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Beauty, dress codes, and fashion: Examining twenty fictional White female librarians

In her 2018 In the Library with the Lead Pipe article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” Fobazi Ettarh rightly points out that “librarianship is dominated by white women,” noting the history of White women in the profession due to their characteristics, the fact that libraries have been “complicit in the production and maintenance of white privilege,” how these librarians participated in “selective immigrant assimilation and Americanization programs,” and that librarianship “plays a role in creating and sustaining hegemonic values,” while contributing to a culture of white supremacy like other institutions. She further asserts that depictions of libraries as “places of freedoms” like intellectual freedom, freedom of access, education, and more “do not elide libraries’ white supremacy culture with its built-in disparity and oppression,” adding that values that librarianship builds itself upon is “inequitably distributed amongst society.” She gives the example of segregation of public libraries in the U.S. South, desegregation efforts of those libraries,with access to materials “often implicated in larger societal systems of (in)equality.” She also pointed to libraries gathering “large amounts of patron data in order to demonstrate worth” or can “operate as an arm of the state” by working with library vendors which work with government entities.

I could easily build off every single one of her points in a long and drawn out post. Instead, in this post, I will examine over 20 White female librarians across various animated series and how these fictional depictions are emblematic of the overwhelming Whiteness in librarianship. More directly I’ll look at what this means when it comes to appearance, fashion, and standards imposed on librarians by Whiteness itself. Simply put, Whiteness is a socially constructed classification which conveys certain privileges, comforts, and advantages that those who not White do not enjoy automatically. It ends up setting the standard for reality and normality itself. Any deviations are seen as subversions, offenses, disruptions, or disturbances, policing its borders in a literal and figurative way. It can sometimes operate in hidden ways at different strata within library profession, while remaining multidimensional. [1]

I’ll start with Kaisa, who is one of the most prominent librarians in animation to date, in the series Hilda. [2] As librarian and library instructor Gina Schlesselman-Tarango put it, library professionals often navigate White grooming and beauty standards, while people of color are policed within library spaces. Librarian Jessica Macias added that librarians often face dress and grooming codes. It is something which women of color doesn’t always fit into, feeling alienated and different. Macias argued that these unwritten codes ban so-called “distracting” and “unnatural” hairstyles, unkempt clothing, hygiene, and hair. She, along with April Hathcock and Stephanie Sendaula adds that this is restrictive for people of color, facing implicit barriers, claims of unprofessionalism, and the idea that librarians of color are not librarians, as perceived by fellow patrons and librarians. [3]

Four screenshots spliced together in order to show Kaisa’s librarian outfit during the course of the first two seasons of the series

Her unique appearance fits within White beauty standards, even though she is casually gothic and witchy. In the series, she wears a gray sweater, grey leggings, black skirt, black cloak, and white blouse. She often wears black-grey headphones attached to a media player. Librarians are often shown wearing skirts, cardigans, while others have been more stylish with dresses, cardigans, sweaters, tights, and coats. [4] While Kaisa has her own unique style it fits within those standards. It fits with her calm personality, although she can be strict at enforcing rules, or even stern. At other times, she can be secretive and soft-spoken, but has an ability to know what people are looking for. Undoubtedly, this leads to certain insecurities, and feeling like an outcast, despite the fact she can be nice, supporting Hilda, Frida or David in their tasks throughout the series.

Although Kaisa is perhaps the prominent librarian character in an animated series in recent years, there are other librarians which fit the White standards of appearance. These same standards, of course, exclude and restrict librarians of color, as Macias pointed out. [5] Other fictional librarians dress even more conservatively, even if their style is not as distinctive as the one that Kaisa has in Hilda. This includes the curmudgeon librarian in the DC Super Hero Girls episode “#SoulSisters Part 2.” She wears horn-rimmed glasses, a hair bun, a whitish high collar, cuffed sleeves, and a bluish dress of some kind, I believe. She fully fits the spinster librarian stereotype as outlined by Jennifer Snoek-Brown on her blog, Reel Librarians.

The same can be said for the Violet Stanhope, the librarian ghost in an episode of Archie’s Weird Mysteries (“The Haunting of Riverdale“), Francis Clara Censorsdoll in multiple episodes of the mature animated series Moral Orel, Mrs. Higgins in a Sofia the First episode (“The Princess Test”), and Rita Book in a Timon & Pumbaa episode (“Library Brouhaha“). All of these librarians are dressed in a “proper” way and well-groomed, even if not all of them conduct themselves professionally. What I mean is that Francis burns books she doesn’t like and Rita demands total quiet, while Violet and Mr. Higgins are more helpful. The latter two characters fulfill what the UMW Libraries called “quality service, positive attitude, good patron relations, and pleasing personal appearance.” The clothing of the characters, is in line with existing library dress codes that ban shorts, halter tops / tank tops, flip flops, backless shoes, ill-fitting clothing, or t-shirts with writing / slogans, no bare shoulders, no or few face piercings, no denim pants, and no torn jeans. It often goes beyond what could be called “business casual” ins some contexts. [6]

Apart from the above-mentioned older librarians, there are some librarians who have a bit more style. This includes the unnamed librarian in a Steven Universe episode (“Buddy’s Book”), one of the protagonists of I Lost My Body, an animated film set in France, Gabrielle, and Marion the Librarian in various episodes of Hanny Manny. The most casual of these is the Steven Universe librarian who is shown wearing what looks like a green cardigan and glasses, with a green undershirt of some kind shown in the comics. However, she may be more casual in the comics than in the animated series, as she could be wearing a collared shirt in the episode, as shown below:

Her style is in line with librarians who say [7] that they wear cardigans, black dress pants, oxford shirts, dressy shoes, casual pants, slacks, blouses, sweaters, button downs, leggings, tights, and skirts. I haven’t seen any fictional librarians in dresses that I can recall, however nor in sundresses, jumpers, t-shirts, shirt and tie, khakis, with tattoos or with piercings. It is likely that the Buddwick Public Library in Beach City has a business-professional dress code that prohibits shorts, sneakers, t-shirts with writing, backless shoes, and blue jeans. We can’t know for sure, because we never see the librarian, or any other librarians, outside of their work behind the information desk. [8]

Compare the unnamed librarian in Steven Universe to Gabrielle in I Lost My Body and Marion the Librarian in Hanny Manny. Both characters wear business casual more than casual, looking comfortable in their workplaces while they look professional. However, it is unlikely that either of them have “highly regularized” librarian dress, but rather that there are continuing struggles over what it means to “dress professionally” in their jobs. Even so neither are wearing t-shirts, jeans, gym shoes, jeans, or even open-toed shoes in line with varied dress codes, or anything similar to the variety of adorable outfits out there which are inspired by librarians. Instead, they have a practical, curated, and straightforward style, likely recognizing that what you wear has a “lot to do with identity” even if they aren’t aware of the cultural stereotypes out there of librarians. [9]

There are other librarians who have style, even if in a more “traditional” way. This includes elderly librarians enforcing rules, like the librarian in Uncle Grandpa episode (“Back to the Library”), Miss Dickens in Carl Squared episode (“Carl’s Techno-Jinx”), Ms. Hatchet in Kim Possible episode (“Overdue”), Mrs. Shusher in an episode of The Replacements (“Quiet Riot“), and the unnamed librarian in a few episodes of Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil. The same can be said for the stickler librarian in an episode of Rugrats, Ms. L in an episode of Dexter’s Laboratory (“Book ‘Em“) and the briefly appearing librarian in an episode of Martin Mystery (“Return of the Dark Druid“). [10] What they are wearing is reflect of what Brytani of The Intrepid Nerd pointed out: that often librarians are portrayed in fashion catalogs, Pinterest, and elsewhere with “vintage looks.” This includes dresses or skirts, sweaters / cardigans / blazers, “smart” shoes, and glasses. She concluded that people give librarian’s this look because there is “something nostalgic about reading books” and working somewhere that is full of them, or a more disturbing conclusion: that people dress librarians this way “because they think the career is outdated.” Hopefully, the creators of Uncle Grandpa, Carl Squared, Kim Possible, The Replacements, Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil, Rugrats, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Martin Mystery don’t think this way about librarians.

This dress doesn’t take away from the fact that the librarian in Uncle Grandpa and the librarian in Rugrats are super kind [11] even though they are dressing conservatively. This is in contrast to the sadistic Ms. Hatchet in Kim Possible and the unnamed librarian in Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil or the strict shushing librarians Mrs. Shusher in The Replacements, Miss Dickens in Carl Squared, Ms. L in Dexter’s Laboratory, and a librarian in Martin Mystery. What they all have in common is what they are wearing fulfills what eHow has called the “classic librarian costume,” admitting it goes along with the librarian stereotype. [12] At the same time, how they dress may be about appearing professional and some of those libraries may even have formal dress codes.

Screenshots taken from fandom gallery of “Through the Looking Glass Ruins” episode of The Owl House; a Dutch nun in 1992 and a Hungarian priest in 1935

Even more simplified is Amity Blight in The Owl House, who is directly shown as a librarian in the episode “Through the Looking Glass Ruins”. As she travels into a dangerous/forbidden section of the library to help her friend Luz Noceda, she wears a library employee card in a lanyard around her neck, a black short sleeve dress, black point shoes, and orchid leggings. In the episode, she ties up her hair in a typical librarian style, as shown in the image above. She looks similar to those working in religious libraries, especially a nun or even a priest.

When I saw what she was wearing, it immediately make of something religious. Wearing the color black can express self-confidence, sensitivity, an attempt to impress someone, could indicate someone has a rebellious nature that doesn’t accept authority, exudes a person’s feelings of power and influence, and building walls to protect themselves. It doesn’t necessarily make you “part of a suspicious sect” or anything like that. Rather, wearing black-colored clothes can be classy, mysterious, or distinguished. More specifically, some have argued that wearing black can be slimming, elegant, sexy, chic, or even overbearing and evil. Most of the positive qualities are the reasons that Amity is watching it, as the wearing black-colored clothes can signal “a desire to reclaim one’s power.” [13]

Inter-related with this is the fact that librarian and library perform a specific role “in the language of fashion,” employed in phrases like librarian chic, conjuring imperatives and fantasies on librarians, their labor, and recognition. This centers “class-privileged white women” as the stewards of librarianship and space of the library itself. Furthermore, cuteness can compel viewers to place value on what is cute, worthy to be desired, protected, and cared for. As such, if Whiteness is seen as cute, it is devoid of its “power to inflict violence” and is not threatening. The latter is the case with Amity, as often seen by fans, as she is clearly attractive, delightful, appealing, or even clever and mentally keen, and is White. [14] In that sense, the styles of Amity and Kaisa are somewhat similar.

Amity is also a lesbian, something which I mentioned back in October. Like everyone else, lesbians internalize societal standards of appearance and weight, even though they were more critical of “traditional social norms” when it came to roles and rights of women. A large number saw physical attractiveness as “important in a partner,” even though such attractiveness was functional rather than a concern for looks like straight women. Not surprisingly, there is even a fashion style known as “lesbian chic.” [15] Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, archivist at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, argued that librarians are marginal due to enduring values just as lesbians are marginal, noted that lesbian is a sexual orientation and a “constructed political identity.” She also said that all lesbians may not be “equipped to be librarians” with a lesbian “subject specialty.” [16] Amity may not have that specialty, nor may she know nothing about lesbian herstory, lesbian separatism, or lesbian feminism, but she would provide service of a high caliber to patrons and fight lesbian erasure at the same time.

