Wan Shi Tong – Pop! Profile

Wan Shi Tong (via the Avatar Wiki)

Wan Shi Tong (via the Avatar Wiki)

“I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things, and you are obviously humans; which, by the way, are no longer permitted in my study.”

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not a big fan of anime. Friendly, furry tree spirits aside who like umbrellas aside, I’ve never understood the appeal. That said, I began watching Avatar: The Last Airbender with my husband, who is a fan of anime. Three or four episodes in, I became hooked. Aang and his group of friends are endearing, the story is magical and unique, and the world of the story is fascinating. In the same way that Harry Potter engenders the imagination, Avatar makes you think about our own world in relation to the make-believe, and it even allows you to match your background and personality with that of the different tribes. For example, I know very well (after taking numerous online quizes) that I’m a Ravenclaw and a waterbender. So there! So, forget about the travesty that was the 2010 film adaptation directed by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named – in fact, forget I even mentioned it right here. The show is brilliant. Period.

The second season of a follow-up series, The Legend of Korrais currently airing on Nickelodeon. The story centers around the next Avatar in line after Aang, a waterbender named Korra. While it touches on a few of the same themes, it just isn’t the same experience for me. The world is similar, although “newer” and less rough, but the characters are older and more annoying. I don’t feel the same love for Korra and her friends as I did for Aang and his. We’ve been dutifully watching new episodes on Hulu, but without much interest. Lo and behold, I was quite pleased the other night when we sat down to watch the latest episode and one of my very favorite characters made an appearance: his name is Wan Shi Tong, and he’s an owl. Well, more to the point, he’s a spirit owl. Oh, and he’s a librarian. And his ancient library is amazing.

Wan_Shi_Tong's_Library

The ancient library. I mean, LOOK AT IT.

In the world of the original Avatar series, the ancient library was largely a mystery – no one truly knew where it was located, as it had been buried in the sand for centuries. Team Avatar (Aang and his buddies) needed to do some research about blah blah plot details, so they go out to look for it in the desert. In the end, they are only able to locate the structure because they happen to see a Knowledge Seeker enter the building through an opening in the desert sand. What is a Knowledge Seeker, you ask?

Helpful_Knowledge_Seeker

Knowledge Seekers: cute fox-like spirits seeking knowledge one tome at a time

Yes. Fox spirits. These knowledge seekers do exactly that: they travel the world looking for books to add to the ancient library. Even after the library is buried and all but inaccessible, they still fulfill their duties. They also assist patrons when they need to locate information. In these ways, they serve as both acquisitions and public services staff members, and they all serve Wan Shi Tong – the head librarian.

Wan Shi Tong is the worst example of a librarian: he’s mean, territorial, single-minded, and spiteful. He’s the reason why the library is buried in sand to begin with, and after he encounters Team Avatar, he’s the reason the library vanishes all together from the human world. That he takes the form of an owl is no coincidence; owls often symbolize wisdom, which is a fitting animal for a librarian spirit. The barn-owl mask is also an interesting choice, because it gives him a stony, ghostlike expression that changes little. The actor who voices Wan Shi Tong, Héctor Elizondo, does so with a slight haughty grace, but it’s subtle and not cartoony by any means.

His innate distrust of humans reminds me of a prickly, old librarian who has dealt with the public far too long and can therefore no longer trust them. (Remember: Librarians are Mean.) His main concern is the collection and protection of knowledge, which in librarian-speak makes him a kind of archivist. If that’s the case, he’s one of those paranoid archivists who dislike the idea of their precious rare materials getting in the wrong hands; soon enough, the “wrong hands” become “anyone’s hands.” Wan Shi Tong allows Team Avatar to peruse his library, but forbids them to use anything they find to aid them in the war against the Fire Nation. Spoiler alert: Team Avatar totally goes against Wan Shi Tong’s rules and as a result the ancient spirit Shuts. Down. Everything. Out of spite, he pulls his library from the human world forever. All that knowledge, gone.

