academic libraries Black people fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums romance speculative fiction

Real-life Black librarians who should also be in fiction

On the left is part of the cover of a current bestselling bookThe Personal Librarian, by Marie Benedict (a White woman) and Victoria Christopher Murray (a Black woman) about a Black female librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, who passes as White. On the right is an actual image of Greene from Your Black World.]

Diversity has oft been a challenge in the library profession. It is even the subject of a little edited Wikipedia page entitled “Diversity in librarianship.” Currently, not even 6% of credentialed librarians are Black, with almost 16 times more White librarians having credentials than Black people. Even when other metrics are used, Black people are clearly under-represented, although there is a gap of U.S. between U.S.-born Latine people, Blacks, Whites, and immigrant Latines. Furthermore, there is a lack of Black librarians dating back to 1930s, with some arguing that Black people were relegated to inferior schools, and inadequate preparation for higher education. Others have stated that the library profession itself is racially constructed, with Black people having “perilous, uneven, or vulnerable education”. [1]

This reality is manifested in the various real-life Black librarians, like Clara Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. However, too few of them are in popular culture. As such, there are a number of these librarians in real life who should also be in fiction. As I wrote in June of last year, there should be more librarians, especially Black librarians, who criticize DDC and LCCO for being racist, like Reanna Esmail, a outreach and engagement librarian at Olin Library at Cornell University. Itheorized that this could be the case because either many of the librarians are White or that the writers are White and “don’t think about these issues.” With that being said, this post focuses on eleven Black librarians which should be in pop culture, either comics, animation, films, or any other medium.

The first of those librarians is Belle da Costa Greene. She is known due to a historical fiction by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, entitled The Personal Librarian, which is about her professional and personal life as the librarian of J.P. Morgan. She has attracted some controversy, as she spent her professional career while passing as a White person. [2] Even so, considering that romantic drama films like Passing, centered on two Black women who pass as White, are popular, The Personal Librarian, or stories about other librarians who are Black but pass as White might move into another form in the future. After all, the 1929 book of the same name is by Nella Larsen. She was a Black woman who worked as a librarian at the New York Public Library (NYPL), from 1921 to 1925, at the Harlem branch, according to pages 8-9 of George Hutchinson’s 2006 biography, In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line. There are many films, novels, music, and TV shows, which feature characters who are passing. [3] With growing interest and attention toward racial justice, racism, and Black nationalism, a White-passing character might fit with what some directors are going for. So, who knows, maybe there will be a White-passing librarian in animation in the future.

On the other hand, others may decide that instead of choosing a mixed-race character, they will chose someone different. That could lead to a focus on more prominent real-life librarians like the founder of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), E.J. Josey. He was even described as one of the “pioneering” Black librarians in the U.S., founding BCALA in 1970 around the same time that REFORMA, Asian American Library Caucus, and American Indian Library Association came into existence. [4] With characters like Mr. Anderson in The Public, it is just the right time to have a film, novel, or some other form of pop culture about him.

The same can be said for Clara Stanton Jones, the first Black president of the ALA. She was also key in pushing for segregation of libraries and improving library culture by pushing for the passage of an ALA “Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness.” [5] Clearly ahead of her time, especially in the latter. Relatively similar, in terms of her leadership role, was Effie Lee Morris (not to be confused with children’s librarian Effie Lee Newsome). She served as the first Black president of the Public Library Association, and is known for her role in helping library services for visually impaired people and people of color. During her career, she worked at Cleveland Public Library, New York Public Library, an San Francisco Public Library. [6]

three real-life Black librarians
Photographs of, from left to right, Edward C. Williams (via Case Western University), Jessie Carney Smith (via Fisk University), and Eliza Atkins Gleason (via UC Berkeley School of Information)

Surely there were record-setting librarians like Edward C. Williams, an early Black librarian, who joined the ALA in 1896, Fisk University librarian Jessie Carney Smith, who worked at the university beginning in 1965, or Eliza Atkins Gleason, the first Black person to earn a doctorate of library science from the University of Chicago in 1940. She is known for her 1941 book which pioneered Black library history, entitled The Southern Negro and the Public Library: A Study of the Government and Administration of Public Library Service to Negroes in the South. On a related noted were books by Josey, like his famous 1970 book, The Black Librarian in America, its 1994 follow-up, The Black Librarian in America Revisited, his 1972 book, What Black Librarians Have to Say, and the Handbook of Black Librarianship, a book he co-edited with Marva Deloch. This, and other books, like the 2012 book, The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges (edited by Andrew P. Jackson, Julius Jefferson, Jr., and Akilah S. Nosakhere), Renate L. Chancellor’s 2019 book, E.J. Josey: Transformational Leader of the Modern Library, and the Aisha M. Johnson-Jones’ 2019 history, The African American Struggle for Library Equality were pointed out by BCALA in a 2018 call for abstracts. [7]

In addition to Williams, Smith, and Gleason, there’s Virginia Lacy Jones. She is said to be the second Black person to earn a library science doctorate, who went on to be dean of the Atlanta University School of Library Service from 1945 to 1982, overseeing the “training of approximately 1800 black librarians,” during her time at the university. Just as important is Catherine Latimer, the first Black librarian of the New York Public Library, who began working there in 1921, beginning at the Harlem branch. She was even defended by W.E.B. DuBois, when a supervisor tried to demote her.

Latimer would later describe, in letters to DuBois, the “acts of prejudice against her, specifically by white librarians”. Even so, she would still re-catalog items about the African diaspora so it was “actually accessible to researchers,” clip files on topics covering the Black experience and turn “those clipping files into scrapbooks.” She collected works of great Harlem Renaissance writers, oversaw the Division of Negro Literature and History, worked with researchers, and created a black poetry index with Dorothy B. Porter, a fellow Black librarian at Howard University. [8] She additionally was Instrumental in founding the NYPL Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.

The latter brings me to Porter. I wrote about her briefly in June of last year, noting that she pushed aside the Dewey Decimal System by classifying works by author and genre to highlight the “foundational role of black people in all subject areas” which included religion, communications, art, economics, demography, music, political science, linguistics, and sociology. This was all part of a classification system which challenged racism on its head, centering works about and by Black people within scholarship.

Her work helped build the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, which is now one of the most comprehensive, and largest, collections of Black history in the world. She followed in the footsteps of Vivian Gordon Harsh, first Black librarian for the Chicago Public Library, beginning work there in 1909, a system she continued to work within until 1958. Harsh passionately collected works by Black people, setting the precedent for others to follow. [9]

Dorothy Porter at her desk
Porter at work at her desk in the Moorland Room in the 1940s (image via page 4 of the article “Scarupa: The Energy-Charged Life Of Dorothy Porter Wesley“). Some said this image was in 1939, but I’m sticking with the date given in the original source. Porter later took on the name Dorothy Louise Porter Wesley. In 1952, her husband, James Amos Porter, painted a portrait of her, which was gifted to the National Portrait Gallery by Porter herself.

The fact that neither Latimer, Porter, or Harsh has been portrayed in any fictional form, to my knowledge, is a shame. It is further unfortunate, considering that Williams wrote a fictional novel entitled When Washington Was in Vogue: A Love Story in the 1920s which “portrays the 1920s African-American high society of which he was a part”. Considering the issues around gender and racial bias, the division between African and Black communities, the fact that some librarians have community service (or adventure) motives, or that many Black people work in multicultural environments, all of these could be adapted into fictional worlds. [10]

The same could be said about accurately showing how microaggressions toward Black librarians are rooted in historical racial stereotypes, how these microaggressions manifest themselves, either in rejection/dismissal of professional experience, hateful/ignorant comments. This is only heightened by separation from other communities, like Asian communities, mistrust of those outside the Black community by Black people, vulnerability and anxiousness inside the community, and the idea of racial realism. The latter is defined by Derrick Bell as the idea that Black people, and people of color, recognize and understand the systemic combination of racism and white racial framing in society. [11]

Such characters may not be appearing for one simple reason: racism. The latter is already an impediment to Black mobility and is so systemic that society would have to be “fundamentally changed” for the racism to be removed. As such, more people of color may realize they need to advance and protect their interests, rather than thinking that society will remedy injustice and inequality, and realizing that struggle for freedom is manifestation of humanity that grows stronger through resilience to oppression. However, these efforts can easily be blunted by nepotism and racial discrimination. [12] Such creators may be stymied, and held back by others. Or, they may be a lower level, and others may stop them there. As such, depictions which show that Black librarians have different experiences than others may never come to fruition in the first place. [13]

These experiences have been manifested in some fiction, which I’ve highlighted this month, either looking at librarians in animation, TV series, or films. There’s also Kimberly Garrett Brown’s 2022 novel, Cora’s Kitchen, which focuses on a 35-year-old Black librarian at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library, and is encouraged by Langston Hughes to write poetry. Sadly, she ends up leaving her job so she can become a cook at White woman’s home. Other characters include Queenie, a Black packhorse librarian who moved to Philadelphia in Kim Michele Robinson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. These and other characters may agree with what Stacie Williams, a librarian/activist/writer, said, that she tended to “eschew the idea of neutrality because nothing about my lived experience, as a black librarian, is neutral.” Other books which appear to include libraries, librarians, or library themes include The Camel Bookmobile, Large Print: An Unshelved Collection, Murder by Page One, ChangesSay You Need Me, and The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries to name a few books found on a listing on Alibris for “Afro American librarians”. [14]

Fictional librarians, who are Black, are important considering the critical role that Black librarians have in the communities they serve. This is valuable considering the smaller number of credentialed librarians who are Black, and an even smaller group who are Black men. As Library of Congress researcher Julius Jefferson put it, “whatever you want to do in life, there’s a librarian behind that.” There needs to be more Black librarians in real life and in fiction, whether they are part of the ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship program or not. [15]

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Walker, Shaundra. “Critical Race Theory and the Recruitment, Retention and Promotion of a Librarian of Color: A Counterstory” 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), 135, 140, 142-4; “Librarian Demographics and Statistics In The US,” Zippia, accessed May 28, 2022; “University Librarian Demographics and Statistics In The US,” Zippia, accessed May 28, 2022; Sokanu, “Librarian demographics in the United States,” CareerExplorer, accessed May 28, 2022; Brown, Anna and Mark Hugo Lopez. “Public Libraries and Hispanics.” Pew Research Center, Mar. 17, 2015. There is also a listing of BIPOC resources for Children’s, MG, and Young Adult books, authors, and industry professionals by Melanin in YA, Edith Bazile’s article entitled “The lens of whiteness won’t close gaps in BPS”, La Loria Konata’s publication entitled “Looking Through a Colored Lens: A Black Librarian’s Narrative“,  Diane Patrick’s “Developing Collections ‘By Any Means Necessary’” in Publisher Weekly, and Haillie Parker and Allie Barton’s “Invisible Chapters: Writing Tucson’s Black community into the stories of libraries, bookstores and publishing” in Tuscon Weekly. Additional stories of note include Ann Althouse’s “The black female librarian introvert at the 5-day conference” blogpost, kYmberly Keeton’s “A Personal Assessment: The African-American Librarian in the 21st Century” post, Dr. Nicole A. Cooke’s post on the Black Librarians Project on the LHRT NEWS AND NOTES site, which highlights Black librarians such as Regina Anderson Andrews (librarian between 1921 and 1966), Florence E. Borders (librarian in 1940s), Virgia Brocks-Shedd, Mary Rayford Collins, Adelina Coppin Alvarado, Katie Hart, Anita Hemmings [passed as White, with her descendants not knowing she was Black until 1990s], Julie Hunter, Latanya Jenkins, Mexico Mickelbury, Grace Lee Mims, Reynolda Motley, Beverly Murphy, Nancy Mildred Harper Nilon, Charlotte Shuster Price, Pauline Short Robinson, Effie Stroud Frazier, Thelma Horn Tate, and Bertha Pleasant Williams. Others pointed to librarian Augusta Baker.

