The League Of Extraordinary Librarians

Library. The space of infinite knowledge, solace, and easy means of exposition in films and literatures. This place conjured inspirations of many. Jorge Luis Borges dreamed up the infinite library in his story The Library of Babel, and Alberto Manguel wrote Library at Night, collection of essays about different perspectives on library. The library offers convenient means of exposition for the speculative fictions. The band of heroes who need research will go into nearby libraries, and they will find the answer to what they are looking for.

But where are librarians? In many cases, librarians play supportive roles only, usually providing information for the heroes during their investigations, or entirely missing. If the characters need scientific help, the scientist would have been a character, and have some screen times to show off his or her character. Not so much luck with librarians. The characters just walk into a library and within few seconds they find the answer. So where do we find librarians? Are they hiding behind the bookshelves while the heroes are stopping by for the exposition time?

In some cases, librarians are portrayed in negative light; either they are lifeless and strict, or utterly unattractive lots. Even when they are portrayed in positive lights, they are often mere supporting roles, staying away from the major action.

In the world of fictions, many professions are either neglected or overly romanticized. Scientists are perhaps the most romanticized (or distorted) professions, as well as archeologists. Librarians and the rest have not received much attention. But it does not mean that librarians have not had chance to shine. There are few characters with librarian background or active librarians who perform extraordinary tasks. It would be noteworthy to examine how their backgrounds and educations are used to understand how professions are depicted in fictions.

This article is intended to spotlight such characters, who break the stereotype of dull, boring librarians and kick ass.

Bat-Girl is the fighting information professional

Bat-Girl: Librarian By Day, Vigilante By Night

Bat-Girl, a.k.a Barbara Gordon, is the one of the most well-known super heroine from DC Universe. With the popularity of Batman franchise thanks to the Dark Knight Trilogy and the Arkhamverse games, Bat-Girl receives impressive amount of attention.

Bat-Girl’s civilian identity is often known as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, but in many stories Barbara is also known as Doctor Barbara Gordon, with Ph.D in Library Science. She even becomes the head of Gotham City Public Library.

To many fans, Bat-Girl is an inspirational figure. She is the living evidence that women can kick ass as much as men, but also a survivor of horrible violence who continued to fight on. When the Joker shot Barbara in The Killing Joke, it left her paralyzed and forced her to retire from the active crime fighting role. However, Barbara continued to aid Batman and other heroes as the Oracle, the information and technical guru who provided valuable information and support. After the New 52, Barbara recovered and became Bat-Girl again, once again fighting crimes in the front line.

Librarian is an interesting choice for the super hero’s civilian identity; often the civilian identities of the heroes are something allowed the characters to approach the scene of crime or incidents easily. Super-Man can easily approach suspicious area as an innocent looking reporter, and Batman uses multiple investigation techniques, such as disguising as a mobster, to watch on Gotham’s criminals. Spider-Man, before he became the owner of Parker Industry (thanks to Doctor Octopus), had been often depicted as a photographer looking for an interesting scene to sell to Jonah Jameson. Even when Peter Parker was a high school teacher, his connections to the students kept him close to the scenes of evil activities. Compared to such professions, librarian may sound like a safe job, where one is guarded from many vices of the world.

Some may not think librarian is a great civilian identity for a crime fighter, but it makes sense to imagine a librarian sensing a crime in the community; public libraries often become shelters for teenagers or homeless depending on the location of the branch, the guards are always alert to any sign of trouble. Plus, when you consider that many crimes in detective novels occur in seemingly peaceful and innocent places, library can be an interesting choice of setting.

Who said you have to wear shoes to work in this library?

Librarian Of The Unseen University: Have Fun While You Are… An Orangutan?

Discworld series, created by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, introduced many eccentric characters. From a wizard who cannot use magic to a murderous living luggage with legs, you can find many unique and hilarious characters…including the Orangutan working as a librarian in the Unseen University.

The Unseen University is the magical education institution in Ankh Morpork, the city state where the most of the stories are set. The University’s library is full of magic that many mysterious events happen. It is revealed that the Librarian used to be human, but due to the magic in the library he was morphed into an orangutan.

The Librarian can only speak in “ook”, yet those who worked with him closely, such as Rincewind, can understand him perfectly. It seems like the communication barrier does not hinder him from performing his duties, and sometimes he is involved in the major actions in the story such as building a motorcycle for the Death.

What makes the Librarian interesting is that he is very energetic character. Not only he is described to be very strong, he is also one of the most capable characters in the series. He is seen building motorcycles, playing in a band, or defending the library in dangerous situation. Forget all the quiet and ineffective stereotypes about librarians. This librarian is capable of breaking some bones while doing his job right.

Librarian: the only profession that does not go mad from seeing the old ones and other unnamable horrors

Henry Armitage – The Only Successful Hero In The Cthulhu Mythos?

It is well known that Howard Philips Lovecraft almost detests happy ending. In Lovecraft’s world, the human mind cannot survive the indescribable horror of the Unknown terror. Many of the characters either go insane, or live in constant fear and despair.