Or that would have been the case, had The Legend of Korra not revisited Wan Shi Tong and his library in the recent episode “A New Spiritual Age.” Korra and her friend Jinora travel to the Spirit World, and Jinora makes her way to the library. Wan Shi Tong is even more hostile to humans, if that’s even possible, and he becomes angered when Jinora (who is Aang’s granddaughter btw) challenges his Under No Circumstances rule when it comes to humans entering his library again. In a wonderful moment, Jinora tries to trick Wan Shi Tong into honoring an old rule of his: that a human may remain in the library if they offer new knowledge in exchange. (Awesome loophole is awesome!) While Wan Shi Tong does not fall for this, claiming it’s an “old rule”, he does allow Jinora to look around, but it turns out that Wan Shi Tong is in league with Korra’s enemy, her uncle Unalaq. Gasp shock! (Remember: Librarians are Also Evil.)

Librarians are also freaking terrifying?

Librarians are also freaking terrifying? (via Hypable)

Despite his evilness, Wan Shi Tong and his library make for an incredible story. He’s a fan favorite character from the first series for a reason: you feel respect, awe, irritation, and terror at the idea of an incredibly old, intelligent, and diligent being who wants nothing more than to cultivate a mass of knowledge and keep it safe. His thirst for knowledge makes him lower his guard twice – once for the Avatar, and again for his descendent – and every time he does so, his belief in the folly of human-kind is reinforced. “Humans don’t want to learn,” he thinks. “They want to destroy.” Is he wrong? Is he so very wrong for wanting to keep his books – the very things he is meant to protect – out of the equation?

Mean librarian, old librarian, evil librarian – sure. But what about tired librarian? Been there, done that librarian? Besides – how bad can a character be if he hires fox spirits to staff his awesome library?

So you tell me: are you a fan of Avatar or The Legend of Korra? What do you think of Wan Shi Tong? How much do you want a pet fox now?

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Worse Than Murder

The Librarian - Discworld by ~the-primitive-muse

The Librarian – Discworld by ~the-primitive-muse

“A book has been taken. A book has been taken? You summoned the Watch,” Carrot drew himself up proudly, “because someone’s taken a book? You think that’s worse than murder?”

The Librarian gave him the kind of look other people would reserve for people who said things like “What’s so bad about genocide?”
Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

Summer Movies Mean… Librarian Cameos?

Monsters U Librarian

So, I see an awful lot of movies in the theatre. When summer rolls around, I can usually be expected to have seen one new film a week – not as much as post-Thanksgiving, pre-New Years, when all the Oscar-bait films come out, but still more than the average moviegoer.  Sad films, happy films, funny films, weird films: as long as it doesn’t fall under the category “gratuitous slasher flick” I’m typically going to see it.  And if I love it/hate it, I’ll talk about it.  Forever.

This past weekend my husband and I went to see Monsters University, which fell under the umbrella of “liked it, didn’t love it, but had some great parts.”  For a sequel it was certainly strong, and it’s hard to go wrong with Nathan Fillion and Helen Mirren playing bad guys in the same movie.  The film is very much a creation story; we see Mike and Sully meet during their Freshman year at school, quickly become enemies, begin to work together, learn from each other, and then finally become friends and colleagues.  Monsters U, the school itself, is prestigious and honorable, and it has a typical division of clubs and cliques: jocks, hot chicks, emo kids, nerds, and weirdos.  They’re all pitted against each other during the school’s monster triathlon, the Scare Games, which consists of a series of trials to choose the best Scarers on campus.  One of the trials – called “Don’t Wake the Parent” – takes place in the university’s library.  Can you see where this is going?  I could, and it was glorious!

Monsters U Librarian2

Uh oh?

