Stereotypes of librarians in popular culture are frequently negative: librarians are portrayed as puritanical, punitive, unattractive, and introverted if female, or timid, unattractive, and effeminate if male. Such inaccurate stereotypes are likely to have a negative impact on the attractiveness of librarianship as a profession to young people.[1] This article provides a collection of descriptions of librarians in popular culture, i.e., literature, film, television, and games.

Popular LiteratureEdit

Children's literature offers a generally positive portrayal of librarians as knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly, becoming more positive over the course of the 20th century. Adult literature, however, portrays the profession more negatively. Between these, portrayals of librarians in young adult fiction are neutral to negative. Here librarians are predominantly female, middle-aged, usually unattractive in some way, and mostly unmarried. Personality is mixed between positive traits such as intelligence, likeability, and kind-heartedness; and negative traits such as strictness, timidity, excess fastidiousness, and eccentricity. While some provide assistance to the main characters, several are the villains of the story. Duties generally include reference, but may only show clerical tasks; however the amount of technology used by librarian characters has increased over time.[1]

A disproportionate number of the librarians represented in novels are in the detective fiction genre, frequently as an amateur detective and protagonist. Although the stereotype of the librarian as "passive bore" does not seem reconcilable with the intensity of a mystery, the stereotypical librarian does share many traits with the successful detective. Their mindset is focused, calm, unbiased in considering viewpoints, and focused on the world around them. By personality they are industrious perfectionists - and eccentric. The drab and innocuous look of the stereotypical librarian is perfect for avoiding suspicion, while their research skills and ability to ask the right questions allow them to procure and evaluate the information necessary to solve the case. The knowledge they have gained from wide reading successfully competes with a private investigator's personal experience. For example, Jacqueline Kirby is drawn into the mystery in Elizabeth Peters' novel The Seventh Sinner (1972) due to her awareness of her surroundings. Wearing the stereotypical bun, glasses, and practical clothes, together with an eccentrically large purse, she is self-possessed and resourceful, knowledgeable in a variety of fields and skilled at research.[2]

Papers on librarians in popular culture have also analysed:

  • Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash features a commercialized melding of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Library of Congress, along with a virtual librarian who assists the main character, and raises questions of the role of the librarian in an increasingly information-rich world.[3]
  • The eponymous character in Garth Nix's Lirael (2001) is an assistant librarian whose curiosity about the library she works in leads her into trouble and whose research skills save her. The head librarian is intimidating and the library itself a dangerous place.[4]


According to Ann Seidl, director of the documentary The Hollywood Librarian, librarians in film are often portrayed as meek, timid, and unassertive in nature.[5] After indexing hundreds of appearances of librarians in film, she found that "the shorter the reference to a librarian in a film, the worse the stereotype."[6]

By the 1950s, movies had established the stereotype of librarians as "spinsters" and "eggheads".[1] Thus, female movie librarians are usually unmarried, prim, and introverted. They are usually young and may be attractive, but dress drably and are sexually repressed. The "fate-worse-than-death view of librarians"[7] is particularly evident in movies such as It's a Wonderful Life and The Music Man.

Male movie librarians - mild, intelligent, and timid - have fewer and less important roles.[7]

Seidl's documentary discusses such stereotypes as:

  • A wretched alternate fate is revealed for Mary Hatch Bailey (played by Donna Reed) in the movie It's a Wonderful Life (1946): "She's an old maid. She never married...She's just about to close up the library!"
  • The staggeringly rude and unhelpful librarian (John Rothman) in Sophie’s Choice (1982), who barks at Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) “Do you want me to draw you a map?!”

in contrast with such more well-rounded characters as:

Librarians are usually ordinary people caught up in circumstances, rather than being heroes; likewise they are rarely villainous although they may have flaws, such as racism in Goodbye, Columbus.[7]

Other movie appearances of librarians noted in the literature include:

  • Mary (played by Parker Posey) as the ultimate Party Girl (1995) who discovers, "I want to be a librarian!" in a notable exception to the prim librarian stereotype.[1]
  • Alicia Hull (Bette Davis), a small town librarian, who befriends young Freddie Slater (Kevin Coughlin) but is herself ostracised for refusing to remove a book on Communism from the public library during the height of the Red Scare in Storm Center (1956). This movie was inspired by the real-life dismissal of Ruth Brown, a librarian in Bartlesville, Oklahoma[8].


The portrayal of librarians on the small screen has usually followed the same stereotypes as those found in motion pictures. For example, in most animated cartoon series (such as Baby Looney Tunes or Rugrats) the librarian is often shown silencing the main/pivotal characters - especially younger children - when they're in a library area. Some even ban the characters from the libraries for making rude or strange noises.

In creating the Australian miniseries The Librarians, however, co-producers and -writers Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler consulted with real librarians for research, and took their advice to avoid shooshing and cardigan-wearing librarian characters.[9]

Computer and video gamesEdit

There have been several characters associated with the library field in the realm of interactive entertainment[10], often portrayed as guides and/or purveyors of knowledge who help the user progress within the game.

Toys and HobbiesEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Peresie, Michelle; Linda B. Alexander (Fall 2005). "Librarian stereotypes in Young Adult literature". Young Adult Library Services 4 (1): 24–31. 
  2. Reiman, Lauren (2003). Solving the mystery: what makes the fictional librarian such a good sleuth?. Washington State University. 
  3. Blackmore, Tim (November 2004). "Agent of Civility: The Librarian in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash". SIMILE: Studies In Media & Information Literacy Education 4 (4): 1-10. doi:10.3138/sim.4.4.001. 
  4. Template:Cite conference
  5. Kniffel, Leonard (Jun/July 2005). "Hollywood Librarian vs. Real Thing". American Libraries 36 (6): 22. 
  6. Quoted in Worland, Gayle (October 4, 2007). "Librarians have their day in film". Knight Ridder Tribune Business News (Washington). 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Walker, Stephen; V. Lonnie Lawson (1993). "The librarian stereotype and the movies". MC Journal 1 (1): 17–28. Retrieved 2009-08-02. 
  8. Robbins, Louise S. (2000). The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806133147. 
  9. Taffel, Jacqui (29 October 2007). "Have a lend of us". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  10. Search Results for "librarian" on IGN
  11. "Outcry over librarian doll". Sydney Morning Herald. 6 September 2003. 

External linksEdit

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