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

Eztli shushes Victor with her extended skeleton arm

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

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

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

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there is “something nostalgic about reading books” and possibly even gives the implication that the librarian career is outdated.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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action adventure animation Black people comedy fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries special libraries speculative fiction

Behind the Screen: Black voice actors who bring fictional librarians to life!

From left to right: Harriet D. Foy, Regi Davis, Chris Jai Alex, Ike Imadi, and Kimberly D. Brooks

Part of understanding fictional librarians is understanding those behind the screen, especially when it comes to anime and animation. [1] I plan to do more posts like this if I find additional fictional librarians, so this post is the beginning of what I call the “Behind the Screen” series, hopefully getting some interviews with some of these voice actors too. I’m starting with Black voice actors in this first part of the series.

About the voice actors

Perhaps the most prominent Black voice of an animated librarian is Harriett D. Foy. She steals the show with the chief librarian of the Stanza, named Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. Foy is known for roles on Broadway, television, film, regional plays, regional musicals, and concerts. Rhone was her first animated role.

Just as powerful is Ike Amadi, a Nigerian man who voices a librarian named voices Cagliostro in a What If…? episode (“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”). Imadi has voiced characters like Agency Boss / Subquatos in Kid Cosmic, Officer Mantus / Platoon Sergeant in Love, Death & Robots, Angor Rot and Detective Scott in Tales of Arcadia, to name a few.

Most curious of all, in terms of Black people voicing animated librarians is Kimberly Brooks, also known as Kimberly D. Brooks. She voices an uptight librarian in a DC Super Hero Girls episode (“#SoulSisters Part 2”). Apart from voicing Elephant Grandma in The Cuphead Show!, she voiced characters such as Sky Young in Arcane, Teela and Eldress in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Skara in The Owl House, Amsaja in Cleopatra in Space, Allura in Voltron: Legendary Defender, young Mari in Vixen, and over 10 characters [2] in Steven Universe and Steven Universe Future, most prominently Jasper.

Other Black voice actors include two Black men: Regi Davis as George and Chris Jai Alex as Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Davis and Alex are seasoned voice actors. Davis has been in countless television, theatre, and film productions. Alex has been working in the entertainment industry since 2005, starting at the bottom. He has voiced at least 40 characters according to Behind the Voice Actors. [3]

About the characters

From left to right: Clara Rhone, O’Bengh, Unnamed librarian, George, and Lance

As I wrote in my review of Welcome to the Wayne, Clara Rhone is one of the “very few librarians of color in popular culture” and works with others at the library, emphasizing the value of these institutions as places of knowledge and understanding. Clara also has a granddaughter named Goodness, who is a library ninja, and is voiced by another Black woman: Charnele Crick.

Just as striking of a character is Cagliostro in What If…?. As I wrote in my review of that episode, he masquerades under the name “O’Bengh,” and runs the Lost Library of Cagliostro, a library-temple. He tries to the best of his ability to help Doctor Strange, as he “grows out of control.” He attempts to warn Strange but is unsuccessful and ends up dying in the library, taking on a number of roles in the episode at the same time: all-knowing person, a medic, and a sorcerer, while happening to be the only librarian. It is unfortunate that he is never shown outside the library.

The librarian that Brooks voices is interesting, as the unnamed librarian in the DC Super Hero Girls episode is uptight. I suppose this makes the character interesting and gives more life to it, but the character is very stereotypical and straight-lace. She voices two characters in that episode: Bumblebee and the Librarian, according to IMDB. One day, if possible, I’d like to ask her about that character.

