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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

[5] Macias, “Looking the Part,” 118.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] Vani Natarajan, “Nostalgia, Cuteness, and Geek Chic: Whiteness in Orla Kiely’s Library” in Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2017), p. 122, 132; “Cute,” Dictionary.com, accessed March 22, 2022.

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

[16]  Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, “Lesbian Librarianship for All: A Manifesto” in Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis (ed. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, & Eamon Tewell, Library Juice Press: Sacramento, CA: 2018), p. 298-299, 301, 304. I’m not even getting into the somewhat problematic and strange idea that all librarians can be “lesbian librarians” even those who aren’t lesbian. I think she just chose the wrong term for it. Maybe “social justice librarian” or something like that would have been better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ibid, 181-5.

[10] Ibid, 186-192.

Categories
action adventure animation anime comedy Comics fantasy Fiction genres Movies Pop culture mediums speculative fiction webcomics

Recently added titles (March 2022)

Maya watches Kareem and LaCienega walk out of the library together
Maya watches Kareem and LaCienega walk out of the library together in an episode of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder

Building upon the titles listed for July/August, September, OctoberNovember, and December 2021, and January and February of this year, this post notes recent titles with libraries or librarians in popular culture which I’ve come across in the past month. Each of these has been watched or read during the past month. Not as many animated series or anime with libraries this past month, but I did come across a good deal in comics, whether in graphic novels or webcomics, and hopefully there will be more that I find in the days, weeks, and months to come. That’s my hope at least.

Animated episodes recently added to this page

  • Kim Possible, “Clothes Minded”
  • Moral Orel, “The Lord’s Greatest Gift”
  • Moral Orel, “Offensiveness”
  • The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, “It All Started with an Orange Basketball”
  • The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, “When You Wish Upon a Roker”
  • The Simpsons, “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace”
  • The Simpsons, “Sweets and Sour Marge”
  • The Simpsons, “Eeny Teeny Maya, Moe”
  • The Simpsons, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”
  • The Simpsons, “Bart the Mother”
  • The Simpsons, “Lisa’s Wedding”
  • The Simpsons, “Bart’s Girlfriend”
  • The Simpsons,”Dial “N” for Nerder”
  • The Simpsons, “The Color Yellow”
  • The Simpsons, “Dead Putting Society”
  • The Simpsons, “Lisa the Greek”;
  • The Simpsons, “Homer Goes to College”
  • The Simpsons, “Sideshow Bob Roberts”
  • The Simpsons, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge”
  • The Simpsons, “Margical History Tour”
  • The Simpsons, “Like Father, Like Clown”
  • The Simpsons, “HOMЯ”
  • The Simpsons, “The Kids Are All Fight”
  • The Simpsons, “Looking for Mr. Goodbart”
  • Totally Spies, “I Want My Mummy”
  • Victor and Valentino, “An Evening with Mic and Hun”

Anime episodes recently added to this page

  • Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, “There’s No School Tomorrow, Right?”
  • Laid-Back Camp aka Yuru Camp, “Welcome to the Outdoor Activities Club!”
  • Laid-Back Camp aka Yuru Camp, “Mount Fuji and Relaxed Hot Pot Camp”
  • Laid-Back Camp aka Yuru Camp, “Mount Fuji and Relaxed Hot Pot Camp”
  • Laid-Back Camp aka Yuru Camp; “Meat and Fall Colors and the Mystery Lake”
  • Laid-Back Camp aka Yuru Camp; “A Night of Navigator Nadeshiko and Hot Spring Steam”
  • Laid-Back Camp aka Yuru Camp; “Clumsy Travelers and Camp Meeting”
  • Kiss Him, Not Me, “The Strange Room And The Four High School Boys”
  • Kiss Him, Not Me, “Christmas in the Holy Land”
  • Library War, “My Prince Charming is in the LDF”
  • Library War, “Library Task Force”
  • Library War, “Odawara Battle”
  • Library War, “Rescue the Book General”
  • Library War, “Parental Disturbance Strategy”
  • Library War, “Library Corps Refrain from Firing”
  • Library War, “Reference of Love”
  • Library War, “Satoshi Tezuka’s Schemes”
  • Library War, “Here Comes the Promotion Test”
  • Library War, “Explosion of Backing Home”
  • Library War, “Struggle to the Death! The Defense of Ibaraki Prefectural Exhibition”
  • Library War, “The Library is for Who’s Sake?”
  • Library War, “Situation Love Handicap”
  • Love Live! Sunshine!!, “Their Feelings”
  • Märchen Mädchen, “Twilight of Der Freischütz”
  • Princess Connect Re: Dive, “Landosol at Sundown”

Comics issues recently added to this page

  • Bring Me Love, Episode 27
  • Greta the Red Wolf, Episode 8
  • Greta the Red Wolf, Episode 9
  • Greta the Red Wolf, Episode 10, “Witch Friend (1)”
  • Greta the Red Wolf, Episode 10, “Witch Friend (2)”
  • Knights of the Lion, Episode 7
  • Sides of Sky, Episode 13

Films recently added to this page

  • Did not watch any films with libraries or librarians this month.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


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

Categories
animation anime fantasy Librarians Libraries

This blog in 2021 (and beyond)

Doctor Strange surrounded by books in a magical library in an episode of What If…?

In my last post in 2021, I thought I’d review what I’ve posted on this blog in the past year. From my first post on January 5, until this one, I’ve written about library stereotypes, library classification, librarians of color, library users, records, library workers, non-human librarians, and romance. Other posts have focused on LGBTQ librarians (esp. gay and lesbian ones), male librarians, female librarians, censorship, abandoned libraries, ethics, data files, jokes, and more.