Like Amity, other librarians also have their own style. This includes Mo Testa in Dykes to Watch Out For, public librarian Myra in The Public, Sabine in Sabine: an asexual coming-of-age story, Desiree, Sara, and Sarah, her two work colleagues. The latter three characters are in Too Loud, an animated web series. Starting with Mo, a lesbian feminist and reference librarian, is described as a “worrier and kvetch extraordinaire” on the comic’s official website, she has a “penchant for striped clothing” just like the comic’s author, Alison Bechdel. This means that Mo is falling into the style of being “overly conventional,” and not as colorful as, let’s say, drag queens. [17] The same can be said about what Desiree, Sara and Sarah wear while working at the library. Their clothes falls into typical wear like cardigans, dresses, brown pants, and sensible shoes. However, when Desiree finally dresses up in more girly clothes during the episode “Slumber Party,” it makes clear what the now defunct Misfit Librarian’s Style Catalog blog tried to prove: that librarians are stylish people despite some a perception of the opposite. [18]

Myra and Sabine also wear simple clothes, but nothing that could be called “dated” or “conservative”. Sabine, even more than Myra, exudes a level of coolness as she is also a student as well as a part-time librarian at the college library. This is something that even the New York Times recognized years ago, noting that emergence of hip and cool librarians in a profession described as “nerdy” and a haven for “left-wing social engagement.” More than any of the other librarians in this post, Sabine is more trendy and fashionable, although not as dedicated to fashion trends as those like Sam, Alex, and Clover in Totally Spies! to give three examples. Very few of the librarians I’ve described in this post are those are either wear hair in a bun, wear glasses, or a cardigan, with librarians getting a bad rap for the latter. [19] Rather they tend toward being more stylish, especially in terms of Amity, who dyes her hair green (her original hair color is brown) and later lilac, and Kaisa, who has put purple streaks in her black hair.

Three screenshots of the unnamed librarian in the Totally Spies! episode. The last one is after she starts to become buff.

There are some exceptions, however. For instance, the librarian in Totally Spies episode (“Totally Switched”), who becomes “way buff,” as I wrote about back in March when I rewatched the episode. She wears a blazer, a collared shirt, has on glasses, and has her hair in a bun. This similar to how The images of librarians in cinema 1917-1999 displays librarians, or smocks worn by New Zealand librarians into the 1980s, while some librarians adopted corporate uniforms or t-shirts. [20] This unnamed librarian, likely voiced by Janice Kawaye, has an even more professional outfit. She doesn’t wear anything that invokes the problematic and is not a degrading sexy librarian stereotype. In her own way, she is classy and chic, or even cool. If she was an actual librarian, she would be among those which author and photographer Kyle Cassidy profiled in his 2014 photo-essay “This is What A Librarian Looks Like” for Slate magazine. [21]

Of the librarians I’ve named in this article, arguably the unnamed librarians in Rugrats, Uncle Grandpa, DC Super Hero Girls, and Kick Buttoswki all could be considered spinster librarians of some type, using the definition Snoek-Brown outlines. The same could be said for Violet Stanhhope, Mrs. Higgins, Rita Book, Miss Dickens, Ms. Hatchet, Mrs. Shusher, and Ms. L. Contrasting this would be Kaisa, Gabrielle, Marion the Librarian, Amity, Mo, Myra, Sabine, Desiree, Sara, Sarah, and even the unnamed librarians in Martin Mystery, Steven Universe, and Totally Spies!, who are all information providers. Most extreme is Francis Clara Censordoll, who is not anti-social, a failure, naughty, comic relief, or liberated. She is the librarian-censor. Some might say she is the anti-librarian since she stands against everything that librarians seem to stand for. However, as Matthew Noe, the ALA GNCRT President, pointed out in March, it is going to be hard “to put a stop to this massive censorship lobby harassing libraries and schools when we can’t even convince all library workers to stop doing censorship.”

On a stylistic note, some of these librarians have an aristocratic style, along with avant-garde and celtic styles. I haven’t seen any librarians with art deco, art nouveau, beach bum, beatnik, biker, black loli, babushka bois, bohemian, equestrian, flapper, heavy metal, hippie, hipster, punk, retro / vintage, surf, to name a few styles. Characters like Malkuth in the Library Of Ruina, a simulation game that followed the 2008 game Lobotomy Corporation would fall into the aristocratic and possibly avant-garde styles. I also haven’t seen any military librarians. The closest I’ve come to that are the characters in Library War. Such librarians would likely be bound, if they were in the U.S., by very specific grooming and personal appearance standards. [22]

Those librarians who work in public spaces, especially, would likely be pushed to accept the idea that you need to “dress for success” either with business casual or casual attire which is “smart.” This would be reinforced by the common perception in Western society that conflates appearance and health, affecting women, and leading to potential harm. This is made worse by the fact that unattractiveness leads to negative judgment from people. Such negativity can cause isolation, dieting, and emotional distress. Appearance, for humans, is “one of the most direct sources of information about other people.” In workplaces, there are additional stresses, like so-called “common standards of professional appearance,” which look down upon those with visible piercing and tattoos. This is obviously interlinked with the “societally sanctioned standards of appearance.” [23]

There are many librarian styles. Whether they are depicted in pop culture matters since real-life librarians exist and embody those styles. Furthermore, whether librarian styles in real-life translate over to pop culture, in animation, anime, comics, or elsewhere, is anyone’s guess.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Todd Honma, “Forward” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. ix; Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, “Introduction” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 2; Ian Beilin,”The Academic Research Library’s White Past and Present” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 83.

[2] I am putting aside the librarian in Futurama episode (“The Day the Earth Stood Stupid”), Librarian in Zevo-3 episode (“Zevo-3”), Librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“Return of the Dark Druid”), Librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“The Warlock Returns”), Librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“Return of the Dark Druid”), Librarian in Amphibia episode (“True Colors”), Librarian in Beavis and Butt-Head episode (“Cyber-Butt”), Librarian in Bob’s Burgers episode (“Y Tu Ga-Ga Tina Tambien”), Arlene in Phineas & Ferb episode (“Phineas and Ferb’s Quantum Boogaloo”), Librarian in Phineas & Ferb episode (“The Doonkelberry Imperative”), Librarian in The Flintstones episode (“The Hit Songwriter”), Librarian in The Owl House episode (“Lost in Language”), Unnamed librarian in Sofia the First episode (“Forever Royal”?), Librarian in Sarah and Duck episode (“Lost Librarian”), Librarian in Boyfriends, Lara in Action Comics, The Librarian in Detective Comics, Rupert Giles in Giles: Girl Blue, Skeezix in Guillotine Public Library, Barbara Gordon in Huntress: Year One, Ghost in Library Ghost, Crawley in Library of Ruins, Librarian in Meau!, Rabbi Rava in Monolith, Marten Reed in Questionable Content, Claire in Questionable Content, Rex Libris in Rex Libris, Suzie in Sex Criminals, Prysia in Smitty and Majesty, Lazurus Luca in Sword & Sphere, Daniel in The Library, Jane Case / Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman, as they either have minor roles or I haven’t read the comics enough to cover them here.

[3] Jessica Macias, “Looking the Part” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 113-5; Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, “Introduction” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 5; 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. 254-5.

[4] See Jennifer Snoek-Brown’s “Librarian action figure,” “Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’,” and “Stylish female reel librarians” for instance.

[5] Macias, “Looking the Part,” 118.

[6] “Dress Code,” UMW Libraries Public Services, accessed Mar. 15 2022; “Dress Code Policy…,” Adventures of a Misfit Librarian, Oct. 26, 2010; Comments on “Dress Codes” discussion on /r/librarians in May 2014; Comments on “Does your library have a dress code for librarians, aides, etc.?” discussion on /r/librarians in September 2014.

[7] See Comments on “Dress Codes” discussion on /r/librarians in May 2014 and Comments on “Does your library have a dress code for librarians, aides, etc.?” discussion on /r/librarians in September 2014.

[8] Alexa Newman, “Workplace Dress Codes – Does Your Library Have One?,” ALSC Blog, Dec. 28, 2017.

[9] , “How should I dress for a library job?,” Janetpanic.com, Dec. 19, 2019; Ruthann Robson, “Dress Code for Librarians,” Dressing Constitutionally, Jun. 7, 2013; Lisa Knasiak, “Dress Codes at the Library,” Public Libraries Online, Sept. 14, 2015; “The Ladies Of A Beautiful Mess Love Libraries…,” Misfit Librarian’s Style Catalog, Mar. 17, 2012; “Sister Style: Library Inspired,” A Beautiful Mess, Mar. 8, 2012; “Dotty The Librarian From Little Chief Honeybee…,” Misfit Librarian’s Style Catalog, Sept. 6, 2011; Kaelab Beauregarde, “Dotty the Librarian,” The Charming Life, Sept. 2011; “Library Date Dress From A Beautiful Mess…,” Misfit Librarian’s Style Catalog, Aug. 22, 2011; “The Library Date Dress: 3 Ways To Wear It,” A Beautiful Mess, Aug. 22, 2011; Molly Wetta, “What makes a work wardrobe?,” Librarian Style, Jun. 1, 2021.

[10] I can’t get a photograph as of now, but Ms. Herrera in the same Archie’s Weird Mysteries episode as Violet might be another character.

[11] These words are used by Angeline to describe her work outfit on her June 2011 post “The librarian ‘do [outfit]” on her blog The New Professional.

[12] Rachel Sawaya, “Ideas for a Librarian Costume,” eHow, accessed Mar. 15, 2022. They specifically outline options that follow the librarian stereotype, including, “a pencil skirt…for women…a pair of dark, formal slacks for men….a crisp, pale, high-necked blouse or collared shirt…[or] a dark vest with buttons..a tie or bowtie…for men. A plain silk scarf…for women. [or] a classic cardigan…stockings or pantyhose for women. [or] plain, dark leather shoes or ankle boots.” They also say that “classic items” include spectacles with thin rims, a small pile of books, hollowing out an old book, and “literary-themed accessories.”

[13] Here is What Wearing Black Says About You (and the 5 most common personality traits of these people),” iheartintelligence, May 28, 2020; Cassandra Sethi, “How to Wear Black,” ehow, Feb. 21, 2022; Ada Polla, “5 Rules for Wearing All Black Clothing,” HuffPost, Dec. 6, 2017; “What does black clothing symbolize?,” Colorbux, access date March 22, 2022; Cameron Wolf, “Study Confirms That Wearing Black Clothing Makes You Appear More Attractive, Intelligent, and Confident,” Complex, Aug. 28, 2015; bethany, “In Defense of Wearing All-Black,” College Fashion, Jan. 31, 2019; Ellie Krupnick, “14 Reasons Black Is The Only Color Worth Wearing,” HuffPost, Dec. 6, 2017; Brianna West, “The Psychological Reason Some Women Love Wearing All Black,” Thought Catalog, Jan. 30, 2022.

[14] 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. 122, 132; “Cute,” Dictionary.com, accessed March 22, 2022.

[15] Karen Heffernan, “Lesbians and the Internalization of Societal Standards of Weight and Appearance” [Abstract], Journal of Lesbian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 4, Oct. 12, 2008; “How to Dress Lesbian Chic,” Wikihow, Jan. 31, 2022.

[16]  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. 298-299, 301, 304. I’m not even getting into the somewhat problematic and strange idea that all librarians can be “lesbian librarians” even those who aren’t lesbian. I think she just chose the wrong term for it. Maybe “social justice librarian” or something like that would have been better.

[17] “Cast Biographies,” Dykes to Watch Out For Official Website, accessed March 22, 2022; Janine Utell, “The Comics of Alison Bechdel: From the Outside In,” University Press Scholarship Online, Sept. 2020; Michael Rhode, “Alison Bechdel at Politics and Prose bookstore,” May 4, 2012, Wikimedia Commons; Elizabeth Fernandez, “It’s just a drag, darling, but this is a big election,” F.M.I.: Female Mimics International, Vol. 20, No. 1, #57, 1990, p. 41. My favorite part of this quote was this: “Other critics offer a more unusual complaint: The contest has become overly conventional. Candidates nowadays resemble librarians more than drag queens, some say.” It made me laugh a lot as it says a lot about what people see as librarians.

