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Fictional librarians and ideals of librarianship

Later on in her 2018 In the Library with the Lead Pipe article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves“, Fobazi Ettarh clarifies that she is challenging the “notion that many have taken as axiomatic that libraries are inherently good and democratic, and that librarians, by virtue of working in a library, are responsible for this ‘good’ work,” but is not dismissing the fact that librarians should take pride in their work. She says the former notion creates the expectation that when libraries fail, it is the “fault of individuals failing to live up to the ideals of the profession,” rather than the fact that libraries are fundamentally flawed institutions. Since today is the World Day Against Child Labour, it makes sense to publish this today.

There are certainly many librarians who are shown as passionate about their work, whether the old librarian in a She-Ra: Princess of Power episode (“Three Courageous Hearts”), the unnamed librarian in Sofia the First episode (“Forever Royal”?), the librarian in Sarah and Duck episode (“Lost Librarian”), Harold in Craig of the Creek, and even Swampy in Phineas and Ferb, to name a few. Arguably, the only series I can think of, apart from Moral Orel, which portrays libraries as institutions which are fundamentally flawed, is arguably The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends as Cletus Bookworm willingly sides with censorship and lets an armed vigilante take away the two protagonists without objecting. In fact, he agrees with them being taken away, declaring they are making too much noise. More on Cletus later on in this post, as what he does continues to be relevant.

This reminds me of an August 2006 episode of Totally Spies! In the beginning of the episode, Alex, Clover, and Sam are listening to music
together in the school library but are loud. They end up annoying other students, one of whom even shushes them. This doesn’t stop them from talking and they continue to do so, until they are whisked away.

Alex, Clover, and Sam recognize, as library patrons, the idea that libraries represent an “underused oasis”. It is a place provides access to information of a significant quality, a democratic space where people can read that they can’t read elsewhere. Some have argued that libraries can even given power to communities, dubbing it “information power”, which helps people learn more about their lives, and disseminate information to further struggle for “increasing social justice”. Others have said there is an importance of trust in libraries. [1]

Beyond this, there are lofty ideals hoisted upon librarians, whether that they should meet “vital needs” of librarians, be “information interpreters” by being advocates and active consultants of community groups. This includes librarians making libraries a space for gathering materials, future historical inquiries, and truth-seeking initiatives. [2] In some ways, the elderly White female librarian (voiced by Candi Milo) in the My Life as a Teenage Robot, embodies this, as she is shown working in bookmobile. She provides services to the neighborhood.

Students look at Alex, Clover, and Sam, annoyed they are making a lot of noise

The aforementioned librarian in Totally Spies! undoubtedly has middle-class values. Some have written that these values cause libraries to be out of their depth, led some to critique White middle-class librarianship in and of itself, or talked about librarians doing their duty. Additional articles focus on linear productivity nodes that “undergirds capitalist exchanges”, intersectuality, neoliberal university, multiculturalism, and a world in which inequalities are growing. [3]

Some of this is manifested in librarians in literature, some of whom internalize the stereotypical librarian, one of whom is a spinster, and others who go beyond the stereotypical mold. In some cases, this librarian image is positive with the fictional librarians helping ensure intellectual freedom for society. This differs from those prim, meek, and unassuming librarians with hair buns, portrayed to be suspicious, whether they are a positive or negative character. Take, for example, Mary Hatch (voiced by Donna Reed) in It’s a Wonderful Life, who was able to devote time to being a librarian and enforce “rules of silence” when not being married to George Bailey (voiced by Jimmy Stewart). Her life as a spinster librarian is shown to be less desirable than her life as a wife and mother in the real world. This contrasts with videos on YouTube created by librarians, with 68% having librarians as heroes, 23% as parody, and 14% as fun or positive. [4] Such videos provide a way for librarians to counter stereotypes of the profession.

At the same time, as fictional librarians embody the ideals of the profession, it should be recognized that stereotypical librarians never actually existed, en masse, in the library profession. They have become symbols, shorthands, whether they appear in comic books, comic strips, films, and novels. This includes well-known ones in Party Girl, Ghostbusters, Foul Play, Soylent Green, Citizen Kane, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the latter film is one of the most hilarious library scenes ever on film, as Indiana Jones is putting a hole in the floor of the library while the librarian is slamming his stamp down. Through the whole thing he remains unaware that Indiana is breaking through the floor! He thinks the stamp has something wrong with it. [5] While you could say this comes with it the stereotype that the librarian is outdated and old, the film is set in 1938/1939, so it makes sense he would be using a stamp at that time, as computers hadn’t even come into existence at that time. In fact, the first automatic digital computer was not created until 1941, named Z3, and created by the Germans, although the U.S. Navy had developed electromagnetic computers for submarines starting in 1938.

This film, unfortunately, has all sorts of Arab stereotypes. There’s “unsightly” Egyptian Christians, a pro-Nazi sheikh. This includes Egyptians in fezzes chasing Indy, some even trying to burn him alive. There is even a famous chase scene through Venice’s canals. Even worse are the pro-Nazi Arabs, Egyptian Christians made to look fanatical and are never humanized. For some reason, even though Indy and the Egyptian Christians are on the same side, and against the Nazis, this is not shown in the film. At the same time, a European Christian knight is guarding the Holy Grail like saint. Indy’s Egyptian friend, Sallah, is also patronized as a “dumbbell” although he warns Indy about the German tank out to get him. [6]

As op culture isn’t always kind to librarians,” noting a few librarians in TV and film. Glazer and many others have made lists of librarians, whether in science fiction, fantasy, or in various mediums, sometimes even noting librarian cameos, asked why librarians are portrayed as “mean” characters. [7] One person, Marie of Pop! Goes the Librarian even pointed to a spirit owl-librarian Wan Shi Tong (voiced by Héctor Elizondo) in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, as one such example. She declares that his ancient library is amazing, that fox spirits assist patrons locate information, serving as public services and acquisitions staff members. She goes onto say that while he the “worst example” of a librarian as he is spiteful, mean, territorial, and single-minded, having an innate distrust of humans, with his main concern being protection and collection of knowledge, making him like an archivist. She adds this means he may dislike rare materials from the library getting in the “wrong hands” and then in “anyone’s hands”.

Reviewing the episode “A New Spiritual Age” she notes that Tong is even more hostile to humans, including Jinora, the granddaughter of Aang, who she is able to offer new knowledge in exchange and stay in the library. This gets worse as he is in league with the enemy of Korra, her uncle Unalaq. She adds that the library of Wan Shi Tong and the library itself is an “incredible story”, calling him a fan-favorite character, as he wants nothing more “than to cultivate a mass of knowledge and keep it safe” with a thirst for knowledge which makes him “lower his guard twice” and when he does, his belief in the “folly of human-kind is reinforced.” She seems to defend his actions, saying that he may be mean, old, and evil, but also tired.

This differs from Sam Cross of Pop Archives. [8] She describes, like Marie, how Jinora gets into the library, noting she offers to explain how a radio works. While she gets in, it turns out that Wan sided with Unalaq, claiming that Unalaq, who wants to free the dark spirits, because he cares about spirits while “Korra has shown no such interest.” Cross argues that he is Wan is interesting because he is a “spirit of contradictions”, not wanting knowledge in his library being used for ill-purposes, but doesn’t attempt to provide context, doesn’t do his own follow-up or research. Instead, he claims he is neutral, in Cross’s words, but actually favors those who see “spirits as more valuable or important than humans.” He is, in the words of Cross, the smartest spirit ever”, and ends up being a spirit which is unnerving, yet familiar, able to provide “access to knowledge” and possibly bite your head off like “real archivists/librarians/curators” in her words.

Wan, alongside Unalaq, falsely claims that Unalaq is a “true friend” unlike Korra, standing in a hallway, while Jinora, in the foreground, stands her ground

I have a different take on Wan. While I understand what Marie and Cross are saying, he seems akin to the strict librarians I often talk about in this blog. He declares humans can no longer enter the library, he says that the last human stayed there to read, grew old and died. He sets down ground rules for Jinora, saying she can look around, but can’t break anything. Although a fox spirit helps her, she is later betrayed by him. When he sides with Unalaq it is just like the librarian Cletus Bookworm letting Rocky and Bullwinkle be taken out of his library at gunpoint. We as the audience know that Unalaq is bad news, but due to the fact that Wan has walled himself off from everything, he has no idea of Unalaq’s true nature. The fact that he lets her be kidnapped and taken away is wrong on so many levels. What Cross and Marie are saying has a sense of truth, but it also is not recognizing the severity of the situation and how Wan is condoning a crime! What he allows to happen leads to further trauma for Korra.

His character proves the point of Alison Nastasi: that the librarian is “one of the most misunderstood figures in pop culture history,” noting various “negative, unflattering, and downright laughable images of librarians” that have inundated our society. This is especially the case when it comes to stereotypical representations of female librarians in pop culture, which Christina Niegel argues are rooted in the “gendered history of the profession” and social norms producing expectations about “service work as an extension of the caring and organizing work of women.” Such stereotypes are emblematic of the difference between real-life librarians and those in fiction, a disparity “between reality and fantasy” as Darlynn Nemitz puts it. Fictional librarians convey a certain meaning, even in more positive depictions like Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl, who many find inspiring. [9] The same can even be said for the unnamed Black male librarian in All the President’s Men.

All these depictions have a real-life impact. Some have even argued that librarian stereotypes and perceptions may be holding back library instruction, while others related fictional librarians to real life information behaviors of patrons. Additional pieces noted stereotypes in young adult literature, said that some fictional librarians can be good sleuths, or pointed to other depictions of librarians in fantasy and sci-fi, to name a few genres. This fiction differs from reality. Characters like Sam’s mom in Totally Spies, may say that librarians are a “safe” career option, but the reality is very different. [10]

In Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere, there is a continued need to rely on precious work to maintain their workforces. This is coupled with maintaining systemic barriers to those with disabilities. How can someone enforce the much-exalted “core values” of the profession, if your job is precarious? [11] The answer is that you can’t. Some librarians in fiction are shown as equivalent to precarious, like those experiencing burnout. Most prominently, apart from the blue-skinned librarian in Prisoner Zero, is Kaisa in Hilda, who is shown as exhausted at one point. I can’t think of any librarian in fiction whose labor is contingent, is precarious, but hopefully that changes in the future. That’s my hope at least. Until the next post.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Duff, Gary. “Actor Jeffrey Wright on Growing Up In D.C., the 2016 Election & Starring in ‘The Public’“. Capitol File, Apr. 17, 2019; Yamauchi, Haruko. “Urban Information Specialists and Interpreters: An Emerging Radical Vision of Reference for the People, 1967-1973” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 28, 50; Forbes, Carrie and Jennifer Bowers, “Social Justice, Sentipensante Pedagog, and Collaboration: The Role of Research Consultations in Developing Critical Communities” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 270.

[2] Beilin, Ian. “Reference and Justice, Past and Present” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 19; Yamauchi, “Urban Information Specialists and Interpreters,” p. 33, 36, 39; Buenrosto, Iyra S. and Johann Frederick A. Cabbab, “Unbound: Recollections of Librarians During Martial Law in the Philippines” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 70-1.

[3] Yamauchi, “Urban Information Specialists and Interpreters,” 30-32, 44; Buenrosto and Cabbab, “Unbound,” 64; Adler, Kate. “Towards a Critical (Affective) Reference Practice: Emotional, Intellectual and Social Justice” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 110; Tewell, Eamon. “Beyond Efficient Answers with a Smile: Seeking Critical Reference Praxis” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 221-2; Forbes, “Social Justice, Sentipensante Pedagog, and Collaboration,” 262, 271.

[4] Allan, Adriane. “Librarians in Children’s and Teen Literature.” Image of Libraries in Popular Culture. Fall 2001. Accessed June 17, 2022; Allan, Adriane. “The Librarian with an Alterego Convention.” Image of Libraries in Popular Culture. November 2001. Accessed June 17, 2022; Attebury, Ramirose I. “Perceptions of a Profession: Librarians and Stereotypes in Online Videos.” Library Philosophy and Practice, October 2010. Accessed June 17, 2022.

[5] Bartel, Cheryl. “Past and Future Images vs. Current Actuality.” Image of Libraries in Popular Culture. Fall 2001. Accessed June 17, 2022; Berguson, Stephen M. “Librarians in Comics: Sources — Comic Books.” Libraries FAQ. n.d. [2002?] Accessed June 17, 2022; Berguson, Stephen M. “Librarians in Comics: Sources — Comic Strips.” Libraries FAQ. August 17, 2002. Accessed June 17, 2022; Firment, Erica. “Desk Set” [Review]. Librarian Avengers. November 11, 2006. Accessed June 17, 2022; French, Emily. “Best librarian characters in fantasy fiction.” OUP Blog. July 17, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2022; Gachman, Diana. “13 Of The Best Library Scenes In Movies.” Bustle, September 8, 2015. Accessed June 17, 2022.

[6] Shaheen, Jack G. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001), 253-4.

