Categories
action adventure animation anime dimly lit libraries drama fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries live-action magic libraries Movies Pop culture mediums public libraries religious libraries special libraries speculative fiction

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

Eztli shushes Victor with her extended skeleton arm

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

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

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

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there is “something nostalgic about reading books” and possibly even gives the implication that the librarian career is outdated.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
action animation fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction

“Respected by the characters”: Paige Turner, the librarian in the Arthur TV series

Trading card of Paige Turner formerly on the PBS Kids website

In October 2012, a librarian described Paige Turner, a librarian at the Elwood City Public Library in the series, Arthur, as a “sweet, caring woman who enjoys students checking out books and who wants to help the children,” adding that she is “somewhat strict” as she wants people to be reasonably quiet and behave, often respected by characters. The librarian further said that this librarian portrayal is positive, encouraging “students and children to seek out the library as a place to gain knowledge or find books/information.” Turner was also mentioned by TV Tropes as an example of a “scary librarian.” The latter made me question whether it would be worth watching episodes just for her, but upon reading the wiki page for her, noting she appears in 47 episodes, I decided it would be worth a try to watch each of those episodes and come to an assessment here.

Turner, librarian at the Elwood City Library, and has been described as a “minor adult character who is not seen outside of the library.” Her character doesn’t change much during the series, and her name itself is a pun in and of itself. A running gag is how her patrons fear her due to their worries of responsibility of failure. Over the course of the series, her hair colors changes, while she remains polite, calm, and friendly to patrons and others, wearing various watches and glasses. [1] Unlike some other librarians, she is not human, but is, rather, a rabbit!

She begins the series as a minor character in the episode “Arthur and the Real Mr. Ratburn” alongside another librarian, Mrs. Lancaster. The latter character appears later as an apartment resident, and is locked out of the library’s computer network system in the episode “Arthur Makes a Movie” as is Turner. Her voice actress is not currently known. Turner has a role in a later episode, enforcing rules, and helps Arthur check out a book. Beyond this, she reminds Arthur and his friends about the time the library will close, helps fulfill their information needs, appears to remove books at the request from a parents’ organization, hosts an event about safety, and has minor roles in other episodes. [2] This isn’t all. She helps people get their own library cards, puts out an open call for a musician to perform at the library, asks for assistance in holding a fundraiser for a new library reading room, mentions the replacement of books with so-called “bookazines“, and convinces a character to become an author! She, additionally, checks out book for patrons, is able to get patrons to appeal to the City Council so the library can be saved from closure, and deals with patrons who shush other patrons who makes “too much noise in the library.” [3] She is so popular that the kids even try and set her up with another character, Mr. Ratburn, although this doesn’t work because he is gay.

One moment where she shines in the series is the episode “Arthur’s Almost Live Not Real Music Festival” where she sings two versions of the song “Library Card.” It is a song about more books, story time, puppet shows, and offerings of the library. This is where her voice actress really comes through. At first it isn’t clear who that voice actress, is however. It is confirmed that Kate Hutchinson voiced her in Season 16, and Felicia Shulman in Season 21, but its not known who voiced her in this song, as even Behind the Voice Actors only names Hutchinson and no one else. IMDB clears it up: Hutchinson voiced Turner from 1996 to 2012. That means she is the one singing here! [4]

Turner is said to be “kind and friendly to people who check out books” but not afraid to be strict, disliking those who get too noisy or misbehave. She is even pictured as an antagonist in the dream sequences the kids have, interestingly enough. This is because she is an authority figure who is in charge of the library. [5] She is not to be confused with the drag queen of the same name!

On the whole, she appears to be a much more positive depiction of a librarian than many of the librarians on this blog, perhaps on par with Kaisa in Hilda, Desiree in Too Loud, or Fumio Murakumi in Girl Friend Beta but not directly supporting the forces of oppression and censorship like Cletus Bookworm or Francis Clara Censordoll. She is not magical like Cagliostro in What If…? or Blinky in Trollhunters, and definitely not a washed up former rock star like Swampy in Phineas and Ferb. While it is not known if she is overworked like the unnamed librarian in an episode of We Bare Bears, she definitely isn’t some librarian-soldier fighting enemies. That is clear.

Turner appears to pass the first tenant of the Librarian Portrayal Test, and the final tenant, as she isn’t necessarily stereotypical. However, she completely fails the second tenant: that her character be not only, or primarily, defined by their role as a librarian. This is because she is, from the sources I consulted, never seen outside the library.