Despite this grim tendency, Lovecraft managed to present few stories where the characters not only survive, but also perform rather heroic feats. Randolph Carter is the most well-known of such characters; Carter ventures into the Dreamland to find the Dream City of Kadath, and even gets involved in the warfare against the strange creatures. Dr. Willet from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is another of such “hero” of Lovecraft. In this story, Dr. Willet solves the mysterious case regarding Charles Dexter Ward.

Henry Armitage from Dunwich Horror is another Lovecraftian hero, and perhaps he is the one character Lovecraft actually liked. Lovecraft revealed in his letter that he started to identify himself with this old scholar while writing the story. Considering Lovecraft’s extreme self-criticisms, it is quite interesting detail.

Dunwich Horror is the story of the sons of Yog Sothoth trying to summon their father into our world, and Henry Armitage is there to stop them. Armitage is an elderly librarian in Arkham University. When Wilbur Whateley, the youth with an abnormal growth both in mind and body, asks to check out the notorious Necromonicon, Armitage prevents him from taking it out of the library. Until the death of Wilbur, Armitage does not seem to be a heroic material although he did sense that something was wrong with the young Whateley.

Henry Armitage takes more assertive role when the invisible monster starts to terrorize the town. From this point, Armitage researches and plans to fight off the monster to save the humanity. After using the magic spell to expel the monster into another dimension, Henry Armitage returns…with sanity. If you have read few Lovecraft stories, you may find it rather surprising.

The character of Armitage is not too peculiar by himself, but the fact that Lovecraft liked this character makes him interesting. Lovecraft was pessimistic towards the progress and scientific discoveries. Many of his stories involve exploring the forbidden knowledge, and often simply knowing more than others lead to madness. Armitage on the other hand, is a librarian who is in charge of keeping the knowledge safe; his first exploit is to prevent Wilbur from approaching Necronomicon, and although he researches he does not venture into the unknown region. Perhaps such conservative traits are why Lovecraft identified himself with the character.

If Lovecraft kept Armitage for the later stories, the scope of Cosmic Horror might have been different, or Armitage could have ended up like other Lovecraftian victims.

In one universe, Optimus will scan a library truck and rule the world.

Honorable Mention: Optimus Prime- The Baddest Archivist In The Universe

To be exact, some version of Optimus Prime. There have been many versions of this leader of Autobots, and each come with unique backgrounds. It is interesting to note that Optimus was either librarian or information professional in more than one universe.

In Transformers Prime, Optimus was an archivist named Orion Pax before becoming the leader of Autobots. He was of peaceful nature, and befriended Megatron when the latter was seeking to bring revolution to the corrupted Cybertronian society. Orion advised Megatron with his knowledge, and eventually confronted the politicians to deliver the message of the revolution. However, when Orion was chosen to be the next Prime, Megatron betrayed him in envy and started the war.

In case of Optimus Prime, his librarian experience has little to do with the main storyline, although it gives a context for his knowledge and benevolent nature. In this case, a librarian background is used to add depth to the character’s personality.

Transformers Prime is not the only title in the series which give Optimus librarian background. Dreamwave version was the first title to give Optimus data archivist position, and in Shattered Glass, the parallel world where good and evil are reversed, Optimus Prime appears as the former librarian who decides to conquer the universe after being sick of peaceful world. This evil version of Optimus is described to be obsessed with knowledge, and he advanced in the society using various plots and schemes. In this case, Optimus’ character deviates from the usual stereotype of librarians being peaceful and quiet, and turns into sadistic tyrant.

In either case, Transformers argues that you cannot judge a person’s future by their current profession. No matter how nerdy it seems, you never know whether he/she will be the greatest savior, or the cruelest tyrant.

Be Quiet In The Library… No More?

Some librarian characters certainly do not demand silence. They are men/women of action at the time of need, and can apply their professional skills to overcome their problems.

It would be beneficial for both authors and audiences to depict more diverse profession in fiction. First of all, it breaks monotony of character backgrounds, and it also shines light on people with less “interesting” professions. By focusing on less highlighted professions, the readers and the authors alike can appreciate their presence and expand their worldview.

Besides, would it not be fun to imagine unlikely hero to save the day?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Contributing writer for The Artifice.
Edited by DClarke, Misagh, Adnan Bey.

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  1. Heard of Jason Robards in Something Wicked This Way Comes? He is a reclusive librarian.

  2. Mcswain

    Librarians are very stereotyped. The typical librarian in the movies has her hair up in a bun, glasses settled on her nose, and an old-fashioned cardigan nestled around her shoulders.

  3. DClarke

    This is fantastic, I have some librarian friends who would be interested in this and the way that you make librarians cool again!

  4. My library is one that will fall with the rise of e-books unfortunately. Mostly because they never get any new books in and the waiting lists are so long. Sometimes it can take a year to get a book. … Why wait when you can download?

    • “Why wait when you can download?”

      Oh behalf of libraries everywhere:

      Because patiences is a virtue that sadly is being raped…

  5. Chelsey

    I think reality TV surrounding librarians would be quite interesting-amazing what happens in the public library system each day!