The “Parent” in the trial’s scenario is of course the curmudgeonly, be-speckled, old lady/squid-like librarian who hates noise and has a penchant for chucking ne’er-do-well students into the lake outside.  It’s over the top and silly and so much damn fun.  She’s everything a Freshman might expect from their university librarian, especially if the university in question is as old fashioned as Monsters U.  Look at all those books!  The wood paneling!  HER OUTFIT!  Of course the library is destroyed when the librarian  furiously lashes out, but you just know part of her enjoyed putting it back together again.  It’s gloriously over the top (really, could they have made her any uglier?) but I just can’t bring myself to roll my eyes.  Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Considering summer movies and surprisingly fun librarian cameos, did you know that last year had a similar set up?  The Spider-man reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield) included a scene in which the entire school was destroyed during an epic fight between Spidey and the Lizard.  The two crash through a wall – surprisingly easy to do in comic book movies – and on the other side? The school library, featuring none other than the legendary Stan Lee as the oblivious school librarian.  He’s rocking out to his old guy muzak and humming to himself as his library is destroyed behind him.  See the whole scene here:

Reel Librarians had a great write-up of this scene, as well as other Comic Relief librarians, but I think it’s worth mentioning that perhaps the reason our profession keeps showing up in these summer blockbuster films is because the profession is immediately recognizable as light, good fun.  We don’t need back story for why Monsters U librarian is so bent on shushing students – she’s a librarian!  We don’t need to know why bow tie-clad Stan Lee doesn’t notice his quaint little library falling to pieces around him – duh, he’s a librarian!  Like I’ve said before, sometimes you just have to laugh.

What do you think?  Have you seen Monsters University yet?  Looking forward to the next Spider-Man? Do you think summer 2014 will bring us another librarian cameo?

Guybrarians and Male Librarians

guybrarian

According to this blog’s WordPress stats, the majority of search results that lead people to Pop Goes the Librarian categorize the profession as solely female.  How do I know that?

  • “hot librarian” : 37 views
  • “hot librarians” : 23 views
  • “hot lady librarians” : 15 views
  • “librarian chic” : 5 views
  • “smokin hot librarian” : 2 views

The list goes.  Although “hot” isn’t exactly a gendered qualifier, when followed by the word “librarian” it might as well be.  It’s fairly obvious to those of us who work in libraries that men are the minority. According to the article “Male Librarians: Gender Issues and Stereotypes“, “Without question the Library profession is female-dominated. Decade after decade the ratio of female to male librarians remains roughly 4:1, although the mix is closer to 3:1 in academic libraries.”  This ratio rings true for my own library; out of the 16 professional librarians we employ, only six are men.

So when we consider the main male librarian stereotype, what comes to mind?  First we have the Mean Librarian.  The horrible, no good reference librarian from Sophie’s Choice, for example, perfectly illustrates why librarians are so mean.  There’s also the highly amusing Conan the Librarian, who isn’t afraid to tell us what is best in life.

Conan-The-Librarian2

In many ways this figure closely resembles the Spinster Librarian image in popular culture: intelligent, introverted, socially awkward, academic to a fault, asexual, unmarried, be-speckled, etc.  Think Rupert Giles from the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; adorable in his tweed blazer, but largely socially inept and certainly hopeless in the love department.  The fact that he’s British, prim, and mostly unskilled at slaying vamps (again, we’re talking seasons 1-2 of Buffy) only exaggerate his emasculated characteristics.  However, a woman being written/portrayed as asexual is one thing – poor girl, so sad, but maybe she’ll find her prince charming one day? (*cough* Marian did *cough*)  On the other hand, an asexual man in a largely female-dominant profession can only mean one thing: he’s gay.

Male teachers (K-12), male nurses, and male librarians all share the common thread that there’s something wrong with them, simply because they’re men working in a woman’s world.  Who in their right (heterosexual) mind would do that? The term “male nurse” is just as sexist as “guybrarian” is, simply because it creates a distinction based on gender.  Etymologically speaking, “nurse” and “librarian” are not inherently female terms, but we tend to recognize them as just that simply because of what we’re exposed to.  After all, most nurses and librarians are women.  Remember Meet the Parents, in which Robert De Niro’s uber male character constantly reminds his future son-in-law of the fact that he’s a male nurse?  He’s doing the work of a woman, so obviously he’s unworthy.

male librarian

via the Penny Arcade

I’m obviously speaking as a woman, so it’s best not to get too political here.  I will say that the term “guybrarian” does seem to set teeth on edge, if only because it creates a cutesy distinction where one isn’t needed. When we think of pop culture, however, the male librarian figure isn’t nearly as prominent as the various female representations.  My favorite librarian in literature (Lucian from Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series) admittedly fits the guybrarian stereotype perfectly – but, alas, I’m saving him for another post.  But who else is there?  Are there any other librarians-who-just-so-happen-to-be-men in popular culture who fit the stereotype?  Which ones buck the trend?