[2] See, for example, Bates, Karen Grigsby. “J.P. Morgan’s Personal Librarian Was A Black Woman. This Is Her Story.” NPR, Jul. 4, 2021; Napp, Francky. “She Was a Black Librarian Who Could Equal America’s Most Powerful Man,” Messy Nessy, Jun. 3, 2020; Scutts, Joanna. “The Mysterious Woman Behind J.P. Morgan’s Library,” Time, May 17, 2016; McAlpin, Heller. “J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.” Christian Science Monitor, Jun. 29, 2021. There are many other sources listed on her Wikipedia page, for those more interested in her story, which is ripe to be used in fictional narrative beyond The Personal Librarian.

[3] While there are many examples listed on the “Passing (racial identity)” Wikipedia page, I’m most familiar with Melvin Van Peebles’s 1970 film Watermelon Man (which is still a great classic film, by the way), and think that the 1960 film I Passed for White could be interesting.

[4] Smith, Katisha. “13 Pioneering Black American Librarians You Oughta Know.” Book Riot, May 8, 2020; “About BCALA,” Black Caucus of the American Library Association, accessed May 29, 2022;  Walker, “Critical Race Theory and the Recruitment, Retention and Promotion of a Librarian of Color,” 136.

[5] Smith, 13 Pioneering Black American Librarians You Oughta Know.”

[6] Ibid; Landgraf, Greg. “Blazing Trails: Pioneering African-American librarians share their stories.” American Libraries, Jan. 2, 2018.

[7] Also see The Black Librarian in America: Reflections, Resistance, and Reawakening by Shauntee Burns-Simpson, Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian by Ethelene Whitmire, The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library by Louise S. Robbins, Black Librarians Matter 2022 (on Amazon) by MS Swazino Publishing, Proud Black Librarians (on Amazon) by MS Swazino Publishing, The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism by Wayne and Shirley Wiegand, the Black librarians Instagram account, African American Librarians in the Far West: Pioneers and Trailblazers which is edited by Binnie Tate Wilkin, Stop Talking, Start Doing!: Attracting People of Color to the Library Profession by Gregory L Reese and Ernestine L Hawkins, Carla Hayden: Librarian of Congress by Kate Moening, Underground: From Deadbeat to Dean: A Memoir by Peter MacDonald, An Independent Woman: The Autobiography of Edith Guerrier by Edith Guerrier, Molly Matson, and Polly Kaufman, and Johnnie E. Blunt’s The Professional Life of an African American Male Librarian blogspot. Anna Gooding-Call of Book Riot added that the “library profession is extremely white….even some of the few books about librarians of color were written by white authors,” noting that Jackson, Jefferson, and Nosakhere attempt to “add diversity to librarian narratives with these excellent essays by African American library professionals.” See an interview with the authors of The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism here.

[8] “HISTORY: Pioneering African-American Librarians Share Their Stories,” Good Black News, Jan. 22, 2018; Smith, 13 Pioneering Black American Librarians You Oughta Know”; Betit, Jessica. “In Celebration of Black History Month: Black American Librarians.” Gardiner Public Library, Feb. 1, 2022. Betit also lists Thomas Fountain Blue (first Black person to head a public library in the U.S.), Jean Ellen Coleman (founding director of ALA’s Office of Outreach Services), Virginia Procter Powell Florence (first Black woman to earn a library science degree, in 1923). Also see Dawson, Alma. “Celebrating African-Americans and Librarianship.” Library Trends Vol. 49, No. 1, Summer 2000, pp. 49-87; Hunt, Rebecca D. “African American Leaders in the Library Profession: Little Known History.” Black History Bulletin Vol. 76, No. 1, pp. 14-19; Helton, Laura. “On Decimals, Catalogs, and Racial Imaginaries of Reading.” Humanities Commons, 2019.

[9] Nunes, Zita Christina. “Cataloging Black Knowledge.” Perspectives on History. American Historical Association, Nov. 20, 2018; “Dorothy B. Porter, A Library Hero.” New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, Apr. 8, 2021; Taylor, Mildred Europa. “Dorothy Porter, the librarian who stood up against racism in Howard University’s library.” Face2Face Africa, Sept. 23, 2021; Grossman, Ron. “Flashback: A heroine to history: Vivian Harsh, Chicago’s first black librarian, preserved black history, literature with massive collection.” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 31, 2020; Smith, 13 Pioneering Black American Librarians You Oughta Know.” Other prominent Black librarians include the late Miriam Matthews, the first Black librarian hired by the Los Angeles Public Library in 1927,  who created a research collection documenting contributions of Black people, city librarian Minnie Fisher (not to be confused with suffragist Minnie Fisher Cunningham) in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and Nella Larsen Imes as the first Black librarian employed by New York City and later a librarian, from 1921 to 1926. These individuals are noted by the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and KCET. Matthews is briefly mentioned in Jennifer Velez’s article in Bustle entitled “How Afro-Latinx People Made Huge Contributions To Black History — Then Got Erased” and there is a further article on JSTOR entitled “Investing in Literature: Ernestine Rose and the Harlem Branch Public Library of the 1920s“.

[10] Nosakhere, Akilah Shukura. “Serving With a Sense of Purpose: A Black Woman Librarian in Rural New Mexico” 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), 161-3, 169, 170; “WHEN WASHINGTON WAS IN VOGUE: A Love Story,” Publishers Weekly, accessed May 29, 2022.

[11] Nosakhere, “Serving With a Sense of Purpose,” 180, 180-1; Vince Lee, “Like a Fish Out of Water, But Forging My Own Path” 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), 190, 193; Hankins, Rebecca. “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), 209, 211; Hankins, Rebecca and Miguel Juarez, “Introduction” 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), 5.

[12] Hankins, “Racial Realism of Foolish Optimism”, 211-212; Barksdale-Hall, Roland. “Building Dialogic Bridges to Diversity: Are We There Yet?” 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), 272-80.

[13] Barksdale-Hall, “Building Dialogic Bridges to Diversity,” 288-9.

[14] Other books, which I’m not sure if they have Black librarians or not, include Just Like Beverly, Super-Duper LibrarianAmber By Night, and Librarian’s Night Before Christmas, and The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries Omnibus 2. For sources for this section, see “Inanna Fall 2022,” Inanna Publications & Education Inc., p. 3; Baker, Dee. “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.” Bookconscious, Jun. 5, 2021; Potkovic, Athena. “Library Neutrality,” CCP Journal, Apr. 10, 2018; Williams, Stacie. “Librarians in the 21st Century: It Is Becoming Impossible to Remain Neutral.” Lit Hub, May 4, 2017; ALA Support. “Equity in Librarianship in ALA Collections.” American Library Association, accessed May 29, 2022. There are additional Black writers who are librarians, like Alechia Dow, possibly Daren a.k.a. the Dope Librarian, a librarian who hosts the Adventures in YA podcast, and Alexander “Alex” Brown who is a queer Black librarian, writer, and local history, as noted by FIYAHCON 2021 and BuzzFeed News, who tweets on Twitter @QueenofRats. Of note is also Librarians in Fiction: A Critical Bibliography by Grant Burns and Aboriginal and Visible Minority Librarians: Oral Histories from Canada edited by Deborah Lee and Mahalakshmi Kumaran.

[15] Contreras, Natalia E. “‘Must reflect the communities we serve’: The critical role that Black librarians play.” Indianapolis Star, Aug. 12, 2021; “‘Endangered Species’: Black Male Librarian,” NPR, Jun. 27, 2008; Cooper, Breanna. “New essay collection celebrates Black librarians.” Indianapolis Recorder, Feb. 24, 2022; “About Us,” National Conference of African American Librarians, accessed May 29, 2022; , Maya. “Why Aren’t There More Black Librarians?” Word in Black, Feb. 10, 2022; Hodge, Twanna. “On Being Black in Librarianship.” I Love Libraries, Jul 15, 2020; “Pre-Lit Fest 2022: The Black Librarian in America,” #StayHappening, Jun. 2022.

action adventure Black people fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries live-action Movies Pop culture mediums public libraries romance speculative fiction

A place of honor?: Examining two Black reel librarians

In 1961, a Black reel librarian appeared in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In later years, acclaimed actors, and others, would play Black librarians  in Men of Honor, A Winter’s Romance, Dangerous Minds, It: Chapter Two, Escape from Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Follow the Stars Home, Fatal Attraction, Party Girl, and The Time Machine, and in the series, Stephen King’s It. There are even Black records clerks in Winter’s Tale and BlacKkKlansman. Additionally, there have been plotlines in Lovecraft Country and Hidden Figures which feature segregated libraries, and Black librarians in the case of the former but not the latter. [1] On her site, Reel Librarians, Jennifer Snoek-Brown counted less than 30 librarians who are Black or of African descent. Apart from the films I’ve listed previously, there are a number of librarians who only have supporting or cameo roles. These roles date back to 1953, which she states is the first Black reel librarian she can find, and go up to 2019. [2] Having written about Mr. Anderson, in The Public, on this blog in the past, for this post, I’d like to focus on librarians in The Time Machine and All the President’s Men. Neither have not been featured on this blog before this post, and expand the total of Black librarians I’ve listed on this blog.

Unnamed Black male librarian in All The President’s Men before he gives them the checkout slips. The whole scene can be watched here.

In the classic 1976 political thriller, All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein travel to the Library of Congress after their research seems to be stalled and having a librarian have a strange conversation with one them. They go to one librarian, who declares that the records they want are confidential, and that he can’t fulfill their request of library card checkout slips since July 1971. The other, the image of which is shown above, fulfills their request. Voiced by Jaye Stewart, he tells them “I’m not sure you want ’em, but I’ve got ’em.”

Woodward and Bernstein proceed to go through perhaps thousands of check-out slips in the Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, the work is for naught, as it doesn’t confirm if a White House staffer checked out books on Ted Kennedy.Later, however, they find a wind to confirm the information. Snoek-Brown did an in-depth look at the film, saying that while she was happy that a librarian had a “friendly” face on screen, that it is not ethical to “give out checkout slips or records without a court order” as librarians have an “obligation to protect the privacy rights of our patrons.” [3]

I agree with Snoek-Brown entirely on that point. On the other hand, I am glad that a Black librarian has such a vital role in the story. Snoek-Brown herself has called the scene “pivotal” as this librarian is the only one who gives them a helping hand, giving them the request circulation records, although another unnamed one gives help later in the film. The information he gives pushes the reporters down a “successful trail” and toward uncovering the Watergate story. [4]

The 2002 sci-fi film, The Time Machine, a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, is completely different. It features a librarian of the future named Vox, who is played by Orlando Jones. He is a hologram and an information provider, serving as heart and soul of the film, in Snoek-Brown’s words. He has a timeless style and has a wealth of knowledge, providing information to a wayward inventor, who travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future, about time travel, history, and evolution of the planet and its population. He is able to do this as the compendium of all human knowledge. [5] He is the equivalent of MENTOR, the supercomputer in the comedy mini-series, The Pentaverate, but in a more appealing and less awful nature.

Vox tries to get the attention of Dr. Alexander Hartdegen in a scene from the film. The whole scene can be found here.