For the whole year, apart from the archives on my homepage, for old posts, nine posts garnered a significant amount of views:

Of these posts, three of them, at least, focus specifically on Librarians of Color, specifically the first one listed here about the unnamed librarian in We Bare Bears, the second one listed about the vampire librarian, Sophie Twilight, in Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood, and the seventh one about the librarian-soldiers in Library War. While I would note how many posts I have used the “librarian of color” tag, I know it is probably not even 50%, so I don’t even want to calculate that, as I’ll just end up depressing myself in the process, although, I may expand this in the future with other posts on other shows like Kokoro Library and Armed Librarians: Book of Bantorra. [1] While some of my best posts in 2020 were about POC librarians, like ones on librarians in Revolutionary Girl Utena, Gargantia (Dr. Oldham), Ascendance of a Bookworm (Myne), or Read or Die / R.O.D., some of my favorites, other than those on the above list, are as follows:

Of these posts, I loved watching Mira, Royal Detective, especially since it has a nice song and dance about the importance of libraries, reading, and learning. So, that was nice.

There was also a related post on BIPOC librarians in animated series (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and Yamibou), a guest post on Reel Librarians, rehashed shows I watched in 2020, which I enjoyed writing. I hope that in the future I can write other guest posts on Reel Librarian.

In 2021, posted about recently added titles in July / August, September, October, and November, and added a page about librarians, and libraries, in comics and webcomics. I also began series about fictional libraries and fictional librarians of the month. I expect that will continue until sometime next year.

I liked writing about Kaisa in Hilda (also see here), the chief librarian, and Black woman, in the series Welcome to the Wayne, Clara Rhone, and the British wrestler-librarian, the wonderful buff librarian, in an episode of Totally Spies. The same can be said about the librarian protagonists in Too Loud, the vampire librarian Sophie Twilight and the value of weeding collections, and the quiet sanctum and “peaceful” reading in the Seiran Academy library in Dear Brother. I also proposed the Librarian Proposal Test in August 10 in a post about the We Bare Bears, and expanded upon it on August 31.

Onward to a productive year ahead!

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Others may include Craig of the Creek, The Loud House, China IL, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Castlevania.

Categories
action adventure animation Comics Fiction genres Librarians Libraries public libraries webcomics White people

“Take them away”: Cletus Bookworm’s acquiescence to censorship

Shadowy figure threatens Rocky and Bullwinkle with a gun in the library

Forty-three years before Francis Clara Censordoll, the librarian of Moralton who spends her time destroying and censoring books, appeared in Moral Orel‘s first episode on December 13, 2005, was a White male stereotypical librarian named Cletus Bookworm, appearing in a 1962 episode of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, also known as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which aired from 1959 to 1964. [1] In this post, I’ll explain Bookworm’s role in the episode, how he supports censorship, and again shows, like Censordoll, that librarians are not neutral and can end up actively supporting oppression through their actions.

Seeing the massive weather changes in their community (Frostbite Falls, Minnesota), Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose are concerned. Rocky becomes suspicious after he learns that the weatherman has an unlisted number, sees that the weather report in the newspaper is “classified information,” and reads in the newspaper the report has been cancelled during “the emergency.” Realizing it is his duty as a citizen to know the weather, he and Bullwinkle travel to the Frostbite Falls Library in hopes of finding books about the weather. Little did they know, but a pack of beady eyes is watching them, with a mysterious/malignant figure bonking Rocky on the head and blocking the way out of the library for Rocky and Bullwinkle.

When the story continues, Rocky and Bullwinkle are stopped by a strange figure who tells them to hold it, pointing a gun at them, as they are carrying out books. Rocky thinks that the person with the gun is the librarian, saying he is threatening them because of their overdue books, ha. That is one vivid imagination, Rocky! They get threatened by the stranger and with their hands up, leaving the books behind, despite wanting to know about the weather. They go right by the desk of Cletus Bookworm, the town librarian. Rocky believes that it will all be fine, thinking that Bookworm will save them. Instead, he snarls and declares “I see that you got both of them. Good work.” Rocky tries to appeal to Bookworm, and he is unwavering, adding “take them away.”

As a result, Rocky and Bullwinkle are pushed out of the library by the shadowy figure, X3, at gunpoint, and through the streets of the town, still moving forward by gunpoint until they get to an office building, They come to a door titled “censored” and are brought inside. There they meet Captain Peter Peachfuzz who tells them that the weather is classified and that the weather is changing because the world is turning upside down. Ultimately, we learn in later episodes that the accumulation of ice at the North Pole tilts the world so the South Pole lies in the Pacific Ocean, with the villain, Boris, trying to steal people’s presents so he can become the next Santa Claus. [2]

Bookworm lets Rocky and Bullwinkle be taken away by gunpoint in two scenes in the second segment of “Topsy Turvy World”. He also supports their removal from the library.

It says a lot that Rocky, one of the show’s heroes, believes that Bookworm will be on their side, but then he literally lets them be taken out of the library by a man at gunpoint. Is he also part of the conspiracy to keep the reality of the changing weather from the public? Has he been paid off? Its something that is never answered in the episode, although it is implied. Furthermore, by not standing for the patrons, he is allowing and facilitating state violence against citizens, as it turns out that X3 is a secret agent who works for the government.

