Favorite namecheck of the year.
Don’t miss this author interview about librarian representations in porn + the sexy librarian stereotype with David Squires! We are continuing to reveal our chapters for The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work with ACRL Press.
David Squires is completing a PhD in English at the University at Buffalo
Q1: Provide a brief summary of your chapter
My chapter argues that the sexy librarian stereotype emerged at the end of the twentieth century from the confluence between sexual liberation, free speech movements and print pornography. I focus primarily on a series of librarian themed pornographic paperbacks published in the 1970s and 1980s by Greenleaf Classics. These stories, although pretty flimsy plot-wise, tend to be obsessed with the idea of liberating stuffy librarians from the shackles of sexual conservatism. What makes them interesting is that the process of liberation inevitably dramatizes some of the social struggles surrounding obscenity cases and the move to deregulate print materials.
Keeping an eye on their particular historical context, I think we can see how these pulp novels place librarians at the center of an elaborate fantasy that valued the possibility of a public sex culture. I hope the chapter leaves readers with a complex understanding of the sexy librarian stereotype. The sexy librarian in literature represents sexist devaluations of professional librarians at the same time it values librarians as potential agents for maintaining access to otherwise marginalized sexual knowledge.
Q2: What do you think is one of the most pressing issue regarding librarian stereotypes?
The prevailing stereotypes of librarians—running the gamut from monstrous old maids to the licentious sexpots I write about in my chapter—offer the world a thoroughly deranged sense of librarianship. I think we should understand the cultural traction these stereotypes find in popular media as evidence of widespread fascination with librarians and libraries. Yet the stereotypes leave anyone who doesn’t already know better with a very contentious and contradictory field of reference for grounding their expectations of any given library. The situation does not lend itself to translating the cultural fascination with librarians into a social investment in libraries. It seems to me, in fact, that contradictory stereotypes capture librarians in a double bind of public opinion.
The double bind is evident in recent battles over whether or not libraries should use filters to regulate internet access. Those debates often play out according to the impractical understanding of librarians as custodians of community values, on the one hand, and, on the other, the impractical understanding of librarians as crusaders for the freedom of information. Conservatives like Dan Kleinman describe libraries that provide access to porn as socially dangerous, while the ACLU sues libraries that use filters for inhibiting freedom of speech. The responses map neatly onto stereotypes of the overly sexed librarian in need of reform and the repressive old maid in need of liberation. In reality, librarians have had to mediate between the poles of community custodians and information crusaders. They have had to ensure that patrons of, say, the San Francisco Public Library who want to look at porn sites can do so safely in a building that also serves young patrons and adults who don’t want to be distracted from their work by the cacophony of ersatz orgasms.
Librarians have a complex relationship to the communities they serve, and librarian stereotypes tend to obscure those complexities at the same time they exacerbate them.
Q3: What sparked your interest to write this chapter?
I became interested in the Greenleaf Classics librarian titles while doing research for a chapter in Porn Archives (forthcoming Duke University Press). At that point I was reading about the different strategies libraries have used to manage sex materials in their collections. From the rediscovery and excavation of Pompeii through the first half of the twentieth century, censorship and regulation prevailed. Then all of a sudden, with a few high profile Supreme Court decisions handed down in the 1960s, print pornography was pretty much legal. For the next two decades pulp publishers thrived alongside the golden age of cinematic porn, and of course librarians had to figure out what to do about those materials. I came across the Greenleaf Classics and was intrigued first by their paratextual materials—the brief prefaces with social commentary, often times professing a feminist agenda. I didn’t write about that stuff initially, but wanted to return to it. Thinking about librarian stereotypes provided the perfect opportunity to consider the outside—or popular culture side—of issues I’d thought of as primarily internal to professional librarianship.
Q4: Who are your librarian role models?
I’m not a librarian, so I don’t know if role model is the right word. However, I have long admired Jessamyn West. Sanford Berman and Martha Cornog have become professional luminaries for me in the past few years. As an interlocutor, Kathleen Molz has been very generative for me because she was such an incisive thinker. I wish I could write like her!
It’s a no-brainer for librarians, but reading S.R. Ranganathan always thrills me. Every time I tell a colleague in the humanities about him they’re gobsmacked because he had such a clear-eyed response to colonialism, at once pragmatic and critical. I have my librarian friends to thank for introducing me to his five rules of library science. The librarians I know personally are a constant source of information and inspiration. Lindsay Braddy (Oak Park Public Library), Caitlin Shanley (Temple University), and Erin White (Virginia Commonwealth University) were formative in getting me interested in library science. They continue offering me insight and encouragement as I try to understand how library science has interacted with modern literary production.
Q5: Tell us something fun about yourself!
A few years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to make pies. I had had a few lessons from my mother, but rolling out the crusts always made me anxious. My goal—it was a New Year’s resolution, actually—was to get comfortable with pastry dough. I still get nervous rolling them out, but the crusts are flakier than they used to be, so I keep trying.