From the old-maid to the oversexed librarian to the unwelcoming gatekeeper, stereotypical representations of woman librarians are familiar in popular culture. Images and narratives construct important messages about what it means to be a librarian and highlight the cultural struggles of the profession, particularly around its status as women’s work. Representations of librarians are rooted in a gendered history of the profession and the social norms that produce expectations about service work as an extension of the caring and organizing work of women. To interrogate the legacy of this history, I examine the representation of gender in contemporary popular cultural texts. Drawing on visual discourse analysis I analyze visual-verbal texts featuring librarians as a way of understanding how gendered representations about librarianship as “women’s work” are produced and resisted. Focusing on popular cultural texts produced between 2005 and 2017 from the United States, I analyze discourses of gender and librarianship in children’s picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, a YouTube video, a made-for-television movie, and Internet sites. I argue that popular cultural texts about librarians are sites of normative inscription and of resistance. While contemporary fictional representations continue to locate librarians in the past and as white, cisgender, heterosexual women, auto/biographical projects offer a disruptive turn from these mainstream characterizations to give voice to the rich and complex lives of real librarians whose work is focused on social action. I conclude with a call for library education programs to adopt a feminist critical media literacy curriculum to encourage undergraduate and graduate library students to critically examine, rescript, and repicture the discursive construction of librarians in popular culture.
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Thesis advisor: Marshall, Elizabeth
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