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Lego public library

Lego public library

It’s the summer of Lego Librarians! When I created my own Lego Librarian personalities, I didn’t quite imagine the wave it would create. People love Lego blocks. People love librarians. When you combine the two, you get an irresistible cultural mash-up.

The original post generated over 36,000 views and appeared on sites such as The Huffington Post, Flavorwire, Neatorama, Book RiotMyModernMet, Trendhunter, and Nerd Approved. Evidently it also took the country of Hungary by storm, as I had several thousand views from this one site alone.

After I acquired the official Lego librarian (I got it for cheap on eBay, rather than guessing among the unmarked packages at the Lego store), I decided that the Lego librarian needed a library!

Now I had a few of my own Lego pieces, but I had to ask for donations from co-workers. I also eBayed a few cheap building blocks…and voilà. I started building the Lego library. Just like the real library, there’s something for everyone: books, periodicals, technology, events. All walks of life are represented: young and old, well to do and not-so-much, people making a transition, and people on the edges of society. Here’s the local public library in Lego form…hope you enjoy it!

…and here’s a short movie created with the Lego Movie app:

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Several readers have commented and emailed me in earnest asking:

Why are all of your Lego librarians white?

Well, my first reaction to this question is that they’re not white. They’re Lego yellow, devoid of ethnicity.

Lily white or Lego yellow? [screen shot from Lego website]

Lily white or Lego yellow? [screen shot from Lego website]

Quoted by Gizmodo in 2010, Lego’s Brand Relations Manager Michael McNally stated:

The yellow-headed minifigure was a conscious choice. Because of their ethnically neutral skin color, Lego people can be any people—in any story, at any time.

Lego does produce non-yellow minifigures, but these are only part of special licensed sets (such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, DC and Marvel superheroes, etc.) in which skin color is matched to the actor’s appearance. This began in the early 2000s, when Lego produced an NBA series featuring star basketball players, many of whom were African-American. The decision was made to produce the Lego minifigures in the athletes’ likeness. Makes sense.

Reflecting on Our Profession

This brings me back to the original question. We project our own notions onto these Lego people. Does a sea of yellow Lego librarians really read “white”? Is it because of our own lack of ethnic diversity in our profession?

It’s an interesting question. Why isn’t the library profession more ethnically diverse? The latest data I could find on the ethnic make-up of librarians was from 2009-2010 and posted on ALA’s Office for Diversity website: the Diversity Counts 2009-2010 report. Here’s a snapshot:

  • 118,666 credentialed librarians
  • White: 88%
  • Black: 5%
  • Asian: 3%
  • Native American: < 1%
  • Two or more races: < 1%
  • Latino: 3%

These statistics mirror more recent data collected on ALA members: remember NOT all librarians belong to ALA.

So what is it about librarianship that fails to attract minorities? Is it a lack of promotion about librarianship as a career? A lack of mentors? Barriers to the MLS? Or are we failing to retain minorities that enter the profession?

Michael Kelly writing in Library Journal addressed some of these issues earlier this year (The MLS and the Race Line and Diversity Never Happens), while Hui-Fen Chang examines the issue from an academic library perspective.

There are a good number of scholarships, grants, and leadership programs in place by professional organizations and academic institutions to recruit and attract a diverse workforce. Detractors will argue that we shouldn’t be “privileging” one group of people over another. But that’s not what diversity is about. It’s about bring people who haven’t had a seat at the table TO the table. It’s about taking steps to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse and multiethnic clientele.

So see, Lego librarians aren’t just cute and fun…they can also lead us into debate on serious and timely issues, too.

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Yikes…who would have thought that Lego librarians could be so popular? The original blog post has had nearly 16,000 views since it was posted on the evening of July 24.

The librarian/nerd in me finds the blog post’s movement through the “interwebs” fascinating. It’s been referenced on Flavorwire, Neatorama, Nerd Approved, and My Modern Met among others. It shows how librarians ARE an integral pop culture phenomenon: stereotypes and all.

