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.

Summer Movies Mean… Librarian Cameos?

Monsters U Librarian

So, I see an awful lot of movies in the theatre. When summer rolls around, I can usually be expected to have seen one new film a week – not as much as post-Thanksgiving, pre-New Years, when all the Oscar-bait films come out, but still more than the average moviegoer.  Sad films, happy films, funny films, weird films: as long as it doesn’t fall under the category “gratuitous slasher flick” I’m typically going to see it.  And if I love it/hate it, I’ll talk about it.  Forever.

This past weekend my husband and I went to see Monsters University, which fell under the umbrella of “liked it, didn’t love it, but had some great parts.”  For a sequel it was certainly strong, and it’s hard to go wrong with Nathan Fillion and Helen Mirren playing bad guys in the same movie.  The film is very much a creation story; we see Mike and Sully meet during their Freshman year at school, quickly become enemies, begin to work together, learn from each other, and then finally become friends and colleagues.  Monsters U, the school itself, is prestigious and honorable, and it has a typical division of clubs and cliques: jocks, hot chicks, emo kids, nerds, and weirdos.  They’re all pitted against each other during the school’s monster triathlon, the Scare Games, which consists of a series of trials to choose the best Scarers on campus.  One of the trials – called “Don’t Wake the Parent” – takes place in the university’s library.  Can you see where this is going?  I could, and it was glorious!

Monsters U Librarian2

Uh oh?

The “Parent” in the trial’s scenario is of course the curmudgeonly, be-speckled, old lady/squid-like librarian who hates noise and has a penchant for chucking ne’er-do-well students into the lake outside.  It’s over the top and silly and so much damn fun.  She’s everything a Freshman might expect from their university librarian, especially if the university in question is as old fashioned as Monsters U.  Look at all those books!  The wood paneling!  HER OUTFIT!  Of course the library is destroyed when the librarian  furiously lashes out, but you just know part of her enjoyed putting it back together again.  It’s gloriously over the top (really, could they have made her any uglier?) but I just can’t bring myself to roll my eyes.  Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Considering summer movies and surprisingly fun librarian cameos, did you know that last year had a similar set up?  The Spider-man reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield) included a scene in which the entire school was destroyed during an epic fight between Spidey and the Lizard.  The two crash through a wall – surprisingly easy to do in comic book movies – and on the other side? The school library, featuring none other than the legendary Stan Lee as the oblivious school librarian.  He’s rocking out to his old guy muzak and humming to himself as his library is destroyed behind him.  See the whole scene here:

Reel Librarians had a great write-up of this scene, as well as other Comic Relief librarians, but I think it’s worth mentioning that perhaps the reason our profession keeps showing up in these summer blockbuster films is because the profession is immediately recognizable as light, good fun.  We don’t need back story for why Monsters U librarian is so bent on shushing students – she’s a librarian!  We don’t need to know why bow tie-clad Stan Lee doesn’t notice his quaint little library falling to pieces around him – duh, he’s a librarian!  Like I’ve said before, sometimes you just have to laugh.

What do you think?  Have you seen Monsters University yet?  Looking forward to the next Spider-Man? Do you think summer 2014 will bring us another librarian cameo?

“You Don’t Look Like a Librarian!”

What? Only 10? (From http://www.librarian-image.net/)

What? Only 10? (From http://www.librarian-image.net/)

Yesterday I attended a resource fair for incoming students.  While manning my booth, I greeted people who walked by, trying to make the Library seem like a great place to visit and hopefully utilize over the next four years of their college experience.  A few people seemed genuinely interested, but one in particular jived with me and my message.  In fact, this new student told me, and I quote, “It’s a good thing they [the library] sent you here; you don’t look like a librarian, you look like a student.”

As petty as it now sounds, I took it as a compliment. It seems that even for the class of 2017, “librarian” means old, stuffy, and out of touch. While of course it means a variety of characteristics – because all librarians are unique, awesome snowflakes – I couldn’t help but thank the kid for insinuating that I’m young, friendly and do not smell like I own ten cats.  I mean, that’s what he meant, right?  How strange must his high school library experience must have been, or how many times must he have seen The Music Man, for him to point out how much I stick out in my line of work?  I smiled and nodded at him, but in hindsight I wish I would have asked him what his frame of reference was, to whom was he comparing me, and oh bee tee dubs, mind if I blog about this?

