Typical or stereotypical?

Exploring the typical characteristics of a librarian — inside and outside the library

What are the typical characteristics of a librarian? In 1876, Melvil Dewey described the typical librarian — mostly men at that time — as “a mouser in dusty books” (qtd. in Schmidt, p. 2).

"The Librarian" by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, circa 1570 (public domain)
“The Librarian” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, circa 1570 (public domain)

Over a hundred years later, on a Family Feud episode in the 1980s, the top five characteristics of a librarian (qtd. in Walker and Lawson) — mostly women by this time — were listed as:

  1. Quiet
  2. Mean/stern
  3. Single/unmarried
  4. Stuffy
  5. In glasses

Side note: I chuckle at Schmidt’s reaction to this:  “At the time, this [Family Feud] program irritated a number of librarians, but whether their irritation was based on the question, the answer or the fact that the contestant guessed all [the] ‘correct answers’ is still to be determined.” SNAP!

In 2010, the Socialite Librarian listed some typical librarian stereotypes, including:

  • boring
  • shushing
  • quiet
  • middle aged
  • “pinch-faced woman”
  • frumpy dresser
  • bun and glasses
  • judgmental
  • sensible shoes

I find it interesting that almost all of these stereotypical characteristics — many of which are physical characteristics — describe the reel librarian character types of the Spinster Librarian, as well as her male counterpart, the Anti-Social Librarian.

The above characteristics are all connected to perceptions of librarians — by those mostly outside the profession itself. But a 1990 study of librarians using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (in which librarians themselves completed the self-scorable survey) revealed dominant personality types of librarians (Lang). The original study, which included 48 librarians, contrasted results from a previous study of 267 librarians (Johns).

The dominant personalities? ISTJ and INTJ.

  • Characteristics of ISTJ (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) include: orderly, responsible, logical, practical, quiet, and thorough. That sounds familiar…
  • Characteristics of INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) include: originality, skepticism, critical, independent, and driven.

Sources used:


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Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

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