Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dietitians and Librarians: Separated at Birth?

I apologize the delay in posting. Jury duty raised its ugly head for me, and if you've never had jury duty in NYC....well, this was my 8th time in 20 years, so let's just say not much has changed. If there is a stereotype of administrative red tape, it certainly exists in that scenario.

I barely had any energy to cook after it all, and usually ate "picnic" dinners:
Soba with ponzu, raw peppers, cukes in mirin, some tuna with pickles, egg white cooked with mustard greens.....quick!

I did have a small window of opportunity to catch up on some web research while I was milling about in the courthouses. As you know, I like my posts to have references to various studies, reports and papers as I conduct my own research on weight loss, maintenance, health and food. And a lot of the work I'm finding and enjoying has been coming from dietitians. Or to be more specific, Registered Dietitians (RDs).

But not only was I reading about their research, I was fascinated by their personal blogs. A lot of what they said struck me as very familiar. In fact it was eerily like librarianship in many ways.

So speaking of stereotypes:

Who is the fairest of them all?

This is how society sees librarians and dietitians, respectively, but I think these may be fairer representations:

There's nothing wrong with being Velma! She's smart, adventurous and isn't afraid to show some leg!
So, I'm doing a little comparison in this post. As a researcher, I have to warn that my results will be skewed. After all, not only am I a librarian, but I obviously know a lot of librarians in a variety of places. And though I've recently been following a lot of dietitians on their blogs, as far as I know I've never met one. Although in my corporate days I often was on e-mail discussion lists with the librarian at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the ADA), but she wasn't an RD. alike are we?

No one knows exactly what we do: This is where the stereotypes really kick in. Every librarian I know gets the "you must really love books" statement or a shushing sound. And I did hear someone say about a local dietetics program, "that's where they train those girls to bring in trays in the hospital."

In reality both professions are incredibly varied with a lot of different subfields. Librarians can work on trading floors, with cattle ranchers, in the midst of an orchestra (I've done all three). One of my old job had me tracking STDs in porpoises! On the other side, dietitians work in clinical settings, manage industrial foodservice, handle counseling and get to be media spokespeople. 

And in both professions, our self-perceptions seem a little skewed.

Everyone thinks they could do our jobs: Because no one is sure of what we do, everyone believes our jobs require no training. After all, we all love books and food, right?

But there is more to both. Librarians require a Masters Degree in Library Science and, depending on their job and location, state certification. Dietitians require national licensing and usually state licensing. They don't have to have a graduate degree, but they do need an education in biochemistry, microbiology, physiology and, of course, nutrition. Librarians may be more able to delve into a variety of subjects (I myself went from music to insurance to agriculture to environmental science), but all dietitians have the science chops.

They're both "Girl Professions". Both fields are considered service professions and are more heavily populated by women. But dietitians definitely skew more towards women. In 2009, The Academy listed a 3% male membership. The American Library Association from that year lists about a 17% male membership (although not all librarians are members of ALA).

But unlike dietetics, modern librarianship literally has "founding fathers": Dewey, Winsor, Cutter...later on Shera...the list goes on. It was Dewey who promoted women into library education back in the late 19th century, causing a commotion. The ADA was founded decades later by women. But today they seem about evenly viewed as a job for women, which means the salaries are reflected as such. Feh on that.

We both have issues with our professional organizations: Now again, I'm speaking more from my own experience and there's a LOT of librarian organizations, but the bigger ones I belong to, ALA and SLA, seems to always have dissatisfaction and dissent among the greater professional population, on a variety of subjects.

From some of the blogs I've read , the biggest issue among many dietitians is that AND allows corporate sponsorship by food and foodservice companies that don't necessarily have nutrition in mind. A recent report confirms that on a larger scale and it got some nice press in the NY Times, something that national library associations rarely make.

So....bad public perception, issues with self-perception, "unmanly" salaries and a non-cohesive group presence. We might as well be the same profession. What is the difference?

Hmmmm.....well, dietitians have the health education and backgrounds. They certainly work hard at what they do.

Here are a few dietitian blogs that I read on a regular basis:

Balance Variety and Moderation RD
Death of the Diet
Drop It and Eat
Kath Eats Real Food
The Fat Nutritionist (who is not an RD, but she explains why)

Some librarians have similar backgrounds, but we're probably a more disparate group of subject specialists. However, I think we librarians may be a little bit better, because we can claim Batgirl as one of our own. Yup, she started out as a librarian. 

Batgirl trumps microbiology every time!

OK, I kid, I kid....I think what RDs do is pretty cool. What I'd like to see is more work between us. I find it sad that I spent several years in food and agribusiness research and never got to work with any RDs. 

I'm half-considering combining the two and becoming the world's first MLS/RD! (Although refreshers on science from over 20 years ago would be pretty time consuming).

But even I don't achieve that goal, I think we should be working together on a regular basis. Not only can we both offer unique perspectives to research and progress, we also share so many commonalities.

And we'd bring Batgirl.


Hughes, Roger, and Ben Desbrow. “Aspiring Dietitians Study: A Pre-enrolment Study of Students Motivations, Awareness and Expectations Relating to Careers in Nutrition and Dietetics.” Nutrition & Dietetics 62, no. 2–3 (2005): 106–109. doi:10.1111/j.1747-0080.2005.00015.x.
Luthmann, Abigail. “Librarians, Professionalism and Image: Stereotype and Reality.” Library Review 56, no. 9 (October 16, 2007): 773–780. doi:10.1108/00242530710831211.

Strom, Stephanie. “Report Questions Nutrition Group’s Use of Corporate Sponsors.” The New York Times, January 22, 2013, sec. Business Day.
“AND_Corporate_Sponsorship_Report.pdf.” Accessed February 3, 2013.
“Interrogating the American Library Association’s ‘Core Values’ Statement | Peer to Peer Review.” Accessed February 3, 2013.


  1. Thanks for shedding some insight into some typical librarian stereotypes. I'll admit, I have told my husband that I'd love to be a librarian (due to the fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with reading, libraries, bookstores); however, I had no idea of the little details involved. Thanks for filling us in! This was both well written and thought out. :)

  2. Thanks! I'm sure you can share similar stories from being a teacher!

  3. So true! Thanks for a candid comparison of two, often under-loved professions :-)

    Congrats on your 2011 transformation! Do you mind if I ask what triggered your weight loss journey, and what bits of wisdom you've gained from the process?

    Delighted you find value in my writings at Death of the Diet.

    Be healthy, be happy!


    1. Hi Jason, Thanks for the kind words and yes, I really enjoy your website!

      The short answer to my transformation: I was trying to find a better way to deal with my divorce than just sitting in the dark with a box of Entemann's and a bottle of rye every day. But really, it was just finally making the effort to find a solution that worked for me.

      The small bits of wisdom I've accrued have been strewn across this site at times. It's an ongoing journey, there are no quick fixes and just be more more aware of what you're doing and eating. And read the blogs of good RDs!

      Thanks for reading,

  4. I just happened to run across this post while looking for ideas to start my own blog. I am a first career dietitian and second career librarian and have also thought about the similarities between the two professions. I worked as a dietitian for more than 10 years and, after losing my job due to downsizing, I took a job working in a library basically because I needed to pay the bills. I never thought I would stay in that position but, approximately 11 years later, I decided to go back to school to get my MLIS. I continued to work and took one class per semester until I was finally able to graduate in May 2015. I enjoyed reading this post. I can personally relate to the dietitian and librarian stereotypes that you described. :)