[18] Molly Wetta, “What makes a work wardrobe?,” Librarian Style, Jun. 1, 2021.

[19] “Bookworms’ backs up,” Sunday Star Times, Jan. 31, 2009; Kara Jesella, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” New York Times, Jul. 8, 2007; Brytani, “A Study of Librarian Fashion,” The Intrepid Nerd, Oct. 6, 2011; Heather Slania, “Welcome to the Librarian Fashion blog!,” Librarian Fashion, Mar. 22, 2011. Slania is now the Director of the Decker Library at MICA and was formerly the Director of the Library at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

[20] “Library fashion slideshow,” New Zealand History, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, accessed Mar. 22, 2022; The Sassy Librarian has a tag on their website with stylish librarian outfits; Roberta, “Rounding Up,” The Chic Librarian, Oct. 18, 2013. Wikihow has a whole article entitled “How to Wear the Sexy Librarian Look” in which they describe it as “playing on the idea of a quiet library with a quiet librarian” with clothes like: “partially unbuttoned shirts, dark stockings, sexy heels, and red lipstick.” A perfect example of this is a cutaway gag of a librarian in a Family Guy episode where the librarian tries to act sexy but the man looks away.

[21] Kyle Cassidy, “About,” This is What a Librarian Looks Like, accessed Mar. 22, 2022; Jordan G. Teicher, “This Is What a Librarian Looks Like,” Slate, Feb. 11, 2014. There is also a Tumblr which ran from 2010 to 2020 which smashed stereotypes about what librarians wear, called “Librarian Wardrobe.”

[22] “Personal Appearance: Beards and mustaches in the US Navy,” Naval History and Heritage Command, May 7, 1963; Devon Suits, “Army announces new grooming, appearance standards,” Army News Service, Jan. 28, 2021.

[23] “Dress for Success,” Harvard University Facility of Arts and Sciences, Office of Career Services, accessed Mar. 22, 2022; Helen Monks, Leesa Costello, Julie Dare, and Elizabeth Reid Boyd (2021), “‘We’re Continually Comparing Ourselves to Something’: Navigating Body Image, Media, and Social Media Ideals at the Nexus of Appearance, Health, and Wellness” [Abstract], Sex Roles, 84, 221-237; Atefeh Yazdanparast Ardestani, “The Quest for Perfect Appearance: an Examination of the Role of Objective Self-awareness Theory and Emotions” [Summary], Aug. 2012, UNT Digital Library; D.J. Williams., Jeremy Thomas, and Candace Christensen, “‘You Need to Cover Your Tattoos!’: Reconsidering Standards of Professional Appearance in Social Work” [Abstract], Social Work, Volume 59, Issue 4, October 2014, Pages 373–375; Leslie J. Heinberg, J. Kevin Thompson, and Susan Stormer, “Development and validation of the sociocultural attitudes towards appearance questionnaire” [Abstract], International Journal of Eating Disorders, Jan. 1995; Oleg O. Bilukha and Virginia Utermohlen, “Internalization of Western standards of appearance, body dissatisfaction and dieting in urban educated Ukrainian females” [Abstract], European Eating Disorders Review, Dec. 21, 2001.

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“Shh!”: Examining the skeleton librarian Eztli in “Victor and Valentino”

Eztli shushes Victor with her extended skeleton arm

This post is a scary and spooky one for sure! I wrote this post specifically to appear right before Halloween on October 31st, and the beginning of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos), which is celebrated between November 1st and 2nd. Today’s post examines Eztli, the skeleton librarian in the Victor and Valentino episode “An Evening with Mic and Hun“, and is likely voiced by accomplished actress of Cuban descent, Jenny Lorenzo.

Let’s start with what she is wearing: she has a black dress with a white collar, a medallion around her neck, and horn-rimmed glasses. This seriously invokes the spinster librarian stereotype, as she has her hair tied up in a bun, even though that seems somewhat unnecessary. Her first contact with Victor and Valentino, the two protagonists, is to shush them with her extended skeleton arm. Val, often the rule follower, accepts this, saying “she’s a librarian, she wants us to be quiet.” Victor rejects this and she then scares them away by doing something that is the equivalent to yelling.

After they run away, she starts putting books on a cart with the extra skeleton arm, and is sitting at the information desk, with a stack of card catalogs behind her. I loved the part when she stamped on the book “Past Due Fee: One Soul.” That made me laugh a little. Val comes up with a plan, distracting the librarian by ringing a bell, annoying her. That is until a huge orb, looking a planet, falls down on the librarian and scatters her bones. Val is annoyed at Vic, as that wasn’t the plan, as he was supposed to swing down and grab the arm. Funny enough, Vic shushes Vic with the arm, they subdue one of the other people trying to get the arm of Hun, and flee the library.

While the scene in the library is only a little more than a minute long, there is a lot going on here. More than anything, the library and librarian can be portrayed with vintage looks because there is “something nostalgic about reading books” and possibly even gives the implication that the librarian career is outdated. [1] The latter seems to be somewhat true in this episode, as there are card catalogs behind Eztli at the information desk and a bell to ring sitting on the same desk. What Eztli is wearing seems more sinister, evil, and mysterious than classy, distinguished, slimming, elegant, sexy, or chic like the outfits that Amity Blight in The Owl House or Kaisa in Hilda, which are either partly or fully black in their color. I’ll focus on that topic in my post next month, “Beauty, dress codes, and fashion: Examining twenty fictional White female librarians,” so look forward to that!

Eztli behind the information desk with a wall of card catalogs behind her, while Val comes up to the desk

Eztli is not the only skeleton librarian out there. Mumm-Ra in the Fudêncio e Seus Amigos episode “Biblioteca Maldita” is a librarian/priest and an evil figure. He considered the librarian his own private domain, claiming that time means nothing to him. But, he can be tricked, as the  characters fool him into thinking that he has the real eye of Thundera after they destroy the actual one. Then there’s the librarian in an issue of the 1992 Detective Comics who is the enemy of Batman as he has a library of souls or the soul records in the webcomic 180 Angel. Beyond this, in the webcomic, Guillotine Public Library, a librarian named Skeezix a.k.a. Jonathan von Abendroth finds out that a patron, Lavii, is a skeleton/reaper, causing him to freak out. It turns out that this librarian is Lavii’s mentor, causing her some shock, and he tells her that if she tells anyone about him then she will lose her powers! They later catch-up and he gets her a library card. [2]

In Mexican culture, skulls represent death and rebirth, as a skull represents life and afterlife, while skeletons, in Mesoamerican cultures were considered a symbol of fertility, good luck, and the “dicotomy of life.” On top of this, there are decorative skulls known as calaveras which are often created with cane sugar put on altars (known as ofrendas) for Día de Muertos, with José Guadalupe Posada creating skeleton imagery like La Catrina beginning in 1910, with its influence still felt today. Skulls and skeletons in Mexican folk art also reflect a dualism of balancing forces, like life and death, and without that duality in all parts of life, then ‘the universe loses its equilibrium.” At the same time, Indigenous Mexican art is said to celebrate the skeleton, using it as a “regular motif,” with the festival of the Day of the Dead along with its iconography of skeletons and skulls becoming part of works by those like Diego Rivera and becoming a “celebration of uniquely Mexican identity.” Such art of skeletons and skulls is also meant mock death in a powerful way. This is relevant to Eztli as Victor and Valentino puts a spotlight on mythologies and folklore from Mesoamerican cultures like the Maya, Olmec, Aztec, and other indigenous peoples. [3]

In Victor and Valentino more broadly, some of the episodes completely or partially are from the underworld (also called The Realm of the Dead or The Land of the Dead), as a Latin American folk-themed show, and various characters like Mic, Hun, El Toro, Elefante, Moreno, and Alfonso all live there. There’s even a sarcastic dog named Achi who occasionally joins or pushes Victor and Valentino in their adventures on the surface or in the underworld. The show itself premiered two days before a local Day of the Dead ceremony. Victor is voiced by the show’s creator, Diego Molano, a former writer for The Powerpuff Girls and background designer for OK K.O.!: Let’s Be Heroes, among many other series, while he hoped that the show would be a “good lesson for kids,” making Victor a bit of a self-insert. The show itself was even described as a “richly designed homage to the folk art and traditional storytelling of Mesoamerica” and said to creating “digestible content” which is rated for kids. [4]

Keeping this in mind, Molono, through Vic, is saying he won’t be stopped or silenced on his path forward. Eztli may represent those forces which are trying to hold people back and need to be resisted. Perhaps this is reading too much into it, but it would not be too far-fetched considering that Molono voices Vic. The episode writer David Teas, storyboarder Kayla Carlisle, and story writer, Julie Whitesell, may be able to shed more light on the themes in this episode. Teas previously has worked on shows like The Casagrandes and The Loud House, while Carlisle previously storyboarded for The Adventures of Puss in Boots and Whitesell for many comedy and drama sketch shows since 2010, almost exclusively live-action.

Eztli puts a book that Vic dropped on the ground onto the book with the help of the extra skeleton arm

There’s another aspect which I noticed when re-watching this episode for the purpose of this post: the religious imagery and intellectualism exuded by this library. You can’t say that Eztli is a priest, but the library itself, which is hidden away in the underworld house of Mic and Hun, is a bit of a sacred space. Librarian Fobazi Ettarh has argued that the physical spaces of libraries have often been seen as sacred spaces, treated as sanctuaries by keeping people and sacred things, serving as a refuge or shelter. This idea, she argues, is based in the fact that original libraries were monasteries, with buildings meant to “inspire awe or grandeur.” This still holds true today as libraries continue to “operate as sanctuaries in the extended definition as a place of safety,” centering themselves as “safe spaces.” [5] This isn’t the case for this library, however, as it isn’t really a place safe for anyone, but more of somewhere that is hidden away, almost the private domain of Eztli which needs to be quiet (and orderly) no matter what.

This is in contrast to libraries that are safe spaces, like the public library shown in the independent film by Emilio Estevez, The Public. It is one of the first films I reviewed on this blog back in 2020, and which I am thinking of revisiting sometime in the future, even though that library does not inspire “awe or grandeur.”At the same time, libraries in shown in the series Ascendance of a Bookworm, What If…?, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, are all sacred in their own ways. Specifically, the library in the latter animated series is a refuge (and home) for the two dads of one of the show’s protagonists. This is also the case for the magical secret library known as Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne and the huge library at the center of Yamibou, which allows people to access worlds. I have further explained on this blog how libraries are shown as a “place of refuge” in the animated series RWBY, with one character hiding in the library to escape her controlling father.

Many libraries which I have mentioned on this blog in the past are grand, like those in Classroom of the Elite, Macross Frontier, Adventure Time, Revolutionary Girl Utena, RWBY, El-Hazard, Steven Universe, Equestria Girls, Sofia the First, Elena of Avalor, and Simoun, to name a few. One series which somewhat counters this is Hilda, which has a relatively ordinary library on the outside but has a grand inner chamber called “Witches Tower” which is under the library itself. This means that most ordinary patrons would never be in “awe” of the library.

Getting back to Ettarh, she says that if libraries are sacred spaces, then the workers would be priests, noting that the earliest librarians were priests, noting that the service orientation of the profession motivates many to become librarians. This means that librarians are seen as “nobly impoverished,” working selflessly for the community and “God’s sake,” having a calling, with “spiritual absolution through doing good works for communities and society.” She continues the librarians-as-priests comparison to argue that the primary job duty of librarians is then to “to educate and to save,” with the idea of creating an “educated, enlightened populace, which in turn brings about a better society,” meaning that librarians who do this “good work” are the ones who “provide culture and enlightenment to their communities.” This carries with it the expectation that “fulfillment of job duties requires sacrifice…and only through such dramatic sacrifice can librarians accomplish something ‘bigger than themselves.'” [6]

Eztli happily stamps a book with an overdue stamp, using the skeleton arm, saying that the person who gave her the book (Vic in a sense, as he dropped the book) has to hand over his soul!

