This is the text and supporting links for a talk given at the 2007 SLA Annual Conference. Due to problems at SLA, this session wasn't actually recorded... I'm quite disappointed, the spoken talk was a lot more entertaining and interactive than this flattened version.
Hello, and welcome to Spectacles - How Pop Culture Views Librarians! I know everyone's been busy with Click-U courses, division board meetings, business meetings, round tables, and open houses - and let's not forget what we heard about the climate crisis. I'm here to give you a break from the heavy stuff with a light look at the latest images of librarians in popular culture. Unlike past presentations, which some of you may have heard, this time around there's no data to analyze, no surveys to report on - just pure pop culture.
Before I get started, I want to thank Donna Thompson for her introduction; my extremely supportive Physics-Math-Astronomy Division; the folks at Information Today (especially Kathy Dempsey), who are kind enough to let me write about this topic in every issue of Marketing Library Services; and especially my employers for giving me professional development time. Now, on with the show!
By now you might be wondering... what are we going to talk about for the next hour? Well, let me tell you!
First off, let's talk about the movie that has everyone buzzing - "The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film". Written and directed by Ann Seidl, a librarian from right here in Denver, it shows "the realities of 21st century librarianship, including stereotyping, censorship and intellectual freedom, and the total impact of librarians in our culture and society." The trailer for the film is now available on YouTube, and the premiere of the movie will be in just a couple of weeks at ALA in Washington DC. Is anyone here lucky enough to be going? (A few hands were raised - lucky ducks!) I'll be waiting for it to show in my area!
Next up is Evelyn Carnahan, from the Mummy movies, perhaps most famous in our circles for the exchange where she says, "I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell; but I am proud of what I am. [...] I am a librarian." Then again, her standing up to the museum official after knocking over all the bookcases was a pretty good argument, too! A third Mummy movie is coming out in 2008 (The Mummy 3: Curse of the Dragon), when Evie and the gang take on Asian mummies this time.
Finally, I'd like to introduce you to Read or Die and Yomiko Readman, aka "The Paper", an agent in the Special Operations Division of the British Library. In her world, the British Empire remained the world's super-power into the 21st century, and the British Library is the equivalent of the JLA and MI6 rolled into one... and most of the bad guys seem to be related to books in one way or another. Yomiko is an "extreme bibliomaniac and paper-master" and can manipulate paper any way she wishes. There's an entire RoD world out there, with the movies, associated comics and TV series, and a rather large fan base. It's fun if you like japanime!
Now let's talk about some music. This first song I'm going to tell you about is quite possibly the creepiest and also the funniest song about libraries and librarians I've ever heard. Titled "Librarian" by the New Zealand band Haunted Love, you've got to see it (and hear it) to believe it. Set in a library, it shows two rather... focused... librarians and a young man who stands in for the "typical" librarygoer... chewing gum, folding page corners, listening to music. As they subtitle, "This boy has no understanding of library protocols." Then they come at him with the uber-shush (if anyone ever looked like this while shushing me, I'd certainly be quiet!) and invite him into the reserved area with promises of reading the new magazines and touching the first editions. Sadly, it doesn't turn out quite that way... I'd like to share the lyrics with you:
I want to be a librarianMy favorite part is the nerdily-appealing line!
I want to check out your books
Please give them to me
With the bar code facing up
Please don't bring them back too late
or I'll have to charge you fifty cents a day
(and you won't like that)
I want to be a librarian
Wearing glasses every single day
Don't you find me appealing
in a nerdy sort of way?
