As yet another National Library Week (April 13–19) settles upon us, it's high time we recognize just how underserved the stoic librarian is in popular culture, a place where, for every heroic Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl), there are a dozen of characters like It's a Wonderful Life's Mary Hatch foisted upon the masses: spinsters by the age of 30, conservatively dressed, shy, and liable to faint at the sight of anything abnormal.
Though the librarian stereotype continues to thrive in television and film, it is thankfully shattered in the world of literature. Rather than offering up dry, buttoned-up types (or their opposite: the sex-crazed nymphomaniac hiding behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses), many contemporary writers attach the occupation to immensely complicated characters forced to confront their own morals. Whether it's Mike Hanlon from Stephen King's It, or Henry DeTamble from Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, these library employees, all flawed individuals, breathe in a three-dimensional environment.
Below, I recommend 11 pieces of contemporary literature that help put the tired image of the introverted, prudish library worker to rest.
1. Sylvia’s Sister from "The Isle of Youth" by Laura van den Berg
2. The Librarian from "Quiet Please" by Aimee Bender
5. Madeleine Wallace-Williams from “The Sunday Following Mother’s Day” by Edward P. Jones
6. January from “Long Delayed, Always Expected” by Dan Chaon
8. Mariaelena from “And in the Morning, Work” by Jennine Capó Crucet
11. Oleana from “Community Life” by Lorrie Moore
Benjamin Woodard is a writer who moonlights (during the day) as a library specialist at the West Hartford Libraries in Connecticut. His recent writing has been featured in Publishers Weekly, decomP, and The Bygone Bureau. A staff writer at Numéro Cinq Magazine, he also helps edit the literary magazine Atlas and Alice. Find him on Twitter @woodardwriter.