In the case of Eztli, she is less of a priest than characters like Iku Kasahara, Asako Shibasaki, and many others on the Library Protection Force in Library War. They are a manifestation of librarians as those who sacrifice, fighting those who try and censor books, although this is always with the idea that the library is neutral and that the books will enlighten society. The same can be said about Aruto, Iina, and Kokoro in Kokoro Toshokan a.k.a. Kokoro Library who live in a rural library and get very few visitors, or Isomura in Let’s Make a Mug Too episode (“The Garden of Sky and Wind”), to give two examples. Perhaps the same could be said about Hisami Hishishii in R.O.D. the TV, Himeko Agari in Komi Can’t Communicate, Fumio Murakumi in Girl Friend Beta, and many other librarians out there in fiction. [7]

The library that Eztli presides over may have a tenor of sacredness, but she is no priest. She is more akin to the spinster librarians of other series, in that she shushes the two protagonists and wants the library to remain quiet. This library is no temple either. It may be dated in what it has, but perhaps this isn’t a surprise as I don’t even think that the series itself is set in the present-day, although I can’t be totally sure about that. She has to deal with disruptive, problem patrons, who don’t follow the library’s rules, and crush her body into many pieces. How is she supposed to do her library work if her information desk is smashed and her body is in pieces? We never get the answer to that, because Victor and Valentino go to the next room, leaving as quickly as they came in, on their quest to find the rest of Hun’s body before is too late, and beat any of the other skeletons trying to get the body first.

Although I could be hoping too much, I think it would be interesting if she returns in a later episode, maybe even as a ghost who haunts them. Who knows. There’s a lot of interesting storylines with her that could be done. In any case, she is unlike any librarian I have seen since, and I hope to see more skeleton librarians, whether her or someone else, in animated series in the future. Criticisms and commentary on this post are welcome in the comments below this post, which I vet to make sure that I can make sure comments from spammers aren’t published and to publish those comments which are genuine instead.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Brytani, “A Study of Librarian Fashion,” The Intrepid Nerd, Oct. 6, 2011.

[2] See episodes 1, 2, and 3, named “Skeleton in the Library“, “Chance Reunion“, and “Catching up”  respectfully. There’s also skeletons in the world of Hilda as an elderly patron, Matilda “Tildy” Pilqvist, checks out a book entitled “The Skeleton Whisperer”

[3] “what do skeletons represent in mexican culture,” lisbdnet, Dec. 20, 2021; Tom Swanson & Marianne Menditto, “So What’s With the Skeletons in Mexican Folk Art?,” PVAngels, Apr. 15, 2013; Gayle Trim, “Day of the Dead Sweets and Treats,” History.com, Nov. 2, 2012; “What’s Up with All of Skeletons in Mexican Art?,” Galeria de Ida Victoria, Oct. 26, 2017; “Why Are There So Many Skulls In Mexico ?,” Inspired Nomad Adventures, Oct. 8, 2017; Mary Jane Gagnier Mendoza, “Dia de los Muertos: the dead come to life in Mexican folk art,” MexConnect, 2003; ““La Catrina:” Mexican representation of Death,” The Yucatan Times, Dec. 8, 2017; Jonathan Jones, “Skull art is not a new idea,” The Guardian, May 2, 2008; David Agren, “Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival rises from the graveyard and into pop culture,” The Guardian, Oct. 27, 2019; Tracy Novinger, ““Catrinas” and Skeletons: Mocking Death in Mexican Culture,” Patzcuareando: Peripatetic in Patzcuaro, Oct. 28, 2007; Tracy Brown, “Spooky new cartoon ‘Victor and Valentino’ channels Mesoamerican folklore,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 30, 2019; “Animated People: Diego Molano, Creator of Cartoon Network’s ‘Victor and Valentino’,” Animation Magazine, Apr. 25, 2019.

[4] Carolina del Busto, “Jenny Lorenzo, AKA Abuela, Lends Her Voice to Latino Series Victor & Valentino,Miami New Times, Mar. 29, 2019; “Cómica y sobrenatural: habla el director de la nueva serie de Cartoon Network” [translated title: Comic and supernatural: the director of the new Cartoon Network series speaks], Culto, Apr. 20, 2019; Dylan Hysen, ““Victor and Valentino” is off to a Fun, Adventurous Start,”  Overly Animated, Oct. 29, 2016; Brown, “Spooky new cartoon ‘Victor and Valentino’ channels Mesoamerican folklore,” Mar. 30, 2019; Michael Betancourt, “Diego Molano Aims to Teach Mesoamerican Mythology to Latino Kids With Animated Adventure Series ‘Victor and Valentino’,” Remezcla, Mar. 30, 2019; Carlos Aguilar, “‘Victor & Valentino’ Art Directors On Designing Cartoon Network’s Mesoamerica-Set Show,” Cartoon Brew, Apr. 25, 2019; “Animated People,” Apr. 25, 2019.

[5] Fobazi Ettarh, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Jan. 20, 2018.

[6] She also says that considering the conjoined history of librarianship and faith, it is “not surprising that a lot of the discourse surrounding librarians and their job duties carries a lot of religious undertones. Through the language of vocational awe, libraries have been placed as a higher authority and the work in service of libraries as a sacred duty. Vocational awe has developed along with librarianship from Saint Lawrence to Chera Kowalski,” and says this idea has become so “saturated within librarianship” that Nancy Kalikow Maxwell can write Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship which details the connections between faith and librarianship while advising libraries to nurture the “religious image conferred upon them.”

[7] This includes Hamyuts Meseta, Mirepoc Finedel, Noloty Malche, and Ireia Kitty in Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra, along with unnamed librarians in Cardcaptor Sakura episode (“Sakura and Her Summer Holiday Homework”), librarian in Little Witch Academia episode (“Night Fall”), Yamada in B Gata H Kei, Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words, Fumi Manjōme in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers, Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, Anne in Manaria Friends, Grea in Manaria Friends, Hasegawa Sumika in Bernard-jou Iwaku a.k.a. Miss Bernard said, Sophie Twilight in Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood.

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academic libraries action adventure animation anime Comics fantasy Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries romance school libraries slice-of-life speculative fiction webcomics White people

From Lilith to Amity: LGBTQ librarians Shine Through

Today is National Coming Out Day, a day to celebrate the act of “coming out,” i.e. when an LGBTQ person publicly shares their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. In honor of that, I’d like to highlight some LGBTQ librarians I’ve written about on this blog, this year and years previously, and others on the List of fictional librarians that I put together in late 2021.

Lilith in Yamibou

She is the caretaker of the Great Library (after Adam), and travels through much of the series with a girl she has a crush on, Hazuki, going through book worlds, looking for Eve. The latter is later shown as another caretaker of the library, who loves Hazuki. Part of her duty is to make sure worlds within the books are secure, an interesting job as a librarian. Due to the fact she is one of the protagonists of this series, who has considerable knowledge and wisdom, it means that libraries are still a key part of the series.

Anne and Grea in Manaria Friends

Anne is one of the protagonists who is a soft-spoken girl, Princess, and honor student at Mysteria Academy, a prestigious magic school. Anne even ventured through the “forbidden” archives of the library in order to find something which would cure Grea of a fever. She and Grea appear to enter a relationship later on. Both work in the library as assistants, although not as full-fledged librarians.

Sophie Twilight in Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood

One of the protagonists of this anime, she drinks blood, but only when refrigerated, and she is shown weeding through her books in one episode. She has a refined appearance and liked going to comic book conventions. She brings in a high school girl, Akari, to live in her house, and appears to have feelings for her. Another vampire girl, Ellie, clearly is romantically attracted to her as well.

Fumi Manjōme in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers

In one episode, she weeds books and remembers her kiss with Sugimoto. Later in the episode, she later talks with other students about the role and influence the Literary Club has on the library. In another episode, Fumi and Sugimoto go to the library and kiss there. Ultimately, Fumi at least knows some library skills, in terms of weeding, which is an important part of library work.

Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!

She works at the school library at Astrea Hill, known as Maiden’s Garden, and is a member of the literary club. She looks up to her fellow students and undoubtedly has a crush on Nagisa, one of the show’s protagonists. She checks out books and does other library duties well and efficiently. The library is a key location in the series.

Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words

In the episode “Did You See the Rain?,” she serves as the librarian in this episode, while the Girls Club members go on a treasure hunt to find a message, coming in and out of the library throughout the episode. Later, Azuza joins them in their quest. Azusa is a studious person who reads during breaks and takes an interest in learning, perfect for a librarian. She is a fan of yuri and loves Masaka Orino, unaware it is Ushio‘s older brother.

Fumio Murakumi in Girl Friend Beta

Fumio and Erena

Although she was originally introverted and lonely, she got more friends after meeting Erena. She works at the school library. Erena appears to be the closest one to her and both may be in a relationship with one another, although its implied.

George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

They call themselves historians, but run a family library/archives/museum. in a magical forest known as the Whispering Woods They are Bow’s dads. They are two middle-aged men and help the show’s protagonists translate an ancient message in the Season 2 finale. In a later episode, Bow and Glimmer meet George and Lance who tell them about an ancient rebellion and fail-safe on a superweapon. This information  becomes vitally important going forward.

Desiree in Too Loud

Desiree with her sister, Sara, and Sara’s friends at a slumber party

She is a trans woman. In an episode which was supposed to end the show, according to series creator Nico Colaleo, she begins to explore her trans identity, as she had been a closeted in her usual workday. This episode, “Slumber Party Sneak-In” was praised by reviewers. Desiree works every day with her sister Sara and co-worker Sarah at the local public library, but has a voice which is so loud, hence the name of the series, smashing library stereotypes along the way.

Amity Blight in The Owl House

Luz and Amity blush at one another in the episode “Through the Looking Glass Ruins”

She is a librarian who works at the Bonesborough Public Library, is a witch, and a student at Hexside Academy. Over the course of the story, her relationship with a human witch named Luz Noceda develops and later they begin a romantic relationship.

Sabine in Sabine: an asexual coming-of-age story

Sabine working at the library desk in episode 115.

The protagonist of this webcomic, Sabine works in the local school library as a part-time job, beginning early in the comic. She a fully committed asexual girl who tries to make friends and not have any romantic relationships, just like the comic’s author. The later also implies that she is, as a result, aromantic as well as asexual. Not all aromantic people are asexual, and vice versa. She is still learning more about herself all of the time, while she majors in history. As the comic’s author stated, Sabine is unaware of her asexuality, and isn’t sure she is aromantic, just that she isn’t ready for sex.

Mo Testa in Dykes to Watch Out For

Mo and Sydney

As the protagonist of this comic, and later comic book, she is a graduate of library school who worked at a feminist bookstore named Madwimmin Books, and appreciated “literary connectivity.” She is a committed lesbian feminist who later gets a job as a reference librarian. She has a lover in college named Clarice, but her eventual partner is a woman named Sydney. The comic’s creator, Alison Bechdel, recognized she was a lesbian after checking out books from the library, stating that an apparent “a key characteristic of queer people [is]…shamed persons who are drawn to lonely stacks and secret research,” and she worked at the circulation desk as a librarian while she was a college student, influencing the comic itself. She also stated that Mo had been drawn into “the pitfall of vocational awe, believing that her public library job is a religious calling.”

