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Smashing Stereotypes: Valerie the Librarian in “Spidey Super Stories”

Valerie the Librarian and E.Z. Reader in a cropped version of the “The Book-Worm Bully!” story in a Dec. 1975 issue of Spidey Super Stories

In February 7, in my weekly newsletter, I mentioned Valerie the Librarian, a character who appeared in 14 episodes of the Spidey Super Stories. Some described Valerie as defending the library she works at from villains, while working with Spider-Man and standing against many 1970s stereotypes in media of Black people, including Black women,and mimic’s Spider-Man’s crawling abilities with suction cups on her fingers. In that newsletter I also mentioned that her character appeared in the educational television series The Electric Company, with Hattie Winston voicing Valerie from 1973 to 1976. [1]

There is more to Valerie than her donning a Spider-Man costume and a lackluster page on the Marvel fandom site. She is shown as a side character in one issue. In another, she has a supporting role in a later comic which is based on a script of The Electric Company by Sara Compton. [2] The cover sets the scene for a battle with book worm. It begins with Valerie filing books in a box, while E.Z. Reader is reading a book, and they work together and uncover a book worm! One of my favorite parts is where Valerie says she heard about the bookworm in library school, meaning that she has a MLIS, often not acknowledged or recognized in many depictions of librarians, apart from Mo Testa in Dykes to Watch Out For. They work with Spider-Man, who is quietly reading in the library, to stop the bookworm, but it escapes.

In one issue Valerie notes that patrons, even villains, are only able to take out a certain number of books at a time, has fun with E.Z. Reader (who has a button saying “word power”) as she does her librarian work, like asking someone for a library card before checking out their books, facing a villain who takes books including those other people are using. She gets help from Spider-Man often and even use a card catalog in order to try and defeat the Vanisher, a villain who makes objects vanish, causing him to read a spell which traps him in a jail. [3]

In others, a trickster sprays her in the face with water and so she traps him under a pile of books, dons an outfit as Spider Woman, and reads a magical mystery book. Spider-Man is always willing to lend a helping hand, but she is not incapable, even without spider powers, making wise cracks along the way. She has supporting roles in other comics, adding to stories even when she isn’t in the library. [4] In one comic, she deals with someone, Wanda, who steals huge number of books from the library, completely emptying the shelves, without checking them out with a library card. Despite this, Wanda is later satisfied when Valerie gets her a library card. [5]

Valerie tells the villain, The Vanisher, he can check out books, but only with a library card, on page 4 of a Spider Super Stories issue.

In later comics, Valerie is asked patron information about who had a book, gets her name in one comic on a placard at her desk, and realizes where she is a true hero: as a librarian, helping people. This is clear in one comic where the library is a mess when she isn’t there to help out, and it is noted that her job is important. [6] That’s not something you see in depictions of librarians every day. Her last mention in the Spidey Super Stories series is a comic in which she plays a secondary role, helping a detective, in some capacity, solve a case. She isn’t even seen in a library in that issue, which is unfortunate as its her last appearance in the comic, and it would have been better for her to go out on a better note than the last issue issue she appeared within.

So it makes more sense as to why she was not remembered, as Valerie does not have consistent secondary role in the comics, sometimes more in the background and other times having a more active role. At the same time, it appears, according to the Hattie Winston Wikipedia page, that Easy Reader (voiced by Morgan Freeman) was Valerie’s girlfriend in The Electric Company series, which explains their relation to each other a little more with how they interact with one another in the comics. Other sources show that Sylvia and Valerie, in the same show, are not the same, as I had previously thought. The Root said that Valerie’s actress joined the cast in the third season, playing a “groovy librarian” who sings a duet with Easy Reader in one episode while wearing sunglasses in a library for some reason. This really makes me want to watch The Electric Company, appearing in 520 episodes according to the listing on her IMDB page. [8]

There is more to Valerie the librarian than what I have previously mentioned. For one, she is the only one of Black female librarians that I have mentioned on this blog and I have found in animated shows, films, and comics that has a MLIS degree. Neither Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry, a Black woman who is voiced by a White actress, nor Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne, a Black woman voiced by Harriet D. Foy, are noted as having MLIS degrees, although it implied that both have such degrees. The same can be said about the unnamed Black male librarian in an episode of We Bare Bears. Unfortunately, some characters are not shown to have professional experience because they are in fantasy realms. This includes two gay Black men, George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, are self-declared historians who run a family library, making them de facto librarians, while O’Bengh / Cagliostro, a Nigerian man, in an episode of What If…?. As such, Valerie is the first Black librarian, male or female, that I have found who has a MLIS degree. And that it definitely significant!

