October 14, 2012

Unfriendly Librarian

A common perception of librarians is that they are unfriendly, rude, snappy, or always shushing patrons. It is really unfortunate that librarians are seen in this light because it encourages people to ignore the library as a source of vital, reliable information simply because the librarians are not pleasant to deal with. While I am sure there are some bad apples as in any profession, overall librarians are there to assist patrons in obtaining the information they seek. This media stereotype is the most worrisome because I do not want patrons to see me as someone to ignore because of how they assume librarians behave from portrayals in a movie or TV show. I, instead, want my patrons to see me a resource to help them in their various endeavors.  The illustrations in media are quite varied from a simple “shhh” to making patrons leave to begrudgingly helping to flat out refusal of service. The following examples cover several of these characteristics. 

Adventure Time created by Pendleton Ward 2010-present

"The Real You"; Season 2: Episode 15

Finn and Jake visit the library in an effort to educate themselves to impress Princess Bubblegum who is an intelligent, attractive girl that Finn likes. They attempt to read books about pigs and figs but quickly grow bored. They begin to dance, sing, and generally make quite a bit of noise to ease their boredom. This prompts Turtle Princess, the librarian, to kick them out of the library. Although it is a cartoon, it is still a harsh reaction to patrons being too loud in the library.

"Paper Pete"; Season 3: Episode 22

Finn and Jake visit the library again, this time so that Jake can learn the history of the Rainicorns to understand his girlfriend better. Finn quickly grows bored and frustrated because Jake is ignoring him to read so he goes off to find something fun to do. Upon walking down the aisles of the library, he discovers some damaged books and becomes verbally upset about them, which prompts Turtle Princess to shush him. He gets loud several more time during the episode, which again causes Turtle Princess to shush him. While the silent library is a quickly changing idea, it is still sometimes necessary for a librarian to moderate the noise level in the space so that other patrons are not bothered. Although it is a necessary part of the job, oftentimes, people still negatively relate the stereotype to librarians. 

Citizen Kane 1941, directed by Orson Welles; written by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles

Miss Anderson, played by Georgia Backus, is a very stern representation of a librarian working at the Thatcher Memorial Library. She cuts off and ignores the reporter’s comments when he comes to view the manuscript. Additionally, she gives him strict instructions about what he can and cannot do with the manuscript and is generally very harsh with him. However, as Colin Higgins notes in his quite interesting and informative blog post, at least she allows him to view the manuscript. Higgins also offers that instead of being a hard caricature, she is instead being a good librarian, taking precautions to protect her materials. No matter how the scene is viewed, Miss Anderson is a harsh character that colors how people see librarians and is not the nice, sweet librarian we all desperately hope to help us. 

Philadelphia 1993, directed by Johnathan Demme; written by Ron Nyswaner 

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is a homosexual male with AIDS and as his condition worsens he seeks answers about the disease from the library. The librarian does help Beckett and finds a book on AIDS discrimination for him; however, it is obvious the librarian does not want to deal with him because he is sick. His body language is uncomfortable as he keeps shifting around and encouraging Beckett to use a private study room so he and the patrons do not have to be near him. Beckett responds to his question, with “No, thank you. Would it make you more comfortable?”. The librarian answers after a few seconds with, “Whatever, Sir”. Although the librarian is polite about his discrimination, it is still an ethically inappropriate way to behave. A librarian should simply make information available to the community users without (openly) judging them. However, the reality of this clip is that some librarians do judge patrons outright. The best thing to do is to acknowledge this fact and do everything possible to teach library school students the best way to handle sensitive topics such as AIDS.

Parks and Recreation, created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur 2009-present
Season 2: Episode 8 "Ron and Tammy"
Season 3: Episode 4 "Ron and Tammy: Part 2" 

The committee who works with Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) at the parks development department all hold a negative view of the library and librarians which is clearly illustrated by the following quotations: 

1. "The library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history. They're mean, conniving, rude, and extremely well read which makes them very dangerous"

2. "Pawny's library department is the most diabolical, ruthless bunch of bureaucrats. They're like a biker gang, but instead of shot guns and crystal meth they use political savvy and shushing."

3. "Punk ass book jockeys" 

While the descriptions seem harsh, it is clear they are said to illicit a laugh from the audience through their over-the-top nature. This absurdity is appropriate and appreciated because it allows people to laugh at the stereotype, the first step in overcoming it. The image of the tough, no-nonsense librarian has been a part of the societal image of the librarian for some time, but it is clear with current shows like Parks and Recreation that this image is being subverted. 

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