I received a call for papers in my email box at work today for an essay collection called “Beyond the Bun: Librarian Valuing through Perception and Presentation.” Now granted, some of the example research they use is interesting and useful such as a paper on attitudes towards gender issues, or one on challenges faced by black librarians. These are worthy things to write about since it affects the professionalism and culture of library world. But.
I am once again reminded about librarians’ obsession with the stereotype of bun, glasses, dark colored pencil skirt and a white blouse buttoned up tight. A good many professions have stereotypes but I don’t see them worrying about it or creating websites to show that they dress in all kinds of different ways. I work at a law school library and lawyers and people studying to be lawyers don’t worry about their cultural stereotype. I rarely hear anyone mention it at all unless they are making fun of themselves.
Librarians take it far too seriously. Not all of them do. When I graduated from library school my coworkers gave me my librarian “credentials,” a yarn bun and reading glasses with a gold cord attached.
I was talking about the “image problem” with Bookman over dinner this evening and have come to the conclusion that it stems from an inferiority complex. Librarians have been working for a long time to be seen as professionals – we have master’s degrees! And librarians are constantly working to make sure the library remains a relevant institution and that everyone knows the library is not just books and bunned and bespectacled women telling you to “shhh.” No, the library is about information in all of its forms and a librarian is there to curate it and help you navigate the winding pathways to your personal tree of knowledge. But no matter what we do people still carry around the stereotype. Bookman works for LensCrafters these days and when he is helping someone find glasses he says he frequently has people reject a pair because they make them “look like a librarian.”
So I don’t think a book or a website is going to do much to change public opinion. I say, embrace the bun! People who use libraries know that librarians come in all shapes, sizes and fashion senses and to them we have nothing to prove. Why do we try so hard with people who haven’t set foot in a library in years and have no plans to do so anytime soon?
One thing I am really curious to know, is the stereotype and concern about it only a U.S. thing or is it global? Are there different stereotypes in different countries? Hey, maybe I could submit a paper doing an international comparative analysis on the librarian stereotype!