Saturday, January 26, 2013
Who is the sexy librarian and where did she come from, anyway?
From a piece on Lit Reactor...
Librarians have been around as long as there have been libraries, but women entered the workforce en masse in the late 1800’s. Perhaps it was the much smaller salary we received compared to our male librarian counterparts (or just some bad fashion sense), but the stereotype of the middle-aged, frumpy, spinster librarian with her hair in a bun has been with us ever since. Christine Lutz’s Master's Thesis on librarian stereotypes traces how librarians and their (mostly male) administrators have dealt with this image problem for the last one hundred years. The typical “fix” was to hire young, attractive women and promote them in library literature and marketing.
At this point, I believe, the dichotomy emerges. Let’s consider what the librarian and library represent. Librarians are role models for scholarship and behavior. In public libraries, they are stand-ins for teachers and enforce a certain level of quiet and restraint with young patrons. In academic libraries, they are sometimes seen as the embodiment of knowledge. A fascinating article by Gary and Marie Radford equates libraries with prisons and librarians with guards. They see the library as an environment of fear, in which surveillance and control are a constant, and the librarian is in a position to deny and humiliate the patron.
I think the enduring power of the librarian stereotype and her role in the collective sexual imagination draws from this place in the psyche. We discard the de-sexualizing elements of the stereotype (frumpiness, old age) and retain elements of authority (conservative work “uniform”, glasses). The result is a sexualized power image that clearly appeals to both men and women.