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Applying the “Librarian Portrayal Test” to librarian depictions

A quote from her January 2020 article, “The History and Debunking of Librarian Stereotypes

As I noted in my post on August 10, I proposed the Librarian Portrayal Test (LPT), as I’m calling it now. If anyone has a better name for it, I’m willing to consider that. The name of it isn’t set in stone. Again, here’s the criteria for the test, which focuses on portrayal of librarians in pop culture:

  1. The animated series, anime, comic, film, or other pop culture media, has a character that is clearly a librarian, whether they work in a public library, corporate library, have a personal library, or some other circumstance where they work in a library.
  2. The character is not only, or primarily, defined by their role as a librarian.
  3. The librarian has to integral to the plot to such an extent that their removal from the story of a said episode, or episodes, would significantly impact the plot. As such, the librarian cannot just be there for laughs, be a foil, shush patrons, or otherwise fall into existing stereotypes, but should matter in and of themselves.

I know that fulfilling all of these criteria for pop cultural depictions won’t be easy, but some characters do meet all these criteria, but others, despite the fact they may be positive depictions of librarians, as I’ll explain in this post. This test is not a be-all-end-all either. Even if a librarian only appears in one episode of a series and it is a good depiction of a librarian, I’ll still write about it, even if it doesn’t fall under this criteria. I see this test as just one more tool that I can use to analyze representation of librarians in pop culture. And it isn’t a perfect test either, as I’m totally willing to revise and change it in the future as is necessary. What is above is not set in stone.

Now, let me go through librarians who are portrayed in popular culture that I’ve written on this blog up to this point. For one, there are unnamed librarians in Futurama, Steven Universe, Sofia the First, Diamond Dive, and Cardcaptor Sakura. The same can be said about the elderly librarian who is arrested by the authorities in the first episode of Zevo-3, and librarians in episodes of The Simpsons, the male librarian in an episode of The Owl House. There are many librarians who are shown as strict and/or as shushers. This is evidently clearly from the shushers in episodes of Big City GreensCourage the Cowardly Dog, Kick Buttowski, We Bare Bears, and Boyfriends, along with strict librarians, who often shushed as well. The latter includes librarians in animated series ranging from Rugrats to Martin Mystery, Teen Titans Go! to Carl Squared. [1] The same could be said for curmudgeon librarians in episodes of two other animated series: DC Super Hero Girls and Mysticons. All of these librarians would clearly fail the LPT, as would the librarian in the Steven Universe comic which I wrote about on August 17.

Some librarians are what I’d call one-note wonders in the sense that they do little outside their jobs as librarians or only in one episode, like the librarian in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mr. Scott in Tamberlane, or Mrs. Higgins in Sofia the First. Both are well-meaning, but only appear in the library and nowhere else. This can even be the case for librarians like Violet Stanhope or the new librarian supervisor Ms. Herrera in Archie’s Weird Mysteries. They are positive portrayals of librarians, for sure, but neither is shown outside the library, although for Violet, she gets a bit of a pass, since she is a ghost after all. You could say the same about the British wrestler-librarian in Totally Spies, as although I like her character in some respects, her role beyond being a librarian isn’t that well explored, the unnamed librarian who appears in a Steven Universe comic, or the librarian who helps Candace Flynn in an episode of Phineas and Ferb, “The Doonkelberry Imperative.” At the same time, librarians are only background characters in episodes of various series, including Revolutionary Girl Utena, Little Witch Academia, and Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters. Again, sadly, all these characters can’t fully fulfill all the aspects of the LPT.

The librarian shown as unable to shelve books correctly.

More specifically, the spinister librarian in the Futurama episode “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” is there literally for laughs, being so “dumb” that she can’t even shelve a book correctly in the city’s library. Furthermore, the unnamed librarian of the Buddy Buddwick Library in Steven Universe episode “Buddy’s Book,” shushes the protagonists, Steven and Connie, not once…but twice! Additionally, there is a character named “The Librarian” in She-Ra: Princess of Power episode, “Three Courageous Hearts,” who helps the protagonists, but he is White, and male, fulfilling so many stereotypes often associated with librarians, especially in animation. Unfortunately, even the character played by Emilio Estevez, Stuart Goodson, in the film The Public, does not succeed at fulfilling this test, as he is not shown much beyond being…a librarian, albeit an atypical one. Even so, the film is definitely worth seeing. These are, again, more portrayals which do not fulfill all the aspects of the LPT, as explained earlier.

