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The Illustrated Librarian

Tattoos are a manifestation of our identities; they represent our passions, life events, and communities. Librarians are trusted knowledge keepers and community experts; they connect us to information and to each other. And the rising sub-culture of tattooed librarians thrives in Galveston threatening to create connections among us, weave stories into our community, and bring a pestilence of literacy to all.

Do tattoos on our librarians create confusion? Curiosity? Fear? How are we supposed to juggle society’s stereotypes of tattoos with the trust we place in Librarianship? Librarians are highly recognizable figures who work most often in public service, outreach, and teaching across diverse patron needs, capabilities, and distances. Often “the work of librarianship revolves around providing access to information, following the belief that an informed citizenry makes a robust democracy” (Keer, 2015).

We may hold opposed perceptions of librarians as old, stodgy, even dusty, restrained women and tattooed individuals as outcasts, misguided, and cultish youth, bikers, and veterans. We may share conflicted perceptions of tattoos as stigma, storytelling, connection, humor, coping, and more. But I trust in our community to see through these and other stereotypes and allow our minds to hold multiple truths seeing clearly the uniqueness of the tattooed librarian.

Consider that looking at something from a different angle can change our perception so can reviewing our own community of librarianship and their relationships with tattoos. I spoke to a fellow librarian about how they are approached and treated professionally and in our community.

Maurine (Mo) Nichols Associate Director of Library Services at UTMB Moody Medical Library Total Tattoos: 3

Maurine Nichols says, “My tattoos are pretty small and not really that noticeable. They are also sort of subject-neutral in that they are just letters [. . . ] and they haven’t prevented me from getting hired at places or getting promotions. [People are] usually just inquisitive--when did I get them, what do they mean, did it hurt, etc.” In case you’re curious, she got one of her tattoos while working on a music video set in a tattoo parlor in LA. The video was for the instant classic from Twista & Legit Ballers called...‘Tattoo’.

Amy Caton Instructional Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Library & Learning Commons at Texas A&M University Galveston Campus Total Tattoos: 5

As for myself. I have a collection of astronomy inspired tattoos that link me to important people in my life as each tattoo matches in size, shape, and placement with an irreplaceable person on this planet. These are very visible. When I teach or travel nationally to professional conferences, my tattoos usually spark joy and insightful conversations about art, science, our planet, and connections to others. However, the discrimination in academia is less than expected as my peers’ reactions are thoughtful and without verbal judgement. Dare I say, I haven’t encountered professional discrimination, but heaps from close family.

Modern librarians are making a clear statement that trust in our professionalism is not undermined by tattoos and we argue instead that tattoos create connections to our communities. No one’s intellect or trustworthiness should be determined by societal stereotypes based on tattoos. When confronted with choices you may or not have made, I implore you to consider learning people’s stories and creating connections without misplacing judgement or stereotypes onto others for choices that make them happy, whole, and connected.

Sources Olivares. X, & Grush, L. (2009). Check It Out: New Calendar Features Librarians’ Tattoos. ABCNews.

Keer, G. (2015). The Stereotype Stereotype: Our obsession with librarian representation. American Libraries.

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