What a librarian looks like

Back in September, an acquaintance of mine blogged about an activity he’d done with a group of students at the University of Texas-Arlington.  I tried a similar activity in a research seminar I’m participating in this semester.  Participants are mostly faculty (with a smattering of grad students) in the sciences and humanities.  Nominally, we’re all there to talk about information visualization and the intersection of the arts and science.  Having them draw a picture of what they think a librarian looks like seemed like an interesting idea.  I had hoped to avoid the buns-and-glasses stereotype, but I guess it’s a hard image to shake.  Here are a few of the drawings:

In addition to the drawings, I also asked them to list examples of what a librarian does and what you can find in a library.  Though their drawings are disappointingly stereotypical, their written answers showed a deeper understanding of the role of librarians and libraries in fostering teaching and research at our institution.  Their answers indicated that they understand the basic duties of many librarians on our campus (even for folks outside of public services positions), the wide range of material we collect, and even the changing use of our physical space.

I’ve often heard fellow librarians (particularly those of us in academe) talk about how few of our users understand what we actually do.  But perhaps they know more than we give them credit for.  Even though I’m disappointed that buns and glasses still predominate, I am heartened by the fact that my fellow seminar participants think of the library as more than just a place to check out books.

Anyone else out there soliciting feedback about what our users think of us?  If so, let’s chat about it in the comments below.


  1. Very interesting activity – love the combo of visual and written methods! Did their written answers name specific library services at their institution(by name, i.e. interlibrary loan, reserves, etc.) or were their comments more generalized?

    This activity could also translate very well into the instruction classroom – asking info. literacy students their perceptions of librarians and the library. Could be an interesting assessment tool…

  2. Meredith, I do an activity with first-year writing students to ask them to visually describe the research process on a large sheet of paper. A few times students have depicted a figure of a librarian, and I find an uncanny similarity between the red-figured librarian above and this one. I love that the librarian’s arm is actually an arrow pointing toward success! The similarity of the polka-dotted dress in both depictions is too uncanny – I often joke with students that I have one of those dressed in the back of my closet!

  3. @Hillary: Yes, their answers were quite specific. I had expected them to just say “librarians check out books” and that books are the only thing you can find in the library. Instead, many of them wrote about how librarians facilitate research, select materials for the collection, digitize items, catalog resources, etc.

    @Sarah: Wowza! I think perhaps we’ve stumbled upon a Jungian archetype!

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