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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ibid, 181-5.

[10] Ibid, 186-192.

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“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.”