You Don’t Look Like a Librarian: Shattering Stereotypes and Creating Positive New Images in the Internet Age by Ruth Kneale
You Don’t Look Like a Librarian is a playful book that traces portrayals of librarians in popular arts and culture. It is a must-read for anyone who has ever [End Page R3] chuckled about, reveled in (or been discomfited by) the Nancy Pearl librarian action figure, Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Conan the Librarian. Kneale cites examples that illustrate the pervasiveness of librarian stereotypes in television, film, music, advertising, and on the web. Drawing on surveys and anecdotes, she shows how the popular media reinforces certain biases that shape the way librarians are viewed by outsiders to the profession.
The book is organized into four sections. Chapter 1 identifies common stereotypes and chapter 2 finds support for them in popular culture. Chapter 3 presents sketches of library professionals who possess attributes—such as being young, male, hip, or tech-savvy—that challenge conventional images. In a final chapter, the author discusses how technological and cultural changes in libraries, such as social connectedness, virtual worlds, and user-driven content are slowly altering public perceptions.
The book, published in 2009, was written by Ruth Kneale, a systems librarian for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope in Tucson, Arizona. The book’s companion website is www.librarian-image.net. Though mostly inactive, it neatly documents the source material referred to in the book.
While the author’s overall tone is light-hearted, her work obliquely addresses some of the starker issues of sexism, inequality, and de-professionalization that continue to irk librarians working in a still predominantly female profession Refreshingly, not all portrayals are unflattering and we learn that librarians are frequently represented in popular culture as confident and strong heroines who possess special powers. In fact, it turns out that many novels, comics, films, television series, and online games not only challenge but actively subvert the stereotype of the librarian as a prim, bespectacled spinster.
This book will leave you wishing you could learn more about why librarianship attracts certain stereotypes and the impact of these portrayals on the status and credibility of the profession. While Kneale stops short of analysing the librarian stereotype as a social phenomenon, she cites several sources which do. How far have we come in four years in combating the pigeon-holing of our profession? I suspect we still have much work to do. This book is recommended for anyone who has ever been told, “But you don’t look like a librarian!” After reading it, you’ll have some great comebacks. [End Page R4]