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Trying to Change Stereotypes is the New Stereotype

Trying to change stereotypes is the new stereotype. It might even be the new black.

Several years ago, a librarian who really, really hates this blog and claims she never reads it despite the evidence that she clearly does made a call for more “diversity” in librarianship. If I recall correctly, her call was really for more homosexual librarians.

I don’t know if anyone has studied this, but I bet homosexuals are already represented in librarianship out of proportion to the general population. I know plenty of gay and lesbian librarians, and librarianship is a profession where gay and lesbian librarians are accepted for what they are, which is librarians.

Librarianship attracts a lot of frumpy introverts, but at least they’re not bigots.

In response to her call, I pointed out that with the huge proportion of middle-aged white women in librarianship, we needed a different sort of diversity. In short, librarianship needs more hot, straight guys.

If you don’t believe me, look around your library or at a library conference. Do you see a lot of hot, straight guys? Exactly.

But now, we have some, since several of them are represented in Men of the Stacks. I don’t think they’re all straight, and they’re not all necessarily “hot,” but they’ll do.

In case you missed the worldwide coverage in such authoritative news sources as the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and the Oprah blog, Men of the Stacks is a male pin-up calendar full of librarians. They’re men. Some are in stacks, some are in slacks, and at least two are in their bathrooms. And the January Man in the Stacks has the hottest and the most amusing picture of the bunch.

The good news, besides some of the photos themselves, is that all the proceeds from the calendar are dedicated to the It Gets Better Project, designed to let bullied gay and lesbian teens know that there’s life after high school.

It’s a good project, and I think you’d have to be a pretty nasty human being to prefer homosexual teens commit suicide to trying to get them to feel better about their lives. Plus, it’s not something you’d expect a bunch of male librarians putting out a calendar to benefit. After all, they could have sent the money to ALA to help benefit Band Books Week.

Unfortunately, the calendar is doing something I expected as soon as I saw the website home page. It’s trying to change librarian stereotypes.

There is an entire population of professional librarians out there who disagree with the way the library profession is perceived in contemporary media outlets and in the historical consciousness of the American mind.  Different people and different associations will use different means to try to change those perceptions.  This is ours.

To that, I can only say, “yawn, what a pointless waste of time.” You’re not changing the stereotype of librarians at all. All anyone has to do is walk into a library and they’ll see that librarians don’t generally look like you.

Of course if people hung around libraries, they’d realize the traditional stereotype of a librarian is wrong. It’s not a bespectacled shusher in a bun. The stereotypical librarian is a middle-aged white woman in comfortable clothes and sensible shoes, a little overweight, with glasses and bad hair. If it is a male librarian, it’s going to be a male version of the female stereotype, except with more facial hair.

That’s the stereotype I use at ALA when my friends and I play “spot the librarian,” and I’m really good at that game.

Thus, I applaud anything emphasizing hot guys in librarianship, and anything that helps a good cause, but really, guys, you should have just put out the calendar and let it stand on its own.

Putting out a calendar like this and saying it’s trying to dispel librarian stereotypes? Why, that’s the most stereotypical thing of all.

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Comments

  1. Andy says:

    Let’s manage expectations here, AL… I’d settle just for more “hot guys” period, straight or not.

    As far as “Men of the Stacks,” the bar seems to be set pretty low, but I’ll put in a plug for Bart Ragon of University of Virginia’s medical library… use those search skills for a Google image search. You’ll see what I mean. David Rothman wouldn’t be bad either.

  2. Andrew says:

    Today I learned that hitting the gym regularly and having 20/20 vision sets me apart from my fellow male librarians.

    Don’t forget that not all librarian stereotypes are bad. There had to be some truth to the sexy librarian thing at some point for it to become so pervasive, right?

    • muppetzinspace says:

      In my experience as a hetrosexual, 20 something, moderately attractive female this stereotype has been a backlash. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone on a date, told them what I do, and they eventually let it be known that they have a librarian (as well as a secretary or nurse or teacher) fetish. Because of this, my occupation is considered a “cute” hobby not a career. Why is it service based occupations are fetishized in pornos but say female lawyers, CEOs, accountants, politicians aren’t? (minus the infamous “Nailin’ Pallin” contribution to modern cinema)

  3. gatoloco says:

    Being a pulchritudinous heterosexual male attracts more negative attention, than positive in the industry from my perspective.