If we apply the Librarian Portrayal Test here, it would obviously fail. While the depiction of Bookworm would pass the first criterion, he would fail the next two as he is defined primarily as a librarian, and while he is integral to the plot, he is a stereotype in many ways. Unlike other librarian depictions, he is not a foil, nor is he there for laughs or does he shush patrons. He isn’t an information provider either, naughty (he is presumably prudish), or fulfilling any of the character types Jennifer Snoek-Brown outlines, but he also is not atypical. However, his appearance and demeanor seems to fulfill the old, miserly, curmudgeon stereotype embodied by librarians in animation time and time again. A recent example is the unnamed White female librarian in an episode of DC Super Hero Girls, although there are other examples as well.

Although I’ve noted how Bookworm contributes to the episode, about his depiction in the episode, I’d like to pose whether the episode itself could have worked without this. I believe that it could have been more interesting if Bookworm has stood up for the heroes and against censorship, even if he got injured in the process by X3. However, this was an animation for kids, so that storyline would have never been considered. The existing storyline and his actions, have an even deeper meaning, in terms of librarians supporting oppressive systems, and oppression itself.

For Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Frostbite Falls Library was undoubtedly seen as a respected “center of truth,” free, open to research, and disseminating knowledge, which has a “social responsibility to inform and educate for progress” as some libraries have stated about themselves. [3] They may have also seen the library itself as one that is inclusive and accepting, with “circles of knowledge.” However, they likely did not think about how their small town of 48 people, presumably with all White inhabitants, is immune to racism, nor how oppression and privilege play out in public libraries, whether institutionally or interpersonally. The latter has been stated by various libraries and an ALA division in the past. [4]

In this specific instance, Bookworm sides with the forces of censorship, represented by X3 and Captain Peachfuzz, all of which are White people. The supposition that librarians are said to be committed to education and open access to information is thrown into question with Bookworm allowing a X3 to remove the weather-related books from the library and remove library patrons from the library at gunpoint! Even so, the portrayal of the library as a place where commercial values dominate, but rather one with “democratic freedom” and “critical reason” is maintained, unlike the library in a few issues of the well-known webcomic, Girly, which is literally owned by a corporation, to give one example. [5] However, even advocates of these values in libraries have to admit that libraries can be “implicated in neoliberalism” and oppressive, abut can be “liberatory” and “allow the noncommercial values of freedom, equality, democracy, and reason.” And that brings us to further discussion of oppression within libraries.

Children looking at a window display in Asheville Colored Public Library, courtesy of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and section of Digital Public Library’s exhibit on history of public libraries focusing on segregated libraries.

Some librarians have argued, rightly, that libraries aren’t neutral in fighting against White supremacy and systemic racism, and said that current and historic inequities are inherent in libraries themselves, with librarians having their own internal biases. [6] Others have argued that oppression manifests itself in the oppression itself, including gender oppression, with gender-based stereotypes, sexual harassment, and men advancing more quickly to leadership positions than women, or noted institutional racism in libraries. Some have also noted systemic social issues which have plagued the library and information science professions, and called for cultural an structural change to institutions to address these issues, including adjusting and analyzing collecting policies and library practices. A number of libraries went further in their arguments, saying that libraries are not neutral, as they have “benefited from a system that privileges a dominant narrative and the perspectives and experiences of a select portion of our society,” have a history of systemic inequity and bias in collections, services, spaces, cataloging, and recruitment, and other library work, even described libraries themselves as as institutions which “hold power and privilege born from white supremacy culture.” [7] Then there are those who have said that libraries, like other institutions, have systems with inequity, as they have been “traditionally centered on whiteness and patriarchy as a default,” and has professional policies which have “furthered systemic oppression against under-represented groups.” These arguments make clear that libraries are not neutral, as stated by Chris BourgDavid Lankes, and Emily Drabinski, noting that neutrality is impossible.

This is in opposition to those like Ron Kelley, a former librarian in Arizona, who complained about the ALA asking people to supposedly join in Black Lives Matter protests. He declared that libraries should be apolitical and neutral, and grumbling about critical librarianship supposedly going against “a free society” and the values of a library, declaring that librarians should “provide access to information from all points of view, and let people make up their own minds,” acting like librarians have no opinions, biases, or whatnot, which is a clear lie. [8] His argument also invalidates the opinions of those like Meredith Farkas, a faculty librarian at Portland  Community College. She stated that neutrality upholds inequality, represents indifference toward marginalized communities, and said that if the majority of what is published representing “a white, male, Christian, heteronormative worldview, then we are not supporting the interests of other members of our communities by primarily buying those works.” This connects with the argument of librarian Sofia Leung, who stated, to the consternation of some, that much of library collections in the U.S. are “written by white dudes writing about white ideas, white things, or ideas, people,” and things stole from people of color, then “claimed as white property,” adding that the library field and educational institutions have been “sites of whiteness.” She went onto say that library collections which have materials by mostly White authors continue to promote Whiteness, with these collections indicating that said libraries don’t care what people of color think, consider them to be scholars, or as “valuable, knowledgeable, or as important as white people.”

