October 14, 2012

Sexy Librarian

The "sexy" librarian appears to be one of the most famous views of librarians. A quick search of any Internet
 search engine will result in pages upon pages of "librarians" in various states of undress, seductively looking at shelves of books. The ideas exist in movies, music videos, Halloween costumes, TV shows, and X-rated films. While it is the most popular, it is the most puzzling and most untrue. It is true there are attractive people who happen to be librarians, but the job itself is not sexy or glamorous. Because the profession primarily focuses on customer service, it can be incredibly challenging. Nonetheless, the stereotypes remain as seen in the following media depictions.

Nympho Librarian by Les Tucker

This book is merely one example of many portrayals of librarians in adult books and videos. Each year more books are added to the list. For an interesting article about this subject see: Checking Out by Avi Steinberg. It is a fascinating and recent article about books, porn, libraries and how they are all related. Steinberg discusses several books with "sexy librarian" scenes and the implication that they have on literature as well as on libraries. Warning: some images and language used in the link are NSFW/"offensive".

Tomcats, 2001 directed/written by Gregory Poirier

Heather Stephens plays Jill, a seemingly quiet, mousey librarian who turns into a whip wielding BDSM aficionado in the bedroom. Tomcats (2001) is a comedy, and as is the nature of the genre, it creates a caricature in order to subvert the stereotype being attacked. It takes the “sexy librarian” and creates an absurdity so profound it collapses the idea that this person actually exists as the poster child for librarians.

The Librarian franchise movies
The franchise of Librarian movies started as a made-for-TV series. Noah Wyle plays Flynn Carsen a highly intelligent, hyper-attractive, male librarian who is forced to protect secret artifacts. While he is not “sexy” in the way the other examples in this list are, he is different from the stereotype of the male librarian. The films seem to scream, “Look! this male is a librarian! He isn’t gay or effeminate! He’s attractive and strong!” The films give a more positive example of a male librarian; however, it is still an un-reality. 

Rufus Wainwright with Helena Bonham Carter, "Out of the Game"

The music video portrays Helena Bonham Carter as a lonely librarian who is sexy regardless of her glasses, pulled up hair, straight-laced clothes, and sour disposition. This becomes apparent at the end of the video when she appears in bed, disheveled wearing lacey lingerie and no glasses. The transformation from uptight librarian to sex object has been completed. The video presents the stereotype in a rather classy way; yet, it only makes the issue worse because it makes the objectification of Helena Bonham Carter less obvious. The more I watch this video, the more I resent it because it encourages the stereotype of “sexy librarian” and promotes the stereotype of women as sex objects to be ogled at and not taken seriously as human beings or librarians. 

National Treasure 2004, directed by Jon Turteltaub under Walt Disney Pictures

Diane Kruger plays Dr. Abigail Chase who works as an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. While she does not hold the title of “librarian”, she represents a job in the information professions albeit not so accurately. Dr. Chase does not hold the typical attributes of a “sexy librarian”; she still represents the token attractive woman because she is blonde, and she is thin. She does exhibit some of her knowledge about history and her collection; however, she still represents an impractical view of librarians/information professionals. I have yet to meet an archivist who stole government documents, ran from foreign criminals, or decoded secret messages in national monuments/maps.  

Community, created by Dan Harmon 2009-present
 Season 2: Episode 15 "Early 21st Century Romanticism" 

Maite Schwartz plays Mariah, a librarian at Greendale Community College who is described in the show by another character as being hotter because as a librarian, she’s “the keeper of knowledge”. The stereotype portrayed here is subtle and slightly closer to an accurate depiction of a “normal” librarian. Mariah still wears glasses and her breasts are still accentuated, but she is seen doing actual library work instead of standing around being the token “hot girl”. This episode was released in 2010 and gives hope that the stereotype of “sexy librarian” is slowly dissipating and giving way to more realistic interpretations. 

Parks and Recreation, created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur 2009-present
Season 3: Episode 4 "Ron and Tammy: Part 2" 

Megan Mullally plays Tammy Swanson, ex-wife of Ron Swanson and deputy director or the Pawnee Public Library. She is as Ron describes, a “manipulative, psychotic, library book peddling, sex crazed, she-demon” who uses her sex appeal to get what she wants, which in this episode is land for a new library branch. In the opening scene of “Ron and Tammy: Part 2”, she is bent over a desk with her thong clearly showing and smacks herself seductively (if that is possible) with beef jerky. Mullally’s character is such a horrible, overly exaggerated stereotype of the “sexy librarian” and the terrible ex-wife it becomes an absurdity. The audience can laugh at the stereotype and come to the realization that it is not how people actually behave. I sincerely appreciate this presentation because it was shown in 2011 and illustrates that currently the stereotype is being subverted through comedy. 

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