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

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

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

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

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

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

The librarian weight-lifting while the spies look on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah, the book jail, and the “sanctity of library property” in “Too Loud”

As you all might remember, back in February 2021, I wrote about Too Loud, a short-lived animated series, for I Love Libraries, calling it a “example of libraries in animation” which viewers of all ages can “enjoy its message about the value of libraries.” However, the above shown episode is something I’d like to revisit in this post. When writing that article, I was under the impression that my articles for I Love Libraries needed to be positive and upbeat, resulting in me downplaying some criticisms I had when shows portrayed libraries in a negative way, so I’d like to revisit that, building on my original perception that the episode “does sound pretty negative.” [1] In the future, I may revisit some of my other posts I wrote for I Love Libraries and be more critical than I was in the past. This post is part of that. I know that not everyone will agree with everything I write in this post, but decided to write this post anyway, even though it is obviously not comprehensive on any of the issues addressed in this article, only touching on the surface of them.

The episode begins with Desiree (presenting as Jeffrey), Sarah, and Sara crossing off late returns from the list, with Sara saying they don’t mess around with late library books. The viewers then see a book jail of offenders which is guarded by Mildred, another librarian. Desiree confirms that, declaring that as librarians they rule “with a iron fist.” This is a terrifying thought, with librarians coming and repossessing books through use of force, and it scares Sarah so much that she doesn’t even want go along with the scheme, at first.

They go to find the last book on their list, about juggling, but the person, Logan, says the book “ties the room together” and that it is his copy, closing the door on them. So, they break into a person’s house to get an overdue book. Sarah is unsure about this plan, calling it extreme, but Desiree keeps talking about the iron fist of the librarian and tells her to think about the “sanctity of library property.” Sarah agrees to help them and sneak into the house, becoming a rat queen, with Sara and Desiree distracting Logan. Eventually they get their handle on the book, with Sara describing it as “library property.” After the room collapses, it turns out the book they had grabbed is the wrong one, with Jeffrey having the book in his “cavernous pie hole” but had forgot to re-shelve it. Following this, Sara and Sarah leave, while Desiree is left there, as a piece of the drywall comes and seems to kill (or injure) Logan, and the episode comes to a close.

When I originally looked at this series I said that Sarah, Sara, and Desiree learn the less that “being punitive with those who have overdue books is not worth it.” I don’t think that’s the lesson at all. Instead, I think this episode is highlighting the importance of proper organization and cataloging. If Desiree had cataloged the book correctly, then it wouldn’t have been on the overdue visit in the first place, and this whole incident would have been unnecessary. More than that, I would say this episode shows how libraries can be punitive with wanting to protect their property and implying the interconnection of this with the criminal legal system, embodied by the book jail:

You could easily interpret that the episode as criticizing this punitive nature of libraries. Even so, the episode is relatively short, not even six minutes long, so there isn’t that much time to explore these themes. However, the episode can still be related to how libraries, in the real world, work with the criminal legal system and the police force, something which has been contentious in recent years. This came to the fore when it was noted by Teen Vogue that the budget of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) prioritized policing since John Szabo became the head of the library system,  with organizers finding that 5% of the library budget went to security in 2020 alone, and funneled toward the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

Other libraries have done the same, like Austin Public Library and Denver Public Library, while there has been cop-free library movements in “St. Louis, New York City, and at Ivy League University libraries.” A similar movement at the St. Louis County Library, the latter which was successful, and efforts to replace “police with social service workers,” while community policing is used by the LAPD in libraries themselves was also noted. This is all part of a push for more library policing. This has been resisted by groups like the Abolitionist Library Association (AbLA), described as “a group of library workers, students, and community members who aim to divest money from policing in libraries and redistribute resources to communities.” AbLA defines themselves as supporting a world without prisons or policing, with a goal to “create libraries that are rooted in community self-determination and intellectual freedom through collective action,” achieving this by establishing a group of “library and information workers to support each other in doing divestment work,” sharing ideas, support, and strategy for “abolition in libraries,” along with “creating and sharing resources about ending police involvement in information spaces and…pressuring stakeholders and decision-makers to divest from police.”

Whether you agree with AbLA or not, the fact is that libraries are intertwined with police departments in their respective cities and/or institutions. This makes sense since libraries are public entities, part of the government, university, or other institution, not something separate, for the most part, with some libraries created and run by their communities as an exception. Library literature itself, as noted by Ben Robinson in the publication In the Library with the Lead Pipe, often encourages library staff “develop close relationships with local police and security guards without considering the negative effects this closeness can have on patrons who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC), people experiencing mental illness, and people from other marginalized communities,” even though research has shown the latter. Robinson argues that in order to make libraries safe places for everyone, those working in libraries need to “incorporate insights from other disciplines into their practice and begin to meaningfully address the complicated roles of police and security guards in the public library.” Other articles noted that some libraries are revisiting how they have historically interacted with police, whether through hosting “police-led community programming…hiring off-duty police as security officers, or calling 911 on disruptive patrons,” with divestment for police also argued for by the Library Freedom Project.