Beyond this, other librarians argued that the dominant culture of the librarian profession normalizes bias, stated that libraries are on the one hand an intersection of “the individual, communities and knowledge” but are also places where “structures of injustice, exploitation, control, and oppression are nourished, normalized and perpetuated,” asked  about the current reality of academic, school, and public libraries in today’s society. Some, in noting efforts by Cuba after 1959 to build their own information infrastructure and computing industry, called for being skeptical of claims attached to algorithms and models of information retrieval, designing “alternative models and algorithms” outside of those in Silicon Valley, and having a project of critical search which qualification of what is relevant an inherently “interpretive, normative, and politically consequential act.” [9] Digital Projects Librarian at York University, nina de jesus, argued that since libraries exist within a culture and society of oppression and great disparity, they entrench oppression through their structure and values. de jesus also noted that, in their opinion, libraries contribute to ongoing colonization, are political (and liberal) institutions which are not neutral, stabilize intellectual property itself, rooted in ongoing Indigenous genocides, and are far from neutral, with information organized to construct whiteness as the “default, normal, civilized and everything else is Other.” They later noted that libraries, due to their relationship to the state itself are oppressive, and argued that libraries as they currently exist in the U.S. and Canada are “a tool of oppression, rather than of liberation.” [10]

Shadowy figure blocks heroes from leaving the library

Some readers may be asking why these last three paragraphs were added. Such readers might even say “I’m reading a pop culture review, not an academic article!” While it might have seemed like a bit a tangent, I will assure you that it is not. Instead, I was summarizing some perspectives from the librarian community which note, rightly, oppression within libraries, the librarian profession, and among librarians themselves. In a broader note, libraries themselves, as noted by Joshua Note, are “potentially key tools of oppression because they target the mind” and is connected to the conception that information literacy is a “potential tool of oppression.” [11] This is possible even if librarians consider all forms of racism and bigotry as wrongheaded, anti-intellectual, and unethical, and promote openness to rational dialogue and ideas, as Thomas B. Wall, University Librarian of Boston College stated in June 2020. Information literacy was once defined by the ALA as a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” On the one hand, Bookworm is impeding this literacy by giving official sanction to the forces of censorship, as I stated earlier. On the other, he is shaping this literacy by limiting the resources available to fulfill the information needs of Rocky and Bullwinkle (finding out the weather). Even so, by aligning with censorship, he is clearly violating standing ethics of the library profession, but I don’t think he cares much about that, just as Censordoll was totally fine with literally burning books she declared “obscene” and despised.

Bookworm, by allowing an armed g-man to take away the protagonist at gunpoint, is obviously not engaging in any racism, sexism, or the like. But, he is actively encouraging and applauding violence and intimidation, even of his own patrons, so he can lord over his quiet library “temple.” If Rocky or Bullwinkle had made too much noise, I imagine he wouldn’t be opposed to shushing them. Not in the slightest. It is definitely in his nature to do so. However, what he is doing does not seem to be systemic. That makes it different than, for example, segregation of libraries in the Jim Crow era when Black patrons either had to enter through segregated entrances, go into different reading rooms than White people, have worn-out books, and those who entered the White areas were asked to leave, ignored, or even police escorted them, with others “beaten and ended up in jail.” Protests against segregation in libraries began in the 1930s, but more were emboldened in 1950s and 1960s to integrate public libraries with sit-ins and lawsuits. Now, that is a story I’d love to see in film, animation, or some other media, in whatever way, shape, or form worked best. The closest we have come to this is a segregated library shown in scenes of Hidden Figures, where the reel White librarian is a gatekeeper, “literally keeping Black and Brown library users from knowledge and resources available to White members of the public.”

There’s another factor: violence and intimidation against librarians themselves, including sexual harassment against female librarians by patrons, or even murder in some cases. Is it possible that Bookworm was siding with the g-man in an effort of self-preservation? That might be one of the reasons for his actions. While one could say that he would have sided with the protagonists if the g-man didn’t have a gun, as I’ve already demonstrated, he was almost gleeful that that they were ejected from the library. Perhaps he was annoyed at them for not returning their late books? In any case, his acceptance of an armed man literally coming into the library and escorting out two loyal patrons, from what one can imply from how Rocky describes the library and even Bookworm, is inexcusable. No librarian should allow anyone to intimidate and threaten their patrons, as it makes the library environment itself unsafe. In the end, Cletus Bookworm’s acquiescence to censorship connects to systemic problems within libraries themselves and the librarian profession, but to values of libraries and what they stand for in society as a whole.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] The episode is “Topsy Turvy World,” and it aired in 1962. The segments analyzed in this post are three shorts within a YouTube video on the show’s official channel: “Topsy Turvy World” (1:44-5:13), “Funny Business in the Books” /”The Library Card” (17:55-21:22).

[2] William D. Crump, Happy Holidays–Animated!: A Worldwide Encyclopedia of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Cartoons on Television and Film (US: MacFarland, 2019), p 5. The episode itself ended up running afoul of censors, but not because of the plot about censorship, but due to something else they deemed offensive.

[3] James Hilton, “U-M Library statement: work against systemic racism,” University of Michigan Library, June 10, 2020; Holly Mercer, “A Message from UT Libraries,” University of Tennessee Knoxville Libraries, June 4, 2020; Nancy Dwyer, “Library Statement on Racial Injustice in Our Society,” Vanderbilt University, June 5, 2020; Staff of the William R. Jenkins Architecture, Design, and Art Library, “A Pledge to Our Students and Community,” University of Houston Libraries, July 7, 2020; “Special Message from the University of Georgia Libraries,” University of Georgia Libraries, June 12, 2020; Robert McDonald, “Statement from Dean Robert McDonald: Social Justice for All,” University of Colorado Boulder University Libraries, June 4, 2020; Melissa Cox Norris, “Standing in solidarity against systemic racism,” University of Cincinnati Libraries, June 3, 2020.

[4] “Understanding Power, Identity, and Oppression in the Public Library,” Public Library Association, American Library Association, accessed October 6, 2021; David Leonard, “Reflections on this week,” Boston Public Library, June 5, 2020; “In support of eliminating racism,” University of Iowa Libraries, June 17, 2020.

