In defense of the forgotten, Librarian Avenger opens possibilites

By Kenneth Aliaga

Now that the summer is coming to an end, it’s time to ask ourselves what significant trend marked the summer of 2003. A national epidemic of inexplicable weight-loss that affected all demographics? No…sigh. Movie sequels that lived up to their predecessors if not surpassed them? Unfortunately not.

Over the course of the summer, we witnessed a drastic shift in the mass media’s coverage of the Bush administration. First, news publications began to openly question whether the administration had intentionally deceived the public in its efforts to rally support for the war on Iraq. Journalists’ disdain was palpable in their “unbiased” coverage of the Pentagon’s aborted “online trading market” project, and lastly, the media’s amplification of Bush’s remarks on the subject of gay marriage left the administration vulnerable to criticism from both liberals and moderate conservatives. Take that, Ann Coulter! On the other side of the news spectrum, Tara Reid’s alleged year-around tan was discovered to be faux – see pictures of her arrival to the Teen Choice Awards.

These abstract edifices (like the Bush administration’s legitimacy and Tara’s radiant bronze glow) that at one point embodied “credibility” and “resilience” in the public imagination were revealed to be smoke, mirrors, and spray-on bronzer. Always one to chase after a trend, I will try to go beneath the surface of a figure whose image is firmly etched in the public imagination—pause for suspense—the librarian.

Ask a random person to read off a list of words that they associate with ‘librarian’ and one is likely to hear, “mousy, glasses, senior citizen, woman, shy, sexually repressed, cardigan…” I myself was guilty of blindly adhering to this stereotype. I blame the movie Ghostbusters; to my recollection, it marked my first exposure to the “librarian.” The details are hazy, but I remember the opening of the movie starting with a meek, jumpy little librarian being menaced by some sort of poltergeist. To verify my “flashback” I checked with “Internet Movie Database” and found that the character’s name was “Librarian Alice.” On the other hand, Drew Barrymore’s character in Scream, who is also menaced by a nefarious character in the opening of the film, is listed as “Casey Becker” not “Blonde-Girl Casey.” Strange is this cultural phenomenon where a librarian’s professional identity becomes inseparable from her social identity. Most librarians are quick to agree with this assessment—in a message posted on the Web site “Librarian Avengers,” a librarian grumbles about her and her friend’s slipup in acting librarian-ish with a new acquaintance, killing “any chance we might have had to pose as members of another, sexier profession.” Perhaps aware that her profession will eternally accompany her to all social settings, one librarian suggests appropriating the title “library worker” since it brings to mind “sex worker,” thus increasing their sex appeal exponentially.

I was introduced to the Web site by an aspiring librarian, who I should mention is a cross between Enid in Ghost World and Matty Walker in Body Heat. This site is dedicated to debunking the myths that plague librarians professionally and socially. It also offers a public forum, where aspiring librarians and certified librarians can discuss such topics as “Being a Gay-brarian can be Fabulous,” “Proud to be a Guy-brarian,” and “How do people become librarians? Are they born or made?” On one board, a member muses whether the presence of uber-hot British import Giles on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is enough to shatter the myth that all librarians lack an “X” chromosome. Through their witty and sardonic disclosures and insights, this new breed of librarians hopes to dismantle age-old representations of their profession and lobby for better treatment. A popular complaint heard among librarians is that people often confuse them with an “art supply store,” asking to use their stapler or for a piece of scratch paper, rather than tapping into their vast inventory of knowledge.

This proposed re-conceptualization of the “library worker” (it does sound kind of naughty, no?) is not meant to guilt-trip students in engaging campus librarians in “pity book searches” to reaffirm their purported powers. Like the cultural inquiry of the Bush administration and Tara Reid’s tan demonstrated (with luck her acting will be next on the cultural agenda) nothing is absolute. What is great about these “spontaneous” waves of inquiry is that they place the spotlight on things that were formerly positioned in the periphery of our minds—not because we valued them as insignificant, but because we considered them axiomatic. These “waves” function to remind us that the structures in our mediated, local, and global environment are not static, but dynamic. Likewise the aim of the “librarian avenger” movement can be taken at face value or viewed as referencing a host of salient issues. In this sense, the fight against mass produced forms of representation is necessary not to unearth the truth, but to unearth a plethora of possibilities.