[7] Glazer, Glen. “Our Favorite Fictional Librarians, Ranked.” New York Public Library. April 14, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2022; Gunn, James. “Libraries in Science Fiction.” Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. n.d. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marcia, Maria J. “Images of Librarians in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Including an Annotated List.” Research Report. Eastern Kentucky University, June 1998; Marie. “Bunny Watson – Pop! Profile,” Pop Goes the Librarian. March 11, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Evelyn Carnahan – Pop! Profile,” Pop Goes the Librarian. July 18, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “It’s a Wonderful Life: How Mary Lost Her Groove,” Pop Goes the Librarian. December 20, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Marian the Librarian – Pop! Profile,” Pop Goes the Librarian. June 7, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “On Crones, Meanies and Sex Kittens,” Pop Goes the Librarian. October 15, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Rupert Giles – Pop! Profile,” Pop Goes the Librarian. June 20, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Summer Movies Mean… Librarian Cameos?,” Pop Goes the Librarian. July 2, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “The Judgmental Ostrich: When book-pushers become meme fodder,” Pop Goes the Librarian. January 10, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Visual Cues: What Makes a Librarian?,” Pop Goes the Librarian. January 22, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “vs. the Evil Librarians,” Pop Goes the Librarian. October 8, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Who/what/why am I?,” Pop Goes the Librarian. June 2, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Why Are Librarians So Mean?,” Pop Goes the Librarian. October 26, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Wan Shi Tong – Pop! Profile,” Pop Goes the Librarian. December 5, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “‘Wonderfully Unhinged’ Librarian,” Pop Goes the Librarian. January 28, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Worse Than Murder,” Pop Goes the Librarian. July 11, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “‘You Don’t Look Like a Librarian!’,” Pop Goes the Librarian. June 26, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Marie. “Zombie Librarian,” Pop Goes the Librarian. June 13, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2022.

[8] Cross, Samantha. “Archivist Spotlight: Wan Shi Tong.” Pop Archives, April 12, 2019.

[9] Nastasi, Alison. “Our Favorite Pop Culture Librarians.” FlavorWire. November 9, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2022; Neigel, Christina. “Loveless Frumps, Old Maids, and Diabolical Deviants: Representations of Gender and Librarianship in Popular Culture.” Ed. D., Simon Fraser University, 2018; Nemitz, DarLynn. “Image of Librarians and Libraries in Popular Literature.” Fall 2001. Accessed June 17, 2022; Nemitz, DarLynn. “Library Cards: The Reflected Image of Libraries.” Image of Libraries in Popular Culture. Fall 2001. Accessed June 17, 2022;Scarlet, Janina. “The Psychology of Inspirational Women: Batgirl.” The Mary Sue. August 6, 2015. Accessed June 17, 2022; O’Neal, Jeff. “16 Great Library Scenes in Film.” Book Riot. July 26, 2020. Accessed June 17, 2022. Also see Oberhelman, David D. “A Brief History of Libraries in Middle-Earth: Manuscript and Book Repositories in Tolkien’s Legendarium.” In Truths Breathed Through Silver:  The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, edited by Jonathan B. Himes, 81–92. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.

[10] Pagowsky, Nicole, and Erica DeFrain. “Ice Ice Baby: Are Librarian Stereotypes Freezing Us out of Instruction?In the Library with the Lead Pipe, July 3, 2014. Accessed June 17, 2022; Pierce, Jennifer B. “What’s Harry Potter doing in the library? Depiction of young adult information seeking behavior in contemporary fantasy fiction.” Iowa Research Online, June 1, 2004. Accessed June 17, 2022; Peresis, Michalle and Linda B. Alexander. “Librarian stereotypes in Young Adult literature.” Young Adult Library Services, 4, no. 1 (2005): 24-31; Reiman, Lauren. “Solving the Mystery: What Makes the Fictional Librarian Such a Good Sleuth?” Honors Thesis, Washington State University, 2003; “Representations of Libraries and Librarians in Popular Culture, Particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy.” Sci-Fi Librarian. February 27, 2016. Accessed June 17, 2022. Also see: Sweeney, Miriam A. “Not Just a Pretty Inter(face): A Critical Analysis of Microsoft’s ‘Ms. Dewey.’” Doctors Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013. In the episode “Totally Busted!” [Part 1], Sam’s mother says being a librarian is a safer career option than being an international spy. She also says being a foot doctor is safer.

[11] Henninger, Ean. “Precarious Library Employment as a Professional Barrier.” British Columbia Library Association, accessed June 17, 2022; Moeller, Christine. “Disability, Identity, and Professionalism: Precarity in Librarianship.” Library Trends, Vol. 67, Number 3, Winter 2019, 455-470; “Core Values of Librarianship.” American Library Association, accessed June 17, 2022. Also see “Labor and Precarity Syllabus“.

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Recently added titles (May 2023)

Students studying hard for school midterns
Students studying for midterm exams, at library cubbies, at the Tokyo high school where Mitsumi is studying as shown in the fifth episode of Skip and Loafer, with the narration (words on screen) by Mitsumi

Building upon the titles listed for July/August, September, OctoberNovember, and December 2021, and January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December of 2022, and January, February, March, and April of this year, this post notes recent titles with libraries or librarians in popular culture which I’ve come across in the past month. Each of these has been watched or read during the past month. Hopefully there will be more episodes from various animated series and other entries that I find in the days, weeks, and months to come, as there have been six anime episodes, two anime films, and multiple issues of webcomics noted here. That’s my hope at least.

Animated series recently added to this page

None for this month.

Anime series recently added to this page

  • Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, “Nurse’s Office and Main Character”
  • Oshi No Ko, “Egosurfing”
  • Oshi No Ko, “Buzz”
  • Sailor Moon, “Death of Uranus and Neptune”
  • Skip and Loafer, “Prickly and Giddy”
  • Somali and the Forest Spirit, “The Footsteps That Stalk the Witches”

Comics recently added to this page

Films recently added to this page

  • Calamity of a Zombie Girl
  • Josee, the Tiger and the Fish
  • The Whisper of the Heart

Other entries recently added to this page

None for this month.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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Fictional librarians and the importance of storytime

Millie, the librarian in an episode of Madagascar: A Little Wild

Happy Better Hearing and Speech Month! For this post I’ll be focusing on fictional librarians and the importance of storytime.

Storytime is a vital program at many libraries, specifically public libraries. As Tom Bruno writes, storytime is “a great free form of entertainment for parents looking for activities for their children…[and] can provide a bonanza of cognitive benefits,” serving as the “heart and soul of the library…[and] showcases the depth and breadth of your local public library’s commitment to your community with respect to early literacy and child development.”

More than any other character, this is evident for Amity Blight in The Owl House. First shown working in the children’s section of the Bonesborough Library in the episode “Lost in Language”, in a flashback in the episode “Understanding Willow” and most recently in the episode “Through the Looking Glass Ruins”, Amity understands what Bruno is saying to some extent. Whether she knows about the cognitive benefits of reading to children or enjoys it, the fact is that she is comfortable with this activity, even if she ends up getting embarrassed when seeing her-later girlfriend, Luz Noceda.

Amity, who is voiced by the talented Mae Whitman, also has the distinction of being a student, a lesbian,and wears her hair up, but not in a hair bun like some librarians are shown stereotypically to do. Instead, she wears a pony tail. Her look somewhat resembles those who work in religious libraries as I noted in a post this past November. All in all she displays the importance of the library as a welcoming place for all and reading itself, as I’ve pointed out.

More to the point than Amity is Millie, a librarian voiced by Johanna Stein. More than 15 minutes into the Madagascar: A Little Wild episode “Melman at the Movies”, Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, and Gloria the Hippo go inside the library to the pop-up books section, where they enjoy the pop-up books. Later, Melman the Giraffe finally joins his friends inside, after it starts raining. Melvin finds a book with the ending to the film, but none of them know how to read.

Following this, the librarian, Millie, announces that storytime starts in 15 minutes in the reading room. They have a plan to replace the book she is going to read with another one so they can know the end to the story, using the slide ladder in hopes  of getting behind the librarian’s desk to change the book before she returns.

After that, one of the elderly patrons thinks he hears something, then goes back to reading his book. Melvin tries a distraction but it doesn’t work and they are unable to pull off the book swap. But, Melman is happy nonetheless and sings a song. His actions cause the book to drop from the shelf, with the librarian shrugging as storytime begins. They are pleased with hearing the end of the book which they had looked forward to in the first place.

Through it all, Millie, who is shown shushing after she hears a loud sound, i.e. Melman’s “distraction”, is pretty chill. When a book falls from the top of a book case and on the information desk, a strange occurrence, she shrugs her shoulders and takes it in her hand, preparing to read that book rather than another one instead.

Her character has to be the most realistic depiction of a librarian doing storytime that I’ve seen to date. Perhaps there is another fictional librarian out there, apart from Amity, who could do it better, but I’m not sure who. None of the librarians I’ve covered extensively on this blog, like Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne or Kaisa in Hilda are ever shown reading books to children. Neither is Myne/Main in Ascendance of a Bookworm, George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and the unnamed presumably Thai librarian in We Bare Bears, to name a few, do this either. Perhaps it isn’t in their job descriptions.

In any case, storytime is described by libraries across the U.S. as important for developing “early literacy skills” of children, makes learning fun, teaches children to read, and helps build child development, ensuring “strong, resilient families.” [1] Again, it is not known whether Millie or Amity is aware of this. Even so, they likely realize its importance and enjoy reading stories to kids.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] “Storytime at the Library.” Cincinnati Public Library. Accessed June 11, 2022; “Storytime.” Austin Public Library. Accessed June 11, 2022; “Storytime.” Douglas County Libraries. Accessed June 11, 2022; “Storytimes.” Olathe Public Library. Accessed June 11, 2022; “Story Time & Resources.” Town of Vail Public Library. Accessed June 11, 2022; “Storytimes.” Flagstaff City Coconino County Public Library. Mar. 30, 2022; “Transforming Library Storytimes for Children with Sensory Integration Challenges.” Urban Libraries Council. Accessed June 11, 2022.

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Fiction and the realities of prison librarianship

Unnamed prison librarian comes by with a trolley full of books while Lisa uses weights while sitting in her cell in The Simpsons episode “Dial “N” for Nerder”

Back in January, I was writing about libraries in The Simpsons and came across an episode where Lisa imagines herself as an older prisoner, and the librarian says she had Danielle Steele rather than Joyce Carol Oates, causing Lisa to scream in terror. Although there have been other fictional librarians who work in prisons, the above-mentioned one in The Simpsons is the only one I have seen to date. She also gives off vibes to me of being a lesbian, but perhaps that’s just my perception. In this post, I’ll be talking about the realities of prison librarianship, using books and other resources, to expand on this topic. I am publishing this today because it is the anniversary of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on May 23, 2011 ordering California to alleviate prison overcrowding by reducing the size of the prisoner population to 30,000 by 2013.

The ALA has said that in today’s society, libraries play a role in addressing issues which “often lead individuals to become incarcerated.” They have further argued that disrupting the prison pipeline requires “access to literacy programming, information, and cultural acknowledgment” and stated that in 2022, the ALA was preparing to revise the Library Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions for “the first time since 1992.” [1]

Some reviewers have focused on fictional prison librarians. Jennifer Snoek-Brown noted that the first, according to her analysis, librarian in a prison environment appeared for one minute in the 1939 film noir crime film, Within the Law. She also noted librarians in short scenes in films such as You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939), Ricochet (1991), and Borstal Boy (2000). In other posts she pointed to prison librarians in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Gideon’s Trumpet (TV, 1980), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), The Reader (2008), and Bound to Honor (1993). At point, she argued that, at the time, she didn’t create a category for prison librarians (she later did and created a “prison library” category) because in the eyes of society they are “considered failures” but often end up in these roles because “they exhibit good behavior while in prison.” She further noted that inside prisons these characters are or made to appear as “model citizens” but outside that they are “uncomfortable in social situations.” [2]

A Twitter thread begun by an Information Studies academic, Dr. Jane Garner asking people for “examples of prison libraries in popular culture beyond Orange..Black and Shawshank” shared many examples. This included Malcolm X reportedly as a prison librarian (more on that later in this article), season 3 of Professor T including various prison library scenes, the library in The Magicians being like a prison at times, romance in a prison library in Cara McKenna’s Hard Time, and the 1962 film, Birdman of Alcatraz. Others pointed to prisoners reading letters in Cool Hand Luke, a person murdered in a prison library in the second season of The Wire, Jim Carrey’s “I Love You Phillip Morris”, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich which focuses on a prison who uses books in a prison library to survive and “later works in a book shop once released”. One person, crime fiction writer Rachel Franks, even recommended the book Prison Life in Popular Culture as a resource, while others noted the library in Prison Break, and episode 5 of Porridge [series 1] entitled “Ways and Means” with a prison library scene. [3]

Scholars, such as Erin Rivero, Marisa Hernandez, Stephanie Osorio, and Vanessa Villareal, have argued that prison librarians in film and TV are a mix of exaggeration and accuracy. Others have been tied to some scenes “involving the prison library and reading” in Orange is the New Black. Front and center of such a depiction is Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson. Just as I refuse to watch anime with too fan service, I refuse to watch that live-action series, as it has vicious racism throughout as noted by critic Karol Collymore, so I’m avoiding it like the plague. [4]

In order to understand if these depictions are accurate or not, it is important to have grasp on what prison librarianship is all about in the first place. Scholars have argued that so-called correctional institutions are easily reduced to mere numbers needing basic needs to be fulfilled and it is unlikely that institutions will provide more than what is legally required. They have further said that prison libraries are key example of what may be required legally and what is needed to nourish souls and minds. As a result, prison libraries try to give inmates information access but the librarians are torn between duties to inmates as “information gatekeepers”. As such, unlike other librarians they have to prevent access to “certain information” while trying to keep general populace in prison “safe from any assumed dangers”. [5]

James Murray in Minor's prison library
James Murray (voiced by Mel Gibson), aspiring editor of what will later become the Oxford English Dictionary, at a library created by William Chester Minor (voiced by Shaun Penn) in his Broadmoor Hospital cell in The Professor and the Madman, a 2019 film mired in legal issues and generally slammed by reviewers

The same scholars describe the balance between want and need for information by prison libraries, information restrictions in prison, duties of librarians to their patrons. They added that reference in prison libraries involves reference transactions between library’s “trained inmate workers” and library patrons. This is followed by referral to a librarian or professional library staff which leads to potential to certain resources. Afterward, the librarian has the obligation to obtain information on the patron’s behalf, using the internet and other resources the patron can’t use. Through it all, the curiosity of inmates about the internet has to be “tempered” by library staff, as noted by the scholars. The same scholars conclude that information found within libraries, and through reference provided by librarians, plays an important role for inmates, allowing self-empowerment as inmates have little autonomy in their circumstances.