Please don't talk so loudly
Meet me in the closed reserve
I'll let you read all the new magazines
I'll let you touch the first editions
If you promise me
If you promise me
If you promise me your hands are clean
The next music video I want to talk about is for Cascada's "Every Time we Touch". While the song is one of the usual pop-y love songs, the setting is a library and the object of the singer's affection is a librarian. Complete with the glasses, bow tie (which I guess is the male stereotypical equivalent of the bun?) and shushing action, while she dances through the library singing of her longing for him, he's hustling about fixing the card catalog and looking dismayed at all the noise. The library patrons also start out looking a bit put off when the singer jumps up on the reading table and goes to town, but then they all start dancing as well. Then the singer pulls off the librarian's glasses and loosens his tie, and whammo, he's now a dancin' maniac too! (Of course; we all know what happens when you take off a librarian's glasses!) The song ends with a great scene with all the library patrons dancing with the singer and librarian around the library. It's too bad it plays into both the male librarian stereotype and that of the poor, repressed librarian!
Going to the other end of the musical spectrum, meet Blöödhag, an "edu-core" band who thinks you should read more. A kind of heavy, punk, speed-metal band from Seattle, they specialize in songs about science-fiction and fantasy writers and their stories, titled with the author's name. At their live shows, which are apparently very popular in the Pacific Northwest, they throw (secondhand) books into the audience. You've got to love a band whose motto is "The faster you go deaf, the more time you have to read!"
Their most recent album is from last year; titled "Hell Bent for Letters", it's got some great cover art! I hope you can see it in this image, but the woman in the middle of the picture is a "rampaging librarian warrior queen who has slain a group of men with overdue notices and beheaded a goblin". Apparently her sword has "Shh!" etched into the blade. I'm thinking we should try and book them for an event next year! Comments? (So far they've been pretty positive - let's see what SLA says!)
Now, we segue into TV movies...First off we have the two Librarian movies, "Quest for the Spear" and "Return to King Solomon's Mines." These have been shown on TNT several times in the last couple of years, with big buildups for their premieres.
They're cheesy and a bit tongue-in-cheek, and very much in the Indiana Jones family of adventures. In the first movie, we meet Flynn Carsen for the first time - a wunderkind with 20-some-odd degrees, he's never left school; a professor forces him out into the real world and shortly thereafter he receives an invitation to apply for the position of Librarian at an unmentioned institute. Turns out to be "THE" Library, with all the magical and mysterious items of history stored there. The first story shares Flynn's adventure as he seeks to retrieve the Spear of Destiny, stolen by a nefarious brotherhood; the second is his search for King Solomon's Mines and a book of power within, racing against the bad guys. In both cases, of course, if he doesn't overcome the obstacles and get the relic, the world will come to an end.
A third movie is in the works, called "Curse of the Judas Chalice" - this time Flynn is up against a relic of Vlad Dracul's that could - of course - change the world for the worse. Can't wait to get my popcorn and check this one out!
Next up we have some TV shows, one past, one current, and one future.
From the past, we have Rupert Giles from the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". (He even made the cover of American Libraries in September 1999!) Known as the librarian who's "done more for the image of the profession than anything in the past fifty years," Giles showed that a librarian can be, and do, anything.
Currently showing on PBS and being a tremendously good influence on our children is "Between the Lions", a reading show set in a library that's staffed by a family of lion librarians. I like the name, as it's also a play on words - many libraries have lions flanking the entrance steps.
Coming this fall to the Australian Broadcasting Company is "The Librarians", currently in production. "The six-part series centers on the trials and tribulations of Frances O'Brien, a devout Catholic and head librarian. Her life unravels when she is forced to employ her ex-best friend, Christine Grimwood - now a drug dealer - as the children's librarian. Frances must do all she can to contain her menacing past and concentrate on the biggest event of the library calendar - Book Week."
Speaking of Book Week, let's talk books...
Very recently published, "Casanova was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession" by Kathleen Low promises to be a fun read. The author says the book "provides a peek at the lighthearted, humorous, sexy and intriguing side of librarians"; my copy arrived right before I left for conference, and so far it includes a list of famous librarians of the past; librarian jokes and riddles; and librarians in politics, movies and books. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it!
One of my personal faves is Jaqueline Kirby (Jake to her friends), a librarian at a small Midwestern college. After some adventures in Rome and an exciting re-enactment of the Murders of Richard III, Jake decides to try her hand at romance writing. But, as she says, "Once a librarian, always a librarian", and she always uses her powers of research when detecting. The series is by Elizabeth Peters.
