THE WARRIOR LIBRARIAN
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October 3, 2001
SELECTED EXTRACTS FROM:
Digital Image: the stereotype of the
female librarian and images of and by
librarians on the Internet
(Reproduced here with permission of Bettina Hasan)
A dissertation submitted to the University of Wales in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Magister in Scientia Economics (MscEcon) under alternative regulations.
Department of Information and Library Studies
University of Wales
This dissertation aims to look at the stereotype of the female librarian and images of librarians on the Internet. In order to do this, literature on stereotyping, the image of the female librarian and images of librarians on the Internet was consulted. As literature on the latter was scant, the World Wide Web was searched for sites created by and for female librarians.
Literature on the image of the female librarian was found to be related to the perception of the profession as feminised and the image fell into two related categories: that of a dreary and dull spinster, or that of a repressed woman who is secretly wanton. Librarians reactions to these stereotypes were then examined and suggestions on how to deal with negative images discussed.
Web sites were inspected as to the kind of image they project and whether they reflect stereotyping. The sites were categorised into four groups those which show a positive and professional image of librarianship; those which concern themselves with physical appearance; those which use humour in tackling stereotyping and finally those concerned with political issues relevant to librarianship. No British sites were found, and eight out of the nine discussed are of American origin (although most feature links to issues affecting librarians around the world).
The research found that librarians are showing positive and enthuastic images of the occupation and using humour and debate to confront stereotyping. The image projected is of a progressive and changing profession which has the self-confidence to let itself rise above its stereotype, and which may indeed contribute to changing this image in the future.
From Chapter 1
The image of the librarian ranks among the top five concerns of the profession- right up there with library finances, access to information, intellectual freedom, and library personnel resources.
The problem of the negative image of female librarians has been discussed in detail over the decades but stereotyping still seems to persist, much to the chagrin of female library workers. For example, when friends and colleagues heard of my decision to study Information and Library Studies (ILS) reactions ranged from the good-natured whatever for, you talk too much through the typical Ive never understood why you need a degree to stamp books to the bizarre I hate librarians, after traffic wardens they are my most hated professionals. Stereotyping as applied thus can affect both status and self-confidence.
[website investigations]The web sites found fell into a number of categories:
- 1 sites which deal with the stereotype by showing a positive and professional image of the librarian and what librarianship involves
- 2 sites concerned with physical appearance
- 3 humorous sites on librarians working days
- 4 sites which are involved with issues relevant to library work such as censorship, gender issues and freedom of speech.
From Chapter 4: Website Examples
Criteria for choosing and reviewing web sites
Web sites were chosen according to two criteria firstly they had been created by women working (or who had recently worked) in libraries or women working towards library qualifications, and secondly they had content dealing with library issues. Excluded were web sites such as Lydia Mickunas Renegade Librarian (http://www.renegadelibrarian.com) or Heidi Darbys Batgirl was a Librarian (http://www.naughtykitty.org/librarian.html) which were essentially a number of links, with little editorial content. Like one of the sites discussed in this chapter (the Modified Librarian), the Renegade Librarian does feature a rant wall and Batgirl was a Librarian does give links to sites on librarianship and information on Batgirl, but both titles were misleading as neither site really said much in itself. This is a problem with Internet searching, as sites with promising titles often turn out to be inappropriate. However, sites such as these could be highly useful in acting as a springboard for discovering further information.
Many sites such as IFLANET Library Humour (http://www.ifla.org/I/humour/) Progressive Librarian (http://libr.org/PL/) or the e zine Library Juice (http://libr.org/Juice/) can also be seen as addressing image problems by showing library humorists and activists but these were not included as they were not specifically created by women.
Of the nine sites reviewed eight were American and one Australian (at the time of writing no British sites were available). These were mainly found through links and recommendations. Of these, one was created by a library school student (Librarianavengers.com); one by a resting librarian (the Naked Librarian/Librarian.net) and the others by librarians working in the academic and school fields (Newbreedlibrarian, The Modified Librarian and Biblia, the Warrior Librarian); the health field (the Bellydancing librarian) and the business and legal fields (the Lipstick Librarian and the Virtual Librarian). Finally, one was a division of the American Library Association (the ALAs Feminist Task Force site). The latter was included as an example of a more formal site devoted to librarianship and feminism, whereas the others had been set up by individuals with differing motives.
The criteria chosen for reviewing the web sites were content and style, both graphic and written, in relation to current stereotyping. In the staff/student survey words such as quiet, retiring, mousy, dull, drab and dark arose frequently. The web sites were reviewed as to how much they contradicted or reflected the image, ie whether they reflected librarianship in a positive, confident light or if they did in fact appear mousy, quiet etc. None of the sites found showed the profession in a stereotypical light although many addressed the issue with humour. However, it should be noted that if the stereotypical turn of the century old bat does exist, she is unlikely to produce a web site about herself.
