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Sarah, the book jail, and the “sanctity of library property” in “Too Loud”

As you all might remember, back in February 2021, I wrote about Too Loud, a short-lived animated series, for I Love Libraries, calling it a “example of libraries in animation” which viewers of all ages can “enjoy its message about the value of libraries.” However, the above shown episode is something I’d like to revisit in this post. When writing that article, I was under the impression that my articles for I Love Libraries needed to be positive and upbeat, resulting in me downplaying some criticisms I had when shows portrayed libraries in a negative way, so I’d like to revisit that, building on my original perception that the episode “does sound pretty negative.” [1] In the future, I may revisit some of my other posts I wrote for I Love Libraries and be more critical than I was in the past. This post is part of that. I know that not everyone will agree with everything I write in this post, but decided to write this post anyway, even though it is obviously not comprehensive on any of the issues addressed in this article, only touching on the surface of them.

The episode begins with Desiree (presenting as Jeffrey), Sarah, and Sara crossing off late returns from the list, with Sara saying they don’t mess around with late library books. The viewers then see a book jail of offenders which is guarded by Mildred, another librarian. Desiree confirms that, declaring that as librarians they rule “with a iron fist.” This is a terrifying thought, with librarians coming and repossessing books through use of force, and it scares Sarah so much that she doesn’t even want go along with the scheme, at first.

They go to find the last book on their list, about juggling, but the person, Logan, says the book “ties the room together” and that it is his copy, closing the door on them. So, they break into a person’s house to get an overdue book. Sarah is unsure about this plan, calling it extreme, but Desiree keeps talking about the iron fist of the librarian and tells her to think about the “sanctity of library property.” Sarah agrees to help them and sneak into the house, becoming a rat queen, with Sara and Desiree distracting Logan. Eventually they get their handle on the book, with Sara describing it as “library property.” After the room collapses, it turns out the book they had grabbed is the wrong one, with Jeffrey having the book in his “cavernous pie hole” but had forgot to re-shelve it. Following this, Sara and Sarah leave, while Desiree is left there, as a piece of the drywall comes and seems to kill (or injure) Logan, and the episode comes to a close.

When I originally looked at this series I said that Sarah, Sara, and Desiree learn the less that “being punitive with those who have overdue books is not worth it.” I don’t think that’s the lesson at all. Instead, I think this episode is highlighting the importance of proper organization and cataloging. If Desiree had cataloged the book correctly, then it wouldn’t have been on the overdue visit in the first place, and this whole incident would have been unnecessary. More than that, I would say this episode shows how libraries can be punitive with wanting to protect their property and implying the interconnection of this with the criminal legal system, embodied by the book jail:

You could easily interpret that the episode as criticizing this punitive nature of libraries. Even so, the episode is relatively short, not even six minutes long, so there isn’t that much time to explore these themes. However, the episode can still be related to how libraries, in the real world, work with the criminal legal system and the police force, something which has been contentious in recent years. This came to the fore when it was noted by Teen Vogue that the budget of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) prioritized policing since John Szabo became the head of the library system,  with organizers finding that 5% of the library budget went to security in 2020 alone, and funneled toward the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

Other libraries have done the same, like Austin Public Library and Denver Public Library, while there has been cop-free library movements in “St. Louis, New York City, and at Ivy League University libraries.” A similar movement at the St. Louis County Library, the latter which was successful, and efforts to replace “police with social service workers,” while community policing is used by the LAPD in libraries themselves was also noted. This is all part of a push for more library policing. This has been resisted by groups like the Abolitionist Library Association (AbLA), described as “a group of library workers, students, and community members who aim to divest money from policing in libraries and redistribute resources to communities.” AbLA defines themselves as supporting a world without prisons or policing, with a goal to “create libraries that are rooted in community self-determination and intellectual freedom through collective action,” achieving this by establishing a group of “library and information workers to support each other in doing divestment work,” sharing ideas, support, and strategy for “abolition in libraries,” along with “creating and sharing resources about ending police involvement in information spaces and…pressuring stakeholders and decision-makers to divest from police.”

