Visual characteristics of reel librarians

Of course, any discussion relating to visual characteristics of reel librarians must include glasses and hair buns, right? As the Tevises write in their book The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 (yes, I have my own personal copy):

Any filmgoer of any generation of the twentieth century would immediately recognize a librarian in any motion picture released during any year of the century. The visual characteristics associated with the stereotypical image — age, eyeglasses, hairstyle (bun or baldness), and clothes — which begin to appear in 1917 were displayed unabatedly in films released throughout the remainder of the century. (p. 189)

The Tevises also include two tables in their afterword, featuring stats on those visual characteristics for both male and female reel librarians (see below). What interested me, however, was the relatively low percentage of reel librarians portrayed with eyeglasses: only 34% for female reel librarians, and 40% for the males. Also, the percentages of buns for the females (28%) and baldness for the males (26%) were even lower!

As this site states, according to the Vision Council of America, about 75% of all American adults use some sort of vision correction (glasses or contact lenses), and over half of all women wear glasses. So the average reel librarian appears to wear glasses less often than the average American woman. Fascinating!

Also, it’s interesting to compare the age ranges and gender ratio between the The Image of Librarians in Cinema book, with the infographic stats here for the real, working librarians. Let’s compare:

The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 (reel librarians):

Librarian Careers Infographic (real librarians):

Teens – 20s: 27% Ages 20-24: 1%
20s – 50s: 60% Ages 25-54: 75%
60s – 80s: 12% Ages 55+: 24%
Gender: Females 72% / Males 28% Gender: Females 78% / Males 22%

So from these comparisons (which are not exact, as the age ranges don’t match up perfectly), it does appear at reel librarians are slightly younger, on average, than your real librarians. And wear glasses less often.

Go figure!

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