Rupert Giles, the Professional-Image Slayer

By Cullen, John | American Libraries, May 2000 | Go to article overview
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Rupert Giles, the Professional-Image Slayer


Cullen, John, American Libraries


GraceAnne DeCandido wrote in "Bibliographic Good vs. Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (AL, Sept. 1999, p. 44-47) that "the appearance of school librarian Rupert Giles on television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done more for the image of the profession than anything in the past 50 years." The enormous worldwide success of a television series with a librarian as one of its central characters has some merit. However, it is a tragedy that the character of Rupert Giles provides one of the most negative and oversimplified images of a librarian ever depicted by the entertainment industry.

The history of negative portrayals of librarians in the media is a long one. We have been categorized as:

* murderous (The Name of the Rose);

* dizzy (The Mummy);

* absurd (the character of Ook, the orangutan librarian in several of Terry Pratchett's novels); and

* unhelpful and ineffective (in practically every advertisement, TV show, or movie that features a librarian).

Certainly there have been a few exceptions to this pattern. But by and large, the moment you see a library building in a movie, you know that a middle-aged woman will soon have her feathers ruffled, as in the famous sequence in Ghostbusters when the card catalog is supernaturally attacked.

The question of professional image has always been important to librarians. In a review of stereotypical images in three major library journals (including American Libraries) from 1980 to 1986, Norman Stevens concluded that "as a profession we are no closer to any resolution of how to deal with this most important and vexatious of all professional questions than we were in 1876, 1907, or 1962. The issue of our image will persist and will undoubtedly be no closer to resolution in another decade or two than it is now. We will simply have a more extensive body of folklore and literature to deal with." ("Our Image in the 1980s," Library Trends, Spring 1988, p. 825-51.)

This attention to image persists for one very good reason. If future politicians, university deans, and other fund managers are brought up on a diet of popular movies and TV shows that never realistically portray the services librarians offer, none of them will value our skills and expertise enough to keep us in business.

No dullards wanted

I have been approached by parents who think library work might suit their sons or daughters who don't like to mix with other people, work too hard, or carry out assignments without being told to do so. I never get used to their surprise when I tell them that I can't use a staff member with less than perfect interpersonal skills.

The assumption that library work is a soft option has been perpetuated by the media without reference to reality. Most of us continue to work in libraries because they provide opportunities to excel on a number of different levels.

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