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“Peaceful” reading and quiet “sanctum” of the Seiran Academy library

Why indeed, Kaoru-sama… and yes, this one of favorite lines in this episode, of course

Recently, I was watching the seventh episode, titled “The Darkness in the Clock Tower,” of one of my favorite anime, Dear Brother (known as Oniisama e… in Japan) about an ordinary girl named Nanako Misonoo who attends a prestigious girls school named Seiran Academy and faces hostility over her admission to the school’s sorority. And about half way through that episode was, lo and behold, the school library! Nanako searches through the stacks of the school library for something on Saint-Juste. She is helped by a fellow tomboyish student, Kaoru Orihara (hereafter called Kaoru-sama), who happens to know where the books she is looking for are. This surprises Nanako, with Kaoru-sama seeming to say the books will be in high demand in a few months from first-years, and after Nanako tries to clarify something, Kaoru-sama says, “reading for any reason is better than not reading at all.” Nanako apologizes, Kaoru-sama hands her the four books she needs, then a group of noisy female students walk through the library, not really seeming to care about the people around them. Of course, Kaoru-sama is annoyed, asking who they think they are, declaring it is a library and they should talk outside. Right after that, Nanako borrows books from the male librarian. Later, Kaoru-sama declares “one can’t even read peacefully in the library these days!” They talk about the books, butterflies fly around them, while Kaoru-sama explains about Rei Asaka‘s past, with Nanako sitting beside her with the books she got at the library in her lap, patiently listening to the story. After the story is over, they part ways, a group of high-class girls assault Nanako, and her friend Tomoko Arikura comes to her rescue!

This episode connects to a lot of what I have been talking about in this blog before. The quiet library that Kaoru-sama wants, is a sanctum, or what Merriam-Webster describes as “a place where one is free from intrusion.” [1] More directly, this conception of a quiet library is often brought to an extreme in animation, especially Western animation. I made this clear in the post I published in late April about shushing librarians. Some of the worst examples are the curmudgeon librarian in DC Super Hero Girls, the librarian in Big City Greens who assaults a patron making noise, Miss Dickens in Carl Squared who interrogates the protagonist for having late books, the sadistic librarian in Courage the Cowardly Dog who demands an absurdly huge fine for ONE late book, Miss Hatchet in Kim Possible who rules the school library like a tyrant (and has her own form of library organization), the librarian in Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil literally tries to kill the protagonist for trying to get back his book which was wrongly delivered to the library. [2] This episode reminds me of the episode of The Replacements, “Quiet Riot,” which features a librarian named Mrs. Shusher, and seems to support (or endorse) quiet areas of the library, with one of the protagonists, Todd, admitting that they need “places for work, as much as we need places for play.” It also makes me think of the people (likely patrons) who shushed the protagonists in an episode of City of Ghosts for making too much noise. Relevant here is a passage of that article where I talked about quiet spaces/places within libraries:

Some have argued that that is a “lot to be said for shushing” because some patrons like quiet places, noted that there is still a need for “quiet” in our communities which should not be lost, or asserted that librarians themselves are perpetuating the stereotype in their actions. The latter is the only one that seems to have some validity, even as some people do like quiet spaces, including this writer…Jennifer Snoek-Brown, she added that while she values the need for quiet zones in libraries, but that she will be in her community college library, “doing my job and helping my users — not with a bang or a whisper, but with a smile.”

That’s how I feel about it too. Although Kaoru-sama was harsh, the students seemed to only care about themselves, walking through a study area where students wanted it to be quiet! And libraries being quiet places away from the noisiness of the rest of society is important, for sure.

This episode contrasts the first episode of We Bare Bears, titled “Our Stuff,” where the three bears (Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear) travel to the local library to find their belongings which were stolen when they weren’t looking. They go there to use the “phone finder” so Panda can use the phone finder, and Grizzly is immediately shushed by the librarian when entering, even as this makes sense as he is being pretty loud. Grizzly apologizes and Ice Bear takes off his shirt, which hilariously goes off in the scanner, as it is probably stolen. Going on the computer, fast-paced Mission Impossible-like music plays as Panda uses the Phone Finder. He then tries to print out the map and the printer jams, adding a dose to reality of how these things usually work. Grizzly has to fix the paper jam, and the map prints out fine. They leave the library and use the map to find where their stuff is.

