Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Looks are All that Matters

Some people apparently find being a librarian a problem. They don’t want people to know they’re librarians, so they avoid wearing buns and shushing people. You’d think the problem would then be solved.

Sometimes I also find being a librarian a problem, particularly when I see articles like this one: Tattoos and baseball caps: This is What a Librarian Looks Like – in pictures. It’s times like that when I weep for the future, but then I get distracted and move on.

The headline is a little misleading. Of the 15 librarians pictured, I found two tattoos and one baseball cap.

Both of the tattoos could be easily hidden if the owners decided to, and of course the baseball cap could be removed.

This is more subjective, but only one of the librarians pictured seemed to scream, “Please look at me and pretend I’m interesting!” And, again, the baseball cap could be removed.

There’s a rainbow hipster beard. That seems pretty desperate for attention as well, but I’m hoping it was at least for a good cause.

These are all from a book that, we’re told, “gets under the cover of what librarians really look like.” Because it’s a book, and librarians deal with books, and books have covers, and when you get under the covers with a librarian, no, I mean go undercover with a librarian…oh, god, just make it stop.

The book must be exciting to the sort of people excited by that sort of thing, which apparently the Guardian writer is. “It is an ode to the value of libraries and the importance of access to information for all. But also a catalogue of their clothes, hair, accessories, literature-lolz tattoos – and rainbow beards.”

I’m sure a book filled with a bunch of photos of librarians is an “ode to the value of libraries.” How could it not be? After all, from the photos it’s easy to tell that this is a random collection of people who just might possibly work in libraries or perhaps some other place, like office buildings or coffee shops.

And we shouldn’t forget the importance of access to information. After all, if we couldn’t access information, we wouldn’t be able to look at this collection of photos, and our lives would all be a little poorer.

Also, nothing speaks greater volumes about the values important to libraries and librarians–access to information, literacy, intellectual freedom, privacy, etc.–than finding out about the “clothes, hair, accessories,” and, most cringe inducingly, the “literature-lolz” anything that librarians might happen to be sporting on the random day this photographer happened upon them.

But can’t I just have any fun? This is fun, right? This is showing the general public what librarians “really” look like, unlike the book which nobody who isn’t a librarian will ever buy or look at.

That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that librarianship is, or is seen as, a profession so shallow and lacking in substance that it matters what librarians look like, even if one could actually capture what tens of thousands of librarians look like based on a few photos.

Which, actually, you can’t. The photos in the article certainly aren’t representative. Six men out of fifteen librarians? ONLY 73% white? Only a handful look like they might be over 50? C’mon.

It might be even worse. It’s the same mindset that gives us the “sexy librarian.” It’s all about the looks, not the values or ideas.

I still don’t know where that stereotype came from. I’ve seen thousands of librarians over the years, and the adjective “sexy” has never come to mind as a collective adjective. Maybe lots of people over the years also saw a lot of librarians and thought, “they can’t all look like that.”

Anyway, what do we see here? We get some pretty pictures. We see librarians looking pretty much like any other professionals on a budget.

Why don’t we have books with photos of lawyers or social workers? And if we do, why don’t they make the news?

We’ll know librarians are being taken seriously as professionals when nobody any longer cares about what librarians look like or how many tattoos they have or whether they wear “funky socks,” but instead about what they have to say.

As long as librarians, journalists, and photographers are trying to displace librarian stereotypes, we won’t get there.



  1. The Guardian article is one that makes you smile and cringe at the same time. Having worked in business, academic and public libraries, yes, people really do dress and adorn themselves like the photos show. However, doing so greatly depends on what library management allows in the form of a stated dress code, and this can vary from organization to organization. I work in a public library in a fairly conservative city, and am expected to dress in a manner consistent with maintaining this image because I am constantly in contact with the public, a member of the public services staff. (OK, I’m a reference librarian.)

    The rules are not so strict for staff who work in the technical and support areas, so some can come to work in fluorescent T-shirts while I have to dress at least in a business casual style. For men, this means wearing a tie. No complaints, this is just the way it is for where I am in the organization. I’m sure others in the library field have similar or different experiences, but the Guardian editor for this particular article did its readers a major disservice by implying that librarians, or at least those that work in a library, can dress any way that they please, seemingly at any time.

    • I agree. I was a bit upset, even upset is too strong of a word, when I read this. I work in a conservative town, also, and have to wear professional clothes and I have to have realistic hair color and hairstyles. I get away with wearing crazy socks sometimes, though, because no one really checks those! XD

  2. While I like this book, I admittedly sighed a little when I saw it because I feel like in 2017, why are we still having to say “no, no, we don’t all have glasses! or cardigans! or buns!” I mean, where is the “This is what a lawyer looks like,” or “This is what a teacher looks like” book? By now, I meet a lot of people who expect librarians (and library workers) to dress a little funky, or retro, or have tattoos because that’s been talked about for a long time now.
    Yes, back when I was starting library school, some people said “But you don’t look like a librarian,” because I wore a lot of black and I have tattoos (all but one of which are hidden, thanks to careful planning and my previous employment in a conservative field). That was years ago, and I doubt that anyone says that now. Do they?

  3. Anonymous says:

    On the assumption that I’ll actually remain anonymous, I’ve exercised my first amendment rights to look at porn, including library porn. What surprised me the most is the some of the photo shoots appear to be taking place in actual libraries with the circulation gates, reference desk, and all the other signs of the real thing as the spot where the action takes place. (Many others are fake with a bookcase or two pretending to make the location look like a library.) The best answer that I’ve come up with is that the cleaning or security staff is making extra money by opening the doors late at night to the video crew. Or is it a creative fund raiser by a hip library director? This is also not the hidden porn where the performers do rude things in the stacks when no one is looking. Perhaps our columnist could advice what to do in those cases. Perhaps a fire extinguisher?

  4. Look@Me-Please says:

    The whole thing reeks with social media desperation but in print. Female librarians have been carrying around the frumpy school teacher or secretary image for decades. The profession is still dominated by females from the quieter side, with or without tattoos, cat glasses and frumpy retro wear. Do these people wish they were doing something else, and are they trying to escape from what a librarian actually does? They all appear to be average people working average jobs, and maybe a little bit in denial. “This is what people look like – who majored in LIBRARY SCIENCE.’ I think CREW will have this book in a couple of years.

  5. Madonnamous says:

    In my opinion, this entire book/project is nothing but a national Librarian Popularity Contest.

  6. I totally agree with you.

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