BTW, for some real-world context and examples, Agnostic, Maybe has a very interesting thread from late last year dedicated to Gender, Librarians, & Librarianship.

The Judgmental Ostrich: When book-pushers become meme fodder

Ostrich LibrarianBTW, I’m on Pinterest. Sorry, what I meant to say is I’m constantly on Pinterest.  It’s addicting and mind-numbingly entertaining.  Funny things, pretty things, nerdy things: I pin them all.  Recently I managed to talk my academic library into creating a Pinterest account.  Yes, even academia loves creating digital pinboards – albeit, library-related pins are usually kind of snore-worthy.  LibGuides are great, but I’d much rather pin pictures of piles of puppies.

A while back I created a board to chronicle the interesting, amusing and sometimes bizarro media representations of librarians – find it here.  While looking over my past pins, I noticed that I had not one, but three separate images showing what I thought was a meme called Ostrich Librarian.  After a quick image search, I found the official title for this frazzled oversize bird: Judgmental Bookseller Ostrich.  This meme may have begun by chronicling the trials of overworked booksellers, but quite a few of these “I’m surrounded by idiots!” lamentations are shared by equally overworked librarians, especially those who work with the general public.  A coworker of mine who has experience with the public library in town once told me that after a prolonged time of working a desk day in, day out, you gain a sixth sense.  For example, when a certain type of person walks up to you, you just know they’re looking for Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Wait, is that still a thing?  Tell me it’s not and you get a cookie.)  Even in the world of academic libraries, there is repetition.  With repetition comes boredom.  And as regular readers to this blog may know, with boredom comes evil librarians.

Ostrich Librarian2

There is therefore some overlap between librarian and bookseller, and not just because we both deal in information and dead trees.  Whether this ostrich is a better fit for either profession is up for debate, but her visage definitely leans toward spinster, myopic librarian.  She’s wearing a pair of cat’s eye glasses, her hair is sticking up and about in a comical fashion, and her mouth is open in a Joker’s smile/grimace that makes her seem she’s truly at the end of her rope.  She’s a sarcastic know-it-all, ready with a comeback no matter the horrible question she receives, especially if that person has bad taste in books.

I pinned her three times on Pinterest not because I know how she feels – to be honest, very few people ask me about actual, honest to goodness books.  (E-books, yes. Book-books, not so much.)  On the other hand, I recognize the sentiment.  We live in an age of information, and yet sometimes the questions you’re asked are just… depressing.  The Judgmental Ostrich can stand for anyone who puts themselves out there in the public realm who perhaps think themselves above the people they serve every day.  That’s why I sometimes look at the Judgmental Ostrich and think “I know that feel, sis.  I know that feel.”

Librarians in Advertising

Pearle Vision isn’t the first retailer to base an advertisement around the librarian image.  Their ever-present “Naughty Librarian” commercial aside, librarians have been used to hock just about everything.  As Kathrin Dodds states in her 2009 presentation titled Advertising the Librarian Image: Stereotypical depictions of librarians in advertising:

For decades, the image of the librarian has been used to sell everything from cars to chewing gum, shampoo to vibrators and even anti-diarrheals!  Whether the portrayal is of the dowdy version or the closet sexpot, advertisers are banking on the perception of the image of the librarian to sell their wares.

The various librarian stereotypes are so recognizable, they need little introduction or explanation, making them perfect fodder for magazine spreads or 20-second television spots.  If like me you’re a fan of Mad Men, you know that creating a good advert is all about selling the Big Idea.  As long as you make your audience connect with something – usually a desire – chances are they will want to buy it.  Librarians are therefore used in a variety of ways: sometimes they are stealthily sexy, attractive and desirable, which means that if you – the consumer – get that thing that makes the librarian sexy, attractive, etc.,, you will become like them – or better yet, you’ll attract these secret sexpots.  1960s ad. “Loves books. Loves new ideas.” Loves reading in the nude.