Onto the next post!

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] See Dee Ann Wotring’s “Librarian by Day, Dance Queen by Night” (Mar. 1, 2010); Wikipedia list of fictional librarians, and list of Arthur characters, “Arthur,” JCP Live Productions, accessed December 23, 2021.

[2] See “Locked in the Library! (episode)“, “Francine Frensky, Superstar“, “Arthur and the True Francine (episode)“, “I’m a Poet“, “The Scare-Your-Pants-Off Club“, “Binky Barnes, Art Expert“, “Buster Hits the Books“, “Arthur’s Faraway Friend“, “Sue Ellen’s Lost Diary“, “D.W. Blows the Whistle“, “D.W.’s Name Game“, “Buster’s Back“, “Background Blues“, “Arthur’s Dummy Disaster“, “Prunella’s Special Edition“, “Fernkenstein’s Monster“, “Sue Ellen Chickens Out“, “Unfinished“, “Mind Your Manners“, “Phony Fern“, “The Making of Arthur“, “Dancing Fools“, “Mr. Alwaysright“, “Do You Believe in Magic?“, “Brain Gets Hooked“, “To Eat or Not to Eat“, “Get Smart“, “The Best Day Ever“, “Brain Freeze“, “The Case of the Girl with the Long Face“, “The Tardy Tumbler“, “Brain Sees Stars“, “Binky Can’t Always Get What He Wants“, and “Muffy’s House Guests” pages on the Arthur Wiki. She also had cameo in the episode “Moose on the Loose” of Postcards for Buster.

[3] “D.W.’s Library Card (episode)“,  “My Music Rules“, “You Are Arthur“, “Breezy Listening Blues“, “Fern and Persimmony Glitchet“, “Prunella Packs It In“, “Last Tough Customer“, and “Sue Ellen and the Last Page” pages on the Arthur Wiki.

[4] This is further confirmed by her CV, for instance.

[5] See the “Paige Turner” page on the Heroes Wiki, “Pagie [sic] Turner” page on the TVOKids Arthur Wiki, and the “Elwood City Public Library” page on the Elwood City Wiki.

Categories
action adventure animation Chinese people fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries special libraries speculative fiction Thai people White people

Behind the Screen: Asian and Latin American voices of fictional librarians

From left to right: Benedict Wong, Ashly Burch, Joey Haro, Elaine Del Valle, and Kenn Navarro

There are Asian and Latin American actors who have voiced many librarians in fiction over the years. Part of understanding fictional librarians is understanding those behind the screen and this article contributes to that. Part 1 of this series focused on Black women and men who voice fictional librarians.

In this part, I am profiling Asian and Latin American voice actors who voiced librarians.

About the voice actors

There are many talented voice actors who aren’t White men or White woman, who comprise the majority of those who voice animated librarians, especially in Western animation. These talented voice actors include Benedict Wong as Wong in What If…? episode (“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”), Ashly Burch who likely voices an unnamed librarian in a We Bare Bears episode (“The Library”), and Joseph “Joey” Haro as Mateo in Elena of Avalor. Specifically, Burch is of Thai descent, Wong is of Hong Kong descent, and Haro is of Cuban descent (and is gay).

There’s also Elaine Del Valle as Val the Octopus in Dora the Explorer episode (“Backpack”) who is Latine, and Kenn Navarro as Flippy in Happy Tree Friends episode (“Random Acts of Silence”) who is a Filipino animator. Additionally, there is Emanuel Garijo as Kaeloo in French in Kaeloo episode (“Let’s Play at Reading Books”). Doug Rand voices Kaeloo in the English dub, and Domenico Coscia in the Italian dub, to name another character. As it turns out, Navarro is one of the creators of Happy Tree Friends, while Valle is known  as the actor and writer of an one-woman stage play she created: Brownsville Bred. Garijo has done French voice work for years, while Rand has done English voice work, while I couldn’t find anything on Coscia.

Another person worth mentioning is Vivienne Medrano, a Latine animator of Salvadoran descent who created the animated shows Hazbin Hotel and Helluva Boss along with a video for her webcomic Zoophobia. She voices Sarah in Nico Colaleo’s series, Too Loud, replacing Julia Vickerman, who was racked by controversy following allegations that she engaged in pedophilia, after beginning her series, Twelve Forever, which was sadly cancelled by Netflix after the end of its first season. The reason for its cancellation is not known.

