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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.

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Examining Isomura, a librarian-curator in “Let’s Make a Mug Too”

The library inside the ceramics museum in Let’s Make a Mug Too

Recently, when watching some currently airing anime series, I stumbled upon the slice-of-life 2021 anime, Let’s Make a Mug Too, otherwise known as Yaku nara Magu Kappu mo, which is based on a manga series of the same name, about high school girls making pottery together. With that, I was taken off guard when in one episode, “The Garden of Sky and Wind,” the protagonist, Himeno Toyokawa, visits a local ceramics museum with her teacher and the curator brings them inside to a library! Not expecting to see a library in series, so it made me very happy and more excited to keep watching it. In this post, I’ll examine the scene inside the library and whether the curator is a librarian, or not, and how this connects to libraries more broadly.

Early in the episode, the adviser of the Pottery Club, Mami, tells Himeno about the museum in Tajimi for local works behind the school is adding a section for youth pottery, hoping to inspire Himeno. They gather materials together, go up to a climbing kiln, and Himeno finds an interesting, majestic sculpture in the woods. Later on, Himeno and Mami meet Isomura, a woman who is from city hall, discusses plans to use the local museum space, until the year before when there was agreement to make it a youth pottery museum. Isomura explains that the monument was created by Tokigawa Himena, who happens to be Himeno’s late mother, a well-known pottery maker! This makes Isomura very excited (she geeks out), especially since Himeno is making pottery of her own, and notes how Himena’s sculpture was instrumental in the decision to keep and repurpose the building.

We then see the library in all its glory, with a screenshot of it shown as the beginning of this post, with Isomura laying out materials for them, noting the materials the museum collected. Himeno is excited to find, with encouragement from Isomura, her mom’s drawings and photographs of the ceramics she made, allowing her and her teacher to bond. Later, Isomura shows Himeno an article where her mom explained the sculpture project, reading her part of the article, making her connect with her mother that much more!

It seems evident to me that Isomura, is undoubtedly a curator, which the Dictionary of Archives Terminology defines as an “individual responsible for oversight of a collection or an exhibition” or the “administrative head of a museum or collection,” adding it often carries the connotation of an “individual who selects items based on artistic merit or connoisseurship.” More than that, she is a librarian, although not in the way of those in public libraries, as the museum has a special library which is geared toward those interested in ceramics. It is, as a public institution, open to the public, but only those in the town and makers of ceramics would come there. She seems to know where the materials are on the shelves very easily and with ease, making me think that she has been there before and likely helped organize the materials in the first place, continuing to shelve books and other records throughout the day. She is so nice, and cheerful, in contrast to many others in animation who are librarians:

I LOVE the attention to detail in this shot, like the call numbers. Is there a place like this in Tajimi? I think its definitely a possibility

Sadly, her character is uncredited from the listings on the official website and on Anime News Network. Isomura appears to be the only curator of this museum. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, “in small institutions, one curator may be responsible for many tasks, from taking care of collections to directing the affairs of the museum.” That seems to be her role, rather than a museum technician or conservator, as the fact she is coming from city hall seems to indicate she has some position of authority in the museum, rather than someone lower on the hierarchy of this local museum. But, maybe I’m reading into that too much? Anyone who has watched this episode and has a different interpretation of her role, I welcome them to chime in.

The two roles of “librarian” and “curator” can overlap, so much so at times that there are even blogs, albeit dated ones like this one which ended in 2008,  and a page on the Liturgy Institute London website about “library curators.” Of course, librarians and curators don’t have the same roles, for sure, but it appears that Isomura shares characteristics of both roles, all into one position. In fact, some curators directly oversee special collections libraries, and others work for libraries, like those who work for the Library of Congress.

I think it can definitely be said that Isomura is a librarian and as such, she is unique, because most of the Japanese female librarians noted on my list of fictional librarians are much younger, whether high school age or younger. [1] My guess is that Isomura is in her 20s or 30s. So that makes her a unique character in and of itself. And her experience in the museum inspires Himeno to make a sculpture the next day which is similar to what her mother made.

This has to be my favorite episode in the series and while I’m not sure if the library, or Isomura will continue, I have to say this one of the most positive depictions of libraries and museums that I’ve seen in a long time, with the Isomura being helpful, friendly, and courteous to her patrons, unlike many other librarians in animation. And that is laudable to say the least. I’d like hear your comments on this, including those which watched this series. Did you interpret her character the same way? What were your thoughts?

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This includes Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm, Hisami Hishishii in R.O.D. the TV, Yamada in B Gata H Kei, Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words, Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, Fumi Manjōme in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers, Anne in Manaria Friends, Grea in Manaria Friends, Lilith in Yamibou, Iku Kasahara in Library War, Asako Shibasaki in Library War, Fumio Murakumi in Girl Friend Beta, Hasegawa Sumika in Bernard-jou Iwaku a.k.a. Miss Bernard said, Himeko Agari in Komi Can’t Communicate, Aruto, Iina, and Kokoro in Kokoro Toshokan a.k.a. Kokoro Library. While the age of Lilith in Yamibou is not known, the unnamed librarians in Cardcaptor Sakura episode (“Sakura and Her Summer Holiday Homework”), librarian in Little Witch Academia episode (“Night Fall”), are likely the same age while Sophie Twilight in Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood is older. The same can be said, I think, about Hamyuts Meseta, Mirepoc Finedel, Noloty Malche, and Ireia Kitty in Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra.

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A Lack of Imagination: Fictional Acceptance of Dewey Decimal System Without Question

Fiction is a medium which allows people to question and challenge existing norms, beliefs, and systems of our world. It provides the opportunity to create new places, characters, and situations, which might mirror the real world, but are something entirely new, even if that is inspired by existing fictional works. Despite this, there seems to be a profound lack of imagination when it comes to the well-known library classification system, the Dewey Decimal System (DDC), in fiction. Instead, there seems to be an acceptance of this system  of classification at face value, without challenging the values and beliefs which undergird the system. This is the case for animated series like Futurama, Ascendance of a Bookworm, The Owl House, Teen Titans Go!, and We Bare Bears, a comic associated with Steven Universe, and fan fictions. This article will look at those fictional works and provide comments on DDC and other library classification systems.

In the Futurama episode “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” one of the Big Brains remarks that humans had doomed themselves by arranging knowledge by category, making it “easier to absorb.” He then declares that the DDC played right into their hands, laughing maniacally. In an episode of Ascendance of a Bookworm, Myne, the anime’s protagonist, advocates for re-organizing all the books in a temple library using the NDC (Nippon Decimal Classification) system, which is the Japanese version of the DDC, which she remembers from her previous life. Although she can’t organize all the books, she is able to make sure the books are more ordered than elsewhere they were before. She even had a PSA on the role of Melvil Dewey, argues later about the importance of giving away books for free rather than for profit, and industrious.

In contrast, the public library in The Owl House, the Bonesborough library, has something called the Demon Decimal System, which spoofs the DDC. It has a sign saying to not feed it, reading areas and books floating above the ceiling you can choose from. In Teen Titans Go!, when Raven complains it will take forever to find a book in the library, Beast Boy asks her if she is familiar with the Dewey Decimal System. In We Bare Bears, a branch of the San Francisco library is shown which uses the Library of Congress classification system (LCCO) and DDC numbers. In a comic associated with the Steven Universe series, Connie tells Steven that you find things in the library with the DDC. This confuses him because he thinks Mayor Dewey (the mayor of Beach City) organizes the books with math. Connie then declares that, no, it is referring to Melvil Dewey, who invented it in 1876, allowing books to be organized by topic, which impresses Steven.

