ASSOCIATES (vol. 2, no. 1, July 1995) -

Table of Contents



                          Katie Buller
            School of Library and Information Studies
                   Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison

"Oh, you work in a library!  I'd love to work in a library!
Imagine, reading books all day long and getting paid for it!"

Yeah right, lady.  Isn't it amazing how many of us must hear
words like this all the time? Pardon me for being blunt, but when
it comes to libraries, some non-library folk don't seem to be
working with a full load of bricks.  When is the last time any of
us got to sit down at our desks or worktables and read a book!?
And expected to last long as an employee?  Does an engineer spend
his days crossing and recrossing his own bridges?  Does a master
chef make her specialties, then sit down and eat them all?  Does
the pope...well, never mind.

My own book-loving sister is guilty of it.  "Oh, I should have
gone to library school.." she once sighed to me.  "You don't have
to do anything in library school. It's so easy."  YIKE!  Well,
having NOT gone to Library School, but I work in one (not on TV),
that statement left me floored.  I immediately responded with
something like "Well, I should have gone to work for a restaurant
food distributor.  All you have to do is EAT all day!"  The
message still didn't get across, even as she dished out yet more
potato salad from a 5 gallon bucket for our family dinner.  A
detailed explanation of selection, acquisitions, cataloging,
serials, periodicals, etc. etc. ad nauseam, didn't seem to get
through either.  Just where did she think the books came from?
Who selected them?  Why?  Who checked them in, cataloged them,
marked them and shelved them?  Elves.  Really masochistic elves.

Television programming and movies don't give us any respect
either, making library workers the Rodney Dangerfields of the
media.  Librarians are usually pale, bespectacled ladies with
gray buns on top of their heads, running around screeching
"SHHHH!!".  A program I just saw a few months ago took that image
to an extreme--the stereotypical librarian was actually a ghost
who haunted a long-shuttered reading room.  She waylaid overly
noisy children visiting the library, silenced them with her
ghostly powers, then made them sit in her reading room and READ.
Gosh..what a crime...NOT!  But kids watching this program
certainly got a clear  message--don't go to the library or you'll
be kidnapped by a ghost!

In the same vein, the opening sequence to the film "Ghostbusters"
shows us a bookshelver being terrorized by what seems to be the
very same ghost, spectacles, bun and all. It wouldn't have been
so scary, except that the stacks shown looked exactly like the
bookstacks I shelved in at the time.  Shudder!!  I cheered
though, when the card catalog got covered in goo and the cards
exploded upward into the air.  That should be the fate of all
card catalogs..but then, guess who'd have to clean it up and
refile them?  You guessed it.  Of course, on my own campus, there
were once rumors that the ghost of the University's first
librarian could be occasionally seen in the stacks and it was
even said her skeleton was found in a corner, still clutching a
pink overdue slip.  Perhaps these movies weren't so far off after

At other times, library workers are depicted as just plain
stupid, such as the fellow who was stamping books in the film
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".  He didn't know the
difference between the sound of his little rubber stamp and Indy
pounding the bejeebers out of the floor in the beautiful ancient
library.  To quote Bugs Bunny, "Wotta rube!"

In the film "Citizen Kane", the librarian is a sentry for only
one book, the tediously pompous memoirs of a banker, kept in a
vault near her desk.  That must have been one bored lady!  No
wonder she was so cranky.  She didn't have to do much shelving
though, and probably had a lot of time for filing her nails.
Overall, it wasn't a bad job..but then she probably had to put in
some overtime work as a ghost in other productions later on.

Occasionally we do get to see a pretty, sexy librarian in movies,
theater and tv, such as in "Major League" and "The Music Man".
However these people are rarely, if ever, actually doing library
work.  They either just languish in the stacks, looking beautiful
and discussing their love lives with people like Tom Berenger and
Robert Preston, or are never observed to be in the library at
all.  They are library workers in name only--we just have to take
their word for it.  Also, they are indeed mostly female.  A male
library worker, while common in real life, is a rare creature,
perhaps only seen in one film...the Library of Congress clerk in
"All the President's Men".

What would movies be like if they depicted libraries accurately
anyway?  Would Beauty have met the Beast if she was checking her
email instead of selecting a book to borrow?  Marian the
Librarian would be too busy cleaning Coca Cola and chewing gum
out of the book drop to go running around with Prof. Harold Hill.
Ghostly ectoplasm would go unnoticed on the card catalogs, while
the only observable ghosts would be on computer screens.

Indiana Jones would find his plans to the Lost City of Tannis on
the Internet, or perhaps a map would appear as a pop-up book in
the children's section.  Woodward and Bernstein might have found
Nixon's enemies list as a Home Page on the World Wide Web, and
the Terminator could have plugged in to Sarah O'Connor's address
through a CDROM database.  Would Conan the Librarian be far
behind, collecting overdue fines through use of his steel blade
and shouting "Crom!" every time he found an duplicate title on
NOTIS?  Or even Mel Gibson in a scottish kilt, giving biblio-
graphic instruction on medieval weaponry.  Now that is something
I WOULD like to see.

Movie producers, are you listening?

Katie has spoken!