One More Lego Librarian

Although I featured over 20+ Lego librarians, the most common request I received was: Where’s the children’s librarian? So, here it is:

"Only a children's librarian would don a chicken suit for story time! That's why the kiddies love me. But once summer reading is done, I'm pawning the chicken suit for beer & wine money."

“Only a children’s librarian would don a chicken suit for story time! That’s why the kiddies love me. But once summer reading is done, I’m pawning the chicken suit for beer & wine money.”

I’ve also added it to the original post. So, I’m officially done now with my various Lego librarian personalities. But you can make your own by hunting around on eBay. You’ll be hooked–I guarantee!

What’s Next?

There will be one final Lego blog post within the next couple of weeks when I unveil my “Lego Library.” Then I will happily retire from Lego librarians all together as I’ve had my fill. Thanks for your comments…this crazy blog post idea has been a truly fun experience.

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I love seeing how the public and the media portray librarians. Whether it’s the shushing/conservative stereotype, “naughty librarian” stereotype, under-appreciated & over-worked public servant (this one is NSFW-but one of my faves!), dealing with inept patrons, or even ones that combine the brainy stereotype with sexiness - I eat it up. I wonder if accountants or architects feel the same way when they see their field portrayed?

Entering Pop Culture

So, how do we know when librarians have hit the big time? Lego has introduced a Lego Librarian – part of its minifigures series line. This line of minifigures is an eclectic group. Series #10, which the librarian belongs to, also includes a warrior woman, sad clown, and a paintball player among others. In fact, the librarian is the only viable career option in the set! How cool is that?

There are 150+ minifigures, only about 10 require a college degree, so the librarian is in rare company!

Here’s the Lego Librarian [screen capture from the Lego website]:

Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 11.35.20 PM

The official Lego Librarian, part of Minifigures Series 10.

OK, so it plays into several librarian stereotypes…but I would expect nothing less. The Lego character must be easily identifiable to the public: “Oh yeah, THAT is a librarian!” So, what do we have?…

  • Female? Check.
  • Glasses? Check.
  • Cardigan? Check.
  • Sensible hair? Check.
  • Book? Check.
  • Coffee cup that reads “Shhh!” Check.

Oranges and Peaches

The creators went to some lengths to add a bit of fun. There’s even an inside joke in regards to the “Oranges and Peaches” book. It’s a reference to the 1995 movie Party Girl starring Parker Posey as a library clerk. In the scene below, a patron asks for Darwin’s Origin of Species. The Parker character mistakes it for “Oranges and Peaches”:

A Biographical Story

The Lego Librarian comes with a brief bio. Again, it plays into some trite stereotypes, but it’s fun:

Books are just about the Librarian’s most favorite thing in the entire world. Reading them can take you on exciting adventures in far-off lands, introduce you to new friends and cultures, and let you discover poetry, classic literature, science fiction and much more. If only everybody loved to read as much as she does, the world would be a better place…and quieter, too! The Librarian feels that it’s extremely important to treat a book with the proper respect. You should always use a bookmark instead of folding down the corner of the page. Take good care of the dust jacket, and don’t scribble in the margins. And above all else, never – ever – return it to the library late!

It’s no surprise that the Lego Librarian is female. It should be. We’re a female-dominated profession. It makes sense. But I wanted to have some fun, so I decided to to see if I could make the librarian version of me – Mr. Library Dude. It was not hard.

I grabbed the Lego computer programmer minifigure. He’s wearing a sweater vest and glasses. Doesn’t that scream male librarian? I actually think I have that EXACT sweater vest! I added an iPhone (those who know me never see me without mine) and I invented the Mr. Library Dude Lego Librarian:

This is Mr. Library Dude.

This is Mr. Library Dude.

Lego Librarians on Parade

So besides the official Lego Librarian version and my knock-off, how might we portray other librarians in Lego form? Or what other ways are we perceived by peers or the public? I decided to take a stab at it and had a bit of fun. Maybe you even know a few of these. So here’s my satirical take. What would you add?

Note: Naturally, the LEGO images below are popular with children. Please be forewarned: there is a bit of cursing below.

Update: By popular request, I have added a children’s librarian. Look for the chicken suit!

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”  :)

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