Guybrarians and Male Librarians


According to this blog’s WordPress stats, the majority of search results that lead people to Pop Goes the Librarian categorize the profession as solely female.  How do I know that?

  • “hot librarian” : 37 views
  • “hot librarians” : 23 views
  • “hot lady librarians” : 15 views
  • “librarian chic” : 5 views
  • “smokin hot librarian” : 2 views

The list goes.  Although “hot” isn’t exactly a gendered qualifier, when followed by the word “librarian” it might as well be.  It’s fairly obvious to those of us who work in libraries that men are the minority. According to the article “Male Librarians: Gender Issues and Stereotypes“, “Without question the Library profession is female-dominated. Decade after decade the ratio of female to male librarians remains roughly 4:1, although the mix is closer to 3:1 in academic libraries.”  This ratio rings true for my own library; out of the 16 professional librarians we employ, only six are men.

So when we consider the main male librarian stereotype, what comes to mind?  First we have the Mean Librarian.  The horrible, no good reference librarian from Sophie’s Choice, for example, perfectly illustrates why librarians are so mean.  There’s also the highly amusing Conan the Librarian, who isn’t afraid to tell us what is best in life.


In many ways this figure closely resembles the Spinster Librarian image in popular culture: intelligent, introverted, socially awkward, academic to a fault, asexual, unmarried, be-speckled, etc.  Think Rupert Giles from the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; adorable in his tweed blazer, but largely socially inept and certainly hopeless in the love department.  The fact that he’s British, prim, and mostly unskilled at slaying vamps (again, we’re talking seasons 1-2 of Buffy) only exaggerate his emasculated characteristics.  However, a woman being written/portrayed as asexual is one thing – poor girl, so sad, but maybe she’ll find her prince charming one day? (*cough* Marian did *cough*)  On the other hand, an asexual man in a largely female-dominant profession can only mean one thing: he’s gay.

Male teachers (K-12), male nurses, and male librarians all share the common thread that there’s something wrong with them, simply because they’re men working in a woman’s world.  Who in their right (heterosexual) mind would do that? The term “male nurse” is just as sexist as “guybrarian” is, simply because it creates a distinction based on gender.  Etymologically speaking, “nurse” and “librarian” are not inherently female terms, but we tend to recognize them as just that simply because of what we’re exposed to.  After all, most nurses and librarians are women.  Remember Meet the Parents, in which Robert De Niro’s uber male character constantly reminds his future son-in-law of the fact that he’s a male nurse?  He’s doing the work of a woman, so obviously he’s unworthy.

male librarian

via the Penny Arcade

I’m obviously speaking as a woman, so it’s best not to get too political here.  I will say that the term “guybrarian” does seem to set teeth on edge, if only because it creates a cutesy distinction where one isn’t needed. When we think of pop culture, however, the male librarian figure isn’t nearly as prominent as the various female representations.  My favorite librarian in literature (Lucian from Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series) admittedly fits the guybrarian stereotype perfectly – but, alas, I’m saving him for another post.  But who else is there?  Are there any other librarians-who-just-so-happen-to-be-men in popular culture who fit the stereotype?  Which ones buck the trend?

BTW, for some real-world context and examples, Agnostic, Maybe has a very interesting thread from late last year dedicated to Gender, Librarians, & Librarianship.


29 thoughts on “Guybrarians and Male Librarians

  1. I usually think of the academic Giles stereotype. Or the “adventure researcher” like Noah Wyle. I can’t say that I’ve seen a portrayal where the librarian just happened to be a guy.

    Interesting post to think on!

  2. Thanks for your thought-provoking post. Maybe this is me talking from my San Francisco Bay Area bubble here, but I personally know a multitude of male librarians both straight and gay. I guess old stereotypes live on because they help simplify a complicated world. (Not to mention that one well-known librarian who licensed her image to a toy manufacturer that made it into stereotypical librarian “action figure”.) On the flipside, I sometimes encounter stereotyping when I go around town in my work attire, meaning a suit and tie. When going about my work day, especially when out and about, I occasionally encounter people who react to my clean-cut look and professional attire as if I’m some kind of conservative One Percenter! If only they knew that I am in fact a librarian, left-of-center politically, and I probably earn less money than the average car mechanic.

    When I think about why so many women work in libraries, I know that the reasons stem from complex factors like gender-based inequities in pay, the second-class status of the MLS as a grad degree, and the fact that in many professions, folks tend to hire other folks like themselves. But I also know the secret good reason why so many women work in libraries is because working in libraries is AWESOME, and smart women are smart enough to see what a great career librarianship can be. As for the men, in my case I just happen to enjoy working with and being around women. Individual personalities aside, women can be fun to work with and they make great professionals. Like Tina Fey famously said, “Bitches get stuff done.”

    I like your blog. Thanks for writing it. I think you might find my blog interesting, too: , on twitter: @urban_librarian

    Thanks again!