Interestingly, even though the film is about time travel, he never goes anywhere. He remains, as Snoek-Brown put it, the “sole, stationary witness to the continuous collapse and rebuilding of civilizations throughout centuries.” As such he is a quintessential information provider and arguably the “holographic heart” of the film. He does this while being a fully-fledged supporting character, in one of the many sci-fi/library crossover films where a futuristic information source provides “library-style information.” [6]

Unlike the unnamed Black librarian in All the President’s Men, he is not alive. He is a hologram, a librarian who can go anywhere, but is likely tied to the library servers for his survival. His existence implies that a Black programmer made him that way and even that he was based off an actual Black men. What White programmer would create an intelligent Black man? More likely, they would create a White man, with their racial biases and prejudice bleeding through into their thinking.

Beyond this, Vox has been described as a library computer system, a “ virtual reality librarian” or a “computer-generated librarian” in the words of his voice actor. It has also been said that his character makes it “easier to find the information you need at the touch of a button,” as a person tied to the world’s databases, artificial intelligence, and a data retrieval system. It is further said that his interactions imply that “human” interaction “will still be required.” Some call him a database hologram “with attitude” who is sarcastic and spirited. [7] He fulfills what TV Tropes describes as the Projected Man.

As some have argued that being a librarian is “something of honor for the African American community,” these fictional librarians are important. After all, there is a continued need in popular culture not only for more librarians, but more librarians of color, and need to avoid a single story for reel librarians or any fictional librarians. [8]

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Current Oscar nominees who have played reel librarians.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 23, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “31 thoughts and questions I had while watching ‘A Winter Romance’ (2021).” Reel Librarians, Dec. 22, 2021; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Research and high school library scenes in ‘Dangerous Minds’.” Reel Librarians, Sept. 9, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Class III (minor roles).” Reel Librarians, accessed May 28, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Class I (major roles, integral).” Reel Librarians, accessed May 28, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Class II (major roles, non-integral).” Reel Librarians, accessed May 28, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A research quest in ‘Winter’s Tale’ (2014) + how to tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 9, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles.” Reel Librarians, Jul. 8, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Library research montage in ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (2004) remake.” Reel Librarians, Apr. 8, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 11, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Law librarian sighting in ‘Fatal Attraction’.” Reel Librarians, Dec. 11, 2019; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “First impressions: ‘It: Chapter Two’ (2019) and the town librarian hero.” Reel Librarians, Oct. 9, 2019; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’.” Reel Librarians, May 22, 2019; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “First impressions: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ (2018).” Reel Librarians, Nov. 7, 2018; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene.” Reel Librarians, Oct. 10, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Revisiting reel librarian totals.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 2, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Scary clowns + reel librarians.” Reel Librarians, Oct. 12, 2016; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “‘Spotlight’-ing a news library.” Reel Librarians, May 4, 2016; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Meet Hannah in ‘Follow the Stars Home’.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 12, 2015; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “‘South Street’ librarian.” Reel Librarians, Sept. 10, 2014; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “‘Somewhere’ in the library.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 4, 2014; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A not-so-enchanting librarian in ‘Ella Enchanted’.” Reel Librarians, Apr. 10, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A tale of seven shushes in ‘City Slickers II’.” Reel Librarians, Jan. 9, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s.” Reel Librarians, Dec. 30, 2011; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “With or without honors.” Reel Librarians, Dec. 26, 2011; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Lovecraft Country’s ‘A History of Violence’ and segregated libraries.” Reel Librarians, Nov. 10, 2021; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A closer look at the library scene in ‘Hidden Figures’ (2016).” Reel Librarians, Mar. 10, 2021; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “First impressions: ‘Hidden Figures’ and its library scene.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 15, 2017; Rampell, Ed. “TCM Classic Filmfest wrapup: Hooray for Hollywood!People’s World, Apr. 18, 2019.

[2] This includes Jaye Loft-Lyn as a microfilm library clerk in Pickup on South Street (1953), Jaye Stewart as a librarian in All the President’s Men (1976), Noreen Walker as a public librarian in Somewhere in Time (1980), an uncredited Black male shelver in Fatal Attraction (1987), an uncredited Black male shelver in City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994), an uncredited Black female librarian in With Honors (1994), Jeff Feringa as a school librarian in Dangerous Minds (1995), C. Francis Blackchild as Wanda and L. B. Williams as Howard who are both public librarians in Party Girl (1995), Mary Alice as a children’s librarian in Bed of Roses (1996), Dolores Mitchell as a research librarian in Autumn in New York (2000), Demene E. Hall as Mrs. Biddle in Men of Honor (2000), Octavia Spencer as a public librarian named Hildy in Follow the Stars Home (2001), Ronald William Lawrence as a library clerk in The Ring (2002), Lynette DuPree as a public librarian in Back When We Were Grownups (2004), Merrina Millsapp as a Hall of Records attendant in Ella Enchanted (2004), Duana Butler as a library clerk in The Manchurian Candidate (2004), Norm Lewis as a newspaper librarian in Winter’s Tale (2014), Zarrin Darnell-Martin as a newspaper librarian in Spotlight (2015), and Jeffrey Wright as a head public librarian named Mr. Anderson in The Public (2018).

[3] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “All the president’s librarians in ‘All the President’s Men’.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 1, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Law librarian sighting in ‘The Pelican Brief’.” Reel Librarians, Jul. 24, 2019.

[4] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Favorite reel librarian posts, 2017.” Reel Librarians, Jan. 10, 2018; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “All the president’s librarians in ‘All the President’s Men’.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 1, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list?Reel Librarians, May 17, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians in political-themed films.” Reel Librarians, Jan. 18, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Heard but not seen.” Reel Librarians, Sept. 2, 2015; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Information Provider librarians.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 24, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer, “Class III (minor roles)” [All the President’s Men section], Reel Librarians, accessed May 28, 2022. It is also one of the films that Snoek-Brown covered in her undergraduate thesis on libraries in popular culture.

[5] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians of color, 2021 update.” Reel Librarians, Jan. 27, 2021; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Stylish male reel librarians.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 3, 2016; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Character Types [see Information Provider (all genders) section],” Reel Librarians, accessed on May 28, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer, “Class III (minor roles)” [The Time Machine section], Reel Librarians, accessed May 28, 2022; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles.” Reel Librarians, Jul. 8, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Revisiting reel librarian totals.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 2, 2017; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Information Provider librarians.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 24, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films.” Reel Librarians, Mar. 11, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians vs. reel archivists.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 1, 2018; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Actors.” Reel Librarians, accessed on May 28, 2022.

[6] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel librarians take a trip.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 5, 2015; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Travelin’ librarians.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 17, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel Substance: A look at Classes III and IV.” Reel Librarians, Jun. 17, 2015; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reader Q and A.” Reel Librarians, Jun. 18, 2013; Goodfellow, Tom. “In the eye of the survivor.” Reel Librarians, Aug. 28, 2012; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Hall of Fame.” Reel Librarians, Oct. 5, 2011; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Master List of English-Language Films.” Reel Librarians, accessed on May 28, 2022.

[7]  The Time Machine Wiki. “Vox.” Last revised Sept. 5, 2021; Teacher’s Notes on The Time Machine, Film Education, accessed May 28, 2022, p. 10; Emma Smart and Sarah Currant. “The 10 best librarians on screen.” BFI, Feb. 5, 2016; “The Time Machine,” screenit, Mar. 8, 2002; Bourne, Mark. “A Time Machine (2002).” DVD Journal, 2002; Laura and Robin. “The Time Machine.” Reeling Reviews, accessed May 28, 2022; Fuches, Cynthia. “The Time Machine (2002).” Pop Matters, Mar. 7, 2002; Weinkauf, Gregory. “Future Shock.” Riverfront Times, Mar. 6, 2002; McCarthy, Todd. “The Time Machine.” Variety, Mar. 7, 2002; “Cultural Images of Librarians,” Clubul Tinerilor Bibliotecari, Feb. 2011; Tucker, Betty Jo. “Time Travel Wins Again.” Reel Talk Movie Reviews, accessed May 28, 2022; Young, M. Joseph. “The Time Machine,” Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies, accessed May 28, 2022. Reportedly Brown said “I play the role of Vox in this film and Vox is a third generation fusion-powered photonic with verbal and visual link capabilities connected to every database in the planet. Now, what does that mean? What that means is that Vox is basically a computer-generated librarian.”

[8] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Video lecture: ‘The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program’.” Reel Librarians, Feb. 24, 2021; Rosenberg, Rachel. “Why Aren’t There More Librarians in Pop Culture?Book Riot, Mar. 2, 2020; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “‘The danger of a single story’ for reel librarians.” Reel Librarians, Nov. 2, 2016.

action adventure animation Black people comic books Comics fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries live-action magic libraries Movies Nigerian people Pop culture mediums public libraries school libraries speculative fiction

Black History Month special: Examining ten Black fictional librarians

Clara doing exercises on the balcony of her apartment at the end of the final episode of Welcome to the Wayne

On this blog, I’ve occasionally written about Black librarians in fiction and am trying to write about it more, as long as I can find characters to write about. In fact, in The Public, a film by Emilio Estevez, which I reviewed in one of this blog’s first posts, appears a Black man named Mr. Anderson. Voiced by Jeffrey Wright, he is unique as he is a Black library administrator, something which is sadly seen too little in pop culture. In this first post for Black History Month, I’d like to highlight librarians I’ve written about on this blog and beyond.

With White librarians as the norm, so-called “diverse librarians”, which is code for non-white, are said to be “in demand”. Some have even said in response that their librarianship is not for White people and they are not the folks they are trying to reach or center in their work. [1] However, fictional Black librarians often can’t choose which patrons they are serving. In fact, the unnamed Black male librarian in a We Bare Bears episode (“Our Stuff”) and a Black woman named Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry episode (“Horrid Henry: Computer Whizz”) serve multiracial and multiethnic patrons.

Furthermore, in keeping with past practices in animation, which have seemingly been retired, for the most part, some Black fictional librarians were voiced by White people. One example of this is Ms. Lovely, voiced by Joanna Ruiz, a White woman. Kimberly Brooks turned this paradigm around, however, when she voiced a strict White female librarian in an episode of DC Super Hero Girls.

There are a few Black fictional librarians who shine through, however. Most prominent is Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. She is a Black woman and is voiced by Harriet B. Foy. Although she is not a main character, she is an oft supporting character who runs the Stanza, a magical library hidden within the Wayne apartment building. She does not do all the work on her own, but is, instead, helped by non-human library workers who fetch books for her, and help her to ensure that the library remains organized for anyone who can use it. She becomes a central part of the story as Ansi Molina, Olly, and Saraline Timbers work together uncover the Wayne’s mysteries before it is too late.

Just as prominent is O’Bengh / Cagliostro in an episode of What If…? (“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”). He is a Nigerian man and is voiced by Ike Amadi. He tries to help Doctor Strange harness his powers and attempts to tell him to not go to the side of evil. Although he is unsuccessful, he remains an important part of the episode. Unfortunately, his character carries with it the implication that librarians are magicians and that what they do is “magic.” This can’t be further from the truth. In some ways, however, this is inevitable as his character is a sorcerer, so there was no way they could have gotten around this when depicting him in the episode. It is further disappointing that he will likely never appear again in the series, meaning this episode is his one and only episode, becoming one-episode-wonder, nothing more, nothing less.

