“We need to think of ourselves differently in order to affect change in how the public perceives and interacts with us”
Nicole Pagowsky is a young professional with a large trajectory, librarian and Instruction Coordinator at the University of Arizona. As she says on her website, her research interests include student motivation, educational theory, and critical pedagogy.
In 2014, she published with Myriam Rigby the book “The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work“, an exhaustive work that focuses on the construction of the image of the librarian from the theoretical-methodological analysis of the social sciences. That same year she published “Ice Ice Baby: Are Librarian Stereotypes Freezing Us out of Instruction? ”
She is the creator of a very popular blog “Librarian Wardrobe” where librarians from all over the world send their photos to show their cool look, aiming to break (or not!) stereotypes.
Preparing for the Library Fashion Section that will take place at the next IFLA Annual Conference, we decided to make a brief interview with this great professional so she can tell us how she perceives this interrelation between image and identity.
Hi, Nicole. Thank you for giving us this interview! Your project, creating a blog for librarians to share their wardrobe, is very interesting. Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from thinking about how librarians present themselves, and how that influences perceptions of information workers. The blog became very popular and I believe still has a good-sized following; I turned the project over to others interested in working on it a couple of years ago, so I am no longer involved.
How have your colleagues responded to this blog? What has surprised you the most?
What surprised me the most was how sexist some reactions were. That examining clothing/identity is not important, or that it is navel-gazing; as if these issues are not present in the larger culture. A response that I have seen, sadly, more than once, is if we just smile more and are friendlier, we will be perceived more positively. Considering we are a profession that is 80% women, that’s an especially tone deaf reaction.
Do you think it’s easy to talk to the librarians about clothes?
It’s, yes, on the surface about clothes and pictures of clothes and is meant to be fun, but it’s also a study in how we present and in demonstrating there isn’t one way we have to dress. It also is a means to show greater representation from librarians of color and marginalized groups within the profession.
So, is there still a stereotyped image of librarians?
There is a stereotypical image still because of both popular culture and problems stemming from when a profession becomes feminized.
And what do you think are the reasons for this?
There are a number of historical reasons that have created and maintained the stereotype over time (that I won’t dive into here), but they are perpetuated through popular culture and through our own (usually straight cis white males most often) suggesting we just smile more. We need to think of ourselves differently in order to affect change in how the public perceives and interacts with us.
Should librarians adjust the way that they dress for the kind of library / clientele that they work with? For example: considering the difference between public libraries, university libraries and law libraries
Yes, I would imagine context would determine how it would be appropriate to dress, but I don’t feel there is one way someone “should” or “should not” dress. There is so much wrapped up in clothing and presentation, I would never want to give blanket advice about this, nor am I an authority to do so.
And what is your opinion on libraries that make their librarians wear uniforms to work?
I think uniforms are awful in general, and are harmful for librarians to be viewed as experts and professionals, and will just leave it at that.