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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ibid, 181-5.

[10] Ibid, 186-192.

Categories
anime drama fantasy Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums rural libraries special libraries speculative fiction

More than “frilly outfits”: librarian work, weeding, and library marketing in Kokoro Library

How every episode of the series begins

In September of last year, I came across Kokoro Library, an anime series from the early 2000s. I watched it, it was apparent that librarians were likely consulted when this was produced because of the number of issues about libraries this animation raises. This was further buttressed by the fact that in March 2002, the Japan Library Association announced that copies of the Kokoro Library anime would appear in 500 libraries across Japan. Although all thirteen episodes are available in Japan on Amazon Prime Video, the series has not seen an official English translation. Luckily, there are fan translations, one of which I watched on the Internet Archive. Provided that there are many library-related themes in this anime, it would be wrong to cram them all into one post. Given criticisms of this anime [1] for possibly implying that all librarians have to do is “look cute and sit behind a desk” and that the series is “inconsequential”, I may reassess it in the future.

This slice-of-life anime, which is named Kokoro Library or Kokoro Toshokan, follows the daily lives of three sisters (Kokoro, Aruto, and Iina) who live in a remote, rural library, seemingly somewhere in Western Europe. Although the show is peaceful, cute, and relaxing, some people might be turned off by the art style, the slow pacing, or the fact that the librarians are wearing “frilly French maid outfits,” trying to fulfill their jobs, although they mostly do maintenance and groundskeeping. The library gets very few patrons, reportedly with very little “real” librarian work to do.

Kokoro remains optimistic and kind, serving as the “soul of the show,” and learns to become more confident. There are later stories about exotic stories about androids, but it said to not be about “anything important or deeply philosophical,” relying more on feeling than anything else, with the characters symbolic in their own way. Other reviewers praised voice acting in the series by Chiwa Saitō, who voices Kokoro, and said it is a type of anime that you watch when you get home after a hard day at work, comparing it to Read or Die. Viewers praised the opening and ending songs of the anime, and the anime itself was one of the most popular anime in February of 2002. [2]

The first episode, “I’ll Become a Librarian” begins with introducing the show’s three protagonists, and the library cat, Kit. Kokoro lives at the library with her sisters, a little like George and Lance in a few episodes of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Kokoro begins her first day at the library, isolated on a mountain and away from the city, working alongside her sisters Aruto and Iina. She learns that the library gets few users. All three sisters engage in library tasks like opening up the library’s windows, shelving books, checking the mail, data entry, cart pushing, and book arranging.

Apart from library itself which has old computers, some sort of classification system, tables, seats, and computers for people to use, there are many library-related issues covered in the anime. For one, Kokoro and Aruto differ on describing library patrons, with Kokoro describing them as “customers” and Aruto saying they are “users.”

Kokoro (left) talks to a patron who is asking if she can borrow a book

She is helpful to patrons, helping patrons by finding them books they are looking for, or check out items, or giving someone a library card, all instances of “librarian work.” This is later described as a “reference” experience. She even later tracks down one user who came to the library, in hopes of retrieving a book, going on an adventure of sorts. Her sisters claim that the “job of a librarian…is to believe in people.”

When they talk about “reference,” they are likely not referring to a reference librarian. Instead to the idea of a reference interview, the process which “determines the information needs” of a patron, and tries to translate the questions of a patron into one that “can be answered with the library’s resources.” In this case, Kokoro clearly did a great job of helping a patron and felt fulfilled while she did it. It was a bit extreme, though, for her to go on a whole journey to find one book which wasn’t returned to the library, as libraries lose books all the time. I’m also not convinced that the job of a librarian is to believe in people, as sometimes you really can’t do that. I’d say the job is to help patrons in the best way you can, but not believe in people, as people can be wrong, hostile, or dangerous, depending on where you are a librarian.

In the show’s second episode, “What I Can Do At This Moment,” Kokoro begins asking herself what she is good at, knowing that her sister Aru likes to bake and sleep everywhere, Iina who likes taking photos and is good with computers. She later realizes she is good at singing. The episode features book shelving, a truck coming to deliver boxes of books, book cataloging, and carrying stacks of books. The library also appears to have a scanner, a laptop, and a printer, technology which was advanced at the time.

One of the more interesting parts of the episode when they worry about declining number of library patrons. During their discussion, Aru proposes they get rid of the “old, unpopular books” and replace them with new popular books and it will draw in users, gathering best sellers and popular comics, picture books, CDs, and videos. However,  Kokoro isn’t sure about this and Iina agrees. She declares that library is a place to “deepen knowledge and education.” In response, Aru justifies her position by using the stats of declining patronage to the library, even saying that modern libraries should focus on entertainment, something which Iina calls “vulgar.” Aru later remarks that young novels and picture books can “cultivate knowledge and education” too. Poor Kokoro though, as she isn’t sure what side to take. She tells them both that if people knew about the library, then they would come, and she proposes advertising the library!

This makes me think of the difference between the collections of two libraries I know very well: the Baltimore County Library (BCPL) and the Pratt Library. From my experience as a patron who uses both systems, and as a person who worked at a Pratt Library branch, I can say with confidence that the BCPL tends to have more popular books and weed old and unpopular books. On the other hand, the Pratt has vast collections, able to easily accommodate old and new materials which much more ease. This is not much of a surprise as the Pratt has 22 branches, with the Pratt itself saying that Maryland residents continue to “depend on the Pratt’s collections to supply materials that are not available elsewhere in the state or electronically.” [3] Compare this to BCPL, which has 19 branches and many other services, with goals asserted in their Strategic Plan focused on quality of life, education and lifelong learning, equitable access, and organizational wellness, which doesn’t provide much room for older materials, but much more for newer materials. Even so, we must acknowledge that the Pratt has a bigger budget, more support, and more storage space than BCPL, which undoubtedly affects which materials are chosen and kept within the library’s collections for users, or which are discarded.

