Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Shattering Those Stereotypes

Do you know what annoys me more than librarian stereotypes? Librarians doing things they claim are breaking those stereotypes. That’s the biggest librarian stereotype of all.

The most popular way to do that seems to be by producing a calendar with pictures of librarians supposedly breaking stereotypes. Last year it was the men in the stacks calendar. That one shocked the national media by showing that some librarians are men. What the national media didn’t realize was that there really are only 12 male librarians in the entire country, and they all posed for that calendar.

This year, it’s yet another tattooed librarian calendar.

That’s right, I said another, because in 2009 we had the tattooed ladies of the TLA. That would be the Texas Library Association for those of you not in the know. And in 2010, we had the tattooed librarians of the pacific northwest.

Disproving the received wisdom that Massachusetts and Texas don’t have much in common, we now get the tattooed youth librarian calendar from the Massachusetts Library Association. Come on, MLA tattooed youth librarians, couldn’t you have thought of something more original? By this point, a calendar with tattooed librarians pretty much is a stereotype.

You might have clicked on that LJ article about the calendar and wondered why I’m talking about stereotypes. Instead, take a look at this news article about the calendar.

According to the article, the calendar is “a chance to shatter stereotypes of stodgy librarians and showcase the diversity of the men and women working in the field, organizers say.”

Of course it isn’t.

Some librarians are just obsessed with stereotypes. According to one tattooed participant, “If you watch TV or anything, and they have a librarian on, it’s always white hair and glasses, shirt buttoned up to your neck and sensible shoes. Certainly those people are still out there, but I don’t know any of them.”

Is that true anymore, though? What are some relatively recent librarians in TV or movies? Anthony Head in Buffy? Noah Wylie in The Librarian series? I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I never seem to see any librarians at all. Unless librarians start solving crimes they’re not going to show up much.

Another of the participants said “it was the reputation reboot aspect of the calendar that prompted her to participate.”

Since tattooed librarian calendars have now become a thing, is there a reputation to reboot? You know what reputation reboot I’d like to see? Librarians as smart people reading book or fighting for justice or being superheroes or solving crimes. Is “tattooed librarian” really a reputation worth cultivating?

Yet another said, “”I think it gives a whole different perspective of what librarians are in this generation and this day and age.” Can yet another tattooed librarian calendar really give a new perspective?

Some people just object to tattoos. They think that’s how people from primitive tribes decorate themselves. One of the librarians said “she’s heard the occasional criticism before from people who don’t approve of tattoos.”

“You kind of get the gamut of people who are like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool!’ to people who literally think you shouldn’t be hired if you have visible tattoos,” Boc says. “But if you wore the same necklace every day, you could really say the same things about that. Why is that any different?”

I’m pretty sure wearing a necklace and having a tattoo are different things. At the very least, the necklace comes off more easily than the tattoo. Oh, and you could change the necklace depending on your outfit. On the other hand, for a lot of people, that tattoo is always going to say “drunken sailor.”

But the annoying thing isn’t the tattoos. If librarians want to tattoo themselves all over, that’s fine. The annoying thing is the constant refrain that doing so somehow “shatters stereotypes.”

That’s a tired expression and just not true. People who use libraries know what librarians look like. People who don’t won’t buy this calendar anyway.

For the next promotional calendar, maybe we could have something more original, and without the stereotype-busting nonsense. I think a crime fighting one would be popular, and then the librarians could sell the TV rights and make a lot more money.

Fighting crime with science…library science. That would be a great slogan for a TV show.



  1. Alesia McManus says:

    The conversations around the librarian stereotype seem sexist and ageist to me. What matters is the impact we have on our communities. How do these efforts around stereotypes help? Is it for recruiting to the profession? How does a tattoo make you a better librarian? From what I can tell, we don’t have trouble recruiting students to library school but there may not be jobs for them when they get out.

    • Exactly – we’re supposed to think we’re being so proactive and cool this way so that we don’t pay attention to the s&*t salaries and job prospects.

      But style over substance is the rule in so many professions.

