Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sexy Old Librarians

Boring, old, visually impaired, socially inept bookworms usually turn into librarians.  So do sexy, vintage, cat-eye-glasses-wearing, brunettes (never blondes unless they are made out of plastic).  We either need to sex it up ourselves or people will do it for us in Photoshop.  American librarians have been plagued with image problems since the creation of public libraries in the nineteenth century.  Originally, librarianship was championed as an ideal profession for women by none other than the infamous Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System that we've all come to not really know or love).

Dewey thought that women would be great for the job because, being women in the nineteenth century, they would put up with a lot more shit than men, plus they would love sitting for long periods of time using his racist cataloging system (there have been some improvements to this, but it's still pretty pro-Western, White, Christian). He was also known to fondle and grope his female students; so it's no wonder that maybe some of the backlash from this was that women wanted to be taken seriously and not seen as sex objects.

Dewey is a creep

It's also amazing that so many women were able to elicit change in a profession and society that were designed to "keep them out of trouble" (old Dewey again).  In 1893, less than twenty years after the founding of public libraries and  librarianship in America, the World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago and featured a Women's Building that showcased a library of women's literature and  was staffed by female librarians (handpicked by Dewey - gross, but still cool that they were able to exhibit women's literary achievements and history at a time when this wasn't widely viewed as relevant).

By the 1920s female librarians were seen as progressive, and picked up steam again in the 1970s when civil rights movements had taken shape and equal opportunity employment and pay were at stake.  In 1969 a group of female librarians petitioned to form the Social Responsibilities Round Table Task Force (SRRT) on the Status of Women in Librarianship at the American Library Association.  These women were not taken seriously until a few years later, when they finally rounded up enough disenchanted female librarians who reported dissatisfaction and disgust with discrimination and sexism within the ALA and librarianship

Today, librarianship is not just for women (and hasn’t been since it began), although the stereotype persists.  Media outlets and pop culture in general continue to tout women librarians as either sexy or old (although Nancy Perl continues to be awesome despite what toy makers have deemed her action figure super powers to be).  While male librarians tend to be completely forgotten in general society (women still make up 82% of professional librarians).  There is one documented sexy old guy who was a librarian:  “Cassanova the famous 18th-century lothario ended his life as a librarian. Librarians could use that to sex up their image” (The Know-It-All).  See? That should make male librarians feel good about their own stereotypes.

So while the typecast persists, librarians press onward, bringing books, DVDs, and tattoos to the public every day (except Sundays at some libraries) for free. How’s that for sexy?

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