Nicola, Features Editor
Quote by Neil Gaiman
Words by Nicola Cook
Photos by Heather Shuker
Original article featured in Issue 5 The Celebration Issue, which can be purchased at ThingsandInk.com
Cast your mind back to our launch issue; gracing the pages, and baring all, were the misconceived tattooed professionals. You’ve seen the doctors, lawyers and accountants but what about the tattooed librarians? Arguably one of the most inaccurately stereotyped professions of the 21st century – not just for their appearance, but of their job descriptions too – it’s actually quite common to come across a tattooed librarian in recent years. When was the last time you visited the local library? Or the one at your University, College or School? I don’t know if you’ve noticed but those shh’ing book-stampers of the past (and of our cultural imaginations) have practically vanished. Gone are the days of uniformed frumpy cardigans and season-defying socks and sandals combinations, or even the sexy lady-librarians with their neat buns, pencil skirts and thick rimmed glasses… Kind of. With increasing amounts of young people entering the profession from various different interest areas and backgrounds, the information-world has diversified and what’s more, we’ve started to see antiquated and parochial perceptions turned on their head.
Within the professional circle, the librarian/archivist stereotype is hotly deliberated. On one hand, over on the web, the info-pros are trying to reclaim their profession by illustrating the fact that (shock horror) a librarian is not a cut-out caricature. There is a Tumblr dedicated to their wardrobes, and another which uncovers the tattooed librarian. The stereotype is flaunted by the media – “Librarian chic” even appeared on the catwalk (thanks Chloé) at Paris Fashion Week – but over in the States, tattooed librarians have been revelling in their own media storm surrounding various tattooed librarian fundraising calendars that first appeared in 2009.
On the other hand, librarians are frustrated that they have to even justify their outwardly appearance at all. Some are worried that the perpetuated stereotype thwarts any professionalism and cultural relevance, which – in the age of government cuts – is exactly the kind of perception that needs to be shaken off. It couldn’t be more important, or relevant, to ensure that access to knowledge (for free) is valued and maintained. So, meet the info-pros who are challenging the stereotypes in both their appearance and their jobs, proving they’re not ones to mess with (and Neil Gaiman can vouch for that…)
Anna Brynolf, originally from the Wirral, then lived in Sweden and now London. Systems Librarian at a university library
“My first few tattoos were done by Richie Clark (now Forever True Tattoo in Liverpool), but after that, everything has been done by Tommy Lompad at Tattoo Inkarnation in Malmo, Sweden. Flowers have become the main theme (below my collarbones, on my back and incorporated into the Celti/Nordic design on my right lower leg), but my very first tattoo was almost inevitably a tribal design on my lower back. My second was a small tribal design on my left arm which has been incorporated into my full sleeve.
“If I’d known back then that I would go on to do so much more, I might have started differently, but I don’t regret any of them.
“I think people are more surprised that someone so heavily tattooed would be a librarian. At work, some customers are surprised when they see my arms for instance but they still take me seriously in my role, whereas in social situations with new people, they are sometimes quite shocked.
“I haven’t noticed any negative effects of having tattoos in my profession and I’ve only had positive comments on my tattoos at work, from colleagues and users. The only negative comments I’ve ever had have been out on the street as I was walking along, minding my own business.
“I am planning more, there’s still room left! First, I’d like to finish my back (it’s about halfway done). After that, there’s really only my chest and upper legs left. And my face, but I’m not sure that I want anything there yet.”
Hong-Anh and Kirsty Morrison.
Hong-Anh, London. Information Specialist at The King’s Fund
“The first tattoo I got was an old-fashioned Sailor Jerry style grey swallow on my left wrist, by Andrea Guilimondi at The Family Business, which is where I also got a set of quotation marks done, one behind each ear, by Stuart Archibald. I have a Friday 13th one by Math at The Circle, and it’s a silhouette of a key on the outside of my right arm. There’s no real meaning to my tattoos, but I don’t think there needs to be.
“I think the superficial image of librarians isn’t going anywhere and I don’t really have a problem with it. It’s archaic and doesn’t represent most of our profession, but I am sure that’s equally applicable over lots of professions. The misconception that blights librarians most is the widespread idea that our job is mainly drinking tea, wearing a cardigan and reading a book. OK, so the middle one is largely true, and we probably do a lot of the other two, too. But I think there is a larger degree of skill, knowledge and passion which is required to be a librarian than is commonly thought.
Librarianship is quite a relaxed and liberal profession (remember, we’re all about access to information without censorship!) It’s not the kind of job, unless you work in corporate services such as finance and law, which has restrictions on what you wear or how you look.
“I’d like a really big tattoo next. I am in love with Rebecca Vincent’s work. I love the Victorian botanical thing that she does so beautifully.”
Kirsty Morrison, Originally Darlington now London. Information Specialist at The King’s Fund
“I became a librarian before I got my tattoos, but I had been planning them for years. I wanted tattoos from the age of 16, but hung on to make sure it was definitely something I would be happy to have on my body forever! I got my first tattoo two years ago at Frith Street – a dedication to my favourite person of all time, David Bowie! The other is from one of my favourite picture books: Our Garden Birds by Matt Sewell – who is also one of my favourite artists.
“Librarianship is plagued by stereotypes. From the sorts of people that work in it, to the type of work we do, to the sectors we work in. You get asked the same old daft stuff when you tell people what you do, to the odd sexist reaction like ‘oh, are you a sexy librarian, then?’ It’s nice to embrace this to an extent (spectacles, cardigans, cats, brogues) but obviously, like any group, librarians are diverse and individual, and I think tattoos help celebrate and express individuality and personality.
“I am dying to get more tattoos – I think they are very addictive. I have a stegosaurus on my wish-list at the moment, specifically by Rebecca Vincent, as I love her style, and I think it expresses my gentle herbivore ways quite well. I would love to have a literary tattoo as well, like the Quentin Blake illustration of Matilda sitting on a pile of books.”
Kirsty Fife, London. Archivist at Hoxton Hall theatre
“I have three large pieces right now – an antique sewing machine on my right outer thigh, a bird and antique typewriter on my upper left arm, and a pile of books on my right arm. I guess the latter is a literary tattoo, but as I work in archives and largely look after records, ephemera and objects, it’s not directly related to my profession. I do frequently joke that my tattoo niche is “old stuff” so maybe they are all archive tattoos really?
“I find that most people don’t even really understand what an archivist does. I have to explain it a lot. When people have heard of archives/archivists, they do seem to have an image of an older white guy/woman in tweed or something similar in their heads.
People outside of the profession always seem to find it amusing that I’m an archivist (again, I think this is tied to perceptions of what we’re supposed to look like), but my friendship circles are full of other radical information professionals who I don’t think bat an eyelid at me most of the time.
“I think, because I work in a theatre and arts space, I am less susceptible to tattoo shaming, and a couple of my other colleagues have them, too. I do tend to cover up for interviews, but mainly because I’m uncertain of what the attitude will be like. I’m sure if I worked in a more public-facing role, or if I worked for a more corporate institution with a dress code then I might face more problems.
“I’ve always got loads of ideas for new tattoos! I’d love to get a magpie on my calf next, and a rat somewhere too (I keep them as pets and they’re the best).”
Nicola, Features Editor on location at Brixton Bookmongers