Posts tagged ‘Stereotypes’

Librarian Stereotypes, Alive & Well, Alas

If any of us ever did doubt that the traditional stereotype of the librarian is alive and well, here in 2010, right here in New Jersey, doubt it no more. Convincing evidence to confirm this is easily found. I’ve been reflecting on this since I read an article by Brad Parks from the April 11, 2010 Newark Sunday Star-Ledger. His headline was compelling “Budget Imperils New Jersey’s Libraries.” I was eager to read this story, as I am everything written in the NJ press about the impact of and reactions to Governor Christie’s proposed 74% budget reduction to NJ library funding. Parks’ editorial supports the library communities’ struggle for funding restoration, but even though he touts the value of libraries in promoting literacy and democratic access to information, he chose to open his article by evoking traditional librarian stereotypical images.

Reading the first words of his story made my heart sink: “In both stereotype and practice, New Jersey’s librarians are a fairly unexcitable bunch, more prone to shushing than they are to hyperbole. So take this into consideration was you read this from Edison Public Library director Judith Mansbach. ‘If this goes through, it’s going to be devastating.’” The three column article decries the proposed cuts and mentions the May 6th librarian rally in Trenton that many of us, myself included, later attended. (Some of us even got quite excited – imagine that.) Parks returns to the library stereotype by ending on this note: “Needless to say they could use your help. So if you value your local library – or literacy in general- please make your view known to your legislators. It’ll be one time your librarian won’t shush you for raising your voice.” I sincerely appreciate Mr. Parks’ support and thank him for asking readers to complain to NJ legislators about the ghastly cuts, but ask why could he not resist the cutesy and clichéd reference to librarians’ shushing that devalues our profession?

Post rally, Karen Sudol picked up the theme in her article: “Librarians Demand Christie Not Close Book on Services” in the May 7th Star-Ledger (p. 22). She begins: “Librarians accustomed to saying “Shush” and “Quiet, please,” spoke up at a Trenton rally yesterday in protest of a proposed 74 percent cut in state funding. ‘I think we’re going to dispel all of the shushing rumors that librarians are just quiet little people,’ said Patricia Tumulty executive director of the New Jersey Library Association which organized the two-hour event. ‘We’re strong advocates for the people of New Jersey to have good library services.” Pat’s advocacy and leadership continue to be strong, although I’m sad to say the “shushing rumors” are firmly ensconced in the press and popular culture, much to the detriment of our professional image.

This example is one of countless newspaper articles, blogs, cartoons, television shows, commercials, novels, advertisements, motion pictures, etc. in a broad range of mediated discourse, that continue to evoke the librarian stereotype. Librarians, usually female, are consistently portrayed as bespectacled, mousy, unassuming, sexually repressed introverts who primarily engage in three behaviors – shushing (as we see above), stamping and shelving books. The male librarian stereotype, although less prominent, is also unflattering to the profession. Usually portrayed as prissy with the ubiquitous horn rimmed glasses and bow tie, he is distinctly feminine and also therefore accorded the low status of the female librarian, deserving little respect.

This stereotype has persisted as remarkably intact since the early 1900s, despite the information age that has transformed the profession as one now immersed in sophisticated digitized systems and online services, Some, even within our field, may dismiss stereotypical texts and images as harmless, cute, or funny, and chide others to get a sense of humor. As one who has studied the librarian stereotype in depth, and published several journal articles on the topic in Library Quarterly, I have come to view these media representations as far from harmless, with serious, anti-intellectual, and anti-feminist messages. In these hideous budget times in NJ, and across the nation,  it is appalling to me to see how frequently the stereotypical librarian image appears.  In another recent example, on May 11th,  Library Journal reported on “Jay Leno’s Bad Library Joke” . If you click on this link you can see a video of Leno saying:  “People here in Los Angeles are upset [at] their mayor’s proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries…this could affect as many as nine people.”  The LJ link includes the letter from city librarian Martin Gomez who points out that over 17 million people use the LA libraries every year and that the budget cuts are no laughing matter.

Perhaps I should not be so appalled at these stereotypical images and low blows to libraries. After all, thinking of libraries as dusty, unused places (instead of vital community centers) and librarians as unproductive, fussy old biddies who shuffle around the library shushing, stamping, and shelving is useful to the powerful elite who use this ill-informed view as justification to cut already low salaries and benefits for public librarians, fire librarians, reduce hours and close libraries (including the library for the blind and handicapped).  This 74% cut is sadly going to occur at a time when NJ citizens’ need is greatest for what libraries have to offer: equal access to information to all, free to all.