There is evidence that public libraries in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Washington State, California, and Baltimore, teamed up with police to share their data. If libraries are willingly partnering with police, letting them provide security, and supporting them in different ways, then how effective can libraries be in “stopping the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts Black youth” which ALA President Wanda Kay Brown believed that libraries could do? It seems that if a library partnered with police it would invalidate any positive good which would come from anti-racist action. This would even be the case for the library preserving the websites of police unions, organizations which support the police no matter what, even if they brutalize and hurt people.

I would further argue that this episode of Too Loud notes the connection between libraries and the criminal legal system rather than accepting it  as a norm. While I don’t want to overthink this topic, I do think the fact that the books are described as “library property” that needs to be kept no matter the consequences to patrons is an interesting theme. It can easily be connected to the punitive nature of the criminal legal system, with some libraries coming down much harder on patrons than others. And this feeds into stereotypes about libraries, manifested by librarians aggressively shushing patrons in animated series after animated series. However, Too Loud does not fall into that stereotype. Instead, this enforcement, the library bringing down its “iron fist,” is just seen as part of the library itself.

Perhaps that is the takeaway from this episode, that libraries are not always the rosy places we see them as, but can have a “dark side” as it could be called, which can be punitive. This makes it no surprise that some are intimidated by libraries, as fines can be punitive in various ways, especially since fine-free initiatives have not reached all libraries, with some sticking to it, even if it draws away patrons. Unlike Little Free Library and others, which actively cooperate with the police,  from what I remember, no police are ever shown in the public library in Too Loud, nor is the library flying any flags which support police unconditionally. That doesn’t mean that police don’t exist, in that world. By having something like a book jail, the library is clearly supporting the criminal legal system, if we are to take the visualization of the book jail seriously, and not as something that Sarah created in her head, which is a possibility, I suppose.

With an episode that is so short, there are a multitude of explanations here, but I believe that people can take from the episode, at most, about the interconnection of libraries and the criminal legal system, and at minimum, about the too often punitive nature of libraries, even those which have committed themselves to anti-racist actions. While the latter has been addressed with fine-free initiatives, the former has largely been kept in place in many libraries. With continued police brutality and terrorizing of certain populations, in the U.S. (where the library in Too Loud is undoubtedly located), libraries should rethink their relation to police and make sure they are not playing a role in supporting oppressive systems. You could say there are many reasons you could come up with for using police presence in a library, especially for security reasons, when it comes to stopping so-called “problem patrons” (i.e. usually unhoused people), “theft,” or people protesting sensible mask mandates. Such approaches are often not done while considering that bringing police into a library will push away patrons, especially Black and brown people, who do not want to be in the same place as those who brutalize their communities, and the fact such people will not feel safe in those spaces. These approaches undermine the role of the library as a community space for all.

In the end, the Too Loud episode, “Checked Out,” could be interpreted in so many ways, and I’m, personally, not sure which interpretation is the right one, and which is the wrong one. One conclusion that could be drawn from the episode is that libraries, and librarians by extension, are not neutral, but rather they are political institutions which are part of oppressive systems, whether they state they are, or not. Just as museums, archives, and other cultural institutions are not, and have never been, neutral, the same applies to libraries as well. That could be the biggest takeaway from this, as they are not shown cooperating with the police directly like the superheroes in DC Super Hero Girls in many of the episodes, and rather are enforcing rules on their own. With that, this post comes to a close.

Sara declares a book on the shelf is library property and must be seized

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] In an email on Feb. 2, I told Lindsey Simon, formerly of ALA, this, adding that I wasn’t sure about the episode, and saying that I believed they learn a lesson in the end, as the house the library is in literally collapses, adding that the book jail may be imagined, or even real, maybe in Sarah’s mind. Also, the post’s original title was “Having fun in the library: The uniqueness of “Too Loud”” but that was changed before its publication.

Categories
animation comedy fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries White people

A British wrestler-librarian, personality switching, and librarian stereotypes

Recently, going through the shows on the “List of animated television series by episode count” on Wikipedia, I came across a Canadian and French animation titled Totally Spies, which ran between 2001 and 2014, with some of the episodes even airing on Cartoon Network at one point. While this show, which centers around three high school girls (Samantha “Sam”), Clover, and Alexandra “Alex”) who are also spies isn’t usually my cup of tea, I still watched all four episodes of the series which were said to have libraries. A couple episodes had very short scenes in a university library, one episode stands out apart from the others: “Totally Switched“.

