Since the 1970s, the study of “popular culture” has increased in academic relevance, but I believe the image of librarians in media really began to be looked at as a serious topic of research after 1989. That was when ALA declared it the “Year of the Librarian” in its January 1989 issue of American Libraries. The article, below, and theme focused on the media image of librarians and “public awareness efforts on the library professional for the first time.”
There had been general research studies on librarians before, like Pauline Wilson’s book, Stereotype and Status: Librarians in the United States, published in 1982. However, researchers began to look more at media portrayals of librarians, which had not really been delved into that deeply before.
In 1990, Martin Raish, an academic librarian, began a class discussion on the image of librarians and Hollywood’s contribution (as described in the 1997 School Library Journal article “Reel Librarians Don’t Always Wear Buns” – see Resources). This class discussion spurred a major project that has since produced several articles; a web site, Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography; and several book contributions. I appreciate that Raish went beyond stereotypes, as the article states:
For one, he doesn’t subscribe to the view that the film industry has portrayed librarians only as stereotypes. “There’s a lot of old ladies with their hair in a bun that go around saying ‘shush,'” he acknowledged, “but there’s a lot of films where they’re bright, young, energetic.”
Amen! However, there is a notice on his web site that he has retired, and therefore, the site will no longer be maintained. Martin Raish continues as one of the major voices in librarian film research because he was one of the first — he began just a year after ALA’s “Year of the Librarian.” Also, in that year, 1990, at least 5 related articles/studies, including 1 dissertation, were published (see Resources).
The Popular Culture Association, which teams its annual conference with the American Culture Association, includes a section exclusively for “Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Popular research.” In 2005, McFarland & Company published a book-length analysis on this topic, with the very well-researched title, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, by Ray & Brenda Tevis (yep, I’ve got a copy!). And in 2007, The Hollywood Librarian documentary premiered at the ALA Conference in Washington, D.C.; the documentary combines film clips and interviews of actual librarians. (Note to self: I need a copy of this documentary.)
So it is quite encouraging that research on this topic continues to build, and hopefully, more respect is given to reel — and real! — librarians in the process.
- Brooks, Jon. “Reel Librarians Don’t Always Wear Buns.” School Library Journal Aug. 1997: 22.
- Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.
- Wallace, Linda. “The Image–And What You Can Do about It in the Year of the Librarian.” American Libraries, Jan. 1989.