People like Valerie are not common in the librarian profession, however. Currently the profession suffers from a “persistent lack of racial and ethnic diversity that has not changed significantly over the past 15 years,” with only 9.5 percent of librarians identified as Black or African American in the year 2020. [9] Despite this lack of diversity, there have been prominent Black female librarians who have their names etched in the annals of history. For instance, Catherine A. Latimer was the first Black librarian of New York Public Library. Dorothy Porter, who led Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, challenged the Dewey Decimal System’s racial bias and created her own classification system for Black scholarship. Marjorie Adele Blackistone Bradfield was the first Black librarian of Detroit Public Library, expanding the library’s Black literature collection. Belle Da Costa Greene was the personal librarian for J.P. Morgan, curating a collection of manuscripts, art, and rare books, but controversially passed as White. Alma Smith Jacobs was the first Black librarian in Montana, spearheading the construction of a modern library for the city of Great Falls. There are many more Black female librarians beyond the five mentioned in this paragraph, as these examples only scratch the surface of Black women’s impact on librarianship over the years. [10] In fact, one of the most outspoken Black female librarians in recent years is April Hathcock, who has been very prolific, passionate, and dedicated to librarianship. Her last post on her blog, to date, explains why she is leaving the American Library Association (ALA), calling it an organization “centered on promoting the ‘neutrality’ of white supremacy and capitalism.”

While the comic doesn’t show it, due to the fact that she is sometimes a background character and other times a secondary character, as a librarian who is a Black woman, she undoubtedly experienced racial microaggressions. This subject has been examined by scholars Shamika D. Dalton, Gail Mathapo, and Endia Sowers-Paige in a 10-page article in 2018 as it applies to Black women who are legal librarians, and more broadly by Caitlin M. J. Pollock and Shelley P. Haley the same year. In the latter article, they write that:

“Black women have always been integral to first literacy movements of the 1800s and later librarianship… literacy, social justice activism, and literary cultural production have always intersected for middle class, educated Black women…Activism, writing, and literacy have been interconnected in the history of Black women…These Black women [in the 1920s] were often librarians in white structures of power. They often had to struggle within those power structures that racialized and gendered them. For some of these women, they sought to contextualize their librarianship and libraries, some on a local level and some on a professional and national level. Regardless of the scope, these women had similar goals, to change, expand, and challenge libraries and librarianship…For some of these women, their work offered critiques of libraries that did not adhere to the ethos delineated by the laws…There were and are many more Black female librarians whose narratives are just as insightful and fascinating as the women described in this chapter…[but] these women do not have biographies written about them or their stories otherwise memorialized…Long before the practice became more accepted, Black women were critiquing and modifying the tools of library science, which were reinforcing the marginalization of Black Americans…we can infer that class and colorism played a role in which Black women were placed in librarian positions…One reason for the racial disparity is the continued structural whiteness and implicit racism in librarianship and libraries.” [11]

I wish some of this history informed the depiction of Valerie, Miss Lovely in Horrid Henry, or Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne, to name the three Black female librarians I’ve written about on this blog. More likely than not, all three were drawn and conceptualized by White people, especially since one of these three characters, Miss Lovely, is voiced by a White person after all. On the positive side, there are resources like those provided by the Black Caucus of the ALA, the Free Black Women’s Library which “celebrates the brilliance, diversity and imagination of Black women writers,” and the Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship reading list. Hopefully, in the future, I come across media with Black librarians who challenge established power structures, but I’m not holding my breath for that. Unfortunately, stereotypes of librarians continue to remain plentiful in pop culture. Even those librarians who are prominent, tend to be White and female, as is the case for those in The Owl House, Hilda, and Too Loud, to give three examples of shows in the last few years.