The first of these episodes begins at the Liverpool Library in England. A man comes to the circulation desk to return books and a librarian, a middle-aged White woman with a hair bun (presumably a spinster) likely voiced by Janice Kawaye, tells him that the books are overdue. Of course, he refuses to pay the fines, after she says it is their policy for him to pay the fines, to which he responds “too bad!” He walks away in a huff and the librarian accepts this, not knowing what else to do. Unfortunately for the patron, a man hides in the shadows, swinging a pendant that shines a bright light into her face. She presumably jumps over the circulation desk, grabs the patron, by his shirt, holds him up in the air, and throws him across the room! The students are shocked as the patron lies on the ground, disoriented about what is happening. She breathes deeply and seems to calm down until she laughs at his misfortune. Don’t return books late to her! She’ll deck you!

The librarian laughs after decking a patron who returned a couple books late; mind you, her personality has switched and she wouldn’t do this normally…

Ok, let’s be honest, there are some librarians who would have liked to do this to some annoying patrons, although you obviously can’t for various reasons. I shouldn’t have to say why this is a huge problem to have a librarian assaulting patrons. Anyway, the patron was a bit of a jerk and he should have paid the fine. Later in the episode, Jerry (the boss of Sam, Alex, and Clover), expresses surprise that the “mild-mannered” librarian started acting “like a professional wrestler.”

Sam, Alex, and Clover first later go to the apartment house of the librarian, who remains unnamed and uncredited in the episode despite the fact her scene begins the episode, in Liverpool. They are surprised to hear she is a librarian, with Clover calling her “way buff.” The librarian tells them how she became this way, saying she was “no longer a wimp” but became a wrestler, lifting only books in the past, but now she can “bench 150” as she lifts weights, does jump rope, and other exercises. As they leave, she declares she has to “go work on my abs.” Later, as they walk onto the street, Clover calls it a “freak show” [2] and asks “how often do you meet a wrestling librarian?” How so, indeed! Not long after, Sam finds out that the librarian and wrestler have switched personalities, with the wrestler, named Birmingham Brawler, not fighting anymore and sitting on the side, reading books. Ha. Sadly, later, the spies break into the Liverpool library (why is the librarian not there?), pick a lock, and grab the librarian’s datebook! This seems unnecessary as they could have asked the librarian about it rather than stealing her book. Just saying. Bad spies!

By the end of the episode, with the capture of the person responsible for the personality switching, possibly the personalities of the librarian and the wrestler are switched back. But if they aren’t, the buff librarian is still out there! It also says a lot that they actually found this personality switching to be a “problem,” when the villain just wanted to see how people felt in another’s shoes, meaning they want people to not deviate from their set roles in society and personalities, apparently. This episode is even better than the other episode, “Black Widows,” where Clover is disgusted by the fact she has to go to the school library for a spelling bee at their high school, which Sam is attending, then Sam pulls on a dictionary on a shelf and it leads them down a tunnel. Clover hilariously yells “I KNEW going to the library was a bad idea!”

For one, the librarian at first seems to fulfill the spinster librarian stereotype which Jennifer Snoek-Brown writes about on Reel Librarians, but when she becomes buff, then she becomes scary. On the one hand, you could say that by throwing the patron to the ground, she is showing her authority, making everyone afraid enough to cross her. However, is she still a “rule-monger who hoards information”? She is clearly neither meek nor timid anymore, as she is portrayed at first. Some could say she is comic relief since the scene of her slamming the patron on the ground was a little funny only because of how absurd it was, but she isn’t sexy or flirtatious either. Anyway, I hope that if her personality did change, she becomes more assertive and stands up to people who don’t follow library rules in the future. So, I have a mixed view of this buff librarian, although you could argue she busts existing stereotypes I suppose. For sure, her character is definitely different than the shushing librarians or anything else I’ve seen in any of the reviews on this blog, for sure!

Buff librarian doing leg exercises before she goes to work at the Liverpool Library

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Specifically, in the episodes “Astro-Not” and “Vide-o-no!,” viewers see, briefly, the library at Malibu University, where the show’s protagonists go to school.

[2] This shows she does not like the librarian bucking from the “norm” and implies that it is bad to break out of those societal norms imposed on you. Also, this term is deeply problematic because the word freak is “a particularly ugly word when applied to a person with a disability.”