Tattooed Youth Librarians Push To Recast Image

Kristy Smrcka, a public librarian from Dallas, right, reaches for a photo calendar during an autograph session Wednesday, July 29, 2009, in Austin, Texas. (AP/Harry Cabluck)
Kristy Smrcka, a public librarian from Dallas, right, reaches for a photo calendar during an autograph session Wednesday, July 29, 2009, in Austin, Texas. (AP/Harry Cabluck)

For the 16 models of the Tattooed Youth Librarians of Massachusetts calendar, ink doesn't just belong on the pages of a book.

"They're really associated with your character, but it's a piece of art on your skin," says Noelle Boc, head of children's services at the Tewksbury Public Library.

A portrait of Boc with her lower-back tattoo of the Chinese characters for "double happiness" - inspired by a trip to Beijing's Summer Palace - is the June 2013 image in the 18-month calendar out for sale later this week.

Put together by Boc, Chelmsford teen librarian Sharon Colvin and other members of the Massachusetts Library Association's Youth Services Section, the calendar is a fundraiser for the association's education, outreach and advocacy programs.

A Diverse Workforce

It's also a chance to shatter stereotypes of stodgy librarians and showcase the diversity of the men and women working in the field, organizers say.

"People really have this image, still," Boc says. "If you watch TV or anything, and they have a librarian on, it's always white hair and glasses, shirt buttoned up to your neck and sensible shoes. Certainly those people are still out there, but I don't know any of them."

Kira McGann, the young adult librarian at Westford's J.V. Fletcher Library, says it was the reputation reboot aspect of the calendar that prompted her to participate.

"I think it gives a whole different perspective of what librarians are in this generation and this day and age," says McGann, who has four tattoos - three armbands and one on her lower back. "There are quite a few of us that do have tattoos, especially the younger generation. But I'm 41, and there were people there that were older than I was, so it crosses all sorts of ages and backgrounds."

The photo shoot took place in September at the Chelmsford Public Library, with pictures taken by the Somerville-based In Your Face Photography.

It brought together library workers from across the state, some of whom showed off literary tattoos including the alphabet in circular script, an enchanted book, Shakespearean sparrows, a character from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, and the silhouetted book and reader that makes up the universal symbol for public libraries.

"There might have been more, who knows?" Colvin says. "People put a lot of thought into their tattoos. I have one on my forearm that's a refrain from E.E. Cummings."

Colvin's elephant ankle tattoo is featured in a group shot of four librarians with their feet up on a table, bookshelves in the background.

Balancing Provocative And Professional

"I had some long conversations with the executive board of the Massachusetts Library Association to make sure the pictures were classy and that they were representing our organization," she says. "It's not going to do us any good to be super-scandalous. We're still professional and we still want respect."

Each of the local librarians involved says reaction to the calendar has been positive so far. Boc, though, says she's heard the occasional criticism before from people who don't approve of tattoos.

"You kind of get the gamut of people who are like, `Oh, that's so cool!' to people who literally think you shouldn't be hired if you have visible tattoos," Boc says. "But if you wore the same necklace every day, you could really say the same things about that. Why is that any different?"

The calendar will be available for $21 on the MLA website, as well as in the Tewksbury and Chelmsford libraries.

This program aired on November 24, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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