Concluding words

It is undetermined if Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words is LGBTQ. You could also argue that Kaisa in Hilda, a feisty character with unmatched knowledge of mystical items and cemetery records, who is a mysterious witch, is asexual based on her color scheme. There will likely be other LGBTQ librarians in the future, since many anime series have characters who go into libraries. [1]

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This includes the Mysterious Library house base in Smile PreCure (an anime) and Marisa Kirisame frequently going to the library in Touhou Project (a video game). There are also apparent library scenes in Sono Hanabira ni Kuchizuke wo (a visual novel), Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka (Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka) (an anime), Himawari-san (a manga), Kimi to Tsuzuru Utakata (a manga), Maria-sama ga Miteru (a manga), Shitsurakuen (a manga), Kamitsure (visual novel), Märchen Mädchen (an anime), Flowers (manga), Roundabout of Yuri Hime Collection (collection),  Lyrical Nanoha, Yuri Shimai (manga), BanG Dream!, Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo (manga), Himewari-san (manga), Yuri Shimai (manga), Kyuuketsuki-chan to Kouhai-chan (Vampire-chan x Junior-chan) (manga), Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk and Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea (video games), Conflict Girl (visual novel), Watashi wa Succubus to Kiss o Shita (manga), Fuwafuwa Futashika Yume Mitai (manga), Please Be Happy (visual novel), The Caged Bird Sings Theme Of Love (manga), Sakura Sadist (visual novel), A Piece of Candy of Yuri Hime Collection (manga), Once on a Windswept Night (visual novel), Yuri Hime Collection (manga), The Three-Second Rule of Yuri Hime Collection (manga), Nuku Nuku Toshoiin (manga), The Three Second Rule of Yuri Hime Collection (manga), Man’in Chijo Densha 2 (manga), Nozomi Kanaetamae ~Daydream Reconstruct~, and Kohonya (visual novel), and Hanidebi! Honey & Devil (visual novel).

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

Miss Hatchet, Kim Possible, the complexity of library classification, and technocratic libraries

Recently, I began watching Kim Possible for the first time, apart from one episode: “Overdue.” I watched it before I began the series. When I first conceived this post, I thought that I would somehow change my opinion of Miss Hatchet. Long-time readers may recall I previously described her as a person who “rules the school library like a tyrant…[with] her own form of library organization.” After watching the episode, I feel no differently about her as I did before. However, I would argue that her character and the plotline says a lot more about libraries than I had previously guessed, meaning that Hatchet is more than a smorgasbord of librarian stereotypes, especially when it comes to library classifications of materials within libraries themselves.

There is no doubt that this librarian is “wound pretty tight” as Ron, a friend of Kim Possible, and series protagonist with her, remarks later in the episode. She has strict rules, like having a zero tardiness policy when it comes to overdue books. She has an enormous amount of power in the school as she is able to suspend Kim from cheerleading because she has an overdue book! Yikes. All the students seem to fear her and she acts like a villain throughout the episode, first by making Kim shelve stacks upon stacks of books based on her own, and more complicated, library classification system, known as the Hatchet Decimal System (HDS). Second, she takes away Kim’s communicator (equivalent to her cell phone) and makes her put adhesive labels on every book saying “property of MHS library.” In the end, Ron appears to come to the rescue, returning the book, but it turns out that this is the incorrect one, as it releases evil spirits which terrify her and cause destruction to the library. Her fate after that is unknown. Presumably, Kim and Ron save her life, although that isn’t shown on screen.

Even though she is one of the only Middleton High School staff employees shown in the show, Hatchet nothing much more than a basket of stereotypes harmful to librarians while acting like a supervillain of sorts, giving Kim busy work while in “library lockup,” as she calls it. Nothing about her is redeemable. However, I would venture that the episode is pointing to something more: the complexity of library classification. This has been an argument that has been rightly pointed out about the Dewey Decimal Classification system (DDC) have made in the past. This is despite the fact that this library classification system organizes to materials by subject. It can be hard for those who don’t know the intricacies of DDC, like ordinary library patrons, to understand how books are organized. [1]

In 2007, the Library of Congress warned of limiting the use of the number components field so that doesn’t become “confusing and complicated.” Some years earlier, scholars Luc Beaudoin, Marc-Antoine Parent, and Louis C. Vroomen described DDC as a huge and complex information hierarchy. [2] Additional classification systems have also been noted as complex. For instance, some said that the Library of Congress Classification System (LCC) [3] is more efficient and specific for new technical material and big collections but “more complex.” Others described the effort by Belgians Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, who used the DDC as a basis, to create the “complex multidimensional indexing system” known as the Universal Bibliographic Repertory (UBR). [4]

The Hatchet Decimal System on a book binding on the left and the DDC on a book bindings on the right. The latter is from this image on Wikimedia.

To come back to the episode, I would say that the focus on a classification system that Hatchet made by herself is meant to point to the complexity of library classification systems in general and how they can be confusing for ordinary people, in this case Kim. Her system is clearly more complex than the DDC and perhaps that is part of the point of this episode, which was written by Jim Peterson, directed by Steve Loter (who directs many of the episodes in the series), and storyboarded by Eugene Salandra, Jennifer Graves & Robert Pratt. It is incredible that Hatchet has enough authority that she can create her own system for organizing books in the library, which has become “her natural habitat” as it states on her short Kim Possible fandom page. Many librarians would not have that ability as their actions would be hemmed in by school administrators, school boards, national and state library associations, which have their own codes of ethics.

As Anne Gooding-Call has pointed out, “librarians of color don’t necessarily have the same support that white librarians enjoy,” with the MLIS and middling wages as a barrier to many. This is undoubtedly the case for Hatchet, who the school probably would have treated differently had she been Black, Latine, or Asian, for instance, as most of the librarian field is composed of White female librarians. She would not have the social support of other White people, even if the students feared her. In one way, the library that Hatchet occupies appears to be a white space, meaning somewhere that Black people may be reluctant to ask questions or use resources. On another, since students generally fear her, no one, of any race, may be asking her questions or for any help. Instead, they are presumably trying to spend the least amount of time in the library as possible, as they are afraid of her. I would even argue that if she wasn’t White, she couldn’t be as mean and menacing to the students, at least I would hope that would be the case.

Beyond this, there is no doubt in my mind that Hatchet obviously blatantly violates tenets 1, 6, 7, 8, and 9, at minimum, of the ALA’s Code of Ethics. This is not unique to her, as others are even worse offenders. [5] For instance, Francis Clara Censorsdoll in Moral Orel dipped “objectionable” books in kerosene and set them on fire. Cletus Bookworm in Rocky & Bullwinkle had no problem with an armed man taking two patrons of the library hostage. In fact, he encouraged their capture and applauded it. That’s just two of the most egregious examples I can think of, although there are many others. Gooding-Call says that librarians are mostly “sincere people who mean well…eager to grow and improve” who can become “vehicles of empowerment.” Hatchet does not seem to be this at all. Instead, she seems overly strict and harsh, not wanting to improve. She is the female equivalent of Steven Barkin, a former U.S. Army Ranger, who has a gruff, no-nonsense, attitude, and is abrasive with students in the series. Unlike Barkin, it is unlikely she has PTSD from wartime experiences.

There is the additional issue that the DDC system and other cataloging approaches were “designed in a racist and white-centered system,” [6] building upon my post in May about fictional acceptance of the DDC. Hatchet probably didn’t care much about this. Instead, what matters to her was lording this power over other people in a menacing way, or at least it appears that way. She says as much, as she declares to Kim that “There will come a day when you forget to return a book and I’ll be waiting for you.” It gives you the chills. Was she so self-centered that she created her own classification system? Did she care that DDC is, as Emily Ruth Brown points out, built around adult disciplines, is proprietary, and is negatively affected by changes in technology? We can’t know for sure, as she is a one-time character who never re-appears in the series. This isn’t surprising, given that Western animation has a habit of easily playing into librarian stereotypes, although this may be changing, with libraries shown much more positively in anime.

As I expected, not one person has written a fan fiction about Ms. Hatchet in Kim Possible on Archive of Our Own, even though it could make an interesting story to see things from her perspective. Clearly her actions toward Kim, and presumed other students, are irredeemable. Even so, she may be under a lot of stress as the only librarian of the entire Middleton High School library, at least the only one we see as the audience. If she had been trying to get Kim to do extra work, like shelving books, then this was definitely not the way to go about it. There are the other library scenes in the series, but she never re-appears. She is never given a chance to redeem herself or for the audience to see who she is as a person. She is just a bunch of stereotypes all shoved into one person. I admit that I may be reading too much into this 11-minute episode. At the same time, this episode may be more than what it appears to be on the surface and interconnects with issues surrounding library classification systems and even broader issues within the library field itself.

Ms. Hatchet pushes a book cart piled high with books
Ms. Hatchet pushes a book cart piled high with books

When I first composed and finished this post in later February 2022, my last paragraph was the end of the article. However, I see Hatchet’s classification in a new light after reading a chapter by Rafia Marza and Maura Seale about White masculinity and “the technocratic library of the future” in Topographies of Whiteness. Although she is no technocrat, and neither are any of those on List of fictional librarians I have put together for this blog as most are either “old-school”, “traditional”, or “magical” for the most part, her complex HDS is akin to technocratic ideas. Marza and Seale note that as information technology has become a bigger part of librarianship in the 1990s and 2000s, the White female librarian has been replaced by ideas from Silicon Valley, with “technological solutions” which will supposedly free us. They further said that such a focus on technology as a “solution to complex social problems” is central to technocratic ideas, which is characterized by its “impartial, apolitical rationality,” with those who are technocrats interests in politics rather than efficiency, thinking that technological fixes can be universal. However, this ideology is bound up in White supremacy because White men have historically claimed rationality and White masculinity has been able to function as the “universal form,” while it can only claim to be neutral and objective due to Whiteness. At the same time it upholds patriarchy as well. [7] This interlinks with the historic investment of libraries in Whiteness and faulty notions such as rationality, objectivity, neutrality, and neoliberal tendencies. The latter is promoted by two ALA initiatives: Libraries Transform and the Center of the Future of Libraries (launched in 2015).

Such initiatives, Marza and Seale argue, engage internet-centrism, an idea described by Morozov as the idea that everything is changed and there needs to be fixes, while technology is permanent, fixed, has an inherent nature, and possess agency as it exists “outside of history.” They are interconnected to technological solutionism, the idea that  all complex social problems can be neatly defined and have definite solutions or processes that “can be easily optimized,” even though this can undermine support for more demanding or stimulating reform projects. [8] This comes with the assumption that it is neutral and objective, even though it is anything but that. This is reinforced by a focus on digital and quantitative skills, with an individual and “entrepreneurial” worker as the default, who are often male and White, especially when it comes to those in Silicon Valley, who are used as a basis for these “necessary” skill sets. At the same time, care and emotion work, service work, manual labor, and so on are seen as “feminized labor” At the same time, libraries are seen as akin those businesses in the so-called sharing economy, with racial prejudice as ingrained in such an economy, and labor of people of color and White women not visible due to the emphasis on technology and de-emphasis on the labor behind the technology itself, with its deadly environmental and labor consequences. [9]

While labor of those causing the technological solutions to be workable is erased, so is any quiet or reflective work, like that portrayed in Kokoro Library, while fewer workers are told to take on more work, leading to burnout. Additionally, libraries are viewed as platforms, like the sites created by Silicon Valley, which ends up prioritizing monetization and obscures any libraries seen as “non-technological,” pay is low, and librarianship itself is devalued while technocratic ideology is risen, and the value of library degrees has declined while information technology is seen as even more paramount. This is only strengthened with a focus on “short-term results,” market demands, just-in-time services, efficiency, and “return on investment,” even as emotional labor of women and physical labor of people of color is needed to make sure libraries, and society as a whole, function. In the end, such technocratic ideas are embedded in systems of privilege, while technology itself is subject to the same inequities as the rest of the world, with a necessary situated and historic understanding of technology and librarianship, and ways that both of those concepts “intersect with dominant conceptions of white masculinity.” [10]

Hatchet clearly does not embody any of this technocratic ideology, nor has any librarian I’ve ever seen in any popular culture I’ve come across to date. However, her ideas would fit right in with today’s technocratic push in librarianship, with their own inherent complexity. In fact, if the episode was to be done again today, it would not be a stretch to see Hatchet using robots to shelve the books in their own complex way, or even sitting at her desk while she ordered a robot to snatch Kim and bring her to the library in punishment for an overdue book. That may be a bit extreme, but the point is that her ideas fit within those who espouse technocratic ideas about libraries at the present. Ultimately, I enjoyed reexamining this episode and I look forward to your comments, criticisms, and anything else you’d like to leave in response to this post. Until next time!