The scholars also include limits on prison library, as it requires reliance on in-person interactions, how groups of librarians can be empowered, the balance between legal/intellectual rights of inmates and complying with directives from prison authorities. This leads to a conflict when privacy and confidentiality are not recognized in prison, resulting in them having to engage in censorship, coupled with information restrictions on materials claimed to be a “threat to institutional security”. These scholars said that reference and collection policies should be designed in collaboration with prison authorities, recognizing some limits. Even so, library reference has the opportunity for inmates to seek “information empowerment”. The scholars conclude that the important work of prison librarians should be brought to light and argues that collaborating with prison authorities to ensure that library values and ethics can “penetrate prison walls” in order to serve a “information-starved community”. [5]

Additional scholars have argued that jails and prisons are “notorious information deserts” since they lack access to research materials, current events, and internet. They’ve also stated that prison in and of itself “emphasizes a lack of agency and choice, noted prison libraries in other places of the world (like Scandinavia), and argued that librarians have huge information need to fill in prisoners because most in prisons have no internet access. At the same time, it can be said that prison libraries act as sanctuaries for those in prison, prison librarians can change lives especially when prisoners are treated as humans. Similarly, it can be said that prisons can inspire youth, through prison-to-library transition, that prison libraries are often safe spaces, and that there is little drama in prison life. [6]

There are stories about micro-libraries in U.S. prisons known as “Freedom Libraries”, books banned in specific prisons, prisoners paying to read tablets in prison, a memoir by prison librarian Avi Steinberg, and attempts to get reading lists in prison libraries used against prisoners. More pointed are posts about fictional prison librarians, like prison librarian Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, who becomes the prison librarian, and “works tirelessly to turn the library from what is little more than a storage cupboard to a beautiful library”, helping inmates along the way. Another reviewer described him as saving his “fellow prisoners from hopelessness.” [7]

Adina Applebaum, Immigration Impact Lab project director, noted that reading has “played a role” in the lives on prisoners since penitentiaries were created, with religious materials given to prisons in late 1700s and early 1800 as a “means of reflection and rehabilitation.” This changed after the end of the Civil War, where southern prisons in the U.S. were almost entirely Black. This got worse when “bibliotherapy” was developed by prison librarian Herman Spector in 1940s and 1950s, claiming that reading could “cure” prisoners. In response where was actions toward prisoner rights in 1960s and 1970s, then a crackdown by administrators which asserted that change in prisons was futile,and U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that denying prisoners in solitary confinement access to periodicals didn’t “violate their constitutional rights”! Applebaum also noted prisons which restrict LGBTQ materials, books about race being heavily censored, and even medical textbooks as they have “nudity”. However, prisoners are allowed, according to her, read true crime books. [8] Some, like freelance writer Becky Stone, have even asked that people donate their extra books, within certain requirements to prisons.

Famously Malcolm X, once said, “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” Digging into that quote, it comes from the epilogue of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which also notes that he had a love for books. [9] He went on about the books he read while he was in prison, in the late 1940s, when he was drawn into the Nation of Islam, which he later left before his death. In earlier pages of the epilogue, he is quoted as saying

In the hectic pace of the world today, there is no time for meditation, or for deep thought. A prisoner has time that he can put to good use. I’d put prison second to college as the best place for a man to go if he needs to do some thinking. If he’s motivated,in prison he can change his life.” [10]

Many prison librarians may believe the same thing. Malcolm X’s experiences aligned with his words, as he used the prison library to request books he wanted to read, and later voraciously read at library of the Norfolk Prison Colony. He added that while he was there it was the first time be picked up a book to read and “begin to understand what the book was saying.” He also described the library at the prison colony as having classes taught by instructors from Harvard and Boston universities, with “weekly debates between inmate teams” and notes possible interest of Parkhurst, who donated the books in the first place. He added that he read more in his room than the library because he “referred reading in the total isolation of my own room.” [11]

While I didn’t, at first, recall a scene in Spike Lee’s 1992 Malcolm X film which showed Malcolm in a library, the above video shows that to be incorrect. In the scene, Baines (played by Albert Hall) brings Malcolm (played by Denzel Washington) to the prison library and shows him a dictionary, opening it and reading what “black” is defined as. He compares it to what White means. He indicates to him the symbolism of language, shifting the dictionary over to him, with Baine says you have to take everything the White man says and “use it against him”. After Malcolm reads the entry for “aardvark”, he then tells Malcolm to take one step toward Allah and he will take two steps toward you. Interestingly, the librarian who would have been there is absent from the library, and they are able to go into the library without restriction.

Beyond this, he is one of the many convicts who are said to have “turned their lives around via intensive reading.” His story reminds me of the 2019 film, The Professor and the Madman, which depicts William Chester Minor, a retired United States Army surgeon, sent to Broadmoor Hospital in the United Kingdom and forms a library of rare books which he uses to compile what becomes the Oxford English Dictionary. [12] So, he isn’t a librarian per say, but he has a library within his prison cell. Similarly, Malcolm X wasn’t a prison librarian but he extensively used prison libraries for his own self-empowerment. So, in that sense, there is a similarity.

Otherwise, I can’t think of any other prison libraries or prison librarians in fiction, at least not off the top of my head. Even films listed by Martin Raish in a list of hundreds of films with librarians which has been since been taken down from the Brigham Young University, as he retired from the library, are generally the same ones I’ve previously mentioned. This includes films he dubs the “A Group” (clearly defined librarians). However, he does point to, in the “B Group” of films (library is used for a useful purpose but librarian is set-dressing), to prison libraries in The Longest Yard (2005), possibly Love, Mary (1985), and A Clockwork Orange (1971).

In his “C Group” of films (librarians or libraries not shown, only mentioned in passing) he points to where a crooked accountant tells his partner that if their scheme fails “he’ll cope by getting a job in the prison library. He finally points to prison librarians, in his “D Group” of films (films that Raish hadn’t seen or found adequate description about), in Fun (1994), specifically voiced by Cindie Northrup, along with a prison library scene in Out of Sight (1998), to name ones that I haven’t mentioned in this post.

There are undoubtedly other prison librarians in fiction out there, but as of the writing of this post, I haven’t come across any others apart from those I’ve mentioned. I hope to come across more in the future. In the meantime, I look forward to your comments, suggestions, and whatnot, on this topic. Until next week!

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] ALA Annual Conference (2022, May 19). Interrupting systemic information poverty in prisons. Also see APA guidelines for citing emails.

[2] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A librarian ‘within the law’.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 5, 2013; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Naughty librarians vs. prison librarians: Who wins?Reel Librarians, May 1, 2013; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reader poll write-up, Spring 2015: ‘You Can’t Get Away with Murder’Reel Librarians, May 20, 2015; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Hey! Mr. Book Man, find a book for me in ‘Ricochet’“. Reel Librarians, Mar. 12, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A ‘borstal’ kind of librarian.” Reel Librarians, Dec. 12, 2011; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Librarian as Failure.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 3, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles.” Reel Librarians, Jul. 8, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Notable additional occupations for reel librarians.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 16, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “3 reel librarians who have died in the line of duty.” Reel Librarians, Oct. 23, 2019; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Class II (major roles, non-integral).” Reel Librarians. Accessed June 11, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “War films and reel librarians.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 11, 2014; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s.” Reel Librarians, Dec. 28, 2011; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A list of banned reel librarian movies.” Reel Librarians, Sept. 27, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians of color, 2021 update.” Reel Librarians, Jan. 27, 2021; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians in political-themed films.” Reel Librarians, Jan. 18, 2017.

[3] Garner, Jane. “Playing with an idea today and am looking for examples of prison libraries in popular culture beyond Orange..Black and Shawshank. Does anyone know of any others? All media & languages are of interest. Thanks!” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Garner, Jane. “Fantastic. I am in Australia and was aware that he had done some prison writing, but have never followed it up. Thanks for giving me a nudge to find out more.” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Margy Maclibrary. “Professor T – great Belgian series, in Season 3 includes scenes in a prison library.” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Tait, Lizzy. “I don’t know if Fantasy media counts (or if this is the right kind of example) but the library in The Magicians was sometimes a prison- a character got locked up there when she did follow the rules.” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Flack, Katie. “Romance in the prison library?” Twitter, May 28, 2022; AndrewJ. “Cool Hand Luke has several scenes where the prisoners read letters and magazines to one another. Not quite a library but a good insight into reading culture.” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Bob. “In that photo he’s in his cell but he goes to library earlier when first interested in birds.” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Abby. “Yep, in the office, and made to look like a suicide.” Twitter, May 28 2022; Cobra. “Went through the list and nobody has added “I Love You Phillip Morris”, it is one of Jim Carrey’s greatest performances, based on a true story.” Twitter, May 28, 2022; Inglis, Kristin E. “The Sentence by Louise Erdrich looks at a prisoner who used books in prison library to survive then later works in a book shop once released.” Twitter, June 1, 2022; Franks. Rachel. “I haven’t looked at this book in a long time, but there might be something useful for you in “Prison Life in Popular Culture”“. Twitter, May 28, 2022; Trashcan Jorts. “I seem to remember that the library in Prison Break was a significant plot point?” Twitter, May 28, 2022; jon boy. “Porridge, episode 5 series 1, I am sure amongst others.” Twitter, May 28, 2022.

[4] Erin Rivero, Marisa Hernandez, Stephanie Osorio, and Vanessa Villareal,  “Dispatches from the Field of Prison Librarianship” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 160, 179; Hardenbrook, Joe. ““Why the hell would I want to leave the library?” – The Library on “Orange is the New Black”” Laptrinhx, 2014, reprinted from original on Hardenbrook’s former blog Mr. Library Dude.

[5] Sources for information from last two paragraphs comes from: Danielle Ball and Hannah Lee, “Reference Behind Bars: Information Needs, Rights, and Empowerment of Inmates” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 132-3, 139-148.

[6] Jacobson, Emily. “Reference by Mail to Incarcerated People” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 151, 158; Rivero, Erin, Marisa Hernandez, Stephanie Osorio, and Vanessa Villareal,  “Dispatches from the Field of Prison Librarianship” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 161, 164, 171-4, 178, 181-2.

[7] Flood, Alison. “Malcolm X’s former prison cell becomes first of 1,000 planned ‘freedom libraries’.” The Guardian, Dec. 7, 2021; Tanner, Courtney. “Why are these two books banned at the Utah State prison?Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 11, 2017; James, Eldon Ray. “Prisoners Pay to Read.” American Libraries, May 22, 2020; Page, Benedicte. “Memoir reveals prisoners’ book preferences.” The Guardian, Oct. 27, 2010; West, Jessamyn. “access to reading lists in prison libraries.”, Jul. 22, 2010; Kirsten. “Librarians in Fiction.” Youth, Popular Culture and Texts, Oct. 13, 2013; Wasserman, Tracy. “My Favorite Fictional Heroic Librarians.” INALJ, Nov. 13, 2014; “Prison Librarian.” NPR, Aug. 28, 2015; “The Accidental Prison Librarian.” American Libraries, Jan. 17, 2011. Also see “Books Have the Power to Rehabilitate. But Prisons Are Blocking Access to Them” by Samantha Michaels, “Best-Sellers and Controversial Books in 19th-Century Prison Libraries” post on Communicating with Prisoners website, “interview with a prison librarian” on Alison Green’s Ask a Manager website, “Library Outreach to Underserved Populations” on American Library Association website, Tommy Binh Vui’s “Prison Libraries: Shelves Bare and Minds Restless“,  “The Making of History and Improving Reference Services (in the 1980s)” on the Exploring Prison Librarianship website, “Libraries in Prison | Prison Library” on Zoukis Consulting Group, Jei Stewart’s “Librarians in Prison” post, “19th-Century Prison Libraries Had Diverse Holdings” on Communicating with Prisoners website; interview with Ann Turner on the Penguin UK website in a page entitled “A Q&A with a prison librarian“, “Our Story” on Friends of the San Quentin Prison Library website, and “Prisoners’ Right to Read: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” on American Library Association website. Steinberg’s book is entitled Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.