[5] In Issue #259, Autumn is seen at the Cute Town Library, which is owned by a corporation. It appears again in Issue #300, owned by Happy Co., later seen in Issue #545, where the protagonists go to the library to learn more, having arguments about what they know about specific subjects. In Issue #560, HappyCo. prides itself on fixing up old buildings to make them better, like the library. For an advocacy for these values in library’s see Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s smug post, and his comments, titled “Libraries, Neoliberalism, and Oppression.”

[6] “Preserving history, telling stories: in the service of justice and equity,” Arizona State University, June 3, 2020; Virginia Steel, “A Message from University Librarian Virginia Steel – June 2, 2020,” UCLA Library, June 2, 2020; “Statement from the Dean: Shouts for justice,” Indian University Bloomington, June 5, 2020; “A message from the Iowa State University Library: A stand against racism,” Iowa State University Library, June 3, 2020; “UK Libraries’ Commitment to Equity,” University of Kentucky Libraries, accessed October 6, 2021; Deborah Jakubs and staff of Duke University Libraries, “A Statement of Our Commitment,” Duke University Libraries, June 8, 2020; Andrea Smith, “A statement from the UIC University Library,” University of Illinois Chicago, July 1 2020; MIT Libraries and MIT Press, “A Message from the MIT Libraries and MIT Press,” MIT Libraries, June 3, 2020; “Our Commitment to Anti-Racism,” NYU Libraries, June 23, 2020; “A Statement of Solidarity,” UW-Madison Libraries, June 2, 2020; Laura Saunders, “Connecting Information Literacy and Social Justice: Why and How,” Communications in Information Literacy, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2017.

[7] Simon Neame, “Dean’s Statement on Acts of Racial Violence,” University of Massachusetts Amherst, June 2, 2020; Neil Romanosky, “Ohio University Libraries’ Commitment to Social Justice,” Ohio University Libraries, June 9, 2020; “A Statement from University Libraries Supporting Black Lives Matter,” Ohio University Libraries, June 15, 2020; Constantia Constantinou, “The Penn Libraries Stands Against Racism,” Penn Libraries News, June 5, 2020; Gwen Bird, “The SFU Library stands against anti-Black racism — progress update from the Dean,” Simon Fraser University, May 25, 2021; Catherine Quinlan, Nancy Olmos, Louise Smith, and Chiméne E. Tucker, “Message from the Dean and Faculty and Staff Leadership of USC Libraries,” USC Libraries, June 3, 2020; Cristina Hatem, “From the Dean and the SU Libraries Diversity and Inclusion Team,” Syracuse University Libraries, June 4, 2020; Multiple authors, “Library faculty and staff members add their individual voices to national issues of race and racism,” Virginia Tech Libraries, accessed October 6, 2021; Elaine L. Westbrooks, “The University Libraries’ Role in Reckoning with Systemic Racism and Oppression,” UNC University Libraries, June 1, 2020; Lizabeth (Betty) Wilson, “Responding to the Call: George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and Systemic Change,” UW Libraries Blog, June 5, 2020; Jessica Aiwuyor, “Association of Research Libraries Condemns Racism and Violence against Black Communities, Supports Protests against Police Brutality,” Association of Research Libraries, June 5, 2020; “Critical Cataloging and Archival Description,” UW Libraries, accessed October 6, 2021.

[8] His views were summarized in a Washington Free Beacon article with an inflammatory title “Arizona Librarian Fired for Push to Keep Politics Out of Libraries” and published on January 21, 2021, with the article reprinted in various conservative websites.

[9] This article also said that critical search would “actively strive to increase the visibility of counterhegemonic intellectual traditions and of historically marginalized perspectives” and called for building “systems of information diffusion and circulation that seek to amplify critical voices and to cut across linguistic, national, racial, gender, and class barriers.”

[10] de jesus also stated that the solution is decolonization, disrupting the system of intellectual property and other capitalist aspects, supporting Indigenous resistance, working to dismantling anti-Blackness, calling for daring and drastic changes if libraries are seen as “fundamentally white supremacist institutions,” while saying that libraries have “some emancipatory potential,” noting that if this is done then “libraries really could come to represent and embody freedom…becom[ing] focal points for the free exchange and access of ideas, knowledge, and imagination.”

[11] The original outline of de jesus’s article for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, stated that libraries, as “sites of indoctrination” even “target our minds,” and noted the perception that White people are the only ones with stories, with people of color not existing, while saying the police should be feared, and noted the faulty idea that people should “defer to white men.”

Categories
adventure animation anime fantasy Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums romance science fiction White people

Applying the “Librarian Portrayal Test” to librarian depictions

A quote from her January 2020 article, “The History and Debunking of Librarian Stereotypes

As I noted in my post on August 10, I proposed the Librarian Portrayal Test (LPT), as I’m calling it now. If anyone has a better name for it, I’m willing to consider that. The name of it isn’t set in stone. Again, here’s the criteria for the test, which focuses on portrayal of librarians in pop culture:

  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 know that fulfilling all of these criteria for pop cultural depictions won’t be easy, but some characters do meet all these criteria, but others, despite the fact they may be positive depictions of librarians, as I’ll explain in this post. This test is not a be-all-end-all either. Even if a librarian only appears in one episode of a series and it is a good depiction of a librarian, I’ll still write about it, even if it doesn’t fall under this criteria. I see this test as just one more tool that I can use to analyze representation of librarians in pop culture. And it isn’t a perfect test either, as I’m totally willing to revise and change it in the future as is necessary. What is above is not set in stone.

