Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


free yourself from stereotypes!

A Hipper Crowd of Shushers

Okay, I'm going to get up on a soapbox for a moment.

I know many people would look at this article and go, "Oh, cool, coverage of how librarians aren't all like that dreaded stereotype." But I read articles like this, and I still want to throw the article across the room, with as much force as possible. Do you know why?

We're exchanging one stereotype for another.

Why are we so eager to be pigeonholed into another niche? Just as many people don't respond to librarians because they're thinking of the glasses, bun, and shushing, there are just as many people who won't respond to tattoos, pink hair, and loud voices. Yet we're so desperate not to be seen as fuddy-duddies that we're swinging too much to the other side of the spectrum, where you have to be cooler than cool to be a librarian.

I love being a librarian. I love talking about books. I love answering questions. I love reading blog posts and using del.icio.us and sending text messages. But I'd never consider myself a 'hipster librarian'. For one thing, since I joke that I'm mentally twelve years old, I know I'll never be cool enough to be a hipster librarian. But also, there's a part of me that delights in doing the unexpected, in going against the crowd. I was a teen in the early nineties, so when everyone else was listening to grunge, I was listening to show tunes. Instead of hanging out at the mall, I was reading.

When I see a group all eager to promote one way of being a librarian, I'm not going to follow that crowd. I may do all the things they do, but I don't look like they do. And that's okay, you know? For both them and me, our outward appearances don't affect the tasks we do, the service we give. I just hate the thought that in some minds, appearances and performance are linked, and the only way you can be a cool librarian is to have an eyebrow piercing or go out for drinks that are identified by Dewey call numbers.

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  • At 4:49 PM, Blogger kgs said…

    Ok, THAT'S what I was trying to say. Thank you.

  • At 6:25 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Originally posted at Information Wants to Be Free:

    I don't have a big problem with the article, perhaps because I *am* an occasionally pink-haired, frequently granny glasses-wearing quasi hipster, and thought it was nice that an image other than the pearl-clutching, messy people hating shusher was getting some play.

    Also, I suspect (or maybe I'd just like to think this), based on the excellence and well-roundedness of her Sassy book that Jesella might have written a piece that would have included perspectives like yours, like Jessamyn's work with rural libraries, and like KG Schneider's decidedly non GenX or GenY tech-savvy gadfly-ness.

    Look, I agree that it's not cute accessories or wacky hair color that makes librarians cool or interesting. (In fact, would really like to get away from "cool" altogether, because as I've said many times, coolness implies a blase detachment libraries & librarians don't and shouldn't embrace.) Librarianship is interesting because it's an evolving, people-centered, intellectually stimulating profession full of people who care. And while I wish that Jesella's article could have told that part of the story, I don't think such an article would find a home in the Styles section. That's a piece for the Magazine.

    I hope this isn't too ridiculously meta, but I'm going to post this to the comments at Pop, too, to continue the conversation there, as well.

  • At 9:06 PM, Blogger Julian said…

    Good call on the exchanging of stereotypes. No matter what, I'll never represent the stereotype of library employees. Though I would love to actively go against representing a stereotype, that's not my choice. By default, I just don't look the part. I'm as opposite from the common stereotypes (past and, apparently, present) as one could possibly get. I could survive a lineup of librarians much more easily than the most common form of a lineup.

  • At 10:49 PM, Blogger Jennie said…

    Oooo... what would all these article writers think of me?

    Young, tech savvy, tattoed, and a big shusher.

    You don't have to whisper, but you can't talk louder than your normal tone of voice.

    I shush people all the time.


  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger John Meier said…

    Why am I not reading into this article as much as everybody else? I just read "a new type of person is interested in becoming librarians". Not that this statement isn't a little problematic, but where are stereotypes coming into it?

  • At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've read about this at several blogs and I understand the negative reaction some are having; however, even though it's stereotype swapping, readers outside of the librarian bubble are starting to see that being a librarian can mean getting away from the index-finger-to-the-mouth, bespectacled woman. Is it hitting another extreme? Sure it is. But at least another face has been added to librarianship in addition to the infamous one burned into nearly all of the population in the United States.

  • At 6:26 AM, Blogger Christine said…

    Look Melissa, you made it into Slate:


    (scroll down)

  • At 8:42 AM, Blogger melissa said…

    To respond to a couple of different things:

    It may seem like we're getting worked up over a tempest in a teacup, and yeah, any publicity is good publicity. But this fluffball of an article doesn't really attempt to get at what a librarian does, you know? It looks at the outer trappings of a certain group of librarians, and says, "Oh, so that's what it's all about." That's what I object to.

    But despite how I may sound here and what the Slate article said, I'm not 'incensed' over this. I'm just frustrated that our profession keeps getting tarred with misleading representations. All professions do, but I don't think there are many that are so mischaracterized as librarianship.

    I really need to get off this soapbox before I hurt myself. :-)

  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger ellie said…

    G'lord. It's a JOB. That's all. It pays the bills. *I* am not a librarian, I *work* as a librarian. 'nuff said.

  • At 9:48 AM, Blogger Adam said…

    I don't think they are saying all librarians are hipsters, dude. I know many librarians that DO NOT fall into that category. You are probably one of them. Its just taking about a different type of person being drawn into the field.


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