How many librarians do you know who have this ability, like Aru? I don’t even have that ability…and I can’t think of anyone else who has that ability.

Later in the episode, Kokoro tries to determine what she can do to bring in more patrons, while her sister Iina wants a music appreciation gathering, with a well-known artist, and inviting a well-known programmer. Aru rejects this, with an idea for super care of users like serving tea, reading books to them, and massaging their shoulders, but Iina worries about how this would affect Kokoro. Ultimately, all three sisters work together on a flyer to promote the library, and they are able to rope in their delivery driver in distributing the flyers.

While Kokoro is dispirited after her sisters say that she might have unreasonable expectations about the library, she returns to find a whole group of people at the library, a line of cars snaking down the road! This communicates the idea that library advertising does work. Weirdly, there is the idea that overnight work is ok “from time to time.” But, is that work really fine? I would have to lean toward no, as it can lead to burnout. After the end of the episode, we are all probably crying tears of joy like Kokoro at the end, as she accomplished her goals.

This makes me think of the Marketing Libraries Journal (MLJ), a peer-reviewed, independently published, open access scholarly journal which “focuses on innovative marketing activities libraries are engaged in,” trying to publish “research and practical examples of library marketing campaigns…tools used for marketing” and much more. Kokoro Library has to be the only animated series I have come across which has discussed library advertising or marketing as part of the plot! So that makes this series unique in that respect. When putting together this article, I thought back to my time in library school, when I wrote papers about marketing, library promotion, library engagement, target audiences, and many more topics. [4]

Kokoro clearly knew who the target audience she was trying to reach with this campaign: people from the nearby town. She believed she could influence them to come to the library, increasing the patronage, even though her sisters were not sure this would be a success. While you could say that, the library caused “miracles” to happen, as Iina put it, more accurately, people were intrigued by the poster and excited to visit it, coming to a place they didn’t know. It was a successful, but simple public relations campaign you could say, even though it has the downside of being completely based on the fliers, with no other way of the message being shared. This is exactly what Kokoro’s sisters were afraid of, they believed the fliers wouldn’t be enough to bring more people to the library. As I wrote back in 2018, “no one is immune to advertising and marketing.”

As Ned Potter, an information professional, put it, one-off marketing usually never works. Rather, libraries try to build awareness overtime of relevant services, appeal to people “at the right time,” as putting out too many messages at once means there is “nothing for anyone to hold on to.” He argues that marketing campaigns are what has an “impact and make[s] a tangible difference to the Library.” He concludes his piece by saying that such campaigns need to “the primary focus of your comms for a concerted period of time,” with the same message going out through multiple platforms, having a strong call to action, and measuring outcomes rather than outcomes, even if that takes time. During the time this series was set, in the early 2000s, there was no Twitter (founded in 2006), YouTube (founded in 2005), TikTok (founded in 2016), Facebook (founded in 2004), Instagram (founded in 2010), Reddit (founded in 2005) or Tumblr (founded in 2007), so using fliers makes sense, even though they could have used other methods, like their presumed dial-up internet to promote the library as well.

Kokoro watches her sister, Iina at a computer. Kokoro is apparently bad with using computers, although Iina is not and is very skilled.

While there are many other marketing strategies, resources on library marketing, tips, and more, I believe I’ve given enough of an overview of this topic without getting too much in the weeds on this topic. [5] This post is one of the many which connects to library themes unlike other series out there, even with those which have librarians as supporting characters like Welcome to the Wayne or The Owl House. That makes the series unique and worthy of note, so much so that it can’t all be summarized in one post, making this the beginning of a series.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This review also says that “it takes a whole lot more than minimum alpha brain waves to earn a degree in library sciences. Certainly Kokoro wouldn’t hack it in the ALA – she’d do good to make it to the Special Olympics” and goes onto say “for a much more exciting and interesting tour of the world of library sciences, we recommend Read or Die. Either that, or read a book. Both are infinitely preferable to this inconsequential series.” Harsh words! As of the writing of this post, I have only watched TWO episodes, so my opinion on it may change as I watch more episodes.

[2] Cornblatt, Cassidy. “10 Best Unpopular Anime Series,” Reel Rundown, Sept. 15, 2021; Grisham, Paul. “Kokoro Library Vol. #1,” Mania Entertainment, Apr. 14, 2002; Beard, Jeremy A. “Kokoro Library,” THEM Anime Reviews, c. 2002; Hikawa, Ryusuke. Kokoro Library Bandai Channel New Arrivals This Month!,” Bandai Channel, 2006; Macdonald, Christopher. “Top Televised Anime in Japan,” Anime News Network, Mar. 11, 2002; “Anime News in Japan(^^),” Anihabara!, c. 2004.

[3] “How Baltimore Chooses: The Selection Policies of the Enoch Pratt Free Library,” Eighth Edition, 2007, p. 6. According to the most recent annual report of the BCPL (see page 6), the library has over 1.2 million physical items and over 192,000 downloadable items. The Comptroller of Baltimore City notes that the Pratt Library system,  in fiscal year 2020, had over 216 million in capital assets including “books, land, buildings, equipment, fine arts, and special collections” (see pages 5 and 28), while library books are said to have a short life, of only 10 years, less than the buildings or building improvements (see page 19). The library has over 2.3 million items, and 1 million database downloads in fiscal year 2020 (see page 36).

[4] See “Strategic Plan Analysis–Maryland State Library Resource Center (SLRC),” 2018, p. 6, 8; “Uggles and the University of Illinois: a very furry situation indeed!,” 2018, p. 1-7. The Uggles article is where I believe it was this article where I learned about MLJ. I also wrote about preservation, data collection, data creation, and a homeless library, in grad school, and many other topics when in college.

[5] For more information, see these resources about marketing & promotion, this article about how libraries use content to tell stories, the Library of Congress rebrand (which was somewhat controversial), and Ad/Lib which is about advertising in libraries. If you work at a university or are a student, there are some articles of note, like “It’s not just what you know but who you know: Social capital theory and academic library outreach,” “Connecting best practices in public relations to social media strategies for academic libraries,” “Grassroots Strategic Planning: Involving Library Staff from the Beginning,” and “Applying Return on Investment (ROI) in Libraries.”