Now, let me go through librarians who are portrayed in popular culture that I’ve written on this blog up to this point. For one, there are unnamed librarians in Futurama, Steven Universe, Sofia the First, Diamond Dive, and Cardcaptor Sakura. The same can be said about the elderly librarian who is arrested by the authorities in the first episode of Zevo-3, and librarians in episodes of The Simpsons, the male librarian in an episode of The Owl House. There are many librarians who are shown as strict and/or as shushers. This is evidently clearly from the shushers in episodes of Big City GreensCourage the Cowardly Dog, Kick Buttowski, We Bare Bears, and Boyfriends, along with strict librarians, who often shushed as well. The latter includes librarians in animated series ranging from Rugrats to Martin Mystery, Teen Titans Go! to Carl Squared. [1] The same could be said for curmudgeon librarians in episodes of two other animated series: DC Super Hero Girls and Mysticons. All of these librarians would clearly fail the LPT, as would the librarian in the Steven Universe comic which I wrote about on August 17.

Some librarians are what I’d call one-note wonders in the sense that they do little outside their jobs as librarians or only in one episode, like the librarian in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mr. Scott in Tamberlane, or Mrs. Higgins in Sofia the First. Both are well-meaning, but only appear in the library and nowhere else. This can even be the case for librarians like Violet Stanhope or the new librarian supervisor Ms. Herrera in Archie’s Weird Mysteries. They are positive portrayals of librarians, for sure, but neither is shown outside the library, although for Violet, she gets a bit of a pass, since she is a ghost after all. You could say the same about the British wrestler-librarian in Totally Spies, as although I like her character in some respects, her role beyond being a librarian isn’t that well explored, the unnamed librarian who appears in a Steven Universe comic, or the librarian who helps Candace Flynn in an episode of Phineas and Ferb, “The Doonkelberry Imperative.” At the same time, librarians are only background characters in episodes of various series, including Revolutionary Girl Utena, Little Witch Academia, and Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters. Again, sadly, all these characters can’t fully fulfill all the aspects of the LPT.

The librarian shown as unable to shelve books correctly.

More specifically, the spinister librarian in the Futurama episode “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” is there literally for laughs, being so “dumb” that she can’t even shelve a book correctly in the city’s library. Furthermore, the unnamed librarian of the Buddy Buddwick Library in Steven Universe episode “Buddy’s Book,” shushes the protagonists, Steven and Connie, not once…but twice! Additionally, there is a character named “The Librarian” in She-Ra: Princess of Power episode, “Three Courageous Hearts,” who helps the protagonists, but he is White, and male, fulfilling so many stereotypes often associated with librarians, especially in animation. Unfortunately, even the character played by Emilio Estevez, Stuart Goodson, in the film The Public, does not succeed at fulfilling this test, as he is not shown much beyond being…a librarian, albeit an atypical one. Even so, the film is definitely worth seeing. These are, again, more portrayals which do not fulfill all the aspects of the LPT, as explained earlier.

There are some characters which go past stereotypes and fulfill the LPT. [2] Some arguably do this, like Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry or even, to some extent, Turtle Princess in Adventure Time. In the latter case, she undoubtedly shushes the protagonists, but she is more than just a librarian, having a major role in two episodes, and a minor role in 19 episodes, according to her fandom page. The latter describes her as “a princess who is also the head of a library in the Land of Ooo. She is considered a registered princess.” More significantly is Doctor Oldham in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and the protagonist of Ascendance of A Bookworm, Myne, who is becoming a librarian! In the case of Oldham, he is much more than a librarian, as he is a doctor, a sage, and such. He is a bit like Jocasta Nu in Star Wars, the Jedi Archivist, but does not believe he has all the information there is, unlike her. George and Lance, on the other hand, are the fathers of one of the protagonists, Bow, and are historical researchers, historians to be exact, clearly having a life outside of curating their library. As for Myne, she has wide interests and desires in this medieval society, whether it is re-organizing books while using a Japanese version of the Dewey Decimal System, helping her friends, or making books, she is very industrious.

Kaisa, the librarian in the Trolberg City Library, is another excellent example of a character who has a life outside the library. While this wasn’t clear from her appearance in the first season of Hilda, in the second season she got a name and was shown to be a witch, even helping the protagonists track down tide mice which took over a local company. She is never shown shushing people, only telling the protagonist and her friends to keep it down because the library is closed, and is clearly atypical in comparison to most librarian portrayals, fights in the bowels of the beautiful library alongside the protagonists. She also, likely, has a professional degree in library science, although it is never specifically mentioned. Her character undoubtedly fulfills the LPT.

Hisa in various episodes of R.O.D. the TV, one of the librarians in the series and classmate of one of the protagonists.

Apart from Oldham, George, Lance, and Kaisa are the librarians in Read or Die and R.O.D. the TV. They are much more than librarians, but can wield paper, using their papermaster skills to fight off those trying to restrict the flow of knowledge. The same is the case for the librarian-soldiers in Library War and it contrasts Francis Clara Censordoll in Moral Orel, who is dedicated toward censorship by any means possible, including book burning. While there are other examples of characters who are protagonists or recurring characters which are more than their jobs as librarians, especially in anime series, [3] there are a few wonderful examples. One of these is Sara and Jeffrey in Too Loud, who are librarians which are clearly too loud, but they make it their place of work, and they help other people around the town, not chained to the library. While there are also older librarians, even they arguably may not be totally stereotypical. Another example is Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. While she is first and foremost shown as a librarian, she is much more than that, helping the protagonists fight the villains, gather information, and access it, that is held in the library of The Wayne, known as The Stanza. She is also a Black woman, unique for portrayal of librarians, especially in Western animation, which are generally shown as White women. She has a daughter, Goodness, who helps her with the library, while she remains the chief librarian, as do many other helpers, so she isn’t doing all the work alone.