It is also highly probable that Janice Kawaye, an actress of Japanese descent who has voiced characters since 1983, likely voices the librarian in Totally Spies episode (“Totally Switched”). Kawayke has voiced characters like Couchpo in Edens Zero, Shiori in Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon, Jenny / XJ-9 in My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Sara in Invader Zim, to name a few characters she has voiced.

An additional late entry to this list is Jenny Lorenzo, who presumably voices the skeleton librarian, Eztli, in an episode of Victor and Valentino. Lorenzo is known for her role as Lupe in the same show, but she has also voiced Choo Choo and Spooky in Jellystone. She is a Cuban-American actor known for her work on We Are Mitú and is a co-founder of BuzzFeed’s Pero Like, becoming a viral sensation for her Abuela character, and what her IMDB page calls “relatable, Latino-based content seen through the comedic and nostalgic lens of a 1st generation Cuban-American.”

Another additional entry is Danny Trejo. He voices Bobby Daniels, a bad-boy librarian in an episode of The Ghost and Molly McGee. Trejo, who is of Mexican descent, is best known for his role as Isador “Machete” Cortez in the Spy Kids franchise films. In terms of animation, he voiced Enrique, Victor Velasquez, and other characters in multiple King of the Hill episodes, along with assorted roles in El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, The Cleveland Show, Young Justice (as Bane), Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, and Tangled: The Series (as Wreck Marauder / Malice Marauder). He also voiced characters in Big City GreensElena of Avalor, 3Below: Tales of Arcadia (Tronos), Victor and Valentino, and The Casagrandes.

About the characters

From left to right: Wong, unnamed librarian, Val, Flippy, Kaeloo, Sarah, unnamed librarian, and Eztli

As I described Wong, he is the first librarian shown in the series What If…?, trying to guide Doctor Strange, warning him that tinkering with time will threaten the entire fabric of the universe, but he cares little. Even so, he later helps the good Strange train to fight the evil Strange. Unfortunately, he has less of a role in the episode as the other librarian, Cagliostro. Luckily, he has more of a role in the live-action films, as Jennifer Snoek-Brown has written about time and again.

The librarian in the We Bare Bears episode, on the other hand, is stern, has some characteristics of a spinster librarian, professional work attire, wanting to do her job and following the rules. I concluded that she is probably overworked and exhausted, something you don’t always see when you see depictions of librarians in animation. She also is helpful to patrons, even letting them sleep in the library, which I found surprising. Mateo, on the other hand, is a wizard and royal advisor to the show’s protagonist, Elena. He bucks stereotypes of Latine people, not shushing people at all, remaining as helpful as he can instead.

Val the Octopus is a minor character in Dora the Explorer, having a variety of odd jobs like running a cash register, driving a mail truck (or an ice cream truck), being a lifeguard, or a librarian. She is the latter in the episode (“Backpack”) and is vary courteous to Dora.

Flippy in Happy Tree Friends episode (“Random Acts of Silence”) is perhaps the most murderous librarian I have ever seen in animation to-date. This not unique to this episode, as he often causes other characters to die on purpose. Despite this, he seems to die very infrequently during the run of the series.

Kaeloo is the protagonist of Kaeloo. She is the guardian of the place known as Smileyland and has an ambiguous gender. And in the episode “Let’s Play at Reading Books” she acts as a librarian, attempting to shush people and get them to listen, even though this is a failure.

Sarah in Colaleo’s series, Too Loud, is a new librarian who joins Sara and Desiree (going by a different name for much of the series), brought in to help out with the library. While Sara nor Desiree are big fans of her at first, they come around to her, and she becomes more of their friend as the series moves forward, helping with librarian matters.

Librarian in Totally Spies episode (“Totally Switched”) is one of the most interesting librarian characters in fiction that I have ever seen. Due to a personality switcher, which switched her personality with that of a wrestler, she becomes buff and even throws a patron across the room. She is later shown listing weights and doing jump rope. Hopefully she becomes a stronger librarian and better to her librarian.

Another entry is Eztli in the Victor and Valentino episode “An Evening with Mic and Hun”. In the episode, Victor and Valentino, who are in the underworld, have to get past Eztli, a skeleton librarian, who shushes them. Victor won’t stand for this, while his brother, Valentino comes up with a plan. This is disregarded as the librarian is smashed by a boulder and they get the extra skeleton arm she is holding. In the episode, she is also shown putting a book on a cart and stamping a book with a past due stamp, with the fee of one soul.

