Party Girl, Rupert Giles, and Librarian Stereotypes

A few months ago, while trolling my favorite selection of personal style blogs, and hopping from one trendy lady’s site to another, I came across a blogger who commented that somehow, her outfit that day made her feel like a frowsy, dowdy (pick your adjective) librarian. My immediate reaction was to protest (and I did, politely and in the comments) that many of the most stylish women I know are also studying to be librarians, and that the majority of my fellow students really enjoy playing around with clothes, personal image, and appearance.

As I finally get around to learning about the Foundations of Library and Information Science (a required course that clashed with another in my first year), I’m being exposed to the same stereotypes in a more regulated, studied way. Some of the readings for our first course included books on images of librarians in cinema and pop culture over the past 100 years or so. Many, both men and women, wear glasses. Many are either dowdy, or overcompensating for that stereotype by conforming to its opposite and partner-in-crime, the “sexy librarian.” Aha! Here is a refreshing, personal take on the two opposing-but-married stereotypes, at The Modern Day Pirates.**

An article in Library Quarterly 73(1), 54-69, by M. Radford, and titled, “A Cultural Studies Reading of Party Girl” led me to watch the movie (for studious purposes, of course!). One interesting statement the article makes is that the “dowdy librarian” stereotype was developed in the early 1900s, and certainly well-established by the 1930s (evoking memories of Mary as librarian in It’s a Wonderful Life).^ Radford focuses on the dowdy librarian, and gives these as the main characteristics:

obsession with order,

dour facial expressions,

monosyllabic speech,

sexual repression,

matronly appearance,


and dowdy dress.

The thing about Party Girl is that the main character begins the movie with one stereotypical persona, the eponymous “party girl,” and over the course of the movie, transforms into the opposite, or the “dowdy librarian.” I think it points out two dominant stereotypes in a particular context, that can actually be generalized to throw light on two dominant stereotypes for women in many, if not all, contexts. Unfortunately, librarians (and women) have a long way to go to discourage and eliminate these long-standing stereotypes.

Anyway, here’s what Radford has to say about the movie:

It is not a statement about librarians or their stereotypes but an exploration of what happens when the stereotype is placed in another, very different, context.

In other words, what happens when you put a party girl to work in a library? Obviously, she becomes a dowdy librarian…

Personally, I don’t like putting people in categories, and I’m not looking to be put in one, either, just because I choose a certain profession with a lot of good and bad and gendered history behind it.

I’d like to finish this post with an idea brought up by another LIS source (bad researcher that I am, I’ve forgotten it by now) provided the ultimate stereotype-breaker that is Rupert Giles in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer T.V. show. Smart, intelligent, nerdy, providing support, encouragement, and open access to the bookshelves for his students, former punk rocker, able to kick serious vampire/demon butt, and also sexy. Even though he wears glasses, a truly 3D librarian.

(I believe he’s holding his glasses in this image. What a great expression!)

*Note to self: Facebook is not an appropriate tool for bookmarking relevant blog posts

**I have just realized that I’m sometimes too smart for me, since I did not post this link on Facebook, as I originally thought, but in fact put it on my Reading List… on this blog. It’s like searching for your glasses while wearing them. On your face. No, I am not admitting to having done this, ever.

^Does anyone know the history/first appearance of the “sexy librarian” stereotype?


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