Career Strategies for Librarians
“But You Don’t Look Like A Librarian”:  Bringing Back Marian the Librarian
by Beth Morrissey

It’s true, 21st-century librarians are a confusing bunch.  We’re silly, sexy, freaky, funky, fun information
professionals and this seems to perplex those who are faint of heart when it comes to changes in
libraryland.  However, perhaps the confusion is not all their faults, the poor dears.  Lest we forget,
librarianship is a traditionally service-oriented profession so maybe it’s about time we get back to
serving up the public a big dish of what they want: Marian the Librarian.  Not quite sure how to package
yourself as a stereotypical librarian?  Never fear; with these ten easy steps you’ll be back to the basics in
no time.

10.  Cover Up

Cardigans aren’t just for Mr. Rogers, boys and girls, so get thee to a shop full of wool and get your
sartorial swing on.  There’s no need to spend the whole paycheck, though, since you’re going to be
rotating through the same sweater and two pairs of pants every working day for years.  Unless of course
you’re a true lady, in which case one would never think of wearing pants to work.  For shame!

9.  Fashion Some Glasses

It really doesn’t matter that you have 20/20 vision—get some glasses on your face stat!  No one’s going
to buy the idea that a librarian would set foot outside of the house without some heavy frames (perhaps
cats’ eye, with a few diamante accents?).  If at all possible, rough ‘em up a little and tape ‘em back
together.  Let “nerd circa ‘62” be your guide.  Just remember that a whiff of irony can be smelled miles
away, so absolute sincerity is essential.

8.  Put On Your Pearls, Girls

Let’s hope you got some Mikimotos as a graduation present because no female librarian is ever really
dressed until she has a string of pearls on her neck.  What’s that?  They don’t complement your trendy
blazer and blouse combo?  Sounds like someone didn’t follow rule number ten…

7.  Show Some Sole

And on the topic of accessories, throw away those Docs, Uggs, Manolos or anything else that can be
identified in one word.  What you want is some heavy, crepe-soled shoes that will make the slightest
squeaking sound as you stalk the stacks.  White is a perennial favorite for guys and gals, so don’t fold
under the pressure of a salesperson pushing purple.  Remember, if it matches the linoleum it’s a

6.  Welcome Your Wrinkles

But let’s not forget the ultimate weapon in a librarian’s image arsenal: a set of hard-won wrinkles.  Ah,
the furrows in the brow from deep thoughts!  The sweet sign of lines around the eye from squinting at
tiny text!  The rapture of ravines around a pair of pursed lips!  The more wear you can add to your face,
the better.  Just don’t let anyone call them laugh lines.   

5.  Can the Laughter

Librarians don’t have fun.  Ever.  If you missed this memo, please write yourself a new one and refer to it
as needed.

4.  Love the Bun

We’re talking the hair variety here, not the hot cross variety.  If there’s one way to truly shout “stereotypical
librarian” it’s to roll up any and all hair and flaunt a bun the size of a boulder.  Men, it’s true, might find this
one a little hard so if you haven’t got the locks to roll, consider the tried-and-true comb-over.  If Dick Van
Patten could rock one, you can too.

3.  Avoid the Gym

Honestly, no one’s going to believe you’re a librarian if you’re anything but, well, wimpy.  Give up the gym
membership, avoid pick-up games in the park, and in general, try to stay as still as possible.  Lifting a
few books while weighed down by sweater sleeves is about the only exercise you really need.  A general
rule of thumb here: you should only break a sweat when you have a fever (which, given your abstention
from healthy activity, may become a more frequent occurrence).

2.  Go Beyond the Pale

Hey, not everything about getting sick is bad.  Take, for example, the pallor that accompanies a
particularly nasty bout of flu.  If you can master the chalky-white-to-almost-olive-green complexion then
you’re a step ahead of the librarians who still think that a touch of tan is somehow attractive.  When will
they learn?  

1.  Shhhh, No Talking

Please, don’t make me say it.  At least not in a loud voice.  Librarians should be as quiet as church mice,
scuttling efficiently between problem patrons to tell them to keep it down.  After all, you can hardly shush
someone when you’ve just been talking loudly yourself.  Say what you mean and mean what you say, but
only in a tone so hushed that it would be hard for a barn owl to hear you.

But Seriously …

Despite what the public might still describe as a “true” librarian, the truth is that we’re an eclectic bunch.  
Be as proud of your personal style as you are your information skills and you’ll be a standout in the field
in the no time.

About the Author:

Beth Morrissey was awarded an MLIS from the National University of Ireland in 2004.  She then worked
in a variety of libraries before indulging her passion for freelance writing.  Visit Beth online at www.

Article published May 2008

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.