Et tu, Lego?

So, the good news is Lego, purveyor of fine, building brick based excitement, have released a “Librarian” minifig. Yay! Lego are a cool company, they’re modern, and they make some great educational products, So, we’ll be seeing a little figure of a modern information professional, a veritable ninja of knowledge: ready, willing and able to assist their users in any way they need, right?

Wrong.

Lego have gone with a stereotype of a librarian more suited to 1913 than 2013. Look – a book! A mug that says “shhh”! A cardigan, glasses, pleated skirt, frumpy hair and sensible shoes! Wow – this is really showing the face of the profession today!

“Shhh!” 

Books are just about the Librarian’s most favorite thing in the entire world. Reading them can take you on exciting adventures in far-off lands, introduce you to new friends and cultures, and let you discover poetry, classic literature, science fiction and much more. If only everybody loved to read as much as she does, the world would be a better place…and quieter, too! 

The Librarian feels that it’s extremely important to treat a book with the proper respect. You should always use a bookmark instead of folding down the corner of the page. Take good care of the dust jacket, and don’t scribble in the margins. And above all else, never – ever – return it to the library late!

As if their range of pink Lego for girls, which instead of encouraging the use of kids imagination to make all sorts of cool things, tells girls that we can make cakes and do makeup wasn’t bad enough (and likely to reinforce the idea that subjects like science and engineering aren’t for girls). Now we get this toy that still focuses on the fact that librarians are frumpy females, and libraries only have books, and the librarians just love those books, don’t ya know? And, of course, that we all hate noise. *insert incoherent scream of (noisy) frustration here*

And yes, I am perfectly well aware that Lego are using a stereotype here, in the hope of making it recognisable. But really: no computer, either desktop or laptop? No tablet or smartphone? No CDs, DVDs, or an eReader of any type? Not even the slightest attempt to show the actual reality of the average role, or some of the items in use in a modern library, or that librarians give their users assistance with? The way to change stereotypes is by challenging them, and there isn’t even the slightest hint of an attempt by Lego to move this stereotype along into the modern age.

At least their Computer Programmer figure got to hold a laptop and an emoticon mug, to go with his own stereotyped outfit of a geeky Argyle jumper, bad hair, bow-tie and a pair of taped-together glasses….

Actually, maybe that librarian minifig isn’t looking so bad, in comparison…

National Portrait Gallery images

This blog post from the Scottish Visual Arts Group alerted me to the fact that it was possible to use images from the National Portrait Gallery for non-commercial purposes.

Going to the Advanced Search area of the website, it’s possible to perform a search for the profession of the sitter/subject of the portrait. So, of course, I decided to have a look and see what the librarians of the past look  like. After all, today, we’re apparently all female, frumpy, and middle aged.

Of the 72 people whose profession was described as “librarian”, only 7 were female librarians*. The rest were be-whiskered, elderly white gentlemen of a certain class, with some amazing names: Arundell James Kennedy Esdaile; Luxmoore Newcombe; Harry Tapley Tapley-Soper; Charles Talbut Onions…

Of the 7 female librarians, only one is actually the sole subject of the portrait: the rest are group photographs of National Portrait Gallery staff from various eras, staff of other bodies, or a painting of a group.

So here you go: the rare sight of a portrait of a female librarian! I give you…Alda von Anrep!

Record page at NPG

Yes, it’s not exactly a stereotype-busting look, but hey, she’s all we’ve got!

*The full list is: Adla von Anrep; Rosemary Evison; Emma Floyd; Nicole Mendelsohn; Constance-Anne Parker; Lousa Fentham Todd, and Valeria Vaughan Batson.

Thing 20 – getting back to my roots

For this Thing, I’m meant to be blogging or thinking about my Library Route/Root, or the path that brought me to librarianship, back in the Good Old Days. However, I was involved in the discussions that kicked off the creation of the wiki, and have blogged both my library route, and my root previously, so if anyone was particularly excited to find out, they can have a look at those – there’s been no major changes since I wrote them.

I haven’t however had a look at many of the other entries since the wiki was established in 2009, so I went over to poke about in some of the newer entries. From reading a good few of those, it seems that librarian career paths can mostly be summed up as:

  • I didn’t ever consciously think of libraries as a career, but ended up in them by accident, and it was a happy accident.
  • I started off as/qualified in something else, but I realised eventually that libraries were for me.
  • I always knew I wanted to be a librarian.
It seems that “I always wanted to be a librarian” posts are hugely outnumbered by the “I never knew it was a career, but now I’m in it, I love it” ones. Perhaps the always-wanted posts are so few because of the problems the profession has with negative and outdated stereotypes – I can’t imagine that if you asked a kid “do you want to be a librarian?” that they’d say “yes: where so I sign up?!?!”. Mainly because “librarian” to kids are the Frumpy Stereotype (well, for the younger ones anyway – give them a few years, then they’ll move onto the Repressed Sex Beast stereotype), and that’s a long established one. It’s not really something that’s likely to change soon (unless anyone has developed mind bleach for an entire population), but it would be nice if librarian/researcher/information retrieval specialist was a bit more of a visible careers option. I’m not involved in the academic sector, so I’m not sure how the Careers Service ties in, but how well informed are careers advisors on the information profession? 
Hopefully, a bit better than my one in the early 1990s, who cheerfully advised me not to go into working in libraries (despite it being an equal first on my careers choices, tied with science, and…erm…landscape gardening or something similar in close second!), as “it’ll all be done by computers in the future”.
Well done, careers advisor. I AM that computer who’s doing it in the future: I’m a librarian.

Spot the stereotype

So, Channel 5 have got a new TV show (originally a Japanese game show, and then an MTV show) called Silent Library.

Can you guess what elements are involved?

  • Sexy-but-prim female Librarian: glasses, hair in a bun, in both human and cartoon form?

Check

  • Librarian standing behind an issue desk, piles of books around her?

Check

  • Irritated librarian shhhh-ing people in the library when they make noise?

Check

  • Large “Silence Please” sign?

Check

  • Librarian aggressively using stamp and ink pad?

Check

My, what an exciting and novel idea they have here…not.

The Production team had a similarly inspired approach to asking for contestants

“Do you think libraries are dull? Can you suppress your laughter and hold your nerve whilst all those around you are losing theirs? Do you want to win up to £2000 in cash? We are currently producing a new TV series for Channel 5 based on a cult Japanese game show. We are looking for fearless, game for a laugh, up-for-it teams of six mates for a TV challenge like no other… Do you think you can avoid cracking up in the face of physically challenging, irresistibly silly pranks in the one place where the universal rule of SILENCE applies – a library?”

The one place with a universal rule of silence, eh?  They’ve obviously not set foot in a library for a long time then!
I can think of other silent places, with a similar response of “official disapproval” when too much noise is made…why aren’t they trying this format in a monastery? A church? A temple?
Oh wait: no chance to show an obviously-must-be-a-bit-repressed-but-she’s-still-sexy female librarian for those places, eh?

I can understand this show being acceptable in Japan (gameshows there are notoriously sexist), or even on MTV (not exactly known for its highbrow programming), but what made Channel 5 think this’d be a wonderful show here?

Perhaps we should campaign to Channel Five for some equally patronising programme for other stereotypes… anyone want to make any suggestions?