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Is Kaisa, the librarian in “Hilda”, experiencing burnout?

Poor Kaisa, she just wants to finish her library tasks and re-shelve books, but Hilda has to be persistent.

When I first wrote about the librarian in Hilda for I Love Libraries, I was excited. In the process, I accepted removals of some content in hopes that would allow it to be published. And the article was published in September of last year. One of those removals was a description of a season 1 episode where the librarian, at that time unnamed but later is revealed to be named Kaisa, being exhausted and fatigued. I’d like to focus on that aspect of the episode in this post.

Jade Geary and Brittany Hickey in an article for In the Library with the Lead Pipe use the definition of Christina Maslach, a creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) with Susan E. Jackson, defining it as “a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind.” Geary and Hickley note that the primary factors which lead to such burnout are: “an unsustainable workload, role conflict and a lack of personal control at work, insufficient recognition or compensation, lack of social support, a sense of unfairness, and personal values that are at odds with the organization’s values.” This is coupled with concepts of burnout like feelings of detachment and cynicism from a job, a lack of accomplishment, sense of ineffectiveness, and overwhelming exhaustion, while physical symptoms include hypertension, muscle tension, headaches, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, cold/flu episodes, and gastrointestinal disorders, to name a few.

Now, the question remains: Is Kaisa experiencing burnout, or what could be called “librarian fatigue” (or just “librarian burnout”)? Well, in the episode “Chapter 9: The Ghost,” Hilda, Frida, and David enter the Trollberg library. They see Kaisa behind the circulation desk and she is putting books on a cart. Hilda asks for information about ghosts and Kaisa guesses what Hilda wants (a book on getting rid of ghosts) before Hilda can say anything else. She pulls the book back, saying the book “just slipped,” and she wasn’t recommending it. Following that, we see this expression on her face:

While she seems dedicated to finish her task of reshelving books, pushing a book cart, she is intrigued when she learns about a ghost which used to clean Frida’s room, striking that itch in her brain, and her interest. So, she begins asking Frida about the ghost, bringing the conversation to a morbid place, saying that “the hardest thing about dying is leaving all your stuff behind.” Frida, Hilda, and David determine that the book Frida lost was owned by the ghost. Somehow she knows the exact location of the ghost who “took” Frida’s book an when she is asked by Hilda if she knows the location of every grave, she scoffs. So, she climbs up to a tall ladder to find the city records to double-check herself. In the book of city records, what she finds confirms what she said before. When Hilda points out she said the same thing before, she denies that it is true. She then secretly gives Hilda the tools to raise the dead, and warns her that using them will break the veil between the world of the dead and the world of humans. Hilda insists that she needs the tools, Kaisa tells her it will be “fun” and she climbs back up the ladder to shelve the city records book.

Now, this library scene itself is not even two minutes long, only one minute, 33 seconds by my count, to be exact. Her demeanor during this exchange, with a demanding patron (in the case of Hilda) points to emotional exhaustion. Scholars Thomas A. Wright, Russell Cropanzano, and Dov Zohar describe it being exhausted by your work and being “emotionally overextended,” manifested by physical fatigue and feelings drained emotionally and psychologically. [1] How about depersonalization? Well, scholars Mauricio Sierra, German E. Berrios, Daniel Hall-Flavin, Filip Radovic, and Susanna Radovic define this as being detached from one’s self, in terms of their body or mind, or when one is a detached observer of themself. [2] The best example I can think of is how Jahy, in The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, acts in the 10th episode “The Magical Girl Will Not Lose!” when she feels she is working as a server at the pub on autopilot, without much thought. It doesn’t seem that Kaisa is experiencing this. Evan so, she does seem to downplay her personal knowledge, when she scoffs at the idea that she knows all the cemetery records by heart and denies when she finds the same information in city records. I would argue that qualifies as “reduced personal accomplishment.” So, you could say that Kaisa exhibits many, but not all, of the qualities of burnout.

On the other hand, we can’t say for certain that her workload is sustainable or unsustainable, if she has a lack of personal control over her workplace, is insufficiently compensated or recognized, or has a lack of social support, all of which are said to be main factors which lead to burnout. She also does not seem to have personal values which are not in alignment with the organization’s values. While she clearly shows pride in being able to answer questions and show her knowledge, she also seems to doubt herself and her accomplishment, as she could have saved herself the trouble of looking through the city records and could have used her own knowledge instead. But, you could also say that perhaps this was a plan by Kaisa all along so she could separate Hilda from the rest of her friends and give her what she needed to raise the dead. So, maybe she could see the future and let it unfold this way in order to assist Hilda and her friends. If that is true, it is ingenious.

Kaisa excited while reading a book which abstracts city records

We do not know how many other people work at the Trolberg Library. Hopefully she isn’t the only one. Since viewers never see her home life, we will never know if Kaisa experiences colds, flues, muscle tension, hypertension, headaches, disturbances in sleep, or more, as a librarian. However, her experience of librarian burnout/fatigue is not unique.

For instance, the librarian in Prisoner Zero (called “Librarian” and never given a real name) is exhausted by his duties. He is the first character I’ve seen who indicates his experience with librarian burnout. Furthermore, there is an unnamed female librarian of color in We Bare Bears (likely a Thai woman), who looks a little like a spinster librarian and wants to enforce the rules. She becomes frustrated with the protagonists “so much that she leaves them and walks away.” As I argued in the above linked post, perhaps she “can’t deal with them and has been through a lot that day, is overworked, and needs a break,” even though she goes on a short break. She even lets the protagonists sleep in the library! Unlike her, Kaisa is White, so she isn’t experiencing from some level of race fatigue. [3]

All in all, librarian burnout/fatigue is undoubtedly something which librarians need to discuss more openly. It is also something that should be shown more directly in depictions of librarians, so they are more realistic as to actual librarianship, not seeped in stereotypes of excessive shushing or penalizing people for the tiniest infractions (like overdue book fines) with draconian rules that make librarians out to look as some sort of villains, portrayals which hurt the profession.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] This comes from Wright and Cropanzano’s 1998 article in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled “Emotional exhaustion as a predictor of job performance and voluntary turnover” and Zohar’s March 1997 article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior entitled “Predicting burnout with a hassle-based measure of role demands.” There are many more sources on the citation list on the Wikipedia page for emotional exhaustion, but these are two of the sources on that page.

[2] This summarizes definitions noted in a 2001 The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease article by Sierra and Berrios entitled “The phenomenological stability of depersonalization: Comparing the old with the new,” Daniel Hall-Flavin of The Mayo Clinic in a page entitled “Depersonalization-derealization disorder,” and F. Radovic and S. Radovic in a 2002 Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology article entitled “Feelings of Unreality: A Conceptual and Phenomenological Analysis of the Language of Depersonalization.” Other sources can be found on the citation list of the “Depersonalization” Wikipedia page for starters.

[3] April Hathcock defines race fatigue as the “physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions” that happen in the presence of White people.


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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