Recently, I was sitting alone at the reference desk, wearing a sweater, glasses, and sporting some quality facial hair. While sitting there I wondered, “Have I reached peak guybrarian?” I looked a bit like the dapper gentleman to the right, but less done up.
Then, I started wondering about the term “guybrarian.” I’m not sure when I first heard the term, but it was probably two years ago at a librarians’ happy hour. I thought it was a cute and fun designation for the hipster-styled modern masculine librarian and thought little more about it. I don’t remember ever using it directly in reference to myself, but I like the idea of the hipster guybrarian with his confident, slightly anachronistic, style and first-rate librarian skills. I’ve never been full-on hipster, but I do check a number of the boxes. Personally, I’m a fan of the vest-and-tie look (think three-piece suit without the jacket), but have never made the effort to style my wardrobe appropriately.
When I finally decided to enter the crowded and noisy pool of librarian bloggers — which I’ve seen referred to as the “biblioblogosphere” — the single most difficult part was to decide on a name which wasn’t already in use. “Tales of a Librarian” was in the mix early on, but since I knew it to be the name of a Tori Amos record I did my best to avoid using it. I tried a fairly large number of titles that made use of the [article]-[adjective]-Librarian construction only to find the most appealing versions of it already in use. I even toyed with the nautical-themed title of “LibrarianShip.” I think we’re all happy I didn’t go with that one. Eventually I went with “Tales of a Librarian” because I couldn’t find anything I liked better, and, hey, who cares if you have to push sixty pages deep in a Google search to find the blog instead of the Tori record. It’s not like anyone is going to read it, anyway, right?
I say this because one of the options I explored for blog-naming was “Guybrarian,” and probably some variation on [article]-[adjective]-Guybrarian. A simple guybrarian Google search brings up 11,900 results with #1 being David Wright’s @guybrarian Twitter feed. The first page also shows us Peter Coyl’s Adventures of a Guybrarian, Jason M. Bloom’s The Guybrarian’s Blog, and the apparently anonymously produced Guybrarian blog about children’s librarian crafts. It was safe to say that using “Guybrarian” in any form wasn’t going to fly, either.
Discussing this problem with a female librarian friend, she also rather pointedly advised me against using “guybrarian” in any context. Confused, I told her I thought it was a harmless and silly nickname for male librarians and wondered what her objection was. It was then that she explained how it was an unnecessarily gendered term that reinforced how librarianship was thought to be a woman’s job. What I was treating as a silly identifier was seen by many to be equivalent to the unnecessary designation of “male nurse,” even though there is nothing specifically gendered about the two professions. Pointing out that a man is a “male nurse” implies that there is something unmanly about nursing. I’ve not seen the film, but this is apparently a big part of Meet the Fockers, Ben Stiller is unworthy of Robert DeNiro’s daughter because of his work as a nurse. He wasn’t man enough.
While I believe that the objection was made a bit more forcefully than necessary, I see the point. When I was doing theatre in St. Louis I met several woman actors who absolutely bristled at the term “actress.” “You would never refer to a female doctor as a doctress,” they’d say, and they were right. From that time I’ve tried to excise the word “actress” from my vocabulary. “Actress” has become a diminutive that indicates status, as well as gender, the same way that “male nurse” has.
I’m not convinced that “guybrarian” has the same connotations, though. To my mind, “guybrarian” is more about style, than status. Your male hipster with an MLIS is a guybrarian, but the overweight middle-aged systems librarian probably isn’t. Go to ALA Annual and you’ll see the full spectrum of librarianship, from type of librarian to preferred style of dress. You’ll see women with pursed lips and grey hair in a tight bun who look like they live for shushing, you’ll see people who look like this is the only time they’re allowed in public and have long given up on looking presentable, then you’ll see the tattooed, horn-rimmed glasses wearing, finely coiffed, hipster librarians. The men of this group are the guybrarians.
About ten years ago, this was evidently a hot topic in the biblioblogoshpere. In July 2007 the New York Times published an article that was shocked, shocked, that young and interesting people would want to be librarians! In the article the term was used in reference to a hep cat with the federal depository library logo tattooed on his arm. “He hates that” one of the interviewees insisted. Urban Dictionary‘s entry for the word simply refers to any male librarian or library student. The Annoyed Librarian was annoyed about the term. So was D. K. Shirley in Information Today. Librarian.net had a lengthy (for the internet) conversation about it. There have been more recent writings on it, too. Pop! Goes the Librarian pointed out the negative stereotyping of the term (to which I’m probably contributing). And still more blogs and columns exist that use “guybrarian” as a signifier of a man working in the information science fields.
For all the internet chatter, I still find that some in the field are not familiar with the term, and the conversation described above is the only one I’ve ever been party to that discussed it as an abject negative. Is it silly? Yes, of course, that’s kind of the point. Is it unnecessary? Yes, that helps with the silliness. Does it reinforce stereotypes of a gendered profession? Of course it does, while also exploding the stereotype simultaneously. Is it a bad thing to use the term “guybrarian.” I don’t think so.
You can decide for yourself if I’m a guybrarian, a library dude, or just a plain old librarian.
Shirley, D. K. (2007, 09). The ‘L’ word. Information Today, 24, 17-18. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.unlv.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/214804041?accountid=3611