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“You are way buff”: Re-examining the wrestler-librarian in Totally Spies!

Jerry, the head of WHOOP, calls the librarian “mild-mannered” as he shows a video of the librarian decking a problem patron

Back in May 2021, I wrote about an April 2003 episode of Totally Spies! which begins with a scene in the Liverpool Library. A middle-aged White woman with a hair bun who is confronted by an irate patron who refused to pay fines for his overdue books, and she accepts this, not knowing what else to do. This changes when a pendant wielded by a man in the shadows causes her personality to change, resulting in her grabbing the patron, holding him the air and throwing him onto the ground, shocking the students. She follows this by laughing at his misfortune. As I joked then, “Don’t return books late to her! She’ll deck you!” Since I’m actually watching the entire series, episode-by-episode, it only seemed right to come to this with a new perspective, considering how much I’ve written since then.

The episode clearly is setting the expectation that librarians aren’t “supposed” to be this strong. Rather they supposed to be “wimps,” as the librarian herself remarks, and “mild-mannered” as Jerry, the head of WHOOP, head of the spy agency that Sam, Alex, and Clover work for, put it. Without a doubt, it is wrong for a librarian to assault patrons. Her reaction is understandable, though, as he was being a jerk. This is further reinforced when the spies go to the librarian’s apartment house in Liverpool, where she is weightlifting, and later says that in the past all she lived for was books and an afternoon cup of tea, but now there is so much more in her life. She says this as she starts jumping rope, can now bench 150 pounds, and is working on her abs, as the spies leave her be, even as they are puzzled.

While they are there, Clover seems to question that she is even a librarian, asking her, “Are you sure you’re a librarian because sister you are way buff?” After they leave the apartment, Clover then tells Alex and Sam, “what a freak show. How often do you meet a wrestling librarian?” Again, being a buff librarian is seen as a negative, something which isn’t “normal.” Alex makes a bad joke about how it is just as unlikely as being an international spy. Sam looks at a local paper and saws it can’t a coincidence that a pro-wrestler retired, so they go to a wrestling gymnasium, finding the wrestler who now likes to read books. It is then, with an idea from Alex, that Sam realizes they have switched personalities. On the one hand, Clover may be perturbed by this “different” librarian while Alex and Sam may find it weird. However, when it comes down to it, I would even venture that Sam, and maybe even Alex, are fine with this librarian being buff, as long as the librarian isn’t decking patrons of course.

Later on, doing their typical spy work, Sam, Clover, and Alex go into the Liverpool Library, dressing up in professional clothes so they can get in. For reasons not known, the librarian isn’t there, but this allows them to break into a locked drawer, find the date book of the librarian, hoping to find the connection between the wrestler and librarian. They find it is a man named Dr. Gray, a psychotherapist. He has a personality adjuster which he made because he tired of hearing people complain and wants people to walk in each other’s shoes if you will, in an extreme form of psychotherapy, but not to deviate from their set societal roles. In my original post I said that the actions of the spies seemed unnecessary as they could have “asked the librarian about it rather than stealing her book” and that this made them “bad spies.” When rewatching the episode, it is implied that Sam only opens the locked drawer to look at the date book, not to steal it. So, likely, the book was returned to the drawer and locked up again.

The librarian weight-lifting while the spies look on

By the episode end, there is an open question as to whether those whose personalities have been switched are switched back. This is because the spies don’t have time to switch back the personalities of anyone, apart from Jerry and Clover. Did they switch the personalities of the librarian and wrestler? Or did they leave them intact? That is open to viewer interpretation, as WHOOP now possesses the behavioral adjuster and can use it if they want. It means, as I said in the original post, that it is possible that “the buff librarian is still out there.” In that post I also argued that this librarian seemed to fulfill the spinster librarian stereotype outlined by Jennifer Snoek-Brown on Reel Librarians, adding that when the librarian becomes buff, she becomes “scary,” arguing that when she throws the patron on the ground, it is a show of authority, making others afraid “to cross her.” I further asked if she is still hoarding information as a rule-monger, stated that she is not timid or meek anymore, might even possibly be comic relief, but is not flirtatious or sexy. I concluded that post by saying:

I hope that if her personality did change, she becomes more assertive and stands up to people who don’t follow library rules in the future. So, I have a mixed view of this buff librarian, although you could argue she busts existing stereotypes I suppose. For sure, her character is definitely different than the shushing librarians or anything else I’ve seen in any of the reviews on this blog, for sure!

