Last week, on Twitter, I penned a couple of tweets about an episode of Ascendance of A Bookworm, “Harvest Festivals and Staying Home,” where the protagonist, Myne (who wants to be a librarian), “loudly declares she wants to reorganize all the books using a NDC (Nippon Decimal Classification) system, the Japanese version of the Dewey Decimal System.” She later explains this system to the priest, who has no idea what she is talking about because Melvil Dewey “doesn’t exist in this world,” and the “episode ends with an illustration of her lying a desk with books around her.” I further noted that while Myne is unable to organize all the books she wants since magic books are “off-limits,” she still makes her “mark on this society” and there are numerous parts in the episode which libraries could use to promote their value. I mean, I had to write about a series where people literally ride on books through the sky in the opening, right! Ha. Anyway, there’s a lot more going on in this episode and the series as a whole which related to libraries, which I’d like to talk about in this post.
For one, libraries are central to the anime itself. In the first episode, “A World Without Books,” Myne is introduced as a librarian in her former life who liked all kinds of literature but an earthquake crushed her under a pile of books. A few episodes later, in “Forests and Clay Tablets,” Myne and her friend Lutz exchange their future dreams. While Lutz wants to be a “traveling merchant,” Myne wants to be a librarian. There is a large gap until the time that libraries re-appear. In the show’s 12th episode, “Baptism and Divine Paradises,” Myne stumbles across the temple library but cannot enter because the only clergy are allowed inside. Later she pays the High Bishop the highest currency, and he says that her parents will have to approve and says that she can come by and read whenever. There are a number of interesting themes there, especially when it comes to access to materials. This is one of the major issues for the ALA (American Library Association), as they are about ensuring equitable access to library resources and services. I’ll just quote a little from their webpage on the subject:
Equity extends beyond equality…to deliberate and intentional efforts to create service delivery models that will make sure that community members have the resources they need…Libraries are major sources of information for society and they serve as guardians of the public’s access to information…Core values of the library community such as equal access to information, intellectual freedom, and the objective stewardship and provision of information must be preserved and strengthened, now more than ever…Access to materials, without prejudice, to every member of the community must also be assured. As one of the core values of librarianship, ‘Equality of access to recorded knowledge and information’ which involves ‘insuring that all library resources are accessible to all overcoming technological and monetary barriers to access’ goes hand in hand with democracy and freedom.
So, by making the library exclusive to just priests, they are sealing off the information from the population and putting in place barriers. These impediments are also social as well, which the ALA doesn’t focus on, but are important to note. In the episode after “Baptism and Divine Priestesses,” which is titled “The Choice to be an Apprentice Priestess,” Lutz scolds her for collapsing from excitement when she learned should be a librarian at the temple, and her stepfather, Gunther, refuses to let her leave, convinced that the role of priestess if for those who are orphans, as they have to stay at the temple. This is inherently a class barrier, filled with prejudices. Lutz may have a valid point as he cares about Myne’s well-being, but Gunther only says what he does about the temple because of his views about the temple and religion itself, which he projects on Myne. In that sense, it serves as another barrier for her in her quest to bring more knowledge to the world.
Many episodes later, in “Apprentice Priestess,” episode 15 of the anime, libraries reappear. Specifically, Myne lays out her terms to Benno, the head of a local guild, which includes being able to live at home, be treated like nobility, maintain her paper-making studio, and have…access to the temple’s library! As always, having access to the library is vital for her, as it has been since she learned it existed. In the episode after this one, named “Blue Robes and Uncommon Sense,” Myne comes closer to her goal of being a librarian. She makes her way to the library so she can memorize scriptures, then distances herself from her “retainers” (servants) and reads the scripture through the whole day blissfully.
Then there is “Harvest Festivals and Staying Home,” the 23rd episode, the one where the screenshot, at the beginning of this post, is from. There’s a lot to analyze from that episode, which I will do in the next few paragraphs, with some helpful videos and screenshots to assist in that endeavor. The nobles are getting afraid of Myne, calling her a “plebian,” leading one of them to wreck the library in order to delay her from coming to a specific festival. When she enters the library, she looks at the books on the ground in terror:
Yikes! Myne quickly figures out who did it, as a blue-robed priest had given her a snide comment earlier, and Fran brings her back to the head priest, Ferdinand. She expresses her outrage someone would do such a thing, declaring there should be a bloody carnival for people who ruin libraries. She says that ruining a library is a “declaration of war,” saying that the person who did it deserves the guillotine. Wow. Eventually, Ferdinand says that the library was likely destroyed as a way to keep her from the harvest. She says she will clean up the library herself, with Ferdinand saying that everything is ordered by date of acquisition, and then tells her that she can’t handle it. That is where Myne says she will sort them in her own way:
Here are clips of those moments, as the screenshots obviously do not suffice:
Then, of course, Myne explains what the NDC is, which is a great PSA. One user has assembled the best moments from when Myne talks about the system earlier in the episode, not including when she talks to Ferdinand about it later, as that would be a repeat, into a video:
After all that, she gets a list of books Ferdinand donated to the library. When Myne’s gray-robed servants see the library in such disarray, they predict she will “blow her lid,” if she sees it, but instead, she comes to them with a smile. Only a librarian would have a response like this, seriously:
She then develops a system to separate the paper and tablet-based books, then placing them on specific shelves based on their marker. She knows where the books in the library will be shelved and has a shelf dedicated to just magic books, hoping she will find some and is excited to read them. We see the library not only with books but with scrolls and tablets as well. This is similarly reflected in the flashback to Japan in the 26th episode, “Dreamlike World,” the last one which has aired to date. We then get a PSA about Melvil Dewey from Myne, which is nice, something which I haven’t seen in any animation or anime to date:
She first asks him about how he would organize the magic books, hanging on every word of the priest, until he says that classifying magic books isn’t something she should be concerned with. He says this is because they will never be on the shelves of the church libraries since magic is the “exclusive domain” of the nobility in this world. As such, he adds that blue robes have “no right” to peruse those books and that even though they are nobles, they are not truly nobles until they graduate from the Nobles’ Academy. Then Myne reacts like this, desperately trying to get him to change his mind:
She fails in doing so and is depressed about it, as anyone would be! So, she decides to direct her energy into helping to create more books to keep her spirits up, working with her friends, and the kids in the orphanage, who using sewing skills her stepsister Turi taught them to bind the books. She then presents the picture book she made for kids to the head of the guild. And of course, she gets into a fight over wanting to give the books to the orphanage for free rather than selling them.
As the episode goes on, she tells Benno of her idea: to create a printing press and/or to mass-produce books, admitting it will take a “lot of capital.” Later she gets fitted for her ceremonial outfit, spends time with her adopted family, and thinks she will be spending time with them over the winter. That is until she finds out that she will be spending time at the temple instead of Ferdinand, who predicted in an earlier scene that she will turn “society on its head.” He describes her correctly when he says that she loses herself “when books are involved.” The episode ends with a drawing of Myne sleeping in the library:
Concluding this post, I really do feel like a real librarian today, ha: