The Image and Role of the Librarian

Val Hamilton (Centre for Digital Library Research, University of Strathclyde, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Hamilton, V. (2004), "The Image and Role of the Librarian", Library Review, Vol. 53 No. 8, pp. 416-417.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Librarians the world over do seem particularly obsessed with the image of their profession. This book takes a serious look at the “the fact and fiction of how librarians are perceived”. The book's main drawback for an international audience is that the emphasis is strongly on the US. The introduction is particularly problematic in this respect, regularly mentioning American institutions and popular culture. A baffling reference to “Dangerfield's ‘I don't get no respect’” in the second paragraph of the introduction (p. 1) made me wonder if this book was relevant to a British audience at all. This is unfortunate as the content of some of the individual articles is more extensive than the introduction would imply.

There are numerous lively Websites on the image of librarians but this book provides a scholarly approach. The articles cover a range of topics in four broad themes. “Professional roles” begins with a historical overview focusing on academic librarians, followed by a solid review of late nineteenth and early twentieth century writing about predictions for the libraries and librarians of the future.

The second theme, “Cultural images” covers cinema, specifically Jungian/Myers‐Brigg Personality types of librarians in films, plus comic books and children's literature, the latter two providing readable, well‐referenced surveys. There is inevitable overlap with the “Popular perceptions” section where the essay on the male librarian stereotype includes references to films and of course (American) television. It is worth reading to learn that despite the significance of Rupert Giles, the librarian in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, librarianship may have changed greatly but “helping to slay vampires” is still regarded as a “traditionally un‐librarian like position” (p. 107).

Beth Posner contrasts the co‐existing contradictory views of librarians as powerless know‐nothings or powerful know‐it‐alls, although her essay probably predates the widely reported adoption of the latter standpoint by Michael Moore, author of Stupid White Men. (One example, “You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them” This article goes beyond simple enumeration of examples to highlight the reality of skills and potential within the profession. The last paper in this section is a well‐reported survey of student views on academic librarians. The author concludes that these perceptions need to be changed but is tentative in suggestions of how this may be done.

The final part, “Future trends”, contains two articles. The first considers the enhanced and changing role of educational librarians, that is those supporting teachers in training. This has some broader validity but the choice of this narrow topic seems strange. The concluding essay on librarians in the twenty‐first century examines roles and expectations rather than future images. There are no rash predictions but a focus on what Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981) will bring to the profession, if indeed they choose to join it.

This is an academic book which contains some interesting essays but its title is misleading as it presents only a partial picture. The information within it is, however, valuable and could be used as the basis for a more international survey of the same subject. Although situations will differ across cultures, there may be lessons, for example in public relations, which can be learned from a broader based approach. Finally, for a book by and about librarians the index is dreadful: automatic index generation has its place but this provides a perfect example of the need for some human proofreading.

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