Women in libraries; this is an issue The Hollywood Librarian addresses honestly and accurately. The stereotypical “Hollywood” or film-produced librarian is prim, proper, and indefinitely female. The film articulately portrayed the history and rationale behind the image of gendered librarians. After watching the film, I made a connection to libraries and gender that I had not considered before. As women continue gaining equal standing—equal pay and equal rights as men—it is evident libraries have and will continue to see less of a gender divide in library professionals. Society at large is questioning the very nature of “gender,” seeing it as a mere social construct. As the meaning of gender is deconstructed and losing its former power, the library can expect to see more of a male presence on staff, and with its male counterparts, perhaps better rapport as well.
The film takes viewers back to the beginning of human civilization to the city of Alexandria, a city claimed to have thrived during its time largely due to its well-established library. The film also conveyed the way Hollywood typically correlates the end of civilization to the destruction of the library and its books. I found this especially interesting since the rumor concerning American libraries today is that they seem to be struggling on the brink of collapse.
While the film suggests Hollywood correlates the rise and fall of a civilization to the condition of its libraries, it is primarily the way Hollywood shaped the keepers of the library that has truly influenced how the library is seen and understood. At the turn of the century, a time when public libraries were coming to fruition, a small but ever-increasing number of women began to work rather than marry. It was agreed upon that a person “did not have to think” to work at a library, so the job was given to the ambitious working woman. Nationwide, a woman employed full-time was a controversial issue, and thus the “old maid” librarian stereotype was given her Hollywood debut.
Hollywood’s portrayal reflects not only the sad discrimination of women at the time, but also libraries. Somehow libraries were shoved in the same back corner as feminine equal rights. The nation’s leaders had to acknowledge the existence and necessity of both libraries and women, but they nevertheless neglected to strongly advocate for the importance and respect of either role in society.
However, what the film failed to articulate is how the status of the library and the status of women look in recent films, and the ways they have diverted and changed. While the librarian’s job has become less gendered, its presence in Hollywood has all but disappeared. The steadily improving status of woman in the U.S. does not seem to reflect on the image of the library. As women gain more power and standing among their male peers, where is the library? Films like The Hunger Games, depicting a strong, brave (and non-sexualized) female character are on the rise, but where is the role of the library in movies?
The documentary ended with the dismal struggle of Steinbeck’s public libraries to stay open. As the female character is finally given more respect on film, my hope is that both male and female librarians alike, together with the prominence of the library institution, will be given a fresh image in the twenty-first century through Hollywood’s digital lens.