Meet Miss Wilhelmina Zukas (Helma), a precise, by-the-book librarian at the Bellehaven Public Library. Starting with the first of Jo Dereske's series, "Miss Zukas and the Library Murders", through the most recent, "Catalogue of Death", Miss Zukas is drawn into murder despite her best efforts to stay detached. Her exclamations of "Oh, Faulkner!" only add to her character.
Jordan Poteet runs the library in the small town of Mirabeau, Texas. The first novel in the series deals with the issue of censorship and religious fanaticism; the second, also with censorship, and environmentalism. Many scenes (especially in the first book) are centered in the library. The later two novels are not as "librarianish" but are still enjoyable. Sadly, it seems author Jeff Abbott has decided not to write any more stories in this series.
In Ian Sansom's new "The Case of the Missing Books", the first in the Mobile Library Mystery series, we meet Israel Armstrong, a not-very-likable new librarian from London, transplanted to Northern Ireland and given a bookmobile to run (instead of the library he was promised). However, all the books are missing, and Israel has to overcome his own prejudices and learn about his new neighbors to solve the mystery, get back the books, and run his mobile library. Not a bad read, although Israel is really the first librarian I've met in print who I really didn't like!
David Goldberg is the librarian who saves the political future of the country with daring, finesse, and just a bit of James Bond in "The Librarian", by Larry Beinhart. This is one heck of a thrilling tale! (Be warned, however: this book may be much less enjoyable for those who lean seriously to the right.) Murder, politics, mayhem, romance, back-stabbing, horse breeding, 9-11, long-lost loves, Vietnam, the Electoral College - you name it, it's probably a part of the conspiracy to steal the presidency. How David gets sucked into the whole mess, meets a mysterious and alluring woman, throws his would-be captors for a loop by escaping, finagles backup from two other librarians, and discovers the plot, all the while avoiding Homeland Security, kept me glued to my seat once I'd started reading. The portrayal of librarians - we meet four through the course of the story - was quite practical and believable, and I'm quite happy to say that not a stereotype was in sight! Instead, the librarians are interesting, extremely resourceful, sexy, and seriously good under pressure.
How could you not pick up a book titled "How I Fell in Love with a Librarian and Lived to Tell About It"? By Rhett Ellis, this is a short, easy read of a (conservative) love story set in a small town in Alabama. The town's minister is struck dumb with awe (and love at first sight!) when he meets the new town librarian, yet heÕs not sure how to get past his shyness and her seeming unapproachability.
"He saw the most beautiful woman in the entire world, nay, the most beautiful creature in all existence standing behind the desk of his local public library, and he nearly fainted. It wasn't that he thought librarians were supposed to be frumpy. It was the fact that in his town you never saw a new face, much less the face of the most beautiful woman in the whole universe."
However, he must solve a few mysteries about her (she's quite different when she's off her meds!) before he can begin to woo her, and together they must face the machinations of a local politician who's bent on closing the library for good.
If you've got an afternoon to spare, you could do worse than meet Eleanor "Peewee" McGrath. Richard Peck's YA novel "Here Lies the Librarian" is the story of Peewee's 14th year and how it was changed forever by a young librarian. Peewee is only happy when she's elbow-deep in an automobile; she and her older brother Jake are opening a garage to handle the flow from the newly paved highway. Peewee has no interest in attending her 8th-grade graduation (although Jake makes her go) and even less interest in going on to high school. One day, a car of four young women blows a tire nearby, and Peewee meets Irene Ridpath and her sorority sisters, all students in Library Science at Butler University. An insulting article by the neighboring town's paper leads to the re-opening of the town library (closed two years ago when the previous librarian was found deceased under the card catalog, library slips still clutched in her hand). At the same time as the reopening of the library is the Hendricks County fair and road race, which Jake intends to enter and win. Liveliness ensues, and what Irene says to Peewee stays with her for life; "Who'd want to be on the pit crew when you can be in the race?"