Whether you agree with AbLA or not, the fact is that libraries are intertwined with police departments in their respective cities and/or institutions. This makes sense since libraries are public entities, part of the government, university, or other institution, not something separate, for the most part, with some libraries created and run by their communities as an exception. Library literature itself, as noted by Ben Robinson in the publication In the Library with the Lead Pipe, often encourages library staff “develop close relationships with local police and security guards without considering the negative effects this closeness can have on patrons who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC), people experiencing mental illness, and people from other marginalized communities,” even though research has shown the latter. Robinson argues that in order to make libraries safe places for everyone, those working in libraries need to “incorporate insights from other disciplines into their practice and begin to meaningfully address the complicated roles of police and security guards in the public library.” Other articles noted that some libraries are revisiting how they have historically interacted with police, whether through hosting “police-led community programming…hiring off-duty police as security officers, or calling 911 on disruptive patrons,” with divestment for police also argued for by the Library Freedom Project.

There is evidence that public libraries in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Washington State, California, and Baltimore, teamed up with police to share their data. If libraries are willingly partnering with police, letting them provide security, and supporting them in different ways, then how effective can libraries be in “stopping the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts Black youth” which ALA President Wanda Kay Brown believed that libraries could do? It seems that if a library partnered with police it would invalidate any positive good which would come from anti-racist action. This would even be the case for the library preserving the websites of police unions, organizations which support the police no matter what, even if they brutalize and hurt people.

I would further argue that this episode of Too Loud notes the connection between libraries and the criminal legal system rather than accepting it  as a norm. While I don’t want to overthink this topic, I do think the fact that the books are described as “library property” that needs to be kept no matter the consequences to patrons is an interesting theme. It can easily be connected to the punitive nature of the criminal legal system, with some libraries coming down much harder on patrons than others. And this feeds into stereotypes about libraries, manifested by librarians aggressively shushing patrons in animated series after animated series. However, Too Loud does not fall into that stereotype. Instead, this enforcement, the library bringing down its “iron fist,” is just seen as part of the library itself.

Perhaps that is the takeaway from this episode, that libraries are not always the rosy places we see them as, but can have a “dark side” as it could be called, which can be punitive. This makes it no surprise that some are intimidated by libraries, as fines can be punitive in various ways, especially since fine-free initiatives have not reached all libraries, with some sticking to it, even if it draws away patrons. Unlike Little Free Library and others, which actively cooperate with the police,  from what I remember, no police are ever shown in the public library in Too Loud, nor is the library flying any flags which support police unconditionally. That doesn’t mean that police don’t exist, in that world. By having something like a book jail, the library is clearly supporting the criminal legal system, if we are to take the visualization of the book jail seriously, and not as something that Sarah created in her head, which is a possibility, I suppose.

With an episode that is so short, there are a multitude of explanations here, but I believe that people can take from the episode, at most, about the interconnection of libraries and the criminal legal system, and at minimum, about the too often punitive nature of libraries, even those which have committed themselves to anti-racist actions. While the latter has been addressed with fine-free initiatives, the former has largely been kept in place in many libraries. With continued police brutality and terrorizing of certain populations, in the U.S. (where the library in Too Loud is undoubtedly located), libraries should rethink their relation to police and make sure they are not playing a role in supporting oppressive systems. You could say there are many reasons you could come up with for using police presence in a library, especially for security reasons, when it comes to stopping so-called “problem patrons” (i.e. usually unhoused people), “theft,” or people protesting sensible mask mandates. Such approaches are often not done while considering that bringing police into a library will push away patrons, especially Black and brown people, who do not want to be in the same place as those who brutalize their communities, and the fact such people will not feel safe in those spaces. These approaches undermine the role of the library as a community space for all.

In the end, the Too Loud episode, “Checked Out,” could be interpreted in so many ways, and I’m, personally, not sure which interpretation is the right one, and which is the wrong one. One conclusion that could be drawn from the episode is that libraries, and librarians by extension, are not neutral, but rather they are political institutions which are part of oppressive systems, whether they state they are, or not. Just as museums, archives, and other cultural institutions are not, and have never been, neutral, the same applies to libraries as well. That could be the biggest takeaway from this, as they are not shown cooperating with the police directly like the superheroes in DC Super Hero Girls in many of the episodes, and rather are enforcing rules on their own. With that, this post comes to a close.

Sara declares a book on the shelf is library property and must be seized

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] In an email on Feb. 2, I told Lindsey Simon, formerly of ALA, this, adding that I wasn’t sure about the episode, and saying that I believed they learn a lesson in the end, as the house the library is in literally collapses, adding that the book jail may be imagined, or even real, maybe in Sarah’s mind. Also, the post’s original title was “Having fun in the library: The uniqueness of “Too Loud”” but that was changed before its publication.

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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