Happy [librarian] Holidays!

My library's holiday book tree - because, yes, I'm that kind of librarian.

My library‘s holiday book tree – because, yes, I’m that kind of librarian.

Here’s to the holidays, and a happy new year. 2013 was pretty crazy for me: new job, tons of new responsibilities, project management stresses, and much more. As you can see above, we decided to cap off the year with a holiday book tree composed of entirely-too-many NUC tomes. Fun and festive, and if you’ve never been on Pinterest before and seen the countless book trees other libraries have done, an entirely novel idea! (Seriously though, it was fun. I’m rather proud.)

Be sure to check out my holiday post from last year, It’s a Wonderful Life: How Mary Lost Her Groove. Ah, nothing says Christmas like spinster librarians, amiright? Remember, you’re likely only a librarian because your selfish, crook of a husband wished he had never been born. Every time a depressed guy throws himself off a bridge, a woman loses all sense of self and ends up writing MARC records for the rest of her days. Ho ho ho.

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Guybrarians and Male Librarians

guybrarian

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.

Conan-The-Librarian2

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.

Bunny Watson – Pop! Profile

Desk-Set-Poster

Bunny Watson: I don’t smoke, I only drink champagne when I’m lucky enough to get it, my hair is naturally natural, I live alone… and so do you.
Richard Sumner: How do you know that?
Bunny Watson: Because you’re wearing one brown sock and one black sock.

Desk Set is to librarians as Citizen Kane is to cinefiles.  Is that too general a statement?  Let me explain.  Every summer break my library has a lunch + movie afternoon for staff members.  We choose a movie, eat pizza, and then pleasurably blow a couple hours in a dark conference room.  The last couple years we’ve voted on the movie we get to watch – much to my chagrin, because some people have… questionable taste.  The first year we held our lunch + movie (+ inevitable nap) day the film choice wasn’t in our hands, it was decided by the higher-ups. Nobody cared, however, because the film chosen was Desk Set.

It’s the most perfect of films about librarians because it stars the most perfect librarian in film history: Bunny Watson, as played by Katherine Hepburn.  Although she was once box office poison, Hepburn is one of the greatest actors in the history of – okay, enough with the hyperbole, so let’s just say she’s a treasure.  Desk Set was released in 1957, after The African Queen, The Philadelphia Story, and (my favorite) Bringing Up Baby – but before Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, On Golden Pond, and (my other favorite) The Lion in Winter.  By comparison to these classics, Desk Set is little more than fluff.  When one considers the impact it continues to have on the librarian figure in film, however, its true impact can be seen.

The film takes place at the fictional Federal Broadcasting Network in Manhattan.  A sort of NBC, its reference library “which is responsible for researching and answering questions on all manner of topics” (Wikipedia).  The head of this department is none other than Bunny Watson, a middle-aged, astute woman who knows all the names of Santa’s reindeer but who can’t seem to recognize that her seven-year relationship with a career-driven network executive is going absolutely nowhere.  Making matters worse, the network is secretly merging with another company, and to help the transition they’ve hired a consultant named Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) to install two EMERAC computers in the reference library.  Bunny and her fellow librarians fear they’re being replaced, and they rebel.  However, as it becomes clear that the computers aren’t nearly as skilled as the librarians – they glitch and end up sending a pink slip to everyone in the company, even the president – it’s revealed that Sumner never intended the computers to replace the librarians, only to help them.  All is forgiven, and like it so often happens with happy endings, Bunny and Richard decide to make a go for it.  N’aww.

One of the main themes of Desk Set is learning to grow and change with the times.  Part of why I think this film is so appealing is the fact that it’s pertinent even now, almost sixty years later.  The threat of technology (computers! the internet!) is still on the minds of many librarians, even some of those I work with.  The automation of information is terrifying to those who fear their job security becomes less assured as time goes on and budget cuts become more the rule than the exception.  These are the same struggles libraries have been dealing with for years, and yet technology is here to stay: Bunny Watson and her coworkers recognized that, even in 1957.