Now, on to comics. As you all know, tomorrow we'll be hearing from Scott Adams, who writes the Dilbert comic strip, near and dear to the hearts of engineers everywhere. Well, the engineers have Dilbert... we have Dewey! Unshelved tells the story of the Mallville Public Library, primarily through the eyes of Dewey, the YA librarian. There's a librarian here for everyone - the perky children's librarian, the technophobic reference librarian - even the branch manager. And Mel is a lot nicer than the PHB! If you aren't reading Unshelved, please start doing so immediately. (Thank you.)
Meet Rex Libris, the librarian's answer to James Bond, only cooler! My favorite of the written librarians (so book or comic form), these tell the story of Rex, the "tough-as-nails Head Librarian at the Middleton Public Library and his unending struggle against the forces of darkness." Rex has been around a while - the burning of the library at Alexandria badly traumatized him - and now he protects anything and everything in the library from those who would do harm with it. The Middleton branch is where Thoth (the Egyptian god of the written word) keeps all the most dangerous books ever written. Rex and his fellow librarians Circe (the reformed sorceress) and Hypatia (named for the Alexandrian librarian, a new librarian and whiz with technology) work for Thoth. By James Turner, it's a great series! Big guns, teleportation crystals and buttertarts. What else could you wish for? (A movie, you say? Good news - the story has just been optioned by Warner Bros. for the big screen!)
In 2001 some of you may have heard Alison Hall's presentation "Batgirl was a Librarian" - well, Batgirl became Oracle in the DC universe. She is "the premiere information broker of the superhero community and leader of the Birds of Prey superhero team". She gathers and delivers information to various law-enforcement and superhero groups. As Oracle, Barbara Gordon really is one of us; in addition to her genius intellect and photographic memory, her superpowers include a "vast knowledge of computers and electronics, expert skills as a hacker, and her training as a librarian."
OK - time for some toys! Has anyone here not seen the Librarian Action Figure? Based on Nancy Pearl, a librarian in Washington, the figure came out to national notice in 2003. A couple of years later the Deluxe Action Figure - with book cart and computer - was produced. Quick poll: Like her? Hate her? (Wow, that's quite a reaction - the room was split about half and half, and one member came up to me afterwards quite upset with the portrayal!)
Before Nancy, though, was Rupert Giles' action figure, produced in 2000. He's got two, actually - a "regular" action figure and a Lego one. There are many variations as well; the series ran for years and some "special edition" action figures were also released. Look for them at Amazon.
Last but not least, as I've mentioned before, my fave librarian: Rex Libris! Complete with a big gun and The Know-It-All Encyclopedia (incorrectly mentioned in the talk as the Book of All Knowledge, sorry about that). I think it's a handy thing to have on the desk by the returns bin!
Ah, Tshirts. The comfort wear we all love...
First off we have our own Michael Porter (aka Libraryman) in the "She Blinded Me with Library Science" T from the Questionable Content comic strip (one of the characters is in library school and the occasional library-focused strips are hilarious).
Finally, a shirt I found in my university bookstore as a part of a rather large display - "What part of KNOW don't you understand? Ask your librarian!"
Lastly, I'd like to talk about search engines. From this early Speed Bump cartoon to the latest incarnation, Ms. Dewey, the librarian as search engine has changed quite a lot! Is it just me, or is Ms. Dewey really annoying? (The quick poll indicated I'm not alone!) Does anyone here actually use this search engine? (No show of hands.) Generally, it's amusing to see the little skits and things that Ms. Dewey does as she's waiting for the search results (by the way, this is a Microsoft product, even though it's not mentioned anywhere on the site - it relies on the Windows Live Search database for its results) but it's a slow site, and I don't know that the sound-and-light show is worth it. (Just my opinion, of course!)
Well, that's it for today. Thank you so much for attending, and if you ever come across anything about librarians in pop culture, please forward it to me! Cheers!