News Flash: Not All Librarians are Elderly, White, or Female

I am so fed up with these pointless labels that undermine the skills and talents of librarians. When people find out my profession, one of the first questions I’m asked is, “Oh, so you check out books and stuff?” Um… well, yes, sometimes on busy weekends at the library, I pop behind the circulation desk to help out if I’m not assisting anyone at the reference desk. “That’s cool, do you guys still use the inked stamps or do you do eveything on the computer?” *eyeroll* (For the record, we still use inked stamps.) 😉

I know many librarians feel that others they work with don’t understand their responsibilities, let alone people outside of the education sphere. You can understand how pleased I was when I opened up my email last week to find this lovely gem staring me in the face:

Needless to say, I was irked. Really irked! Maybe they didn’t get the memo, but libraries are changing. They are not dusty, old, silent buildings filled with books. They are becoming revolutionized spaces filled with books… and computers, e-readers, study spaces, communal areas, art galleries and coffee shops. They are not silent places where people get shushed. They are bustling areas where people learn, share knowledge, and educate themselves and others. And also, this advertisement is for an online image database and storage facility… what the heck does that have to do with making “as much noise as you’d like”? ARGH!

Don’t get me started with their model choice for this banner. Yes, part of the job growth in this field is due to older librarians retiring, but not all librarians nearing retirement are Caucasian. Or female, for that matter. While in library school I was fortunate to have studied with a diverse group of students, and have met some wonderful librarians during the early parts of my career. None of them looked like the woman in the above photograph.

I really love what Bobbi Newman has put together with Erin Downey Howerton. If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to check out This Is What a Librarian Looks Like. It’s an ongoing, open project where librarians submit photos to show the many faces of Library Land. (If you go back far enough, you might even find my submission!) I think this is a brilliant and easy way for people to see the diversity of librarians, as well as all the different roles they play. Just on the first page for today, there is a digital systems librarian, a children’s librarian, a PhD and an acquisitions manager. Sometimes I just find myself scrolling through the site to see what other interesting career paths my fellow MLS/MSIS/MLIS-toting professional peers have taken.

As long as these exaggerated stereotypes keep seeping their way in to inboxes, advertisements and other types of mass media, people are going to continue to have these images set in their mind. We’re going to continue to have the negative connotation of shushing people, being overbearing or just generally unpleasant. Yeah, I know, I’ve heard the whole “Stereotypes are there for a reason” spiel, but I’m not listening. I’ve met and seen too many librarians who break this stereotype to find to be even remotely true anymore.

Have you seen the “What I actually do” meme on any of your social networks? I spotted the librarian-themed one a few months ago, and while it, too, has some stereotypes in it, I think the last square—What I actually do—is telling:

There are more things librarians “actually” do than all of the other things people “think” they do. And this is just for a silly meme… imagine how it translates in real life. 😉 Bottom line—Librarians: Submit your photo to This Is What a Librarian Looks Like, then tell all your friends (librarian and otherwise) about it. Companies like the one listed above: STOP squishing all of us into that stereotypical image. We are much more than that and people need to know!

Emily Gover is the in-house librarian for EasyBib. She will be presenting at the Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy in September, will you be there, too? You can find her on Twitter, @Emily_EasyBib, or posting news you can use at the EasyBib Librarians Facebook page.


  1. Gail Martin
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Alas, I AM (nearly) elderly, white, and female, but I too am irked by the stereotyping. As with any stereotype, there is so much more to us than fits in the cookie-cutter image.

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Gail! We hope that more people see what a diverse community the library field is, and how valuable each one of us are in serving our communities and bringing information to our patrons.

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