  4. Will Manley says:

    AL, lighten up! You yourself are a humorist, sardonic but funny none the less. The charm of this calendar is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. Librarians need to laugh more. This calendar made me laugh. I like it.

  5. Jane says:

    You play “spot the librarian” at ALA? That must be hard.

  6. muppetzinspace says:

    “Librarianship attracts a lot of frumpy introverts, but at least they’re not bigots.”

    I want to frame this and hang it over my desk! Another great post, AL.

  7. Spencer says:

    I’ve begun wearing suits and ties again to work. Everyday someone has asked me if I have an interview for another job somewhere.

    I think that’s a little sad.

    • Lushpuppy says:

      I know exactly what you mean. I started wearing them once or twice a week for the past month. Same reaction. You never hear this when a female colleague arrives in business attire. Are the expectations really that low?

    • spencer says:

      I think they just expect us to bolt to better jobs- at least in my case. My supervisors tell me I should put special projects on my resume and ask me if I’ve seen other administrative opening positions…

      But, shouldn’t we all- as professionals- dress professionally?

    • Lushpuppy says:

      I thought so. I was actually surprised by the attire after my first few weeks on the job. I distinctly remember much more professional looking librarians when I was growing up in the 80s. Now it’s jeans, sandals, etc. One library employee (who thankfully doesn’t interact with the public) actually arrived to her 15-year photo shoot wearing sweat pants and a sweatshirt. Dirty too. My boss, there for his 35-year, almost croaked on the spot.

  8. Ms. Joneser says:

    This is one of the many reasons I’m joining Weight Watchers. And I’ve noticed a lot of 20-something librarians who are carrying around some avoirdupois.

    As for the hair, I will have you know that my colorist is an artiste.

    I refuse, however, to get a “tat”. Tattoos have become one of the new stereotypes as well.

  9. Elena says:

    sigh. next topic already, AL.

  10. Pulchritudinousinisinis says:

    “Being a pulchritudinous heterosexual male attracts more negative attention, than positive in the industry from my perspective.”

    ^ This.

  11. Kim says:

    I always thought librarians look pretty much like everyone else, except more are white than other races, which is no longer representative of the States. Some at my library are fit and healthy; most are not — just like the general population. We also have a male cyclist and even a very fit middle-aged mountain climber who sees climbing as her outside life and never talks about it. Probably doesn’t think other librarians would be interested. I’m glad no one where I work does tatoos! That’s a stereo-type I’m glad to live without.

  12. blacksquirrel says:

    “The stereotypical librarian is a middle-aged white woman in comfortable clothes and sensible shoes, a little overweight, with glasses and bad hair.”

    middle aged and white–check and check
    comfortable clothes–not sure what this means. I find skirts and dresses more comfortable than pants.
    sensible shoes–I assume you mean crocks or something–nope, I either wear either 2.5 inch heels or ballet blats.
    a little overweight–nope. 34-25-36
    bad hair–subjective. Does straight shoulder length hair with a fringe count as “bad hair”?

    I used to work with a bunch of mean, clinically obese sea hags who met every stereotype and were just flat out nasty. Now, I work with younger, leaner people and they are more collegial.

  13. Montmorency fan says:

    So the Annoyed Librarian wants more attractive straight male librarians, does she? Well, most of us in that demographic probably wouldn’t have much time for her, given her attitude. Witness her little snide-fest against the University of Alabama a few weeks ago. If you’re a straight guy in this profession, and you work out, dress nice, act like a gentleman most of the time and yet hint that you’re a bit of a rake when the time is right, you will have your pick of women. Sure, the proportion of single female librarians that are attractive isn’t that high, but many of one that are attractive come out of library schools in the South. (I know, I know, I’ve also met plenty of drop-dead gorgeous lookers of female librarians from other parts of the country — and actually have a thing for Yankee-girls myself — but a great proportion of the hottest ones always seem to be from the South.)

