action adventure animation fantasy Librarians Libraries White people

A curmudgeon librarian and superheroes in the library

For this post, I’d like to highlight an episode of DC Super Hero Girls, the 2019 reboot of a series in the earlier 2010s, titled “#SoulSisters Part 2” (s1ep25), that extensively focuses on libraries. This goes far beyond another scene in the same show (noted in an upcoming post on August 20). This is clearly a different library, as this is a city library,  and the one in the episode was the high school library. [1] We begin by seeing the grand library, almost looking like a temple, looming over the landscape, possibly modeled after the main branch of the New York Public Library in New York City.

Below is what that main branch at New York City’s fifth avenue, the Schwartzmann Building, looks like, with some similarities. This building has a remarkable facade which has also been mimicked in Futurama with the New New York Public Library shown in a few episodes (especially in the episode “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid”) some of which have been This is not to be confused with the hilariously named “pubic library.” Of course, there are many differences here, but part of it, like the lions, may have been modeled on the NYPL branch.

This picture is from the NYPL website back in August 2015.

Anyway, on with the episode. We first see the wide expanse of the library.

Then, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) looks for a book on spells. It is aptly named Ancient Weaponry: Myths & Magic.


As the fandom page on Katana notes, Diana reads this book, finding out information about the Soul Taker, a sword “forged in the 14th century by “the legendary swordsman Urasawa Sengo” and “rumored to steal the souls of its enemies,” those which can “only be freed if the wielder says a certain Japanese incantation.” That becomes key later in the episode. Anyway, there is a hilarious scene where Diana’s phone rings and she can’t turn it off, annoying everyone. I had a similar experience once when I didn’t know how cell phones worked, so I can completely sympathize.

She finds Katana is sitting nearby, but…

It attracts the attention of the librarian, an older White lady who fits all the stereotypes, which are commonly associated with them. These stereotypes are not unique to this show, as librarians portrayed in Steven Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Futurama are shown similarly: as people with glasses and occasionally old (as is the case in She-Ra: Princess of Power). Even the character in Gargantia, one of the more positive portrayals of libraries, has the appearance of an elderly White man, while the two gay male librarians, George and Lance, in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, are the only non-white (and Black) librarians in animation I can think of offhand, although there may be others.

Moving back to the episode, we then get the strict rule on the wall, declaring “no cell phones!” which seems a bit absurd, as it is vague on what it means.

Katana jokes with Diana until she figures out that she is the villain who stole the souls of her friends, leading to a fight in the library itself.

Again, the librarian is annoyed, but for a different reason this time. Some librarians have taken this attitude and embraced it, with an ongoing blog called “The Curmudgeonly Librarian” published by a librarian in their late 60s or a “Library Curmudgeon” written by a Canadian librarian. Others have said that library pioneers like Frederick Beecher Perkins, a member of a prominent religious family in the U.S. in the 19th century, was a curmudgeon. Some joked that their work in a library had turned them into a curmudgeon. While librarians are often shown as unpleasant and bespectacled in popular culture, interrupting protagonists and shushing them, as Kevin McElvaney points out, being a “librarian is no career for the lazy curmudgeon” because it takes years of “advanced study even to be considered for a position.”

It’s because they are breaking a rule hilariously called “no loud fighting.” When Diana asks about this, the librarian has her only substantive line in the episode: “It’s Metropolis, it’s the best we can hope for.” Diana and Katana apologize for their behavior, but their fighting doesn’t stop. Diana even catches Katana’s hand in a book, and they continue girly fighting.

Of course, this sound catches the attention of the librarian, again. As the audience, we see the expanse of the library as a whole…

Until their fighting causes the stacks of the library to collapse, falling like dominoes, with expressions of shock on their faces afterward. The librarian, cast as a curmudgeon, kicks out Diana and Katana for property destruction, a reason more justified than Turtle Princess asking Finn and Jake to leave the library in one of the Adventure Time episodes. The librarian might be portrayed badly in this episode, almost equivalent to “the original librarian stereotype…of the fussy (white) male curmudgeon” except it’s a White woman, [2] but what she does is completely justified!