Then there’s George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. They are gay Black men who are voiced by Regi Davis and Chris Jai Alex respectfully. Although both are technically historians, they are de facto librarians as they run, and live-in, a library in the Whispering Woods. Although they only appear very infrequently in the series, the episodes they do appear in they have an impact. They help the protagonists solve a riddle which leads them to a barren desert, and uncover the clues needed to uncover the biggest mystery of all about the planet of Etheria. On top of all of that, they are supportive of their son, Bow, who reveals he is a fighter for the rebellion. Even though they are opposed to joining in as part of the fight by themselves, which led him to come up with an elaborate story that he was going to a boarding school, they don’t want to hold Bow back.

Marienne Bellamy and Amarie Treadeau
Marienne Bellamy (left) and Amarie Treadeau (right)

Now, there are many other Black fictional librarians out there, with those in major film roles described by Jennifer Snoek-Brown on her Reel Librarians blog. I haven’t seen the psychological thriller series, You, but there is a smart, non-nonsense librarian named Marienne Bellamy (played by Tati Gabrielle) who observes the citizens of the neighborhood but does not get taken in by the entitlement and privilege of the patrons. While she holds in her own personal struggles, she is helped by another librarian, Dante Ferguson, a White male family man with damaged eyesight who wants to expand his family. [2]

Then, there’s Amarie Treadeau, otherwise known as “Amma”, who is voiced by Viola Davis, in Beautiful Creatures, a 2013 romantic fantasy film. She is the combination of two characters from the 2009 novel of the same name by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. She is wicked smart, skilled with magic, brave, and well-read. Davis described her character as more than what is on the surface, a person with “different secrets to be discovered,” including a tribal scarification on her back, channeling spirits, and serving as a “keeper of a library that’s the gateway to different worlds.” Davis further said she liked that, saying she likes “when there are different layers to peel away,” adding that “it was just subtle enough to play and to craft” and saying that this is what appealed to her about the role.” [3]

These are not the only Black librarians in fiction, however. One of the most prominent is Valerie the Librarian, who appears in multiple issues of Spidey Super Stories. She also appears in episodes of The Electric Company, where she is voiced by Hattie Winston. In her role, she often bucks stereotypes of Black women and of librarians, sometimes at the same time! She is clearly a groundbreaking character, even though she doesn’t appear as much in the comics as she should.

As for this blog, it has come a long way from August 2020, when I said that George and Lance where “the only non-white (and Black) librarians in animation” I could think of off hand. Then in March 2021, I wrote about them in a guest post for Reel Librarians. Since then, I’ve written about Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne, Black librarians in stock footage and GIFs, Black voice actors, depictions of librarians of color (including Black characters) and the micoaggressions they face, and more. Although I hope to come across more Black librarians in fiction, I have a sinking suspicion that come next year and I’ll have the same number of Black librarians listed on this blog as before. Here’s to hoping that I come across Black librarians in the future!

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] 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. 218, 220; 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. 268.

[2] Petski, Denise. “‘You’ Season 3: Saffron Burrows Upped To Series Regular, Dylan Arnold, Tati Gabrielle Among 12 Cast In Netflix Series.” Deadline, Nov. 18, 2020. Also see the You (TV series) Wikipedia page. Bellamy appears in multiple episodes and becomes the titular deuteragonist in the second half of the show’s third season.

[3] Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “A reel librarian’s multi-faceted role in ‘Beautiful Creatures’ (2013).” Reel Librarians, Feb. 10, 2021; Wood, Rachel Noelle. “The Best Fictional Librarians from Popular Culture.” KQED, Apr. 11, 2017; The Caster Chronicles Wiki. “Marian Ashcroft.” Last modified Jan. 16, 2020, see “Appearance and Personality” section; Kroll, Justin. “Viola Davis books two feature roles.” Variety, Feb. 2, 2012; Anderton, “Viola Davis Lands Roles in ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Beautiful Creatures’,” FirstShowing.Net, Feb. 3, 2012; “Viola Davis: The Beautiful Creatures Interview,”, Sept. 18, 2017

action adventure animation Black people Chinese people drama fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction Thai people

“Uncomfortable” interactions in the library: Librarians of color and their fictional depictions

April Hathcock, a Scholarly Communications Librarian and a lawyer, and former Library Journal editor Stephanie Sendaula, argued that Whiteness can take the form an ingrained belief that “only white people can hold positions of authority, and an assumption that people of color solely hold support positions.” This can lead to uncomfortable interactions between librarians of color and White patrons, especially at the reference desk. Some patrons declare they want to speak to a “real” librarian, which implies that such librarians of color aren’t real, that their knowledge isn’t recognized by those with positions of privilege, and more crucially that many White patrons still expect and prefer to be assisted by a person who “looks like them…to see someone who looks like them” sitting behind the reference desk. [1]

Putting aside the Japanese librarians in anime, as they would take up too much space in this post and deserve to have a whole post just about them, there are many other librarians of color for whom what Hathcock and Sendaula say is applicable. This likely includes the unnamed Black male librarian in We Bare Bears episode (“Our Stuff”), the unnamed Thai female librarian in We Bare Bears episode (“The Library”) who is presumably voiced by Ashly Burch, and the unnamed librarian voiced by Mindy Cohn in a Dexter’s Laboratory episode (“The Blonde Leading the Blonde”), and a Black man voiced by Jeffrey Wright named Mr. Anderson in The Public.

The unnamed Black male librarian in the first episode episode of We Bare Bears shushes bears as they enter library, while patrons at the local library, are annoyed. Later the librarian stares in quiet rage, while patrons are surprised to see him take off his shirt in front of them. He is wearing a tie and a green sweater vest. As a person who has given away all my sweater vests because I didn’t like how they looked on me, and general dislike of vests, I’ve never completely understood the appeal. His fashion is not part of a “resistant imaginings of fashion…pleasure, expression and embodiment” by library workers (or library users) by some library workers of color, including those who are gender nonbinary and women of color, as Vani Natarajan wrote in 2017 on the topic of library fashion. [2]

Instead, his style is in line with dress codes of hospitals, universities, colleges, courtrooms, and libraries which encourage or require more formal attire of their employees. Some even mandate that employees model “professional behavior,” adhere to “good professional norms,” and have “appropriate hygiene.” Others simply say there are standards on one’s “personal appearance,” require “proper attire” or necessitate natural hair color, neat/clean hair, and “acceptable” personal grooming. This is despite the fact that there are legal limits to such codes and these codes can (and do) discriminate. Unfortunately, any complaints about such dress codes can only be tie to either a category protected by Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, even though such laws likely do not “provide adequate relief for employees who have experienced appearance-based discrimination.” [3]

The Black male unnamed librarian in the left two images, and the presumed Thai female librarian in the right three images. Their looks show two different types of styles when it comes to librarians

The same can be said about the overworked, burned-out, and exhausted librarian in the We Bare Bears episode “The Library.” This librarian is Thai woman, a determination based on her likely voice actress (Ashly Burch). She does not shush the protagonists. Rather she gets tired of them after they won’t pay the overdue fines, even walking away from the information desk at one point, likely because she can’t deal with them. When it comes to her appearance, she looks a bit like a spinster, as she has a hair bun, and a conservative yet business casual look. She later helps another of the protagonists by getting a book they need, even mentioning the call number of a book, and even lets them stay over at the library for the night. That part is pretty unusual when it comes to libraries, as most usher people out so they don’t stay.  I suppose she saw them working so hard, she let them do an all-nighter. While saying this, possible that one of the other librarians may have allowed this instead, but she likely had a role in allowing it. Compare this to Rin Shima in Laid-Back Camp, which is also known a Yuru Camp, who, in one episode, kicks Nadeshiko and wakes her up when she is sleeping on the floor of the library.

For this librarian, her managers may have been like the psychology raters who favored women groomed “according to a managerial style,” preferring simpler, shorter hairstyles, hair removed from the face, tailored jackets and blouses, or even simple gold jewelry. It is significant that the male librarian wears glasses, in line with those who say that people wearing glasses are successful, hardworking, and “relatively intelligent,” but not outgoing, popular, athletic, or attractive. The latter is countered by the protagonist of Love Live! Superstar!!, Kanon Shibuya, who is attractive, intelligent, skilled with the guitar and singing, despite her stage fright, but ties up her hair and wears glasses at home. In public, she falls in line with this perception, but in private she bucks it.

The female librarian is the opposite of the male librarian. She likely uses some cosmetics, with makeup associated with “traditionally feminine jobs” and is affected by what John Kang called the “ideology of White aesthetics.” This means the belief that physical features of White people are objectively appealing to everyone while physical features of people of color are “deviant” and “subjective.” This affects how people express themselves and dress, meaning that those who aren’t White have to conform, or “suffer the consequences.” Dress codes that are based on those aesthetics communicate the message that people of color and their appearances don’t “belong” in the workplace. Furthermore, such codes suggest that men and women behave, and dress, in a specific way. Some have even said that appearance-based decisions in a workplace can sustain a social order founded on the domination of women and that judgments on appearance reflect those members of society who are “valued and entitled to control.” [4]

Both of these librarians, and the unnamed librarian in Dexter’s Laboratory episode (“The Blonde Leading the Blonde”), who also appears to be a person of color, are affected measures of appearance, especially when it comes to cosmetic user, dress, and grooming. How they dress is undoubtedly influenced by the perception that those who are more attractive are competent, honest, and likeable, while those are are less attractive are said to be unproductive and “lazy.” What is perceived as “attractive” is shaped by the culture, specifically by White attributes. This is reinforced in workplaces themselves as employees conform to organizational culture which have policies for grooming and dressing, sometimes wanting to maintain a specific image, boost morale, instill safety, or be productive. This is despite the fact that such policies can be troubling as they can lead employees to be judged on qualities not related to their job performance and “reflect certain prejudices.” For women especially, these policies weigh heavier on them, leading women to spent endless energy and time to measure up to an “ideal form” of female beauty. Those policies which are based on White male norms undermine the value of people of color and their appearance choices, and can be harmful when enforced against such people, not surprisingly. [5]

Mr. Anderson in his usual attire during one point in the film, looking very dressy with his bow-tie and suit-coat, along with a lanyard with his badge, indicating he is an employee at the library.