Other well-developed characters, who happen to be librarians, also appear in animation, especially, from time to time. This includes Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, who has her own personal beautiful library. Like Myne, she wants to, in one of the Equestria Girls specials, reorganize the library using a cataloging machine. The same can be said, you could argue, about the Wizard librarian in episodes of Prisoner Zero, as he starts as a librarian, who runs a beautiful and amazing library in the bowels of the ship. He later becomes one of the protagonists and helps the heroes fight evil and win the day in whatever way he can. Best of all is Sophie Twilight in Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood, who is shown weeding her own library, getting rid of books she doesn’t want anymore and is willing to give away, one of the first times I’ve seen weeding of materials shown in an animated series.

Most recently, Amity Blight in The Owl House has been confirmed as a librarian. While she was shown as doing storytime at the Bonesborough Public Library before, and she fought alongside Luz Noceda, her love interest, in the stacks against books which had come to life, a recent episode expanded this. As I noted in my July 11th newsletter, in the episode “Through the Looking Glass Ruins,” Amity and Luz travel to the “Forbidden Stacks” to find a book by a human who came to Boiling Isles before Luz ended up there by accident. By the end, Amity and Luz strengthen their bond as friends, and companions, after Luz gets Amity’s job as a librarian back. Amazing to have a LGBTQ librarian (Amity is a lesbian) be in such a prominent show. That’s cool.

Luz and Amity shush each other in hopes of being quiet enough so they can hide from Amity’s boss…

Another librarian who undoubtedly passes the LPT is Blinky. He appears across the Tales of Arcadia trilogy, but his role is a librarian is mostly emphasized in Trollhunters. As I noted in a recent post, his character, voiced by Kelsey Grammer, is an information provider, and atypical when it comes to portrayal libraries. This is because he is a well-rounded character, intelligent, well-read, and for most of the scenes he appears in, he is NOT in a library. However, he has no professional training and his library is mainly filled with books, making it a book depository in a sense. Unfortunately, we never see what classification or organization system he uses, although he undoubtedly has one. On the other hand, his library is shown as a place of knowledge, with characters using it often, and he is so vital to the show that if he was removed from the story, then it would unravel. On the whole, he is one of the best depictions of librarians I have seen in popular culture and in animated series, in some time, and he should be praised for that.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Other examples include Ms. Hatchet in an episode of Kim Possible, Mrs. Shusher in The Replacements, Libro Shushman in Teamo Supremo, Rita Loud in Timon & Pumbaa, Bat Librarian in Rose of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mrs. L in Dexter’s Laboratory, as noted in my post back in April.

[2] While the life of Swampy in Phineas and Ferb is shown outside the library, he is never shown in the library again after his debut episode, meaning he has become a rock star, and clearly fulfills the stereotype of a librarian who is a failure. Otherwise, Khensu in Cleopatra in Space, if he is considered a librarian, would fulfill this test, easily. The same can, obviously, be said about Mateo in Elena of Avalor, Ah-Mah in The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, and Kaeloo in Kaeloo, if all of this characters are counted as librarians.

[3] I’m specifically referring to Lilith in Yamibou, Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words, Yamada in B Gata H Kei, Fumi Manjome in Aoi Hana / Sweet Blue Flowers, Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, and Anne and Grea in Manaria Friends. Additionally, in some episodes of Mira, Royal Detective, Mira and her father act as librarians in regard to the mobile library.

Categories
animation fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries White people

Francis Clara Censordoll, censorship, and the non-neutrality of librarians

Censordoll literally dipping a “bad” book in kerosene, so it can be burned, in the show’s first episode!

Francis Clara Censordoll is the town librarian (voiced by David Herman and Jay Johnston), employed at the Thomas Bowdler Library in the town of Moralton, the capital of the imaginary state of Statesota (in the Western part of what we would call Missouri) in the series Moral Orel. She sounds like a someone who literally violates existing library codes of ethics, with the fandom site for the show calling her “a puritanical individual who spends her time censoring and destroying books she considers immoral ,” with the initials of her name being FCC, protesting in front of the local movie theater, and will even violate her “code of ethics” if it gets her what she want. The same fandom site describes her as the “main antagonist of the show,” is one of two female characters, in the show, “to be voiced by a man,” and may have “otherworldy abilities.” Since she appears in 11 episodes, [1] I thought it would be worthwhile to do a post about this, to review it as a whole, as it also debunks, in a lot of ways, that librarians are “neutral,” as libraries are not neutral spaces in any way, shape, or form.

In the show’s first episode, “The Lord’s Greatest Gift,” she is protesting The Wizard of Oz in front of the movie theater. Orel and his friend go to the library, which has the motto of “purifying literaure since 1818,” they talk to her and she is making a list of special books (like Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451NecronomiconHow Stell Got Her Goove Back, and others) to burn, dipping them in karosene. She says the books teach us “too much.” Of couse, Orel grabs one of the books, causing the rest to fall on a little girl nearby who is also at the library. He gets the idea to dig up some dead people as he reads the Necronomicon, with his friend Doughy helping him. She is later shown burning a bunch of “bad” books in a bible, and says she will only burn the “Jewish parts” of the Bible.