Mind map style of DDC classification. Reposted from “The library, and step on it

This fealty in fiction is not limited to animation series. Fan fictions about Marvel, Supernatural, Person of Interest, Royal White & Royal Blue, Simon Snow, Carry On Series, The 100, Brothers & Sisters, The Flash, Wheel of Times, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Music Man, and Stargate Atlantis characters have parts about the DDC which is stated as a fact and not questioned. The same is for fics about characters from the Schitt’s Creek, The Avengers, BTS, Game of Thrones, Final Fantasy XIV, Genshin Impact, Teen Wolf, Haikyuu!, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Sherlock Holmes, and Batman fandoms. [1]

It makes sense that the DDC is used and referenced in fiction, including by those writing stories who are librarians. It can cement a story in something that people deal with day to day. Even so, there are some stories which buck this trend. For instance, there is a Good Omens fic with character saying “I go by category…Dewey’s system might have worked well for public libraries, but it’s laughable for my collection.” There’s even an explicit Schitt’s Creek fic describing the DDC as “a needlessly complicated system designed by a misogynist and a racist” and a Criminal Minds fic which calls the system “sadistic.” Another fic has Levi Ackerman of the Attack on Titan describes it as an “an important system that has organized the world’s knowledge for centuries” and then explains why specific books are categorized in certain sections, stating to a stranger:

…books on domestic skills like cleaning and dinner etiquette used to always be grouped together with topics on women. As if domestic spaces are inherently gendered. Of course, that’s no surprise, seeing as how Melvil Dewey was a well-known sexual harasser of women. The groupings were changed once people realized this bias, but if you think about what that says in terms of who is pushed towards certain knowledge…the system has an effect on — or at least is representative of — how we bias our knowledge…Another example is the categorization of LGBTQ topics. Did you know queer discussions were originally labelled under the numbers 132 and 159.9?…They were categorized under mental derangements and abnormal psychology…Yeah, well. It switched around to the 300’s — sociology — and skipped around from social problems to social deviations. A lot of libraries still use those labels today. But the most current one is 306.7, sexual relations.

I don’t believe the author of that fic is a librarian, but they do say in the author notes that they spent two hours learning about the DDC, and shared a link about homophobia in the DDC, which is an article by Doreen Sullivan entitled “A brief history of homophobia in Dewey decimal classification.” I wish there were more fics like that, [2] as too many seem to accept the DDC on face value.

Comes from an interview Berman did with Tina Gross of St. Cloud University in 2017. Berman was known as a cataloger, and librarian, who directly challenged mainstream views on librarianship, including criticizing LCCO subject headings, describing them as biased in terms of race, sex, etc. and described poor cataloging as a form of censorship. Others have followed in Berman’s footsteps, especially when it comes to terms about immigration.

There has been a move, as of late, to challenge the DDC and make changes. Some have noted that Dewey himself harassed four female librarians, and that there is a “push to slowly shift away from some of Dewey’s overtly biased categorizations comes amid a greater effort to decolonize—or build racially equitable—libraries in general,” hoping to be more inclusive of “voices of color, to highlight diverse perspectives, and to decenter whiteness,” a process which isn’t easy and can’t be done immediately, but is a “thoughtful, continuous process.” School librarians, as an article put it, “dismantling Dewey one section at a time,” creating new library sections, having a library with social justice objectives not only in “the labeling, but…the display and the promotion,” making spaces inclusive, but not having one approach for everyone, even creating sections for specific ethnicities if needed. [3]

There are others who have criticized DDC rightly. It has been described as an “outdated mess,” is flawed, racist, sexist, and does not work. Additionally, politics about rights for immigrants, Indigenous people, and women are not classified under history, Black and African culture are pushed “into smaller and smaller boxes,” and LGBTQ content is marginalized. Some have added that DDC does not make reading exciting, noted that there are other ways of organizing information which is concerned more with substance of knowledge than structure, allowing for very little “creative interpretation of the classification.” [4] Even those who favor DDC admit that squeezes subjects which don’t fit into the 10 main categories into a division called “others,” “bias towards Protestant/American aspects prevalent in both the history and religion disciplines,” and that, among other aspects, that it is “not as easily expandable” as LCCO. These issues with DDC put into question whether it can really be an effective means to “organize all knowledge” as the Dewey Program at the Library of Congress (LOC) claims on their website, especially since it reflects Dewey’s worldview imposed on everyone else from beyond the grave.

Although LOC says that DDC is the “most widely used library classification scheme in the world,” there are many other classification systems out there, apart from those based on DDC [5] or LCCO. It is nothing new. Dorothy B. Porter, a Black female librarian who worked for Howard University, pushed aside DDC, classifying works by genre and author to “highlight the foundational role of black people in all subject areas,” with these areas being “art, anthropology, communications, demography, economics, education, geography, history, health, international relations, linguistics, literature, medicine, music, political science, sociology, sports, and religion,” creating a classification system which “challenged racism…by centering work by and about black people within scholarly conversations around the world.” Porter helped build Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, which “remains one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of African-American history in the world” according to one article on the subject. [6]

Furthermore, there are other non-proprietary classification systems apart from DDC which not the only classification system that all libraries, which some have incorrectly claimed. For example, some have expanded the main categories in their libraries, with a flexible, child-centered, browsable system, known as Metis, even ditching author cutters on the book spines, while others have gone the bookstore-model which is word-based instead. [7] There’s the Bliss bibliographic classification system which is used by British libraries and is said to be based around societal needs (and created by a critic of DDC), and S.R. Ranganthan’s colon classification system used by libraries in India which uses 42 main classes “combined with other letters, numbers, and marks” somewhat resembling LCCO. Of note is the Chinese Library Classification (CLC) system, also known as Classification for Chinese Libraries (CCL) which is used in China, which has 22 major categories and a Marxist orientation from its earlier editions (first published in 1975), along with over 43,000 categories in total. The Brian Deer Classification System, otherwise known as BDC, is said to reflect an Indigenous worldview with “an emphasis on relationships between and among people, animals, and the land.” [8]

Courtright as quoted in a Dec. 2017 HuffPost article

I’d love to see more fiction about this and building off this rather than blandly including DDC in their stories and then moving on, without challenging it. It seems like weak writing without substance to me. Why can’t there be characters similar to Reanna Esmail, a outreach and engagement librarian at Olin Library at Cornell University, who criticized DDC and LCCO for being racist? [9] Is it that many of the librarian characters are White or that the ones writing the stories are White and they don’t think about these issues? Sure, there were some stories I found which challenged DDC, but far too few. There should be many more. Personally, if I have an opportunity, I would definitely try and incorporate inclusive library classification into a story.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] See “Dewey Decimal System” (Nov. 12, 2020) by nepenthe_writer, “The Dewey Decimal System” (Feb. 16, 2018) by justanotherbusyfangirl, “The Dewey Decimal System of Love” (Aug. 10, 2018) by orphan_account, “The Dewey Decimal System Will Always Save You” (Jul. 25, 2016) by strawberriesandtophats, “The Dewey Decimal System, and Other Love Languages” (Sept. 28, 2019) by HMS Chill, “Lessons on Love and the Dewey Decimal System” (Dec. 25, 2020) by effing-numpties (avenging_cap), “The Dewey Decimal System is Not That Hard” (Nov. 4, 2016) by Musiclurv, “Shelving” (Apr. 13, 2013) by romanticalgirl, “the beauty of a thousand variations” (Aug. 14, 2015) by super-gingerholly, “Universal Knowledge: A series of Dewey Drabbles” (Jan. 24, 2010) by whenrabbitsattack (Maya), “Card Catalog” (May 1, 2020) by primeideal, “Four Letter Words in Purple Prose” (Dec. 19, 2020) by CelticxPanda, “The Proper Classification of Lovemaking” (Dec. 10, 2019) by MarianneGreenleaf, “Take My Hand” (Aug. 5, 2018) by BeccabooO1O, “MarianSue: An SG-15 Sex Fantasy” (Aug. 29, 2011) by delphia2000, “The Contractual Obligations of Loving Patrick Brewer” (Jan. 17, 2020) by paleredheadinascifi, “Hayalci” (Feb. 4, 2013) by purpleshrub (Viola25), “840” (June 19, 2012) by pollyrepeat, “check me out” (May 29, 2019) by constellatte, “The Stapler Thief” (July 21, 2017) by WauryD, “Sumire” (March 7, 2021) by CelticxPanda, “And Now I Know My ABCs” (Aug. 11, 2019) by semantics, “Electric Love” (Oct. 25, 2020) by winstonsfolly, “Operation: Stileswatch” [Chapter 2] (Mar. 1, 2014) by antpower, “the dragon, the witch, and the mistakes we made along the way” (Nov. 2, 2018) by crocustongues, “That Notable Librarian” (Mar. 1, 2021) by LizzieMack, “And so beguile thy sorrow” (May 26, 2021) by hapax (hapaxnym), “Quiet in the Library” (Sept. 30, 2018) by sharkinterviewee, “In The Library” (Aug. 1, 2016) by Quesarasara, “How To Make A Photopoetry” (Mar. 18, 2021) by pilongski, “when he sees me” (June 3, 2021) by asteriasera. This includes the main fics I found when searching for the DDC here and with the tag (which includes 10 fics).