Categories
adventure animation anime comedy comic books Comics fantasy Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries romance school libraries speculative fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtright as quoted in a Dec. 2017 HuffPost article

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
action adventure animated animation Chinese people comic books Comics fantasy Fiction genres graphic novels Librarians Libraries magic libraries Movies Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction White people

It’s All About That Kaisa: Analyzing the Breakout Witchy Librarian in “Hilda”

In recent years, librarians have become more prominent in animated series. Unfortunately, most of these librarians either only appear in one episode, like Wong and O’Bengh / Cagliostro in What…If?, and Mira and Sahil in Mira, Royal Detective, or are stereotypical and problematic. There are some exceptions. Librarians Sara, Sarah, and Desiree in Too Loud, Amity Blight in The Owl House, Naoufel in I Lost My Body, and Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm all defy stereotypes in their own ways. Apart from these characters, one character shines through. She has become one of the best depictions of librarians in fiction, especially in animation for some time. Her name is Kaisa. She is a casually gothic, witchy librarian in Hilda, an all-ages animated series. This article will analyze this character, noting her significance in representations of librarians in fiction.

Although Kaisa’s character only appears in six of the show’s 26 episodes – not even 23% of the series – she has become a smash hit among fans. She even appeared in three graphic novels by Luke Pearson that the series is based on: Hilda and the Great Parade, Hilda and the Nowhere Space, and Hilda and the Ghost Ship. There is a subreddit for her, which has over 180 subscribers, voluminous fan art, and cosplays!

Currently, fans have written over 90 fan fictions featuring her character on Archive of Our Own. The UK retail seller Forbidden Planet has shirts, keychains, and pins featuring the character. While Kaisa’s name is not revealed until the second season, she is based on the name of a Swedish actress with the same first name: Kaisa Hammarlund. As such, her voice is an “amalgamation of Nordic accents.”

Kaisa after casting a spell in the episode “Chapter 3: The Witch,” in the show’s second season, with Hilda and Frida alongside her.

Kaisa in the first season

In the show’s first season, she remains mysterious, only appearing briefly. She is still shown as having an unmatched knowledge of cemeteries, the dead, and mystical items. At first, she helps Hilda and her friends, giving them books of interest and anticipating their questions.

At one point, she reminds Hilda that reference books are not taken from the hidden special collections room. She gives Hilda, who is a bit snobbish in how she treats a reference book in one episode, the right materials so she can raise the dead! At the end of the season, she is shown outside the library, walking across the streets of the city of Trolberg. According to a new interview, Kaisa was supposed to have more scenes in this initial season, but the crew and producers weren’t sure how to develop her character at the time. Despite this, by the end of that first season, she had become a breakout star.

Kaisa in the second season

In the second season, which aired in December 2020, Frida and Hilda help Kaisa find a missing book, with all three of them fighting beasts and finishing challenges on their way. Although they eventually find the book, the committee of three witches chastise them for not turning it in on time (it’s over 30 years late at that point) and they are sucked into a void, where a monster awaits them. This was the beginning of an expansion of plot points from season 1.

While Kaisa uses her witch powers to try and save them, she is helped by Frida and Hilda. They give her the right book so she can make sure the void is subdued, and all three escape unscathed! After all of that, she is still grateful to an elderly patron and powerful witch who was her mentor, a person who is pleasantly surprised to see her as a librarian. She is later shown outside the library in the same season, fighting Tide Mice who can take over people’s minds.

Kaisa asks Frida and David about body swapping in the film

Kaisa in the new movie, Hilda and the Mountain King

Not surprisingly, Kaisa appears in the recent film, Hilda and the Mountain King, a continuation of the animated series. Although she only has a guest appearance, she has an important part in the film. Frida asks her for help in reversing a spell cast on Hilda which has made her swap bodies with a troll. At first, Kaisa agrees to help but stops when she realizes it wouldn’t work, having a “purely mechanical understanding of the situation,” as one fan put it. While Frida is annoyed by this, when she tries to use the spellbook anyway, it doesn’t work, as witch magic can’t be mixed with troll magic.

Kaisa is shown to be right all along, to the chagrin of Frida, and David, to a lesser extent. Reportedly, in early stages of the film’s development, the crew tried to incorporate Kaisa into the climax of the film. Acording to the movie’s director, Andy Coyle, the scene had Kaisa rebelling against the rule that witches shouldn’t interfere in a fight. Sadly, the scene was cut from the final film because of a “limited amount of screentime.”

Characteristics of the Trolberg library and Kaisa the librarian

The library where Kaisa works appears to be “ordinary” on the outside. It is grand inside, with secret passageways going through one special collections room after another. This ultimately leads to an inner chamber with a committee of three witches controlling the Witches Tower. There are so many resources that someone could stay there for hours and days, studying to their heart’s content. It is a magic library in more ways than one, and is amazing, as real-life librarians have recognized.

Kaisa explains why she can’t help Frida and David in the film

Kaisa is a principled librarian who likely has a MLIS degree and is an atypical librarian who has a life outside the library. Her portrayal fulfills what I’ve termed the “Librarian Portrayal Test.” She is twenty-something who wears headphones, like Kino does in Kino’s Journey, has a cassette player, and is skilled with magic. Despite this, Kaisa, like any librarian, is tasked with enforcing the roles. In one episode, she tells the show’s protagonists to “keep it down,” but never shushes them.

Her character has led some librarians to “feel seen” and others to note she used skills from her “previous career path” (as a witch) to save the day. Others have used Kaisa as a way to praise librarians more broadly. While some have said that her job isn’t as realistic as it might seem, some have countered this by saying that Kaisa and the series as a whole, communicates “very positive messages about libraries.”

