Lacking “proper, consistent representation”: Librarians in popular culture

As I continue to chronicle mentions of libraries and librarians in popular culture, mainly in animation, I came across an article in Book Riot by Rachel Rosenberg, who says she enjoys “storytimes, books, movies, travel, cross-stitching and sarcasm,” calls herself a “library tech & soon full librarian” on Twitter, and has written about children’s books on libraries and librarians, quaranzines collected by libraries, picture books written by librarians, NYPL-recommended books, the first Puerto Rican librarian in NYC (Pure Belpré), and many other topics. [1] The article, published back in March, is titled with a valid question: “Why Aren’t There More Librarians in Pop Culture?” She begins by saying that librarians are still “lacking proper, consistent representation in pop culture,” asking how “many librarian characters can you name,” specifically not those librarians who are in a scene either running or shushing people, rather someone who is “interesting and funny, perhaps with nuance and more to do than just reminding someone about fines or telling them to be quiet.” She goes onto say that “librarians often get a bad rap,” saying that librarians are “information detectives” and “Knowers of Things! Doers of research! Creators of fun, free programs!,” adding that the characters she will highlight are those which “reflect aspects of the real job of a library professional,” lamenting that her list is very White, arguing that “pop culture needs (a) more librarians and (b) more POC librarians,” an argument which I completely agree with. She goes onto mention the following librarians on the silver screen in-depth, complete with relatable moments: Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lizzie Benson in Jenny Offhill’s book (Weather), Mary in Party Girl, Tammy Swanson/Tammy II in Parks and Recreation, and Bunny Watson in Desk Set.

She concludes by telling people to ask librarians about their daily work, expanding the understanding of the “strange and delightful lives” of librarians, saying they can “probably tell you some very interesting stories that you won’t soon forget.” While I can’t comment on any of the examples she pointed out, as I haven’t watched any of those series or films, I would like to provide ten examples of positive librarians [2] in Western animations and anime. Merriam-Webster defines librarians broadly as anyone who works in a library, specialists in care and management of a library, and as library directors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also defines the word broadly as those who help people “find information and conduct research for personal and professional use,” typically needing an MLIS or MLS, with some positions having additional requirements. Similarly, the now-defunct LISWiki describes librarians as those “responsible for the care of a library and its contents, including the selection and processing of materials and the delivery of information, library instruction, and loan services to meet the needs of its users” with most possessing some type of library degree. [3] While this definitely differs from archivists, scribes (defunct profession), and superintendents of documents, one could say that library technicians (formerly a BLS category) easily fall into the category of librarians (as they would be paraprofessionals) and librarianship as a whole. As such, I am using librarian broadly here, as Hisami Hishishii, Yamada, Azusa Aoi, Fumi, and Chiyo Tsukudate are student assistants, while others (George, Lance, Dr. Oldham, and Lilith) are self-taught. Perhaps “The Librarian” in Hilda is the only one with a professional degree, and a presumed reference librarian, along with Myne in her former life. None of those on this list, however, are bibliographers, reader’s advisors, interns or those with a practicum. I thought I’d point this out before going forward.

Anyway, like Rosenberg’s list, my list is composed of mostly light-skinned, with the exception being George and Lance. So here it goes! Enjoy! Comments are welcome.

Dr. Oldham in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Dr. Oldham is a white-skinned (Japanese?) male sage and medical doctor, who works in a library on a spire, an equivalent to an ivory tower. They spend over two and a half minutes in the library, with bookshelves shown, with Oldham having a shelf of books nearby, which could be called a reference shelf. In this way, he does fulfill his library duties as he is serving a patron, although not in the way we usually envision. In another episode, a library is shown which has data files and not books. Sadly, he does not appear in any other episodes. Still, this laughing librarian (laughing at Ledo, who acts arrogant and declares that the social organization of Gargantia doesn’t make sense) lives on for me in so many ways.

