Librarians in Fairfax County think they have an image problem, and her name is Marian. Marian the Librarian, the stereotypical spectacled spinster filing books on the shelf.

"Libraries are traditionally seen as a place where women work," says David K. Bennett, assistant branch manager at the Woodrow Wilson Library. "You know--ladies with buns and pencils through their ears."

Because library science is traditionally viewed as a woman's job, disgruntled library workers claim they are underestimated, underprized and deliberately underpaid. Men, who now constitute some 20 percent of professional librarians in the country (although only 8 percent in Fairfax County), are feeling a kind of double whammy--an outmoded professional stereotype and salaries traditionally assumed to be supplementary to a husband's income.

A group of 51 Fairfax County librarians, including Bennett and two other men, has filed a sex discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that the county categorically underpays members--both male and female--of what it considers a "women's profession."

The librarians are asking that their jobs be upgraded to match other classifications with similar professional requirements, and demanding two years' back pay.

"There's no question that women have traditionally been used as cheap labor," says Jo Ann Rose, the librarians' Reston attorney. "Historically, it's interesting to see how the pay scale has gone down as male-dominated professions, like secretaries, have been taken over by women."

While the legal issue is money, the image of Marian is the heart of the matter. The techno-era librarians, who say they have to be archivists, researchers, computer programmers and public relations experts as well, feel Marian is putting a hole in their self-esteem as well as their pocket.

"Economics is just part of it," says Betty Butler, president of the Fairfax County Public Library Employees Association. "Librarians are very special and important people in the life of a community -- in the life of a culture. Who's going to preserve the materials and the knowledge? Who's going to know how to sort through the information?

"We work 18 hours a day, and here at the Reston Regional Library , we're open seven days a week. I work 11 days in a row. I've got to like people, I've got to like books, I've got to believe in learning for learning's sake and I have to believe in the preservation of learning for the future."

Bennett feels strongly that, as a government employe, he is a public servant--and on the front lines, at that.

"The people in the Massey Building, the 'bureaucrats,' are shielded from the public," Bennett says. "The Division of Motor Vehicles is a thorn in most people's side. The Post Office is a thorn in a lot of people's side, but we're there specifically to serve. It's to a county government's advantage to make those sectors which interact directly with the public as good as possible."

Library employes are particularly irate because they are required to have a master's degree in library science, while new employes in some traditionally "male" fields, which pay more, require a bachelor's degree at most.

For example, according to tables filed with the complaint, beginning salary for a Librarian I is just under $18,000. Planners and engineers, who need only a bachelor's degree or the equivalent experience, start at nearly $19,000.

The tables also indicate that in the male-dominated fields, wage increases at each level are greater, widening the pay gap. Librarians II, who serve as branch managers, start at $19,700. Librarians III, managers of larger community libraries, start at $21,600; and Librarians IV, the managers of the regional libraries, at $22,700.

By contrast, Engineers II, journeymen with no supervisory duties, start at nearly $25,000. Engineers III, supervisors of an operating section, start at $28,700; Engineers IV, who assist division directors, start at $31,500.

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors, which has turned down several appeals by librarians in the past few years, says salaries are based on "the market"--the pay scales of librarians in other Washington area counties. Figures supplied by neighboring counties confirm that Fairfax salaries are comparable, falling about in the middle of regional pay scales for librarians. Salaries for librarians in the District and at the Library of Congress are the highest, beginning at over $20,000.

"It has nothing to do with women's jobs," said chairman John F. Herrity when the complaint was filed. "If you're trying to make this into a women's thing, forget it."

But county officials say privately the supervisors are concerned that raising librarians' pay will have a "ripple effect" on the wage demands by such groups as nurses and secretaries.

"I realize Mr. Herrity has a responsibility to consider costs," says Bennett, "but just because you're a government employe doesn't mean you have to stand naked before the world."

Besides, says Rose, "We're not talking about the marketplace or economics--we're talking about discrimination. The fact may very well be that other counties discriminate, too."

If wages are unfairly low, say the librarians, Fairfax County may find that it's saving now, paying later.

"It becomes a Catch-22 situation," says Rose. "It's considered a women's profession, so the wages are low, so it can't draw men, so it remains a women's profession, so the wages remain low."

Even Bennett, who entered the University of Maryland's MLS program after working with Bookmobile for two years, says that upon meeting new people, he has been "conscious of what I felt their image of a librarian to be . . . that it wasn't what a 'man' should do." Bennett thinks the image of library work as a low-paying woman's job may be steering interested men away.

"You get what you pay for," says Butler, now and "in years to come.