She has a unique appearance since the series is in an intentionally nebulous time frame. It has a setting that is something familiar, something foreign. The series and the film was described by the director of Hilda and the Mountain King, to be set, vaguely, in the early 1990s. The series, and the film, are also inspired by Scandinavian folklore. This makes it no surprise that the two-leveled Trolberg library has “outdated” elements like library slips and card catalogs, along with “newer” elements like copiers. Despite this, it is abundantly clear that she has experienced burnout as a librarian. In one episode, she argued that patrons who borrow books are liable to return them, tying into the debate among librarians and libraries over the role of patrons.

Some have argued that Kaisa might be asexual, basing it on her character’s colors (purple, black, grey, and white), even though this supposition has not been confirmed, or denied, by the show’s creator or anyone on the show staff. If this is the case, Kaisa would be one of the recent depictions of LGBTQ librarians in pop culture such as Desiree in Too Loud and Amity Blight in The Owl House.

Undoubtedly, Kaisa will reappear in the show’s next, and final, season, which will go beyond the graphic novel series by Luke Pearson that the series is based on, and likely into new, and exciting, places. The season, which may premiere later this year, will likely be 13 episodes long, allowing for Kaisa to, once again, get a chance to shine in the animated series, serving as an important depiction of librarians in popular culture.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is post is reprinted from my guest post on March 9 on Reel Librarians.

Sources

Categories
action adventure animation dimly lit libraries fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries mystery Pop culture mediums public libraries romance speculative fiction

Books, Magic, and Representation: Libraries and Librarians in The Owl House

The Disney Channel young adult animated series, The Owl House, is known for its LGBTQ representation, voice acting, visuals, animation, and writing. Less recognized, however, is the fact that one of the supporting characters, Amity Blight (voiced by Mae Whitman), is a librarian. The library plays a significant role in the show, as well.

The show follows a teen girl named Luz who stumbles upon a portal to the magical world of Boiling Isles. The public library in Bonesborough, the largest town in the Boiling Isles, appears three times in the show’s first season. In the episode “Lost in Language,”  Luz travels to the library to return a stack of overdue books. There are signs to stay quiet, and the librarian (Fred Tatasciore) shushes Luz for being “too loud,” making it clear that the library is a place for study.

Amity counters these notions. She displays the importance of reading and the library as a welcoming place for everyone by reading to children. The rest of the episode involves Luz trying to become better friends with Amity, even teaming up with Amity’s mischievous siblings, Emira and Edric. Luz and Amity later work together to fight off a book monster, which Amity’s siblings forced her to create.

The episode has some fun visual gags, like the card catalog for the Demon Decimal System (a play off the Dewey Decimal System). There are also books about cyclops, extinct birds, ancient texts, including those with funny titles like Quacks Eats Snacks, Barely a Duchess, Pride and Pythius, and Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome. There’s even a poster aimed at witches, saying the library lets them “get learned at the stake.”

The library in The Owl House is organized like other libraries. It has reading and children’s areas, a reference section, and books floating in the air, along with sections for manga, graphic novels, fiction, non-fiction, adventure, and romance. Alluding to feelings between Luz and Amity, a hidden hideaway for Amity can be found behind the library’s romance section.

While it is funny to see a librarian get exasperated when he thinks there is no difference between fiction and non-fiction, Luz, Emira, and Edric, are clearly disruptive patrons. Especially when they disturb librarians shelving materials or cause card catalog cards to fly onto the floor. It’s no surprise when all three get kicked out of the library, with the librarian claiming that they make reading “far too fun.”

The library briefly appears a few more times in the first season. In the episode “Sense and Insensitivity,” a party for the sentient demon King (Alex Hirsch) is held at the library. And a publisher offers Luz a chance to be a writer while walking in the library stacks later in the episode. In “Understanding Willow,” a flashback scene shows Amity and a former friend, whom Amity slowly reconciles with over the course of the series. In “Witches Before Wizards,” Luz and King travel to a castle where a wizard lives with his personal library of many volumes. The library is also seen in the closing credits of the show’s first season.

The library returns

In the show’s second season, the library returns in “Through the Looking Glass Ruins,” as does Amity, who is now a librarian. Manifesting library energy, she wears a library employee card in a lanyard around her neck. The official description of the episode states that Luz and Amity journey into the “most dangerous section of the library,” leading enthusiastic fans to chatter about the episode even before it aired. Some even drew fan art of Amity as a librarian.

In the episode, Luz learns that another human has donated a journal to the library and asks Amity for help finding it. Luz is hesitant to involve Amity, but her friend rejects this and puts her job on the line to help find the book. For Amity, helping Luz is even more important than keeping her job; it is the ultimate sacrifice for a patron. At one point, Amity grabs Luz and declares “We’re getting that diary!” She goes above and beyond her role as a librarian, and acts as a very good friend.

Amity and Luz successfully find the journal, but a mouse —who happens to store memories of book pages it has eaten—has eaten a portion of it. Amity’s boss, a mysterious librarian named after the demon Malphas (Fred Tatasciore), catches them in the act. He eventually fires Amity because she entered the library’s “forbidden section,” showing the power of library management over rank-and-file librarians.

Feeling bad for Amity, Luz goes through a series of “trials,” including fighting monsters, to help get her friend’s job back. Amity is forever grateful and boldly kisses Luz on the cheek, surprising her and bringing them closer together. There is also a cute scene that bucks the shushing librarian stereotype where Luz and Amity shush each other in hopes of not getting caught.

Fan theories

Fans have theorized that the head librarian in The Owl House resembles a character from the video game, The Legend of Zelda. Others posit that Amity resembles an older version of the witchy librarian, Kaisa, in animated series Hilda and that she gives off vibes similar to Star Wars character Sabine Wren. Despite such similarities, Amity, as a lesbian woman, has the distinction of being the most prominent LGBTQ librarian in a currently airing animated series.