[8] Applebaum, Adina. “What Are Prison Libraries Really Like?The Airship, Jun. 30, 2014.

[9] X, Malcolm. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley) (New York: Ballantine Books, First Ballantine Books Edition, Feb. 1992), 452. Malcolm also says, on page xii, “At the same time the Negro has remained a closed book to the white man, who has never displayed any interest in understanding the Negro.” He also talks, on other pages, about those in his family, and those who were close to him, who also loved books. He also argues, on page 187 that Black people’s history had been whitewashed by White people,

[10] Ibid, 450-451.

[11] Ibid, 179, 183, 189, 198-200. He also talks on page 201 about “the very first set of books” that first impressed him, and books that showed him “how the white man had brought upon the world’s black, brown, red, and yellow peoples every variety of the sufferings of exploitation” (see page 203 and again on page 204). He later stated, on page 206 and 207, that he had self-educated himself using the books from the prison library! He later talks about books that were removed form the prison library on page 213, and mention of his use of the prison library is noted on page 478. He also seems to imply, in this 1962 interview, that he became educated with his racial consciousness, while in prison.

[12] For more context on this story, see Lucas Reilly’s “The Murderer Who Helped Make the Oxford English Dictionary” article in Mental Floss, JMS Pearce’s “Dr. William Minor and the Oxford English Dictionary” article in Hektoen International Journal, Tjana Radeska’s “The sad life of William Chester Minor – one of the largest contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary who was held in a lunatic asylum for murder at the time“, to name a few articles.

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Vocational awe and fictional depictions of librarians

Some time ago, I came across tweets by Fobazi Ettarh expressing her disappointment that people defended a White female librarian who called a Black woman a racist term, then doubled down on her tweet. From there, I followed the links and came upon her 2018 In the Library with the Lead Pipe article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves.” I had read it before, but I decided to give it a read again and thought as to how this could be applied to what I’ve written about on this blog in the past. Originally I was planning to put every point she made in the article into one blogpost, but that seemed to be squeezing too many ideas into one place, so I split off many of her points into specific blogposts, to fully explore what she says and to explain more how can relate to fictional depictions of librarians.

Ettarh began her article noting librarians “administering the anti-overdose drug Naloxon,” saying that while this seems natural at first, with these librarians working to “save the democratic values of society as well as going above and beyond to serve the needs of their neighbors and communities,” the rhetoric around this “borders on vocational and sacred language” instead of “acknowledging that librarianship is a profession or a discipline, and as an institution, historically and contemporarily flawed, we do ourselves a disservice.” She goes on to define “vocational awe” as a “set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” [1]

There are undoubtedly fictional librarians believe that institutions are seen as “good and sacred,” and “beyond critique,” especially since these characters are almost universally created by those who haven’t been librarians, have worked in libraries, have library degrees, and so on. As such, their views of libraries are informed by popular perceptions. As such, some characters clearly see librarianship as a vocation or a calling, based on the Christian tradition of calling requiring a “monastic life under vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience” as Ettarh points out.

One of those characters is Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm who works in a church library, which she had been excited to be a part of. Unfortunately, in Part 3 of the series, she is not shown in the library. Instead, she is only shown being denied from the library and becomes subservient to authority, which is sad to see for her character.

This different from previous parts of the series, in which she undoubtedly sees her role as a librarian as one of obedience. Through all of the series, her role as a librarian becomes interconnected with her role as a gray-robed priest. This related to what Ettarh adds about  vocation within librarianship. She argues that she has “allusions to religiosity and the sacred” and states that libraries created with the “same architectural design as churches in order to elicit religious awe.” She goes onto say that awe is a overwhelming and fearful feelings rather than a comforting one, meant to elicit “obedience from people in the presence of something bigger than themselves.”

This differs from O’Bengh, also known as Cagliostro, in an episode of What If…?. He is a sorcerer who works in a library, which looks exactly like a temple. He is a manifestation of librarians as priests. Sometimes it isn’t as explicit as his character. As I noted in the aforementioned post, O’Bengh falls into the librarian as an information provider stereotype. The fact the library is a temple, this, as I noted in that post, furthers the perception that libraries, and by extension librarians, are sacred. In many ways, he acts like a monk inside of a monastery who never leaves the monastery, as he never appears in any other episodes.

Ettarh goes onto argues that vocational awe manifests itself in “response to the library as both a place and an institution,” with library workers easily paralyzed by the “sacred duties of freedom, information, and service.” As a result of these “grand missions,” advocating for a full lunch break or taking a mental health day “feels shameful.” This awe is “weaponized against the worker,” meaning that there can be vocational purity test of sorts in which a worker “can be accused of not being devout or passionate enough to serve without complaint.”

Shown at 45:29 in this film. She comes back for a scene at 47:24 where she is shelving books

In some ways this is weaponized against librarians. Take for instance Gabrielle (voiced by Victoire Du Bois) in I Lost My Body. She has an annoying supervisor who fits many librarian stereotypes and attempts to stop Gabrielle from talking to Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris), the show’s other protagonist, who is checking out books. While she is shown to be hard at work shelving books elsewhere in this mature film, she also is enforcing library rules and expectations all at the same time, with Gabrielle dubbing her “Mrs. Watchtower”. Since the library scene is so short and we see the movie mainly from Naoufel’s perspective, we don’t know the motivations of this annoying supervisor, who doesn’t even have a voice actor, and fellow librarian.

The same can be said about Amity Blight (voice by Mae Whitman) in The Owl House. In the episode “Through the Looking Glass Ruins”, her boss, Malphas (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) fires her after she is found in a forbidden section of the library. Although she isn’t supposed to be there, she is trying to help Luz Noceda (voiced by Sarah Nicole-Robles), who later becomes her girlfriend, find a book about a previous human traveler to this magical world. She accepts the consequences but Luz gets Amity’s library card back after going through a series of trials. Not surprisingly, Amity is grateful and kisses Luz on the cheek.

Ettarh writes that librarianship by its very nature privileges those within the status quo. She goes onto see that those outside of the center of librarianship can see more clearly, for the most part, disparities between reality of library work and “espouse values.” She goes onto say that vocational awe refuses to acknowledge libraries as flawed institutions, meaning that when marginalized librarians, including people of color, speak out, their accounts are “often discounted or erased.” She adds that vocational awe ties the twin phenomenon of undercompensation and job creep, when employees are pressured to “deliver more than the normal requirements of their jobs” which is gradually increased by the employer, within librarianship due to workplaces that are self-sacrificing and service-oriented.

This results in, as Ettarh puts it, librarians becoming self-selected. It leads to expectations that entry-level library jobs need usually voluntary experience within a library, coupled with “class barriers built into the profession.” What this means that those who have financial instability and cannot work for free have to take out loans or switch careers entirely. Furthermore, those librarians with family responsibilities cannot “work long nights and weekends” and librarians with disabilities can’t make librarianship a “whole-self career.”

In animation this is shown in terms of oft-stereotype of White female librarians who are elderly spinsters. It is implied that such librarians, who are often strict, have experience in library school, degrees, and have been in the library for ages. It is further indicated that even if one moves beyond White librarians in animation, I can’t think of one librarian who is physically disabled, which Ettarh seems to be talking about in her article. Many of the librarians may be mentally disabled though, through their demeanor and actions. Often they are characters for only one episode, so there isn’t enough of a focus on them to know who they are as actual people. That is the nature of current depictions

Back to Ettarh, she further says that having an “emotional attachment” to your work is often valued, and says that while it isn’t a negative, vocational awe is endemic and “connected to so many aspects of librarianship.” She goes onto say that the problem with this is that efficacy of a person’s work is tied to their amount or lack of passion rather than “fulfillment of core job duties”. She adds that if being a good librarian is “directly tied to struggle, sacrifice, and obedience,” then the more one struggles in their work, their institution / work becomes “holier”. This means that people are less likely to “feel empowered…[or] to fight for a healthier workspace.” [2]

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

Perhaps this is what Kaisa, the ever popular librarian in Hilda feels as she feels exhausted in one episode. More than that, she is experiencing burnout. As I wrote in that post, Kaisa exhibits many of the characteristics of burnout, or what some call librarian fatigue. However, it is hard to know whether her workload is sustainable, if she has a lack of personal control over her workplace, if is insufficiently compensated or recognized, or has a lack of social support, which often leads to burnout. As I put it in that post, librarian burnout/fatigue is something which librarians need to discuss more openly and it should be shown more directly in fictional depictions.

As a reminder, burnout, as noted in that article, means a “syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind”. It is caused by factors such as an “unsustainable workload, role conflict…lack of personal control at work, insufficient recognition…lack of social support, a sense of unfairness, and personal values…at odds with the organization’s values.” This is connected with feelings of detachment and cynicism, a lack of accomplishment, sense of ineffectiveness, and overwhelming exhaustion, with physical symptoms including hypertension, muscle tension, headaches, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, and more.

I end with words from Ettarh. She writes that libraries are only buildings and that people inside, the librarians, do the work, who need to be treated well. She adds that “you can’t eat on passion. You can’t pay rent on passion. Passion, devotion, and awe are not sustainable sources of income.” She goes onto say that while libraries may have a purpose to serve,but is that purpose so high and mighty when it “fails to serve those who work within its walls every day”. She concludes by saying “we need to continue asking these questions…and stop using vocational awe as the only way to be a librarian.” That is something I have to agree with wholeheartedly.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] She also says that the article tries to “dismantle the idea that librarianship is a sacred calling…describe[s] the institutional mythologies surrounding libraries and librarians…dismantle[s] these mythologies by demonstrating the role libraries play in institutional oppression….[and] discuss[es] how vocational awe disenfranchises librarians and librarianship” in hopes that librarianship can “hopefully evolve into a field that supports and advocates for the people who work in libraries as much as it does for physical buildings and resources.”

[2] Ettarh defines a healthy workplace as “one where working around the clock is not seen as a requirement, and where one is sufficiently compensated for the work done” and says it is not a workplace where “the worker [is] taken for granted as a cog in the machinery.”

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Honoring six fictional librarians of Asian descent

Three APALA librarians
From left to right, Lessa Pelayo-Lozada (executive director of APALA, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association), Candice Mack (previous APALA president), and Ray Pun (current APALA president). Images are from the and are used in accordance with fair use exception in U.S. copyright law. This is meant to illustrate real-life Asian librarians.

This month is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To honor that, I’m focusing on six librarians of Asian descent which I’ve come across when watching animation since I began this blog, excluding the over 50 Japanese fictional librarians I’ve listed on this blog in the past. With that, let me get started!

There are four librarians who are arguably from Southeast Asia. One of the earliest I came across is an unnamed librarian in an episode of We Bare Bears aptly named “The Library”. Although it is not directly stated, she is a woman of Thai descent since Ashly Burch, who is presumably her voice actor, is half-Thai, with her mother from Thailand and her father from the U.S., making her multiracial. However, in an interview for The Nerds of Color she told them “I was used to relating to characters that were either white or other types of Asian,” adding “I’ve never gotten to play a Thai character” before voicing Molly McGee, the protagonist of The Ghost and Molly McGee.

So perhaps the librarian was not directly Thai, but portrayed as just in the “other types of Asian” category? No matter, because she is still a librarian of color regardless, with the fandom page for the episode identifying her as Thai, confirming what I’ve stated before. [1] In the episode, this librarian is frustrated with the protagonists, goes on break, and seems harsh at first, wanting them to pay their late fee. She later appears to be overwhelmed and suffering from burnout. In the end, she ends up helping them and seems to let them sleep in the library overnight. The latter is unique because usually that would never be allowed. But, perhaps she saw them working so steadily that she let them stay there and rest in peace. It’s hard to know.

It is worth pointing out, for reference, there are several levels of education for librarianship in Thailand and there’s library organizations like the Thai Library Association. The group describes libraries as a “driving force of society” for knowledge and learning. It also has a code of ethics which prioritizes user convenience, professional ethics, being strong social leaders, and more. None of this would apply to the aforementioned librarian, as We Bare Bears is set in the San Francisco Bay Area and more particularly in San Francisco itself. At first I thought she would, as such, be working at the San Francisco Public Library. Looking at the image shown of the library at the beginning of the episode, I looked at images of one of the many branches within the library system itself. None of them seemed to align with the image.

The Glesson Library seemed like a good guess, from the images I saw, and it didn’t look like the Prelinger Library either. It made me think a little about the J. Paul Leonard and Sutro Library, as the image looked a little similar, but that didn’t seem right either. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what library this is! It isn’t the Mission Bay FAMRI Library, Parnassus Campus Library, or ZSFG Library. Although Chloe goes to the University of California, it would make sense it is at a UC library.

According to World Cat, one edition of the Fourth Edition of Beilstein Handbook of Organic Chemistry is available at UCSD Library in San Diego at Stanford University Libraries, and another at Southern Regional Library Facility in L.A., and Langston Library in Irvine, California. Another version is available at UCSB Library in Santa Barbara, California. None of those are near San Francisco, or in the Bay Area, though. Digging into Chloe’s fandom page it states that “her college is most likely based off of UC Berkeley” but also states that another possibility for her college is “based on is California State University of Los Angeles.” Although I think the creators may have based the library on real life, I also think it could have just been created by the animators to look that way and not connected to a real location.

