are based on truth, after all.

Why does the librarian profession revel in its cat-eyed, coke bottle lenses?  Why the t-shirts and the prints (like the one above) and the constant media representation of the bespectacled book pusher?  Like most stereotypes, I think it’s a matter of recognizing something in yourself and embracing rather than denying.  Were I librarian with perfect vision, perhaps I would be somewhat annoyed at the trope that paints us as smart, but also unapproachable and weird.  It’s a symbol, and one that I embody.  For better or worse, I will always wear glasses, and I will (hopefully) always be a librarian.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books that need reading,” she said as she pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose.

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