Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fashion & Librarians

When I first got hired as a librarian over ten years ago, I went through training that emphasized that to our teenage patrons, all librarians are old and dowdy. I thought this a bit extreme because in my experience, anyone over 21 is viewed as old and dowdy by a teenager - not just librarians.

Over the years I've read articles about the new hipster librarians in the NY TImes, the well-dressed NYPL librarian in The Wall Street Journal and seen posts telling librarians what to wear to conferences, as well as actual blogs devoted to librarian fashion. The Annoyed Librarian has done many posts over the years making fun of hipster librarians and librarians dressed in cat sweatshirts and confortable shoes roaming library conventions dragging bags of loot. I have posted many times on the Annoyed LIbrarian blogs comments to the effect that the emphasis on librarian fashion is sexist.

I'm going to imitate Caitlin Moran (see her list on fashion on p. 208) and give a list of reasons:

  • According to the ALA in 2010, 83% of librarians are women. The mean hourly wage for librarian, when computed is $43,000/yr. Three out of ten librarians work part-time, so they are making less than this mean on a yearly basis. This does not leave much money for clothing, and since many librarians are married, have children, or are in school, they don't have lots of time for thrifting. In fact, some even have second jobs to pay their library degree. Some of them may be saving towards retirement because they've read a few books in the personal finance section.

  • By the way, in 2010, the median weekly salary for female librarians was 81% that of male librarians.

  • Also according to the ALA study cited above, most librarians work in school or academic libraries, with a fourth working in public libraries.

  • Anyone who reads comments on listservs, facbooks pages, and blogs geared towards public librarians will notice that librarians don't sit around around and read books. They shelve, clean up patron accidents as needed, conduct craft programs and clean up after them, weed books, fix computers, and generally spend much time on their feet. There is a reason these people wear comfortable shoes and clothes that can be easily washed. Whenever I see an article about well-dressed librarians, invariably they either work in a special library, or a special division in a public library where they don't have to worry about getting dirty and therefore don't have to spend a fortune on dry-cleaning. They also probably work in a climate-controlled environment.

  • SInce librarianship is such a low-paid, woman-dominated profession, the media does not respect it. The NY TImes does wonderful articles about exciting archeological discoveries. Whenever I read them, I get depressed and rue my inability to learn a language other than English. Interestingly enough, the Times never describes the clothing of the archeologists. I don't know whether they excavate in khaki or jeans or combat pants, and whether they prefer steel-toed shoes to sneakers. Why, you ask? Because it isn't important! What matters is that the archaeologist has just discovered the site of the Roman Lupercal or a lost city in the Amazon. No one cares about what Howard Carter wore when he found the tomb of King Tut.

  • This applies to other male-dominated professions, such as neuroscience, psychiatry, etc. What matters is the work done by the professional, not how the professional looks. However, since librarianship isn't male-dominated, it isn't taken seriously, and neither are librarians. The appearances of librarians make the news, not what they actually do.

  • In addition, these articles can actually be harmful to librarians because they are divisive. What really matters is whether the librarian is competent, not stereotypically well-dressed (although I draw the line at not bathing). Instead of obsessing over the appearance of librarians, we should be concerned with the major budget cuts happening in libraries throughout the country and how it will affect the literacy of Americans of all ages.

Moran does discuss this kind of sexism frequently in her book. For example, whenever she interviews a female celebrity, she is expected to describe the woman's wardrobe and her feeling about having children. This is not required in articles about male celebrities. She also talks about the inability to move up in the work world for women, and how sexism in the workplace is not gone.

What can be done about this? I, for one, am going to apply Moran's advice about the Zero Tolerance Policy on the Patriarchal Broken Window Bullshit, and laugh. Then I'm going to buy a new pair of comfy sneakers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awaiting more posts!