During my trip through library history last week, I ran across a story from 1972 that I thought was funny and would have blogged about back then. Unfortunately, the Annoyed Librarian blog didn’t start until 1975, and by then I’d forgotten all about the incident.
In 1972, Nabisco placed advertisements in McCall’s, Redbook, and Better Homes and Gardens for Korkers, Flings, and Corn Diggers, which were snack foods at the time, though forty years on they all sound rather rude.
Some of the ads were full of beautiful people fondling Korkers, having Flings, and munching on Corn Diggers. Well, they weren’t completely full of beautiful people. One person in particular was old, withered, scowling, and dressed like a nineteenth century spinster. She was identified as “Mildred Mason, town librarian.”
Some librarians thought the ad was amusing. A real Mildred Mason who was a real librarian wrote Nabisco saying she would “”be willing to settle out of court for a box of chipsters and let the American Library Association worry about what the ad did to the image of the profession.”
And worry the ALA did, as always. They wrote Nabisco, as the New York Times put it, “chastising the company for perpetuating an untrue stereotype of librarians.” Nothing like being chastised by the ALA. I’m sure Nabisco was shaken to the foundations. But then, the protest!
A librarian formed the Librarians Antidefamation League to protest the Nabisco ads. Under that banner, forty-five librarians picketed the Nabisco headquarters in New York. Apparently none of them resembled a nineteenth century spinster, thus putting the lie to those Nabisco ads. Those librarians sure showed Nabisco!
The founder of the short lived group was quoted as saying, “There are 85,000 librarians in the country who perform valuable services, and they should not be ridiculed.” That’s right. Valuable services, every darn one of them. And no ridicule, because sensitive librarians might whine and protest.
Another librarian who was insulted by the ad said, “At a time when we’re trying to recruit people for the profession, something like this is very harmful.” Has there ever been a time when we weren’t trying to recruit people to the profession? And would anyone really think Nabisco had faithfully protrayed the modern librarian?
Three of the protesters met with Nabisco executives to request the ad not be run again. The Nabisco executives, no doubt trying to suppress their snickers, made no promises, but expressed their concern.
This seemed to mollify the protesters, because after announcing this to the group, “the three spokesmen and the other protesters shared three boxes of Oreos the executives had given them.” Because nothing shuts a librarian’s mouth faster than a tasty cookie to munch on. Those Nabisco executives clearly knew a thing or two about librarians.
The Wall Street Journal, as one might expect, was less kind to the defamed librarians than the Times. “”Sometimes it seems that Americans, in recent years at any rate, have gone out of their way to discover unintended slight.”
What an utterly pointless exercise. It had no effect whatsoever on librarian stereotypes, but just made a bunch of librarians look insecure. Something like that is still probably the stereotype of librarians. Do a Google Image search and look at some of the images near the top.
Some librarians are still insecure, too, as we saw a few years ago when some New Mexico librarians protested a television show’s filming location because they claimed the woman chosen to play a librarian on tv was too old and frumpy. We see the insecurity anytime we have an article about hip, young librarians throwing off the stereotype.
When we think back to 1972, it’s easy to think of a lot of groups that were actual victims of stereotypes, not just offended busybodies. I wonder what a black woman looking for a professional job in Manhattan in 1972 would have thought about these poor librarians? Or a gay man?
The idea that librarian stereotypes have harmed the profession is nonsense. As we saw going back to the 1960s, librarians were uselessly fighting the stereotypes, and yet libraries always found enough suckers to go to library school.
Fortunately, there were some librarians who were unoffended on the record. One said, “The image is false, but it doesn’t bother me…. All the students I met who are studying library science are young swinging types.” Just think, those young swinging types are now reaching retirement age.
From another: “It doesn’t offend me. Probably because I feel confident that I don’t fall within that stereotype. I think it’s sort of funny. It’s silly to get so uptight about it. There are so many more important things to worry about.”
Then, as now. I was much more offended by the “unintended slight” of another article on the protest march that described the aftermath thusly: “After the march the girls, with some support from male librarians, returned to their desks and racks. “The girls,” indeed. That’s the kind of annoying talk that might have gotten that man a kick in the korkers from more than just librarians.
Nabisco is still around, but what of the Librarians Antidefamation League? It seems to have gone the way of Corn Diggers. Maybe someone can start it up again and get a bunch of sensitive librarians together to picket the McMaster University Library.