The fact that Katana and Diana apologize for their action afterward doesn’t make up for what they did. It’s good they have to deal with the consequences of their actions and being banned from the library, presumably. Their fight then continues outside the library and onto the streets of the city.

Toward the end of the episode, we see the librarian, at night, pushing a cart of books. It makes me think of books being moved around on hover carts in Cleopatra of Space, although there are probably other examples.

While this episode doesn’t counter stereotypes of librarians, [3] it is fun since many other episodes do not focus that much on libraries. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode.

© 2020 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] It also goes far beyond “Frenemies” where Batgirl/Barbara Gordon says, as an excuse, “O have a library book I… need to write for the library. So people can read it. Because you gotta have books for the library. Otherwise, it’s just a big empty building, I guess,” which is a bit funny but not true! Other episodes feature a library card (“Ally Cat”), while, the short Taco Tuesday “features the library, where Karen is asked by the librarian to keep quiet when her stomach is growling” while in another short, Kara spends detention “reshelving books in the library while trying to finish in time to get to a concert” while the library is also mentioned in another episode (“Giganta”).

[2] The same article talks about librarian stereotypes more, saying, “there are numerous librarian stereotypes, with the most recognizable being the middle-aged, bun-wearing, comfortably shod, shushing librarian. Others include the sexy librarian, the superhero librarian, and the hipster or tattooed librarian. These stereotypes are all characterized predominantly as feminine, white women. Newer librarian stereotypes, particularly those proffered by librarians themselves, tend to be depicted as younger white women. The original librarian stereotype, which was superseded by the introduction of his prudish sister, was that of the fussy (white) male curmudgeon.”

[3] As one example, most of the librarians listed on Early Bird Books [dead link] either are wearing glasses and are curmudgeons (Evelyn O’Connell in The Mummy, Margaret Gesner in Monsters University, Barbara Gordon in Batman), are snotty elitists (Belle in Beauty and the Beast), seeming cops (The Library Cop in Seinfeld), drinkers (Tammy 2 in Parks and Rec), are ghosts (Ghost Librarian in Ghostbusters), or buff (Conan the Librarian in UHF) apart from Taystee in Orange is the New Black. Parks and Rec features one character, Marlene Knope (played by Pamela Reed) who hates libraries because of interpersonal issues, declaring “the library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history. They’re mean, conniving, rude, and extremely well-read, which makes them dangerous.”

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on my History Hermann blog but has been re-edited and fixed before being posted on this blog. Enjoy!

By Burkely Hermann

Burkely Hermann joined the National Security Archive as an Indexer and Metadata Librarian in March 2020, using his experience with arrangement, indexing, electronic databases, cataloging, metadata creation, and knowledge of history on a daily basis. In December 2019, he completed his Master of Library and Information Science, specializing in Archives and Digital Curation, at University of Maryland. In 2016, he received a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Political Science and a minor in History, from St. Mary's College of Maryland. He previously interned at the National Archives II facility in College Park and worked at the Maryland State Archives, Digital Curation and Innovation Center, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. He is also a member of the Society of American Archivists. In his free time, he researches his family genealogy, serves as a judge for National History Day, which he participated in for several years, writes fictional works, and keeps up with changes in the library and archives fields. He currently runs seven WordPress blogs, primarily about his family history, or reviewing archives and libraries in pop culture.

16 replies on “A curmudgeon librarian and superheroes in the library”

[…] Furthermore, in keeping with past practices in animation, which have seemingly been retired, for the most part, some Black fictional librarians were voiced by White people. One example of this is Ms. Lovely, voiced by Joanna Ruiz, a White woman. Kimberly Brooks turned this paradigm around, however, when she voiced a strict White female librarian in an episode of DC Super Hero Girls. […]


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