Then there’s George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Both call themselves historians but they run a family library. They help the protagonists Adora, Glimmer, and Bow translate an ancient message and keep their library open for as long as they can, before abandoning it. Even then, they provide vital information which helps Adora and her friends stop the vile Horde from destroying the world and universe.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Not profiled in this series is Emilio Estevez (who voiced Stewart Goodson), Jeffrey Wright (who voiced Mr. Anderson), and Jena Malone (who voiced Myra) in The Public. For Malone, also see her Facebook and Instagram pages here and here. I also cannot include the 30 webcomic characters I have included on my “List of fictional librarians” page, nor the unnamed librarians in a Revolutionary Girl Utena episode (“The Sunlit Garden – Prelude”), the Black male librarian in a We Bare Bears episode (“Our Stuff”), Isomura in Let’s Make a Mug Too episode (“The Garden of Sky and Wind”) as her voice actress is not known. Voice actors of the librarian in Steven Universe episode (“Buddy’s Book”), Librarian in Futurama episode (“The Day the Earth Stood Stupid”), Librarian in Zevo-3 episode (“Zevo-3”), librarians in The Simpsons, librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“Return of the Dark Druid”), librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“The Warlock Returns”), unnamed librarians in Phineas and Ferb episode (“Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together”), another librarian in Martin Mystery episode (“Return of the Dark Druid”), librarian in Amphibia episode (“True Colors”), Arlene in Phineas & Ferb episode (“Phineas and Ferb’s Quantum Boogaloo”), Librarian in Bob’s Burgers episode (“Y Tu Ga-Ga Tina Tambien”), librarian in Phineas & Ferb episode (“The Doonkelberry Imperative”), and a librarian in The Flintstones episode (“The Hit Songwriter”) are also not known. Also, librarian in Teen Titans Go! episode (“Magic Man”) of Azarath Public Library and Little Squeak in Colonel Bleep do not have any voices either. It is further not known who voiced librarian in Courage the Cowardly Dog episode (“Wrath of the Librarian“), librarian in Uncle Grandpa episode (“Back to the Library”), the librarian in Beavis and Butt-Head episode (“Cyber-Butt“), Violet Stanhope and Ms. Herrera in the Archie’s Weird Mysteries episode (“The Haunting of Riverdale“),  Miss Dickens in Carl Squared episode (“Carl’s Techno-Jinx”), or Mrs. Shusher in The Replacements episode (“Quiet Riot“).

[2] Jasper, Cherry Quartz, Superfan Rose, Shy Rose, Hippy Rose, Angel Aura Quartz, Zebra Jasper, Ocean Jasper (2), Flint, Malachite, Carnelian, and Skinny. She also voiced eight characters in Winx Club.

[3] Also see his IMDB bio, Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube channel, Instagram, and LinkedIn profile, or the website of Davis.

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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
animation Black people fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums

Fictional Library of the Month: The Stanza in “Welcome to the Wayne”

Image of the Stanza

Hello everyone! This is the eighth edition of my feature series, “Fictional Library of the Month” (see the ones for November, December, January, February, March, April, and May) which includes a post of one fictional library every month, prioritizing currently airing shows, but also including older shows. And with that, this post will focus on the Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne.

About the library

It is a magical library within The Wayne. Clara Rhone is currently the chief librarian of the Stanza itself. It is an important part of the Wayne and it is organized well enough that it is easy to find information.

Role in the story

Apart from Rhone, many others work there like John Keats, Numerous squidgets, and temporarily Ansi Molina. The library is not only the only library located within the Wayne, but it is, as I noted in my post, a

…secret library…[which is] meticulously organized library…contains information on the inhabitants of the Wayne…Information from the library helps Ansi aid his friends…Saraline describes the library as one of the quietest places in the Wayne

Does the library buck stereotypes?

In the sense that it is a library that is well-lit, has people who work there who help patrons, and is not underground, then yes. Otherwise, it falls into the libraries-are-magical idea, which too many fantasies seem to do. It can be problematic as people can than think of librarians as more than people, but somehow those who can do magical things, when they are just doing their jobs, not engaging in magic.

Any similarity with libraries in other shows?

Magical libraries occasionally up on this blog, with the other example I can think of being the one in What …If?, where Doctor Strange goes to a library. In a comment in responding to that post, I noted that:

…there can be harm in the notion that “librarians are magical.” There are some good examples of librarians who have magic, but balance it with their magical abilities, like Kaisa in Hilda, but in other cases, it can more more harmful….I think some animations have tried to make sure that librarians and libraries are shown as valued, like the Stanza in Welcome to the Wayne [is] run by a Black librarian named Clara Rhone, or even, to an extent, the librarian in Trollhunters, Blinky.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
action adventure Black people comic books Comics fantasy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries Pop culture mediums public libraries speculative fiction

Smashing Stereotypes: Valerie the Librarian in “Spidey Super Stories”

Valerie the Librarian and E.Z. Reader in a cropped version of the “The Book-Worm Bully!” story in a Dec. 1975 issue of Spidey Super Stories

