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Breaking news: Libraries are cool, and so are librarians

Pin-Up Dept.
By LIZ LEE  |  October 30, 2013

INKED IN THE STACKS An image from the calendar. [Photo by Kate Fischer]

By now it would seem that the stereotype of the sexy librarian is about as tired as the cliché of the librarian who’s a frumpy old prude. Which is why it’s so interesting that the Rhode Island Library Association’s 2014 “Tattooed Librarians of the Ocean State” calendar has garnered so much national media attention for “defy[ing] stereotypes” (Associated Press), “shedding stereotypes” (National Public Radio), and “challeng[ing] stereotypes” (Huffington Post).

“It’s completely ridiculous, the amount of coverage we’ve had,” says a cheerful Emily Grace Mehrer, a librarian at the Ashaway Free Library and RILA’s spokesperson. “I’m absolutely thrilled, but wasn’t expecting it to snowball the way it did.” Mehrer, whose tattoo of the letters “shh” on her pointer finger being held up to her lips graces the cover of the calendar, says the calendar concept was inspired by similar fundraising campaigns by library associations in Massachusetts, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest. Which is why she’s as surprised as anyone else that anyone is. . . well, surprised.

The calendar, after all, is quite tame by most standards; it features tasteful photographs of young, fully clothed librarians doing things not uncommon for folks in their profession: reading books, re-shelving books, standing in front of books. These librarians also happen to have tattoos. But, then, aren’t librarians just as likely to have tattoos as the guy who bags your groceries and the woman who does your taxes? Apparently, something about it still gets people’s attention.

Edward Graves, who manages three East Side branches of the Providence Community Library, is one of two men featured in the calendar. He attributes at least part of the publicity to the fact that libraries — and librarians, by extension — are still often stigmatized. “It shouldn’t really be newsworthy that librarians have tattoos,” he says, “but I think the stereotype of the old-fashioned or uncool librarian is definitely still out there.”

While part of the project’s purpose is to alter perceptions of the librarian profession, its real aim is to raise awareness about a public resource that is just as valuable and relevant today as it ever was. As Mehrer told the Huffington Post, “Libraries are unique as they simultaneously foster the preservation of histories and traditions, while fighting censorship and foster cutting-edge learning environments. Likewise, tattoos can also represent the preservation of history and resistance of the norm.”

Whether the calendar defies stereotypes or not at this point seems irrelevant. What’s more significant is the fact that it’s serving its intended purpose in spades: raising money for the Rhode Island Library Association. The unexpected publicity has RILA filling orders from all over North America and as far away as Israel, Germany, and Australia. And if I had to guess why it’s gotten so much media attention, I’d have to agree with the journalist who said it best in a recent post: “Rhode Island apparently has the highest number of good-looking book catalogers per square foot in the United States.”

Well played, RILA. Well played.

The 2014 Tattooed Librarians of the Ocean State calendar is available for preorder on RILA’s website and will be available for pickup at select libraries in early November. Calendars are $12, and all proceeds benefit Rhode Island libraries. To find out more, visit
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