There have been other LGBTQ characters who are librarians in animated series, such as George and Lance, who ran a family library in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power; Desiree, a closeted trans woman, in Too Loud; and Mo Testa, a lesbian and librarian with a MLIS degree, in Alison Bechdel’s comic series, Dykes to Watch Out For. There are many LGBTQ librarians in anime, as well, such as Lilith in Yamibou, Azusa Aoi in Whispered Words, Fumi Manjōme in Sweet Blue Flowers, and Chiyo Tsukudate in Strawberry Panic!, to name a few.

Like George and Lance, the fathers of a show protagonist in She-Ra, Amity is more than a librarian—she’s a full-fledged character. Her job as a librarian is only one aspect of her life and her portrayal fulfills all three tenets of the Librarian Portrayal Test.

Since that episode, Luz and Amity have made their relationship official, and the pairing was even one of the top ships on Tumblr last year. Hopefully, in the second half of Season Two airing later this year and in the show’s upcoming final season, the library will reappear and the show will continue to highlight the importance of libraries and librarians for people of all ages, especially young adults.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is reprinted from I Love Libraries, where it was published on January 14 of this year. I had originally titled this “‘Get Learned at the Stake’: Libraries and Librarians in ‘The Owl House'” but Phil Morehart, who I worked with at I Love Libraries for all of my articles there, proposed a new title, and I like this title better.

 

Categories
action adventure animation fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries speculative fiction White people

Is Kaisa, the librarian in “Hilda”, experiencing burnout?

Poor Kaisa, she just wants to finish her library tasks and re-shelve books, but Hilda has to be persistent.

When I first wrote about the librarian in Hilda for I Love Libraries, I was excited. In the process, I accepted removals of some content in hopes that would allow it to be published. And the article was published in September of last year. One of those removals was a description of a season 1 episode where the librarian, at that time unnamed but later is revealed to be named Kaisa, being exhausted and fatigued. I’d like to focus on that aspect of the episode in this post.

Jade Geary and Brittany Hickey in an article for In the Library with the Lead Pipe use the definition of Christina Maslach, a creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) with Susan E. Jackson, defining it as “a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind.” Geary and Hickley note that the primary factors which lead to such burnout are: “an unsustainable workload, role conflict and a lack of personal control at work, insufficient recognition or compensation, lack of social support, a sense of unfairness, and personal values that are at odds with the organization’s values.” This is coupled with concepts of burnout like feelings of detachment and cynicism from a job, a lack of accomplishment, sense of ineffectiveness, and overwhelming exhaustion, while physical symptoms include hypertension, muscle tension, headaches, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, cold/flu episodes, and gastrointestinal disorders, to name a few.

Now, the question remains: Is Kaisa experiencing burnout, or what could be called “librarian fatigue” (or just “librarian burnout”)? Well, in the episode “Chapter 9: The Ghost,” Hilda, Frida, and David enter the Trollberg library. They see Kaisa behind the circulation desk and she is putting books on a cart. Hilda asks for information about ghosts and Kaisa guesses what Hilda wants (a book on getting rid of ghosts) before Hilda can say anything else. She pulls the book back, saying the book “just slipped,” and she wasn’t recommending it. Following that, we see this expression on her face:

While she seems dedicated to finish her task of reshelving books, pushing a book cart, she is intrigued when she learns about a ghost which used to clean Frida’s room, striking that itch in her brain, and her interest. So, she begins asking Frida about the ghost, bringing the conversation to a morbid place, saying that “the hardest thing about dying is leaving all your stuff behind.” Frida, Hilda, and David determine that the book Frida lost was owned by the ghost. Somehow she knows the exact location of the ghost who “took” Frida’s book an when she is asked by Hilda if she knows the location of every grave, she scoffs. So, she climbs up to a tall ladder to find the city records to double-check herself. In the book of city records, what she finds confirms what she said before. When Hilda points out she said the same thing before, she denies that it is true. She then secretly gives Hilda the tools to raise the dead, and warns her that using them will break the veil between the world of the dead and the world of humans. Hilda insists that she needs the tools, Kaisa tells her it will be “fun” and she climbs back up the ladder to shelve the city records book.

Now, this library scene itself is not even two minutes long, only one minute, 33 seconds by my count, to be exact. Her demeanor during this exchange, with a demanding patron (in the case of Hilda) points to emotional exhaustion. Scholars Thomas A. Wright, Russell Cropanzano, and Dov Zohar describe it being exhausted by your work and being “emotionally overextended,” manifested by physical fatigue and feelings drained emotionally and psychologically. [1] How about depersonalization? Well, scholars Mauricio Sierra, German E. Berrios, Daniel Hall-Flavin, Filip Radovic, and Susanna Radovic define this as being detached from one’s self, in terms of their body or mind, or when one is a detached observer of themself. [2] The best example I can think of is how Jahy, in The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, acts in the 10th episode “The Magical Girl Will Not Lose!” when she feels she is working as a server at the pub on autopilot, without much thought. It doesn’t seem that Kaisa is experiencing this. Evan so, she does seem to downplay her personal knowledge, when she scoffs at the idea that she knows all the cemetery records by heart and denies when she finds the same information in city records. I would argue that qualifies as “reduced personal accomplishment.” So, you could say that Kaisa exhibits many, but not all, of the qualities of burnout.

On the other hand, we can’t say for certain that her workload is sustainable or unsustainable, if she has a lack of personal control over her workplace, is insufficiently compensated or recognized, or has a lack of social support, all of which are said to be main factors which lead to burnout. She also does not seem to have personal values which are not in alignment with the organization’s values. While she clearly shows pride in being able to answer questions and show her knowledge, she also seems to doubt herself and her accomplishment, as she could have saved herself the trouble of looking through the city records and could have used her own knowledge instead. But, you could also say that perhaps this was a plan by Kaisa all along so she could separate Hilda from the rest of her friends and give her what she needed to raise the dead. So, maybe she could see the future and let it unfold this way in order to assist Hilda and her friends. If that is true, it is ingenious.