Valerie telling Spidey she is bored on page 15 of an issue of Spidey Super Stories

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] See Hunter, Nicholas. “Marvel’s Forgotten Original Spider-Woman Was A Black Librarian,” Screenrant, Jan. 28, 2022; Fraser, Ryan. “Spider-Woman (Character),” WorldofBlackHeroes, Jan. 27 2014; Gramuglia, Anthony. “How Many Spider-Women ARE There?,” CBR, Jun. 21, 2020. Jennifer Snoek-Brown described Valerie the Librarian as a recurring character from 1973 to 1976 in multiple episodes of The Electric Company.

[2] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 3, p. 27 (cover of “How to be a Super-Hero”); Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 6, p. 14-18.

[3] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 7, p. 1-5, 7-13.

[4] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 10, p. 18-19; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 11, p. 1-7, 9-13; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 27, p. 15-20; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 30, p. 4, 7, 12-13; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 32, p. 19-20; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 36, p. 15, 17, 20-22, 25, 27; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 48, p. 15-17, 20;

[5] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 42, p. 16-20.

[6] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 49, p. 17-18, 22 (the story “Fargo’s Problem”); Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 53, p. 15-20

[7] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 57, p. 17-18 (the story “Fargo’s Brother”).

[8] See episodes 130B (1977), 129B (1977), 128B (1977), 127B (1977), 126B (1977), 125B (1977), 124B (1977), 123B (1977), 122B (1977), 121B (1977), 120B (1977), 119B (1977), 118B (1977), 117B (1977), 116B (1977), 115B (1977), 114B (1977), 113B (1977), 112B (1977), 111B (1977), 110B (1977), 109B (1977), 108B (1977), 107B (1977), 106B (1977), 105B (1977), 104B (1977), 103B (1977), 102B (1977),- 101B (1977), 100B (1977), 99B (1977), 98B (1977), 97B (1977), 96B (1977), 95B (1977), 94B (1977), 93B (1977), 92B (1977), 91B (1977), 90B (1977), 89B (1977), 88B (1977), 87B (1977), 86B (1977), 85B (1977), 84B (1977), 83B (1977), 82B (1977), 81B (1977), 80B (1977), 79B (1977), 78B (1977), 77B (1977), 76B (1977), 75B (1977), 74B (1977), 73B (1977), 72B (1977), 71B (1977),- 70B (1977), 69B (1977), 68B (1977), 67B (1977), 66B (1977), 65B (1977), 64B (1977), 63B (1977), 62B (1977) , 61B (1977), 60B (1977),- 59B (1977), 58B (1977), 57B (1977), 56B (1977), 55B (1976), 54B (1976), 53B (1976), 52B (1976), 51B (1976), 50B (1976), 49B (1976), 48B (1976), 47B (1976), 46B (1976), 45B (1976), 44B (1976), 43B (1976), 42B (1976), 41B (1976), 40B (1976), 39B (1976), 38B (1976), 37B (1976), 36B (1976), 35B (1976), 34B (1976), 33B (1976), 32B (1976), 31B (1976), 30B (1976), 29B (1976), 28B (1976), 27B (1976), 26B (1976), 25B (1976), 24B (1976), 23B (1976), 22B (1976), 21B (1976), 20B (1976), 19B (1976), 18B (1976), 17B (1976), 16B (1976), 15B (1976), 14B (1976), 13B (1976), 12B (1976), 11B (1976), 10B (1976), 9B (1976), 8B (1976), 7B (1976), 6B (1976), 5B (1976), 4B (1976), 3B (1976), 2B (1976), 1B (1976), 130A (1976), 129A (1976), 128A (1976), 127A (1976), 126A (1976), 125A (1976), 124A (1976), 123A (1976), 122A (1976), 121A (1976), 120A (1976), 119A (1976), 118A (1976), 117A (1976), 116A (1976), 115A (1976), 114A (1976), 113A (1976), 112A (1976), 111A (1976), 110A (1976), 109A (1976), 108A (1976), 107A (1976) , 106A (1976), 105A (1976), 104A (1976), 103A (1976), 102A (1976), 101A (1976), 100A (1976), 99A (1976), 98A (1976), 97A (1976), 96A (1976), 95A (1976), 94A (1976), 93A (1976), 92A (1976), 91A (1976), 90A (1976), 89A (1976), 88A (1976), 87A (1976), 86A (1976), 85A (1976), 84A (1976), 83A (1976), 82A (1976), 81A (1976), 80A (1976), 79A (1976), 78A (1976), 77A (1976), 76A (1976), 75A (1976), 74A (1976), 73A (1976), 72A (1976), 71A (1976), 70A (1976), 69A (1976), 68A (1976) , 67A (1976), 66A (1976), 65A (1976), 64A (1976), 63A (1976), 62A (1976), 61A (1976), 60A (1976), 59A (1976), 58A (1976), 57A (1976), 56A (1976), 55A (1976), 54A (1976), 53A (1975), 52A (1975), 51A (1975), 50A (1975), 49A (1975), 48A (1975), 47A (1975), 46A (1975), 45A (1975), 44A (1975), 43A (1975), 42A (1975), 41A (1975), 40A (1975), 39A (1975), 38A (1975), 37A (1975), 36A (1975), 35A (1975), 34A (1975), 33A (1975), 32A (1975), 31A (1975), 30A (1975), 29A (1975), 28A (1975), 27A (1975), 26A (1975), 25A (1975), 24A (1975), 23A (1975), 22A (1975), 21A (1975), 20A (1975), 19A (1975), 18A (1975), 17A (1975), 16A (1975), 15A (1975), 14A (1975), 13A (1975), 12A (1975), 11A (1975), 10A (1975), 9A (1975), 8A (1975), 7A (1975), 6A (1975), 5A (1975), 4A (1975), 3A (1975), 2A (1975), 1A (1975), 520 (1975), 519 (1975), 518 (1975), 517 (1975), 516 (1975), 515 (1975), 514 (1975), 513 (1975), 512 (1975), 511 (1975), 510 (1975), 509 (1975), 508 (1975), 507 (1975), 506 (1975), 505 (1975), 504 (1975), 503 (1975), 502 (1975), 501 (1975), 500 (1975), 499 (1975), 498 (1975), 497 (1975), 496 (1975), 495 (1975), 494 (1975), 493 (1975), 492 (1975), 491 (1975), 490 (1975), 489 (1975), 488 (1975), 487 (1975), 486 (1975), 485 (1975), 484 (1975), 483 (1975), 482 (1975), 481 (1975), 480 (1975), 479 (1975), 478 (1975), 477 (1975), 476 (1975), 475 (1975), 474 (1975), 473 (1975), 472 (1975), 471 (1975), 470 (1975), 469 (1975), 468 (1975), 467 (1975), 466 (1975), 465 (1975), 464 (1975), 463 (1975), 462 (1975), 461 (1975), 460 (1975), 459 (1975), 458 (1975), 457 (1975), 456 (1975), 455 (1975), 454 (1975), 453 (1975), 452 (1975), 451 (1975), 450 (1975), 449 (1975), 448 (1975), 447 (1975), 446 (1975), 445 (1975), 444 (1975), 443 (1975), 442 (1974), 441 (1974), 440 (1974), 439 (1974), 438 (1974), 437 (1974), 436 (1974), 435 (1974), 434 (1974), 433 (1974), 432 (1974), 431 (1974), 430 (1974), 429 (1974), 428 (1974), 427 (1974), 426 (1974), 425 (1974), 424 (1974), 423 (1974), 422 (1974), 421 (1974), 420 (1974), 419 (1974), 418 (1974), 417 (1974), 416 (1974), 415 (1974), 414 (1974), 413 (1974), 412 (1974), 411 (1974), 410 (1974), 409 (1974), 408 (1974), 407 (1974), 406 (1974), 405 (1974), 404 (1974), 403 (1974), 402 (1974), 401 (1974), 400 (1974), 399 (1974), 398 (1974), 397 (1974), 396 (1974), 395 (1974), 394 (1974), 393 (1974), 392 (1974), 391 (1974), 390 (1974), 389 (1974), 388 (1974), 387 (1974), 386 (1974), 385 (1974), 384 (1974), 383 (1974), 382 (1974), 381 (1974), 380 (1974), 379 (1974), 378 (1974), 377 (1974), 376 (1974), 375 (1974), 374 (1974), 373 (1974), 372 (1974), 371 (1974), 370 (1974), 369 (1974), 368 (1974), 367 (1974) , 366 (1974), 365 (1974), 364 (1974), 363 (1974), 362 (1974), 361 (1974), 360 (1974), 359 (1974), 358 (1974), 357 (1974), 356 (1974), 355 (1974), 354 (1974), 353 (1974), 352 (1974), 351 (1974), 350 (1974), 349 (1974), 348 (1974), 347 (1974), 346 (1974), 345 (1974), 344 (1974), 343 (1974), 342 (1974), 341 (1974), 340 (1974), 339 (1974), 338 (1974), 337 (1974), 336 (1974), 335 (1974), 334 (1974), 333 (1974), 332 (1974), 331 (1974), 330 (1974), 329 (1974), 328 (1974), 327 (1974), 326 (1974), 325 (1974), 324 (1974), 323 (1974), 322 (1974), 321 (1974), 320 (1974), 319 (1974), 318 (1974), 317 (1974), 316 (1974), 315 (1974), 314 (1974), 313 (1974), 312 (1974), 311 (1973), 310 (1973), 309 (1973), 308 (1973), 307 (1973), 306 (1973), 305 (1973), 304 (1973), 303 (1973), 302 (1973), 301 (1973), 300 (1973), 299 (1973), 298 (1973), 297 (1973), 296 (1973), 295 (1973), 294 (1973), 293 (1973), 292 (1973), 291 (1973), 290 (1973), 289 (1973), 288 (1973), 287 (1973), 286 (1973), 285 (1973), 284 (1973), 283 (1973), 282 (1973), 281 (1973), 280 (1973), 279 (1973), 278 (1973), 277 (1973), 276 (1973), 275 (1973), 274 (1973), 273 (1973), 272 (1973), 271 (1973), 270 (1973), 269 (1973), 268 (1973), 267 (1973), 266 (1973), 265 (1973), 264 (1973), 263 (1973), 262 (1973), and 261 (1973)

