Visual Cues: What Makes a Librarian?

via Faehe on Pinterest

“The glasses are a bit fey, but the argyle swear. Yes.” Image via Faehe @ Pinterest

Have I mentioned I’m really into Pinterest? (2,222 pins and counting! Woohoo! Send help.)  One of my favorite ways to waste time on that time-sucker of a website is to search for a random keyword and gauge the variety of results.  This is an interesting way to pin down – pun so intended – what other people think is attractive, or desirable, or simply what defines a certain term.  So what do you get when you search for “librarian”?

Not surprisingly, the result list includes quite a variety of images.  Some are pro-library illustrations and quotes; some are amusing library-related jokes/memes; others are photos of attractive, young women wearing vintage glasses and sweaters, carrying books, and drinking tea.  These latter examples are typically posted on fashion-related boards such as Styles I Love or My Style Pinboard, which means that many young, Pinterest-reliant women are inspired to dress themselves using the visual cues that constitute librarianship.

via Danny Williams @ Pinterest

“Librarian #style” via Danny Williams @ Pinterest

The nerdy, librarian chic look is one of the things that makes the stereotypical librarian figure stand out in popular culture.  As the tumblr Librarian Wardrobe shows us, professional librarians dress in a variety of styles: casually, professionally, quirkally, you name it.  We’re a mixed bag.  However, if we were to describe the stereotypical fashionista  librarian, what would she (because it’s always a “she”) look like?

  • Young (early twenties to mid thirties)
  • White
  • Glasses (preferably Lisa Loeb style: thick-framed, cat-eyed)
  • Vintage sweaters, cardigans, dresses, and shoes (thrifty and old fashioned; what’s old is new again)
  • Hair is artfully pinned up/back
  • Books, books, books
  • Bonus points for an old fashioned background setting, such as a sepia-tinted, stuffy library/office with similarly sepia-tinted, stuffy books

In considering the often-used visual cues, these young, white women in sweater clips are decidedly smart and reserved.  Their vintage style may be old fashioned, but that is surely part of their appeal – unhindered by current trends, their style is reminiscent of a more innocent time and, similar to the books they’re usually toting around, very romantic.  Another luring stylistic choice is the inherent femininity apparent in these cues, which probably makes the Hot Librarian trope such an easy target.  The buttoned up cardigans, glasses and stacks of books are hiding more than they’re showing; not only are these women obviously hiding something (sexy sexiness, obv), but what curious mind wouldn’t want to take a peek behind the barriers?

Now it’s your turn, dear readers! What other visual cues would you suggest for librarians?  Do you consider librarian chic to be a positive representation?  Do you rejoice or despair when you search Pinterest?

Librarians in Advertising

Pearle Vision isn’t the first retailer to base an advertisement around the librarian image.  Their ever-present “Naughty Librarian” commercial aside, librarians have been used to hock just about everything.  As Kathrin Dodds states in her 2009 presentation titled Advertising the Librarian Image: Stereotypical depictions of librarians in advertising:

For decades, the image of the librarian has been used to sell everything from cars to chewing gum, shampoo to vibrators and even anti-diarrheals!  Whether the portrayal is of the dowdy version or the closet sexpot, advertisers are banking on the perception of the image of the librarian to sell their wares.

The various librarian stereotypes are so recognizable, they need little introduction or explanation, making them perfect fodder for magazine spreads or 20-second television spots.  If like me you’re a fan of Mad Men, you know that creating a good advert is all about selling the Big Idea.  As long as you make your audience connect with something – usually a desire – chances are they will want to buy it.  Librarians are therefore used in a variety of ways: sometimes they are stealthily sexy, attractive and desirable, which means that if you – the consumer – get that thing that makes the librarian sexy, attractive, etc.,, you will become like them – or better yet, you’ll attract these secret sexpots.  1960s ad. “Loves books. Loves new ideas.” Loves reading in the nude.

Ad for The Library in NYC’s East Village, complete with “sassy-pants bartendresses

Other times, librarians are shown in a negative and/or comedic light.  Dowdy, bun-wearing, shushing old lady librarians with a penchant for picking on noisy patrons.  Old fashioned, the opposite of desirable, and completely unapproachable.  Even if such a character is present in an ad for two seconds, the effect is profound: librarians are bad news, and you should do anything in your power to not piss them off.

Sony’s Digital Reader, sexier than a librarian.  This is of course an inverse of the two previous ads, in which a librarian is not sexy – but a hunk of plastic is

What other librarian adverts or commercials can you think of?  Feel free to post links in the comments!

