I was working at a library in the Salt Lake County Library System when I had a revelation: it was late November and I was working alongside 18 swell people. I did a quick count and was surprised to see that 11 of the librarians and librarian assistants were wearing sweatshirts or sweaters that had either Looney Toons characters, or geese, or reindeer. Librarian style will probably never be the focus of an issue of Elle or Vogue magazine.
Before continuing, I will point out that I am not a fashion-conscious person, speaking of my own look. I just look like some guy who rolled out of bed and threw whatever wasn’t too wrinkled. But I like to watch people and try to spot trends.
So since that fateful fashion day, I started paying more attention to what librarians wear. If you think of librarian fashion in your head, what do you see? In a lot of cases, the old stereotype is well-deserved. When I go to work I see my fair share of buns (hair, not cheeks), glasses, stirrup pants, and the occasional side ponytail, which I quite enjoy.
At the other end of the spectrum is my generation of librarians, which seems determined to make a statement against the stereotype. I’m not one of them, meaning I have no piercings, my hair is thin and brown, not purple and spiked or in dreadlocks. I do not have any tattoos and my ears aren’t gauged.
I want to be clear that some of the best librarians I’ve ever met have faces full metal, and many of the best librarians I’ve ever met wear stirrup pants. I will also admit that the two most stylish people I know are both librarians. They can color-coordinate an outfit without thinking that would take me a year to come up with. I might as well be color-blind, for all the good it does my “wardrobe.”
The point is that the fashion doesn’t matter to me. I’m not even sure that librarians even have a style anymore.
Internet Librarian 2009: the clothes
Last October I attended the Internet Librarian 2009 conference in Monterey with a colleague. He dresses like me: jeans and t-shirts. During the three days of the conference, we took lots of notes on what people were wearing–far more notes than on the conference itself, although I should mention that the Monterey aquarium was awesome.
It was fascinating to see that wherever your library career is based geographically, chances are that you have at some time worn a knit sweater with a goose on it if you are female. If you are male, you shop at the store where they only sell shirts that are two sizes too big for your neck.
ALA in Chicago last year was the same, but multiplied by a whole lot.
I saw nothing in the largest sample of librarians I’d been in to date that changed my mind.
So in summary, I would recommend that if you are looking for a library job so that you can boast to your friends about how your job is on the cutting edge of the fashion world, you might be better off staying at home watching What Not To Wear.
Librarians could have their own show.
Josh (proud librarian)