In the show’s fifth episode “The Blessed Union,” the fifth episode of the series, Orel visits Censordoll in the library, asking her about what makes a woman happy and she says this is junk, saying she will picket in front of the church in protest. Then, in the show’s 10th episode, “The Best Christmas Ever,” she is protesting in front of the movie theater, which is showing It’s A Wonderful Life, chanting with two others: “everytime you hear a bell, an angel burns in hell.” In the first episode of the show’s second season, in the episode “God’s Image,” Censordoll is on the town council, complaining that the Figurellis would want their separate book burnings. Later, the segregation of them reaches such a level that someone torches their house. Orel’s father says he has made it inconvient for the racists by segregating them, with the segregation of the Figurellis coming an end. In the episode “Offensiveness,” Mr. Sal Figurelli, who runs the corner store, worries about Censordoll, as she likes her eggs a specific way and is very picky about them. Apparently its the only thing she eats! Yikes. She says eggs are one of life’s only pleasures, apart from protesting, picketing, and purifying. She then threatens Sal, saying he is safe from her “moral sanction” for now.

So, Orel decides to spend more time at the library, sees that Censordoll is writing signs for a Saturday picket at the movie theater against The Greatest Story Ever Told. Later, she takes the books out of his hand (Understanding the Human Body, The Little Prince, The Planet of the Apes, and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species), putting them in a metal barrel with the label “BOOK DEPOSITORY.” While he is a bit terrified by this, she gives him a pickled egg. He goes to the picket that Saturday and finds out that Censordoll is 40 years old (even though she looks older) as that is her birthday. They proceed to picket a Blood Bank, a Coffee Shop, and a Protestant hospital. Orel is so caught up with the crowd Censordoll has cultivated that he even pickets, with others, at Sal’s corner store, and as a result, a resolution is passed which outlaws all eggs in the town! Censordoll later sneaks in somewhere (a club-like atmosphere in a barn) so she can eat some eggs.

Censordoll writes a picket sign in the episode “Offensiveness”

She later appears in the episodes “Be Fruitful and Multiply” (at the church) and  “Geniusis.” In the latter she is part of the mob that goes after the “missing link” monkey which gets frozen in ice. Later, she appears in the episodes “Orel’s Movie Premiere” watching Orel’s new movie. In “Alone,” we finally see Censordoll in her apartment, with a fridge filled with nothing but eggs! She also is scheming to gain more power in the town, even with a diorama of the whole town. She talks to her mother angrily, blaming her for not raising her right, and saying she is not holier-than-thou but is holier than her. Censordoll lives in an apartment complex with other “spinsters” called The Aloneford. She later declares she is the “matriarch of Moralton” as she rubs a church steeple, in her diorama, in a phallic way.

In another episode, “Help,” there is a flashback to Censordoll when she is younger, with Orel’s mother, Roberta, embarassed by Orel who declares she will never get married. Later, Roberta and Clay get to know each other better, with Robert conjoling Clay into marrying her. The final episode she appears in is “Nesting,” which begins with her. There is a flashback to three months before, with a protest against eggs in front of Sal’s corner shop, which Censordoll is part of. It turns out that Orel’s dad, Clay, is the mayor of the town and he isn’t so sure about getting rid of eggs, pulling out a note from his desk with a warning from her saying that if eggs are outlawed than his days in office are numbered. In the present, Censordoll begins a campaign for mayor to legalize eggs in the town, able to use her skills to brainwash Orel into joining her in this effort.

Orel becomes Censordoll’s campaign manager, annoying Clay, who usually runs unopposed in the race for Mayor. He calls Censordoll a “mad woman” and at the debate, he says he only banned the “inhuman” eggs, the “vile” ones, not all eggs. Censordoll concedes to her “worthy opponent” and says she has no business to run for office “when there are books to burn,” telling Orel to see her at the library. Clay tries to make up with Orel, but it goes badly, with Clay ultimately saying he is “glad” he shot him! Oh no. The episode ends with Censordoll and Clay (who was about to kiss Daniel Stopframe), with Censordoll beginning her manipulation of Clay. The fandom page for Censordoll says her character would have been explored more with an affair between Clay in a fourth season. That would have added another interesting plot thread, to say the least.

Censordoll campaigns for mayor. I think this scene is definitely a reference to the famous scene in Citizen Kane, but that’s only my theory.

Censordoll has been described as “the uptight town librarian…on a loopy parade of ridiculous rants,” “intolerant librarian,” and she censors all, as implied from her name, and although she works as an “agent of repression she is more than willing to engage in acts that suit her needs, whether that be seducing the mayor or gaining access to the object(s) of her obsession.” Others call her a puritanical woman who spends her time censoring and destroying books that she deems immoral, a barren librarian, a “book-burning librarian,” and a library whose “job is to protect children from ‘filthy thoughts’.”

Clearly she fulfills library stereotypes, especially when it comes being puritanical, punitive, and unattractive, to summarize the stereotypes section of the Librarians in popular culture Wikipedia page. While she is middle-aged, bun-wearing, and “comfortably shod,” she is not a “shushing librarian” that Gretchen Keer wrote about in 2015 for American Libraries. The town itself is a place where “religion and rules reign supreme and the appearance of piety,” as one blogger points out, and Censordoll is no “wayward librarian.” Rather she is a central part of the town’s moral fabric. Not only is she anything but neutral, but she is a contradiction in and of itself. Of course, other shows should not follow the example of Censordoll and have librarians like her, who are literally villainous and brainwash people. However, there should be librarians who are shown to not be not neutral, but are rather active proponents of change, or alternatively supporting the status quo, as both could engender interesting discussion when it comes to the role of librarians in society.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] “The Best Christmas Ever,” “The Lord’s Greatest Gift,” “The Blessed Union,” “God’s Image,” “Offensiveness,” “Be Fruitful and Multiply,” “Geniusis,” “Orel’s Movie Premiere,” “Alone,” “Help,” and “Nesting.”