Date of this Version
Published in The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield: Essays on the TV Series and Town That Are Part of Us All, eds. Karma Waltonen and Denise Du Vernay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019), pp 99-112.
Librarians are obsessed with stereotypes. Sometimes even so much so that, according to Gretchen Keer and Andrew Carlos, the fixation has become a stereotype within itself (63). The complexity of the library places the profession in a constant state of transition. Maintaining traditional organization systems while addressing new information trends distorts our image to the outside observer and leaves us vulnerable to mislabeling and stereotypes. Perhaps our greatest fear in recognizing stereotypes is not that we appear invariable but that the public does not fully understand what services we can provide. When we lose our ability to maintain relevancy, we risk the loss of operational funding and weaken the viability of the profession.
Whether the need to investigate library stereotypes is a personal choice or professional obligation for survival, examples offered throughout books, movies, and television are limited and inconsistent in nature. Libraries and librarians often play one-time support characters for specific scenes or purposes, only to disappear as quickly as they surface; such manifestations are exemplified by Mary Bailey’s brief fate in It’s a Wonderful Life. The librarian stereotype is explicitly prevalent, but minimal screen time prevents the opportunity to defend against niche roles perpetuated by the media.
The presence of libraries in The Simpsons undoubtedly increases the risk of satirizing the profession. In light of these circumstances, The Simpsons has defied the status quo of reducing libraries and librarians to an ephemeral prop. After almost thirty seasons, the library has played a regular role on the series, with many reoccurring scenes showcasing scads of libraries and librarians in Springfield and beyond. Although these places and characters remain secondary to the significance of the normal cast, the continued references suggest a more than temporary role, and perhaps even an established institution within The Simpsons’ universe.
Within The Simpsons, the concepts of the library as place, attitudes toward the library, and librarian demographics are satirized as general categories. While some instances are grossly fabricated for the purpose of comedic value, a disturbing number of correlations exist between our reality as professionals and our satirical portrayal. Beyond good-natured ribs, The Simpsons suggests areas where librarianship should and must change for the better to serve a growing population of diverse library users, interests, and information needs.