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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

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

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

[5] Macias, “Looking the Part,” 118.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

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

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

Categories
action adventure anime comedy fantasy Fiction genres Japanese people Librarians Libraries magic libraries Pop culture mediums romance romantic comedy school libraries

Little witches, comedy, and love in the library

Akko, Amanda, and Croix in the library at the beginning of the episode “Amanda O’Neil and the Holy Grail”

Hello everyone! It’s been a bit slow in terms of finding libraries in animation since my last post on the topic back on October 10. In order to get to my goal, as I stated in my last post of watching “100 anime episodes and 100 animation episodes,” with libraries and/or librarians, I’m focusing on anime for now. Presently, I’ve watched 81 anime episodes, up from 74 as stated in my October 10 post, as noted in this Excel document. In this post, I’ll highlight some of my favorite moments in each of those episodes when it comes to libraries and librarians.

Let’s start with Little Witch Academia. Like any anime set in a school environment, there are undoubtedly scenes in libraries. In the episode “Samhain Magic Festival,” for instance, Professor Ursula researches at the library about a curse, finding the information she needs is at Luna Nova’s Archive Library. In that way, the episode has library and archives themes all-in-one! In a later episode, “Chariot of Fire,” a student, Diana Cavendish, is researching about Croix at the library and Prof. Ursula talks to her, unintentionally revealing she knew Croix well, then leaving not long after. Later in the episode, Diana is still reading a book in the library. Again, the library scenes are short but undoubtedly worthwhile to say the least. Finally, in the introduction to the episode “Amanda O’Neil and the Holy Grail,” Akko and Amanda meet Prof. Ursula in the library, where she is doing research. While she leaves, they spend time in the library, thinking of how they will find the fifth word, and talk with Prof. Croix about it, and they end up going on an adventure while Croix is still in the library. Libraries galore!

Libraries appear just as many times in the romcom/sex comedy anime titled B Gata H Kei. In part 1 of the show’s first episode, “Boy Meets Girl. Please Give Me Your ‘First Time’!!,” the show’s protagonist, Yamada, is assigned to be a school volunteer at the library like her crush Kosuda. Yamada says she didn’t like the library because it smells but fantasizes about hiding spots to have love with Kosuda. She tries to seduce him there and it fails, as it usually does. Then, in part 1 of the fourth episode, “Throbbing Christmas Eve. What Does a First Kiss Taste Like?,” Yamada and Kosuda are volunteering in the library together once more. Later, in part 1 of the show’s fifth episode, “A Valentine of Sweat and Tears! Love(?) From Yamada is Put Into It,” Yamada and Kosuda are volunteering in the library together. In Part 2, titled “Improve the Erotic Powers! It’s My First Time Feeling This Sensation…” of this episode, they are both in the library again, with Yamada trying to get Kosuda interested in her romantically again. As expected, that doesn’t work, leaving her alone in the library after he leaves. He then comes back and is embarrassed by her actions.

Yuu and Touko are shocked to see every table in the library filled with people studying for exams

Finally, there is the yuri anime, Bloom Into You. In the episode “The Problem With Choices,” Touko and Yuu end up studying in the library together for school midterms day after day until finally, they end up studying at Yuu’s house because the library is crowded one day. The romance between them continues to blossom!

So that’s all for this week.

© 2020 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
action adventure animation fantasy Librarians Libraries White people

A Mysterious Librarian is the Breakout Star of Netflix’s Hilda

Two years ago, the animated series Hilda premiered on Netflix, and a minor character called “The Librarian” (voiced by Kaisa Hammurlund) quickly became a fan sensation. Although she only appears in about three minutes of the show’s first season, this feisty librarian has been mentioned in 20 fanfiction stories on Archive of Our Own and has a Tumblr blog dedicated to her. She has also been a subject of a lot of chatter among the fanbase, from Twitter to Reddit. The official Hilda Twitter account has described her as a mysterious librarian who has an unmatched, and extensive, “knowledge of cemetery records and mystical items.” Overall, this character is among the most positive pop culture depictions of librarians, along with fellow animated shows Cleopatra in Space and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

During the show’s first season, the characters spend only nine minutes at the Trolberg public library, but those scenes make a strong impression. In the show’s sixth episode, protagonists Hilda, David, and Frida travel to the library, searching for information to cure David’s awful nightmares. Before they can think of the right text, the librarian drops a book on a nearby table, telling them they will find it of interest, and slides away on a rolling ladder across the stacks. Once the group starts reading, they realize the book indeed contains the information they need. When Frida expresses her confusion with the librarian’s prescient actions, David tells her that it is her job to find what they need.

In the next episode (“The Lost Clan”), the protagonists’ journey to the library to learn about dragons. While Hilda laments that she would rather be in a “deep, dark forest,” her elf friend, Alfie, calls the library a “forest for the imagination”; Frida adds that research is the “greatest adventure of them all.” After Alfie locates the right book using the card catalog, he expresses his love of “a good subject-based classification system,” in keeping with the show’s portrayal of elves as comically fixated on paperwork and organization. This scene reinforces the impression from the previous episode that libraries are wondrous places of valuable information.

Much of the library’s screen time for the season takes place in the eighth episode (“The Tide Mice”). In the first scene, Hilda looks for a “cozy place” to read. Thanks to the instincts of her pet, Twig, she stumbles upon a hidden special collections room in the library, a space that comics writer Matthew Garcia calls “the real wonder” of the episode. Among the stacks, Hilda finds a spell book whose contents spur the plot of the episode. Afterward, she is reminded by the librarian that reference books, like the spell book, cannot be circulated. Filled with enchantments, the books become, in Garcia’s words, a “creature of their own.” Alfie has several wonderful lines in this episode, calling libraries “thrilling temples of the unexpected.” Thanks to the information Hilda learned during her time in the library, she lifts the enchantment on her friend and mother just in time.

In the episode (“The Ghost”) that follows, the protagonists visit the library again, searching for information following a possible encounter with a ghost. Before Hilda has a chance to ask for help, the librarian anticipates her question. After some hesitation, the librarian draws upon her extensive expertise about everything from local gravesite locations to ghost summoning rituals in order to assist the group. She gives Hilda the necessary materials to raise the dead while warning her that she will be “piercing the veil” between the human world and the world of the dead. While she later calls this activity “fun,” she does so in order to help Hilda, a patron, with something important. The librarian’s actions in this episode highlight the responsibility of librarians to serve patrons to the best of their ability.

In the show’s final episode (“The Black Hound”), we see the librarian walking across the streets of Trolberg. Whether she is goth, a witch, a vampire, a queer-coded character, or a version of Hilda from the future—all of which are popular theories among fans—there is no doubt she will have an important role in the show’s upcoming season, which will likely begin streaming on Netflix in either October or November of this year. In the end, the librarian in Hilda serves as a positive depiction of librarians in animation which eschews stereotypes, hopefully making clear the importance of librarians and libraries for years to come.

© 2020 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Note: This article is reprinted from the original on I Love Libraries.