[2] One fic talks about an equivalent to the DDC and another even set a fic at a place that Dewey founded, criticized how the system is portrayed, or used as background information. Even Hermoine, in one fic, says that the library should be organized using DDC! In another, it is stated that a shelving system is “not based on the Dewey Decimal system or any other human invention.”

[3] See Christina Joseph’s “Move Over, Melvil! Momentum Grows to Eliminate Bias and Racism in the 145-year-old Dewey Decimal System” Aug. 2021 article in School Library Journal.

[4] See Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla’s “The Trouble with Dewey” Oct. 2019 article in School Library Journal, and Isadora Lumbert’s “Melvil Dewey Day: Examining the Problematic Roots of the Dewey Decimal System” Dec. 2021 article in Video Librarian, Colin Ainsworth’s “5 Controversial Facts About Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System” Dec. 2018 article in Mental Floss, Sarah Hume’s “Challenging DDC – an introduction” Sept. 2015 article in Hack Library School, Anna Gooding-Call’s “Racism in the Dewey Decimal System” Sept. 2021 article in Book Riot, Something is rotten in the Dewey Decimal system” on Care Harder, and Michelle Anne Schingler’s “How Dewey Do: Head-Scratching Library Categorizations” Aug. 2015 article in Book Riot.

[5] The DDC trademark is owned by OCLC (operated WebDewey) and is supported by the aforementioned LOC Dewey Program. I’m specifically referring, when I say other classification systems to Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), Korean Decimal Classification (in Republic of Korea), the New Classification Scheme for Chinese Libraries (in Taiwan), the Nippon Decimal Classification (in Japan), and the Swedish library classification system (SAB system).  The BBC’s Lonclass system is based on UDC, which itself is reworking of DDC, while Freinet classification is based on DDC, Iconclass based on DDC, the Moys Classification Scheme based on LCCO, the National Library of Medicine classification system based on LCCO, and the Sears List of Subject Headings based on DDC. We don’t need to celebrate Dewey Decimal System Day either, NYPL.

[6] For more information on Porter, see her NY Times obituary, the “Dorothy Burnett Porter Wesley: Enterprising Steward of Black Culture” article in The Public Historian, Laura E. Helton’s article “On Decimals, Catalogs, and Racial Imaginaries of Reading,” “Dorothy Porter Wesley papers” at Yale University, “Dorothy Porter Wesley papers, 1867-2002” at Emory University, “Dorothy Porter Wesley (1905-1995)” on BlackPast, “Dorothy Porter Wesley Collection” at Broward County Library, “Dorothy Porter Wesley: Librarian, Bibliophile, and Culture Keeper” blogpost, “Dorothy Porter Wesley: preserver of Black history – Afro-American librarian” page in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Katisha Smith‘s “13 Pioneering Black American Librarians You Oughta KnowBook Riot article (notes, other than Porter, Charlemae Hill Rollins, Clara Stanton Jones, Edward C. Williams, Eliza Atkins Gleason, Sadie Peterson Delaney, Annette Lewis Phinazee, Carla Diane Hayden, Effie Lee Morris, Mollie Huston Lee, Virginia Lacy Jones, Virginia Proctor Powell Florence, and Vivian G. Harsh), Washington Post obituary, “Initiative Named for Dorothy Porter, Dewey Decimal De-Colonizer” article in Ombud, “HISTORY: Library Science Pioneer Dorothy Porter Wesley Created Archive at Howard University that Structured New Field of Africana CollectionsGood Black News article, “What Dorothy Porter’s Life Meant for Black StudiesThe Weekly Challenger article, and mention within “Mitigating Bias in Metadata: A Use Case Using Homosaurus Linked Data” article.

[7] See the Sept. 2012 article by Tali Balas Kaplan, Andrea K. Dolloff, Sue Giffard, and Jennifer Still-Schiff, entitled “Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?: Libraries Nationwide Are Ditching the Old Classification System” in School Library Journal and Schuyler Velasco’s “What are public libraries for?” May 2019 article in Experience Magazine.

[8] There is even a classification for Chinese language materials in the U.S., called the Harvard–Yenching Classification system. LCCO used that system and had some its top categories based on the Cutter Expansive Classification system and revised their classification due to a focus on geographical aspects by Bartol Brinkler. LCCO is not the same as DDC in terms of how categories are organized, although there are similarities. There’s also the industry-friendly BISAC Subject Headings, which book publishers would love. UNESCO has their own specific nomenclature as well, while Canadian Subject Headings follows LCCO’s subject headings, music items in the University of Buffalo Music Library classified by original medium, i.e. Dickensonian Classification, the Garside Classification Scheme which was modeled around the “subject reading rooms” into which the collection had been divided, trying to “utilise the expertise of the departments, and their teaching needs in drawing up the divisions within the scheme,” the Superintendent of Documents Classification system developed by Adelaide R. Hasse which relies on “the origin of the document (its provenance) as the major organizing feature, rather than an arbitrarily determined subject,” the Information Coding Classification system which is said to present “a flexible universal ordering system for both literature and other kinds of information, set out as knowledge fields,” the Putnam Classification System which was developed by George H. Putnam, a “handwritten system of classification, dividing the books into categories and subcategories” (likely with shelfmarks), Social History and Industrial Classification system which is used by “many British museums for social history and industrial collections,” and the U.S. Geological Survey Library classification system which was first developed in 1904.

[9] See Maya Rader’s “Cornellians Confront Anti-Asian Racism at Virtual Teach-In Event” May 2021 article in Cornell Daily Sun. She also said libraries have a “fraught history of being complicit in racism and in some cases upholding and disseminating racist ideas” and should be accountable for that and argued that “libraries are predominantly white fields, and Cornell is no exception in this regard,” both of which are correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
action animation comedy fantasy Librarians Libraries White people

Uncle Grandpa and the “terrifying” 12 cent late fee

Uncle Grandpa and Mr. Gus, in a UG-2000 model robotic RV, crash through the bookshelves and into the library
Uncle Grandpa and Mr. Gus, in a UG-2000 model robotic RV, crash through the bookshelves and into the library. On some level, it made me chuckle because they are making sound in a big way despite the fact there are “be quiet” signs posted. I think this sequence was definitely meant to be comedic, smashing down those “quiet library” tropes/stereotypes you could say

A while back, I watched an episode of the Cartoon Network series, Uncle Grandpa, titled “Back to the Library” where the protagonist’s friend tells him to return a book to the library and he does so, but upon learning the fee is 12 cents, he totally freaks out and tries to do what he can to stop himself from checking out the book in the first place, even traveling back in time over and over. Although I wrote an entry for the episode in my page listing animated series with libraries and librarians in animation, I never ended up writing a post on this blog. I’d like to remedy that with this post, which aims to examine the episode as a whole, which is a wild ride.

First, for a summary of the episode. Uncle Grandpa’s friend, Mr. Gus, tells him to return a children’s book, Lil’ Ducky’s Farm, annoyed he read the book 300 times in a row, saying there are “plenty of children in the community” who would also like to read the book. Uncle Grandpa ultimately agrees. He ejects from the van, smashes the front door of the library, stunning the patrons (a young White man, a young White woman, and a young Black man), and ends up at the information desk. The old, and unnamed, White female librarian [1] asks if he needs help, he returns the book, and she looks at the book slip, telling him the book is one week overdue. Upon learning the late fee is 12 cents, he spits out his drink, and is shocked, not wanting to pay the fee, finding it outrageous. He freaks out as he doesn’t know where he will get the money for this fine.