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Erin Sterling, “The Case of the Clunky Classification: The Elusive Graphic Novel,” May 2010, accessed February 25, 2022; Dewey Decimal System,” ScienceDirect, accessed February 25, 2022; “Information Literacy Tutorial: Finding Books,” University of Illinois Library, University of Illinois, LibGuides, Aug. 7, 2018, accessed February 25, 2022; Melinda Buterbaugh, “Lesson Three: Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) and Call Numbers,” Teach Me How To Dewey,” Hillsborough County, Florida, Dec. 13, 2017, Why I Would Use Dewey,” Technical Processes for Education Media, Oct. 29, 2011,

[2] Luc Beaudoin, Marc-Antoine Parent, and Louis C. Vroomen (1996), “Cheops: A Complex Explorer for Complex Hierarchies,” IEEE, p. 87; “MARC DISCUSSION PAPER NO. 2007-DP06,” Library of Congress, Jun. 6, 2007, .

[3] Not the same as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) which has “been actively maintained since 1898 to catalog materials held at the Library of Congress” and said to be the “most widely adopted subject indexing language in the world.” LCSH describes contents systemically, while LCC is a library classification system. Its also different from the Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN), a serially based system of numbering cataloged record.

[4] Robert McCoppin, “Who’s killing the Dewey decimal system?,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18, 2011, accessed February 25, 2022; Melvil Dewey and the classification of knowledge,” Science Lens, Dec. 10, 2012, accessed February 25, 2022; ; “How the index card launched the information age,” Multimediaman, Sept. 10, 2016, accessed February 25, 2022.

[5] Discounting the shushers, the most extreme include the librarian in multiple episodes of Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil, Rita Loud in a Timon & Pumbaa episode (“Library Brouhaha“), Mr. Snellson in a Mysticons episode (“Happily Never After”), Librarian in a Big City Greens episode (“Quiet Please”), Librarian in a Courage the Cowardly Dog episode (“Wrath of the Librarian”), and Bat Librarian in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode (“Mystic Library”).

[6] “Conducting research through an anti-racism lens,” University of Minnesota Libraries, University of Minnesota, Feb. 15, 2022, accessed February 25, 2022. Others have claimed that DDC can be reformed with librarians who have “deeply held values of equity, diversity, and inclusion” while others have pointed to racism within the DDC, by Dewey himself, noted Dewey was a sexual harasser and a clearly a bigot without any question. Even conservatives have pointed out that Dewey is ingrained in librarianship and there is no escaping him.

[7] Rafia Mirza and Maura Seale, “Who Killed the World?: White Masculinity and the Technocratic Library of the Future” within Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), pp. 175-177. They also say on page 175 that in the early 20th century, librarians participated in “civilizing” and assimilating the “tired, huddled masses into American democracy” as long as those people could become White.

[8] Mirza and Seale, “Who Killed the World?”, pp. 177-181. Libraries Transform describes itself as “spreading the word about the impact libraries and librarians make every day…[and] advocat[ing] for the value of librarianship” but the about page almost reads like a corporate webpage, and not surprising as Overdrive is the lead sponsor, with other big sponsors including Capital One, Dollar General, Biblioboard, and SAGE Publishing. The same can be said about the webpage of the Center of the Future of Libraries.

[9] Ibid, 181-5.

[10] Ibid, 186-192.

Categories
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.


Notes

[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.

Categories
comic books Comics fantasy Fiction genres graphic novels Librarians speculative fiction webcomics White people

Fictional Librarian of the Month: Mo Testa in “Dykes to Watch Out For”

Left to right, panels of Mo in episodes 1, 3, 8, 11, and 13

Hello everyone! This continues from the “Fictional Librarian of the Month” entries for November, December, January, February, March, April, and May, with this series focusing on fictional librarian every month, prioritizing those in currently shows, but also covering older shows, using entries from the “List of fictional libraries” from time to time. This month, I’d like to highlight Mo Testa in Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For. Here we go!

About the librarian

Mo’s official description describes her as a “worrier and kvetch extraordinaire, with a job at now-defunct Madwimmin Books on the side” which also notes that she has “since graduated from library school.” It was also said she has a “dedication to social justice combined with red and white striped shirts” and has two cats, specifically named Virginia and Vanessa.

Role in the story

Mo is a protagonist in this series, which became a “countercultural institution among lesbians and discerning non-lesbians all over the planet,” running from 1983 to 2008. In one comic, she applies for a job, but rejects it because previous librarian left as she disagreed with the Patriot Act, staying dedicated to her principles. She is later shown going to school, tries to remain informed, dealing with the death of her cat, and gets a library job. I love how the library was described as the “temple to the written word” in one comic as well.

Does the librarian buck stereotypes?

As a lesbian, she becomes a reference librarian and makes some personal calls at work. In the sense that she is White, female, and wears glasses, she falls into stereotypes of librarians. On the other hand, the fact she is passionate about her beliefs and this translates into her work as a librarian, and that stands against stereotypes.

Any similarity with librarians in other shows?

In some ways, she is similar with another librarian, Amity Blight, in The Owl House, who is a White woman and a lesbian. However, she is such a principled librarian which makes her unlike any other librarian on this blog, even more than someone like Kaisa in Hilda.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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

“Accosting Mary”: George Bailey and Real-Life Sexual Harassment of Librarians

Mary, in It’s a Wonderful Life, terrified when George demands that she remember them together. In this alternate world, George is basically a creep.

Since 1946, Mary Bailey, otherwise known as Mary Hatch Bailey, a character voiced by Donna Reed in Frank Capra’s now-acclaimed film, It’s a Wonderful Life, has been perpetrating the spinster librarian stereotype. I mentioned this, in my second post on this blog, as have many others, whether cultural critics in the popular press or librarians. They have described Mary as a “lonely,” “weak,” “unhappy,” “homely,” “unmarried,” and visually challenged spinster. When she appears in Pottersville as a librarian, the film portrays her as a “tragedy” and “undesirable,” clearly an insulting portrayal. [1] Others have gone further. They proposed that Mary is happy about being a librarian, that she is better off without George, or is the film’s hero. Apparently, Capra said if he did the film again, he wouldn’t have included the part about Mary as a librarian. [2] Some fan fiction writers even imagined Mary as a librarian, either as the “best librarian” in Pottersville, enjoying her time in a “quiet place” with its collections limited by the town’s directives, or as a supposedly “old maid” in the library. There is a deeper, darker side to the short scene of Mary’s time as a spinster librarian which is glossed over by critics: unwelcome sexual advances by George. It is something which connects to larger issues which librarians, especially women, face on a day-to-day basis.

Before going further, as a fair warning, this post will discuss sexual assault and sexual harassment. If you are triggered by that subject or you do not wish to read about it for one reason or another, please don’t read beyond this paragraph.

By the time George has met Mary, he is drunk. He’s been thrown out of a bar and into the world of Pottersville. He demands that people remember HIM, scaring the townsfolk. After Clarence, who is physically attacked by George, reveals that Mary is an “old maid” who is “just about the close up the library,” George rushes over the library. The “uncomfortable undertones” in this scene are made even worse in the one to come. Mary, who is minding her own business, meets a disheveled man, George, who calls out her name.

He chases her, grabs her arm, asking what has happened to “us.” She rejects him, telling him she doesn’t know him and to let her go. He is persistent. He declares he “needs” her, asks about “their kids.” She screams, runs into a bar, declares there is a “wild man” after her who is chasing her, a correct assessment. George thinks someone will remember him. She asks someone to stop him. People in the bar claim he needs to be in a straitjacket. He keeps declaring that Mary is his wife and she, as a result, faints into the arms of an older woman. A crowd of men have surrounded George and say that the police need to be called. Ernie the cop (seemingly the only cop in the town) arrives. George slugs him in the face and escapes. Ernie wildly fires his gun over and over in George’s direction in a gross, and unnecessary, act of police force. People scream and the scene ends.

That’s telling the whole one minute scene from the perspective of those in the town and from Mary. Perhaps you can say that Mary is “shy, furtive, non-trusting, and scared of men.” This is a change from her personality earlier in the film as “warm and funny and sweet,” as Jennifer Snoek-Brown has explained. Even if we acknowledge this, which I’m willing to grant, what was Mary supposed to do in this situation? George is, if you view it rationally and push away the movie’s narrative which tries to make us sympathize with him, being creepy. He is accosting her, i.e. to approach of speak to someone in an “often challenging or aggressive way.” She runs to ask others for help.

Some have argued that George molested Mary, meaning that he is making unwanted or improper sexual advances toward her, especially to force “physical and usually sexual contact” on another person. [3] Clearly, George should have left her alone. Considering he is a person who humiliated Mary in the real world of Bedford Falls and even brought her to tears in that world, is it any surprise he has an outburst like that in Pottersville? Its not. He is acting like an asshole, a role which Jimmy Stewart overplays a bit. [4]

You could argue, in George’s defense, that he wasn’t thinking of Mary in a sexual way. You could further say that he only harassed her by annoying and bothering her, and physically attacked her, i.e. harassment and assault. These arguments, however, don’t hold water. He saw her as something to fulfill himself as a person, as he was in love with Mary with all his heart, going beyond any sexual advances. She clearly told him “no” in uncertain terms and to get lost.

His actions were unwelcome and uninvited. He made physical contact with her by touching her and grabbing a hold of her. As such, his actions fulfill the other definitions of sexual harassment, like the one outlined by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, commonly known as EEOC. It is harder to prove that he engaged in sexual assault, as that involves “force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent.” Even so, you could make that argument. George’s actions fall into the category of unwanted sexual attention, although not gender harassment or sexual coercion. [5] Ernie never catches him, he gets away with it, and never suffers any consequences for his actions in any way.

Reportedly, according to Thom Yorke, the song talks about a drunk man who he tries to get attention of a woman he is attracted to, following her around. He later lacks this self-confidence, and feels he subconsciously is her. Not exactly a parallel to George Bailey, but I like the song, so it is here for that reason.

What Mary experiences after-hours, specifically after the library has closed, is not an uncommon experience for librarians within physical or virtual walls of a library. It begins with Melvil Dewey himself,  founder of the American Library Association (ALA) and creator of the Dewey Decimal System. He was a such a serial sexual harasser that he was even expelled from the ALA!

With the pandemic, librarians are experiencing more sexual harassment and intimidation than before. Sometimes, approachable and helpful demeanor is even misinterpreted as an invitation for sexual attraction. This makes librarians more reticent to speak out to the patron (or fellow librarian) or to their managers. Workplaces push librarians to act more approachable to patrons, resulting in librarians feeling uncomfortable after they are harassed, but have little time to process it as they must continue working. To be clear, librarians aren’t there to fulfill people’s personal fantasies, in whatever form those come in.

