Where do we go from here?

There may not be a clear answer for the Image Problem of the library profession. After all, librarians have been worried about this image for generations, as evidenced by some of these early library journal articles, cited in Wilson (1982): "Should Librarians Be Glamour Girls?" and "Recipe for Respect" (1953); "Sweetiepies for Sourpusses" (1943); "Can't Librarians Be Human Beings?" (1944); "Are Librarians Really Moldy?" (1961); and "Librarians Do Have Dates!" (1947).

As we've outlined in these pages, solutions have been offered that range from steps that individual librarians can make to system-wide solutions. Both the American Library Association and the Special Library Association have sponsored media campaigns to combat stereotyping.

Many authors give long lists of things that librarians can do to make the public like them better: change the way we dress, deliver better service, be more assertive, get more involved in the community... Many of these are activities librarians have already been involved in. It's almost a plea that we do anything so they'll like us!

Larger societal changes may affect professional image even more. Technological shifts may very well alter our profession and our image in ways we cannot yet predict.

Maybe we should change the subject...

Does talking so much about this topic perpetuate it? Some people think it does. That's why Paul and Evans (1993), librarians in Australia, along with an admonition to improve service and be welcoming to patrons, suggest that:

It could be that the profession has dwelt too much on the issue. Frylinck wrote: "Most of us use stereotyping of some sort everyday. Faced with a complex set of information about people or occupations, the tendency is to simplify these facts by extracting only the most obvious. Although other careers have stereotypes, librarians seem to take alleged misrepresentations of their image more seriously than others." (In Stelmakh, 1994, p. 57).

We may also be wrong about public perception of the field. Media images to the contrary, some studies have shown that patrons of library services view librarians positively. In a 1988 study of the perceptions of college students and academic librarians towards male librarians, male library students and librarians viewed "themselves as having a negative image among their clients" despite the fact that the college students'image of the male librarian "appears to be quite positive and unlike the popular stereotye that is sometimes portrayed in the media." The researchers concluded that male librarians were "fighting an image that does not exist, at least not among the university public," and that preoccupation with improvng the image is "wasted effort." Instead, they quote another researcher's recommendation that librarians "get out the message of what we do - the wide variety of skills we possess and the services we can provide." (Morrisey and Case, 1988)

Surfing that Wild, Wild Web and other technological byways

Changing technology, many feel, will improve our image in the end.

"With the changes in the profession might come an opportunity to garner more respect for the servces and expertise we provide. Library and information workers are among the best-educated yet lowest-paid professionals in the work force. If timely, complete, and accurate information is the key to today's society, then those who organize the information and make it accessible should be valued." (Scherdin and Beaubien, 1995)

Stereotypes take a very long time to change, and don't change until their purpose is outlived. Most prominently in the media, but for the general public as well, there is a need for images of shy, repressed, unassertive men and women - contrasted against beautiful and confident characters, portrayed as having a darker, secret side, or dramatically liberated by love. Even if the "information profession" completely changes, the stereotypic link may remain. A sense of humor about negative impressions of the profession may be the most effective tool a librarian can have. "Lipstick Librarian"? "Punky Library Assistant"? "Bookish and Shy"? "Sophisticated Corporate Information Specialist"? Cybrarian, Information Goddess, Archivist, or good old Librarian.... We have many images to choose from.

So, in the meantime, dear Web Readers, just be yourselves.

And thanks for traveling our path on the Information Highway!

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