Coming back to the characters, the aforementioned librarian contrasts with the Flippy in the Happy Tree Friends episode “Random Acts of Silence“. Voiced by Kenn Navarro, a Filipino actor, he is one unique librarian, to say the least. At first, he stamps books, shushes people, takes a chair away from a patron, and sharpens a pencil from another. He soon becomes annoyed when a patron is making a lot of noise and the amount of noise gets to him. It makes him so angry he begins murdering patrons in the most cruel ways possible whether by using pencils through the eyes, with a pencil sharpener, with paper, a sword. Yikes! Through all of this, he still checks out a book to a patron and shushes the viewer at the end.

This is also different from Wong, a man from Hong Kong, voiced by Benedict Wong, in an episode of What If…? entitled “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” Sometimes Hong Kong is considered part of Southeast Asia, even though officially it is part of the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China. In any case, in the episode Wong helps Dr. Strange with his magical powers and fight to save the world from another version of himself. He is a librarian by association with the live-action films where he is shown as a librarian, although he isn’t directly a librarian in the episode.

first mention of Karma as a librarian in Mekanix
Narrator mentions, on issue 1 (possibly page 13), that Karma (with the silver hair) is a librarian and seemingly in love with Kitty (other woman in image)

Then, there’s Karma in Mekanix, who is a Vietnamese woman and is also a lesbian Mekanix is a six issue comic book limited series published from 2002 to 2003, which Chris Claremont wrote, Juan Bobillo pencilled and Marcelo Sosa inked. In the first issue it is noted she is a librarian who has the power to possess people and is also named Shan. Later issues introduce Katherine “Kitty” Pryde, former member of the X-Men, who has a shrink. It also turns out that Shan is a mutant as well and may be in love with Kitty, who is proud to be a mutant and a Jew. Kitty is also known as “Shadowcat.”

Sadly, the police suspect her of causing an explosion and turn her apartment upside down, even though she did nothing wrong, and she is at odds with Nazis known as “Purity” who are anti-mutant. It turns out that someone helped hack into the network and caused the explosion, while Kitty is on the run from terrorists out to kill her. Unfortunately, Shan is never shown as a librarian, just as an aspiring one in this comic, with hair that looks blue in a certain light.

She is shown as a badass with two kids and fighting robots with Kitty, though, who fights racists like no one’s business. However, according to her Wikipedia page, she worked as librarian for the University of Chicago as a student, as indicated in Mekanix, and later, in New Mutants  working as a librarian and French teacher.

In the latter, which is Vol. 2 of the collected edition, issues 4-7, where she is called Xi’an Coy Manh, and has a different appearance. In issue 4, she graduates from University of Chicago. She then later works as a librarian, shown behind the information desk, and helps some fellow students, even looking out a book for one, but he leaves before she can get the book. She later stands up for a fellow student who is a mutant.

Then, in issue 5, she looks at books at the Xavier Institute, and talks to Professor Xavier, and investigates into anti-Mutant groups. In later issues, she continues to fight those groups, and it indicates she is a teacher, specifically at the Xavier Institute.

Last but not least is Mira (voiced by Leela Ladnier), and her father, Sahil (voiced by Aasif Mandvi), in Mira, Royal Detective, which is set in 19th-century India, mostly taking place in the city of Jalpur. In the episode “The Case of the Missing Library Book”, Mira brings a mobile library to town. She even sings a song about it in the same episode and they (she and Sahil) do some library duties, and go on the case of finding a missing library book.

Later, in the episode “The Case of the Lost Puppy”; Mikku and Chikku help Mira return books to the mobile library.  Then, in “Mystery At The Sweet Sale“; Mira and others participate in a bake sale to raise money for the mobile library, so they can buy more materials. In this case, the more sweets they sell, more ability to fill empty shelves of the library, which is a good deal, if I ever heard one!

Shan at information desk in New Mutants
Shan at information desk in New Mutants

That’s all for this week. Until next week!

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] The same page claims there is an elderly librarian in the episode. I’m not sure about that only because I’m not sure if the elderly woman is supposed to be a librarian or if she is just a helpful elderly patron. Interestingly, the Black librarian shown in episode 1 is shown sitting at a table with two other presumed librarians (a Black man with glasses and a White man), at one point, which I noticed on a rewatch, which I never noticed before, and then a second time.

animation anime Comics Movies Pop culture mediums

Recently added titles (April 2023)

In this first episode of season 2 of Tokyo Mew Mew New, Aoyama (shown looking toward the window, in the center of this image) has a vision about Ichigo (a girl he loves) in which she is crying, and comes back to his studying in the library, wondering what Ichigo is doing.

Building upon the titles listed for July/August, September, OctoberNovember, and December 2021, and January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December of 2022, and January, February, and March of this year, this post notes recent titles with libraries or librarians in popular culture which I’ve come across in the past month. Each of these has been watched or read during the past month. Unfortunately, there were no animated series or films with libraries I came across this past month, but I did come across a good deal in comics, whether in graphic novels or webcomics, along with other entries. Hopefully, there will be more that I find in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Animated series recently added to this page

None this month

Anime series recently added to this page

  • Tokyo Mew Mew New, “Step Up! Ichigo’s Romance Enters the Next Stage!” (s2ep1) [Apr. 2023]
  • Violet Evergarden, “Somewhere, Under a Starry Sky”
  • Violet Evergarden, “Surely, Someday, You Will Understand Love”

Comics recently added to this page

Films recently added to this page

None for this month

Other entries recently added to this page

  • Abbott Elementary (TV series)
  • The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (TV series)
  • Murder, She Wrote (TV series)
  • Normal People (TV series)
  • Shadow and Bone (TV series)
  • Shelved (TV series)
  • The Diplomat (TV series)
  • Vera (TV series)
  • Young Sheldon (TV series)

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Thank you to all the people that regularly read my blog. As always, if you have any titles you’d like to suggest, let me know. Thanks!

action adventure animated animation anime Black people fantasy Fiction genres French people horror Librarians Libraries live-action magic libraries Movies Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction Thai people White people

Celebrating fictional library workers

Happy May Day! Today is also known as Labour/Labor Day and International Workers’ Day, celebrating working classes and laborers, which is promoted by the international labor movement. It is celebrated every year. In her 2018 In the Library with the Lead Pipe article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” Fobazi Ettarh stated that a lack of compensation for library work is nothing new, with underemployment issues as a continued source for unhappiness. Librarians continue to be paid hourly and isn’t a primary job for everyone, while the institution gains reduced price or free labor with the enforcement of awe through its “dramatic and heroic narratives.” Interconnected to this is the mythologies of vocational awe which reinforces “themes of sacrifice and struggle,” while librarianship sustained itself through labor of librarians who reap only the “immaterial benefits” of having done supposedly “good work.”

This interconnects to fictional librarians. In this article I’ll focus on librarians who presumably get a wage, rather than student librarians which I wrote about earlier this month, or salary. [1] These librarians include Kaisa in Hilda, Isomura in Let’s Make a Mug Too, Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry, and Ms. Herrera in Archie’s Weird Mysteries. There’s also unnamed librarians in We Bare Bears, Gabriel DropOut, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and Cardcaptor Sakura, to name a few who work in public or school libraries. All of those and more will be reviewed in this article.

Kaisa is a supporting character in Hilda and she works at the Trolberg Library. Although she is never shown getting a paycheck, there is no doubt that she is receiving some wages or salary. However, it is implied that she may be overworked and may be experiencing burnout. She often has to deal with annoying patrons, like Hilda herself. Even so, she is still helpful to patrons like Hilda and her friends. She is even a person who would stand up to her bosses, as she would have done in standing against them in a scene which never made it in Hilda and the Mountain King. Otherwise, she seems relatively content with her job, at least as her scenes in the show indicate, although the times we see her is relatively limited, so its hard to know for sure.

Since the show is set in an alternate version of Scandinavia, we can say she would earn an average salary of approximately 9,936 Euros or about $17,843 U.S. Dollars. [2] However, if we chose largest amount, she would earn about $42,274 U.S. Dollars a year, and around $3,386 U.S. Dollars a year at the minimum. Compared to those classified as Librarians and Library Media Specialists by the BLS, the average salary of $61,190 U.S. Dollars a year. Her salary is closer to those classified as Librarian Technicians and Assistants by the BLS which earn an average salary of $34,050 U.S. Dollars a year. Hopefully Trolberg has enough money to pay her, so I’m going to hope that she earns the equivalent of $37,000 a year, which means she would earn about $17.78 dollars an hour, assuming a 2,080 hour work year. That may be far too optimistic, but I’m really hoping here.

That brings me to Isomura in Let’s Make a Mug Too. She is a librarian and curator of local ceramics museum in the town of Tajimi. Since she has both jobs, she doesn’t devote all of her time to the library. However, she is from the city hall and is apparently a new hire. Now, librarians in Japan have an average salary of $5,882,809 Japanese Yen, the equivalent of $44,355 U.S. Dollars or $295,721.24 Chinese Yuan Renminbi. As for curators, they earn a bit more, $6,717,387 Japanese Yen. [3] That is equivalent of $337,578.57 Chinese Yuan Renminbi or $50,647 U.S. Dollars. If we average the two together, assuming she has a librarian-curator position, she would be earning an equivalent of $47,501 U.S. Dollars a year. If we use the same amount of hours per year I mentioned earlier, then she would earn about $23 dollars an hour! That’s pretty good for an amount of money to earn in a year.

The curator talking to the show's protagonist about pottery in Let's Make a Mug Here
The curator talking to the show’s protagonist about pottery

More broadly, the library that Isomura works in is one of the thousands of libraries in Japan. Some of those are listed on the “List of libraries in Japan” page. A small number of these libraries are “beautifully designed” and I’d guess that some of them are like temples, as some are said to be designed by so-called “master architects.” Libraries in Japan have evolved from being a study room and place for limited use to a place with attitudes about guarding the “people’s right to know” and ensuring equal and free access to information for everyone. Furthermore, librarians in Japan said to be “very passionate” about including “all areas of thought” in their daily discourse and collections, since library collections in World War II were heavily censored. [4]

There are many librarians in Japan who work at public libraries. Take, or example, the unnamed librarians Cardcaptor Sakura. The latter show has librarians shelving books and searching for items on their computers, helping the protagonists. They seem respected by those in the library itself. Unfortunately, looking at the listing on IMDB, it does not appear that the four, or even more, librarians in the episode are uncredited, unless they are listed as a character. The same can be said about the two unnamed librarians who appear briefly in the first episode Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, “My Senpai is a Bunny Girl”. Both work at Fujisawa Library, a public library.

Similarly, consider the librarian in Gabriel DropOut. She has a more direct role. In the episode “Fun Forever After…”, an unnamed female librarian helps Tapris, who stumbles at first when getting into the library and struggles to get on the internet. She doesn’t even know what a mouse is, and even touches the screen when its not a touch screen. The librarian helps her, guiding her to books on computers and programming, leading Tapris to read books about them. Again, unfortunately, the librarian is not credited.

This differs from the unnamed librarian in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform. She works at an all-girls private school, Roubai Girls’ Academy. In one episode, “There’s No School Tomorrow, Right?”, she shushes protagonists Akebi and Erika after they excitedly talk to one another. After the librarian shushes them so they express themselves non-verbally and remain excited to hang out that upcoming Saturday, the following day, together. Like other school librarians, she likely takes training courses and work to make sure the services of the school library meets the needs of the school. [5]

This contrasts with Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry, a children’s animated series set in the United Kingdom. She works as a school librarian during the series but is generally disrespected by the show’s protagonist. Putting aside that a White woman voices her, even though she is a Black woman, as I’ve talked about how this is problematic in the past, lets consider an average salary. In the UK a librarian earns about £23,019 British Pounds a year, and £10.14 British Pounds an hour. [6] That’s the equivalent of about $28,788 U.S. Dollars a year, or about $13 USD an hour. That is relatively low compared to what I’ve mentioned before. I’ll get to librarians in the U.S. later.

Henry's teachers, with Lovely on the right
Henry’s teachers, with Lovely on the right

The diversity of UK librarians is even worse than in the U.S.: 97% of librarians identify as White! Compare that to the U.S. where 87% identify as White according to recent information. As such, Lydia Lovely is in the minority in terms of Black librarians in the UK. I don’t know whether there are Black librarian groups there like there are in the U.S., but I sure hope so, because they really need more diversity in their ranks of librarians, without a doubt.

They aren’t the only librarians in the UK which I’ve found in my watching of animated series. There’s the unnamed librarian in Sarah and Duck, a non-human librarian. Appearing in the episode “Lost Librarian” and voiced by Tom Britton, this librarian works at what appears to be working at the public library. Sarah and Duck who had gone to the library to learn about a periscope, help him after he loses his paper catalog . He eventually gets back the paper catalog, even as he shushes the duck at a later point. The one thing that is strange is that he has a paper catalog and there is no back-up. Strange and supports the idea of stereotypes of librarians and libraries as antiquated.