In February 7, in my weekly newsletter, I mentioned Valerie the Librarian, a character who appeared in 14 episodes of the Spidey Super Stories. Some described Valerie as defending the library she works at from villains, while working with Spider-Man and standing against many 1970s stereotypes in media of Black people, including Black women,and mimic’s Spider-Man’s crawling abilities with suction cups on her fingers. In that newsletter I also mentioned that her character appeared in the educational television series The Electric Company, with Hattie Winston voicing Valerie from 1973 to 1976. [1]

There is more to Valerie than her donning a Spider-Man costume and a lackluster page on the Marvel fandom site. She is shown as a side character in one issue. In another, she has a supporting role in a later comic which is based on a script of The Electric Company by Sara Compton. [2] The cover sets the scene for a battle with book worm. It begins with Valerie filing books in a box, while E.Z. Reader is reading a book, and they work together and uncover a book worm! One of my favorite parts is where Valerie says she heard about the bookworm in library school, meaning that she has a MLIS, often not acknowledged or recognized in many depictions of librarians, apart from Mo Testa in Dykes to Watch Out For. They work with Spider-Man, who is quietly reading in the library, to stop the bookworm, but it escapes.

In one issue Valerie notes that patrons, even villains, are only able to take out a certain number of books at a time, has fun with E.Z. Reader (who has a button saying “word power”) as she does her librarian work, like asking someone for a library card before checking out their books, facing a villain who takes books including those other people are using. She gets help from Spider-Man often and even use a card catalog in order to try and defeat the Vanisher, a villain who makes objects vanish, causing him to read a spell which traps him in a jail. [3]

In others, a trickster sprays her in the face with water and so she traps him under a pile of books, dons an outfit as Spider Woman, and reads a magical mystery book. Spider-Man is always willing to lend a helping hand, but she is not incapable, even without spider powers, making wise cracks along the way. She has supporting roles in other comics, adding to stories even when she isn’t in the library. [4] In one comic, she deals with someone, Wanda, who steals huge number of books from the library, completely emptying the shelves, without checking them out with a library card. Despite this, Wanda is later satisfied when Valerie gets her a library card. [5]

Valerie tells the villain, The Vanisher, he can check out books, but only with a library card, on page 4 of a Spider Super Stories issue.

In later comics, Valerie is asked patron information about who had a book, gets her name in one comic on a placard at her desk, and realizes where she is a true hero: as a librarian, helping people. This is clear in one comic where the library is a mess when she isn’t there to help out, and it is noted that her job is important. [6] That’s not something you see in depictions of librarians every day. Her last mention in the Spidey Super Stories series is a comic in which she plays a secondary role, helping a detective, in some capacity, solve a case. She isn’t even seen in a library in that issue, which is unfortunate as its her last appearance in the comic, and it would have been better for her to go out on a better note than the last issue issue she appeared within.

So it makes more sense as to why she was not remembered, as Valerie does not have consistent secondary role in the comics, sometimes more in the background and other times having a more active role. At the same time, it appears, according to the Hattie Winston Wikipedia page, that Easy Reader (voiced by Morgan Freeman) was Valerie’s girlfriend in The Electric Company series, which explains their relation to each other a little more with how they interact with one another in the comics. Other sources show that Sylvia and Valerie, in the same show, are not the same, as I had previously thought. The Root said that Valerie’s actress joined the cast in the third season, playing a “groovy librarian” who sings a duet with Easy Reader in one episode while wearing sunglasses in a library for some reason. This really makes me want to watch The Electric Company, appearing in 520 episodes according to the listing on her IMDB page. [8]

There is more to Valerie the librarian than what I have previously mentioned. For one, she is the only one of Black female librarians that I have mentioned on this blog and I have found in animated shows, films, and comics that has a MLIS degree. Neither Lydia Lovely in Horrid Henry, a Black woman who is voiced by a White actress, nor Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne, a Black woman voiced by Harriet D. Foy, are noted as having MLIS degrees, although it implied that both have such degrees. The same can be said about the unnamed Black male librarian in an episode of We Bare Bears. Unfortunately, some characters are not shown to have professional experience because they are in fantasy realms. This includes two gay Black men, George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, are self-declared historians who run a family library, making them de facto librarians, while O’Bengh / Cagliostro, a Nigerian man, in an episode of What If…?. As such, Valerie is the first Black librarian, male or female, that I have found who has a MLIS degree. And that it definitely significant!

