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Mirror Mirror: Reflections on the Image of Librarians
By Rhonda Keaton, LexisNexis Librarian Relations Consultant
I am celebrating my nine-month anniversary as a LexisNexis® Librarian Relations Consultant and I am still running into old friends and colleagues who haven’t heard the good news about my new job. As I explain what I am doing now, without fail they take a breath, take a really hard look at me and exclaim, “Wow. You don’t look like a librarian!”
It happened again just the other day. And it keeps happening whether I am meeting old friends or new acquaintances. This negative perception of librarians has a solid toehold in the rock cliff of public attitude and frankly, it’s starting to bug me. I am not alone in this observation. A quick Google™ search yields an astonishing number of resources devoted to the discussion of the librarian image stereotype. Actually, there is a Web site, http://www.librarian-image.net/ that is completely devoted to the subject and will lead the reader to exhaustive coverage and resources.
As I think about my own experience, it is probably true that I don’t look like a librarian. Most of the librarians I know don’t look like librarians either. But, if I am really honest, I would have to admit that there are librarians who would qualify as the “Image of the Librarian” poster child personified in the public consciousness. YouTube has gotten some highly amusing mileage out of the short film “March of the Librarians.” Films, fashion and books have continued to perpetuate the notion that only the most dowdy, bookish and shy among us serve in the librarian profession.
I heartily resent that the image of the Librarian which is burned into the collective consciousness of our culture is synonymous with “frumpy.” Like it or not, this profession must make inroads on the image issue. Throughout the nation librarians are fighting for respect, space and money. They are wrangling to keep their power within law firms and law schools. Winning those battles is made even more difficult when your profession is considered unkempt and shabby. Turning this around is going to have to happen person- by-person, in every closet, bathroom mirror and salon of librarians everywhere.
In my reading I found a quote by Rachel Singer Gordon that really summed up what must be done on an individual basis. She states, “Just as we adapt our skills as librarians to various situations, we adapt our image to fit our environment. The variety reflects our diverse and thriving profession. Your own image as a librarian emerges out of the blend of what makes you comfortable, your individuality, and your surroundings. When we forget to pay attention to this balance, however, things get out of whack.” Find Your Image Between the Extremes, Library Journal, 3/15/2004.
What I believe is at the heart of the image issue is appropriateness. As you look around the law firms and law schools you work in, compare and contrast your appearance with that of the other professionals around you. Ask yourself truthfully, “Have I let myself go? Have I updated my hairstyle or clothing within the last five years? Am I making a real effort to put my best foot forward? Does my appearance tell the story of my intelligence, hard work and professionalism? Could my appearance be holding me back in my career?”
Suddenly I hear the click of “back” buttons everywhere. These are questions all of us definitely don’t want to ask. But, if I still have your attention, bear with me. I am going somewhere with this. By now, you are surely asking yourself who, exactly, do I think I am to question anyone’s appearance? Are you wondering if I could possibly be that shallow?
No, I’m not shallow—I am you. I had to ask those questions of myself. And it was very, very uncomfortable for me. I am going to admit it to you now: I was frumpy! And my downgrade from fashionable to frumpy occurred at such a glacial pace that I didn’t even notice it had happened!
About four years ago I had a bit of a crisis that will likely sound familiar to some of you. I became consumed with work. I completely neglected self care in every arena. And I put on quite a bit of weight. Suddenly the woman I saw in the mirror didn’t at all resemble the photo I carried in my mind’s eye. I had climbed into a rut and didn’t have the foggiest clue of how to get out. As tough as it was to face, I knew the girl I once was would likely not be coming back. And, if she did, she probably wouldn’t want to be wearing my “big” Texas-blonde hair, dated make-up, shoulder pads and pegged pants!
I hadn’t significantly changed my appearance in years. Truthfully my entire look was stuck in the late 80s and 90s as I hung onto what had worked for me in an earlier time in my life. As I browsed magazines and store racks I saw that I was hopelessly off trend. My entire wardrobe had become based on varying shades of black. I knew that the way I looked could significantly deter progress in my personal life and career. And I needed serious help to solve the problem.
I took decisive measures and I decided to hire a Professional Image Consultant. I reasoned that I would hire a professional if I had a tax or legal problem. To me, this was a crisis of equal magnitude that required professional intervention. Obviously if I could have transformed my image on my own I would have already done so, right?
The first lesson I learned from my Image Consultant is that what you wear can change your life. What you wear can bring confidence, happiness and energy to your day-to-day life. I learned that there were beautiful colors that could make my natural coloring bloom and that black was not part of that palette. With her help, I took a critical look at the shape of my body and have learned to play to the positives and disguise the flaws whenever possible. She taught me about the proportion of my body and the way the cut and fit of a garment can shave off pounds and years. I now know in forensic detail the exact color, cut, length and shape of every imaginable garment or accessory that is the best one for me. And, although my Image Consultant nearly had to duct tape me to my hairdresser’s chair, I gave up blonde hair forever. I now sport my natural color and like it very much. I wear far less makeup than I did before and believe it looks much better. I have quit wasting money on experimental fashion horrors, accessories and makeup. If it isn’t perfect I don’t buy it. I understand the power of appropriate dressing and make every effort to look my best and be a credit to my profession, my company and myself. Certainly I haven’t reached perfection but I am much better off than I was when I started!
Whatever your stage in life or career I ask you to give your image some thought. Judging by the mushrooming of books on the subject and television programming like “What Not to Wear,” people everywhere in every profession are struggling with this problem. Not everyone needs a major fashion intervention. Nor do you have to wait to lose weight, have surgery, get a raise or change your life to look and feel better. Sometimes the smallest changes can make an enormous difference. Take this matter in hand and do something great to take care of yourself. Be an image leader in your workplace, profession and life and let’s put the librarian stereotype to rest once and for all!
To learn more about your image and how to improve it, check out these resources:
What Not to Wear by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine
What You Wear Can Change Your Life by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine
CHIC SIMPLE Dress Smart Men/Women by Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone
40 over 40 (40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed by Brenda Kinsel
The Triumph of Individual Style – Carla Mathis and Helen Connor
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