April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Hey, ‘Glee.’ Get Real: It’s time for the TV series to make room for a genuine librarian

The Golden Globe and Peabody Award–winning Fox series Glee, now in its third season, has revamped the tired reputations of both glee clubs and TV musicals. Can it do the same for school librarians? Certainly not if producers and writers maintain their current approach, scripting a shushing, out-of-touch librarian who has barely gotten a minute of screen time and hasn’t appeared since season two, despite the fact that scenes often take place in the school library.

The Glee crew may want to consider a more progressive approach to its librarian, because as it turns out, librarians are some of Glee’s biggest fans. From June 2011 to February 2012, more than 600 school librarians, teachers, students, and other school library supporters responded to an online poll called “We Want a Librarian on Glee” that asked fans whom they would cast in the role of McKinley High’s school librarian. The poll was posted on the Colorado Libraries’ blog by library consultant and Glee enthusiast Keith Curry Lance, and it asked respondents how often they would like to see the librarian character appear on the show, whom they would cast in the role, and what plotlines they’d like to see involving the librarian.

‘Absolutely no stereotypes… No whipping off the glasses and jumping on a motorcycle to show how hot you can be.’

Most people said that they would like to see the librarian as a recurring character that appears in several episodes each season. The overwhelming majority of respondents also made it clear that they want the librarian stereotypes smashed. As one real-life librarian demanded, “Absolutely no stereotypes. We want the librarian to play an integral part of the learning in the school. No shushing. No bun. No whipping off the glasses and jumping on a motorcycle to show how hot you can be.” They want a hip, energetic, fully engaged professional—someone attractive but not sexualized. Such a fully developed and integrated character’s plotlines would involve musical research projects, advanced technology in the library, and, of course, plenty of singing and dancing if poll respondents get their way.

As for casting, the suggestions were all over the map—from Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols to RuPaul to Oprah. Tina Fey, who may not defy the glasses-wearing stereotype but would certainly liven up the stacks with humor, took the top spot with 35 votes. A close second with 30 votes was Parker Posey, who played the hip, young librarian-in-training in the 1995 film Party Girl. Other female favorites were Zooey Deschanel, Lady Gaga, Megan Mullally, Meryl Streep, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, and Ellen Degeneres. Dozens of other A-list actresses and singers such as Natalie Portman, Jennifer Aniston, Anne Hathaway, Christina Aguilera, and Jennifer Lopez each got several votes. The leading male vote-getter was Justin Timberlake with nine votes. Other top guys included George Clooney, Neil Patrick Harris, and established onscreen librarians Noah Wyle (The Librarian) and Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Three respondents nominated Grammy Award–winning R&B artist Cee Lo Green, whose song “Forget You” was covered by Gwyneth Paltrow in Glee’s second season. Other, more eccentric, suggestions included Tom Waits, Pink, Meatloaf, Kid Rock, and Sarah Palin.

If thousands of Facebook fans can convince Saturday Night Live producers to cast Betty White on that show, then surely thousands of passionate school librarians can persuade an innovative, stereotype-defying show like Glee to make a risky choice by casting one of these talented performers as a modern-day librarian. It’s time to infiltrate popular culture to show the public what school librarians really do.

Julie Teglovic and Chelsea Jordan-Makely are both research fellows at Colorado State Library’s Library Research Service and MLIS students at the University of Denver. When they’re not studying or working, they’re probably tuned into Glee.