    • Wow, thanks for your incredibly insightful comment! Stereotyping is a *huge* part of being a librarian, whether you’re male, female, straight, gay, young, old… etc. That’s one of the reasons why I started the blog, because even though we try to put ourselves and our friends/coworkers/whatever in neat little boxes, it’s a complex profession full of many different “characters”. I may be part of the majority because I’m a woman, but I stick out because I’m relatively young – the youngest faculty member in my library, in fact. So because I’m often mistaken for a student, I get what it means to be singled out as different. But hey. Libraries ARE awesome! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Nice post and you raise some very intersting questions in it. I’m surprised that the ratio is even 1:4 in non-academic libraries. Most of the libraries where I have worked have been all female; where there have been men, the ratio has been more like 1:10. Can’t think of any portrayal of a male librarian where the guy has been an everyday kind of man. The term ‘guybrarian’ is a bit too cutesy for me.

    • Thanks! And I agree, “guybrarian” seems twee and cutesy. I much prefer “Libratorr” ala Penny Arcade. If I were a guy, I’d totally call myself that.

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  5. I would say that the librarians were I work are pretty evenly mixed, possibly skewing more towards more males than females. However, when you look at the administrative side of libraries, especially in the top tiers, there are usually more men than women. Particularly in the heavy, financial decision making areas. This, of course, is not always true. There are many high ranking, females holding director or other “power” positions. But it is NYC I’m the most familiar with, I’m not sure the same can be said across the board. Along with this, there are issues of librarians of color who hit a ceiling in their careers, as well. If a male librarian is a rare bird, a black, male librarian is on the extinction list.

    • Absolutely! My library is perhaps strange in that every position in Administration (Dean, Associate Dean, Director of Development, etc.) are all women, but it’s true that Admin seems to be the area where the men/women ratio may be higher. I will say, however, that our Systems and Technology department is the only area that currently employs *all* men. Tech is such a male-dominated field, it really doesn’t surprise me.

      Race is a whole other issue when it comes to librarianship, and perhaps the subject of a future post. No question about it: a vast majority of librarians portrayed in popular culture are all white women. My library recently more than doubled its minority quotient by hiring TWO hispanics (myself included), but we haven’t any black librarians. We do, however, have two black, non-faculty staff members, one of whom is a man. Um. Go us?

      I’ve loved and appreciated the comments so far on this post! It’s especially interesting to learn the demographic breakdowns of other libraries, all of which I’m of course comparing to my own small academic library in Northeast Florida. Keep them coming, guys!

    • Ha, your last line made me laugh! I happen to be a young, male, black, straight librarian. The only one I know, actually. I work with mostly women, though there are a few other older men who work in our regional offices (which happen to be upstairs in our building). I’ve worked in libraries in one capacity or another pretty much since I was old enough to be a able to work, so after college it seemed like a good job to have while I try to figure out what else to do with the rest of my life.

      I get occasional surprised looks and I have to admit that at times I feel out of place, but overall I enjoy my job.

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  7. 100% of the librarians in my workplace are male. Perhaps that is because I am the only librarian on staff? And, when you add my technician (the other library staff member) we fall to 50:50.
    Still, being a librarymans has always been fun. I recall as the only male on staff at a public library, I went out and bought ‘mens’ and ‘womens’ signs for the (newly renovated) staff toilets (marking my territory, as it were). None of the female staff saw the humour in the act and they all happily queued for the ladies’ toilet until I relented and admitted that it had been my little joke.

    In seriousness though, the gender balance has never concerned me. I work with more women than men? I work with people and I always have, I don’t get why anyone seems to worry about gender concepts of our profession. I worry more about people who say “you needed a degree to become a librarian?” in a shocked tone of voice. Or people who say “Ahh librarian, I love reading.” with the underlying assumption being that I get paid to sit and read books. I don’t get paid to sit and read books, I always needed to hide in the stacks where the boss couldn’t see me to do that. And now I am the boss, there is nowhere to hide from my own gaze.

  8. Umm I would like to request more! male librarians, there simply aren’t enough, espeically as workplaces full of women can get a bit bitchy 😉 It’s nice to have men around as they always have such a different perspective on things. Go male librarians!! 🙂

    • Here’s one male librarian who enjoys working with women. In my current job as director i’m the only male. In my last job we had a male children’s library plus myself as the head of reference. Certainly a rare circumstance. I do bring a different perspective to my new job. I’ve tried to bring males into the last 2 libraries i’ve been at by having sports author programs. Its brought a whole new group who never thought of the library as a must be destination.

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  10. I’m a straight guy and can proudly say that I’m a Children’s Librarian in a public library in NZ. I’m 1 of 5 males in a team of 12. Our team leader is a male and it’s thanks to him that we have such a high ratio of males to females. It makes a great mix in our team and our community. I wouldn’t care if anyone called me a guybrarian because whatever way you put it I’ve got the coolest job in the world. I can come to work, dress up as a dinosaur and be a big kid, without fear of getting judged by my colleagues.

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  12. This straight Librarian is PROUD to be Male and a Librarian. I’ve been a School Librarian for 12 years after a 12 year career in Banking and Finance and we, collectively (Male and Female) are the go-to people for everything logical!. Great article: How about “Mibrarian” (L for LADY, M for MALE)

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