There are some characters which go past stereotypes and fulfill the LPT. [2] Some arguably do this, like Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry or even, to some extent, Turtle Princess in Adventure Time. In the latter case, she undoubtedly shushes the protagonists, but she is more than just a librarian, having a major role in two episodes, and a minor role in 19 episodes, according to her fandom page. The latter describes her as “a princess who is also the head of a library in the Land of Ooo. She is considered a registered princess.” More significantly is Doctor Oldham in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and the protagonist of Ascendance of A Bookworm, Myne, who is becoming a librarian! In the case of Oldham, he is much more than a librarian, as he is a doctor, a sage, and such. He is a bit like Jocasta Nu in Star Wars, the Jedi Archivist, but does not believe he has all the information there is, unlike her. George and Lance, on the other hand, are the fathers of one of the protagonists, Bow, and are historical researchers, historians to be exact, clearly having a life outside of curating their library. As for Myne, she has wide interests and desires in this medieval society, whether it is re-organizing books while using a Japanese version of the Dewey Decimal System, helping her friends, or making books, she is very industrious.

Kaisa, the librarian in the Trolberg City Library, is another excellent example of a character who has a life outside the library. While this wasn’t clear from her appearance in the first season of Hilda, in the second season she got a name and was shown to be a witch, even helping the protagonists track down tide mice which took over a local company. She is never shown shushing people, only telling the protagonist and her friends to keep it down because the library is closed, and is clearly atypical in comparison to most librarian portrayals, fights in the bowels of the beautiful library alongside the protagonists. She also, likely, has a professional degree in library science, although it is never specifically mentioned. Her character undoubtedly fulfills the LPT.

Hisa in various episodes of R.O.D. the TV, one of the librarians in the series and classmate of one of the protagonists.

Apart from Oldham, George, Lance, and Kaisa are the librarians in Read or Die and R.O.D. the TV. They are much more than librarians, but can wield paper, using their papermaster skills to fight off those trying to restrict the flow of knowledge. The same is the case for the librarian-soldiers in Library War and it contrasts Francis Clara Censordoll in Moral Orel, who is dedicated toward censorship by any means possible, including book burning. While there are other examples of characters who are protagonists or recurring characters which are more than their jobs as librarians, especially in anime series, [3] there are a few wonderful examples. One of these is Sara and Jeffrey in Too Loud, who are librarians which are clearly too loud, but they make it their place of work, and they help other people around the town, not chained to the library. While there are also older librarians, even they arguably may not be totally stereotypical. Another example is Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. While she is first and foremost shown as a librarian, she is much more than that, helping the protagonists fight the villains, gather information, and access it, that is held in the library of The Wayne, known as The Stanza. She is also a Black woman, unique for portrayal of librarians, especially in Western animation, which are generally shown as White women. She has a daughter, Goodness, who helps her with the library, while she remains the chief librarian, as do many other helpers, so she isn’t doing all the work alone.

Other well-developed characters, who happen to be librarians, also appear in animation, especially, from time to time. This includes Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, who has her own personal beautiful library. Like Myne, she wants to, in one of the Equestria Girls specials, reorganize the library using a cataloging machine. The same can be said, you could argue, about the Wizard librarian in episodes of Prisoner Zero, as he starts as a librarian, who runs a beautiful and amazing library in the bowels of the ship. He later becomes one of the protagonists and helps the heroes fight evil and win the day in whatever way he can. Best of all is Sophie Twilight in Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood, who is shown weeding her own library, getting rid of books she doesn’t want anymore and is willing to give away, one of the first times I’ve seen weeding of materials shown in an animated series.