I still believe that, but I’d like to go beyond that analysis. I would argue that by being buff, this librarian is going against usual depictions of librarians, often as those who are strict, elderly, and uptight, as Snoek-Brown explains. She shares some characteristics with the “Liberated librarian” character type, in that she undergoes a change in appearance, becoming more feminine and attractive, but she is still committed to libraries, although in a new way. Due to her age, probably in her 40s or 50s, she is not a spirited young girl. Although she can become violent, she isn’t shown to be sexually charged or flirtatious, like the naughty librarian character type, despite letting her “hair down” outside the conversation. She is just a librarian who likes to pump iron. She undoubtedly continues to be an information provider who provides information, highlights importance of rules, or engages in occupational tasks, but is not necessarily comic relief like some other librarians. I still think it is possible she was voiced by Janice Kawaye, an actress of Japanese descent who has voiced characters since 1983.

Although this librarian in Totally Spies! is the only fictional librarian that I am aware of who lifts weights, jumps rope, and does other exercises, there are actual librarians who are also weightlifters! One of these is Katie Montague, who worked Princeton Theological Seminary Library as a Manuscript Metadata and Quality Assurance Assistant and a Librarian for the Monmouth County Public Library System. She is also a weightlifter, saying on now defunct blog where she promoted what is close to her heart, like “reading and lifting, and…some pelvic floor awareness.” It was also noted that she lifts weights and enjoys “reading manuscripts in the library.” An interview with her in October 2017 claimed that she is “redefining the librarian cliché while simultaneously turning the lifting world upside down.” [1] It listed her full name, and low, and behold, she is still working at Princeton Theological Seminary Library, and has been a

More recently, there is Krystal Gagen-Spriggs, a lecturer in Teacher Librarianship and PhD Candidate. She works at Charles Sturt University as Lecturer in Teacher Librarianship, as she noted on her blog, Adventures of the Lifting Librarian. She currently has an Instagram with the username “theliftinglibrarian.” Unlike Montague, she lives in Australia, so that makes her experiences in librarianship different from someone who works in the United States. [2] Additional weight-lifting librarians include Fort McMurray Public Library director Carolyn Goolsby, Episcopal High School library director Tiffany Whitehead, a librarian named Megan A. Brooks, otherwise known as Library Grrl, and former librarian (and current fundraiser) Kate Tkacik Sweeney. In 2013, Goolsby was interviewed by a local paper in Fort McMurray, which said she is “far from the soft-spoken, matronly librarians of yore.” There’s also a Salt Lake City librarian, Josh Hanagarne, who wrote a book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, and founder of a “popular blog” on books and weight lifting.” So, I suppose he is a weightlifting librarian too. He is still at the Salt Lake City Public Library and is a professional speaker. [3]

The buff librarian prepares to work on her abs. She looks very fit in this shot. Funny that she still keeps her hair up in a bun, despite it all.

In writing this post, I really got into it and found that there are two wrestlers out there who compete using a librarian gimmick! Oft-cosplayer and streamer, Leva Bates, joined the women’s roster of an elite wrestling company as “The Librarian” in 2019, an idea that wrestler Cody Rhodes came up with and proposed to her as an idea, saying she chose the gimmick for fun and that it fits her personality. She competes with Peter Avalon, a Cuban-American wrestler, who debuted in the same wrestling company, with both wrestling each other who is the “librarian,” playing off one another. Avalon called it something “silly” and saying that the character needs good writing, seeming to retire from doing the gimmick sometime this year. Its a bit funny even as Bates gimmick is a bit stereotypical in its portrayal, as she uses books as weapons and comically shushes opponents during matches, even though some have grumbled that “nobody” cares about her character and snarled it is “not an interesting gimmick.” On the other hand, Bates has used her librarian gimmick to ask people to sign up for library cards at the East Orange Public Library, and has recommended comics in the middle of matches. [4] In addition to this, there is a now-defunct blog by Dante Namibia named Wrestling with Dewey which tries to combine wrestling and a “fledgling career as a school librarian,” a fictional character named Benjamin Cole, part of a fictional wrestling company, who was a librarian and is now a wrestler.

As one librarian, Siobhan, put it on Twitter, “every time someone expresses surprise to meet a cat-averse, weightlifting, comic book-reading, NIN-listening librarian, it’s sure sign they have never met an actual librarian. I clearly need to get a tattoo to complete the set.” I have to agree with this sentiment and the fact there are weightlifting librarians out there is pretty cool if you ask me. As inaccurate image of a librarian in popular culture, a “petite, humorless woman…dressed in dowdy clothes, spectacles on her face, [and] hair knotted in a bun.” A weightlifting librarian, or a wrestler-librarian in the case of this Totally Spies! episode, blows that completely out of the water, without question.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Kaitlin Monague, “About Me,” The Lifting Librarian, c. 2017; “The Weightlifting Librarian – Pelvic Physical Therapy and Lifting Weights,” MK strength & conditioning, Jan. 27, 2017; Jennifer McDowell, “The Lifting Librarian: An Interview with Kaitlin Montague,” The Lifting Librarian, Oct. 10, 2017.

