Daily Archives: March 12, 2008

Old maids, time travel, and Casanova

While many jobs evoke certain stereotypes (used car salesman, anyone?), few seem as culturally strong as the image of the old maid librarian with her hair in a bun.  Think Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart is seeing what life would be like without him.  Instead of the charming wife he knew and loved, she’s spinster librarian (the horror!).  Somehow the image of Marian the Librarian is firmly rooted in our minds, despite the fact that in real life librarians are fun, interesting people with a variety of lifestyles.  Just as you’ll find variety among those of us who actually work in libraries, librarians also turn up in TV, film, and literature in a variety of guises. 

There is the innocent small-town librarian who is just itching to find some adventurelike Carol Lombard in No Man of Her Own, or Betty Lou in The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag. Then there’s the sassy librarian with an encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much everything, like Katherine Hepburn in Desk Set, who sets out to prove to Spencer Tracy that computers will never be able to replace librarians. My all-time favorite TV librarian has to be Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My own high school library wasn’t that stately, and to my knowledge wasn’t built over a hellmouth either, but despite all that somehow Giles rings true as a librarian.  Maybe it’s his relentless pursuit of finding the right answer to even the most obscure questions. 

Librarians also turn up in fiction as time-travelers or witches.  They’re represented in comic strips, sometimes even as superheroes.  And you don’t necessarily need to turn to novels for some juicy stories about librarians, since some have led pretty colorful lives.  Casanova, Marcel Duchamp, and Benjamin Franklin were all librarians.  Some of my favorite authors, like Jorge Luis Borges, Philip Larkin, and Marianne Moore were also librarians.  It’s tough to figure out where the shushing, sensible-shoe-wearing, old maid picture even came from in the first place.  Try a subject search in our catalog for “librarians” to find more films, fiction, and non-fiction about librarians. Or stop by to talk with a librarian in person!



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