By Marie L. Radford

May 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm 34 comments

"Femme fatales," "Supermoms," "Sex kittens," & "Nasty corporate climbers": Women, Media, & Stereotypes

I was viewing the latest addition of new sites added to Librarians’ Internet Index, and as the official library liasion to the education and communication departments at Rider University and a little brother to seven older sisters, I was thrilled to find the MNet site listed and evaluated, highlighting its “Media Portrayals of Girls and Women” section. And being that today is the official beginning of Women’s History Month, I thought I would blog about it.

MNet is the Media Awareness Network, and it houses a fairly comprehensive various resources intended to educate the young and older folks about media promotion and very related topics. They state that they provide “information and tools to help young people to understand how the media work, how the media may affect their lifestyle choices and the extent to which they, as consumers and citizens, are being well informed,” as well as easily leading us to “reference materials for use by adults and youth alike in examining media issues from a variety of perspectives.” After spending quite a bit of time on their site this morning, and especially regarding this section on media and females, I was impressed.

For instance, when viewing the Media Portrayal of Girls and Women main section, if you choose the subcategory of “Beauty and Body Image in the Media,” you can read some short discussions under the subheadings of unattainable beauty, the culture of thinness, and self-improvement vs. self-destruction. However, what I really liked about each of the subcategories under the Girls and Women main section was that, on the right-hand side of the page, it also listed related MNet resources and recommended readings, for instance, from university studies (i.e., Purdue U.), scholarly journals (Sex Roles), mainstream magazines (Ms.) and/or online newspapers and websites (CBSNews.com). Certainly, librarians can help any interested researcher in finding more up-to-date information within our databases and other research resources, but I think this site is a worthwhile one to explore.


By the way, if you are interested in another collection of resources regarding women, check out Gary Price’s ResourceShelf posting from this morning, “Resources for Women’s History Month,” providing links to excellent resources from the U.S. Census and the Infoplease sites, among others–how can you not like what Gary Price does for all of us, and so early in the morning (and I thought I was posting early)!


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March 1, 2007 at 6:48 am

A tempest has been brewing… AKA, yet even more on the scrotum story

One Troublesome Word , Article, Editorial

A tempest has been brewing over a children’s book…” begins today’s New York Times editorial. Ahhhh, the passive voice… last refuge of scoundrels.

Perhaps it is too much to expect the Old Gray Lady to acknowledge that, prior to it’s own troublesome reporting, there was nothing brewing but a fairly respectful professional discussion on librarians’ discussion lists (or as the Lady quaintly refers to them, “message boards”.)

Perhaps it is too much to ask that, having started this hooha (if that’s the right word–gulp), the Lady restrain from invoking comparison’s with Marian the librarian. Surely this is writing at it’s absolute laziest! Hey Lady, while you were at it, couldn’t you have thrown in a comment or two mentioning that librarians’ commitment to intellectual freedom is generally, oh I don’t know, as tall as an oak? As deep as the sea?

(Note to the NY Times editorial board: The next time you want to disabuse your readership of the “Marian the Librarian” stereotype, it might be more effective to point out that REAL librarians don’t fit the stereotype, rather than pointing out that Marian herself was actually quite a bawdy gal, judging from her reading habits.

Check this out: It wouldn’t be fair to characterize Arthur Sulzberger’s comment that “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either” by saying that he’s kind of like Nero, fiddling while the MSM burns. You know why? Because Nero really played the LYRE. See how that works?)

But I get it, Lady. mentioning Marian, was really just an easy transition to mentioning her love of Balzac, which sounds kind of like “ball sack” which is another way of saying scrotum (giggle, snigger), so we can all see how wonderfully witty, cultured, well-read, AND terribly bawdy the Times editorial board is. Look out Dorothy Parker, you’ve got competition! Oh wait, you’ve been dead for 40 years. My bad.

Well anyway Lady, thanks for throwing in that last bit about helping children on their journey from ignorance to knowledge, blahdiddy, blah, blah, and for not using the word “shhhh” anywhere in the (final draft) of the editorial.

February 21, 2007 at 2:54 am 5 comments


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