  2. I think we need more librarians like the character Tammy in Parks and Recreation.

  3. Library Spinster says:

    Given that I know at least one sweet young children’s librarian with a sleeve tattoo, I’d argue not that tattooed librarians are bucking stereotypes, but that tattoos are close to mainstream these days.

  4. As a tattooed librarian myself, I find the whole “bucking stereotypes” line a little irritating, especially when combined with lines about how a tattooed librarian calendar showcases diversity. Tattoos =/= diversity. For that matter, your little ankle tattoo is not exactly groundbreaking. Get a full facial tattoo and then go work as a librarian, that’ll be shocking!

    Seriously, lots of people have tattoos. Of course librarians will have them. It’s not a big deal, and not really a point worth trotting out over and over again.

  5. I’d agree. I work in a small, conservative town (latest complaint about a book – the word “piss” in Chi’s Sweet Home). And nobody blinked an eye when I dyed purple and blue streaks into my (waist-length) hair, just for fun. At least half of the moms who come to storytime have tattoos. Unless you’re coated in them, nobody cares.

  6. None of my fellow librarians care that I have tattoos,nor did they care when I had purple hair. The patrons don’t seem to care either. Board members, on the other hand…

    I agree about needing more Tammy-like librarian characters. Let’s break out the leopard-print pencil skirts.

  7. “People who use libraries know what librarians look like. People who don’t won’t buy this calendar anyway.”

    You could use this logic for just about any awareness or advocacy related topic that happens to be the flavor of the week.

  8. DevelopmentArrested says:

    If we’re going to try to shatter stereotype why don’t we shatter the ones that are actually important by trying to get more minorities and men to be librarians? I think libraries would be more effective in their mission to spread literacy if they better reflected the population than our current (nearly) all white, (nearly) all female, (nearly) all middle-class librarians.

    • ChickenPolitics says:

      Is this appeal to tribalism more riffing?

    • Pat Serafini says:

      Yessssss! I think it was cool that Laura Bush is a librarian and that Nancy Pearl became the symbol of librarianship–however….diversity/inclusion demands representatives of every ethnic, racial, socio-economic, abled, gendered, sized, etc. group. I am a member of an ethnic minority but not an invisible one.
      But if librarianship has to buck a horrible stereotype it is the white, mainly WASP, middle-class, condescending, conservative and essentially humourless/bland personality that most people allude to when they meet me and say–I would never have guessed you were a librarian.
      The stereotype I describe is not a joke–it is basically the only type of librarian I myself came in contact with most of my growing up years and university student years.
      I think Frank Capra must have had a similar experience when he made “It’s a Wonderful Life” and made such a mockery of librarianship as a fate worse than death in the alternative universe where Mary stays single and works at the library.
      Obviously, I finally saw beyond the stereotype and decided that it is a fabulous profession and one that contributes to the mental well-being of people and democracy.
      It is important for us and for those considering the profession to be authentic, whether we are liberal, tattoo-wearing, piercing-loving, or the opposite. Commitment to public service, democracy, deep respect for diversity, and spreading and supporting information/digital literacy should be the only standards to which we should all aspire. Everything else is style, not substance. I don’t care if the librarian who serves me wears a bun or an eye-brow piercing–if they can help me navigate the chaotic world of information without judging or patronizing me, they are worth their weight in gold.

    • DevelopmentArrested says:

      Pat Serafini, I agree completely with everything you said. Thank you for expounding upon my thoughts in a mature fashion!

    • Or get more fulltime and better-paid jobs so that people no longer think that we are wives with rich husbands just wanting to get out of the house for a few hours a week.

    • Carol Morency says:

      Considering all George Bailey put her through, I wonder if Mary daydreams about her alternate quiet, library-centered life…

  9. The people doing these calendars are aging themselves and the perception of librarians by pretending tattoos are new and unorthodox. According to the Pew Research Center a higher percentage of people from Gen X have tattoos than of those in their 20s. People who got their MLIS in the last 10 years are probably not going to have a tattoo.

    • “People who got their MLIS in the last 10 years are probably not going to have a tattoo.”

      What? I’m 25. I’m a librarian. I have tattoos. More Gen Xers have tats than Millennials. That doesn’t mean people who got their MLS in the last 10 years won’t have tattoos.