This profoundly contrasts with the librarian in Totally Spies who may be voiced by Janice Kawaye, a voice actor of Japanese descent, as I’ve written before, most recently in March 2022. She works at the Liverpool Library, based off the Liverpool Central Library as I noted in my post on April 18. It is the largest of the libraries in Liverpool. If she continued to work there, even as a buff librarian, with some spinster qualities, she would be in a building with “Wi-Fi access throughout the building with 150 computers” according to the library’s official website. The library also has 15,000 rare books,  a local studies collection which provides the “rich and fascinating history of Liverpool“. Furthermore, in connection to what the librarian does in the episode, they charge for late returned items. This is something being phased out in many libraries, although Liverpool Central Library isn’t one of them.

That brings me to Gabrielle in I Lost My Body. In the mature animated film, set in France, this librarian, voiced by Victoire Du Bois, she is a young woman who becomes friends with the protagonist after he, a pizza delivery person, delivers a pizza to her. She asks if he is ok, says he should change jobs, and they talk through the intercom while there is a hard rain outside the apartment building. She tells him she works in a library. It is later revealed, she delivers medicine to a man named Gigi. That she works at the Guy de Maussurant Library, possible referring to Guy De Maupassant, who is a great French writer of short stories. As a librarian there, checks out books for him there, helps him, tells him to bring them back in four weeks. Through it all she has an annoying unnamed library supervisor, while acting thoughtful, elusive, and hip from time to time. She rides a motorcycle, like Rin Shima in Laid-Back Camp, and is unique in that way.

Currently, the average salary of librarians in France is €47,292 Euros. That is the equivalent of about $50,534 USD per year, or $24.2 per hour, assuming the same 2,080 hour work year I mentioned earlier. It is worth noting that there are over 16,000 “public reading spaces” in France, but only 17% of the population are registered library users, due to limited hours open, remoteness, and continued stereotypes. At the same time, libraries of American Committee for Devastated France, otherwise known as CARD, containing librarians from the U.S., served as the foundation of modern libraries in France. There are also various professional organizations for librarians in the country. [7]

For Gabrielle, her job is probably pretty secure, even recommending The World According to Garp when he brings back another book. She probably doesn’t he has a second job seems to imply that her librarian job may not be paying her enough to stay afloat. However, if a second job is emblematic of the librarian field in France, one might say it means there is precarity at play. As put it in American Libraries, “precarity within and outside of libraries is tied to larger structural forces.” If this is the case for Gabrielle, it could mean, on the one hand, that her job is not as secure and a symptom of larger trends. After all, it seems to be the case in France, at least to some extent, especially for those in the gig economy. [8]

Bookworm supports oppression against Rocky and Bullwinkle

That brings me to Cletus Bookworm in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends. He is a librarian in the small town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Considering he is in the U.S., and in small town, what Jessi Baker, a small-town librarian said, is relevant here, that such librarians “often follow a different set of professional norms” since what may be considered “professional behavior in a larger area could be considered impersonal behavior by a small-town patron.” There is even an Association for Small and Rural Libraries. Other librarians also pedal around books and deliver them across the town. [9]

In the case of Bookworm, he appears to be respected enough to stay in his position even though he is complicit in kidnapping of his own patrons. Although this matters little to him, as all he wants in the library, similar to the general librarian stereotype of shushing librarians. is order in the library by any means necessary. He is very different from other librarians, like Archie the Archivist in Regular Show, which is set in an indeterminate location, who helps the protagonists, and is also the guardian of special laser discs, for some reason.

That brings me to the many librarians in the U.S. As I noted earlier, Librarians and Library Media Specialists earn an average of $61,190 U.S. Dollars a year and Librarian Technicians and Assistants earn an average salary of $34,050 U.S. Dollars a year. Most of the animated librarians in Western animation work in public libraries. Consider the unnamed librarian in We Bare Bears who is seemingly of Thai descent, who works at a branch of the the Los Angeles Public Library. She is shown as burned out and overworked, similar to Kaisa in Hilda.

She is not unique in this. Arguably Stewart Goodson and Myra in The Public may be be burned out to an extent. This differs from Mr. Anderson, the library manager. They all work at the Cincinnati Public Library. Also working in the Midwest is Bobby Daniels in The Ghost and Molly McGee and Clara Francis Censordoll in Moral Orel. Daniels is unique. He is one of the only Latine librarians apart from Mateo in Elena of Avalor and Eztli in Victor and Valentino that I know of in animation. Mateo is voiced by a gay man named Joseph “Joey” Haro, who is of Cuban descent, while Eztli is seemingly voiced by Jenny Lorenzo, who is also of Cuban descent. Daniels is voiced by Danny Trejo, he is presumably of Mexican descent since Trejo is of Mexican descent. There is a rich history of Mexican-American librarians, otherwise known as Chicano librarians, which tries to change the culture of the libraries they worked in to better suit their communities rather than White culture despite institutional resistance.

Censordoll is fundamentally different. In fact, her whole character stands against all the ethics and codes which librarians attest to. She dips books in kerosene so they can be burned and throws away books said to be “objectionable.” She is the equivalent of what the librarian-soldiers were fighting against in Library War and the present-day equivalent of book-banning/censorship efforts in the U.S., which seem to get worse every day. Such efforts are arguably a manifestation of fascism, although people don’t always use that word for them.

Other librarians appear in the Mid-Atlantic. This includes Harold in Craig of the Creek, who works at a librarian in the fictional town of Herkleton, Maryland in the Baltimore/D.C. metropolitan area. Additionally, the unnamed librarian in an episode of Steven Universe, “Buddy’s Book”, is located somewhere in Delmarva, along the Atlantic coast, in what can be called the Eastern Shore. Harold is voiced by Matt Burnett while the voice of the librarian in the Steven Universe episode is not currently known. The latter librarian may be more exhausted and tired than the former, although it is hard to know for sure because she is only shown very briefly in the episode itself.

three librarians in fiction
from left to right: Sherman “Swampy” in Phineas and Ferb, unnamed librarian in Rugrats and Mr. Ambrose in Bob’s Burgers

Apart from these is Sherman “Swampy” in Phineas & Ferb, possibly in the mid-Atlantic region, or other unnamed librarians in the series. This contrasts from Rugrats. Considering the series is seemingly set in Southern California, it means the unnamed librarian in that series is in the same area. This differs from Bob’s Burgers which is set somewhere in the Northeastern United States. Mr. Ambrose works in a school library there, specifically at Wagstaff School. He is said to be “flamboyant” on his fandom page, implying that he could be gay.

Similarly, Archie’s Weird Mysteries is set in New York, in the fictional town of Riverdale. The series includes Ms. Herrera, who may be Latine, and a librarian ghost named Violet Stanhope. In some scenes, she is shown as not a ghost. She remains in the town as she has unfinished business in the human world and can’t leave until it is completed. For all the hassle that Herrera goes through, I sure hop she is compensated well. That’s my hope, although I’m not sure if it is fulfilled or not

Then there is the unnamed librarian in Kim Possible who would fall within the “high school librarian” and “school librarian” category listed by the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. She is voiced by April Winchell. The series takes place in a possibly Midwestern town named Middleton, but still located in the U.S. Considering the fact that she is a menace in the school, she may have strong-armed the administration to pay her adequately. Alternatively, she might be underpaid and is lashing out at students because her pay is low. Its hard to know. I wish someone would write a fan fiction about her, one day.

That’s all for this post. Until next time!

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] It is possible that Iku Kasahara and Asako Shibasaki in Library War are paid, although I can’t confirm that.

[2] “Librarian Average Salary in Norway 2022.” Salaryexplorer. Accessed June 6, 2022, says average salary is 396,000 NOK (39,250.194 Euros); “Librarian [Sweden].” SalaryExpert. Accessed June 6, 2022, says average salary is 414,891 kr (39,575.039 Euros); “Librarian Average Salary in Iceland 2022.” Salaryexplorer. Accessed June 6, 2022, says average salary of 467,000 ISK (3,376.6099 Euros); “Librarian Average Salary in Finland 2022.” Salaryexplorer. Accessed June 6, 2022, says average salary of 3,170 EUR; “Librarian Average Salary in Denmark 2022.” Salaryexplorer. Accessed June 6, 2022, says average salary of 28,600 DKK (3,844.6069 Euros); “What is the average salary of a librarian in Finland? Which source do I search for more information ? There is a librarian average salary history?” Ask a Librarian, Jun. 22, 2015. Used XE’s Currency Converter on June 6, 2022, inputting these average salaries then divided by five.

[3] “Librarian Salary in Japan.” Accessed June 6, 2022; “Museum Curator” [Japan]. SalaryExpert. Accessed June 6, 2022. Used XE Currency Converter on June 6, 2022.

[4] “Beautiful Libraries in Japan“. JapanTravel. Accessed June 6, 2022; “8 Beautiful Modern Libraries Designed by Master Architects in Japan.” Tsunagu Japan. Accessed June 6, 2022; Kawasaki, Yositaka, Genjiro Yamaguchi, and Ryoko Takashima. “The Development of Public Libraries in Japan After World War II.” 62nd IFLA General Conference – Conference Proceedings – August 25-31, 1996; Drake, Olivia. “Librarian Speaks on Intellectual Freedom in Japan.” The Wesleyan Connection. Oct. 5, 2006.

[5] Iwaski, Rei, Mutsumi Ohira, and Junko Nishio. “Pathways for School Library Education and Training in Japan.” IFLA, May 2019.  The library also appears in “Have You Decided on a Club?”, when the head of the literature club is talking to her friends in the library, and seems to read her books there to students as part of the club.

[6] “Average Librarian Salary in United Kingdom.” Payscale. Accessed June 7, 2022. Used XE Currency Converter on June 7, 2022.

[7] “Librarian Salary in France.” Accessed June 7, 2022; “France.” Libraries Without Borders. Accessed June 7, 2022; Dormant, Marcelline. “The French Connection.” American Libraries, Feb. 16, 2017; “Library Associations: France.” Internet Library for Librarians. Accessed June 7, 2022. The Economic Research Institute says something slightly different. Used XE Currency Converter on June 7, 2022.

[8] Lee, Yoonhee. “Bumpy Inroads.” American Libraries, May 1, 2020; Jensen, Kelly. “Librarians Under Pandemic Duress: Layoffs, Napkin Masks, and Fear of Retaliation.” Book Riot, Apr. 24, 2020; Babb, Mauren. “A Reflection on Precarity.” Partnership, Feb. 3, 2022; “Librarians fight rise of precarious work.” CBC, Mar. 27, 2016; Apouey, Bénédicte, Alexandra Roulet, Isabelle Solal, and Mark Stabile. (2020) “Gig Workers during the COVID-19 Crisis in France: Financial Precarity and Mental Well-Being.” J Urban Health 97, no. 6: 776-795; Thorkelson, Eli. (2016) “Precarity Outside: The political unconscious of French academic labor.” American Ethnologist 43, no. 3: 476.

[9] Arata, Hannah. “Hometown Librarian: Q&A with a Problem-Solving Small-Town Librarian.” Programming Librarian, May 19, 2021; Arata, Hannah. “Library on Wheels: Q&A With a Book Biking Librarian.” Programming Librarian, Aug. 23, 2021.

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Examining Arab and Muslim librarians in fiction

Scholars sitting at an Abbasid library.
Scholars at an Abbasid library. Illustration by Yahyá al-Wasiti in 1237 entitled “Maqamat of al-Hariri”, downloaded from Wikimedia.

This month is Arab-American Heritage Month, which recognizes the contributions Arab-Americans have made to the U.S. In that vein, I’d like to highlight some fictional librarians who are Arabs, Muslims, and others in real life for this post.

First, I’d like to point out some facts. Currently there are, according to Arab America, over 3.5 million Arab Americans in the U.S., an inexact number since they are not recognized as a minority group on the federal level, 90% of whom live in urban areas. Furthermore, 66% of them live in 10 states, and 33% live in a few states: California, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey. 40% even have a bachelor’s degree or higher, showing high educational attainment. There are various stories which can be read. There is a Arab/Middle Eastern librarian listed by Jennifer Snoek-Brown in 2017 on her site, Reel Librarians: Erick Avari as Dr. Terrence Bey in The Mummy (1999). This film, unfortunately, has wretched stereotypes of Arabs, which some have examined, noting Egyptian workers are shown as “disposable, frightened props”, with some calling it an anti-Arab film and a “racist masterpiece” that is a “consummate example of bigotry”. It was so bad, that there is the story of Amir El Bayoumi, a young Egyptian-American who has originally signed onto the film, left the movie set, arguing that it was a “blatant humiliation” of his culture. [1] On the other hand are real-life Arab-American librarians like Ghada Kanafini Elturk, a person of Lebanese descent who was working as a librarian in Boulder, Colorado in September 2001, or the director of Morrow Library at Marshall University, Majed Khader, who was born in Jordan. There’s others who speak Arabic but are American and live in the Mideast like librarian David Hirsch.