As a result, Uncle Grandpa does the extreme: he travels back in time, trying to remedy this. However, he still fails, as he gets distracted reading the book with his other self. He takes the book back, but the late fee, is again, 12 cents. So they both travel back in time to convince his previous self to return the book, and try to grab the book from his past self. Unfortunately, the book gets ripped in the process. One of the best scenes is when the bus crashes through the library with and the “please be quiet” sign hangs in front of the vehicle. The librarian sees the damaged book and tells them to pay 12 dollars, leading the Uncle Grandpas to fight with one another, until another one shows up and tells them they need to travel back in time to stop himself from ever checking out the book in the first place. The four Uncle Grandpas see the past Uncle Grandpa and try and take the book from him, leading to a chase in the library, and fights over the book. Ultimately, one of the Uncle Grandpas returns the book in the book drop, saying it belongs “in the trash” while another Uncle Grandpa puts junk into the book drop. As a result, the librarian sighs, dismayed by the whole occurrence, especially having two patrons fight in front of her, and having all the stacks in the library fall over, a patron literally be killed. A library nightmare! To avoid this from happening again, Uncle Grandpa vows to never enter the library ever again, until he is enticed to go back by Uncle Gus.

Librarian sighs after seeing the one Uncle Grandpa stuff pizza and a "big gulp" shake into the book drop slot
Librarian sighs after seeing the one Uncle Grandpa stuff a sandwich and shake into the book drop slot. Her expression is definitely a mood, for sure, for how many feel about annoying people in libraries.

There’s a LOT to break down here in this 11-minute episode. Apart from books being used as narrative devices through the episode, I loved how there are sections for “Teen vampire,” “fiction” and “fanfiction” all next to each other, along with one titled “Books for Bald People.” Apart from that, what about the librarian’s actions? Even though her voice actor is uncredited, and is likely Grey Griffin according to the listing for the episode in IMDB, I have a lot to say about this librarian.

For one, this librarian clearly embodies the stereotypes of librarians being old, White, wearing glasses, and having grey hair. What she is wearing is relatively conservative, and she is never shown leaving her chair during the whole episode. Even so, despite the signs posted in the library, she is never shown, once, shushing them, unlike the librarian in an episode of another Cartoon Network series, Steven Universe, who was later redeemed. On the other hand, I have to question her imposition of an overdue fee in this instance. The librarian could have had him read in the library or do some volunteer work there to help out, as I remember a library I worked at did. If that was too much work she could have just waived his fee since it is relatively small anyway. I have to ask why a 12 cent fee is even necessary. Is it even worth their while? Why can’t this library go fine free? That, of course, won’t be answered in this episode.

Furthermore, the librarian is relatively passive in the the face of utter destruction, almost seeming to be chained to her chair. She doesn’t do, what the curmudgeon librarian does in an episode of DC Super Hero Girls (another Cartoon Network series): eject Uncle Grandpa (and his time clones) for library destruction. On the other hand, she might feel afraid of all the Uncle Grandpas, wanting them to “fight it out,” rather than intervening. This fear is evident from her facial expression at one point:

Librarian starts to get worried when the Uncle Grandpas begin fighting one another
Librarian starts to get worried when the Uncle Grandpas begin fighting one another

There is one thing that is clear: Uncle Grandpa would easily fit within the definition of what some call a “problem patron,” especially when he and his clones fight with each other in the library. This goes above and beyond some snobbishness by Hilda in Hilda, when she leaves a book face down on the copier while she reads the page she photocopied. [2] There are many definitions of so-called “problem patrons,” with the articles I looked at for this paragraph linked in a footnote at the end of this paragraph. Some have noted that staff at the circulation desk should be try to be calm and courteous, noting that most patrons should calm down, but for those out of control, there needs to be a policy for such people.

Others have said that “problem patrons” are library users who interrupt “the normal operations of the library,” engage in illegal activities, harass staff or other patrons, talk loudly, interfere with work of the staff, deface library property, having public sex (cruising), and removing materials from the library without checking them out. It can also include thieves, hoarders, stalkers, trespassers, squatters, and many others who engage in “problem behavior.” However, some have argued, rightly, that the term itself is problematic, as it can be applied in a discriminatory way to the homeless or even those who are gay, trans, and that it is important to distinguish between patrons who are “truly problematic” to homeless people who are a nuisance. [3]

In the case of Uncle Grandpa, he was definitely engaging in some problematic actions. At the beginning of the episode he crashed through the glass door and came into the library, with shattered glass on the ground. In another timeline, he crashed his bus into the library, resulting in even more damage to library property. In yet another timeline (the final one) he fought with his time clones, caused the library stacks to fall over and smash apart, and disgustingly one his time clones stuffed food and drink down the book return slot.

The first time we see the librarian in the episode.
The first time we see the librarian in the episode.

While the smashing of the door and ruining the book return slot is terrible, the fact he fought with other patrons and literally destroyed portions of the library is disruptive and problematic on many levels. He should probably have to either pay the costs of the repairs, or do work in the library alongside the library as a volunteer a la what the librarian, Miss Dickens, told the protagonist, Carl, to do in Carl Squared, to give an example. The latter would probably be the most fair in his case. Although I called her “passive” before, the question remains: was she improperly trained or followed bad service practices? Due to the fact she is a one-off character, we can’t answer that question, but we could speculate. I personally don’t think she is what some call, according to LISWiki, defunct as of July 2019 [dead link] due to a lack of participation, a “troubled librarian,” which refers to librarians with improper training or engaging in “bad service practices.” Rather, I believe that she hadn’t dealt with this issue before and was unsure of how to handle it. Of course, that is just speculation.

There is something she cannot be considered “passive” on: applying library fines. This applies whether to an overdue fine or fines for a damaged book. She seems relatively adept at that. This is a common theme among librarians throughout animation I have watched so far. Generally librarians are shown as very strict about enforcing rules, often shown in an excessive way. On the whole, I’m not sure whether the librarian in this episode is harmful or helpful, but just is. She is just there and through some of her actions, librarians may find her relatable, while in others they may not. I say that because she does not embody the general stereotypes of librarians, in terms of having their hair tied up in a bun, being strict with patrons, shushing people, etc. That is not shown in this episode. Instead, she seems tired, almost like that librarian in an episode of We Bare Bears, and exhausted. Maybe she deals with people like Uncle Grandpa every day? We will never know.

One more question to answer before I end this post: would the episode work without the stereotypes embodied in this librarian depiction? I think the crux of the episode relies on the fact that Uncle Grandpa doesn’t want to pay the fine and the librarian being a bit miserly, so I’m not sure it would completely work in a different form. However, the episode could have been changed so that the librarian was perhaps younger, not White, and more helpful. Unfortunately, that is not a direction that the writers of this episode decided to go.

Librarian expresses her disappointment when she sees that Uncle Grandpa has brought back the book... ripped in half! She was totally right to make him pay for the damaged book.
Librarian expresses her disappointment when she sees that Uncle Grandpa has brought back the book… ripped in half! She was totally right to make him pay for the damaged book.

That’s all for this week’s post! Until next week! I’m going back through old shows I watched in the past, like Hilda, Cleopatra in Space, and Too Loud. I may write about them or maybe a new series. We shall see what happens. In any case, I will try and make sure there’s at least one post on this blog every week about librarian depictions in popular culture.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] There is also a character named Huge Librarian, appearing in “Prank Wars” who punches Mr. Gus after Pizza Steve lied and told him that Mr. Gus was making noise in the library.

[2] This is a line taken out of my post for I Love Libraries reviewing the librarian in Hilda, which I tentatively titled “The importance of libraries in the “Hilda” animated series,”and I described her as a “problem patron.” I am actually glad these lines were removed because when I looked into what this term means, Hilda definitely wouldn’t fall under this at all, not in the slightest.

