Review of Kristy Cooper's Memoir "I was a Stripper Librarian"
By Marisa Fink
Librarian Kristy Cooper takes us through her graduate student years, as she struggles with financial fears related to student loans and general cost of living. After an acquaintance reveals her former career as a stripper, Kristy realizes that she could earn far more money topless than by waiting tables.
As she balances her secret life as a dancer with her mundane duties as a student, she explores socio economic issues that lead women to a career in sex work and the traditional virgin/whore dichotomy that all women encounter.
She rounds out the memoir with a call to action. She is involved with the co-op Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective and Fund which helps sex workers remain autonomous and avoid exploitation. 10% of all preorders of "I was a Stripper Librarian," will be donated to Lysistrata.
Ms. Cooper is aware of her educated, white, cisgender privilege. She draws a distinction between her desire to pay down student debt and the motives of other women to put food on the table or hustle for a man. The class distinction is apparent when she is frequently complimented on her straight teeth. “It was a bit of a stretch for my parents to afford orthodontic work for me, but that was the norm in the town we lived in, so they splurged on it. I never did a survey, but I didn’t think any of the girls I worked with had access to orthodontic work in their early teens. I did meet one stripper with braces, but she was bankrolling them herself. (pg. 83)."
Throughout the journey, Ms. Cooper refrains from judging her decisions as good or bad; they were simply her choices. The memoir is more about her observations and experiences, the path she took through graduate studies to career librarian. She does not regret her work as a dancer, so much as she regrets the fear of revealing her past which could have resulted in loss of career, loss of friends and loss of social status. In revealing her past, she has discovered that others, even librarians, have similar secrets and she was encouraged by the support that she has received.
In the end, Ms. Cooper begins to suffer from burnout and leaves dancing to pursue other sources of income. “It looked as though my best prospect would be to try to get a waitressing job again, which might tide me over until I could build up the energy to become an enthusiastic stripper again. I also considered that I should keep the waitressing job and just strip occasionally to supplement my income.” She is introduced to a professor researching sex workers and becomes more knowledgeable of issues that workers face. In the end, she does have an exciting career as a librarian activist, defending local libraries against bureaucracy and leading the adult services in her home library.
"I Was a Stripper Librarian: From Cardigans to G-Strings" is available from Barnes and Noble now. It is not a sordid tale of debauchery, nor is it a rose tinted retelling of a murky past. It is a factual account, good and bad, of the choices made by Ms. Cooper's younger self. The tone is academic, but not clinical. Overall, the history is fascinating and detailed. The venues where she worked still exist, populated by new girls and old clients. She touches on side issues, such as body image and alcohol dependence, that deserved a deeper treatment. The epilogue ties everything together with a brief overview of her activism efforts with additional resources.