Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Perceptions of a Profession: Librarians and Stereotypes in Online Videos

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Perceptions of a Profession: Librarians and Stereotypes in Online Videos

Article excerpt


The popularity of YouTube has grown rapidly in recent years, and librarians are just one of many groups that routinely create and post videos to the site. Unlike prior representations of librarians in mass media formats, which have been largely controlled by non-librarians, the increased opportunities for amateur video distribution on sites like YouTube have allowed librarians themselves to decide how they are portrayed. It stands to reason that librarians have a vested interest in portraying themselves and their profession in a positive light. Indeed, an earlier study of YouTube videos correctly identifies a preponderance of negative librarian depictions in YouTube videos not created by librarians (Poulin, 2008). However, this current study argues that the manner in which video creators are portraying librarians form a complex picture that can best be understood by considering theories about stereotypes, the history of stereotypes in the library profession, and the use of parody and mimicry to call into question prevailing societal stereotypes. It is also argued that YouTube videos created by non-librarians should be compared to those created by librarians themselves in order to fully understand the contrasting representations available to YouTube video viewers. An analysis of 100 videos created by librarians paints an interesting picture about what message librarians are sending to viewers and how effectively they are challenging negative stereotypes. A comparison of these videos to those created by non-librarians shows differences from the ways that librarians portray themselves and hints at alternative methods that librarians might want to employ to combat negative stereotypes of the profession.

Stereotype Theories

Scholars have proposed several reasons for the existence of stereotypes, none of which are mutually exclusive. Leyens, Yzerbyt, and Schadron (1994) have explained that stereotypes are processes aimed at regulating social interactions while McGarty, Yzerbyt, and Spears (2002) add that they help alleviate information overload. That is, putting items into categories saves energy by requiring a person to understand only the category rather than each individual item in it. While librarians, as information professionals, will undoubtedly appreciate the usefulness of stereotypes in this context, there are also drawbacks to using stereotypes as time savers. Brewerton (1993, p. 22) writes, "They [stereotypes] are used by advertisers, writers and journalists who do not have the time or inclination to develop characters." With the rise of YouTube, amateur video creators could be included in this list, and their use of stereotypes too often represents negative and untrue assumptions about all members of the profession rather than serving as useful categorizations.

Not everyone views stereotypes as necessarily negative (Shauer, 2003). Stereotypes may indicate shared a group identity resultant from similar experiences and also a desire to be part of the "in-group." For example, a librarian might deliberately yet unnecessarily don a pair of glasses so as to appear more bookish or intellectual and to fit in with peers of a similar nature. On the other hand, Brewerton argues that "stereotypes are often based on outmoded concepts and are invariably negative" (1993, p. 22). Problems with stereotypes arise when a person fails to realize that categories are made up of individuals who are not exactly identical. Weber and Mitchell further that "images in popular culture can even displace personal memories," so that stereotypes conjured up about librarians can easily stem from unfair representations seen in the mass media rather than from real experiences with them (1995, p. 26). Stereotypes are even more problematic when they cease functioning as mere categories and instead are used as the basis for judgment that has a real-life impact on the unique individuals in the category.

Changing stereotypes is no easy task, especially for someone who feels he or she has been saddled with an unfair image. …

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