People like Valerie are not common in the librarian profession, however. Currently the profession suffers from a “persistent lack of racial and ethnic diversity that has not changed significantly over the past 15 years,” with only 9.5 percent of librarians identified as Black or African American in the year 2020. [9] Despite this lack of diversity, there have been prominent Black female librarians who have their names etched in the annals of history. For instance, Catherine A. Latimer was the first Black librarian of New York Public Library. Dorothy Porter, who led Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, challenged the Dewey Decimal System’s racial bias and created her own classification system for Black scholarship. Marjorie Adele Blackistone Bradfield was the first Black librarian of Detroit Public Library, expanding the library’s Black literature collection. Belle Da Costa Greene was the personal librarian for J.P. Morgan, curating a collection of manuscripts, art, and rare books, but controversially passed as White. Alma Smith Jacobs was the first Black librarian in Montana, spearheading the construction of a modern library for the city of Great Falls. There are many more Black female librarians beyond the five mentioned in this paragraph, as these examples only scratch the surface of Black women’s impact on librarianship over the years. [10] In fact, one of the most outspoken Black female librarians in recent years is April Hathcock, who has been very prolific, passionate, and dedicated to librarianship. Her last post on her blog, to date, explains why she is leaving the American Library Association (ALA), calling it an organization “centered on promoting the ‘neutrality’ of white supremacy and capitalism.”

While the comic doesn’t show it, due to the fact that she is sometimes a background character and other times a secondary character, as a librarian who is a Black woman, she undoubtedly experienced racial microaggressions. This subject has been examined by scholars Shamika D. Dalton, Gail Mathapo, and Endia Sowers-Paige in a 10-page article in 2018 as it applies to Black women who are legal librarians, and more broadly by Caitlin M. J. Pollock and Shelley P. Haley the same year. In the latter article, they write that:

“Black women have always been integral to first literacy movements of the 1800s and later librarianship… literacy, social justice activism, and literary cultural production have always intersected for middle class, educated Black women…Activism, writing, and literacy have been interconnected in the history of Black women…These Black women [in the 1920s] were often librarians in white structures of power. They often had to struggle within those power structures that racialized and gendered them. For some of these women, they sought to contextualize their librarianship and libraries, some on a local level and some on a professional and national level. Regardless of the scope, these women had similar goals, to change, expand, and challenge libraries and librarianship…For some of these women, their work offered critiques of libraries that did not adhere to the ethos delineated by the laws…There were and are many more Black female librarians whose narratives are just as insightful and fascinating as the women described in this chapter…[but] these women do not have biographies written about them or their stories otherwise memorialized…Long before the practice became more accepted, Black women were critiquing and modifying the tools of library science, which were reinforcing the marginalization of Black Americans…we can infer that class and colorism played a role in which Black women were placed in librarian positions…One reason for the racial disparity is the continued structural whiteness and implicit racism in librarianship and libraries.” [11]

I wish some of this history informed the depiction of Valerie, Miss Lovely in Horrid Henry, or Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne, to name the three Black female librarians I’ve written about on this blog. More likely than not, all three were drawn and conceptualized by White people, especially since one of these three characters, Miss Lovely, is voiced by a White person after all. On the positive side, there are resources like those provided by the Black Caucus of the ALA, the Free Black Women’s Library which “celebrates the brilliance, diversity and imagination of Black women writers,” and the Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship reading list. Hopefully, in the future, I come across media with Black librarians who challenge established power structures, but I’m not holding my breath for that. Unfortunately, stereotypes of librarians continue to remain plentiful in pop culture. Even those librarians who are prominent, tend to be White and female, as is the case for those in The Owl House, Hilda, and Too Loud, to give three examples of shows in the last few years.

Valerie telling Spidey she is bored on page 15 of an issue of Spidey Super Stories

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] See Hunter, Nicholas. “Marvel’s Forgotten Original Spider-Woman Was A Black Librarian,” Screenrant, Jan. 28, 2022; Fraser, Ryan. “Spider-Woman (Character),” WorldofBlackHeroes, Jan. 27 2014; Gramuglia, Anthony. “How Many Spider-Women ARE There?,” CBR, Jun. 21, 2020. Jennifer Snoek-Brown described Valerie the Librarian as a recurring character from 1973 to 1976 in multiple episodes of The Electric Company.

[2] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 3, p. 27 (cover of “How to be a Super-Hero”); Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 6, p. 14-18.