[3] Rach, “Basic library procedures: Circulation functions,” Living in the library world, Dec. 18, 2008; Rach, “Handling problem situations,” Living in the library world, Jan. 11, 2011; “Addressing Challenging and Disruptive Patron Behaviors,” Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association, accessed October 10, 2021; Patience L. Simmonds and Jane L. Ingold, “The Difficult Patron in the Academic Library: Problem Issues or Problem Patrons?” [Abstract], The Reference Librarian, Vol. 36 (no. 75-76), 2002; Polly Thistlethwaite, The Homosexual’ as Problem Patron,” The Reference Librarian, Vol. 36 (no. 75-76), 2002; Julie Murphy, “When the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few: the “legitimate” versus the homeless patron in the public library,” 1999, Julie’s Pages, accessed October 12, 2021; Karen Pundsack, “Customers or Patrons? How You Look at Your Library’s Users Affects Customer Service,” Public Libraries Online, Mar. 2, 2015; Susan H. Martin, “Streakers, Stalkers, and Squatters: Dealing with Problem Patrons,” Tennessee Libraries, Vol. 56, No. 2, 2006; Ruth Harries, “5 Strategies for Dealing with Problem Behavior,” INALJ, Mar. 10, 2015; Michele Frasier-Robinson, “Problem Patrons,” INALJ, Feb. 12, 2014; “Problem Patron,” LISWiki, Apr. 2, 2018; Kim Hallquist, “Problem Patrons in the Public Library: Can Anything Be Done?,” New Hampshire Municipal Association, May 2011. Vol. 36 of The Reference Librarian in 2002 also has many other articles related to this topic, either about “problem patrons” in general, whether you have one in your library, those in public libraries, in British libraries from 1850 to 1919, difficult library patrons in academia, personal safety, patrons with mental illness, difficult patrons, so-called “lessons” from the business world, angry library users, coping with difficult patrons, front-line defense in academic libraries, and partnership with campus police (don’t like where this is going).

Categories
adventure comic books Comics Fiction genres Librarians Libraries public libraries White people

Redemption of the librarian shusher…sort of: Steven, Connie, and the missing books

Connie and Steven in the library in the cover of this comic, setting the stage for the comic

In the past, I criticized the unnamed librarian of the Buddy Buddwick Public Library, in the Steven Universe episode “Buddy’s Book,” specifically for shushing Steven and Connie, three times in the same episode! However, I also noted in April that there was a comic “where Steven learned the organizational power of librarians,” with the librarian not shushing them, being helpful, and Connie even lamenting that “all the powers of bibliographical organization” failed her. So, I set out to read this comic, known as Issue #36 which came out over a year ago on January 22, 2020, over seven months before I started this blog, in July 2020. [1] Spoilers for those who haven’t read this comic, as I’m gonna summarize what happens and then give my thoughts.

In this comic, written by Taylor Robin, illustrated by S.S. Mara, colored by Whitney Cogar, and lettered by Mike Fiorentino, focuses on libraries, as made clear from the comic’s cover, part of which is shown above. The story begins by Connie and Steven traveling to the library again, with Steven saying he had so much fun, Connie wanting to find a new series by the author who wrote the Unfamiliar Familiar series. Steven wants to find Buddy’s book again, and Connie gets excited, wanting to find out books that Buddy Buddwick wrote. The second they walk in, the librarian shushes them and they joke about it. Once in the stacks, Connie tells Steven that you find things in the library with the Dewey Decimal System which confuses him because he thinks Mayor Dewey (the mayor of Beach City) organizes the books with math, lol. Poor Steven. Connie then declares that, no, it is referring to Melvil Dewey, who invented it in 1876, allowing books to be organized by topic, which impresses Steven.

After this, they work to find books by using the library catalog, sitting at one of the library’s computers, and are amazed at how much they found. They are both excited to find books, using the call numbers, but the books are missing! Of course, Steven and Connie get nervous, and realize they both have the same problem. They are jokingly shushed by the librarian, the same one in that episode, who seems to be having some fun with them, and helps them out:

She makes the same laugh and shush on page 2.

The librarian says the books should all be there, with Steven telling her they are all gone. They then retreat to library chairs, with Connie lamenting that “all the powers of bibliographical organization” has failed her. Steven floats the idea that someone stole them, with Connie unsure about that, as you are allowed to take books from the library and thinks they were shelved incorrectly. They search high and low across the library, under the stacks, and they chase a worm into a room which is closed for repairs. It turns out this corrupted Gem has been taking all the books. Steven uses his rose shield to stop it from leaving, and Connie is able to poof it by throwing a book at it. They proceed to read books in the room, including Buddy Buddwick’s journal, and silently read to together, learning more about him. The rest of the comic, they share parts of the books with each other, and Steven later says the Gem felt lonely, so it came there. So he sends it back to the Crystal Temple, where it can be with other Gems, with Pearl looking at it with interest. And… that’s the end.

I honestly thought there would be more to this comic, but I’m still glad I read it. In terms of the Librarian Portrayal Test (LPT), as I’m calling it, this comic clearly fails. Yes, it has a character which is clearly a librarian, fulfilling the first part of the criteria, but the librarian is primarily defined as a librarian, and I’m not altogether convinced that they are integral to the plot. Perhaps they are important to the plot, but the story could have still happened if the librarian hadn’t been there, but the fact they were there was a help.

This librarian only appears across three pages (2, 10, and 11), while the comic is 22 pages long. More accurately, the librarian appears in the equivalent of one page, which is 5% of the comic. That’s terrible for a comic that is supposed to about an adventure in a library! Furthermore, she is middle-aged, White, female, and wears glasses, fulfilling many stereotypes I’ve talked about on this blog before. I also am convinced that the librarian has some sort of in-joke with Steven and Connie, with her laughs and shushes at the same time. I’m just guessing here. On the other hand, Connie just calls her “the librarian” rather than using a name, so perhaps she doesn’t know her that well? Its hard to say. I did a quick search on AO3 to see if anyone had written fan fics about this librarian, and they have one about Steven meeting a cute librarian, and the latter flirting back with him, but there aren’t any about the librarian in this comic and in the “Buddy’s Book” episode, unfortunately. [2]

Librarian stumped when Steven tells him about the missing books

There really isn’t much else I can say about this librarian, unfortunately, except to say that she had a much better role in the comic than in the episode. I wish she had more of a role in the comic, however. Until next time, fellow readers!

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This comic appeared in Steven Universe: Cherished Memories, a paperback book that was released on January 5, 2021.

[2] Others, apart from fics like “Drifting Across Unsettled Seas: The Off Colors’ Gargantian Dilemma” and “The Universe Runs Through It: Cheering Gargantians, Snotty Peridots, Calm Etherians, and a Perplexed Kipo“, have Pearl as a librarian and Peridot as a librarian.

Categories
action animation comedy fantasy Librarians Libraries public libraries Thai people

Examining the overworked, exhausted librarian in “We Bare Bears”

The librarian behind her reference desk at beginning of episode

As you all know, I’ve written about libraries in animation a lot on this blog, and I’ve discovered that you can’t depend on other sites to list the episodes with librarians, you just have to watch shows and stumble upon episodes with libraries. Anyway, I recently watched an episode of We Bare Bears, titled “The Library,” which features a stern librarian at the local public library, who is likely voiced by Ashly Burch, rather than Philece Sampler. I say this because when you look at the episode’s credits, Burch is listed with doing “additional voices” which I’m assuming includes her. She is of Thai descent and this librarian may be of the same. The 2010 U.S. Census [dead link] stated that only 0.3% of San Francisco’s population is Thai, but that may have increased by 2020, with the Thai community thrown into the “Other Asian” category. This uncredited librarian is not a shusher like the uncredited librarian in the show’s first episode, who shushed the protagonists because they were being too loud, but is still annoyed with them nonetheless. Even so, it is worth examining her character and how it relates to what I’ve written on this blog in the past, library stereotypes, and other topics.

The plot of this episode is simple. Grizz, Ice Bear, and Panda all go to the library, where the librarian tells them that some of the books they have checked out are overdue. Grizz complains about the almost $9.00 fine for overdue books, saying there are “perfectly good reasons” why the books are later. Panda says that a book from over their holiday shouldn’t count. Ice Bear admits he lost a book. She gets annoyed with the protagonists and their antics. She tells them “okay, stop! I’m going on break” and she…walks away, and doesn’t check out their books. They find their friend Chloe there, who is cramming for a chemistry test. In the resulting episode, there are hi-jinks, like Chloe eating too much candy and zooming across the library, causing mayhem. There are other jokes about old technology at the library. Even so, it is still  shown as a community space which people use to study.