    • Watch the Australian TV series ‘The Librarians’. I’ve had several public librarian friends tell me they can’t watch it because it’s too realistic!

  6. Shivers

    Suzie in Sex Criminals!

  7. Lucien in Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Lucien is the librarian in The Dreaming, keeper of all books that have been or will be dreamed.

  8. Wow… I really liked this!

  9. Often the general population thinks of librarians as old women with their hair in a bun who shhhhh-ed you. They’re not. They’re superheroes. Respect them.

  10. …also the terrifying Librarian Owl in The Last Airbender.

  11. Winfred

    My personal favorite: Jason Shiga’s hilarious Bookhunter. It’s 1973, and a crack team of library police must track down a priceless stolen book. The marvelous chase sequence incorporates book trucks, moveable shelving, the stacks, and (remember these?) the card catalog.

  12. Casandra Mcarthur

    All of these have highlighted the significance of librarians and challenged preconceived stereotypes of them.

  13. Hurtado

    You all should read Library Wars comics. The cool thing about it, at least in my opinion, is that a good portion of it actually depicts every-day, mundane, non-glamorous library work – shelving/stack management, circulation, basic reference and cataloging, that kind of thing!

  14. Alice and the Ghost Librarian in Ghostbusters should have had a mention!

  15. How about Mary in Party Girl?

  16. Allie Anton

    I enjoyed this article very much, especially since my grandmother was a librarian. Librarians are so often looked upon as little more than set decoration, though one could say (to use a little hyperbole) that they are the guardians of culture. After all, are not the defining ideas of a culture obtained from what one reads?

  17. Lexzie

    This was a great article! It is true that librarians are often stereotyped, but many of the librarians that I know are nothing like the stereotype.
    I do hope we get to see more extraordinary librarians!

  18. Thanks for all your comments! I will research more and try to write the sequel article to this. Seems like there are many more hidden extraordinary librarians in this world…

  19. Brilliant article! Such a fun read with very interesting arguments about a great topic, very unusual! The way you look at famous librarian characters is really original. It’s nice to have an article on this at a time where bookshops for example are slowly closing down and libraries get less interest, now that things can be found online.

  20. mattdoylemedia

    Out of interest, would you class the characters of the TV series ‘Librarians’ as breaking the stereotypes or are they too far removed from the actual work to figure into the equation?

  21. Nice article examining the role of libraries and librarians in film and fiction. One of my favorites- heroin, librarian, Goldie Hawn, the protagonist in the movie, Foul Play – 1978! Love the humor and the beautiful balance between comedy and suspense!

  22. Francesca Turauskis

    Having worked in a central library for over 2 years, I can confirm that many characters go there, and you learn a lot from homeless people! You should read The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman.

  23. Now we have the Librarians show, which really breaks the traditional librarian stereotype. It a show that really deserves a look see.

  24. It is great that librarians are becoming more recognized thanks to shows like The Librarians and such.

  25. I agree with JustJohn, the show the Librarians as well as the movies they spun off of give librarians a different light. Though they do involve artifacts and magic they library becomes a character of its own giving the heroes the knowledge they need to save the day. Similarly, though involving only artifacts but various that are based on history and literature, Warehouse 13 show “librarians” in a way. Just a thought.

  26. I’m currently working as a librarian and as a bookseller, and the experience has changed the way I look at shelves. Librarians have super-powered eyes; we are the best people to have on your scavenger hunt team.

    I think that the best part about being in charge of archives is that not only do we know where everything is, but we know where to find other things similar and complementary to whatever is being searched for.

    Tl:DR– I’m a really good person to have with you at a bookstore. I find thangz.

  27. M. L. Flood

    This is such an ingenious article! I’m currently working in the library at my school, and I have a new found appreciation for librarians in general. So to read this was very exciting. I agree that librarian characters are under-appreciated, and writers should explore them more. The career itself opens so many doors for adventure. As a librarian, you have the chance to meet people and get to know them, which is also exciting and would be a good means of plot development. It’s also interesting to consider the librarian-type character personality; what is stereotypical (i.e. straight faced, up-tight, terrifying old lady) and what is unconventional (i.e. daring, adventurous men and women who use knowledge as their most viable weapon). It would be awesome to see more librarian protagonists used in today’s works. That would be fantastic!

  28. Love this article! Librarians are bad ass!

  29. Excellent article! Having witnessed many changes; such as the internet in its infancy and later on the almighty Google (Let Go and Let Google), I have often felt that the human aspect of ‘knowledge bearing’ is still best delivered by flesh and bone. One reason being is that we relate far better to our own species as their knowledge (or ability to obtain it) reflects our own potential back to us. Another reason is the collective effort effect – we are all in this together are we not? Each facet, peripheral character, wage earner, hedge fund manager, Neuroscientist and ditch-digger creates the fabric of our known humanity. Librarians are unsung heroes for certain.

  30. Kevin Mohammed

    You had me sold the moment I read the title! I loved this article and how you explain the badassery of each librarian! It really is such an interesting read!

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