This line of thought makes me want to check out “You Don’t Look Like a Librarian: Shattering Stereotypes and Creating Positive New Images in the Internet Age” by Ruth Kneale.  Has anyone read it?  I feel like I need to commiserate with others on this point.

So, I’m the Worst Blogger Ever

librarian meta tattoo

Librarian meta tattoos are the way to go (via Pinterest)

My goodness, has it really been that long since I’ve posted?  Just when I was starting to delve into the complicated world of librarians in popular culture, I went MIA. Even my post on Guybrarians and Male Librarians, which went viral and garnered thousands of views (!!!) and several dozen amazingly insightful comments, didn’t help cover my absence.  I certainly want to get back to posting regularly – and I will! – but a little explanation may be in order.

In mid-April I became a professional librarian.  After nearly seven years of being an off-and-on-again student as well as a member of the support staff of a mid-sized academic library, I was promoted to the rank of faculty and the new position of Public Services Librarian in charge of marketing and outreach.  It’s been thrilling and exciting and bright and shiny and new, but it’s also greatly taken away from my trolling on the interwebs online activities.

Still, now that I am an actual librarian, this blog all of a sudden seems so much more important, so let’s forget about my brief disappearing act and get back to discussing why librarians are depicted the way they are in media and why that’s good/bad/wrong/hilarious.  Okay?

Morris Lessmore and his Fantastic Flying Books... or, what I thought being a librarian would feel like.

Morris Lessmore and his Fantastic Flying Books… or, what I thought being a librarian would feel like. Not so much?

“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

The Judgmental Ostrich: When book-pushers become meme fodder

Ostrich LibrarianBTW, I’m on Pinterest. Sorry, what I meant to say is I’m constantly on Pinterest.  It’s addicting and mind-numbingly entertaining.  Funny things, pretty things, nerdy things: I pin them all.  Recently I managed to talk my academic library into creating a Pinterest account.  Yes, even academia loves creating digital pinboards – albeit, library-related pins are usually kind of snore-worthy.  LibGuides are great, but I’d much rather pin pictures of piles of puppies.

A while back I created a board to chronicle the interesting, amusing and sometimes bizarro media representations of librarians – find it here.  While looking over my past pins, I noticed that I had not one, but three separate images showing what I thought was a meme called Ostrich Librarian.  After a quick image search, I found the official title for this frazzled oversize bird: Judgmental Bookseller Ostrich.  This meme may have begun by chronicling the trials of overworked booksellers, but quite a few of these “I’m surrounded by idiots!” lamentations are shared by equally overworked librarians, especially those who work with the general public.  A coworker of mine who has experience with the public library in town once told me that after a prolonged time of working a desk day in, day out, you gain a sixth sense.  For example, when a certain type of person walks up to you, you just know they’re looking for Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Wait, is that still a thing?  Tell me it’s not and you get a cookie.)  Even in the world of academic libraries, there is repetition.  With repetition comes boredom.  And as regular readers to this blog may know, with boredom comes evil librarians.

Ostrich Librarian2

There is therefore some overlap between librarian and bookseller, and not just because we both deal in information and dead trees.  Whether this ostrich is a better fit for either profession is up for debate, but her visage definitely leans toward spinster, myopic librarian.  She’s wearing a pair of cat’s eye glasses, her hair is sticking up and about in a comical fashion, and her mouth is open in a Joker’s smile/grimace that makes her seem she’s truly at the end of her rope.  She’s a sarcastic know-it-all, ready with a comeback no matter the horrible question she receives, especially if that person has bad taste in books.

I pinned her three times on Pinterest not because I know how she feels – to be honest, very few people ask me about actual, honest to goodness books.  (E-books, yes. Book-books, not so much.)  On the other hand, I recognize the sentiment.  We live in an age of information, and yet sometimes the questions you’re asked are just… depressing.  The Judgmental Ostrich can stand for anyone who puts themselves out there in the public realm who perhaps think themselves above the people they serve every day.  That’s why I sometimes look at the Judgmental Ostrich and think “I know that feel, sis.  I know that feel.”

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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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!

Why Are Librarians So Mean?

Rude.  Unhelpful.  Downright mean.  Why are librarians usually depicted as being vile representations of customer care?