Some have even argued that managers are unaware of the severity or persistence of harassment. Others have advocated for anti-harassment policies and procedures, and for managers to emphasize the importance of personal safety of staff while standing against “any instances of sexual harassment.” [6] While such policies would be welcome, it can come with the assumption that all managers will be good natured and take claims seriously enough to prevent a toxic workplace. That is a highly unrealistic supposition which will in fact, put librarians in a dangerous spot. This is especially the case when harassment comes from co-workers and can be part of a toxic organizational culture in some libraries. [7]

Often, sexual harassment in libraries is “routinely downplayed, ignored, or outright rejected” as a reality. It is seen as a “woman’s issue” by male managers and administrators, with harassers facing no or few consequences. It then becomes prevalent and endemic due to interactions with the public and the workplace cultures, either as light or verbal physical harassment, including sexual advances. There can be “negative, creepy, disgusting, or frightening encounters” as well, causing librarians to be afraid or even angry. Harassment can be overlooked because many believe that the “unwelcome behavior…is not extreme or not physical does not count as harassment.” They might even think that people are just giving them “nice compliments” or that those harassing them are “harmless weird people.”

This is not unusual. Female-majority professions experience a “high degree of workplace sexual harassment from supervisors, coworkers, and clients.” In response, some librarians have recommended training, clear reporting processes, and changes in workplace culture. Unfortunately, too many libraries don’t have policies for “what to do about sexual harassment” or sexual harassment and sexual assault training. [8] All librarians should work in environments free from harassment. Employers are legally required to prevent a hostile work environment even if a patron harasses a librarian.

There are, added power dynamics at play between librarians and patrons when providing service to patrons in a library. This is an area where that has reportedly been a lack of discussion and research. Such harassment can, in the words of Karen Jensen “change the dynamics of a work environment” while men take offense to female passion at work. Such harassment is about, in her words, “anger and control and wanting to demean…making sure a woman understands her place in the world and at the work place,” even if this is perpetrated against men. It is a conversation which needs to be continued as the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) defends the right of patrons to “unfiltered internet access,” which includes pornography, in the words of James LaRue, formerly the OIF director. [9]

Such harassment is not the fault of any librarians or library workers. Something can be done to change the “culture of sexual harassment in the library,” as Kelly Jensen put it. There is responsibility to build a “toolbox of responses” and pull from if needed, to curb these behaviors. This includes protecting librarian colleagues, librarians, and what makes the library a “special place.” Women are the focus of harassment because the library field is female-majority, they are not the only ones harassed. Men and those of other genders are harassed as well, especially those who are LGBTQ or are people of color. [10]

In the end, even if you think that George Bailey didn’t sexually harass Mary, we can all agree, hopefully, that sexual harassment is wrong. Libraries should be a “safe place for every employee that walks through its doors,” treating each other with respect and professionalism. With soon-to-be-published books like Unwanted Interactions: Patron-perpetrated Sexual Harassment in Libraries, by Danielle Allard, Tami Oliphant, and Angela Lieu, on the horizon, this is bound to be a topic discussed by librarians, on Twitter and elsewhere, for years to come.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Chin, Elleanor. 69 Years of Slut Shaming: Spontaneously Deconstructing It’s a Wonderful Life,” Feministing, Jan. 27, 2015; Zeman, Marybeth. “Being a Librarian—It’s a Wonderful Life,” Public Libraries Online, Dec. 20, 2013; “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Holiday Film Reviews, Feb. 4, 2019; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” Reel Librarians, Dec. 14, 2016; Phelps, Rosa. “The perennial joys of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” Variety, Dec. 22, 2021; bibliothecario. “Libertine Librarian Comes to Broadway,” The Why? Libraries Blog, Apr. 15, 2009; Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “What Hollywood Gets Wrong (and Right!) About Librarians,” I Love Libraries, May 26, 2020; VanDerWerff, Emily Todd. “It’s A Wonderful Life shows the unending cost of being good,” A.V. Club, Dec. 21, 2012; Costello, Carol. “Is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ sexist?,” CNN, Dec. 20, 2017; Westbrook, Georgia. “Libraries and Librarians in the Movies,” Syracuse University School of Information Studies, Apr. 8, 2019; Lingan, John. “Water and Wonder,” The Paris Review, Dec. 14, 2012; Kamiya, Gary. “All hail Pottersville!,” Salon, Dec. 22, 2001; O’ Mahony, Ferdia. “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Dec. 29. 2021; Hesse, Monica. “Mary Bailey is the true hero of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” Anchorage Daily News, Dec. 24, 2021; Smith, Kyle. “Jump, George, Jump!,” New York Post, Nov. 25, 2007; Grondelski, John M. “Catholics Agree: It’s a Wonderful Life,” Crisis Magazine, Dec. 20, 2016; Sepulveda, Victoria. “I never wanted to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ again. Then 2020 happened.,” SFGate, Dec. 17, 2020; Wilson, Christopher. “What ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Teaches Us About American History,” Smithsonian Magazine, Dec. 16, 2021; Parker, Luke. “It’s A Wonderful Life: Everything That Changed When George Bailey Wasn’t Born,” ScreenRant, Jan. 6, 2020; Molumby, Deidre. “6 reasons why It’s a Wonderful Life shouldn’t be a Christmas classic as it’s a total downer,” entertainment.ie c. 2017; Atileno, Maria. “It’s a Wonderful Life: How Mary Lost Her Groove,” Pop Goes the Librarian, Dec. 30, 2012; McAllister, Ashley. “From the Library: The Librarian Stereotype on the Big Screen,” Bitch Magazine, Jul. 27, 2010.

[2] Kutner, Rob. “It’s a Wonderful Life: Top Nine Fan Theories,” McSweeney’s, Dec. 24, 2018; “According to Liberals, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is Now Sexist,” Conservative Zone, accessed Jan. 4, 2022; Thompson, Simon. “‘It’s A Wonderful Life’: Inside The Classic Holiday Movie And Why It Is Needed More Than Ever In 2020,” Forbes, Nov. 17, 2020; Hesse, Monica, “Mary Bailey is the true hero of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2021; Nero, Dom. “In It’s A Wonderful Life, Pottersville Actually Looks Way More Fun Than Bedford Falls,” Esquire Magazine, Dec. 24, 2019. Some have even asked if the film itself has multiverses or is a sci-fi film or said they like Mary as a librarian.

[3] McAllister, Ashley. “From the Library: The Librarian Stereotype on the Big Screen,” Bitch Magazine, Jul. 27, 2010; Marshall, Jack. ““It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics, Part 3,” Ethics Alarms, Dec. 5, 2011; Barreca, Gina. “The Problem with “It’s a Wonderful Life”,” Psychology Today, Dec. 18, 2021; Schneider, Dan. “A Defense Of It’s A Wonderful Life,” Cosmoetica, Dec. 25, 2005.

[4] Jamieson, Wendell, “Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 2008 (see page 1 here); Nero, Dom. “In It’s A Wonderful Life, Pottersville Actually Looks Way More Fun Than Bedford Falls,” Esquire Magazine, Dec. 24, 2019; Lipsitz, Jordana. “‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Would Be Different Today,” Bustle, Dec. 24, 2016. Some have even said that you could argue that in Bedford Falls, Mary is either “angelically patient or painfully submissive.” There is a fanfic which goes with the idea that George should have been more honest with Mary. Others have argued that George engaged in physically abusive behavior, or argued that George is a bit of perv (in the minds of those who put together the film’s TV Tropes page). One of the funnier pages was one which portrayed him as a criminal if he was caught for his financial crimes.

[5] These are definitions noted in a 2017 presentation by Amanda Civitello and Katie McLain entitled “It’s Not Just Part of the Job: Breaking the Silence on Sexual Harassment in the Library.” This presentation notes that unwelcome sexual advances and unwelcome touching are examples of harassing behavior.

[6] Beattie, Samantha. “Sexual harassment, intimidation, violence on the job worsened during pandemic, librarians report,” CBCOct. 2, 2021; Amanda Civitello and Katie McLain, “It’s Not Just Part of the Job: Breaking the Silence on Sexual Harassment in the Library,” 2017 Presentation; “Harassing Behaviors Handout,” Waukegan Public Library, Jul. 2017; magpielibrarian, “Please Don’t Say This to a Librarian,” The Magpie Librarian: A Librarian’s Guide to Modern Life and Etiquette, Jul. 9, 2012. There is are the stories of a librarian being sexually assaulted outside of a library in Darby, Pennsylvania, and a woman being assaulted outside a library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (also see here), along with stories of librarians being harassed in Waukegan, Philadelphia, and a library system in California. Don’t be taken in by that strange, anti-child porn site, i.e. SafeLibraries (librarians.cc), which is conservative and has some weird opinions, having it out for the ALA. I don’t care for defending the ALA, the views on SafeLibraries are a bit strange with a weird fascination with the idea that child porn makes people into sexual harassers but not that it could be something else instead? It is also a men’s rights activist site, run by Dan Kleinman, who opposes drag queen story hours and doesn’t seem to believe the idea that librarians should be trusted to filter and select for libraries. He was even sued, at one point, for defamation by the Chicago Library. Whether he is against “free speech” in libraries or not, he is clearly bad news, as a big defender of library filters on library computers.

[7] Valde, Kathleen S. and Henningsen, Mary Lynn Miller. “Facework in Responding to Unethical Communication,” International Journal of
Business Communication 2015, Vol. 52(4): 375, 398. The ALA says in their current guidance that “prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.”

[8] Jensen, Kelly. “Sexual Harassment In Libraries, Post-#MeToo: What Has and Hasn’t Changed?,” Book Riot, Apr. 8, 2019; Ford, Anne. “Stop Sexual Harassment in Your Library,” American Libraries, Nov. 1, 2017; Candice Benjes-Small, Jennifer E. Knievel, Jennifer Resor-Whicker, Allison Wisecup, and Joanna Hunter (2021), “#MeToo in the Academic Library: A Quantitative Measurement of the Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in Academic Libraries,” College & Research Libraries, Vol. 82, No. 5; Gomez, Filiberto Nolasco. “AFSCME Librarians Draw Attention to the Persistence of Sexual Harassment,” Workday Minnesota, Nov. 25, 2019; Jill Barr-Walker, Courtney Hoffner, Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco, and Nisha Mody (2021), “Sexual Harassment at University of California Libraries: Understanding the Experiences of Library Staff Members,” College & Research Libraries, Vol. 82, No. 2; Jensen, Kelly. “The State of Sexual Harassment in the Library,” Book Riot, Oct. 24, 2017. There hasn’t even been a “a keynote speaker headlining a conference which directly addresses sexual harassment in the library” as Jensen pointed out in Book Riot. And still, as the same article (written in 2017) says, the ALA has “no policies nor no guidelines available to members about protecting themselves from sexual harassment in the library.” Nothing has changed since then. There are even the case of a sexual harassment complaint filed by the executive director of the Ogdensburg Public Library against a city councilor dismissed because he “made the statement while as a city councilor…[and] is not subject to review by the state agency; and that the city’s decision about funding the library, as part of a government function,” meaning he can harass people if he is acting as a councilor. As Molly Osterag put it in her comic sharing how she was sexually assaulted by a man she knew, “I know this is not a story that is unique to me.”

[9] Taken to the extreme, this position would support people masturbating in a public library, which is wrong and disgusting. That shouldn’t be done in a public place.

[10] There are many posts on /r/libraries which talk about harassment (by patrons, especially men), a self-gratifying man, the case where librarians were sued by a man for “libelous comments”  (and they later retracted those comments, also noted here; also see here), and those preparing for a presentation about harassment of librarians (maybe one of them is Amanda Civitello or Katie McLain?)

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It’s All About That Kaisa: Analyzing the Breakout Witchy Librarian in “Hilda”

In recent years, librarians have become more prominent in animated series. Unfortunately, most of these librarians either only appear in one episode, like Wong and O’Bengh / Cagliostro in What…If?, and Mira and Sahil in Mira, Royal Detective, or are stereotypical and problematic. There are some exceptions. Librarians Sara, Sarah, and Desiree in Too Loud, Amity Blight in The Owl House, Naoufel in I Lost My Body, and Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm all defy stereotypes in their own ways. Apart from these characters, one character shines through. She has become one of the best depictions of librarians in fiction, especially in animation for some time. Her name is Kaisa. She is a casually gothic, witchy librarian in Hilda, an all-ages animated series. This article will analyze this character, noting her significance in representations of librarians in fiction.