George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Lance (on the left) and George (on the right)

This show, which is known for its LGBTQ representation, included two characters which can arguably be seen as librarians, although they call themselves historians. They are George and Lance, the middle-aged black dads of series protagonist Bow, and they run a library in a magical forest called the Whispering Woods. In the season 2 finale, Bow and his friends, Adora and Glimmer, work with them to translate an ancient message. Adora accidentally releases a monster into the library and Bow reveals his true identity to his dads, who end up embracing him for who he is, accepting it, something which many see as echoing family coming-out stories from the LGBTQ+ community. In a later episode, Bow and Glimmer meet George and Lance who tell them about an ancient rebellion and fail-safe on a superweapon, information which becomes vitally important going forward.

Myne in Ascendance of A Bookworm

Myne loudly declares she wants to reorganize the church library

Myne, the protagonist of this anime, advocates for re-organizing all the books in a temple library using the NDC (Nippon Decimal Classification) system, the Japanese version of the Dewey Decimal System” and even though she is unable to organize all the books she wants since magic books are “off-limits,” she still makes her “mark on this society,” with libraries shown to have value various times in the episode. Myne, a librarian in her former life, tries to make books so she can share them with others, creating a library. Anyway, she is dedicated to reorganizing information, first by her own design, then following a library classification system, which is amazing, as I haven’t seen any animation to date do this, or have a PSA about it, so that’s cool.

“The Librarian” in Hilda

While she has not yet gotten a name in the show’s first season, she has become a fan sensation, is a feisty character, and has been a subject of a lot of chatter on the fan base. She is, so far, a mysterious librarian who has an extensive, and unmatched “knowledge of cemetery records and mystical items.” In one episode, she drops a book on a nearby table, telling Hilda and her friends that it might be of interest, giving them what they need. In another, Hilda comes upon the hidden special collections room, and she is told that reference books cannot be circulated, so she copies a page from the book, able to lift the enchantment on her friend and mother just in time thanks to the information she learns in the episode. In yet another episode, the librarian anticipates her question, able to draw upon her expertise to help them, even giving Hilda the necessary materials to raise the dead, even while warning her, doing so in order to help Hilda, a patron, with something important. In the final episode of the first season, we see her walking across the streets of Trolberg, and she will likely have a role in the show’s upcoming season, which will begin streaming sometime in December 2020. The series is popular enough that it even spurred a fan-made cartoon titled Zilda which is inspired by the show, ha.

Hisami Hishishii in R.O.D the TV

Hisa in various episodes of R.O.D. the TV

Although she only a library club member at a high school in Japan, she still seems to fulfill her library duties to the best extent possible and likes to hang out there with others. She never shushes anyway and helps other patrons, although she is not seen in her library duties as much as I would like. Even so, she is friends with the protagonist and Anita King (a papermaster), who puts on the persona, at times, of a bratty young girl. This series also features an episode which focuses on the National Diet Library, the equivalent of the Library of Congress in Japan, which was awesome, and book burning by the villains who want to “make a point” and engage in thought control in a plan which is megalomaniacal from the start.

Lilith in Yamibou

Lilith is a caretaker of the Great Library, a repository that contains “all of the worlds in the universe within books.” While much of the series is her traveling with her crush, Hazuki, searching from book world to book world looking for Eve, which Hazuki knows as “Hatsumi,” who she has romantic feelings for. Later, it is shown that Eve is another caretaker of the library. By making sure that the worlds within the books are secure, in this sense you could say that Lilith is doing her duty as a librarian. Libraries don’t come up in this series as much as I would have wanted, but they are still a key part of this series as a whole.

Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words

In the episode “Did You See the Rain?,” Azusa Aoi serves as the librarian in this episode, while the Girls Club members go on a treasure hunt to find a message, coming in and out of the library throughout the episode. Later Azuza joins them in their quest to discover what the message means. Azusa is a studious person who reads during breaks and takes an interest in learning, perfect for a librarian!