On Crones, Meanies and Sex Kittens

Google Image Search is a wonderful thing.  I’m a fan of the interface, as well as the never-ending scroll so you don’t have to keep clicking for the next page.  As with all things Google, even if you enter in the most broad search term it will try to help you narrow your subject.  For example, when I search for “librarian,” Google suggests related searches like “hot librarian,” “old librarian” and the ever popular “mean librarian.”

And there we have it: three of the most enduring stereotypes for the librarian character in pop culture.  Crones, meanies and sex kittens.  While there may be some overlap between the first and second stereotype, the latter is perhaps in a league of its own. Of course, one does not to be employed professionally as a librarian in order to be saddled with this stereotype; both the Scary Librarian and the Hot Librarian have rather extensive pages at TV Tropes, which include non-librarian characters who behave in rather stereotypical librarian ways.

Tina Fey: just one of the many images you’ll find if you search for “hot librarian”

In the case of the Hot Librarian, a woman need only be “a very attractive but prim and prudish woman, who would be gorgeous if she would just take off the glasses (or not), let down her hair, and unbutton her top button”.  Therefore a Hot Librarian has to do with the transformation – whether it be real or imagined.  When Evie from The Mummy gets her makeover – forgoing her glasses for a lacy veil and black eyeliner – she instantly goes from dowdy spinster to smoking hot.  Latent attraction is what causes the male lead to do a double take and reconsider the female costar as a possible mate.

Alcohol also helps!

The “makeover” is a trope that takes place constantly in film.  (She’s All That, anyone?  Grease?  Freaking Ladybugs? )  The societal pressure of, wow, that girl would be so much more desirable if she just tried is overwhelming, and the librarian character – if it’s a trim, young woman with pretty good bone structure – seems like the perfect breeding ground for this obvious plot twist.  Just think, all that beauty has been hiding under the surface, and the only thing to draw it out is the need for a boyfriend.

Usually in these pop culture references, there’s a “learning moment” in which the male concedes to the fact that the newly turned Hot Librarian was always attractive; he was merely too shallow to notice it before!  However, it’s the hotness of the once non-impressive, bookish girl that catches his eye – and ultimately keeps it.

Evelyn Carnahan – Pop! Profile

Evelyn: Look, I… I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.
Rick: And what is that?
Evelyn: I… am a librarian.

Ah, The Mummy!  I know it’s a silly little movie, but something about it is just so damn enjoyable.  I barely remember the sequel, and I didn’t even see the third movie of the trilogy, so I can’t speak to those.  But man, do librarians love The Mummy, if only because it gave us one of the best quotes re: librarianship in the history of all things ever.  When Evelyn passionately (and drunkenly) proclaims her pride in her profession, I can’t help but want to reply “You go, girl!”

The Mummy came out in 1999, and you can watch the trailer hereRachel Weisz – one of my personal favorite actresses – portrays Evelyn (Evie) Carnahan, an intelligent but seemingly failed scholar and Egyptologist turned librarian who joins with Brendan Fraser‘s adventure guy Rick O’Connell to… well, it’s all very silly.  What started off as a remake of the classic horror film starring Boris Karloff became a blockbuster. Funny how things evolve, am I right?

Oh, but Evie!  She’s awkward and bespectacled, and in her first scene she takes down a dozen bookshelves while trying to re-shelve a book.  “Oops.”  Oh, how we love the clumsy and inept librarian with fuzzy hair and glasses!  As much as the filmmakers tried to make Weisz mousy and less gorgeous, it’s impossible.  This woman is perfection, and when she receives her inevitable makeover – courtesy of a formfitting black outfit, some eyeliner, and a veil – it’s less of an remake and more like a retooling.  Gone are the glasses and mussed up hair piled on top of her head; hello, hottie librarian!  In such a popcorn flick as this does “let her hair down” become less of a saying and more of an actual thing a woman must do to seem more womanly and less matronly.

This woman is perfection, srsly.

Evie as a character grows in the expected ways: mousy librarian is mousy; mousy librarian is not so mousy?  Not so mousy librarian is hot!  Hot librarian falls for adventure guy.  Hot librarian and adventure guy live happily every after.  Underneath the usual stereotype, however, Evie is focused on her career.  The only reason why she agrees to travel with adventure guy and such is because she wants to prove herself to the Bembridge Scholars, a group that rejected her due to lack of experience.  Something tells me tangling with a reanimated mummy and other other-worldly things would count as some sort of “experience”.

Despite being a 1920s gal, Evie is a rather modern woman.  In some ways she fills the standard Marian the Librarian stereotype of being a forward-looking, career-driven, happily single woman on the outside – but of course she gets the guy at the end, because that’s just what happens in these types of films.  Evie may be a bit awkward and goofy (and she certainly can’t hold her liquor), but she’s my kind of girl.