Kaisa excited while reading a book which abstracts city records

We do not know how many other people work at the Trolberg Library. Hopefully she isn’t the only one. Since viewers never see her home life, we will never know if Kaisa experiences colds, flues, muscle tension, hypertension, headaches, disturbances in sleep, or more, as a librarian. However, her experience of librarian burnout/fatigue is not unique.

For instance, the librarian in Prisoner Zero (called “Librarian” and never given a real name) is exhausted by his duties. He is the first character I’ve seen who indicates his experience with librarian burnout. Furthermore, there is an unnamed female librarian of color in We Bare Bears (likely a Thai woman), who looks a little like a spinster librarian and wants to enforce the rules. She becomes frustrated with the protagonists “so much that she leaves them and walks away.” As I argued in the above linked post, perhaps she “can’t deal with them and has been through a lot that day, is overworked, and needs a break,” even though she goes on a short break. She even lets the protagonists sleep in the library! Unlike her, Kaisa is White, so she isn’t experiencing from some level of race fatigue. [3]

All in all, librarian burnout/fatigue is undoubtedly something which librarians need to discuss more openly. It is also something that should be shown more directly in depictions of librarians, so they are more realistic as to actual librarianship, not seeped in stereotypes of excessive shushing or penalizing people for the tiniest infractions (like overdue book fines) with draconian rules that make librarians out to look as some sort of villains, portrayals which hurt the profession.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] This comes from Wright and Cropanzano’s 1998 article in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled “Emotional exhaustion as a predictor of job performance and voluntary turnover” and Zohar’s March 1997 article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior entitled “Predicting burnout with a hassle-based measure of role demands.” There are many more sources on the citation list on the Wikipedia page for emotional exhaustion, but these are two of the sources on that page.

[2] This summarizes definitions noted in a 2001 The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease article by Sierra and Berrios entitled “The phenomenological stability of depersonalization: Comparing the old with the new,” Daniel Hall-Flavin of The Mayo Clinic in a page entitled “Depersonalization-derealization disorder,” and F. Radovic and S. Radovic in a 2002 Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology article entitled “Feelings of Unreality: A Conceptual and Phenomenological Analysis of the Language of Depersonalization.” Other sources can be found on the citation list of the “Depersonalization” Wikipedia page for starters.

[3] April Hathcock defines race fatigue as the “physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions” that happen in the presence of White people.

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

Applying the “Librarian Portrayal Test” to librarian depictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

The librarian shown as unable to shelve books correctly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

Categories
animation fantasy Librarians Libraries public libraries romance White people

A rock-star or a librarian?: Examining Swampy in “Phineas and Ferb”

Hello everyone! I’m slowly watching Phineas and Ferb, after finishing Milo Murphy’s Law, and I thought I’d write a post about the librarian in in “Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together”. He is Sherman “Swampy” (voiced by Steve Zahn) and is a drummer for the former rock band Love Handel, who works at the local public library (Tri-State Area Public Library). Over three months ago, someone mentioned Swampy on the /r/Libraries subreddit, describing Swampy as “a librarian who is a washed-up rock star that believes he has lost all his talent,” so I’m following up with that in this post as well, along with adding some of my own analysis.

Let’s get to it. So, Phineas and Ferb are trying to bring together aforementioned rock band in order to help bring their mom and dad closer together. And they find Swampy at the local public library where he is mindlessly stamping books. They try to encourage him to join with his fellow band members and re-create the band, so they can play for their mom. He first says that he can’t make rhythm, even as he is stamping books with an “OVERDUE” stamp and making a beat, as shown in the video at the beginning of this post. He sings along with Phineas and Ferb, claiming he has a “sweet deal” there and “all the books I can read,” along with “sweet old ladies” and a carpet from the 1980s. Present is a sign saying “Quiet Please!” and Swampy is shushed by a patron. The patrons are of all ages, some of whom bang their books against the table as they help keep the beat in a rock song, titled “Ain’t Got No Rhythm.” Also shown is Swampy engaging in library tasks, like re-shelving books, using card catalogs, while bangs against the ground, card catalogs, a lamp, and other parts of the library. That is until Ferb brings in his drum set. At the end of the song, two older ladies, other librarians who he works with, look at him, with one, clearly annoyed by the noise, remarking “would you just the band?” Phineas and Ferb proceed to wheel him out of the library and declares that he finally has rhythm. Who knows if he ever works in the library again.

While I liked this episode and this song, in terms of how catchy the song is, Swampy clearly fulfills what Jennifer Snoek-Brown describes as a “Librarian as Failure”, which refers to a characters who are “suggestive of flaws in library…[with] sometimes failure is used as a pretense or social construct,” with those who fall into this character type “usually middle-aged to old,” dressing conservatively, and are “uncomfortable in social/outside world situations.” All of those, albeit the last one, are present with Swampy. And he does not seem to return to the library in any other scene of the show even although one of the librarians in the episode does show up in a later episode. Other than falling into the “Librarian as Failure” category as noted earlier, the portrayal of Swampy as a librarian is not necessarily stereotypical. However, there are some stereotypical aspects of the library, like the sign asking patrons to be quiet, the two other librarians who are old, White women, and encouraging the perception that the library is outdated. This is shown by the line about the library having “carpets from the 80s,” the look of the library itself, Swampy stamping books as overdue rather than using a computer. However, the latter perception is somewhat offset by the diverse group of patrons which use the library, who are of all ages, as shown below:

While you could say that this does the value of the library in providing information, it almost is shown as a book depository and doesn’t have any other services. It still, obviously, had value to the community, and that is, I suppose, shown. Stereotypes could have been avoided by not having to librarians who are old White women and making the library a bit more modern (like the Arlen Public Library in King of the Hill), to give two suggestions. So, this is a bit of missed opportunity here.