The fact that the library is shown as a community place that all can use and has a variety of materials is nice. It is a contrast to the typical depiction of libraries are only book depositories. The same can be said about the variety of patrons using the library, who are mostly students. Putting that aside, I’d like to focus on this librarian. She appears to be a person of color, although her race is never specified. She has some characteristics of a spinster librarian, who are often uptight old women that have a conservative dress, a bun hairstyle or something else seen as “unattractive,” along with eyeglasses, being skinny and having an uptight personality. In this case, she has a hair bun and conservative dress, but this seems to be professional dress attire. It seems like she only wants to do her job and enforce the rules, specifically their fines. Even so, she becomes so frustrated with them that she walks away from the information desk. Now, we could say “no good librarian should do that.” Perhaps she can’t deal with them and has been through a lot that day, is overworked, and needs a break. It is hard to tell from just one interaction shown. So, that part is realistic.

Librarian tells protagonists to stop and that she is going on break, but doesn’t check out their books before she leaves for her break…

However, her break is very short. Later in the episode, she helps one of the protagonists, Ice Bear, and another student. She gives them the location of a chemistry book. The protagonist, ends up chasing the other patron to where the book is located, seeing which one of them will get it first, traveling on slide ladders, knocking whoever they can out of the way, making other patrons angry. I do like that she tells them a call number: QD253.2.S, which is located on the third floor of this library. In turns out this library does not use the Dewey Decimal System, but uses the Library of Congress classification system (LCCO), with that number referring to the chemistry section:

The area boxed here is where the book would be located

This has to be the first time I’ve ever heard a character in animation mention the call number of a book. So, that’s cool. This show is set in the San Francisco Bay Area. From what I can tell, it looks like the San Francisco Public Library uses both LCCO and Dewey Decimal System numbers, with the library having, before 1992, its own numbers for classifying books, not using those systems.

As the episode does on, Panda is shushed by another patron, when trying to print something in the extremely old computer, which is apparently using dial-up. He is helped by an old woman, who is either an old librarian or just an elderly patron. I really can’t tell as Panda calls her a “library lady,” not a “librarian.” The uncredited librarian gets angry after the books she sorted are knocked over, blaming a fellow patron, not knowing it was Chloe, who was too energetic and caused the stack to fall over. After all of this, for some reason, this librarian lets them sleep in the library, maybe because she saw them working so hard. We never see the librarian again in the episode, unfortunately. Now, that would be a nice story for someone to write, perhaps a fan fic, about the librarian who cared for them that night. All in all, I thought that this uncredited librarian may very well stand against existing stereotypes and be one of the more realistic librarians shown in animated series. She is very close to snapping at someone, probably because she is very stressed, but through it all she still keeps her cool. She reminds me of the blue-skinned librarian in Prisoner Zero who is the first character I’ve seen who experienced burnout after engaging in library work for many, many years.

I’d like to propose criteria for a Librarian Portrayal Test, as I’m calling it. It would be like the Vito Russo Test for LGBTQ representation, but focusing on portrayal of librarians:

  1. The animated series, anime, comic, film, or other pop culture media, has a character that is clearly a librarian, whether they work in a public library, corporate library, have a personal library, or some other circumstance where they work in a library.
  2. The character is not only, or primarily, defined by their role as a librarian.
  3. The librarian has to integral to the plot to such an extent that their removal from the story of a said episode, or episodes, would significantly impact the plot. As such, the librarian cannot just be there for laughs, be a foil, shush patrons, or otherwise fall into existing stereotypes, but should matter in and of themselves.

I would make a similar test for libraries themselves, but I’m going to try and focus more on the librarians, than the libraries themselves, even though how the libraries are shown is obviously important as well. With that, I look forward to hearing from you all.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
action adventure animation Black people fantasy Fiction genres Indian people Librarians Libraries school libraries White people

Another 10 amazing libraries

Continuing on my series of libraries in animated series, which I’ve written about on this blog in November of last year and in February, I’d like to focus on amazing libraries in a number of animated series that I’ve watched recently. So here it goes!

#1: Royal library in Mira, Royal Detective

In the episode “Mystery Below the Palace,” Mira goes into the library in the royal palace in the city of Jalpur, in an effort to discover a mysterious stomping sound. She catches books (and re-shelves them) that fall off the shelf as the room shakes from the sound, working to solve more of the mystery. The library also has spiral stairs which lead to a second level, but Mira never goes up to that second level in the episode, unfortunately. Since this is set in 19th century India, as noted on the Wikipedia page, there are only books and paper materials in this library. [1] The look of this library is beautiful and amazing for what it is! By 1882 four libraries in India had over a thousand marks [dead link]: SPG College, Triruchinapalli; Presidency College, Madras; Government College, Lahore; and Government College, Jabalpur, then by 1894, the Library of the Forman Christian College in Lahore had a collection of 13,000 books, with a librarian to administer the library. So, this puts this scene into context. Furthermore, as noted on the Wikipedia page on library classification, until the 19th century, most libraries had closed stacks, meaning that library classification was only used to organize a subject catalog, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that library stacks were opened to the public. The library again appears in the episode “Mystery of the Secret Room,” where Prince Neel falls into a secret room off the library. In that episode, we see that the library has a globe, tables to study, and other paper materials. They (Mira, Neel, and her friend Friya) fall into a secret room off the library, and after solving the mystery left by the previous detective (Gupta), they enter another hidden room of the library itself. Mira has them go through all the books in the library and just as it seems that hope is lost, Mira sees one last book which has a note from the detective in it! From there they enter yet another room and it turns out to be the training room of former Detective Gupta. Mira keeps reminding her friends that the royal detective has a saying to keep looking closer at something. She later finds a book the detective left for her, which lists all the unsolved mysteries in the city, and asks her to solve them.

#2: Library on wheels in Mira, Royal Detective

In the episode “The Case of the Missing Library Book,” Mira is shown as moving a library of books across Jalpur. She tells her two mongoose friends, Mikku and Chikku that everyone is amazed by the new mobile library. She works with her father to set it up and says she is excited that the city now has its own mobile library. When her friend, Prince Neel, asks her if there is any room in the library for additional books, she comments “there’s always room for more books,” and later says that the library is for the whole town. Therein begins a song about the importance of reading and libraries, noting that a library is like a “big buffet where you can try something different every day,” including mystery and fantasy books, with so many books and so many stories, with new worlds to enjoy, as people get lost in their imaginations in the process. We then see Mira’s father, Sahil, noting three steps: find the slip in the book, stamping the slip, and then giving the book to the patron. After that, the next step is returning the book after you are finished with it.

#3: Secret library on the Rogue in Prisoner Zero

In the show’s 6th episode, aptly named “The Librarian,” a wizard who calls himself “the librarian,” shows Zero, Jem, and Tag his personal library, with books upon books, some of which are flying, and trees which are throughout it. There also historical artifacts scattered throughout the library. It is not known how much this librarian uses the library, or if it is mostly for show, but it is still cool on many levels, with stacks upon stacks of books, likely in the thousands. There is also a tree nearby that contains many stacks of books, which are sadly disorganized, at least from the look of it. At the end of the episode, Tag calls this place “amazing” and I can’t agree more! While I thought it only appears in this episode, it makes a reappearance in the episodes “Schism,” “Ragnabook: Part One” and “Ragnabook: Part Two.” We later find out that the library was constructed by the librarian from his memory as a wizard and that he left it open to everyone in the universe. Cool!

#4: Bonesborough library in the Boiling Isles in The Owl House

In the episode, “Lost in Language,” Luz delivers a stack of books to the library which Eda had checked out but forgot to return. Before entering the library, we see the grand library, which looks a little like a cathedral, which, not surprisingly, amazes Luz. Inside it is organized like any other library, with the male librarian recommending she read a book about the wailing shower that night. The library itself has something called the Demon Decimal System, spoofing the Dewey Decimal System, with a sign saying to not feed it, reading areas, books floating above the ceiling you can choose from. Luz later finds Amity in the children’s section library (“Kids Corner”), and there are spoof posters like “Get Learned at the Stake,” which is kinda funny. In that section are areas labeled for manga and cyclops. Apart from the reference section, there are stacks of books and it is easy to browse the stacks for materials. Emera and Edric mess with parts of the library, like a chalk sign for non-fiction, causing a librarian to totally freak out about everything being fiction while messing with librarians who are putting away materials, causing cards from the card catalog to fly out, and such. She later breaks into the library that night, causing mayhem with the two siblings of Amity (Emera and Edric), where sections for romance, adventure, graphic novels, and more, are shown. The main action of the story happens in the library, with Amity and Luz working together to defeat a monster…and they succeed, ultimately.