Compare this to Mr. Anderson in The Public. He is the head librarian of a Cincinnati Public Library branch in the film, and is arguably a “hero” who defends the library’s importance against “villains”. As Wright described his character, he is torn between institutional and personal pressures, and “has to make a choice as to which he will be beholden to,” and called this division something common for those in similar workplaces. He is a supervisor, the boss of the White protagonist, has responsibilities to his patrons and the library administrators, and even declares at one point that “the public library is the last bastion of true democracy that we have in this country.” He says this after he changes his mind and sides with the protesters, while a poster of Frederick Douglass hands on the wall next to him. Before this point, his orders are peacefully defied by 70 homeless people,after the library is sued by a homeless man who the head librarian and another threw out because of his body odor. He goes from a “serious-looking administrator” who stands against the library’s security team calling the police. All the while, through the film, he remains courteous and unhurried, loosens the bow tie on his shirt, and takes a seat among the homeless. [6]

While Rolling Stone and Oleg Kagan point to the film highlight issues of homelessness, human rights, race, class, addiction, mental illness and income inequality, neither expands on how race plays out in the film, or even mentions the word “Black” for some reason. Adding onto what I’ve pointed out so far, some argued that Mr. Anderson makes a “strong impression” in the film, despite only being a few scenes, as a “vivid, emotionally direct performer,” and later even rejects his “fellow authority figures,” and some saying the movie would have been different if he had been the lead rather than Estevez. Others say that Anderson is trapped in an ugly/escalating situation and call him a “criminally underutilized character actor.” [7]

As a supervisor, Anderson has coercive power when it comes to enforcing appearance regulations. However, those regulations, or policies to be more exact, undoubtedly cause him to internalize norms based on White aesthetics about how to dress and present one’s self. In fact, he tries to speak in a defined way and not deviate from his fellow administrators until he ends up joining the other homeless people at the end of the film. At that point, while is rejecting those norms and standards, throwing off his jacket and sitting among the homeless people, he is also still following them, even though he is not being rewarded for his conformity to the standards at that point. Unlike women who work at the library, he is not under pressure to engage in plastic surgery, excessively diet, or have eating disorders in order to meet the standards for attractiveness. These same standards, when it comes to women’s appearance and dress, tend to objectify women since they are based upon faulty presumptions of women’s “inferiority and incompetence.” [8]

Clara Rhone (voiced by Harriet B. Foy), a Black woman and head of the Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne, the two gay Black men named George and Lance (Regi Davis as George and Chris Jai Alex as Lance) in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and a Nigerian man named O’Bengh / Cagliostro in a What If…? episode (“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”), along with Mira (voiced by Leela Ladnier) and her father Sahil (voiced by Aasif Mandvi) in the Mira, Royal Detective episode (“The Case of the Missing Library Book”) likely do not experience uncomfortable interactions with White patrons, including those who de-legitimize such librarians as not being “real” and referring White librarians help them. More specifically, Rhone likely does not experience any racial microaggressions or discrimination as her staff are non-human beings, and her assistant is her granddaughter. This is further supported by the fact that very few people come into the library, apart from the protagonists, so she has very few interactions with patrons. The same can be said about George and Lance as there is no homophobia, as “in Etheria, when women thrive, queerness thrives.” There is likely no racism either, although a land without homophobia is not necessarily an anti-racist one. Furthermore, O’Bengh / Cagliostro he seems to work mostly alone in the huge and impractical library-temple where very few come to visit, while Mira and Sahil live in 19th century Indian city of Jalpur. In that city there is no racism or discrimination among the populace and it isn’t shown in the series from what I remember.

From left to right: Clara Rhone, George, Lance, Cagliostro, Mira, and Sahil

At the same time, Rhone, George, Lance, O’Bengh / Cagliostro, Mira, and Sahil all have their own style. Rhone has perhaps the most relaxed style of the six, with a scarf, and clothes which make it easy to be a librarian without much interruption. As she is the head of the library, she doesn’t have to deal with any rules on appearance and can wear what she wants. George and Lance have looks which are more stylized, even if a bit relaxed, trying to look more scholarly. Cagliostro looks like a priest (or monk) of some kind. Mira and Sahil have the most colorful outfits of the bunch, in line with colorful outfits of those in the show itself, which is filled with color and life.

Due to the fact that very few people come into the Stanza, Rhone likely isn’t internalizing Western beauty ideals like other Black women, or even White women. However, there is a “significant relationship between skin tone and perceived levels of trustworthiness” as one 2017 Masters Thesis by Connor Key Birdsong noted, with those with lighter skin seen as more trustworthy than those with darker skin. Birdsong, writing about how disparities between Blacks and Whites in criminal sentencing containing the “presence of colorism,” i.e. discrimination and prejudice which happens because of darkness or lightness of a person’s skin,with those people with lighter skin given preferential treatment over those with darker skin. He further argues that color is an “important component” of individual appearance which could “activvate attitudes about one’s demeanor, values, remorse, honesty, and even guilt.” [9] This doesn’t necessarily affect how people perceive Rhone, George, Lance, O’Bengh / Cagliostro, Mira, and Sahil in their environments, however. It likely doesn’t affect a Latine man named Mateo voiced by Joey Haro in Elena of Avalor  who is a wizard but also a librarian of sorts, or even the Hong Kong librarian named Wong (voiced by voiced by Benedict Wong) in the same What If…?. In the latter case, however, he may experience racism. Although he is a priest-librarian who often stays in the sanctum, but also sings at karaoke at a nightclub in San Francisco, making him open to racism from those from outside his usual world.

At the same time, Rhone, George, Lance, O’Bengh / Cagliostro, Mira, Sahil, Mateo, or Wong realize the ability to act in a space where “silence can be transformed into language and action” like Audre Lorde while taking into account limitations and opportunities in our workplaces. Lorde, as scholar Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz recalls, became a librarian in order to “effect social change” but left the library when it wasn’t enough for her, not feeling a sense of joy anymore. This led her to  become a poet, revolutionary, and lesbian all at the same time. Using arguments from Lorde, Smith-Cruz argues that the library will not “shield us from social death,” that the library is an apparatus which upholds the nation-state, that silence itself can feed the “tools of whiteness,” and notes Lorde’s survival formula of resource sharing, stretching, and acknowledgement. She further argues that librarians should locate themselves as marginal (i.e. as an identity) before being able to make changes to remedy implications of “capitalist collusion” at the core of library service, even as librarians are seen as support or administrative workers rather than scholars or professionals. [10]

Most of what Smith-Cruz talks about isn’t directly applicable to Rhone, George, Lance, O’Bengh / Cagliostro, Mira, Sahil, Mateo, or Wong, as all of them are in fictional worlds or barely affected by the outside world (in the case of Rhone) although Cagliostro and Wong probably prefer quieter environments, as does Mateo. As such, these aforementioned librarians are spared from the unofficial redistricting which keeping few patrons of color in libraries within majority-White communities, while librarians of color face Whiteness at the reference desk, manifested in racialized judgments and bias. However, the two unnamed librarians in We Bare Bears, or even the one in Dexter’s Laboratory, who I mentioned earlier in this post undoubtedly are affected by these societal pressures. There have likely been patrons who have questioned their qualifications, intellect, and authority, forcing them to perform above and beyond their White colleagues, or even those who have engaged in racial microaggressions against them by White patrons and patrons of color. Not surprisingly, we see none of this in the episodes, perhaps because those who wrote the episodes did not want to display this, and wanted a “simpler” story instead. The librarians in We Bare Bears and Dexter’s Laboratory undoubtedly faced barriers, especially if they were the sole librarians of color even when support staff has a “balanced racial distribution.” I hope one day we see White librarians engaging in bystander intervention by standing up and getting involved to stop “microaggressions and other forms of racist action” as they happen, or engaging in micro-affirmations. The latter means mostly public (and small) behavioral and vernal acts of confidence, support, and encouragement to make clear to colleagues of color that they are an integral and valued part of the team. [11]

Four different styles of Black librarians. Images via the Dillard University Library Blog, Colorlines,, and nowthisnews. The second librarian here is Carla Hayden, the head librarian of the Library of Congress, while the third is Ashley Buckley, a library assistant for the Blackstone Foundation Library. The fourth is Ola Ronke, founder of The Free Black Women’s Library (TFBWL)

Putting aside other librarians of color I either haven’t read or written about, [12] future fictional librarians will undoubtedly continue to have   unique styles, maybe even with afro-punk, afro-retro, or hip-hop styles. On the other hand, perhaps these librarians will be more plain. In any case, I hope to see more librarians of color in animation, comics, anime, and anywhere else, in the days, weeks, months, and years to come, as there are far too many White librarians, many of which I’ve written about on this blog, as they often fall into the character types outlined by Jennifer Snoek-Brown. I hope to find more librarians of color, regardless of their fashion styles, [13] so I can insure that the librarians I write about on here are more diverse than the library field itself! With that, my post comes to a close.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] April M. Hathcock and Stephanie Sendaula, “Mapping Whiteness at the Reference Desk” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 251-2.

[2] 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. 137. She also writes that “we could work to undo the white supremacist structures that control and police library space and the people who move through them.”

[3] “Dress Code and Professional Appearance,” UC Health, accessed Mar. 29, 2022; “Professional Appearance Standards,” UMMC Health Care, accessed Mar. 29, 2022; “Personal Appearance and Dress,” New Jersey City University, Jan. 1, 2019; “Appearance & Dress Code,” University of Puget Sound, accessed Mar. 29, 2022; “Professional Dress Code and Personal Appearance,” Delta State University, Apr. 29, 2019; “Minimum Appearance Standards,” Central Arkansas Library System, Jul. 25, 2019; “Standards of Dress and Appearance Policy,” Garner-Webb University, accessed Mar. 29, 2022; “Employee Conduct – Standards of Dress and Personal Appearance,” Randolph Community College, Jul. 17, 2008; “Standards of Personal Appearance and Dress,” Purdue University, accessed Mar. 29, 2022; “Personal Appearance Standards,” Villanova University, accessed Mar. 29, 2022; “Standards of Dress and Appearance,” Emory University School of Medicine, Jul. 8, 2021; Barbara Bevis, “What Do I Wear to Court?: Courtroom Appearance and Decorum Standards,” Library of Congress, Sept. 23, 2014; “Illegal Workplace Policies: Appearance, Dress Codes, and Grooming Policies,” EmploymentLawFirms, Mar. 29, 2022; Beeta Lashkari, “On the Basis of Personal Appearance,”, Aug. 15, 2019; Kira Barrett, “When School Dress Codes Discriminate,” National Education Association, Jul. 24, 2018; Harry F. Corey, “Dress Codes,” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, 2009; Ritu Mahajan, “The Naked Truth: Appearance Discrimination, Employment, and the Law,” Asian American Law Journal, Vol. 14, p. 165-166, 177-183, 187-188, 194-196, 201-203, noted here and here.

[4] Mahajan, “The Naked Truth,” 168, 171-173.

[5] Ibid, 166-7, 169-70, 173.

[6] Gary Duff, “Actor Jeffrey Wright on Growing Up In D.C., the 2016 Election & Starring in ‘The Public’,” Capitol File, Apr. 27, 2019; Jeffrey Anderson, “The Public,” Common Sense Media, Mar. 2, 2022; Oleg Kagan, “Movie Review: “the public” (written and directed by Emilio Estevez),” EveryLibrary, Feb. 8, 2018; Michael O’Sullivan, “Emilio Estevez’s new movie has a good message, if you don’t choke on it,” Washington Post, Apr. 3, 2019; Josh Terry, “Movie review: Libraries as homeless shelters? Salt Lake-inspired ‘The Public’ checks it out,” DeseretNews, Apr. 8, 2019; Anthony Lane, “Flesh Meets Machine in “High Life”,”The New Yorker, Apr. 5, 2019; Peter Travers, “‘The Public’ Movie Review: Life, Liberty and the Library as a Battlefield,” Rolling Stone, Apr. 5, 2019; Tricia Olszewski, “‘The Public’ Film Review: Emilio Estevez’s Homeless Drama Is Sincerely Clunky,” The Wrap, Apr. 2, 2019; Alan Ng, “The Public,” Film Threat, Apr. 5, 2019; THR Staff, “‘The Public’: Film Review | TIFF 2018,” The Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 9, 2018. Earlier in the film, “We’re a public library, we’re not a shelter for the homeless.” This discussion partially fulfills what I noted in my review of The Public, “some have been critical of how the librarians were all white and racial (and gender) dynamics in the film.”

[7] Matt Zoller Seitz, “30 Minutes on: “The Public”,”, Apr. 7, 2019; Brian Orndorf, “The Public Review,”, Apr. 4, 2019; “MOVIE REVIEW: The Public,”, Apr. 3, 2019; Jen Johans, “Movie Review: The Public (2018),” Apr. 5, 2019.

[8] Mahajan, “The Naked Truth,” 174, 176.