Although Kaisa’s character only appears in six of the show’s 26 episodes – not even 23% of the series – she has become a smash hit among fans. She even appeared in three graphic novels by Luke Pearson that the series is based on: Hilda and the Great Parade, Hilda and the Nowhere Space, and Hilda and the Ghost Ship. There is a subreddit for her, which has over 180 subscribers, voluminous fan art, and cosplays!

Currently, fans have written over 90 fan fictions featuring her character on Archive of Our Own. The UK retail seller Forbidden Planet has shirts, keychains, and pins featuring the character. While Kaisa’s name is not revealed until the second season, she is based on the name of a Swedish actress with the same first name: Kaisa Hammarlund. As such, her voice is an “amalgamation of Nordic accents.”

Kaisa after casting a spell in the episode “Chapter 3: The Witch,” in the show’s second season, with Hilda and Frida alongside her.

Kaisa in the first season

In the show’s first season, she remains mysterious, only appearing briefly. She is still shown as having an unmatched knowledge of cemeteries, the dead, and mystical items. At first, she helps Hilda and her friends, giving them books of interest and anticipating their questions.

At one point, she reminds Hilda that reference books are not taken from the hidden special collections room. She gives Hilda, who is a bit snobbish in how she treats a reference book in one episode, the right materials so she can raise the dead! At the end of the season, she is shown outside the library, walking across the streets of the city of Trolberg. According to a new interview, Kaisa was supposed to have more scenes in this initial season, but the crew and producers weren’t sure how to develop her character at the time. Despite this, by the end of that first season, she had become a breakout star.

Kaisa in the second season

In the second season, which aired in December 2020, Frida and Hilda help Kaisa find a missing book, with all three of them fighting beasts and finishing challenges on their way. Although they eventually find the book, the committee of three witches chastise them for not turning it in on time (it’s over 30 years late at that point) and they are sucked into a void, where a monster awaits them. This was the beginning of an expansion of plot points from season 1.

While Kaisa uses her witch powers to try and save them, she is helped by Frida and Hilda. They give her the right book so she can make sure the void is subdued, and all three escape unscathed! After all of that, she is still grateful to an elderly patron and powerful witch who was her mentor, a person who is pleasantly surprised to see her as a librarian. She is later shown outside the library in the same season, fighting Tide Mice who can take over people’s minds.

Kaisa asks Frida and David about body swapping in the film

Kaisa in the new movie, Hilda and the Mountain King

Not surprisingly, Kaisa appears in the recent film, Hilda and the Mountain King, a continuation of the animated series. Although she only has a guest appearance, she has an important part in the film. Frida asks her for help in reversing a spell cast on Hilda which has made her swap bodies with a troll. At first, Kaisa agrees to help but stops when she realizes it wouldn’t work, having a “purely mechanical understanding of the situation,” as one fan put it. While Frida is annoyed by this, when she tries to use the spellbook anyway, it doesn’t work, as witch magic can’t be mixed with troll magic.

Kaisa is shown to be right all along, to the chagrin of Frida, and David, to a lesser extent. Reportedly, in early stages of the film’s development, the crew tried to incorporate Kaisa into the climax of the film. Acording to the movie’s director, Andy Coyle, the scene had Kaisa rebelling against the rule that witches shouldn’t interfere in a fight. Sadly, the scene was cut from the final film because of a “limited amount of screentime.”

Characteristics of the Trolberg library and Kaisa the librarian

The library where Kaisa works appears to be “ordinary” on the outside. It is grand inside, with secret passageways going through one special collections room after another. This ultimately leads to an inner chamber with a committee of three witches controlling the Witches Tower. There are so many resources that someone could stay there for hours and days, studying to their heart’s content. It is a magic library in more ways than one, and is amazing, as real-life librarians have recognized.

Kaisa explains why she can’t help Frida and David in the film

Kaisa is a principled librarian who likely has a MLIS degree and is an atypical librarian who has a life outside the library. Her portrayal fulfills what I’ve termed the “Librarian Portrayal Test.” She is twenty-something who wears headphones, like Kino does in Kino’s Journey, has a cassette player, and is skilled with magic. Despite this, Kaisa, like any librarian, is tasked with enforcing the roles. In one episode, she tells the show’s protagonists to “keep it down,” but never shushes them.

Her character has led some librarians to “feel seen” and others to note she used skills from her “previous career path” (as a witch) to save the day. Others have used Kaisa as a way to praise librarians more broadly. While some have said that her job isn’t as realistic as it might seem, some have countered this by saying that Kaisa and the series as a whole, communicates “very positive messages about libraries.”

She has a unique appearance since the series is in an intentionally nebulous time frame. It has a setting that is something familiar, something foreign. The series and the film was described by the director of Hilda and the Mountain King, to be set, vaguely, in the early 1990s. The series, and the film, are also inspired by Scandinavian folklore. This makes it no surprise that the two-leveled Trolberg library has “outdated” elements like library slips and card catalogs, along with “newer” elements like copiers. Despite this, it is abundantly clear that she has experienced burnout as a librarian. In one episode, she argued that patrons who borrow books are liable to return them, tying into the debate among librarians and libraries over the role of patrons.

Some have argued that Kaisa might be asexual, basing it on her character’s colors (purple, black, grey, and white), even though this supposition has not been confirmed, or denied, by the show’s creator or anyone on the show staff. If this is the case, Kaisa would be one of the recent depictions of LGBTQ librarians in pop culture such as Desiree in Too Loud and Amity Blight in The Owl House.

Undoubtedly, Kaisa will reappear in the show’s next, and final, season, which will go beyond the graphic novel series by Luke Pearson that the series is based on, and likely into new, and exciting, places. The season, which may premiere later this year, will likely be 13 episodes long, allowing for Kaisa to, once again, get a chance to shine in the animated series, serving as an important depiction of librarians in popular culture.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is post is reprinted from my guest post on March 9 on Reel Librarians.

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

The librarian weight-lifting while the spies look on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

Categories
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Books, Magic, and Representation: Libraries and Librarians in The Owl House

The Disney Channel young adult animated series, The Owl House, is known for its LGBTQ representation, voice acting, visuals, animation, and writing. Less recognized, however, is the fact that one of the supporting characters, Amity Blight (voiced by Mae Whitman), is a librarian. The library plays a significant role in the show, as well.

The show follows a teen girl named Luz who stumbles upon a portal to the magical world of Boiling Isles. The public library in Bonesborough, the largest town in the Boiling Isles, appears three times in the show’s first season. In the episode “Lost in Language,”  Luz travels to the library to return a stack of overdue books. There are signs to stay quiet, and the librarian (Fred Tatasciore) shushes Luz for being “too loud,” making it clear that the library is a place for study.

Amity counters these notions. She displays the importance of reading and the library as a welcoming place for everyone by reading to children. The rest of the episode involves Luz trying to become better friends with Amity, even teaming up with Amity’s mischievous siblings, Emira and Edric. Luz and Amity later work together to fight off a book monster, which Amity’s siblings forced her to create.

The episode has some fun visual gags, like the card catalog for the Demon Decimal System (a play off the Dewey Decimal System). There are also books about cyclops, extinct birds, ancient texts, including those with funny titles like Quacks Eats Snacks, Barely a Duchess, Pride and Pythius, and Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome. There’s even a poster aimed at witches, saying the library lets them “get learned at the stake.”

The library in The Owl House is organized like other libraries. It has reading and children’s areas, a reference section, and books floating in the air, along with sections for manga, graphic novels, fiction, non-fiction, adventure, and romance. Alluding to feelings between Luz and Amity, a hidden hideaway for Amity can be found behind the library’s romance section.

While it is funny to see a librarian get exasperated when he thinks there is no difference between fiction and non-fiction, Luz, Emira, and Edric, are clearly disruptive patrons. Especially when they disturb librarians shelving materials or cause card catalog cards to fly onto the floor. It’s no surprise when all three get kicked out of the library, with the librarian claiming that they make reading “far too fun.”

The library briefly appears a few more times in the first season. In the episode “Sense and Insensitivity,” a party for the sentient demon King (Alex Hirsch) is held at the library. And a publisher offers Luz a chance to be a writer while walking in the library stacks later in the episode. In “Understanding Willow,” a flashback scene shows Amity and a former friend, whom Amity slowly reconciles with over the course of the series. In “Witches Before Wizards,” Luz and King travel to a castle where a wizard lives with his personal library of many volumes. The library is also seen in the closing credits of the show’s first season.

The library returns

In the show’s second season, the library returns in “Through the Looking Glass Ruins,” as does Amity, who is now a librarian. Manifesting library energy, she wears a library employee card in a lanyard around her neck. The official description of the episode states that Luz and Amity journey into the “most dangerous section of the library,” leading enthusiastic fans to chatter about the episode even before it aired. Some even drew fan art of Amity as a librarian.

In the episode, Luz learns that another human has donated a journal to the library and asks Amity for help finding it. Luz is hesitant to involve Amity, but her friend rejects this and puts her job on the line to help find the book. For Amity, helping Luz is even more important than keeping her job; it is the ultimate sacrifice for a patron. At one point, Amity grabs Luz and declares “We’re getting that diary!” She goes above and beyond her role as a librarian, and acts as a very good friend.

Amity and Luz successfully find the journal, but a mouse —who happens to store memories of book pages it has eaten—has eaten a portion of it. Amity’s boss, a mysterious librarian named after the demon Malphas (Fred Tatasciore), catches them in the act. He eventually fires Amity because she entered the library’s “forbidden section,” showing the power of library management over rank-and-file librarians.

Feeling bad for Amity, Luz goes through a series of “trials,” including fighting monsters, to help get her friend’s job back. Amity is forever grateful and boldly kisses Luz on the cheek, surprising her and bringing them closer together. There is also a cute scene that bucks the shushing librarian stereotype where Luz and Amity shush each other in hopes of not getting caught.

Fan theories

Fans have theorized that the head librarian in The Owl House resembles a character from the video game, The Legend of Zelda. Others posit that Amity resembles an older version of the witchy librarian, Kaisa, in animated series Hilda and that she gives off vibes similar to Star Wars character Sabine Wren. Despite such similarities, Amity, as a lesbian woman, has the distinction of being the most prominent LGBTQ librarian in a currently airing animated series.

There have been other LGBTQ characters who are librarians in animated series, such as George and Lance, who ran a family library in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power; Desiree, a closeted trans woman, in Too Loud; and Mo Testa, a lesbian and librarian with a MLIS degree, in Alison Bechdel’s comic series, Dykes to Watch Out For. There are many LGBTQ librarians in anime, as well, such as Lilith in Yamibou, Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words, Fumi Manjōme in Sweet Blue Flowers, and Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, to name a few.

Like George and Lance, the fathers of a show protagonist in She-Ra, Amity is more than a librarian—she’s a full-fledged character. Her job as a librarian is only one aspect of her life and her portrayal fulfills all three tenets of the Librarian Portrayal Test.

Since that episode, Luz and Amity have made their relationship official, and the pairing was even one of the top ships on Tumblr last year. Hopefully, in the second half of Season Two airing later this year and in the show’s upcoming final season, the library will reappear and the show will continue to highlight the importance of libraries and librarians for people of all ages, especially young adults.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is reprinted from I Love Libraries, where it was published on January 14 of this year. I had originally titled this “‘Get Learned at the Stake’: Libraries and Librarians in ‘The Owl House'” but Phil Morehart, who I worked with at I Love Libraries for all of my articles there, proposed a new title, and I like this title better.