The Librarian Stereotype: is incremental change enough or do we need to be more radical?

An observation I have made from watching hours of children’s TV over the last couple of years is that there are less and less negative stereotypes and this makes me happy.

Many shows have parents who share the load and parent equally (thanks Bluey!), disability doesn’t have to hold you back (shout ours to Sally & Possum, Playschool and Sesame Street), girls can rock at STEM (thanks to Rusty Rivets and Rescue Bots) and now you can be a princess knight like Nella! And this is only a few examples!

“The librarian is one of the most visible yet most misunderstood professionals in the world” (Bartlett)

However, there is one let down. I haven’t yet found an example of a librarian who is into STEM or cool in anyway.

Stereotypes diminish. Stereotypes simplify. (Maynor)

Transformers: Rescue Bots has some great representation in it, however the librarian Mrs Lima is the strict stereotype, even to the point of shushing after she is rescued (though she apologises for that stupidity). In a town based on using experimental technology, with a state of the art library building with great green credentials (yes I’ve watched this show a lot) the interior of the library and its sole librarian are not.

And while Harry Potter is one of my favourite book series it includes:

Madam Pince is the librarian at Hogwarts, a cheerless woman who looks like an underfed vulture (Rowling)

Below I have a list of articles I’ve scoured to find out how to combat our negative stereotype. That of the old fashioned, change avoiding, noise hating, introvert. The problem with the stereotype is the way it masks all the wonderful variety and expertise in our industry.

The Mandarin recently posted a piece about Dr Marie-Louise Ayers and the wonderful work of the National Library of Australia:

Radical incrementalism” is the term Marie-Louise Ayres uses to best describe the approach that delivered the new Australian Web Archive this year — charting a direction and taking small steps that lead to profound change over time, through learning and evaluation along the way. (Easton)

I want to combine some action. I want to take the idea of radical incrementalism and somehow use this to slowly shift and nudge our perception and I want to start with children’s television.

Why, not only because children are our future and they might not have bought into the stereotype yet, but also because their parents/families will also be influenced. I’m not quite sure how to do this yet, but I’m going to start with Twitter, I’m going to tweet the makers of children’s TV with #LibrariansAre

And maybe in the future we can change this first suggestion:

Capture

image showing a tweet of Google search suggestions for the statement “librarians are”, the first result is “librarians are useless”

The most effective way to combat the negative effects of librarian stereotypes is to work diligently toward social justice for marginalized groups. (Pagowsky and Rigby)

Speaking of twitter, I’ve seen many a great discussion about diversity and inclusion in our profession and I hope that will soon have the effect we need.

And if anyone else has any good suggestions on practical actions, tweet me!

 

References

Attebury, R. I. (2010). Perceptions of a profession: Librarians and stereotypes in online videos. Library philosophy and practice, 1.

Bartlett, J. A. (2014). Coming to Terms with Librarian Stereotypes and Self-Image. Library Leadership & Management, 29(1), 1.

Easton, S (24 June 2019). Australia’s top librarian tells how the National Library fosters a culture of in-house innovation. In two words: ‘radical incrementalism’. The Mandarin

Helms, B. L. (2006). Reel librarians: the stereotype and technology.

Jennings, E. (2016). The librarian stereotype: How librarians are damaging their image and profession. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 23(1), 93-100.

Maynor, A. (2019). Problem-Solvers & Problem-Makers: The Librarians of the New South. Journal of New Librarianship, 4(1), 118-124.
Poulin, E. (2008). A Whole New World of Freaks and Geeks: Libraries and Librarians on YouTube. LIBRES: Library & Information Science Research Electronic Journal, 18(2).
Rowling, J K (2001). Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Salinero, D. M., & Grogg, J. E. (2005). May the bun be with you: an annotated bibliography of librarians and their image. The Southeastern Librarian, 53(3), 8.
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