[2] Krystal Gagen-Spriggs, “Home,” Adventures of the Lifting Librarian, accessed Mar. 16, 2022; Krystal Gagen-Spriggs LinkedIn page, accessed Mar. 16, 2022.

[3] “Librarian holds the title of Jeopardy champion and set several world weightlifting records,” LISNews, Mar. 4, 2013; Tiffany Whitehead, “Weightlifting is it for me! I subscribe to @bretcontreras program and have stuck with it for over two years now. Monthly program subscription means it doesn’t get dull and I’m always learning new things!,” Twitter, Oct. 15, 2021; Tiffany Whitehead, “About Me,” Mighty Little Librarian, c. 2012; Megan A. Brooks, “As someone who is more into the mushing aspects of your world, it is super easy to scroll past anything that I’m less interested in. (I’m a librarian who tweets about skiing, dogs, libraries, educational technology, weightlifting, politics, and whatever else comes to mind…),” Twitter, Jan. 21, 2019; Megan A. Brooks, “Extra Curriculars,” Library Grrl, Nov. 13, 2014; Kate Tkacik Sweeney, “Going Slower to Get Stronger,” Medium, May 29, 2020; Amanda Richardson, “Not your average librarian,” Fort McMurray Today, Mar. 3, 2013; Josh Hanagarne LinkedIn page, accessed Mar. 16, 2022. Kate Tkacik Sweeney, an advisor to Everylibrary, also says she likes weightlifting.

[4] “Leva Bates: ‘The Librarian’,” FITE, accessed Mar. 16, 2022; “Peter Avalon: ‘The Librarian’,” FITE, accessed Mar. 16, 2022; Connor CaseyLeva Bates Reveals How The Librarian Gimmick Got Her Hired by AEW,” ComicBook, Oct. 9, 2019; Marc Middleton, “New AEW Signings Revealed, Who Is The Librarian?,” Wrestling Inc., Apr. 22, 2019; East Orange Public Library, “As we round out this year’s National Library Card Sign-Up Month, The East Orange Public Library would like to thank All Elite Wrestling and their resident librarian LEVA BATES for their partnership and support of libraries, education, and literacy!,” Facebook, Sept. 27, 2021; “All Elite Wrestling’s ‘Librarian’ LEVA BATES wants you to get your library card for National Library Card Sign-Up Month!,” East Orange Public Library, Sept. 27, 2021; Meet CT’s go-to stylist for wrestling and Hollywood royalty,” Connecticut Magazine, Mar. 20, 2020; Noah Dominguez, “AEW: Leva Bates Is Recommending Comics – In the Middle of Wrestling Matches,” CBR, ; Ryan Clark, “Leva Bates Reveals Who Came Up With The Idea To Have Her Become The Librarian,” ewrestlingnews, Sept. 5, 2021; Jason Ounpraseuth, “‘The Librarian’ Leva Bates Talks WWE Never Signing Her During Her Run With The Company,” Wrestling Inc., Oct. 22, 2020; Joe Anthony Myrick, “AEW: Why Leva Bates would make the perfect Librarian,” Fansided, 2020; Matthew Wilkinson, “9 AEW Wrestlers That Are In Desperate Need Of Repackaging,” The Sportster, Jun. 1, 2021; Ryan Clark, “Peter Avalon Reveals Why The Librarian Gimmick Didn’t Work In AEW,” ewrestlingnews, Feb. 12, 2022; “New AEW Signings Revealed, Who Is The Librarian?,” wrestlingattitude, Apr. 22, 2019; “Four Wrestlers Added to the AEW Roster,” TPWW, Apr. 22, 2019; “Wrestling Doesn’t Pay,” TV Tropes, accessed Mar. 16, 2022; Altamush Nayyer Khan, “Peter Avalon Speaks About The Librarian Character,” Wrestling World, Jul. 24, 2021; Gisberto Guzzo & Jeremy Lambert, “Peter Avalon On Why The Librarian Failed: “I Think It’s Because The Character Needs Writing”,” Fightful, Feb. 12, 2022. There’s also Joseph Paul Paynter, who called himself “The Liberal Librarian” and is reportedly a librarian turned wrestler, who is now retired. I thought this passage from a New York Times Magazine article in 2014 was funny: “He passed a librarian from Jackson, Miss., wearing a Batman T-shirt with ab muscles painted on it. The librarian’s arms and face quivered from the effort of trying to perform Page’s slow-count push-ups.”

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.

2 replies on ““You are way buff”: Re-examining the wrestler-librarian in Totally Spies!”

I love this! Librarians are so much more than we’ve ever been “taught” they were. Thanks for breaking down the stereotype and thanks for the mention!

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Glad to hear that. Always great to get comments on here. Librarians are so much more than any stereotype, for sure. In the process of writing this post, I also found some axe-throwing librarians too, and I might write about that in the future as well.

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