[3] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 7, p. 1-5, 7-13.

[4] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 10, p. 18-19; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 11, p. 1-7, 9-13; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 27, p. 15-20; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 30, p. 4, 7, 12-13; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 32, p. 19-20; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 36, p. 15, 17, 20-22, 25, 27; Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 48, p. 15-17, 20;

[5] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 42, p. 16-20.

[6] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 49, p. 17-18, 22 (the story “Fargo’s Problem”); Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 53, p. 15-20

[7] Spidey Super Stories Vol 1 57, p. 17-18 (the story “Fargo’s Brother”).

[8] See episodes 130B (1977), 129B (1977), 128B (1977), 127B (1977), 126B (1977), 125B (1977), 124B (1977), 123B (1977), 122B (1977), 121B (1977), 120B (1977), 119B (1977), 118B (1977), 117B (1977), 116B (1977), 115B (1977), 114B (1977), 113B (1977), 112B (1977), 111B (1977), 110B (1977), 109B (1977), 108B (1977), 107B (1977), 106B (1977), 105B (1977), 104B (1977), 103B (1977), 102B (1977),- 101B (1977), 100B (1977), 99B (1977), 98B (1977), 97B (1977), 96B (1977), 95B (1977), 94B (1977), 93B (1977), 92B (1977), 91B (1977), 90B (1977), 89B (1977), 88B (1977), 87B (1977), 86B (1977), 85B (1977), 84B (1977), 83B (1977), 82B (1977), 81B (1977), 80B (1977), 79B (1977), 78B (1977), 77B (1977), 76B (1977), 75B (1977), 74B (1977), 73B (1977), 72B (1977), 71B (1977),- 70B (1977), 69B (1977), 68B (1977), 67B (1977), 66B (1977), 65B (1977), 64B (1977), 63B (1977), 62B (1977) , 61B (1977), 60B (1977),- 59B (1977), 58B (1977), 57B (1977), 56B (1977), 55B (1976), 54B (1976), 53B (1976), 52B (1976), 51B (1976), 50B (1976), 49B (1976), 48B (1976), 47B (1976), 46B (1976), 45B (1976), 44B (1976), 43B (1976), 42B (1976), 41B (1976), 40B (1976), 39B (1976), 38B (1976), 37B (1976), 36B (1976), 35B (1976), 34B (1976), 33B (1976), 32B (1976), 31B (1976), 30B (1976), 29B (1976), 28B (1976), 27B (1976), 26B (1976), 25B (1976), 24B (1976), 23B (1976), 22B (1976), 21B (1976), 20B (1976), 19B (1976), 18B (1976), 17B (1976), 16B (1976), 15B (1976), 14B (1976), 13B (1976), 12B (1976), 11B (1976), 10B (1976), 9B (1976), 8B (1976), 7B (1976), 6B (1976), 5B (1976), 4B (1976), 3B (1976), 2B (1976), 1B (1976), 130A (1976), 129A (1976), 128A (1976), 127A (1976), 126A (1976), 125A (1976), 124A (1976), 123A (1976), 122A (1976), 121A (1976), 120A (1976), 119A (1976), 118A (1976), 117A (1976), 116A (1976), 115A (1976), 114A (1976), 113A (1976), 112A (1976), 111A (1976), 110A (1976), 109A (1976), 108A (1976), 107A (1976) , 106A (1976), 105A (1976), 104A (1976), 103A (1976), 102A (1976), 101A (1976), 100A (1976), 99A (1976), 98A (1976), 97A (1976), 96A (1976), 95A (1976), 94A (1976), 93A (1976), 92A (1976), 91A (1976), 90A (1976), 89A (1976), 88A (1976), 87A (1976), 86A (1976), 85A (1976), 84A (1976), 83A (1976), 82A (1976), 81A (1976), 80A (1976), 79A (1976), 78A (1976), 77A (1976), 76A (1976), 75A (1976), 74A (1976), 73A (1976), 72A (1976), 71A (1976), 70A (1976), 69A (1976), 68A (1976) , 67A (1976), 66A (1976), 65A (1976), 64A (1976), 63A (1976), 62A (1976), 61A (1976), 60A (1976), 59A (1976), 58A (1976), 57A (1976), 56A (1976), 55A (1976), 54A (1976), 53A (1975), 52A (1975), 51A (1975), 50A (1975), 49A (1975), 48A (1975), 47A (1975), 46A (1975), 45A (1975), 44A (1975), 43A (1975), 42A (1975), 41A (1975), 40A (1975), 39A (1975), 38A (1975), 37A (1975), 36A (1975), 35A (1975), 34A (1975), 33A (1975), 32A (1975), 31A (1975), 30A (1975), 29A (1975), 28A (1975), 27A (1975), 26A (1975), 25A (1975), 24A (1975), 23A (1975), 22A (1975), 21A (1975), 20A (1975), 19A (1975), 18A (1975), 17A (1975), 16A (1975), 15A (1975), 14A (1975), 13A (1975), 12A (1975), 11A (1975), 10A (1975), 9A (1975), 8A (1975), 7A (1975), 6A (1975), 5A (1975), 4A (1975), 3A (1975), 2A (1975), 1A (1975), 520 (1975), 519 (1975), 518 (1975), 517 (1975), 516 (1975), 515 (1975), 514 (1975), 513 (1975), 512 (1975), 511 (1975), 510 (1975), 509 (1975), 508 (1975), 507 (1975), 506 (1975), 505 (1975), 504 (1975), 503 (1975), 502 (1975), 501 (1975), 500 (1975), 499 (1975), 498 (1975), 497 (1975), 496 (1975), 495 (1975), 494 (1975), 493 (1975), 492 (1975), 491 (1975), 490 (1975), 489 (1975), 488 (1975), 487 (1975), 486 (1975), 485 (1975), 484 (1975), 483 (1975), 482 (1975), 481 (1975), 480 (1975), 479 (1975), 478 (1975), 477 (1975), 476 (1975), 475 (1975), 474 (1975), 473 (1975), 472 (1975), 471 (1975), 470 (1975), 469 (1975), 468 (1975), 467 (1975), 466 (1975), 465 (1975), 464 (1975), 463 (1975), 462 (1975), 461 (1975), 460 (1975), 459 (1975), 458 (1975), 457 (1975), 456 (1975), 455 (1975), 454 (1975), 453 (1975), 452 (1975), 451 (1975), 450 (1975), 449 (1975), 448 (1975), 447 (1975), 446 (1975), 445 (1975), 444 (1975), 443 (1975), 442 (1974), 441 (1974), 440 (1974), 439 (1974), 438 (1974), 437 (1974), 436 (1974), 435 (1974), 434 (1974), 433 (1974), 432 (1974), 431 (1974), 430 (1974), 429 (1974), 428 (1974), 427 (1974), 426 (1974), 425 (1974), 424 (1974), 423 (1974), 422 (1974), 421 (1974), 420 (1974), 419 (1974), 418 (1974), 417 (1974), 416 (1974), 415 (1974), 414 (1974), 413 (1974), 412 (1974), 411 (1974), 410 (1974), 409 (1974), 408 (1974), 407 (1974), 406 (1974), 405 (1974), 404 (1974), 403 (1974), 402 (1974), 401 (1974), 400 (1974), 399 (1974), 398 (1974), 397 (1974), 396 (1974), 395 (1974), 394 (1974), 393 (1974), 392 (1974), 391 (1974), 390 (1974), 389 (1974), 388 (1974), 387 (1974), 386 (1974), 385 (1974), 384 (1974), 383 (1974), 382 (1974), 381 (1974), 380 (1974), 379 (1974), 378 (1974), 377 (1974), 376 (1974), 375 (1974), 374 (1974), 373 (1974), 372 (1974), 371 (1974), 370 (1974), 369 (1974), 368 (1974), 367 (1974) , 366 (1974), 365 (1974), 364 (1974), 363 (1974), 362 (1974), 361 (1974), 360 (1974), 359 (1974), 358 (1974), 357 (1974), 356 (1974), 355 (1974), 354 (1974), 353 (1974), 352 (1974), 351 (1974), 350 (1974), 349 (1974), 348 (1974), 347 (1974), 346 (1974), 345 (1974), 344 (1974), 343 (1974), 342 (1974), 341 (1974), 340 (1974), 339 (1974), 338 (1974), 337 (1974), 336 (1974), 335 (1974), 334 (1974), 333 (1974), 332 (1974), 331 (1974), 330 (1974), 329 (1974), 328 (1974), 327 (1974), 326 (1974), 325 (1974), 324 (1974), 323 (1974), 322 (1974), 321 (1974), 320 (1974), 319 (1974), 318 (1974), 317 (1974), 316 (1974), 315 (1974), 314 (1974), 313 (1974), 312 (1974), 311 (1973), 310 (1973), 309 (1973), 308 (1973), 307 (1973), 306 (1973), 305 (1973), 304 (1973), 303 (1973), 302 (1973), 301 (1973), 300 (1973), 299 (1973), 298 (1973), 297 (1973), 296 (1973), 295 (1973), 294 (1973), 293 (1973), 292 (1973), 291 (1973), 290 (1973), 289 (1973), 288 (1973), 287 (1973), 286 (1973), 285 (1973), 284 (1973), 283 (1973), 282 (1973), 281 (1973), 280 (1973), 279 (1973), 278 (1973), 277 (1973), 276 (1973), 275 (1973), 274 (1973), 273 (1973), 272 (1973), 271 (1973), 270 (1973), 269 (1973), 268 (1973), 267 (1973), 266 (1973), 265 (1973), 264 (1973), 263 (1973), 262 (1973), and 261 (1973)