[9] Deana L. Jefferson and Jayne E. Stake, “Appearance Self-Attitudes of African American and European American Women: Media Comparisons and Internalization of Beauty Ideals,” Psychology of Women Quarterly, Dec. 1, 2009; Connor Key Birdsong, “Does Appearance Matter?: The Effect of Skin Tones on Trustworth and Innocent Appearances,” Masters Thesis, The University of Alabama, 2017, p. ii, 1-2. He also says on page 3 that “skin color has been an important determination of social, legal, political, and economic opportunities for Blacks since colonial times.” One day I may order the dissertation “Black Beauty, White Standards: Impacts on Black Women and Resources for Resistance and Resilience” through inter-library-loan and expand on Black female characters featured on this blog.

[10] Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, “A Blueprint on Self-Exploration to Justice: Introduction to ‘Referencing Audre Lorde’ & ‘Lesbian Librarianship for All'” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 278; Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, “Referencing Audre Lorde” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 279-281, 283-284, 289-290; Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, “Lesbian Librarianship for All: A Manifesto” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 293-296. On page 295, she says that public service librarians struggle with the contradiction between capitalist-focused and justice-seeking at the core of library service, specifically the aim to “uphold national values, through referencing the canon, promoting academic publishers, assisting teaching faculty, assigning access policies, and other practices.”

[11] Hathcock and Sendaula, “Mapping Whiteness at the Reference Desk,” 251-9. On Page 252 Hathcock and Sendaula write that “the history of public resistance towards African Americans and other people of color inside the library, as both patrons and employees, is rooted in the segregation laws of the early twentieth century.”

[12] Specifically, I haven’t read Archival Quality which features a queer Black librarian-protagonist, Celeste Walden, who begins working for a haunted museum as an archivist. The same can be said about Clarice in Girls with Slingshots, a porn store employee who really wants to be a librarian, and unnamed female librarian in Namesake, although I don’t think either of them are people of color. This is unrelated to the ingrained racism of lists like the one by Emily Temple for Lit Hub, which lists 50 fictional librarians and only ONE is Black, while the rest are White. The same can be said about Glenn Glazer’s all-White list of “Favorite Fictional Librarians” for NYPL, or almost all-White list of “fierce female librarians” by Lacey deShazo for Book Riot. It is any surprise that Temple, deShazo, and Glazer are all White women? Its erasure for them to have almost all-White lists.

[13] One list of fashion styles notes styles such as aztec, bollywood; Bon chic, bon genre (BCBG); bro (Bronies, Scrumbro, Snowbro, Surfer Bro, Tech Bro); Bubble Goth; California(n); cyberpunk, dasakawa, decor, dieselpunk, disco, e-girl/boy, emo, ero-kawaii, futuristic, , gothic lolita, gyaru, hadeku, harajuku, indian, kampala blend, kawaii, kodona/ouji/boystyle, kowa-kawaii, lolita, lunarpunk, mori girl, psychobill, rasta, seapunk, skandi, solarpunk, southwestern (American), steampunk, tiki goth, ulzzang, Visual Kei, Vsco Girl/Boy, and Zoot Suiters.

action adventure animation Black people comedy fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries special libraries speculative fiction

Behind the Screen: Black voice actors who bring fictional librarians to life!

From left to right: Harriet D. Foy, Regi Davis, Chris Jai Alex, Ike Imadi, and Kimberly D. Brooks

Part of understanding fictional librarians is understanding those behind the screen, especially when it comes to anime and animation. [1] I plan to do more posts like this if I find additional fictional librarians, so this post is the beginning of what I call the “Behind the Screen” series, hopefully getting some interviews with some of these voice actors too. I’m starting with Black voice actors in this first part of the series.

About the voice actors

Perhaps the most prominent Black voice of an animated librarian is Harriett D. Foy. She steals the show with the chief librarian of the Stanza, named Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. Foy is known for roles on Broadway, television, film, regional plays, regional musicals, and concerts. Rhone was her first animated role.

Just as powerful is Ike Amadi, a Nigerian man who voices a librarian named voices Cagliostro in a What If…? episode (“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”). Imadi has voiced characters like Agency Boss / Subquatos in Kid Cosmic, Officer Mantus / Platoon Sergeant in Love, Death & Robots, Angor Rot and Detective Scott in Tales of Arcadia, to name a few.

Most curious of all, in terms of Black people voicing animated librarians is Kimberly Brooks, also known as Kimberly D. Brooks. She voices an uptight librarian in a DC Super Hero Girls episode (“#SoulSisters Part 2”). Apart from voicing Elephant Grandma in The Cuphead Show!, she voiced characters such as Sky Young in Arcane, Teela and Eldress in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Skara in The Owl House, Amsaja in Cleopatra in Space, Allura in Voltron: Legendary Defender, young Mari in Vixen, and over 10 characters [2] in Steven Universe and Steven Universe Future, most prominently Jasper.

Other Black voice actors include two Black men: Regi Davis as George and Chris Jai Alex as Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Davis and Alex are seasoned voice actors. Davis has been in countless television, theatre, and film productions. Alex has been working in the entertainment industry since 2005, starting at the bottom. He has voiced at least 40 characters according to Behind the Voice Actors. [3]

About the characters

From left to right: Clara Rhone, O’Bengh, Unnamed librarian, George, and Lance

As I wrote in my review of Welcome to the Wayne, Clara Rhone is one of the “very few librarians of color in popular culture” and works with others at the library, emphasizing the value of these institutions as places of knowledge and understanding. Clara also has a granddaughter named Goodness, who is a library ninja, and is voiced by another Black woman: Charnele Crick.

Just as striking of a character is Cagliostro in What If…?. As I wrote in my review of that episode, he masquerades under the name “O’Bengh,” and runs the Lost Library of Cagliostro, a library-temple. He tries to the best of his ability to help Doctor Strange, as he “grows out of control.” He attempts to warn Strange but is unsuccessful and ends up dying in the library, taking on a number of roles in the episode at the same time: all-knowing person, a medic, and a sorcerer, while happening to be the only librarian. It is unfortunate that he is never shown outside the library.

The librarian that Brooks voices is interesting, as the unnamed librarian in the DC Super Hero Girls episode is uptight. I suppose this makes the character interesting and gives more life to it, but the character is very stereotypical and straight-lace. She voices two characters in that episode: Bumblebee and the Librarian, according to IMDB. One day, if possible, I’d like to ask her about that character.

Then there’s George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Both call themselves historians but they run a family library. They help the protagonists Adora, Glimmer, and Bow translate an ancient message and keep their library open for as long as they can, before abandoning it. Even then, they provide vital information which helps Adora and her friends stop the vile Horde from destroying the world and universe.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Not profiled in this series is Emilio Estevez (who voiced Stewart Goodson), Jeffrey Wright (who voiced Mr. Anderson), and Jena Malone (who voiced Myra) in The Public. For Malone, also see her Facebook and Instagram pages here and here. I also cannot include the 30 webcomic characters I have included on my “List of fictional librarians” page, nor the unnamed librarians in a Revolutionary Girl Utena episode (“The Sunlit Garden – Prelude”), the Black male librarian in a We Bare Bears episode (“Our Stuff”), Isomura in Let’s Make a Mug Too episode (“The Garden of Sky and Wind”) as her voice actress is not known. Voice actors of the librarian in Steven Universe episode (“Buddy’s Book”), Librarian in Futurama episode (“The Day the Earth Stood Stupid”), Librarian in Zevo-3 episode (“Zevo-3”), librarians in The Simpsons, librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“Return of the Dark Druid”), librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“The Warlock Returns”), unnamed librarians in Phineas and Ferb episode (“Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together”), another librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“Return of the Dark Druid”), librarian in Amphibia episode (“True Colors”), Arlene in Phineas & Ferb episode (“Phineas and Ferb’s Quantum Boogaloo”), Librarian in Bob’s Burgers episode (“Y Tu Ga-Ga Tina Tambien”), librarian in Phineas & Ferb episode (“The Doonkelberry Imperative”), and a librarian in The Flintstones episode (“The Hit Songwriter”) are also not known. Also, librarian in Teen Titans Go! episode (“Magic Man”) of Azarath Public Library and Little Squeak in Colonel Bleep do not have any voices either. It is further not known who voiced librarian in Courage the Cowardly Dog episode (“Wrath of the Librarian“), librarian in Uncle Grandpa episode (“Back to the Library”), the librarian in Beavis and Butt-Head episode (“Cyber-Butt“), Violet Stanhope and Ms. Herrera in the Archie’s Weird Mysteries episode (“The Haunting of Riverdale“),  Miss Dickens in Carl Squared episode (“Carl’s Techno-Jinx”), or Mrs. Shusher in The Replacements episode (“Quiet Riot“).

[2] Jasper, Cherry Quartz, Superfan Rose, Shy Rose, Hippy Rose, Angel Aura Quartz, Zebra Jasper, Ocean Jasper (2), Flint, Malachite, Carnelian, and Skinny. She also voiced eight characters in Winx Club.

[3] Also see his IMDB bio, Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube channel, Instagram, and LinkedIn profile, or the website of Davis.

action adventure Black people comic books Comics fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

action adventure animation Black people fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums special libraries speculative fiction

Fictional Library of the Month: George and Lance’s family library

Hello everyone! Like my last post, I am beginning a new feature which I’m calling “Fictional Library of the Month” with posting one fictional library every month, prioritizing those in shows currently airing, but also including those in older shows. And with that, let be begin with my first entry, the library of George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, located in the Whispering Woods.

About the library

The library is a residence, a library/archives/museum all in one. It contains books collected by George and Lance, the fathers of Bow.

Role in the story

The library first appears in the episode “Reunion” where Adora and Glimmer stumble upon it when worried about the disappearance of Bow, and they meet him and his dads there. While there, a monster is released and Bow reveals he is a fighter for the Rebellion to his dad. The library again appears in the episode “Return to the Fright Zone” when it is damaged and left abandoned.

Does the library buck stereotypes?

In the sense that it is a place to live and a library, yes, but the fact that vines grow on the outside gives it the appearance of being abandoned, which plays into library stereotypes.

Any similarity with libraries in other shows?

Not really. There really aren’t any family libraries in other series that I know of, so that makes it unique in and of itself.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

adventure animation Chinese people fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries Nigerian people underfunded libraries

Doctor Strange’s quest for power and the Black sorcerer-librarian

Strange talks to Wong, the first librarian shown in the episode, and only very briefly.

As you may or may not know, a recent episode of the Marvel animated series, What If…?, which takes prominent moments in the lives of superheroes and provides a new twist on them, featured a librarian. The episode before that had a violent library scene, but no librarian was present. Instead, in this episode, titled “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?,” the librarian, voiced by Nigerian voice actor Ike Amadi, masquerades under the name “O’Bengh,” and runs the Lost Library of Cagliostro. He tries to help the protagonist, Doctor Strange, although Strange grows out of control. So, warning, here, this post, which examines this wonderful librarian of color, a Black librarian to be exact, his role in the episode, how he connects to other examples on this blog, and whether he passes the Librarian Portrayal Test (LPT) or not.