    • i’m 43. got my MLIS in 2011. i have 3 tattoos. i think your stereotype of who is getting a library degree might be a tad bit off.

    • Obviously I didn’t mean that no one young has tattoos anymore or that no one can get their MLIS mid-career. I’m just pointing out that they seemed to have missed the fact that the tattooed look is not an emerging trend.

  10. I Like Books says:

    I’ve long thought, first, that stereotypes change when enough people interact with enough of the stereotyped that don’t meet the stereotype. And second, it really doesn’t matter. Nobody is staying away from libraries because of a fear of ladies with eyeglasses on chains and hair in a bun. Does anyone care?

    But if they’re going to do a calendar, how about some action shots of librarians blowing horns at the jazz club? Librarians on maneuvers in the National Guard. Librarians doing stuff besides posing. Or don’t librarians do that sort of thing?

  11. I Like Books says:

    Speaking of library adventures, Bob, one of the main characters in the Jupiter Jones series, has made good use of the library. And he continued to do so when the Germans took it over as Die Drei Fragezeichen. (They liked the three investigators so much that they translated all of the English-language titles and then started writing their own. Lots of them.)

  12. I have a colleague who tries to break the stereotype by partying til dawn before delivering conference presentations – actually she’s not trying to break the sterotype – she just likes to party.

    Reminded me of an old girlfriend I met at library school – she was wild and fun. Saw a recent photo of her – hair in a bun and sensible shoes – still hot tho’.

    Key message here – be true to yourself – forget the stereotype nonsense. Celebrate your uniqueness – and stop trying to look like an idealised demographic.

  13. TheLibrarina says:

    The stereotype has been “shattered” so many times that it has itself become a stereotype. And I say this as a youth librarian in orange Chuck Taylors with (occasionally) purple hair. No tattoos yet, though, so I’ll turn in my sassy librarian card at the door…

  14. ChickenPolitics says:

    Stodgy is countercultural and will warp young minds.

  15. It’s gotten to the point where the AL writing about librarians trying to shatter non-existent stereotypes has itself become a stereotype.

  16. I got my MLS equivalent in 2008 and don’t have a tat. I was 27 before I pierced my ears, so ….. I don’t know what difference it makes. Personally, it’s not my conservative raising, age (50+), or midwestern location that determines my choice. It’s that I don’t like doing something permanent to my skin that I may majorly regret later. And, sassy, fun, innnovative, and “stereotype shattering” isn’t an age thing; it’s a mindset — just as “stodgy” is a mindset. Or maybe that’s a misperception of a quiet individual. I know several male librarians both gay and straight. I know several male nurses (and nursing students) both gay and straight — married and in various other types of relationships. Heck, I’m married to a male nurse. Talk about stereotypes! I can tell you tons of them.

  17. Tired Librarian says:

    Do accountants create calendars of tattood accountants, etc. etc. yadda yadda? Probably not. Accountants don’t CARE that everyone else thinks they’e boring suits – that’s healthy.

    Librarians fuss about stereotypes because it’s a female dominated profession and that’s what chicks do – stew interminably about what people think (or might be thinking) about them – unhealthy.

    As a post-feminist, dare I quote Professor Higgens – “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?!?”

    • I think additionally a problem is that in most other professions, it is very clear what the person does at the job. This makes “shattering stereotypes” a waste of time and a triviality. We KNOW what an accountant does and it just doesn’t matter if they have tattoos or not.

      With librarians, it is strikingly clear that the public doesn’t really know what librarians do actually, and librarians don’t have a clear idea of what they should be doing.

    • The goal of an accountant is to be trusted and look prosperous in order to gain people’s confidence in their ability to deal with money. Hence, suits. The goal of librarians is varied, depending on the library and the position. Accountants are thinking just as much about their reputation as librarians do (perhaps more, since they usually have dress codes), it’s just that many librarians have the goal of being approachable and fun in order to encourage patrons to enjoy the library, while excitement is usually not a good thing in an accountant’s office. I think it’s perfectly healthy to consider whether your personal presentation is giving people the right impression of your service.