Biblia, the Warrior Librarian
Biblia, the Warrior Librarian, appears at first glance to fall into the category of humour. While the site does indeed feature a section on library-related humour and fun stuff, Biblia, aka Australian teacher librarian Amanda Credaro addresses many other library issues such as special needs of children, censorship, library journals, budget limitations and navigating tools for the Internet.
(fig 3. Biblia the Warrior Librarian: Homepage)
Credaro created the site due to the publics lack of understanding of her role as a teacher librarian (still termed school librarian in the UK) and out of feelings of frustration with my working conditions, the perception (or rather lack of) of my role by my co-workers, and the absence of anyone appropriate with which to debrief. The other pages get added as yet another farcical incident occurs at my worksite, or further incidences of lunacy occur in global libraryland. She provides information and published journal articles on the role and unique position of the teacher librarian and issues which affect teacher librarians ( that member of teaching staff employed as a librarian). Credaro also admits that I think that the reason I challenge the stereotypical image of librarians is due to the fact that I am, in fact, not stereotypical myself.
The site is updated regularly and can be found via links through sites such as LISnews. It has also been named a Library Juice Homepage of the Week.
As can be seen above, the opening visual depicts a female warrior standing over the body of a male soldier on a grey brick-style background, perhaps suggesting school walls. Credaro choose the persona Biblia after I started signing my emails with "Amanda, the Worrier Librarian" (after Xena, the Warrior Princess) as I become increasingly more concerned regarding working conditions, burnout of colleagues, etc.
However, examples of Credaros sense of humour are also featured in her humour section where, for example, she gives a list of fictional titles she would like to write (see screen shot below).
(fig 4. Biblia:humour)
Credaros guestbook features positive comments from librarians (school and academic) from around the world, and she points out in her email that she has only received two negative examples of feedback (which are not shown on the site). [Webmaster's note: Both un-archived comments were from porn surfers who had entered "topless" into Google, and were taken to the "See Biblia Topless" page.] Comments from Mark Rosenzweig of the Progressive Librarians Guild show an understanding of Credaros frustration: One of a kind web site. Community-building site for the least appreciated of our library brethren (and thats saying a lot).
Biblia, the Warrior Librarian can be seen as challenging stereotyping in a number of ways. The humourless image is dispelled by her fun stuff links and her upbeat message on the homepage (see below).
(fig 5. Biblia: Homepage)
The quiet and mousy image is tackled by the graphic of the female warrior. This is an interesting choice, as it is shows a strong and fearless woman, possibly as far removed from the dowdy, repressed image as can be. The warrior theme is also adopted by another (male) librarians site, Conan the Librarian. The fact that Credaro has the confidence to publish and discuss her own opinions on the frustration she feels at work shows her dedication to the occupation of teacher librarian. The numerous links and articles discussed above show that Credaro feels pride rather than disillusionment in the profession and is using the Internet as a means of reaching other teacher librarians (like Newbreedlibrarian) to provide inspiration and provoke discussion.
From the Conclusion
The overall impression given by the web sites is not that the typical librarian is a crone with a date stamp, or a timid young woman or even a sexual-tiger-in-specs but rather that librarianship is full of diverse characters dedicated to their profession and providing information for others (see, for example the numerous professional links provided by Newbreedlibrarian, Biblia or Virtuallibrarian or the links to Raks Sharki sites provided by the Bellydancing Librarian.) Where they do address stereotyping, they do so with humour (Librarianavengers, the Lipstick Librarian) or discussion (the Modified Librarian).
.... As teaching patterns embrace information technology the entire image of the library and the librarian may change. Perhaps in a few years, despite Dyers comments on stereotypes not altering, the image of the librarian may have evolved with the profession as the public pick up on changes in the occupation. Of the sites discussed, two (Newbreedlibrarian and Biblia, the Warrior Librarian) were created this year. In a few years, librarians representations of themselves may have changed again and this may be worth investigating in order to find out how librarians then see themselves, and if their image is transforming with the times...
....The librarians featured, in the meantime, have shown that librarianship is an interesting, people-oriented profession made up of diverse individuals. They do not conform to stereotyping and are more concerned with professional issues and promoting positive images of librarianship than letting negative pictures in the head and prejudices stand in the way of their dedication to the profession. They are not mousy or timid. They are not dragons or crones. They are not dependent, timid, self-sacrificing -in short feminine (in the nineteenth century sense). In other words, they are not stereotypical librarians....
People seeking to find information on a career in librarianship via the World Wide Web would find images of a self-confident profession which acknowledges an image problem but which does not take this problem seriously enough to let it affect its enjoyment of its occupation. Instead of renaming themselves, the web site constructors use the word librarian with pride. The Internet is indeed being utilised as a useful Public Relations tool. If web sites such as these are viewed alone, then the image is changing from one of a turn of the century old bat to a confident, helpful and humorous woman with many outside interests who does not look like a librarian.