Even so, reviewers of the episode in prominent publications often either ignored the librarian, library, or barely mentioned it. For example, Engadget, The Mary Sue, and IGN did not even mention either the librarian or library in their reviews. [1] On the other hand, reviewers for Den of Geek, Yahoo! Movies, Digital Spy, and The A.V. Club mentioned it in passing. These reviews only noted that Strange visited the “mysterious”/”most exclusive”/”mystical” Library of Cagliostro, that a sorcerer named “O’Bengh” takes Strange to the library, which he is visiting by traveling back in time to gain the power and knowledge he needs to bring back his girlfriend, Christine Palmer, in an attempt to reverse an absolute point in time. That isn’t saying that these reviews were terrible, badly written, or anything like this, but it is unfortunate when a librarian or library has a prominent role in an episode or media, and a reviewer barely mentions it, as it implies that they feel it isn’t important enough to mention. With that, let me move into the rest of my review.

Early on in the episode, Strange (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) talks to Wong (voiced by Benedict Wong), the Chinese special librarian and sorcerer who recently appeared in the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Wong tells him that tinkering with time will threaten the entire fabric of the universe, and the Ancient One telling him the same. He later becomes the sorcerer supreme after the Ancient One passed, but he could not let go of the past. Wong talks to Strange two years later, and tells him to join him before he does something “reckless.” Strange doesn’t listen and he travels back in time, trying to relieve the moment of Christine’s death over and over, hoping to change the outcome. The Ancient One tells him that the death of Christine is an “absolute point in time” which cannot be changed or reversed, warning him that his path only leads to darkness, but he disregards this, causing them to fight. He finds himself in a jungle and asks a man he sees about the lost library of Cagliostro and the man leads him to the library, with this man as O’Bengh, described as a keeper of the library, and enters the library using his magic, specifically runes on the floor, and falls down a deep, dark hole, caused by the runes.

In this library-temple, Strange meets O’Bengh yet again, who calls him the “strangest dressed sorcerer” he has ever seen, and messes with Strange, Cagliostro is here, there, or nowhere. In this inter-dimensional library, O’Bengh calls him sorcerer Armani, bringing him inside the vast library, with Strange saying he will stay as long as it takes. He collects as many books as he can, while the area around him is lit by candles, perpetuating a stereotype of libraries as some badly lit place, even if the collections themselves are well-resourced.

Strange summons a mystic being and O’Bengh tries to warn Strange to not summon such beings, even recognizing he has pain that is causing him to go to these desperate measures, saying that there is a “fine line between devotion and delusion,” saying that love can not only break your heart but it can shatter your mind. Strange decides that O’Bengh may be right, so he wants to take the power rather than the monsters giving the power to him, absorbing their powers one by one. The Watcher refuses to intervene, saying the fate of his universe is not worth risking the safety of all others. Centuries pass as he absorbs the power of the monster which first attacked him. O’Bengh is dying and refuses Strange’s help to let him live longer.

O’Bengh says that death is inevitable, saying that while he recognizes Strange won’t accept this about death, the “other Strange” will, and is only “half a mind.” It turns out there is another Strange out there, a “good” Strange, while the one that went to the library is the “evil” Strange. The good Strange on the other hand, stayed with Wong instead, and could see the world falling apart around him. He learns from the Ancient One that she split Strange in two. Wong helps the good Strange train to fight the evil Strange before he fades away himself, like everyone else, putting a protection spell on him. Both Stranges meet in the library, with the good Strange telling the other Strange that he can’t bring her back, and the evil Strange declares that both of them together can save Christine. I won’t say any more about the episode beyond that, except to say that it gets very dark.

The Evil Strange begins taking in the knowledge of the library’s books

Now, before getting to the LPT, let me say that O’Bengh is implied to be Cagliostro. Beyond that, while some reviews say he “helps” Strange, others are more accurate, noting that O’Bengh warns Strange, even on his deathbed, and is said to have an impressive library, while he is described as “soft-spoken” by some. Other reviewers noted that O’Bengh was “a powerful and ancient sorcerer” and speculate that he might have, after his wife / partner died, built the library and “filled it with books about the magic he learned over his unnaturally long life.”

It is disconcerting the number of roles he takes on in the episode: an all-knowing person, a medic, and a sorcerer, to name the three most prominent. Archives in Fiction (AIF) makes a good point that while the space was beautifully rendered, it is “utterly impractical” and argued that the episode has the subtext that “librarians are magic” or that they are “expected to work miracles.” In response to AIF saying that they since when anyone calls “us” (archivists, librarians) miracle workers, even if it comes “from a good place,” saying that there is “really nothing miraculous about the work we put into making things findable,” I said that that perspective makes sense. I gave the example of Kaisa in Hilda who is a witch but doesn’t use her magical powers, and noted that for O’Bengh it makes sense for him to be magical as he is a sorcerer, but added that it is problematic to say that librarians are magical, although some can work in a magical library but not be magical themselves, like Kaisa as previously mentioned (although she is a witch) or Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne.

More than any of this, O’Bengh, who is based off the alias of Giuseppe Balasamo / Joseph Balsamo, Count Alessandro do Cagliostro, a glamorous magician and Italian adventurer involved in the occult arts, according to his Wikipedia page, is the fact that O’Bengh is the ONLY librarian managing the whole library, with no one else shown. How in the world could he manage it all? It seems like a near-impossible task. Compare this to Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. While the library in that show (The Stanza) was also magnificent and special, like the one in this episode, Rhone, a Black woman, is the chief librarian and there are various non-human employees helping her. Additionally, the library itself is key to the series, shown as a place of understanding and knowledge,and is meticulously organized, with some episodes highlighting the issues of underfunded libraries, the role of librarians as gatekeeper and the shushing librarian stereotype.

That brings me to the LPT. O’Bengh is undoubtedly a librarian, fulfilling the first criterion. And his role is integral to the plot in that his removal would impact the plot in a significant way, partially fulfilling the third criterion. However, this episode does not fulfill this completely. While O’Bengh is not there for laughs, shushing patrons, or even a foil, he does fall into the librarian as an information provider stereotype, or even an inspirational librarian stereotype to some extent, even as he does matter in and of himself. Sure, he is not a spinster librarian, a liberated librarian, a librarian as failure, an anti-social librarian (a little bit), a naughty librarian, but he still pushes the idea that librarians somehow magically know everything. Furthermore, his character is primarily defined by his role as a librarian, as he is, apart briefly from early in the episode, never shown outside the library! As such, the episode fails the third criterion of the LPT. As such, you could say the show gets a rating of 1.5 out of 3 on the LPT, or put more simply, 50%, to be exact.

O’Bengh meets Strange in the deep, dark hole of the library, early in the episode.

The library itself is also very large. And AIF has a point that the library is impractical. I would further say that the design would be only if there was appropriate staffing for it, but this is obviously not the case, so it is absurdly large. The library itself is also literally a temple, furthering the perception that libraries, and by extension librarians, are somehow sacred, a dangerous and faulty idea which could result in lack of accountability of libraries themselves or even librarians, which are not removed from the oppressive systems in our society.

It is wonderful to have a librarian of color, specifically a Black librarian, in a popular animated show, with animation which is so life-like that it reminds me of the rotoscoped characters in Undone, or the 2019 French film, I Lost My Body. The latter has a librarian named named Gabrielle, voiced by Victoire Du Bois (French) and Alia Shawkat (English), who is a protagonist of the film. It is also interesting he is a Black librarian because he is portrayed as being Italian and ruling over a kingdom in India in his profile on the Marvel database fandom site. However, I wish they could have done more and had a character which exists outside of the library, and not be like a monk inside of a monastery who never leaves the monastery.

Compare O’Bengh to Kaisa in Hilda, who is a witch and may be asexual. [2] She is able to, in the show’s first season, presciently guess what the protagonist and her friends need in term of books, trying to serve them to the best of her ability. In the next season she talks about the value of witchcraft, which can be seen as analogous to librarianship and helps get a book from a patron, her old friend, Ms. Tildy, traveling deep within the library itself. But, she has a life outside the library, even helping the protagonists on a quest to catch soul-eating mice. Unlike O’Bengh, her mysterious nature fades into nothingness in the show’s second season, while she still has unparalleled knowledge of mystical items and cemetery records, she is never shown using her magical powers to complete her library tasks, showing she takes her job seriously. Alike the library in What If…?, the library in Hilda is a bit ordinary on the outside, it is grand inside, with passageways reaching the chambers of witches which control the Witches Tower. Furthermore, unlike O’Bengh, Kaisa is the only librarian I know of in animation at the present who presumably has a professional degree.

All in all, while I am glad there was a librarian of color who had a key part in an animated series, it could have been much much better. There could be more people working at the library with O’Bengh, having O’Bengh not be some all-knowing librarian and having a life outside the library itself, and portraying the library as something less ornate and spacious as something that resembled a temple, to name a few suggested changes. With that, until next week, where I’ll write about another librarian or library in fiction, whether on “Librarian work” in Kokoro Library, Amity Blight, the librarian in The Owl House, or another subject entirely, among my 13 draft posts.

Inside (top) and outside (bottom) of the Lost Library of Cagliostro

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] Naudus, K., “Marvel’s ‘What If?’ expands beyond its anthology beginnings,” Engadget, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021; Marvel’s What If…? Flips the Script on Fridging,” The Mary Sue, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021; Jorgensen, Tom, “What If…? Season 1, Episode 4 – Review,” IGN, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021; Knight, Rosie, “What If…? Episode 4 Review: Doctor Strange Loses His Heart,” Den of Geek, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021; Warmann, Amon. “‘What If’: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange leads the best episode yet,” Yahoo! Movies, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021; Opie, David, “Marvel’s What If…? episode 4 is more important to the MCU than you think,” Digital Spy, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021; Barsanti, Sam, “In a bleak What If…?, Doctor Strange tries to become Doctor Who and fails spectacularly,” The A.V. Club, Sept. 1, 2021, accessed Sept. 8, 2021.

[2] On December 18, 2020, creator Luke Pearson, when asked if the colors of the librarian named Kaisa in Hilda were made to intentionally match the asexual flag, said that while he did not purposely make her colors match those of the aromantic flag in his rough design for the character, it was “not impossible” that her design, her hair and colors, matched the colors of the asexual flag because he did not draw the final design of the character in the show. Kaisa has purple hair, a black cape, a gray shirt with white sleeves, all of which are colors on the asexual flag.

abandoned libraries animation Black people empty libraries Fiction genres Librarians Libraries

Librarians, abandoned libraries, and a hunger for knowledge

In Little Witch Academia, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Glitch Techs, libraries are either shown as abandoned, in bad shape or literally become battlefields. This is not unique to those animations, however. For instance, in an all-ages animation She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a screenshot of which is shown at the beginning of this post, and the Australian animated series, Prisoner Zero the value of libraries is conveyed, even as the libraries themselves are abandoned or damaged in one way or another.

In the 10th episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power‘s final season, “Return to the Fright Zone,” Bow is worried about his dads, George and Lance, in the well-hidden library, since he hasn’t heard from them. When Bow reminds Glimmer of the mission to stop Horde Prime, she tells him that finding his dads is just as important. They later teleport near the library and Bow says that something “doesn’t feel right.” They find the library abandoned and artifacts damaged. Glimmer checks the other rooms and can’t find them. Bow feels that he is lost and wishes he had just stayed at home, never doing his own thing, until he snaps out of it, with the help of Glimmer. He finds a message saying that his dads are at the ruins of the Crystal Castle.

They find George and Lance in the ruins of Crystal Castle, as it was the “last safe place to go,” in Bow’s words. Both of them show Glimmer and Bow a recording from a rebel squadron known as Greyskull that there is a fail-safe for the superweapon at the heart of Etheria. There are many questions remaining from this: did the Horde bots cause this destruction in their library? Or, alternatively, did they purposely make their library a mess before fleeing? The latter seems the case, but it does raise the question of why the Horde wouldn’t even care about the library at all, since the information within it could have helped them better conquer Etheria. But, I digress. The self-declared historians, but actually family librarians, George and Lance, give them the information they need to defeat the Horde. This shows they don’t need the library to give information helpful to the protagonists, although having the library would help, of course. I hope that the library was repaired following the defeat of the Horde in the final episode and its knowledge spread across the planet.