Beyond this is author Ameen F. Rihani (1876-1940). He is first American with Arab heritage to “devote himself to writing literature, to publish a novel in English,” and author of Arab descent “to write English essays, poetry, novels, short stories, art critiques and travel chronicles.” That’s just one example. This differs from the issues and struggles that librarians, in the Arab world, have to deal with, distinct from those in the U.S., obviously. The late Lebanese-American scholar and journalist Jack G. Shaheen in one of his seminal works, Reel Bad Arabs, defines Arabs as the hundreds of millions of people who reside in, and the millions around the world in the diaspora, from 22 Arab states (Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen). Shaheen also notes that many English words, like algebra, chemistry, and coffee, have English roots, while Arab intellectuals made it possible for Western scholars to practice and develop “advanced educational systems.” Arabs also pioneered water works, irrigation, measuring latitude and longitude, invented the water clock, and were advanced in astronomical discoveries, along with the concept of gravity and tradition of legal learning which Jews played an important role in. Arabs have lifestyles which defy stereotyping, which has endured for centuries, especially in Europe. [2]

While there are some assorted fictional librarians who are Arabs, like an unnamed librarian in a puzzle game, more of them exist in real-life than any in fiction. Consider the Muslim woman, writer, and librarian Essraa Nawar, an Islamic school librarian named Kirin, or the eight Muslim librarians behind Hijabi Librarians, a site which reviews young adult and children’s literature featuring Muslim communities and characters. Unfortunately, even a search on their website pulls up very few Arab or Muslim librarians, other than Yasmin the Librarian, a Pakistani American second-grader. Further searches pulled up many more books, however. Nour, the protagonist of Nour’s Secret Library, and her friend, go a library named Fajr, in Syria, collecting books to stock shelves and checking out books, even making their own secret library. Additionally, there’s Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq, which is based on the story of a Muslim woman who saved 30,000 books from destruction during the Iraq War, or the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a librarian in Basra, Iraq, in the book The librarian of Basra. [3]

There are further library scenes in other books with Muslim characters. In You Can Control Your Voice: Loud or Quiet? You Choose the Ending, the protagonist can stay a longer time or shorter time in the library depending on how loud or quiet she is. In Lailah’s Lunchbox, a school librarian encourages the Muslim protagonist to express herself. In Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties, which has a Pakistani Muslim protagonist, a slug comes out of a substitute librarian. In Layla’s Head Scarf, a librarian gives Layla, the Muslim protagonist, a book about her country. In Zaynab and Zakariya Learn to Recycle, the protagonists reach out to their parents in the library to learn about recycling. Also, in Muktar and the Camels, the Somali Muslim protagonist becomes a traveling librarian who rides a camel and in The Library Bus, Pari and her mother takes education on the road with a library bus in Afghanistan. The same author of the latter book wrote another about Afghans, titled A Sky-Blue Bench, focused on a disabled young girl. Despite these books, however, there is still a general lack of Muslim and Arab librarians, which sadly isn’t a surprise considering the lack of Muslim librarians in librarianship as a whole. [4]

When it comes to real librarians who are Muslims, Arabs, or both, there are scattered blogs and resources online, either of those in the West, Mideast or elsewhere. Others shared history of libraries in Spain, during the Islamic golden age, how a novel by Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book is based on a “true story of an ancient Jewish codex saved from the fire by a Muslim librarian”, a Black Muslim librarian sparing the interest of José “Cha Cha” Jiménez in social justice and leading him to found the Young Lords Party. Some scholars argued that progress achieved by Muslims in science “during the caliphate was greatly supported by the existence of libraries”. [5] Others pointed out that historians divided the libraries in the early centuries of Islam into three types: public (schools or mosques), semi-public (only open to a specific group) and private (owned by scholars and for their personal needs) libraries. The greatness of these libraries was recorded by Ibn Sina and others, noting libraries with tens of thousands of volumes.

Children's section of Azadi library in Karkhark village, Iran
Children’s section of Azadi library in Karkhark village, Iran. Image by Saadatnia95, posted on Wikimedia, Feb. 17, 2017

There were further stories on heroic Islamic librarians and the Muslim women who restored an old library in Morocco. Others worked to combat stereotypes, met together with other Muslim librarians, or provided history of past libraries. Some have even proposed Islamic classification schemes or used a revised version of the Dewey Decimal System (DDC). Some scholars pointed to the role of Islamic librarianship,  noting that Islamic knowledge traditions raised librarians as so-called “knowledge workers” and scholars, and became a manifestation of their faith. This interconnects with the association of librarianship with what is sacred, religious, and even seeing librarians as priests. It may even be part of what some claimed was the “great borderless empire” of libraries which have the power to build civilization and have a “special place of honor” in society. There is also the role of WCOMLIS, the World Congress of Muslim Librarians and Information Scientists, which appears to meet every year, and Islamic ethical codes, which some argue can be applied in library settings. [6]

Through it all there is the continued problem of low productivity of Arab librarians in contributing scholarship. This is in part with very few Arabic library journals, difficulties in determining how many librarians there in the Arab world, and a gender gap. The scholar Mahmoud Sherif Zakaria found that men published almost 83% of the articles in Arabic journals, while women published the other 17%, rooted in the fact that women may not have the time to publish or develop their research skills. The author concluded that the proportion of contributions of Arab librarians to the library literature “seems weak” and called for further scholarship from such librarians to promote professional library staff, and strengthen / gain professional and research recognition in the academic community” [7]

Rashid Siddiqui, a scholar at the University of Leichester in the UK, called for, in 1988, the Islamizing of librarianship with Islamic-based classification systems. In his four-page article, he argued, with merit, that “library science, as developed in the West, is bound to reflect the image of Western civilization. Subject classification, the rules for cataloguing, lists of subject headings and other techniques employed to exploit literature all portray the Western way of life.” He pointed out that there was trouble at cataloging Muslim authors with librarians continuing to follow “Anglo- American cataloguing rules”, argued that the DDC had an “American and Christian bias”, pointed to lack of bibliographical indexes and bias within “Western bibliographic data” has led to problems. He concluded by calling for Islamizing librarianship to open up “avenues of knowledge”, to make sure Islamic scholarship and learning is recognized. [8]

Hopefully, in the future, there are characters who are Muslims, Arabs, or both, which are librarians. It is more likely in Western animation and webcomics than anime, as the latter medium continues to be a bit of a monolith and lacks in representation of characters beyond Japanese culture for the most part. This is mainly the case due to the ethnic composition of Japan itself. After all, librarians have been said to influence young adult fiction trends, influence what teens read, can promote diversity, and libraries hold key places in neighborhoods, including in the Black community, but undoubtedly elsewhere too. [9]

With that, I conclude this post and hope to find more characters in the future which I can write about on this blog and share with you all. As always, comments on this post are welcome.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Shaheen, Jack G. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001), 9, 333-335

[2] Ibid, 2-3, 6-7, 11, 539.

[3] “Arab Librarian.” edu-fun store Egypt. Accessed June 20, 2022; Peters, Alison. “Cool Stuff Diverse Librarians Do.” Book Riot, Feb. 5, 2016; Younus, Zainab bint. “Muslim Bookstagram Awards: A Chat With An Islamic School Librarian.” Muslim Matters, Mar. 19, 2022; “Bios.” Hijabi Librarians. Accessed June 20, 2022; “About Us.” Hijabi Librarians. Accessed June 20, 2022; “Favorite Books of 2021.” Hijabi Librarians, Feb. 2, 2022; Kirin, “Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa’ Tarnowska illustrated by Vali Mintzi.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Dec. 29, 2021; Kirin, “Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Sept. 25, 2020; Kirin. “Non-Fiction.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian. Accessed June 20, 2022; “The librarian of Basra.” Diverse Book Finder. Accessed June 20, 2022; Kirin. “The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq By Jeanette Winter.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Jul. 26, 2015. Also see Mahasin and Ariana, “Evaluating Muslims in KidLit: A Guide for Librarians, Educators, and Reviewers,” Hijabi Librarians, Oct. 3, 2020; “Welcome to Hijabi Librarians!Hijabi Librarians, June 15, 2018; “Author Interview: Sana Rafi.” Hijabi Librarians, Mar. 13, 2022; Aleem, Mahasin Abuwi. “Interview with Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow.” Hijabi Librarians, Feb. 10, 2019; “Saffron Ice Cream: A Book Discussion.” Hijabi Librarians, Aug. 15, 2018; Salamah, Hadeal. “Author Interview: Rukhsana Khan.” Hijabi Librarians, Aug. 11, 2018; “Author and Illustrator Interview: Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly.” Hijabi Librarians, Jul. 31, 2018; “Author Interview: Hena Khan.” Hijabi Librarians, Jun. 14 2018; “Author Interview: Alexis York Lumbard.” Hijabi Librarians, Jun. 12, 2018; “Blogroll.” Hijabi Librarians. Accessed June 20, 2022; “Advocacy, Grants and Scholarships, and Research.” Hijabi Librarians. Accessed June 20, 2022; “PK-12 Resources.” Hijabi Librarians. Accessed June 20, 2022; “Books.” Hijabi Librarians. Accessed June 20, 2022.

[4] Kirin, “You Can Control Your Voice: Loud or Quiet? You Choose the Ending by Connie Colwell Miller illustrated by Victoria Assanelli.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Mar. 2, 2020; Kirin, “Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties by Humza Arshad & Henry White illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Oct. 25, 2019; “Lailah’s lunchbox.” Diverse Book Finder. Accessed June 20, 2022; Kirin, “Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi illustrated by Lea Lyon.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Jul. 7, 2016; Kirin, “Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen illustrated by Ronald Himler.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Dec. 10, 2018; Kirin, “Zaynab and Zakariya Learn to Recycle by Fehmida Ibrahim Shah.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Dec. 10, 2018; “Muktar and the camels.” Diverse Book Reader. Accessed June 20, 2022; Kirin, “Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber illustrated by Scott Mack.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Feb. 2, 2018; Kirin, “The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard.” Notes from an Islamic School Librarian, Apr. 14, 2021; “The Library Bus.” Diverse Book Reader. Accessed June 20, 2022; “A Sky-Blue Bench.” Diverse Book Reader. Accessed June 20, 2022. “2020 Ramadan Reads: Recommended Books.” Hijabi Librarians, May 18, 2020; “How and Why We Started this Site and Why We Chose Our Name.” Hijabi Librarians, June 10, 2018. There’s also a mention of a library being built in David Macaulay’s Mosque. Additionally, the books The Most Pleasant Festival of Sacrifice: Little Barul’s Eid Celebration, Alana’s Bananas, Rashid and the Haupmann Diamond (there’s library research) which are by Muslim authors and have Muslim characters all have library scenes. Kirin also noted that some people would criticize a Muslim character’s identifying as LGBTQ and others “angered by my mentioning of them as potential flags”. She also noted in one review about reserving “recommendations to college age”.

[5] Blogger Profile. Muslim Librarian in Amman. Blogger, Google. Accessed June 20, 2022; “Home.” Muslim Librarian in Amman. Accessed June 20, 2022; “Home.” Early Muslim libraries in Spain. Accessed June 20, 2022; Ursula K Le Guin. “The shelf-life of shadows.” The Guardian, Jan. 28, 2008; Reichard, Raquel. “5 Things History Books Won’t Tell You About the Young Lords’ Activism.” Remezcla, Sept. 26, 2018; Antonio, Muhammad Syafii, Aam Slamet Rusydiana, Yayat Rahmat Hidayat, Dwi Ratna Kartikawati, and Amelia Tri Puspita. “Librarian in Islamic Civilization.” Library Philosophy and Practice, Dec. 3, 2021, p. 15-18.On the final page, it notes librarians in the history of Islamic civilization, including Al-Nadim, Abd al-Salam ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Bashri, Al-Qayrawani, Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin al-Hasan bin Zarrarah al-Tha’I, al-Ukhbari, and al-Wasithi. This latter name sees to be different from the Arab painter and calligrapher Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, while Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani may have been different from Al-Qayrawani mentioned in the article. However, Ibn al-Nadim is the same as Al-Nadim mentioned in the article, with his Wikipedia page noting his role in libraries. The “Libraries of the Muslim World (859-2000)” page which is mentioned in the next note, points to Ibn Miskawayh who headed the Library of Abu’l-Fadl ibn al-‘Amid in Shiraz, a public library in Bukhara, librarians in Islamic Spanish cities like Dar al-Kitabat getting a salary, Amir Khusraw having a valued position as a librarian in the Sultanate of Delhi, chief librarians of libraries in Mughal India, director and librarians of the Library of Zayb al Nisa, chief librarians in an Indian royal library in Rampur, and librarians of the National Library of Pakistan. That is only scratching the surface.

