As has already been discussed, stereotype surrounding male librarians existed before the stereotypes about female librarians. Much of the basis for the librarian stereotypes that exist today for both men and women are rooted in the early idea of the academic male librarian (Dickinson 98). As the profession began to be considered largely a woman’s profession, the image of a typical librarian shifted from a man to a woman. As Penny Cowell puts it, a librarian is “a fussy old woman of either sex, myopic and repressed, brandishing or perhaps cowering behind a date-stamp and surrounded by an array of notices which forbid virtually every human activity” (Fisher 37). While this picture of librarians is negative and offensive as a whole, in particular the idea of a “fussy old woman of either sex” was damaging to male librarians. As a consequence, male librarians often separate themselves from the traditional role of librarianship. This has turned into male identity crisis within the profession and has resulted in a tendency to join ‘castes’ seen as superior in the library field, like academic librarianship (Harris 73).
However, it seems that this crisis surrounding the perceived effeminate identify of male librarians is only a concern within the profession (Dickinson 106). A study conducted by James V. Carmichael in 1991 of male librarians in the ALA paints an interesting picture of how male librarians view themselves. On one hand, men felt that they were implicitly expected to perform traditional male tasks while working in libraries, such as lifting and moving heavy objects, while being excluded from feminine tasks like interior decorating decisions (Carmichael 227). On the other side of things, male librarians believed that there were a greater number of gay men in the profession than proportional to other professions. Only 9% identified themselves as homosexual, which falls in line with studies of homosexuality in larger society which identified a rate of 8% at the time. “The fact that male librarians seem convinced otherwise may perhaps reflect their general feelings of insecurity about societal perceptions of librarians as ‘marginal’” (Carmichael 228). In a continuation of the study in 1992, Piper and Collamer found that when asked about the cultural view of male librarians 45.9% of academic librarians and 38.9% of public librarians felt there was a negative view (Piper and Collamer 409). Some respondents in Carmichael’s original survey admitted that if they had known how stereotypes would be before they entered the profession, they might have changed their mind about becoming a librarian (Carmichael 228).
This crisis culture that exists among male librarians seems to be contrary to how the outside world perceives male librarians. While there are fewer portrayals of male librarians in popular culture, when they are presented, the depictions are largely positive and vastly different from the picture of female librarians. While female librarians are either old maids or hyper-sexualized fantasy figures, male librarians are intelligent, capable and largely attractive if somewhat bookish. One example would be from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series where librarian/Watcher Rupert Giles helps Buffy to defeat demons and vampires. His knowledge is often key to Buffy’s success and the success of the plot (Luthman 77). Another example from Hollywood would be Noah Wyle in The Librarian film series. (Link). In these movies, Wyle plays a librarian hired to protect a collection of ancient artifacts and he becomes an action hero type of figure. Even the male librarians featured in YouTube videos are different from the portrayal of female librarians. While there are a lot of mock portrayals like inept male librarians and the authoritarian male librarians, a difference is that several videos feature violent, action hero librarians. For example, there is a video where a ninja librarian attacks a library patron for disturbing the library by talking on a cell phone (Poulin 5). It seems that while there is this concern about the male librarian image, that concern is largely unfounded. Unlike female librarians, men are not sexualized nor are they made to be “fussy old women.” While some of the characteristics of the librarian stereotype do come through, it is certainly not to the degree that female librarians are stereotyped
In addition to this, it seems that male librarians have better representatives championing for their cause and promoting positive images of librarians. The creators of the Men of the Stacks calendar acknowledge that there is a pervasive librarian stereotype of buns, glasses and shushing and they also acknowledge that the profession is largely dominated by women but they refuse to let that dictate how they see themselves and how they are perceived by others. In an effort to take control of the stereotype, support positive images and promote change, the Men of the Stacks made a calendar featuring 12 actual male librarians from around the world. According to their website, the project came about after the creators learned about another library themed calendar which featured only women. They later learned of all male library calendar but they felt that with both calendars, “either the stereotype was reinforced or it didn’t go far enough in breaking free of it.” This does not mean that the Men of the Stacks do not acknowledge some of the popular stereotypes that exist. In fact, they do quite the opposite as they feature a cheekily posed, nearly naked librarian for their January photograph. However, the example is more about the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the stereotype then using sex and the naughty librarian image to sell. The rest of the calendar features librarians doing normal, everyday things like cooking. The goal of the calendar is to break down stereotypes by countering them with positive images of their own construction and under the control of the librarians themselves. Through the calendar, the creators hope to show who librarians really are, and nothing encompasses that better than their own words:
“We are, of course, professionals. We are educators, programmers, project managers, entrepreneurs, program coordinators, contractors, consultants, and speakers. We are academics. We are authors, diversity officers, historians, administrators, deans, professors, and researchers. We are creatives. We are musicians, bakers, painters, and storytellers. We are athletes, yogis, gym-rats, runners, and hikers. We are passionate. We are dog-lovers, radicals, conservatives, Christians, and Buddhists. We are in our twenties. We are in our forties. We are in relationships. We are perpetual bachelors. We are privileged beings who try to use their advantages to better the lives of others” (Men of the Stacks).