[9] AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees, “Library Professionals: Facts & Figures,” Fact Sheet, Jun. 10, 2021. Of course, being Black and a professional, as not stopped incidents like Stephanie Bottom, a Black female librarian in Atlanta, from being assaulted by police, who don’t care about professional credentials, seeing Black people through their racist mindsets.

[10] Evans, Rhoda. “Catherine Latimer: The New York Public Library’s First Black Librarian,” New York Public Library, Mar. 20, 2020; Nunes, Zita Christina. “Remembering the Howard University Librarian Who Decolonized the Way Books Were Catalogued,” Smithsonian magazine, Nov. 26, 2018, reprinted from Perspectives of History; Audi, Tamara. “Marjorie Bradfield: Put black history into library,” Detroit Free Press, Nov. 20, 1999; Bates, Karen Grigsby. “J.P. Morgan’s Personal Librarian Was A Black Woman. This Is Her Story,” NPR News, Jul. 4, 2021; Milner, Surya. “Honoring Montana’s first Black librarian,” High Country News, Feb. 15, 2021. Other examples of prominent Black female librarians include, as noted by Book Riot, Charlemae Rollins as head librarian at the Chicago Public Library, Clara Stanton Jones as the first Black president of the American Library Association, Eliza Atkins Gleason as the “first Black American to earn a doctorate in library science at the University of Chicago” in 1940, Sadie Peterson Delaney who was key in bibliotherapy, Annette Lewis Phinazee as the “first woman and the first Black American woman to earn a doctorate in Library Science from Columbia University,” Carla Diane Hayden as the current Librarian of Congress, Effie Lee Morris as the “first woman and first black person to serve as president of the Public Library Association,” Mollie Huston Lee as the “first black librarian in Raleigh, North Carolina,” Virginia Lacy Jones as the second black person to earn a doctorate in Library Science, Virginia Proctor Powell Florence as the “first black woman in the United States to earn a degree in library science from the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library School,” and Vivian Harsh became the “first black librarian for the Chicago Public Library where she passionately collected works by Black Americans” in February 1924.

[11] Pollack, Caitlin M. J. and Shelley P. Haley, “When I Enter’: Black Women and Disruption of the White, Heteronormative Narrative of Librarianship,” chapter of In Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS, p. 1-4, 21, 35-36, 40. On pages 5-33, the article focuses on five Black women in particular: Nella Larsen, Pura Belpré, and Regina Anderson Andrews, Ann Allen Shockley, and Audre Lorde.

Categories
animation anime fantasy Librarians Libraries

This blog in 2021 (and beyond)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward to a productive year ahead!

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

Categories
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
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
adventure animation Black people comedy Fiction genres Librarians Libraries magic libraries

This Nickelodeon Show Features a Magical Secret Library

What if I told you that there was an all-ages animated series where a special, and magnificent library was so central, it even surprised the series creator? There is such a show—Nickelodeon’s Welcome to the Wayne, created by Billy Lopez. It features a library that exemplifies the series’ quirkiness.

The role of the library in the show goes beyond positive depictions of libraries and librarians in recent years in animated series such as Too Loud, Mira, Royal Detective, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Hilda, and Cleopatra in Space. In Welcome to the Wayne, the chief librarian of a magical library, called the Stanza, is a Black woman named Clara Rhone—one of very few librarians of color in popular culture. She is voiced by Harriett D. Foy. In the first season, the library and its non-human employees are central to the series, a theme continued in the second season, emphasizing the value of libraries as places of knowledge, and understanding.