#5: Riverdale public library in Archie’s Weird Mysteries

In the episode “The Haunting of Riverdale,” Archie travels to this library, which has two levels and various places to sit. People are quietly sitting in the library and Archie talks to the librarian, Ms. Herrera (who is uncredited in the episode), asking if his usual research table is available, and she indicates yes, so he uses that as a way of reading more in hopes of solving the mystery of who is haunting the town. The library is a major part of this episode, and it is amazing in its own right, so, it, without a doubt, deserves to be on this list.

#6: The Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne

Also known as the “secret library,” it first appears in the show’s first episode, hidden behind a mirror, found by Ansi by accident. He is introduced to the head librarian, Clara Rhone, who is re-shelving books. When he says he didn’t know the Wayne had a library, Rhone explains that the library is not easy to find. Ansi says his family moves around a lot but he likes it there because “libraries always feel like home.” He leaves the library, with Rhone wanting him to stay, but is ok with him leaving, as she knows that he will be back in the future.

#7: Library of Prayers in A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepard

People walking in the magic library in the episode.

In the show’s sixth episode, Kyotaro Kakei is brought to this magic library he always yearned for. It is a magic library with past and future memories of everyone in existence! It reminds me a bit of the library in Yamibou where every world in the universe is within a book of the library itself. A library assistant, Nagi Kodachi, is a shepherd trainee, who is bound to help him on his journey.

#8: Library in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

Inside of the library shown in the episode “Sharing at the Library”

Appearing in the episodes “Sharing at the Library”, “Class Trip to the Library”, and “Wow at the Library”, this library is occasionally a location in this series, which is loosely based on the show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. While the characters are unable to go into the library in the episode “Class Trip to the Library,” they do enter it in the episodes “Sharing at the Library” and “Wow at the Library.” The library is very interesting, even from the outside alone, with its tree with books on it. One of the more interesting libraries I have seen in animation. While you might think the library only has books, at first, when looking at some of the scenes, it also has puppets, leading to a puppet show in the episodes “Sharing at the Library” and “Wow at the Library.”

#9: The “lost” Library of Alexandria in Winx Club

In the episode “The Lost Library,” after searching across the desert, in Egypt, the Winx Club and the Pixies comes across the Library of Alexandria, which had various books, items, and other treasures within. Some of the characters say it is “brimming with centuries of history.” The book they were looking for, which will help them lock away another book, used to reside inside the library itself. This search is complicated by the fact that the villains (like Selina and the Trix) summon mummies to attack them. They transform into their Winx magical girl forms and fight the mummies into the next episode, “Attack of the Sphinx,” with the Winx and Pixies working together to defeat them. In that episode, they fight the Sphinx, which is attacking the city of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Selina is teleported deep within the library to get the diary, but Bloom, one of the Winx, finds the diary first. One of the pixies, Chatta, answers the riddle of the sphinx and it is defeated!

#10: The Library of Solaria in Winx Club

The Winx enter the royal library

In the episode “Queen for a Day“, the Winx visit the biggest library in the entire magic dimension, to look for a spell to undo the invisibility spell covering the Cloud Tower from view. They get the key to get into the library because Stella (one of the Winx) is a queen for the day. They enter the library, with some of the Winx calling it “beautiful” and the Pixies getting books for them, literally riding the books like surfboards through the air, giggling along the way, down to the Winx so they can read them, with one of them calling it “service.” By reading the books, they find the invisibility spell can’t be nullified by fairy magic, but can only be enhanced with “master technology.” After that, they send the books back to their shelves, disappointing the Pixies, who have been enjoying riding the books around the library.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This is the first time libraries appear in this series. Interestingly, S. R. Ranganathan, a librarian, and mathematician from India proposed five laws of library science in 1931:

  1. Books Are For Use
  2. Every Reader His/Her Book
  3. Every Book Its Reader
  4. Save The Time Of The Reader
  5. The Library Is A Growing Organism

Ranganathan also created colon classification in 1933.

Categories
adventure animation Black people comedy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries

This Nickelodeon Show Features a Magical Secret Library

What if I told you that there was an all-ages animated series where a special, and magnificent library was so central, it even surprised the series creator? There is such a show—Nickelodeon’s Welcome to the Wayne, created by Billy Lopez. It features a library that exemplifies the series’ quirkiness.

The role of the library in the show goes beyond positive depictions of libraries and librarians in recent years in animated series such as Too Loud, Mira, Royal Detective, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Hilda, and Cleopatra in Space. In Welcome to the Wayne, the chief librarian of a magical library, called the Stanza, is a Black woman named Clara Rhone—one of very few librarians of color in popular culture. She is voiced by Harriett D. Foy. In the first season, the library and its non-human employees are central to the series, a theme continued in the second season, emphasizing the value of libraries as places of knowledge, and understanding.

In the show’s first episode, one of the three protagonists, Saraline, is unable to find the secret library in her apartment complex, the Wayne. Her friend and new apartment resident, Ansi Molina, stumbles upon the library by accident, as he tries to retrieve his John Keats book taken by a squidlike creature he nicknames John Keats. In the meticulously organized library, which contains information on the inhabitants of the Wayne, he meets Clara, who is re-shelving books. While she is unsuccessful in getting Ansi to become a library member, he later helps her shelve books and uses a magic guardrail to travel to various parts of the library. Information from the library helps Ansi aid his friends and sets in motion coming adventures, like getting a shiny, and strange, card.

The second episode begins with the library. Ansi’s new friend, Julia Wilds, travels with Saraline and her brother, Olly, to the library, as they continue to try to unravel the mysteries of the Wayne. While Julia appears to be overwhelmed, Team Timbers (Saraline, Olly, and Ansi) are successful in fending off the mysterious masked man, Tony Stanza, keeper of the Stanza archives, who is trying to seize a card Ansi received from the library in the previous episode. Despite the fact he appears to be a villain, near the end of the episode, Tony surprisingly Olly and Saraline cards of their own, telling both of them, and Ansi, to return their cards before “time runs out.” This sets in motion the events of the next episode.

Eight episodes later, in episode 12, a new character, a vampire named Andrei, is informed that his book is overdue and that he must return it. He and Team Timbers follow a creature to the library that snatched his book. The episode that follows highlights the issues of underfunded libraries and the value of knowledge, even as they fight off a library ninja voiced by Charnele Crick. Clara sends the ninja to kill the vampire, because vampires attacked residents in the Wayne in the past, and drive Team Timbers out of the library. As the whole library mobilizes against Team Timbers, the ninja, who happens to be Clara’s granddaughter, is trapped between card catalogs. Andrei uses his superhuman strength and agility to save her. At one point, Olly jokes that the catalogs are attacking them because they are “angry about being replaced by the internet” as he continues to film everything for a viral video. The role of librarians as gatekeepers is emphasized when Clara warns Team Timbers that if they leave with Andrei, they can never return. Ansi, who loves the library, accepts this, even as he later laments his inability to access the library as a result.

A few episodes after this, the library ninja helps Team Timbers and introduces herself as Goodness, officially becoming part of the team defending the Wayne from evil forces. In the show’s 19th episode, Goodness and Saraline break into the library, catching a creature that looks like a running nose and spot Clara shelving books. In the season one finale, Clara offers her help to the eight-person team of protagonists, which has expanded beyond the original members of Team Timbers to form what is known as the Gyre.

In the show’s second and final season, Saraline describes the library as one of the quietest places in the Wayne in one episode; this library is also where her friend Annacile/the Arcsine goes to find out who has received her magical powers. A few episodes later, the show emphasizes the importance of the library as a quiet place for contemplation and study. Katherine Alice travels with Goodness to the library, with Clara shushing Goodness, telling her to use her “Stanza voice.” While this corresponds with the shushing librarian stereotype, Clara makes up for this by showing them the Wayne Cyclodex, a book that records “everything that has ever happened” in the Wayne. This book becomes central in the episodes that follow, her words becoming a warning to those in the Gyre. In the penultimate episode of the series, the characters briefly return to the library, which is described as a place where time stands still, before they enter a trap set by the show’s villains. While the characters do not travel to the library in the final episode, Clara is briefly possessed by rainbow gas and is shown, in the ending montage of the episode, doing exercises on the balcony of her room in the Wayne.