Desk Set ladies

Bunny, the strong, incredibly bright reference librarian, is an interesting figure when it comes to librarians in pop culture.  Hepburn was 49 or 50 when the film was made and released, and Bunny is certainly the sort of unconventional characters that she was well known for playing.  Bunny was unmarried, but in a long-term, intimate relationship.  She’s extremely focused on her career, so much so that she has a winding, spindly plant growing all over her office – she’s literally put down roots in her library.  And who wouldn’t?  She has a great mind for facts, a closet of awesome dresses, and a group of positive and supportive women who work (and drink) with her.  It’s arguably the most awesome job in the history of awesome jobs, and it’s been inspiring envy from librarians for years.  Case in point: “I want Bunny Watson’s Job in ‘Desk Set'”.  Who doesn’t?

However, because this is the 1950s, and it is a Hepburn-Tracey film, Bunny does want romance in her life.  While she loves her job, she hopes hopes hopes that her longtime boyfriend will propose to her after seven years.  When she breaks it off with him, she’s already kindling a relationship with Richard Sumner.  At the end, when the wrongs are righted and it’s agreed the computers aren’t taking over, Richard asks Bunny to marry him, and she says yes.  It’s interesting to note that the film was titled “His Other Woman” when it was released in the UK, referring to the EMERAC computer which Richard calls “Emmy” for short.  Therefore for most of the film, the love triangle isn’t between Bunny, Richard and Bunny’s executive boyfriend, but Bunny-Richard-Emmy.  The executive guy never stood a chance, but the real threat to Bunny and Richard’s happiness is the very thing that Bunny thinks is threatening her job security.

So where do we place Bunny among the short list of librarian stereotypes?  She’s an old maid, but she doesn’t act like one.  She loves her job (go librarians!), but she also wants romance.  In the end, she gets both.  Hepburn isn’t Hot Librarian material, but she also isn’t dowdy – she’s fashionable and likable as well as wicked smart.  When Sumner asks her pointed questions in order to determine how the mind of a truly capable reference librarian works, I can’t help but marvel at her skills and good humor:

Desk Set - tough

I would say that Bunny does not fit into a classic stereotype, which is what makes her so appealing.  She is a positive, go-getter librarian figure amongst a sea of Mean Old Lady and Mousy and Sexy Librarians.  She’s tough.  She’s skilled.  She’s confident.  She’s kind.  She’s willing to accept change in her career.

I don’t want Bunny Watson’s job, I want to be her.

“Wonderfully Unhinged” Librarian

Mudshark by Gary Paulsen

“She was brilliant and joyous and she believed – probably correctly – that libraries contain the answers to all things, to everything, and that if you can’t find the information you seek in the library, then such information probably doesn’t exist in this or any parallel universe now or ever to be known. She was thoughtful and kind and she always believed the best of everybody. She was, above all else, a master librarian and she knew where to find any book on any subject in the shortest possible time.

And she was wonderfully unhinged.”

― Gary Paulsen, Mudshark

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?

Anatomy of a librarian

Do you think this infographic supports the popular culture stereotypes of librarians or disproves them? On a side-note, I’m seriously curious as to what “fire performance” entails. How many librarians are secretly members of Cirque du Soleil?

bluesyemre

AnatomyofaLibrarianLrg

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It’s a Wonderful Life: How Mary Lost Her Groove

Mary, it's a wonderful life

In honor of this gloriously lazy holiday season, I present to you: Mary, the old maid librarian from 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life‘s kooky alternative universe. In the true reality in which her husband George exists, Mary is a loving, doting, perfect housewife with a few precious kids.  Without George in her life, she is matronly, alone, and apparently visually challenged.  (Seriously, where did those glasses come from? Is that the only way they could make Donna Reed look homely?)  The bulky coat, the glasses, the lack of makeup: these symbols signify alternate!Mary’s lack of worth. Without George, she is nothing; a woman reduced to the worst possible designation ever: unwed.

Furthermore, it’s made absolutely clear that being a librarian is the worst thing ever that could have happened to George’s lovely wife.  Here’s a clip of his shocking discovery, when he asks Clarence “where’s Mary?”

Oh, Mary. You deserve better.  She cowers and cries and faints when George (still not “getting it”, obviously) chases after her and makes a scene:

Bitchmedia perhaps says it best:

Husbandless Mary is wearing glasses. Her dress is less feminine and has a higher neckline. Her hair is pulled back into a bun (how very stereotypical) and covered up with a hat. She looks incredibly worried. And the trees casting shadows across the scene don’t make her alternate identity any brighter.

This character certainly reflects societal beliefs about librarians in 1946: that librarians were single, unhappy women.

 

Now that we’re all depressed, I hope you had a very merry Christmas indeed, and that your 2013 is a great one!