In the show’s first episode, one of the three protagonists, Saraline, is unable to find the secret library in her apartment complex, the Wayne. Her friend and new apartment resident, Ansi Molina, stumbles upon the library by accident, as he tries to retrieve his John Keats book taken by a squidlike creature he nicknames John Keats. In the meticulously organized library, which contains information on the inhabitants of the Wayne, he meets Clara, who is re-shelving books. While she is unsuccessful in getting Ansi to become a library member, he later helps her shelve books and uses a magic guardrail to travel to various parts of the library. Information from the library helps Ansi aid his friends and sets in motion coming adventures, like getting a shiny, and strange, card.

The second episode begins with the library. Ansi’s new friend, Julia Wilds, travels with Saraline and her brother, Olly, to the library, as they continue to try to unravel the mysteries of the Wayne. While Julia appears to be overwhelmed, Team Timbers (Saraline, Olly, and Ansi) are successful in fending off the mysterious masked man, Tony Stanza, keeper of the Stanza archives, who is trying to seize a card Ansi received from the library in the previous episode. Despite the fact he appears to be a villain, near the end of the episode, Tony surprisingly Olly and Saraline cards of their own, telling both of them, and Ansi, to return their cards before “time runs out.” This sets in motion the events of the next episode.

Eight episodes later, in episode 12, a new character, a vampire named Andrei, is informed that his book is overdue and that he must return it. He and Team Timbers follow a creature to the library that snatched his book. The episode that follows highlights the issues of underfunded libraries and the value of knowledge, even as they fight off a library ninja voiced by Charnele Crick. Clara sends the ninja to kill the vampire, because vampires attacked residents in the Wayne in the past, and drive Team Timbers out of the library. As the whole library mobilizes against Team Timbers, the ninja, who happens to be Clara’s granddaughter, is trapped between card catalogs. Andrei uses his superhuman strength and agility to save her. At one point, Olly jokes that the catalogs are attacking them because they are “angry about being replaced by the internet” as he continues to film everything for a viral video. The role of librarians as gatekeepers is emphasized when Clara warns Team Timbers that if they leave with Andrei, they can never return. Ansi, who loves the library, accepts this, even as he later laments his inability to access the library as a result.

A few episodes after this, the library ninja helps Team Timbers and introduces herself as Goodness, officially becoming part of the team defending the Wayne from evil forces. In the show’s 19th episode, Goodness and Saraline break into the library, catching a creature that looks like a running nose and spot Clara shelving books. In the season one finale, Clara offers her help to the eight-person team of protagonists, which has expanded beyond the original members of Team Timbers to form what is known as the Gyre.

In the show’s second and final season, Saraline describes the library as one of the quietest places in the Wayne in one episode; this library is also where her friend Annacile/the Arcsine goes to find out who has received her magical powers. A few episodes later, the show emphasizes the importance of the library as a quiet place for contemplation and study. Katherine Alice travels with Goodness to the library, with Clara shushing Goodness, telling her to use her “Stanza voice.” While this corresponds with the shushing librarian stereotype, Clara makes up for this by showing them the Wayne Cyclodex, a book that records “everything that has ever happened” in the Wayne. This book becomes central in the episodes that follow, her words becoming a warning to those in the Gyre. In the penultimate episode of the series, the characters briefly return to the library, which is described as a place where time stands still, before they enter a trap set by the show’s villains. While the characters do not travel to the library in the final episode, Clara is briefly possessed by rainbow gas and is shown, in the ending montage of the episode, doing exercises on the balcony of her room in the Wayne.

Although the series ran from 2017 to 2019 and likely will not return in the future, all 30 episodes can be purchased online. This short-lived but memorable series makes clear the value of libraries and librarians to society, as places of knowledge, and diversity, more than most animated series.

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


This is reprinted from I Love Libraries, where it was published on April 22. I had originally titled this “The Integral Role of Librarians and Libraries in “Welcome to the Wayne”” but Lindsey Simon, who I worked with at I Love Libraries for all of my articles there, proposed a new title. This was the last article she worked on with me before departing as Content Strategy Manager of the ALA’s Communications and Marketing Office.