One final entry is Bobby Daniels in an episode of The Ghost and Molly McGee which is aptly named “Bad Boy Bobby Daniels”. In the episode, Molly, her father, and Scratch go to the Mewline Public Library to find the Bad Boy of Brighton, Bobby Daniels, to help her elderly friend. They attempt to turn Daniels “back” into a bad boy but it doesn’t work and they let him stay as the librarian. Later, Bobby and Patty get together after Molly put in a false book delivery notice. Their love ends up blossoming and it seems that he is taken away from his library job.

That’s all for this post! Until the next one!

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
animation fantasy Librarians Libraries White people

Fictional Library of the Month: Blinky’s library in “Tales of Arcadia”

Blinky overjoyed with reading in the episode “Party Monster,” while others read books behind him

Hello everyone! This is the seventh edition of my feature series, “Fictional Library of the Month” (see the ones for November, December, January, February, March, and April) which includes a post of one fictional library every month, prioritizing currently airing shows, but also including older shows. And with that, this post will focus on Blinky’s library in the Tales of Arcadia third-part series.

About the library

The library consists of books that Blinky has collected in one way or another. It is, like the rest of the troll dwellings, underground.

Role in the story

The characters come to the library on multiple occasions to find information to help them fight evil. Blinky is more than happy to oblige with this, loving to read books and share knowledge.

Does the library buck stereotypes?

Not necessarily. The order and organization of the library itself is haphazard and seems more like a book storage room than a library. It is a miracle the characters are able to find what they are looking for.

Any similarity with libraries in other shows?

It isn’t necessarily a magic library, like other shows, in that it seems to consist of books that Blinky either got from his brother, or are ones he collected on his own. So, in that way, it is not like other series.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
adventure Comics fantasy Fiction genres Librarians speculative fiction webcomics White people

Fictional Librarian of the Month: Barebones in “Brownie and Barebones”

Barebones behind the information desk in the episode “Dereck (part four)

Hello everyone! This continues from the “Fictional Librarian of the Month” entries for November, December, January, February, and March with this series focusing on fictional librarian every month, prioritizing those in currently shows, but also covering older shows, using entries from the “List of fictional libraries” from time to time. This month, I’d like to highlight Barebones in the webcomic Brownie and Barebones, one of my favorite webcomics.

About the librarian

Barebones is a part-time human and dragon who lives with Brownie, a hapless artist, and has a boss who is a workaholic. This includes working as a librarian at a local library from time to time. He also, according to the Q&A, met Brownie in the library.

Role in the story

He is one of the webcomic’s protagonists and he goes on adventures with Brownie when he isn’t at work and she isn’t at the university. He is told to catalogue books and help patrons. He has occasional adventures in the library with Brownie. In a sense, he helps his boss, Anthony, get a boyfriend later in the series, as he likes hunky men. He is gay, while his boyfriend, Dereck, is bisexual, according to the Q&A.

Does the librarian buck stereotypes?

In the sense that he doesn’t want to do his job and slacks off from work, yes. Also, he is not shown shushing anyone. He also steals books from the library, so in that way he is a bad librarian. Sometimes he accidentally lights books on fire too.

Any similarity with librarians in other shows?

In the sense that he wears glasses, yes. However, he is British and there aren’t that many series I have watched as of yet, with British librarians, so that makes him different from other librarians. He also is skipping out on work all the time, more interested in going on adventures than going to the library where a strict Anthony is his boss.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
action adventure animation fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums speculative fiction

Fictional Library of the Month: Library of the Eternal Equinox in “Mysticons”

Library of the Eternal Equinox from the front in the episode “Happily Never After”

Hello everyone! This is the fifth edition of my feature series, “Fictional Library of the Month” (see the ones for November, December, January, and February) which includes a post of one fictional library every month, prioritizing currently airing shows, but also including older shows. And with that, this post will focus on Library of the Eternal Equinox in Mysticons episode “Happily Never After.”

About the library

A mythical and vast library which is high in the clouds, guarded very closely, only accessed by privileged top Astromancers or almighty gods or goddesses. There are thousands of spellbooks, with some of the strongest spells, in addition to ordinary books. Mr. Snellson is the enforcer of the library. He is a large snail who enforces the rules and wants a safe, happy, and quiet library for all. He is also a literary agent.

Role in the story

The protagonists come there to stop Proxima from acquiring an ancient ink but become trapped within the librarian’s ancient, mystical tome. Arkayna tries to reach Proxima, but Proxima pushes her away. The protagonists stop the library from burning, but Proxima escapes.

Does the library buck stereotypes?