Most recently, Amity Blight in The Owl House has been confirmed as a librarian. While she was shown as doing storytime at the Bonesborough Public Library before, and she fought alongside Luz Noceda, her love interest, in the stacks against books which had come to life, a recent episode expanded this. As I noted in my July 11th newsletter, in the episode “Through the Looking Glass Ruins,” Amity and Luz travel to the “Forbidden Stacks” to find a book by a human who came to Boiling Isles before Luz ended up there by accident. By the end, Amity and Luz strengthen their bond as friends, and companions, after Luz gets Amity’s job as a librarian back. Amazing to have a LGBTQ librarian (Amity is a lesbian) be in such a prominent show. That’s cool.

Luz and Amity shush each other in hopes of being quiet enough so they can hide from Amity’s boss…

Another librarian who undoubtedly passes the LPT is Blinky. He appears across the Tales of Arcadia trilogy, but his role is a librarian is mostly emphasized in Trollhunters. As I noted in a recent post, his character, voiced by Kelsey Grammer, is an information provider, and atypical when it comes to portrayal libraries. This is because he is a well-rounded character, intelligent, well-read, and for most of the scenes he appears in, he is NOT in a library. However, he has no professional training and his library is mainly filled with books, making it a book depository in a sense. Unfortunately, we never see what classification or organization system he uses, although he undoubtedly has one. On the other hand, his library is shown as a place of knowledge, with characters using it often, and he is so vital to the show that if he was removed from the story, then it would unravel. On the whole, he is one of the best depictions of librarians I have seen in popular culture and in animated series, in some time, and he should be praised for that.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Other examples include Ms. Hatchet in an episode of Kim Possible, Mrs. Shusher in The Replacements, Libro Shushman in Teamo Supremo, Rita Loud in Timon & Pumbaa, Bat Librarian in Rose of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mrs. L in Dexter’s Laboratory, as noted in my post back in April.

[2] While the life of Swampy in Phineas and Ferb is shown outside the library, he is never shown in the library again after his debut episode, meaning he has become a rock star, and clearly fulfills the stereotype of a librarian who is a failure. Otherwise, Khensu in Cleopatra in Space, if he is considered a librarian, would fulfill this test, easily. The same can, obviously, be said about Mateo in Elena of Avalor, Ah-Mah in The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, and Kaeloo in Kaeloo, if all of this characters are counted as librarians.

[3] I’m specifically referring to Lilith in Yamibou, Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words, Yamada in B Gata H Kei, Fumi Manjome in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers, Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, and Anne and Grea in Manaria Friends. Additionally, in some episodes of Mira, Royal Detective, Mira and her father act as librarians in regard to the mobile library.

11 replies on “Applying the “Librarian Portrayal Test” to librarian depictions”

[…] In 2021, I had posts about recently added titles in July / August, September, October, November, and December, and added a page about librarians, and libraries, in comics and webcomics. I liked writing about Kaisa in Hilda (also see here), the chief librarian, and Black woman, in the series Welcome to the Wayne, Clara Rhone, and the British wrestler-librarian, the wonderful buff librarian, in an episode of Totally Spies. The same can be said about the librarian protagonists in Too Loud, the vampire librarian Sophie Twilight and the value of weeding collections, and the quiet sanctum and “peaceful” reading in the Seiran Academy library in Dear Brother. I also proposed the Librarian Proposal Test in August 10 in a post about the We Bare Bears, and expanded upon it on August 31. […]

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[…] In the Futurama episode “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” one of the Big Brains remarks that humans had doomed themselves by arranging knowledge by category, making it “easier to absorb.” He then declares that the DDC played right into their hands, laughing maniacally. In an episode of Ascendance of a Bookworm, Myne, the anime’s protagonist, advocates for re-organizing all the books in a temple library using the NDC (Nippon Decimal Classification) system, which is the Japanese version of the DDC, which she remembers from her previous life. Although she can’t organize all the books, she is able to make sure the books are more ordered than elsewhere they were before. She even had a PSA on the role of Melvil Dewey, argues later about the importance of giving away books for free rather than for profit, and industrious. […]

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