Yamada in B Gata H Kei

In the episode “Boy Meets Girl. Please Give Me Your ‘First Time’!!” [part 1], Yamada is assigned to be a school volunteer at the library as is her crush Kosuda. Yamada says she didn’t like the library because it smells but fantasizes about hiding spots to have love with Kosuda. She tries to seduce him there and it fails. In a later episode, “A Valentine of Sweat and Tears! Love(?) From Yamada is Put Into It” [Part 1],  Yamada and Kosuda are volunteering in the library together. Then, in “Improve the Erotic Powers! It’s My First Time Feeling This Sensation…” [Part 2], they are both in the library again, with Yamada trying to get Kosuda interested in her romantically again. This doesn’t work, leaving her alone in the library after he leaves, he then comes back and is embarrassed by her actions. In the first of these episodes, she does perform some library duties, but she is mostly trying, and failing, to get Kosuda to like her in a long list of failed attempts, as she learns more about herself along the way and who she is as a person. In a later episode, of the show, “Throbbing Christmas Eve. What Does a First Kiss Taste Like?” [part 1], Yamada and Kosuda are volunteering in the library together. The scene of them in the school library is noticeably short.

Fumi Manjōme in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers

In the episode “Winter Fireworks,” Fumi does weeding of books in the library and remembers her kiss with Sugimoto. Later in the episode, she later talks with other students about the role/influence the Literary Club has on the library. In another episode, “Adolescence is Beautiful,” Fumi and Sugimoto go to the library and kiss there. In any case, Fumi at least knows some library skills, in terms of weeding, which is an important part of library work, even if it can be controversial at times (if you get rid of the “wrong” books).

Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!

In the library, doing her library duties

In the episode, “Hydrangeas,” one of the places they look for Nagisa’s umbrella is at the library and there is a librarian named Chiyo Tsukidate, a fellow student at the school. She is a member of the Library Club who works as a librarian in Astraea’s Library, looking up to people like Nagisa and Tomao, likely having a crush on Nagisa. She is shown, various times, engaging in her librarian duties, checking out books and the like. She is such a nice person and does her library duties well and efficiently, as shown in the episodes.

Closing words

And that’s all I have for now. There are many other series I mention on my pages reviewing animation and anime, but none of them have librarians I can remember by name, just featuring libraries. [4] One exception to that is Cardcaptor Sakura. In the episode “Sakura and Her Summer Holiday Homework,” the protagonists (Sakura, Tomoyo, and Kero) look for the piglet book, the librarian tells them that one copy should be there after looking at her computer, saying that it is still within the library somewhere, so they look through the stacks for it. Later, Sakura looks through the main study area, to see if anyone has the book, and the book somehow teleports across the library, probably with the use of a Clow Card. In the episode, various librarians are seen going about their duties. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of their faces are shown, so they are basically in the background. However, this is better than other anime or even Western animation.


Notes

[1] This includes posts celebrating NYPL’s 125th anniversary, drag queen storytimes, NYPL and mental wellness, books that could be included in kindergarten libraries, and a variety of other posts.

[2] As such, I am excluding the unnamed librarian in Steven Universe, the librarian made dumb in Futurama, the old librarian in She-Ra: Princess of Power, Turtle Princess in Adventure Time, the curmudgeon librarian in DC Super Hero Girls, the elderly librarian in Zevo-3, the librarian susher in The Owl House, and the curmudgeon and smug librarian in Mysticons, along with a woman in a cloak, presumably a nun in the stacks of the library, in Aoi Hana (also known as Sweet Blue Flowers), The Mystic Archives of Dantalian (if Dantalian is considered a librarian at all), and a small mention of a librarian in Little Witch Academia.

[3] According to the Australian Library and Information Association, librarians and information specialists have a “strong focus on assisting people and organisations and possess unique technical skills to manage and retrieve information. They thrive on change and seek challenges that require creative solutions.” In addition, the Special Libraries Association notes that librarians are among those who have “responsibility for elements of knowledge and information management,” putting them into the category of “information professionals.”

[4] For Western animation, this includes LoliRock, RWBY, Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, Carmen Sandiego, Neo Yokio, OK K.O.: Let’s Be Heroes!, Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths, and Legends, Sym-Bionic Titan, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, Glitch Techs, Bravest Warriors, Amphibia, Victor & Valentino, and Tangled. For anime, this includes Read or Die, R.O.D the TV, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Manaria Friends, El-Hazard, Classroom of the Elite, Kandagawa Jet Girls, Ice (anime), Kampfer, Macross Frontier, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Bloom Into You, Kuttsukiboshi, Lapis Re: Lights, Paradise Kiss, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, Wandering Son, and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches to name the ones I have listed so far.

Published by histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

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