Unnamed Black librarian shushes bears as they enter library, while patrons at the local library, are annoyed; in second image, librarian stares in quiet rage, while patrons are surprised to see him take off his shirt in front of them

Back to this episode, it brings me back to “the venerable concept of the library as a quiet place,” as Kerry Vash, Reference Librarian at St. Thomas University Library, calls it. He writes that failure to comply with lowering voices to a whisper in the library has often been associated with a shushing librarian who is often female, with glasses, and a spinster, saying this image has done a disservice to libraries themselves. He explains that real-life shushing librarians were probably trying to uphold a standard vital the library, specifically to “provide a quiet environment in which people could contemplate the knowledge of the world through the library’s array of resources.” He goes onto point out that fostering quiet spaces is critical and patrons have voiced this need in various surveys over the years, even as important as Internet access! He adds that at his library all are welcome into quiet spaces, but that a library should also be a social space as well, concluding that debating that whether a library is a” social space or quiet space is a futile effort,” because a library can be both. Libraries can also seek feedback from patrons to provide them with “a comprehensive library experience that offers the varied types of spaces and services they both need and desire.” Others point out that people expect silence in libraries based on the acoustic properties of the space, expectation of quiet, and getting away from noise, so they can get some work done. There is even a WikiHow post by Kim Gillingham, a retired library and information specialist, outlining ten steps for “How to Get People In a Library to Be Quiet,” which is actually more detailed than I would have thought it would be. [3] Roz Warren, librarian and humorist, had a hilarious/part-true post about quietness about libraries, which is very apt here too.

One writer, Katie LaFever, a middle school librarian in North Tonawanda, New York, put it well: “some libraries have back rooms, quiet corners, and separate computer lab areas, but many do not…[in my library] what happens in one area of the library, happens throughout the entire space….it is impossible to have quiet study areas and active learning happening at the same time [in my library].” Pew Research notes that Americans want quiet study spaces, but also “programs and classes for children and teens,” which is something that is not quiet, while, as Ciara McCaffrey and Michelle Breen argued, “the importance of quiet space to users should not be underestimated.” What Kaoru-sama wanted to do by telling the noisy female students to quiet down is understandable. After all, as Julia Seales notes in Bustle, one of the best things about libraries “is that they’re peaceful and quiet” as long as you aren’t being the one shushed by a librarian, and others note the importance of libraries having a “quiet space for contemplation,” especially places where people can study, while having amenities to provide patrons with various other services, which means they will talk. [4] However, Kaoru-sama’s sentiment that you can’t read peacefully in the library anymore is just not true, as a majority of patrons support quiet spaces/quiet in libraries.

If Kaoru-sama gets on your case, you are clearly not going something right. Some librarians definitely feel like this sometimes.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] The other definition is a “sacred place” and whether libraries are sacred is a whole different discussion, discussed by books like Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship, a Big Think article titled “The Sacred Space of Libraries in Our Lives,” Metro UK’s “Libraries are more than just books – they are sacred spaces that need protection,” David S. Porcaro‘s “Sacred Libraries in the Temples of the Near East,” and elsewhere, to mention a few resources.

[2] Other terrible examples are: Libro Shushman in Teamo Supremo who tries to steal all the words and put them into her doom dictionary, the extreme shushing librarian named Rita Loud in Timon & Pumbaa, the Bat Librarian in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ms. L in Dexter’s Laboratory who has goons to catch the protagonist whose sounds exceeded the “noise level” in the library. Although the stickler librarian in Rugrats, the shushing male librarian in The Owl House, the shushing librarian in Steven Universe, Turtle Princess in Adventure Time could be said to be harsh, none of them are terrible. Oh and there is Count Spunkulout in Codename: Kids Next Door who spanks the protagonists for not paying library fines. Yikes! The only one on that page which goes against existing stereotypes of the shushing librarian is the Librarian ghost in Archie’s Weird Mysteries named Violet Stanhope. At the same time, the librarians in Martin Mystery episodes are just annoyed, rightly so, with the protagonist, who is a jerk. You could say that Kaeloo in Kaeloo is a problematic librarian as she, in one episode, throws out the “not nice” and “dirty” books, even burning them all in a fire. Oh no! That’s almost like Censorsdoll in Moral Orel which I wrote about last week.

[3] Her ten steps are organized into three categories: “Asking Loud Library Patrons to Tone it Down” (has four sub-steps), “Getting Outside Help” (has three sub-steps), and “Avoiding a Scene in the Library” (has three sub-steps). In response to one of the questions in the Q&A (“As a librarian, how can I successfully and tactfully get people to lower their noise?”) the community response is “Calmly ask the people to please lower their voices or talk outside. If the do not, call the security guard.” Another question is “Would it be a good idea to find security to escort the noisy person out?” is answered as: “if you want to risk being laughed at or sworn at, by all means escort the noisy person out. Unless you’re staff, you have no “rights” to force people to leave. Ask the librarian for assistance if you’re so disturbed or just find somewhere else to sit where it’s quieter.” Although most people rated this as “not helpful,” I think it is the CORRECT response. Other tips suggest you become familiar with people who frequent the library so you can known which parts of the loudest, suggest you come at off-peak hour or a few hours before somewhere closes, and to stay after official closing time (even though this is bound to annoy librarians), and suggest you tell the library/bookstore if an employee is “rude to you in regards to creating a more enjoyable environment.”

[4] State Librarian of NSW, Alex Byrne noted this duality in 2012: “We have quiet places in the library for people who want to concentrate but we don’t insist on quiet libraries. That is because we realise it is a social activity.” Additionally, an article in the New York Times quoted librarians pointed out who said that “as neighborhood needs change, so has the mission of the library,” adding that no matter what “the library must keep its doors open.”

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