Perhaps, but it also falls into the libraries-are-magic/librarians-are-magic idea, which, as has been explained on this blog, is a bad thing. However, the library itself is well-lit and above ground, so in that way, I suppose it does go against stereotypes.

Any similarity with libraries in other shows?

Just like the libraries in What…If?Hilda, and Welcome to the Wayne, it is a magical library in more ways than one, which brings with it problems of its own. So, it does have similarities with libraries as a result of that.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
adventure animation fantasy Fiction genres speculative fiction

Fictional Librarian of the Month: Twilight Sparkle in “My Little Pony”

Twilight in one of her libraries

Hello everyone! This continues from the “Fictional Librarian of the Month” entries for November, December, January, and February, with this series focusing on fictional librarian every month, prioritizing those in currently shows, but also covering older shows, using entries from the “List of fictional libraries” from time to time. This month, I’d like to highlight Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and My Little Pony: Equestria Girls.

About the librarian

You might think, a pony as a librarian? Ha. That’s not possible! Twilight Sparkle proves that wrong. She is just as interested in using information as Akila is in Cleopatra in Space, who also loves libraries, as she is very studious, and her mentor guides her to learn about friendship in the town of Ponyville.

Role in the story

She becomes friend with Spike, her dragon assistant, and five other ponies (Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie), and travels with them on adventures while working out issues which arise in their friendships. The show’s creative team said that her purple color signified her mystical awareness and royalty.

Does the librarian buck stereotypes?

In the sense that she doesn’t shush anyone and is welcoming to anyone who comes into the library, then yes. Also she is the only librarian who is a pony in an animated series that I know of off hand. Perhaps there are other librarians out there who are horses, but I don’t know of any.

Any similarity with librarians in other shows?

No similarity to any librarians in animated series that I know as of yet. Some day I may come across another librarian who is a horse, but I sincerely doubt it at this point.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

Categories
action Black people Japanese people Korean people Librarians Libraries

Examining representations of librarians in stock photos and gifs

The top part of the search on Unsplash for the word “librarian.” I removed the ad here, and these are the top photos which appeared in the search result, already disturbing me as to their lack of diversity.

Some time ago, I learned about Unsplash, calling itself the “internet’s source of freely usable images,” I think from an article in a library publication. It is currently a subsidiary of Getty Images. As a test, I decided to search for the word “librarian.” 21 photographs come up, tagged with this term, under the heading “Results for Librarian.” I hoped for the best in my search, but seven of them have White people, ten include books stacked or the library stacks themselves. If we include the four librarians in the ads sections at the top and bottom, titled “Browse premium images on iStock | 20% off at iStock”, it is a little better, as three are Black, one is presumably Asian, and four are White.  Even so, they could still do be better, especially since most of the librarians are in the iStock images and not in the main results! Disappointed and disturbed by these results, which had a lack of diversity, I decided to look at Giphy instead to see if the results would be better. As a disclaimer, which should be obvious, this post is only a beginning of an analysis, is NOT comprehensive, and is NOT an academic analysis and should never should be treated as such. Despite those qualifiers, I hope it is helpful to librarians out there, in some way. On with the post!

There are 153 gifs when someone searches the word “librarian.” Of these images, at least forty one are White people, one is non-human, one is a person of color, I think, and there is only ONE Black woman, pictured in a gif added by NARA, going through a card catalog:

There are also two giphy clips at the top with White female librarians. So, that doesn’t bode well, even though some of these gifs were added by librarians themselves! Yikes.

I looked on Tenor, another gif site, searching for the word “librarian,” and there were similar results, although there was more variety than those on Giphy, as there was one Asian female librarian moving books from one shelf to another, which I’ll show below. Unfortunately, the “sexy librarian” gifs were at the top of the search and throughout the search itself. There were some non-human librarians shown, and at the very, very end was a gif from Library War, so that was cool.

I searched on gfycat for the word, “librarian,” and found nothing but a mix of strange, bizarre, and disturbing results which are replete with stereotypes. It was almost as bad as the search I did for images on Imgur for the word “librarian.” The subreddit for gifs didn’t have much, the word “librarian” doesn’t even show up on one site, or another site also focused on gifs. Results on Tumblr were not that promising, and worst of all is imgflip. After seeing the categories they had, I felt like that was enough and I didn’t need to go any further than that to see the type of images on the site:

These results were originally in a long column, but I stuck the two columns together for convenience sake

These results are not altogether surprising. Sophia Noble, who authored the book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism has said that while people “think of search engines as neutral, objective fact-checkers, reliable, and curated by experts” they are anything but that, as she noted that “Google Search is rife with disinformation and propaganda.” She then said that social media, internet searches, and the internet itself are “profoundly distorting,” with some technologies are predatory, platforms “implicated in trafficking in hate on the internet and in real life,” and so on. I’d argue the same applies to sites such as the ones I’ve talked about in this article, as those sites reflect biases, stereotypes, and prejudices held by society as a whole, and more specifically those individuals, organizations, and such which add the gifs (or stock images in the case of Unsplash) in the first place! A good first step would be for people to add more gifs to these sites of librarians who are people of color, although much more needs to be done beyond that.