[9] AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees, “Library Professionals: Facts & Figures,” Fact Sheet, Jun. 10, 2021. Of course, being Black and a professional, as not stopped incidents like Stephanie Bottom, a Black female librarian in Atlanta, from being assaulted by police, who don’t care about professional credentials, seeing Black people through their racist mindsets.

[10] Evans, Rhoda. “Catherine Latimer: The New York Public Library’s First Black Librarian,” New York Public Library, Mar. 20, 2020; Nunes, Zita Christina. “Remembering the Howard University Librarian Who Decolonized the Way Books Were Catalogued,” Smithsonian magazine, Nov. 26, 2018, reprinted from Perspectives of History; Audi, Tamara. “Marjorie Bradfield: Put black history into library,” Detroit Free Press, Nov. 20, 1999; Bates, Karen Grigsby. “J.P. Morgan’s Personal Librarian Was A Black Woman. This Is Her Story,” NPR News, Jul. 4, 2021; Milner, Surya. “Honoring Montana’s first Black librarian,” High Country News, Feb. 15, 2021. Other examples of prominent Black female librarians include, as noted by Book Riot, Charlemae Rollins as head librarian at the Chicago Public Library, Clara Stanton Jones as the first Black president of the American Library Association, Eliza Atkins Gleason as the “first Black American to earn a doctorate in library science at the University of Chicago” in 1940, Sadie Peterson Delaney who was key in bibliotherapy, Annette Lewis Phinazee as the “first woman and the first Black American woman to earn a doctorate in Library Science from Columbia University,” Carla Diane Hayden as the current Librarian of Congress, Effie Lee Morris as the “first woman and first black person to serve as president of the Public Library Association,” Mollie Huston Lee as the “first black librarian in Raleigh, North Carolina,” Virginia Lacy Jones as the second black person to earn a doctorate in Library Science, Virginia Proctor Powell Florence as the “first black woman in the United States to earn a degree in library science from the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library School,” and Vivian Harsh became the “first black librarian for the Chicago Public Library where she passionately collected works by Black Americans” in February 1924.

[11] Pollack, Caitlin M. J. and Shelley P. Haley, “When I Enter’: Black Women and Disruption of the White, Heteronormative Narrative of Librarianship,” chapter of In Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS, p. 1-4, 21, 35-36, 40. On pages 5-33, the article focuses on five Black women in particular: Nella Larsen, Pura Belpré, and Regina Anderson Andrews, Ann Allen Shockley, and Audre Lorde.

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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