Prisoner Zero is very different, in many ways. In the episodes “Ragnabook: Part One” and “Ragnabook: Part Two,” a monster from the past escapes from the Forbidden Section of the library on the Rogue. It attempts to, like the Brain Spawn from Futurama, take in all the knowledge from the universe, although this monster doesn’t have something like the Infosphere. It is more malevolent, in that it wants to change the course of history itself and turn it back to something darker, and depressing. It almost succeeds, only to be stopped by the Librarian (shown below), along with Zero, Tag, and Jem.

In this case, a monster is literally destroying the library and sucking in all its knowledge so it can control the course of the universe going forward. Sadly, when it is destroyed, all the knowledge it has accumulated is lost with it. Even worse, the library itself is destroyed and is NEVER seen in any future episodes. Not only is this a major oversight by the creators of the series, as it creates a bit of a plot hole, it also makes me very sad. However, this is not unique, however, as libraries, through the course of history have been “deliberately or accidentally destroyed or badly damaged,” as noted on the “List of destroyed libraries” Wikipedia page, including the Library of Alexandria, famously, or the Library of Congress when the British set Washington, D.C. ablaze in 1814. In fact, in R.O.D the TV series, an anime I’ve reviewed on this blog before, one of the characters accidentally caused a whole library to go up in flames, traumatizing another character and scarring her for life!

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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“Peaceful” reading and quiet “sanctum” of the Seiran Academy library

Why indeed, Kaoru-sama… and yes, this one of favorite lines in this episode, of course

Recently, I was watching the seventh episode, titled “The Darkness in the Clock Tower,” of one of my favorite anime, Dear Brother (known as Oniisama e… in Japan) about an ordinary girl named Nanako Misonoo who attends a prestigious girls school named Seiran Academy and faces hostility over her admission to the school’s sorority. And about half way through that episode was, lo and behold, the school library! Nanako searches through the stacks of the school library for something on Saint-Juste. She is helped by a fellow tomboyish student, Kaoru Orihara (hereafter called Kaoru-sama), who happens to know where the books she is looking for are. This surprises Nanako, with Kaoru-sama seeming to say the books will be in high demand in a few months from first-years, and after Nanako tries to clarify something, Kaoru-sama says, “reading for any reason is better than not reading at all.” Nanako apologizes, Kaoru-sama hands her the four books she needs, then a group of noisy female students walk through the library, not really seeming to care about the people around them. Of course, Kaoru-sama is annoyed, asking who they think they are, declaring it is a library and they should talk outside. Right after that, Nanako borrows books from the male librarian. Later, Kaoru-sama declares “one can’t even read peacefully in the library these days!” They talk about the books, butterflies fly around them, while Kaoru-sama explains about Rei Asaka‘s past, with Nanako sitting beside her with the books she got at the library in her lap, patiently listening to the story. After the story is over, they part ways, a group of high-class girls assault Nanako, and her friend Tomoko Arikura comes to her rescue!

This episode connects to a lot of what I have been talking about in this blog before. The quiet library that Kaoru-sama wants, is a sanctum, or what Merriam-Webster describes as “a place where one is free from intrusion.” [1] More directly, this conception of a quiet library is often brought to an extreme in animation, especially Western animation. I made this clear in the post I published in late April about shushing librarians. Some of the worst examples are the curmudgeon librarian in DC Super Hero Girls, the librarian in Big City Greens who assaults a patron making noise, Miss Dickens in Carl Squared who interrogates the protagonist for having late books, the sadistic librarian in Courage the Cowardly Dog who demands an absurdly huge fine for ONE late book, Miss Hatchet in Kim Possible who rules the school library like a tyrant (and has her own form of library organization), the librarian in Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil literally tries to kill the protagonist for trying to get back his book which was wrongly delivered to the library. [2] This episode reminds me of the episode of The Replacements, “Quiet Riot,” which features a librarian named Mrs. Shusher, and seems to support (or endorse) quiet areas of the library, with one of the protagonists, Todd, admitting that they need “places for work, as much as we need places for play.” It also makes me think of the people (likely patrons) who shushed the protagonists in an episode of City of Ghosts for making too much noise. Relevant here is a passage of that article where I talked about quiet spaces/places within libraries:

Some have argued that that is a “lot to be said for shushing” because some patrons like quiet places, noted that there is still a need for “quiet” in our communities which should not be lost, or asserted that librarians themselves are perpetuating the stereotype in their actions. The latter is the only one that seems to have some validity, even as some people do like quiet spaces, including this writer…Jennifer Snoek-Brown, she added that while she values the need for quiet zones in libraries, but that she will be in her community college library, “doing my job and helping my users — not with a bang or a whisper, but with a smile.”

That’s how I feel about it too. Although Kaoru-sama was harsh, the students seemed to only care about themselves, walking through a study area where students wanted it to be quiet! And libraries being quiet places away from the noisiness of the rest of society is important, for sure.

This episode contrasts the first episode of We Bare Bears, titled “Our Stuff,” where the three bears (Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear) travel to the local library to find their belongings which were stolen when they weren’t looking. They go there to use the “phone finder” so Panda can use the phone finder, and Grizzly is immediately shushed by the librarian when entering, even as this makes sense as he is being pretty loud. Grizzly apologizes and Ice Bear takes off his shirt, which hilariously goes off in the scanner, as it is probably stolen. Going on the computer, fast-paced Mission Impossible-like music plays as Panda uses the Phone Finder. He then tries to print out the map and the printer jams, adding a dose to reality of how these things usually work. Grizzly has to fix the paper jam, and the map prints out fine. They leave the library and use the map to find where their stuff is.

Unnamed Black librarian shushes bears as they enter library, while patrons at the local library, are annoyed; in second image, librarian stares in quiet rage, while patrons are surprised to see him take off his shirt in front of them

Back to this episode, it brings me back to “the venerable concept of the library as a quiet place,” as Kerry Vash, Reference Librarian at St. Thomas University Library, calls it. He writes that failure to comply with lowering voices to a whisper in the library has often been associated with a shushing librarian who is often female, with glasses, and a spinster, saying this image has done a disservice to libraries themselves. He explains that real-life shushing librarians were probably trying to uphold a standard vital the library, specifically to “provide a quiet environment in which people could contemplate the knowledge of the world through the library’s array of resources.” He goes onto point out that fostering quiet spaces is critical and patrons have voiced this need in various surveys over the years, even as important as Internet access! He adds that at his library all are welcome into quiet spaces, but that a library should also be a social space as well, concluding that debating that whether a library is a” social space or quiet space is a futile effort,” because a library can be both. Libraries can also seek feedback from patrons to provide them with “a comprehensive library experience that offers the varied types of spaces and services they both need and desire.” Others point out that people expect silence in libraries based on the acoustic properties of the space, expectation of quiet, and getting away from noise, so they can get some work done. There is even a WikiHow post by Kim Gillingham, a retired library and information specialist, outlining ten steps for “How to Get People In a Library to Be Quiet,” which is actually more detailed than I would have thought it would be. [3] Roz Warren, librarian and humorist, had a hilarious/part-true post about quietness about libraries, which is very apt here too.

One writer, Katie LaFever, a middle school librarian in North Tonawanda, New York, put it well: “some libraries have back rooms, quiet corners, and separate computer lab areas, but many do not…[in my library] what happens in one area of the library, happens throughout the entire space….it is impossible to have quiet study areas and active learning happening at the same time [in my library].” Pew Research notes that Americans want quiet study spaces, but also “programs and classes for children and teens,” which is something that is not quiet, while, as Ciara McCaffrey and Michelle Breen argued, “the importance of quiet space to users should not be underestimated.” What Kaoru-sama wanted to do by telling the noisy female students to quiet down is understandable. After all, as Julia Seales notes in Bustle, one of the best things about libraries “is that they’re peaceful and quiet” as long as you aren’t being the one shushed by a librarian, and others note the importance of libraries having a “quiet space for contemplation,” especially places where people can study, while having amenities to provide patrons with various other services, which means they will talk. [4] However, Kaoru-sama’s sentiment that you can’t read peacefully in the library anymore is just not true, as a majority of patrons support quiet spaces/quiet in libraries.

If Kaoru-sama gets on your case, you are clearly not going something right. Some librarians definitely feel like this sometimes.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


[1] The other definition is a “sacred place” and whether libraries are sacred is a whole different discussion, discussed by books like Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship, a Big Think article titled “The Sacred Space of Libraries in Our Lives,” Metro UK’s “Libraries are more than just books – they are sacred spaces that need protection,” David S. Porcaro‘s “Sacred Libraries in the Temples of the Near East,” and elsewhere, to mention a few resources.

[2] Other terrible examples are: Libro Shushman in Teamo Supremo who tries to steal all the words and put them into her doom dictionary, the extreme shushing librarian named Rita Loud in Timon & Pumbaa, the Bat Librarian in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ms. L in Dexter’s Laboratory who has goons to catch the protagonist whose sounds exceeded the “noise level” in the library. Although the stickler librarian in Rugrats, the shushing male librarian in The Owl House, the shushing librarian in Steven Universe, Turtle Princess in Adventure Time could be said to be harsh, none of them are terrible. Oh and there is Count Spunkulout in Codename: Kids Next Door who spanks the protagonists for not paying library fines. Yikes! The only one on that page which goes against existing stereotypes of the shushing librarian is the Librarian ghost in Archie’s Weird Mysteries named Violet Stanhope. At the same time, the librarians in Martin Mystery episodes are just annoyed, rightly so, with the protagonist, who is a jerk. You could say that Kaeloo in Kaeloo is a problematic librarian as she, in one episode, throws out the “not nice” and “dirty” books, even burning them all in a fire. Oh no! That’s almost like Censorsdoll in Moral Orel which I wrote about last week.

[3] Her ten steps are organized into three categories: “Asking Loud Library Patrons to Tone it Down” (has four sub-steps), “Getting Outside Help” (has three sub-steps), and “Avoiding a Scene in the Library” (has three sub-steps). In response to one of the questions in the Q&A (“As a librarian, how can I successfully and tactfully get people to lower their noise?”) the community response is “Calmly ask the people to please lower their voices or talk outside. If the do not, call the security guard.” Another question is “Would it be a good idea to find security to escort the noisy person out?” is answered as: “if you want to risk being laughed at or sworn at, by all means escort the noisy person out. Unless you’re staff, you have no “rights” to force people to leave. Ask the librarian for assistance if you’re so disturbed or just find somewhere else to sit where it’s quieter.” Although most people rated this as “not helpful,” I think it is the CORRECT response. Other tips suggest you become familiar with people who frequent the library so you can known which parts of the loudest, suggest you come at off-peak hour or a few hours before somewhere closes, and to stay after official closing time (even though this is bound to annoy librarians), and suggest you tell the library/bookstore if an employee is “rude to you in regards to creating a more enjoyable environment.”

[4] State Librarian of NSW, Alex Byrne noted this duality in 2012: “We have quiet places in the library for people who want to concentrate but we don’t insist on quiet libraries. That is because we realise it is a social activity.” Additionally, an article in the New York Times quoted librarians pointed out who said that “as neighborhood needs change, so has the mission of the library,” adding that no matter what “the library must keep its doors open.”