On the positive side, Swampy, despite being a “Librarian as Failure,” is not a curmudgeon who shushes people like the unnamed librarian in the webcomic, Boyfriends. Still, we never see him doing any library tasks other than shelving books. He isn’t helping patrons like librarians, like the one in the webcomic, Diamond Dive, Lydia Lovely in the Horrid Henry animated series, or the helpful animal librarian in the webcomic Tamberlane. More than anything, Swampy is a bit like the book-stamping librarian in the one episode of Teen Titans Go!, but also like the rock-and-roll librarian, Ms. Osborne, in the one episode of The Replacements who replaces an older woman who shushes people. Even Mr. Snellson, a curmudgeon librarian in an episode of Mysticons is more of a librarian than Swampy. Furthermore, the British wrestler-librarian in Totally Spies was more interesting and seemed to buck stereotypes more than Swampy. I suppose I could go into more detail and analysis, but I think I have covered this topic adequately enough.

Now, libraries show up again in the series, in the episode “Phineas and Ferb’s Quantum Boogaloo.” In that episode, Future Candace comes across a library in the alternate timeline and watches a video there, trying to understand what happened. When she learns what she has caused by meddling with the past she is terrified. In the episode, Jennifer Grey appears as a librarian [dead link] named Arlene, who has one line, declaring that Future Candace needs to wear a lab coat. That’s about it. Apparently there is a library in another episode, but I’m not finished with the series yet, so I haven’t seen that episode.

With that, my post comes to a close. Let me know if you have any further comments on this or if you’d like me to expand my analysis further, which I’d definitely be willing to do. Until next time! I’ll be taking a stroll to…a library, lol. Just watch this video from one of favorite series, Milo Murphy’s Law, which may be featured in a future post, and relax a little, after reading this post!

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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

Another 10 amazing libraries

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

#1: Royal library in Mira, Royal Detective

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

#2: Library on wheels in Mira, Royal Detective

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

#3: Secret library on the Rogue in Prisoner Zero

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

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

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

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

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

#6: The Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne

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

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

People walking in the magic library in the episode.

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

#8: Library in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

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

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

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

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

#10: The Library of Solaria in Winx Club

The Winx enter the royal library

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

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

Ranganathan also created colon classification in 1933.

Categories
anime fantasy Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums romance school libraries speculative fiction

A vampire librarian and the value of weeding collections

Sophie Twilight tries to impress her friend Akari Akano with her cleaning of two bookshelves. Hint: Akari is not impressed.

Blood. Vampires. And Libraries! What if I told you there is a show that has all three of these elements and is, mostly, in a cute, accessible package [1]? The show is a 12-episode 2018 anime series, Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood which can be watched legally on Crunchyroll, or not as-legally on an assortment of other websites. This is a show that LezWatch.TV described it as a hilarious comedy “if you like vampires” and Stig Høgset called “a pretty decent show altogether,” even though others were not as keen on it. Anyway, I was surprised and excited that this show has libraries as such an important part of the plot, appearing in one-fourth of the show’s episodes. One of the protagonists, as I’ll explain, can be considered a librarian, if we define that term broadly, as I did in November of last year, as anyone who works in a library, caring and managing the collections, whether they have a professional degree or not, often selecting and processing materials to meet the needs of users. As it should be obvious, you can be a librarian without having a degree, although having that professional experience certainly helps, and you can often get better-paying positions with the degree than if you don’t have it. Anyway, onto the review!

In the second episode of the series, “Akari’s Friend,” we find out that the protagonist, Sophie Twilight, a vampire, has a wide-ranging library of all the books she has collected over her lifetime, signed by the original authors, people like Edgar Allan Poe. She shows her 10-year-old friend and new housemate, Akari Amano, her written collections, and she is impressed by all the books there. She asks how old Sophie is and she admits she is “about 360 years old” even though she looks to only be thirteen. But then, she feels embarrassed about this and chides Akari on asking her age. Sophie later says that when an author dies, their work lives on, and calls the signed books to be momentoes, noting that there are books there of people no one even remembers anymore. For her, each book is full of memories, as she can remember when and where each was signed, what each day was like when she had the book signed.

Akari calls the books Sophie has a “wonderful collection,” notes that some of those memories are not pleasant, and adds that humans experience time in a “very different span” than vampires, who are immortal. When she says that seeing all sorts of eras of history and time pass would be nice, even though you would lose friends and lovers, Sophie says it is wrong to assume that everyone has friends and lovers. Later, she goes to get one of her favorite manga signed by the author, with long-sleeved clothing, and a parasol, to prevent her from being turned to ash by the sun’s rays. Akari saves her after her parasol blows away, she gets the signed book, they walk back to their home together (her mansion), and she happily shelves the book in her library, calling it “one more addition to my collection.” So, shelving books is a librarian duty, but then again, anyone can do that, especially if they have a system of organization for their library, as she does, clearly.

Akari returns a book to a bookshelf in Sophie’s library

Briefly, libraries appear in the third episode, “The Vampire Goes to School,” where Sophie goes to the school library with Akari and her friends, where they all study for their upcoming exams. Akari’s friends quiz Sophie on various phrases and she gets almost all of them right! Anyway, there isn’t much to say about that library because all that we see is a table, some chairs, and parts of bookcases, but not much of the library itself. It simply serves as a convenient setting. The library that is first shown in “Akari’s Friend” reappears in the show’s eighth episode, “The Last Day of Summer Break.” In that episode, Sophie reads a book (likely a manga) to her friend, and fellow vampire, Ellie.

One episode, however, blows it out of the park, and convinced me, in addition to the other episodes I’ve written about above, that Sophie is a librarian. She is convinced to begin paring down the amount of stuff she has stored up in her “collection room” including the books, with a “serious cleanup.” Not only does this indicate that the room is more than a place to store books, but has other materials, in line with the fact that libraries are more than just books, despite some popular perceptions. She creates boxes for books she didn’t need and books she wants to keep. She even tries to impress Akari by noting the number of shelves she has cleaned of books, but this does not work, as she claims they didn’t “get anywhere,” which is not really accurate. In order to help her, Akari agrees to pitch in, while Ellie sits there and cries to reading emotional manga, not lifting a finger. Hinata Natsuki, Akari’s friend, then comes to help out and is shocked by the number of boxes in the room. Sophie explains she agonizes over “every single item before I can throw it away,” this includes unnecessary items like an ugly styrofoam piece used for packing. Sophie continues packing boxes and they have fun with all the old stuff she has, like pagers, furry toys, a GameBoy, and an English newspaper from 1969 celebrating the moon landing by Apollo 11!