First, let’s get a few things straight: I’ve been working with library patrons for the past ten years: roughly four years as a student assistant in Circulation/Administration, six years as a Senior Library Services Associate in Special Collections, and now as a Library Services Specialist in Public Services – all before the age of thirty.  I’m a spring chicken when it comes to librarians, which rather goes against the ultimate old lady librarian stereotype that is oftentimes displayed in film, TV and literature.  I would also like to think that I’m not rude, unhelpful or mean – I deal mostly with college students and faculty/staff, and I enjoy what I do.  So when I see a depiction such as this scene from  Sophie’s Choice, I begin to wonder: why are librarians so mean?

Dismissive, condescending and somewhat terrifying: this man literally looks down on Meryl Streep‘s character as if she’s a bug he would love to squash.  “Do you want me to paint you a picture?” he nearly shouts.  Look at this woman, his upturned nose implies; she has no clue what she’s talking about.  Watching this scene, I want to push him aside and patiently say to Sophie, “Do you mean Emily Dickinson?  She’s an American poet.  Here, let me show you where her books are located.”

In any job description where you have to deal with the public at large, there will be misunderstandings.  When it comes to academia – books, research, scholarly articles, timelines, grade point averages! – there is quite a bit aggravation involved.  I’ve personally been screamed at (by a professor, no less) and been told I wasn’t much help.  Sometimes it’s hard not to become annoyed, simply because patrons sometimes don’t know what they’re talking about.  Since I began working Reference, I’ve learned to never trust a patron; if they say they found a source somewhere, chances are it’s somewhere else.  Don’t trust they know what “peer reviewed” means, or whether or not they logged in properly.  It is my job to explain these things, over and over, to every single patron that shows up with a confused look on their face.

Librarianship, like many other jobs, can at times become monotonous.  Very rarely is a unique question ever presented, and I suppose if you’ve been dealing with knuckle-headed students for 30+ years, it can wear on you.  The librarian in Sophie’s Choice may deal with silly questions every day, especially because – unlike me – he’s catering to the general public.  People ask stupid questions.  (True story: once I was asked what rocks are made of.)  And yes, sometimes people think they know better than you about something you’ve studied every day for the past heaven knows how many years.  Then again, sometimes you simply misunderstand what the person is asking for; you make assumptions, you point them in the wrong direction, and maybe they call you out on it.  Maybe they become irritated and roll their eyes or speak sarcastically.  It bruises the ego.  It makes you testy.

Worse. Librarian. Ever.

These situations – the monotony, silly questions, simple misunderstandings – exist in nearly every facet of customer service.  I become annoyed when someone in Home Depot dismissively tells me the garbage bags are on aisle 14  when they’re really on aisle 16 – but why does that scene not show up when you Google “Why are Home Depot guys so unhelpful/mean/rude”?  My theory is that when it comes to knowledge, the stakes are higher.  Garbage bags < Emily Dickinson.

So what happens when a Real Life Librarian can’t answer a patron’s question and, for whatever reason, becomes annoyed?  In the real world, you perhaps call for backup from one of your colleagues, and let them help you puzzle out the question.  Dickens?  Poetry?  Oh wait, maybe she means Dickinson?

When the same situation happens to a Librarian in Film, he coldly watches as the woman crumples to the floor in front of him.  Then he goes back to sorting the card catalog.

Library Dragons

Image

From The Library Dragon by Carmen Arga Deedy (image via The Unemployed Librarian)

Why are librarians often depicted as strict, inflexible, and sometimes downright mean?  Perhaps some librarians are dragon-like, but what public services-related position doesn’t have a person or two who obviously shouldn’t be anywhere near the public?  Ah, but we’re the keepers of knowledge – such a huge responsibility will turn anyone into a mean, old lady librarian, am I right?  That’s what this children’s book seems to teach.

When an elementary school advertises for a “thick-skinned professional” who is “on fire with enthusiasm,” it gets just that-and then some. A bespectacled, dress-wearing dragon, Miss Lotta Scales replaces all the books with spanking clean ones, and refuses to let the students (“with their gooey fingers and snotty noses”) touch them. The kids’ grades are “going up in smoke,” but neither the principal nor the teachers can convince the headstrong dragon to let the pupils near the stacks until one myopic girl accidentally wanders into the library and begins to read a story (“Snuff the Magic Dragon”) aloud. The tale manages to soften the librarian’s scaly skin-figuratively and literally.