GIFs and memes are not harmless, as made clear by White people using gifs of Black celebrities to express their feelings, which some have called “digital blackface.” While generally the “images used to share emotions and feelings of relatability over social media and text messages…are almost overwhelmingly black” as noted by Erinn Wong, when it comes to librarians, those shown are overwhelmingly White! This is not much of a surprise, however, as the latest demographic data from the ALA shows an overwhelmingly White membership base (over 86% white), and there are, as of 2016, over 140,000 librarians in the U.S. alone. [2] It was also argued by Jennifer Vinopal that the library field is “starkly lacking in diversity based on race and ethnicity…age…disability, economic status, educational background, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other demographic and identity markers of difference.” Even so, there should still be more diverse depictions of librarians. If we use ALA statistics of members by race and family origin, then out of every hundred librarians portrayed, the minimum would be as follows: one should be Indigenous and/or Hawaiian / Pacific Islander, three to four should be Asian, four should be Black, four should be other, and all the others would be White. This doesn’t account for the 4-5 would be Latine, as 4.7% said they identify as this when asked to describe their ethnicity. In total, this would mean that there should be a minimum of 16-18 librarians who are people of color in popular culture mediums each year, in order to reflect the field. From now on, I’m going to try and measure that, each year in what I’ll call the 16-18 Rule and may rename that in the future to something else. [3] It would only apply to productions, like animated series, made within the U.S., not those made elsewhere, in countries like Japan, for instance. It would NOT apply to these stock image sites, just to be clear.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This includes a White middle-aged woman in the Netherlands, an old White woman, an old White man sitting at desk, a stack of books and a White woman, and three of a sexy White librarian. Also, a book bag, a book quote, and a castle in distance are pictured.

[2] In the UK it is even less diverse, according to a joint study in July 2017 by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), saying on page 4 that “45% of the current library and information workforce will reach retirement age by 203097% of the UK library and information workforce selfidentify as whitethe library and information workforce is 79% female and 21% male.” This led some to rightly say that UK librarians need to “work harder to get rid of our unconscious biases, both on an individual and organisational level.”

[3] Appended to this can be what I’d tentatively call the three disabled librarian rule, as the ALA survey in 2017 noted that the library field “remains about 86% white and 97% able-bodied,” although this is assuming that the ALA accurately represents the library field, which has been thrown into question. That survey, which did not ask about sexual orientation, noted that 19% identified as male and 81% as female, so you could have an 2-8 rule, meaning that for every eight librarians shown, two others should be male. Whether I actually put in place these rules or not, I don’t know, but using metrics like this can be useful.


Note, update on 9/21/21: In my original article, in my analysis of Unsplash, did not include the ads at the top of the page. I can’t go back in time to when I did this analysis, about a month ago, but I think I didn’t include those because they didn’t load when I looked at it. Because if they had been there, I definitely would have noted it. So, today I just saw those and updated the article accordingly. I did this in response to one person on Reddit who seemed to say my analysis was faulty, declaring: “But there are only 4 people in the Unsplash search that the author is complaining about. If 18% should be people of color, that is actually 0. So, we don’t have enough info as to whether UnSplash is not representative,” and adding “at least for me, the iStock photo ads all over the page feature ONLY librarians of color (and not sexy librarians either.) I’m curious if that is what others see too?” The tone of the comment negative, from what I could tell, but I responded to it the best I could. Not sure why people make comments like that, trying to pick away at the post. It is sad to see. Aren’t librarians supposed to support one another? As it turned out, the commenter was only concerned about Unsplash not being a good example site, and I said “…I felt like I should include them because they had come up on some library lists…I’m not really a fan of Unsplash either, but they are definitely useless for that search, sure. Google Images is ok, but the problem with analyzing it is that the filter bubble can skew your results, so one person’s Google results may not be the same as another person’s.” So, I guess it ended up being positive in the end?

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.