  18. radlibrarian@gleamingthecube says:

    It is not so easy to define the career these days, half of these stories and anecdotes tend to draw upon the well of the well of library history to prove a current relevancy for the role. Librarians remember us? We are still here and matter just like we used to in the past!

  19. As one of the organizers of this fundraiser and a member of the executive board of MLA, I’m intrigued by your annoyance. The “shattering of stereotypes” angle was one pitched by a reporter, not by us. We simply wanted an interesting and conversation-provoking fundraiser. We certainly succeeded. You’re absolutely right that librarians are underpaid, disrespected and an often ignored. This is why librarians need to stand up and be noticed. As a group, we’re not terribly good at self-promotion.

    This was a fundraiser for MLA and it’s a project that brought a lot of youth librarians together and also got people across the country talking about libraries and librarianship. Once people are aware of who we are, they might start to understand how important we are.

    It’s my hope that we can continue to attract awesome, intelligent and dedicated people to the field… with or without tattoos.

  20. Library Girl says:

    The point of a calendar like this is to stir the pot. If it attracts more users or draws attention to libraries or, heaven forbid, actually raises money (because we’re all swimming in that, right?), what’s the problem?

    Yes, of course, we ARE librarians and know the diverse bunch of people we are. But step outside of yourself and the every day library user. To the non-users, we are stodgy, old and boring with nothing to offer. Just because the idea isn’t fresh to us doesn’t mean it isn’t to someone else. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this calendar idea who have nothing to do with libraries (besides occasionally using one) and they are surprised by it. Surprised there are librarians with tattoos. Surprised there are any who are willing to do a calendar. Surprised that we aren’t a stodgy, conservative bunch. And these are people I would consider fairly open-minded and savvy, but that is STILL what they are thinking.

  21. Miss Magpie says:

    How interesting. You lot need to come over here (Australia) I work in a small country library that services @30,000 people. We’ve got 2 gay staff (one from each camp)a bald tatooed man, a nervous wreck,a woman who seems to favour sleepwear as day wear, a goth and myself–a smoking, drinking, tatooed, occasionally foulmouthed old bat who’s not above stalking a good looking man around the stacks. We just won the local business awards ‘People’s Choice’category–got over 500 votes. shows what you get if you offer something, and somebody, for everybody.

  22. Charming Billy says:

    I’ve been in librarianship since the mid 80s. My first boss was a hipster librarian before they were called hipster librarians. Back then a hipster librarian wasn’t seen as a hipster. She or he was seen, often enviously, as a weirdo who’d found a niche.

    I guess it was a holdover from the 60s counterculture. The idea was to find a position that would let you wave your freak flag high, provided you were a competent employee. The profession itself wasn’t viewed as cool, it was seen as a good place to be cool. See the difference?

    I’ve watched individuals and the profession as a whole try to buck the stereotype for almost 30 years. It don’t work, y’all. Hip people don’t have to try to be hip, they just are. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And which of you by acting hip can become a hipster? And why take ye thought for raiment?

    Our profession will die before the stereotype does. My advice: Use the stereotype as camouflage and get in touch with your inner freak.

  23. How wonderfully awkward. Our blog for our project in Foundations in Library Science is about this very thing. Does this mean that librarians cannot escape any stereotype no matter what they do? I don’t think just because two or three people make the same calendar doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden cliche. Still, love your blog!

    This is our project (mocking permitted):

  24. Bravo! Well said–my thoughts exactly. I thought the same thing about this “stereotype-busting nonsense” when I saw the Henry Rollins poster as keynote for ALA/ ACRL: Now are we really “cool” with tattoos and musicians–this is sad.

  25. Charming Billy says:

    I saw Black Flag before that clown was in it. Much better band.

  26. Corporate Lib says:

    People tend to tell me “you don’t look like a librarian!” when I tell them what I do. I tell them “I look exactly like a librarian” because hey, I am one. It always gives them pause. I’ll leave it up to your imaginations what I look like, because it really doesn’t matter, now, does it.

  27. I always assume librarians are people who think they’re edgy as hell, what with the Tweety bird tat on the ankle and the alternative band tshirt. And the multi-pierced ears and the old car in the parking lot. About as edgy as an after-dinner mint.

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