Although the series ran from 2017 to 2019 and likely will not return in the future, all 30 episodes can be purchased online. This short-lived but memorable series makes clear the value of libraries and librarians to society, as places of knowledge, and diversity, more than most animated series.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is reprinted from I Love Libraries, where it was published on April 22. I had originally titled this “The Integral Role of Librarians and Libraries in “Welcome to the Wayne”” but Lindsey Simon, who I worked with at I Love Libraries for all of my articles there, proposed a new title. This was the last article she worked on with me before departing as Content Strategy Manager of the ALA’s Communications and Marketing Office.

Categories
adventure animation anime Black people Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries live-action Movies White people

BIPOC librarians in animated series: She-Ra to Yamibou

Libraries have often appeared on the silver screen, whether in the form of stereotypes like the spinster librarian, Mary, in It’s A Wonderful Life and the glimpse of a librarian in Jennifer’s Body. Streaming shows have had their share of librarians too, like the unnamed librarian in the second episode of The Queen’s Gambit, or the value of the library emphasized in the first season of My Brilliant Friend. In the past year, I’ve come across a number of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) librarians in Western animated and anime series. I’d like to review some of the ones I know of at the present in order to shed some light on these characters.

Western animation does not have a good track record when it comes to BIPOC librarians. Shows such as Zevo-3 and The Simpsons feature librarians, but both are White. The female-coded librarian named Turtle Princess in Adventure Time and a male librarian named Mr. Snellson in Mysticons are voiced by White men. DC Super Hero Girls has Kimberly D. Brooks, a Black American actress who famously voiced Jasper in the Steven Universe series, voice a White female librarian, rather than have her voice a Black female librarian as a character. There are almost no BIPOC female librarians in Western animated series like the White young female librarian in Hilda, who is given a name in the show’s most recent season. Even Mira, the protagonist of the children’s animation, Mira, Royal Detective, based on late 19th century India, who sings about libraries with the people of Jalpur, is only a librarian for one episode, serving at the pleasure of the queen as a royal detective for the rest of this series. However, one series showcases BIPOC male librarians unlike any other: Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a remake of the 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power.

Lance and George, two librarians in the She-Ra and the Princesses of Power animated series

In the season 2 finale, Princess Glimmer and her friend, Adora, travel deep to the magical woods to find their brown-skinned friend, Bow, who has gone “missing.” They find a library and believe they need to “rescue” him. They discover that Bow is there visiting his two dads, George, and Lance, claiming he is on break from a boarding school, when he is actually fighting in a war against the show’s villains. As it turns out, George and Lance run the library, which serves as a residence and a museum. It is beautiful in its own right even if it has vines growing on the outside. You could call it a hybrid between an archives, a museum, and a library. In any case, George and Lance call themselves historians, like Bow’s brothers, but they are librarians who have collected books as part of their research on the planet’s first settlers. Both are enthralled when they learn that Adora, who can transform into a warrior-princess named She-Ra, can read the ancient and dead language of the first settlers. Later, a battle with a creature, accidentally released by Adora, destroys part of the library, and Bow is forced to reveal who he is to his shocked dads. After they embrace him and his friends, these librarians help the protagonists by giving them information to help with their quest to find out more about the planet’s past.

George and Lance later attend the coronation of Glimmer in the show’s fourth season. The library is revisited by Bow and Glimmer in the show’s fifth, and final, season. Sadly, the library has been abandoned and trashed. George and Lance leave a note for Bow, telling him where they went into hiding with a riddle. Bow and Glimmer find George and Lance in the ruins of a former castle, who tell them about writings they discovered about an ancient rebellion against the planet’s first settlers. They play a recording that details a fail-safe that could destroy the superweapon in the center of the planet. Bow and Glimmer share this information with their friends, helping them defeat the villainous Horde Prime later in the season. In the end, the value of libraries, librarians, and conducting detailed research is emphasized in the episode.

In contrast to Western animation, anime series feature various librarians, almost all of whom are women, at least from the series I’ve seen so far. Some like Hisami Hishishii in R.O.D the TV, Fumi Manjōme in Aoi Hana, Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, or Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words are students behind the circulation desk, while others engage in more wide-ranging duties. For instance, Anne and Grea, two friends who love each other, in Manaria Friends close up the school library, shelve books, and play a game of hide-and-seek within the library. Similarly, Yamada, the protagonist of B Gata H Kei, fails to seduce her male friend, Kosuda, in the library, on multiple occasions, embarrassing herself over and over again. Apart from the unnamed librarians in Cardcaptor Sakura who help the protagonists Sakura, Sayoran, and Tomoyo, find a book in the local public library, which is literally flying away from them, there are three librarians who stand out. They are: Doctor Oldham in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm, and Lilith in Yamibou.

A collage of screenshots from Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (left) and Ascendance of a Bookworm (right)

The first of these examples, in the series Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, is Oldham, a middle-aged man living in Gargantia, an interconnected fleet of ships that travels across the world, which is completely covered by water. He is a medical doctor, considered a sage and wise man by those in the fleet. He lives atop a spire, perhaps a nod to the idea of an “ivory tower.” Anyway, Amy brings Ledo, a soldier who crashed on the planet by accident, to his dwelling, which has a degraded library filled with books and not much else, so he can learn more about the Gargantian society. While the library seems to be a book depository, Oldham does inform Ledo about the social organization in Gargantia and laughs at him for his absurd ideas about society. As such, he fulfills the role of a librarian as an Information Provider, even though he is not called a librarian and does not call himself a librarian. He later appears in an original video animation where he helps at a library on another part of the fleet, aiding others in looking through records there with Bebel, Amy’s brother.

The second example is Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm. Unlike any of the characters previously described in this post, she is the anime’s main protagonist. In fact, before she took on her form as a sickly, but highly intelligent, young child, she was a book-loving librarian, killed, ironically, by a stack of books. To her horror, she lives in a medieval town in an era before the printing press or public libraries, and she makes it her life mission to become a librarian. This was made clear in one episode where a priest, angry at her for threatening his position in the society’s elite, purposely wrecks the church library to stop her from coming to an important festival. Upon seeing this, she declares that the priest should be executed for this “crime.” Luckily, she calms down, re-organizing the library using the principles of the Nippon Decimal Classification System, after rejecting her own proposal to organize the library based on her own ideas. The latter system is the Japanese version of the Dewey Decimal System. Myne is gleeful to organize everything inside the library itself. Even more than this, the episode features PSAs from Myne about this system and the role of Melvil Dewey. Later, Myne even argues the importance of giving away books for free rather than for profit, angering Benno, who is the sponsor at her guild. It is unique that a character would have a song about re-organizing books, even while the library is portrayed as a book depository, with other materials not mentioned. She is the most positive depiction of a librarian in anime I’ve seen to date.

The third example is Lilith in Yamibou, a caretaker of the Great Library, a repository containing thousands of books that contain all the book-worlds of the universe. For most of the series, she travels with Hazuki, her crush, looking for Eve, who is another caretaker of the library. You could say that Lilith is doing her librarian duties by making sure that worlds within the books are secure, meaning they are a key part of the series. While she, like Oldham, is not identified as a librarian in the series, the official site of the visual novel that the anime is based on calls her a library administrator at the “center of the library world,” and says that she “manages all the books in the library.” The same is stated on the anime’s official website when translated into English. Unlike Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and Ascendance of a Bookworm, the mechanics for the world’s shifting is “an interdimensional library,” with each of the books representative of another reality and the “home base” of Lilith, as pointed out by the Anime News Network. It turns out she is a “reluctant cosmic librarian,” as Eve, the real librarian and administrator of the Great Library, vanished years before into a “world of books.”

While Western animation series do not, generally, have BIPOC librarians, there are various BIPOC librarians of note in anime series, specifically in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Ascendance of a Bookworm, and Yamibou. Although these are not all of the examples of BIPOC librarians in animated series, there is the possibility for upcoming series to include libraries as settings for characters and BIPOC librarians as characters themselves. After all, with Clara Rhone, a Black woman who runs a library, appearing in the series Welcome to the Wayne, there is hope yet for Western animation series. The same can be said for anime as Myne will be making a reappearance in the third season of Ascendance of a Bookworm.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is post is reprinted from my guest post on March 24 on Reel Librarians.

 

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