After Akari says that Sophie has a lot of books, she gives her an old version of The Travels of Marco Polo. She then admits that she came to Japan, not because of the book but because she wanted to buy Super Mario Bros. 2, which came out in 1988, surprising Akari. In the room, she also finds two pink hair ribbons that Ellie had given to Sophie in the past, before her hundred-year slumber, with Sophie thinking, not surprisingly, that Ellie had been killed. Of course, this did not happen, but since Ellie is staying with them, Sophie throws them away, realizing she doesn’t need something like the ribbons as a memento of Ellie, annoying her. Sophie finishes her weeding of the books and materials from the library, while Hinata helped organize the magazines and Akari finished vacuuming. The library sparkles from all their cleaning, looking as beautiful as the royal library shown in episodes of Mira, Royal Detective. Not long after, Sophie goes into a store and has to restrain herself from making “unplanned purchases” so the room doesn’t clutter again. The whole rest of the episode focuses on Ellie and Sophie, and later Hinata, helping care for Akari, who somehow contracted a cold, possibly while helping clean the library.

Sophie gifts a book of Macro Polo’s travels to Akari while standing in front of one of her library bookshelves

While I obviously wrote this article, on the one hand, because I’m clearly an otaku in more ways than one, as I have written about scores of anime on this blog, even having a whole page listing episodes with libraries, or librarians, in anime series, on the other, it has connections to an essential library task: weeding. One librarian, Margery Bayne, wrote that realistically, you need to “downsize your book collection” at some point in your life, suggesting people categorize books into those you are not reading, those that are out-of-date, those only kept for aesthetic reasons, those you feel guilty about getting rid of, those which are easily replaceable, and those which don’t bring you joy. She suggests that people give some of your books to friends, sell them, or donate them. In the case of Sophie, she had boxes of books she didn’t need and those she wanted to keep. For her, whether a book was out-of-date didn’t matter, as she was 360 years old. Presumably, she sold the books online, on the in-show Amazon equivalent, Amason, but she may have gifted some books to a library too. And she also talked about getting rid of books she also had in an e-book form, another form of weeding as well. Beyond this, the ALA’s Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries says the following about weeding:

Regardless of the type of institution, collection maintenance and weeding are important components of a library’s collection management system and are often related to the goals and mission of the organization…Weeding or the deselection of material is critical to collection maintenance and involves the removal of resources from the collection. All materials are considered for weeding based on accuracy, currency, and relevancy. Space limitations, edition, format, physical condition, and number of copies are considered when evaluating physical materials…Weeding and collection maintenance are based on the availability of newer, updated resources or the circulation statistics and use of materials…While reports and automation have made weeding easier, evaluating collections should be executed with a trained librarian, as certain titles…may be worth keeping on the shelves despite low usage statistics — especially if only one library in the consortium or interlibrary loan group owns and will loan a copy…In an academic library, collection maintenance and weeding are usually driven by library faculty and staff and reflect the college/university’s mission, goals, and curricula needs. In most academic libraries, the subject specialist librarian and/or departmental liaison plays a significant role in weeding the collection.

Much of this, obviously, does not apply to Sophie’s library, as it is her personal library geared toward her, as the primary patron, apart from friends who may want to borrow books or materials. Like any good library, Sophie recognized the value of “properly maintaining” a library collection that is relevant, and viable, although she only came to this conclusion after being crushed by a stack of boxes due to the number of materials inside the room itself. However, unlike public, special, academic, and other types of libraries, she did not have a collection development policy and a selection policy, rather she just cleaned the room bit by bit, with the help of her friends. But for a personal library like that, it would too cumbersome to have such a policy, although for a bigger institution, even a small community library, it would make sense. Rebecca Vnuk wrote in American Libraries that while weeding has a bad reputation, leading some to think that no books should ever be discarded, something which isn’t feasible, adding that libraries should weed out their collections on a regular project and plan out, carefully a major weeding project, with communication a “key part of that planning” as it is not difficult to let staff and patrons know about it. Vnuk also notes that librarians should describe weeding in positive terms rather than negative ones, never complaining to patrons about “bad materials that were on the shelf,” instead, saying that the library is “making room for new materials, making the shelves easier to navigate, and replacing outdated information with current information,” and letting the public know how materials will be discarded.

You can read many, many more articles about weeding, and have fun with it. [2] However, I think I have covered this topic enough since there aren’t any articles about this anime series and the libraries within it, which is a much deeper connection than nameless and faceless librarians in that episode of Cardcaptor Sakura, or the library in RWBY where Yang Xiao Long distracted Blake Belladonna, the catgirl, with a laser pointer, to give two recent examples.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Høgset says it can be considered PG-13 because of “some black humor based around settings of violence and deaths.”

[2] See “Why We Weed” on Awful Library Books, “Weeding Collections” on Public Libraries Online, “Weeding — Love It or Hate It” on Public Libraries Online, “Weed The Racist Books, Libraries” on Book Riot, “CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries,” “ON LIBRARIES – Weeding and Leading,” “Library ‘weeding’? Or ‘clear-cutting’?,” “To Weed or Not to Weed? Criteria to ensure that your nonfiction collection remains up to date,” “Weeding is fundamental,” “The Library is a Growing Organism: Resources for Weeding Collections,” “Practical Advice for Weeding in Small Academic Libraries–Collection Building (v. 26, no. 3, 2007), p. 84-87,” and “Collection Weeding as Dendrochronology: Rethinking Practices and Exposing a Library’s Sponsors of Literacy” as some of the many articles out there