Friday, April 08, 2005

Why are librarians sexy?

The following is from David Austin at NCSU, as reported on a library listserv.

"Sitting at her desk with her back very straight, she asks the young man very politely, the one who always comes into the library to check out bestsellers, asks him when it was he last got laid. He lets out a weird sound and she says shhh, this is a library. She has her hair back and the glasses on but everyone has a librarian fantasy, and she is truly a babe beneath.

I have a fantasy, he says, of a librarian." (57-58)

"This [next] one is a businessman with a vest. He is asking her about a book on fishing when she propositions him. His face lights up, the young boy comes clean and clear through his eyes, that librarian he knew when he was seven. She had round calves and a low voice." (59-60)

Aimee Bender, "Quiet Please," The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (Doubleday, 1998), 57-64. (Story first published in GQ.)



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"Despite popular theories, I believe people fall in love based not on good looks or fate but on knowledge. Either they are amazed by something a beloved knows that they themselves do not know; or they discover common rare knowledge; or they can supply knowledge to someone who's lacking. Hasn't anyone found a strange ignorance in someone beguiling. An earnest question: what day of the week does Thanksgiving fall on this year? Nowadays, trendy librarians, wanting to be important, say, Knowledge is power. I know better. Knowledge is love.

People think librarians are unromantic, unimaginative. This is not true. We are people whose dreams run in a particular way. ... The idea of a library full of books, the books full of knowledge, fills me with fear and love and courage and endless wonder. I knew I would be a librarian in college as a student assistant at a reference desk, watching those lovely people at work. "I don't think there is such a book," a patron would begin, and then the librarian would hand it to them, that very book.

Unromantic? This is a reference librarian's fantasy.

A patron arrives, says, Tell me something. You reach across the desk and pull him toward you, bear hug him a second and then take him into your lap, stroke his forehead, whisper facts in his ear. The climate of Chad is tropical in the south, desert in the north. Source: 1991 CIA World Factbook. Do you love me? Americans consumed 6.2 gallons of tea per capita in 1989. Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States. Synecdoche is a literary device meaning the part for the whole, as in crown heads of Europe. I love you. I could find you British Parliamentary papers, I could track down a book you only barely remember reading. Do you love me now? We own that book, we subscribe to that journal, Elvis Presley's first movie was called Love Me Tender.

And then you lift the patron again, take him over to the desk and set him down so gently he doesn't feel it, because there's someone else arriving, and she looks, oh, she looks uninformed." (8)

"I was to the library born .... I liked the idea of taking care of things. I like order, good manners, and – because I'm basically a stingy person – I like being able to counteract that stinginess by giving people free things all day long. I like knowing things other people don't. You know my favorite part about the library? Our little local history section. Nobody in our town ever goes into it ... It's small. There's the voting records, the census, and one book a man wrote twenty years ago, called Brewsterville, My Home. Boxes of posters for summer fairs, tickets to concerts. And it's all necessary, it's all things you can't find anywhere else, and I'm the one who owns it. The genealogists come in, wanting information, and I give it to them, the desiderata, the ephemera, everything." (182-183)

Peggy Cort, Town Librarian, in Elizabeth McCracken, The Giant's House: A Romance (The Dial Press, 1996).



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"I can see that you've come here to give me something and I think you should follow through," she snaps in my ear as her delicate, cold hand slides down my torso to my hip, then crosses my thigh and rests on my dick. Without moving her body away from mine, she effortlessly slips out of her navy blue jacket and tosses it to the side.

Fetish Diva Midori, "Cool Blue Suit: Packing Heat for an Icy Librarian," On Our Backs, 1999



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The Universe (which others call the Library) – is unlimited and cyclical.

"The Library of Babel,"Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths



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Libraries are the enchanted domain of two major difficulties. They have been resolved, we know, by mathematicians and tyrants (but perhaps not altogether). There is a dilemma: either all these books are already contained in the Word (la Parole) and they must be burned, or they are contradictory and, again, they must be burned. (100)

In writing The Temptation, Flaubert produced the first literary work whose exclusive domain is that of books: following Flaubert, Stéphane Mallarmé and his Le Livre become possible, then James Joyce, Raymond Roussel, Franz Kafka, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges. The library is on fire. (107)

Michel Foucault, "Language to Infinity," in James D. Faubion, ed,. Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 Volume 2: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (The New Press, 1998)



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I doubt that everyone has a (female) librarian fantasy, especially if "everyone" means everyone and so includes the straightest women, but it is a common fantasy among men attracted to women. One female dominatrix even tells me that, with the exception of The Teacher, The Librarian is the dominant role most requested of her by male submissives. According to one quite persistent stereotype, librarians are sexually repressed, which implies, of course, that there is a lot there to be repressed. So it is not very surprising that many straight men imagine that librarians are sexy. (For the moment, I'm limiting discussion to straight fantasies. I'll consider later questions about gay and lesbian fantasies about librarians of a variety of genders and orientations.)

But I do find it somewhat curious that librarians are stereotypically thought to be closely linked to sexiness. After all, not every person-stereotype includes sexiness, not even every stereotype that is limited to one gender or just to women. (For example, ...) More generally, I wonder why some stereotypes include or highlight sexiness and some do not. As a way of beginning to investigate the latter issue, I want to try figure out what exactly it is about a librarian's role that makes sexiness so closely allied to it. My guess is that there is a deep connection between love, one of the guises of sex, and knowledge as power, and that it is because librarians are seen as guardians of access to knowledge that they are also seen as sexually repressed and therefore sexy. The idea of such connection can be traced to Plato, usually through Freud and Foucault for modern readers, and I want to see if some of their ideas can be clarified in application to this case.



The idea that knowledge is power is very closely allied to the idea that knowledge is dangerous. And dangerous knowledge is the kind that, it is most often insisted, requires some measure of censorship. While the latter is anathema to modern librarians, the role of censor has often in the past fallen to librarians, whose responsibility it was to prevent access to knowledge as much to facilitate it. I suspect that some still feel that we'd not need so much censorship if librarians would only "do their jobs properly," as they did in the "good old days" of, say the early nineteenth century and before. When only the rich could afford to be literate, they thought that only the rich deserved to be literate, because only they had the necessary learning safely to manage the knowledge afforded by books. Women, as prisoners of their emotional, irrational and hypersexual natures, could be granted only limited literacy, if any, for fear that they would be harmed by too much knowledge or knowledge of the wrong kind.

[Comments to: david_austin@ncsu.edu]

1 comment:

libraryann said...

excellent!!