Monday, January 10, 2011

A Spectacle

I believe Dorothy Parker once said that men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.  Which is a shame because I could probably be considered legally blind without my trusty black frames or my contacts.

It's also a shame because librarians wear glasses- and not just any glasses, thick geeky glasses, stereotypically.  In real life, I can only think of two people I currently work with at my library who wear glasses.

The outside world, however, has a much different opinion.  When typing in "librarian" into Etsy, the most frequent object in the search result was a necklace with librarian glasses, such as this beauty:

Don't get me wrong, my own real glasses look suspiciously like this and I am currently debating whether I actually want to buy this pretty necklace.

However, I am curious as to how glasses got linked to librarianship.  Perhaps librarians do tend to wear glasses because they read small print more frequently and the public noticed this trend of librarians wearing glasses at work?

Since my favorite thing to do is research, I decided to get some background information on glasses.  The World Book Encyclopedia entry on glasses informed me that the first people to wear glasses were Europeans in the 1200's.  Apparently, Marco Polo reported that he saw people wearing glasses in China in 1275.  Here's the real kicker: "the demand for glasses used for reading increased after printed books started to become available in the late 1400's."   So it's easy to see how glasses could be associated with reading and librarianship.

There is also an interesting article entitled "The Last Librarian" by Norman D. Stephens printed in the October 2001 issue of American Libraries that touches on the history of this image.  In 1876, Melvil Dewey identified a librarian as a "mouser" working with "dusty books."  Even more interesting is what Edmund Pearson had to say about librarians in 1907: "as for the sex which in numbers predominates the profession we resolutely decline to be drawn into a discussion of that phase of the subject, other than to note their curious fondness for a pince-nes that is fastened to the hair by a small golden chain?"  Stephens smartly points out the this brief reference is the first identifiable notice of the connection of glasses to librarianship and that it "was soon to emerge full-blown."

It looks like the glasses on a chain image might be just that- full-blown.  While I know just as many librarians today who wear glasses as librarians who do not wear glasses I have to wonder if this stereotype will really die down.  Some librarians need to wear glasses to see so patrons will always see librarians with glasses.

I myself will keep wearing my (probably ironic) black thick frame glasses because, well, I need to see.

But I may also get myself this cute necklace just so people know for sure I am librarian when I am outside my workplace. ;)

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