    Of course, we don’t know what AL herself looks like, assuming “she” is even really female, but assume she is. Given that’s she expounded before on her desire for more hot, straight men in the profession, I suspect her recent little tizzy against Alabama may in part arise not just from her opinions about tenure and all that, but really from her knowledge on some level that in a competition for the the few attractive, single, straight men who actually *are* in the library profession, women in UA Libraries and the UA SLIS program would kick her ass. Given what she herself has said about ass-width among librarians, it probably wouldn’t be hard to miss anyway. And I guarantee you Alabama babes (including female faculty, staff and students of any college or school of the University of Alabama – even the librarians) are generally hotter, smarter, and more fun than her. And she knows it. So does Chip – Alabama girls don’t have to *pay* him for giving them backrubs and serving martinis.

  14. Kim says:

    I don’t buy the stereotype, except the shoes and being white and middle-age are more common. It’s hard to get into this field without significant pre graduation experience, which isn’t usual for most 20 somethings. It never occurred to me, however, to seek out dating another librarian. I’d rather date someone with interests that have nothing to do with work. Not against dating someone in the field, but I like to spend a lot of time outdoors. Work is not life.

    • chase me back to Hesse-Darmstadt says:

      “Why is it service based occupations are fetishized in pornos but say female lawyers, CEOs, accountants, politicians aren’t?”

      You may know less about pornos (and male fantasy) than you think.

      Lots of guys have a “hot female lawyer” or “hot female CEO/business executive)”, etc. thing.

      It’s just a different dynamic than the nurse or librarian thing.

  15. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Oh, Montmorency fan, you poor frustrated person, I would never date a librarian.

  16. Montmorency fan says:

    Yes, AL, that is right, you would never date a librarian -but one wonders whether that’s actually more likely a result of other peoples’ preferences than yours. And despite what you say above, dating or no dating, you probably *do* care something about the preferences of attractive, straight, single male librarians — otherwise, why would you continually beseech the Library Gods to give the profession more of them? The point is that by your own admission you pay for male attention. Alabama girls generally don’t. That includes a bunch of female Alabama librarians. Hehe, one wonders if maybe the frustration lies not so much with me but with a certain angsty academic librarian with a blog and a clever pseudonym. Maybe it’s not too late for you; loosen up and come tailgate at an SEC game and we’ll see.

  17. Techserving You says:

    Hilarious. I have to say that there is something about most librarians, which I really can’t even articulate, but after 15 years in the field, I know when I see. This certain something is what allows me to identify a complete stranger, in a context totally outside of libraries, as a librarian, and then be correct (when I ask them, or they pull out a copy of Choice.) It is what allows me to know, in an airport, which of the people are going to ALA, long before I arrive at my gate. I can tell which middle-aged white woman is a librarian, but I can also tell which young “hipster” is a librarian. There’s just something about the way they carry themselves, and perhaps some sort of underlying nerdy-ness, regardless of their exterior “shell” – and it’s not the “cool” kind of nerdyness. There’s also often a very intangible quality of self-satisfaction among some of the hipsters… almost like they have so internalized their believe that they are “hot” librarians, or so internalized their satisfaction over the fact that most people would say, “YOU’RE a librarian???” that they exude some sort of smugness of belief of superiority which a non-librarian who looked exactly the same way (often not all that hot) wouldn’t have.

    In any case, I think it’s safe to say that the percentage of homosexuals in the library field is FAR greater than in the general public… almost approaching that in creative fields. If people who are not librarians and know nothing about librarianship assume that if a man is a librarian, he must be gay, that says something. EVERYONE knows that librarianship is a haven for gay people. Academia in general is pretty inclusive, but when it comes to gays, librarianship is even MORE inclusive. I would say that if anything, we should be trying to diversify by bringing in more straight men, and more non-whites. …And maybe more people with families. On my team of 14 people in an Ivy League university library – most mid-30s or older – only 3 were married (all late 40s or older), and of those, only one had any children (one college-aged child.) I was not married at the time (am now) and I do not have children and do not plan to have children, but if we’re trying to make the librarian population reflect the overall population, more librarians should have families. I know, with the pay, that’s kind of difficult… most of the librarians on the team I mentioned lived alone in studio apartments, or with aging parents.