[6] Brooks, Geraldine. “The Book of Exodus.” The New Yorker, Dec. 3, 2007; Breeding, Jordan, Brittini Patterson, and Kian Lastman. “5 Amazing Acts Of Mercy Toward Horrible People.”, Jun. 25, 2017; Fugard, Lisa. “All the World’s a Page.” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2008; Werft, Meghan. “Meet The 2 Muslim Women Who Built & Restored The World’s First Library.” Global Citizen, Jul. 27, 2016; “Librarian Combats Muslim Stereotypes.” LISNews, Jan. 14, 2009; “Muslim Librarians to Meet in Malaysia.” LISNews, Oct. 6, 2008; Virk, Zakaria. “Libraries of the Muslim World (859-2000).” Muslim Heritage, Nov. 26, 2019; Wong, Megan A. “A comic about truth, justice, and the Islamic way.” Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 25, 2007, excerpted on LISNews; “The Catalogues of the Queen of Sheba.”, Apr. 29, 2009; Monastra, Yahya. (1996). “The Fourth Congress of Muslim Librarians and Information Scientists.” American Journal of Islam and Society, Vol. 13, No. 1, 133-134; Khaldi, Omar. (1989) “Third Conference of Council of Muslim Librarians and Information Scientists (COMLIS III).” The American Journal of Islam and Society, Vol. 6, No. 1, 185-186; “Libraries.” Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Accessed June 20, 2022; “Muslim Journeys and Your Community: Managing Controversy, Maximizing Impact.” Programming Librarian, Oct. 24, 2013; Molazem, Nola. “An Islamic Directory of Library and Information Professional Ethic Codes” [Abstract]. Researchgate, 2011; Baharuddin, Mohammad Fazli and Shaharom TM Sulaiman(2015). “The Challenges of Strengthening Islamic Librarianship: Retrospect History to Shape the Future,” Journal of Information and Knowledge Management, Vol. 5, No. 2, 23-29. Also see: “I’m a librarian who banned a book. Here’s why” There’s also various stock photography and videos, like “Medium slowmo of Muslim female librarian in eyeglasses and headscarf talking to African American university student with disability sitting in wheelchair by wooden desk reading thick book” on storyblocks, “Portrait of cheerful Asian muslim female librarian wearing hijab, smiling crossed arms confidence gesture against book shell in library stock video” on iStock, “Portrait of cheerful Asian muslim female librarian wearing hijab and smiling, woman standing against books in library” on Adobe Stock, “Portrait of cheerful Asian muslim female librarian wearing hijab, looking at camera and smiling, woman standing against books in library” on alamy.

[7] Zakaria, Mahmoud Sherif (2015). “Scholarly productivity of Arab librarians in Library and Information Science journals from 1981 to 2010:.” IFLA Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1, 72-78. For more on the IFLA Journal, see here.

[8] Siddiqui, Rashid. (1988) “The Intellectual Role of Islamizing Librarianship.” The American Jounal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 5, No. 2, 275-278. Link to abstract is here.

[9] Eldemerdash, Nadia. “Why YA Literature Leads The Pack In Muslim Representation.” Headscarves and Hardbacks, Jun. 26, 2017; Nadia, “Stop Telling Teenagers What They Should Be Reading.” Headscarves and Hardbacks, Mar. 5, 2017; Nicole, Angie. “Our Stories Matter 1st Annual African American Read-In.” Black Children’s Books and Authors, Mar. 1, 2017; “What’s Your Story?: Jacquelyn Randle: Founder of C & E Reflections Inc.Black Children’s Books and Authors, Nov. 10, 2021. There is one article which intersects both, a chapter by Rebecca Hankins entitled “Racial Realism of Foolish Optimism: An African American Muslim Woman in the Field” in Where Are All The Librarians of Color?: The Experiences of People of Color (ed. Rebecca Hankins and Miguel Juarez, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA, 2015), which I mentioned in my post in February about real life Black librarians who should also be in fiction. She pointed out, on page 213 that there are only a “few African American women who lead academic librarianship” while the archival world has traditionally been the domain of white male librarianship, with very little happening “to interrupt that paradigm,” including very few Muslim archivists.

action animation anime Black people comedy fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction White people

Invoking and promoting power: Examining fictional library institutions

Beilin, a Humanities Research Services Librarian at Columbia University and occasional writer on In The Library With The Lead Pipe, explains [1] how use of European classical and medieval architecture by libraries persists because of specific vision of academia, and due to of its association with class distinction, elitism, and exclusivity. He further argues that such structures are meant to promote or invoke power, yet another indication that libraries aren’t neutral.
Today is International Day For Monuments and Sites. Also known as World Heritage Day, it is held on April 18 every year, with activities including visits to monuments and heritage sites, and more, honoring world heritage. For that, many of these monuments and sites invoke power. This is abundantly clear when it comes to libraries, including those in fiction, which are influenced by those in real-life.

Scholars have argued that libraries are operated and designed with a specific “racial motive”. They further have said they served the “interests of a white racial project” by helping with maintenance and construction of a White American citizenry and perpetuate White privilege within the structures o the library profession. [2] Others have stated that racial thinking influenced establishment of information institutions with Whiteness itself, influencing specific forms of infrastructure and policies, resulting in racialized structures.

Additional scholars have said that collections, description, cataloging, and exhibitions have shown resistance to change, with libraries serving as a place which transmits, preserves, and reproduces “certain values and regimes of knowledge”. This happens as libraries remain a place where people study, work, and gather. [3] There has been further discussion as to how libraries “reproduce whiteness and white supremacy” in many ways. This has led to to practices which are undoubtedly non-neutral, and is manifested in collections, hosted in some institutions, containing a “heavy legacy of colonialism”. [4]

Beyond that, there has been discussion about how library spaces themselves are White places, with a close relationship between race, place, and space through history. It has been said that libraries are not a place of non-oppression, questions of how libraries can become a “a place of freedom, liberation, and justice” when there is a place of diversity, racist/colonial cataloging practices, biased and limited collections, and the library itself enacting racism through “the maintenance of its own historically racist structure”. [5]

In response, some have said that alternative spaces should be constructed, places which don’t use the “unmarked normativity” of Whiteness and its dominating power, with its internal orders and external borders. Such normativity relies on “physical and conceptual policing” of the bounds of so-called “shared spaces of normalcy” in whatever that entails, especially at predominantly White institutions. This has led some to resist this and say that their librarianship is not for White people and others saying that White people need to develop the stamina for anti-racist work, transforming libraries into “anti-oppressive spaces where racial diversity is actually possible”. [6]

One such library that invokes power is shown in the Totally Spies! episode “Totally Switched!”. Only shown briefly, it looks like a bit of a temple, and is based on the Liverpool Central Library as confirmed by the Liverpool Library itself. It is within a building called the William Brown Library and Museum according to the relevant Wikipedia page.

The library undoubtedly invokes and promotes power. Furthermore, the librarian inside, whom I’ve written about on two occasions, first in May 2021, and again in March 2022, manifests this as well, by throwing an unruly (or surly) patron across the room. This grand look to the library is almost made to make it look like a temple, to make people see it with awe. The spies care little for this, however, as they break-in to examine the librarian’s date book without any problem, which they later put back. This library is only one example of this in fiction.

Another example is the inside of the Trolberg library in Hilda. Although the outside is somewhat grand with its columns, what is inside would make anyone stare with awe. In the Witches’ Tower, there’s an inner room with stacks upon stacks of books. There, a committee of witches resides, ones which are high-ranking witches. They also appear to be Kaisa’s bosses at the library, getting angry at her for not returning a book on time, harshly threatening to cast her into the void if she disobeys them, despite her strong disagreement.

Even more than the outside of the library in Totally Spies, the Trolberg library is meant to have an aura of knowledge. After all, it is two stories, has cabinets of books on almost every subject, and has secret rooms, the equivalent of special collections, which contain spellbooks.

The same can be said for the inner room of the Buddy Buddwick Library in an episode of Steven Universe. The shelves are neatly organized and cleaned. In some ways, it is so organized that it almost seems that no one uses it, unlike the school library in the latter part of Oresuki, when it becomes more heavily used by students, or any of those in episodes of The Simpsons, to give two examples.

Invoking power more directly is the Biblioteca in various episodes of Elena of Avalor. Accessed by Mateo, a royal wizard who helps the show’s protagonist, Elena, it is accessible through the floor and filled with books, materials, and other items. It also appears, similar to the library in What If…? to be magical in some way or another, as Mateo, or Elena at times, appear to be the only ones who can access it.

In that way, the library has an inherent power of its own which is built into how it can be accessed and the original creator, Alacazar, who happens to be Mateo’s grandfather. This makes it unique from other fictional libraries described in this article.

Library revealed in Elena of Avalor

When the library appears first in the episode “Spirit of the Wizard”, Mateo is in awe of the library after Alacazar reveals it to him and Elena. Their animal friend is impressed, as is Mateo, amazed by all the spellbooks that are there. This awe somewhat fades when they realize that Alacazar will only last as long as the book that contains him remains intact. If it fades into nothingness, so does he. They only stay their briefly and move onto their main mission.

This is not the only instance in which the library projects power. Consider the enchanted library in Sofia the First, by the same creator as Elena of Avalor, Craig Gerber. The library is within a tree and and in a secluded area, only accessible through a secret hole in the bedroom of Princess Sofia, and then a boat ride. After that, it has been opened up with a book-like blue key. Speaking of exclusive! The fandom page for the library states that it “contains hundreds, if not thousands, of books,” many of which contain “unfinished stories of lives” that need good endings, something the Storykeeper, a sort of librarian, fulfills.

Just as imposing on the viewer (and character) is the Bonesborough Library in The Owl House. Luz Noceda, one of the show’s protagonists, first travels there when she is delivering a stack of books for her friend and guardian-of-sorts, Eda. She a little intimidated and undoubtedly in awe of this library. The library’s collections are organized by the Demon Decimal System (feeding them will cause them to sneeze and mess up the card catalog). There are also areas for manga and cyclops, and a children’s section. It is a public library with forbidden stacks and is staffed by an unnamed glasses wearing librarian at the information desk, Amity Blight in the children’s area, and a master librarian named Malphas. Additional parts of the library include a reference, fiction, non-fictions section, along with Amity’s hideout.

Even the library operated by George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, two gay Black men who are the fathers of Bow, is imposing in its own way. The fandom page simply calls it a “giant multi-floor residence, museum and library” containing a large staircase, piano, a “grand collection of books”, and a fireplace. The outside is covered with vines making it a bit mysterious and hidden from onlookers. It is so hidden that Bow didn’t tell his friends Adora and Glimmer about it, who only found out when they were worried about about him when he didn’t report back to them.

The same can be said about the library of sorts which appears over and over throughout LoliRock. It is a magical library which the princess can practice their magic and learn new spells. It is a secret magical room which can be “accessed through a basement beside the rehearsal studio” and Talia works to keep order in the library. However, it isn’t as imposing as some of the other libraries, however, in part because it is smaller. Due to its magic, it has a strong effect.

library in RWBY
Library in RWBY

Other libraries have such a powerful effect as well. For instance Nigel in Tangled episode “Pascal’s Dragon” reads books in the library inside the Corona castle to learn more about dragons. While there, he learns about their dangers and why should be stopped. The same can be said for the library that Marcy and King Andreas are in the Amphibia episode “Lost in Newtopia.” Both are library users.

There’s also the libraries in RWBY, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, Classroom of the Elite, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and El-Hazard. All of these libraries have a grand feel to them. The same can be said for libraries in Star Wars, Mysticons, Bravest Warriors, or the self-created library in Prisoner Zero. The latter is unique because similar to the bookmobiles in Mira, Royal Detective, the blue-skinned librarian in Prisoner Zero creates his own library in the hull of a ship. Although it is sadly destroyed, the library is filled with knowledge and materials of all types, although it mainly stores different types of books.

The same can even be said about The Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne. It is meticulously organized and it is meant to awe the patron. At the same time, it is accessible to people with a handrail that allows you to move across the library or non-human library assistants who will bring books to you. This is different than many of the other grand libraries shown in animation which have been covered in this article.

None of these libraries experience the decay and disarray which faces real-life libraries in Africa, due to Western designs being imposed on Africa rather than using decentralized models. Instead, these libraries are akin to real-life libraries which are said to be “beautiful” or “gorgeous”, with their imposing and monumental structures claimed to impress and dazzle people. [7] What is not always considered is if these structures are practical for the librarians and for the patrons. That is usually never mentioned in animated series and may be ignored in real-life too, so things can stay the way they are, even if problems exist within an institution which cause it to be rotten to the core.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Ian Beilin,”The Academic Research Library’s White Past and Present” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 88-89

[2] Ibid, 85.

[3] Todd Honma, “Forward” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. xi; Beilin, 80-81.

[4] Beilin, 82; Megan Watson, “White Feminism and Distributions of Power in Academic Libraries” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 166; Section by Nicole A. Cooke in chapter by Nicole A. Cooke, Katrina Spencer, Jennifer Margolis Jacobs, Cass Mabbott, Chloe Collins, and Rebekah M. Loyd, “Mapping Topographies from the Classroom: Addressing Whiteness in the LIS Curriculum” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 237; Natalie Baur, Margarita Vargas-Betancourt, and George Apodaca, “Breaking Down the Borders: Dismantling Whiteness Through International Bridges” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 287.

[5] Beilin, 83, 86, 91, 93; Vani Natarajan, “Nostalgia, Cuteness, and Geek Chic: Whiteness in Orla Kiely’s Library” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 130.

[6]  David James Hudson, “The Whiteness of Practicality” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 206, 213-214; Jorge R. Lopez-McKnight, “My Librarianship is Not For You” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 261, 265; Section by Kristyn Caragher entitled “Anti-Oppression Workshop Series at the University Library” within Melissa Kalpin Prescott, Kristyn Caragher, and Katie Dover-Taylor, “Disrupting Whiteness: Three Perspectives on White Anti-Racist Librarianship” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 301.

[7] Silver, Richard. “22 Pictures Of Beautiful Libraries That I Took While Traveling Around The World.” BoredPanda, May 2022; Ganea, Simona. “10 Of The Most Impressive And Inspiring Libraries Around The World.” Homedit, Jan. 25, 2012; Waldek, Stefanie. “10 of the Most Beautiful Libraries in the World.” Galerie, Jul. 5, 2018; “Library Buildings : Architecture.” e-architect, Sept. 5, 2021.