Ad for The Library in NYC’s East Village, complete with “sassy-pants bartendresses

Other times, librarians are shown in a negative and/or comedic light.  Dowdy, bun-wearing, shushing old lady librarians with a penchant for picking on noisy patrons.  Old fashioned, the opposite of desirable, and completely unapproachable.  Even if such a character is present in an ad for two seconds, the effect is profound: librarians are bad news, and you should do anything in your power to not piss them off.

Sony’s Digital Reader, sexier than a librarian.  This is of course an inverse of the two previous ads, in which a librarian is not sexy – but a hunk of plastic is

What other librarian adverts or commercials can you think of?  Feel free to post links in the comments!

Why Are Librarians So Mean?

Rude.  Unhelpful.  Downright mean.  Why are librarians usually depicted as being vile representations of customer care?

First, let’s get a few things straight: I’ve been working with library patrons for the past ten years: roughly four years as a student assistant in Circulation/Administration, six years as a Senior Library Services Associate in Special Collections, and now as a Library Services Specialist in Public Services – all before the age of thirty.  I’m a spring chicken when it comes to librarians, which rather goes against the ultimate old lady librarian stereotype that is oftentimes displayed in film, TV and literature.  I would also like to think that I’m not rude, unhelpful or mean – I deal mostly with college students and faculty/staff, and I enjoy what I do.  So when I see a depiction such as this scene from  Sophie’s Choice, I begin to wonder: why are librarians so mean?

Dismissive, condescending and somewhat terrifying: this man literally looks down on Meryl Streep‘s character as if she’s a bug he would love to squash.  “Do you want me to paint you a picture?” he nearly shouts.  Look at this woman, his upturned nose implies; she has no clue what she’s talking about.  Watching this scene, I want to push him aside and patiently say to Sophie, “Do you mean Emily Dickinson?  She’s an American poet.  Here, let me show you where her books are located.”

In any job description where you have to deal with the public at large, there will be misunderstandings.  When it comes to academia – books, research, scholarly articles, timelines, grade point averages! – there is quite a bit aggravation involved.  I’ve personally been screamed at (by a professor, no less) and been told I wasn’t much help.  Sometimes it’s hard not to become annoyed, simply because patrons sometimes don’t know what they’re talking about.  Since I began working Reference, I’ve learned to never trust a patron; if they say they found a source somewhere, chances are it’s somewhere else.  Don’t trust they know what “peer reviewed” means, or whether or not they logged in properly.  It is my job to explain these things, over and over, to every single patron that shows up with a confused look on their face.

Librarianship, like many other jobs, can at times become monotonous.  Very rarely is a unique question ever presented, and I suppose if you’ve been dealing with knuckle-headed students for 30+ years, it can wear on you.  The librarian in Sophie’s Choice may deal with silly questions every day, especially because – unlike me – he’s catering to the general public.  People ask stupid questions.  (True story: once I was asked what rocks are made of.)  And yes, sometimes people think they know better than you about something you’ve studied every day for the past heaven knows how many years.  Then again, sometimes you simply misunderstand what the person is asking for; you make assumptions, you point them in the wrong direction, and maybe they call you out on it.  Maybe they become irritated and roll their eyes or speak sarcastically.  It bruises the ego.  It makes you testy.

Worse. Librarian. Ever.

These situations – the monotony, silly questions, simple misunderstandings – exist in nearly every facet of customer service.  I become annoyed when someone in Home Depot dismissively tells me the garbage bags are on aisle 14  when they’re really on aisle 16 – but why does that scene not show up when you Google “Why are Home Depot guys so unhelpful/mean/rude”?  My theory is that when it comes to knowledge, the stakes are higher.  Garbage bags < Emily Dickinson.

So what happens when a Real Life Librarian can’t answer a patron’s question and, for whatever reason, becomes annoyed?  In the real world, you perhaps call for backup from one of your colleagues, and let them help you puzzle out the question.  Dickens?  Poetry?  Oh wait, maybe she means Dickinson?

When the same situation happens to a Librarian in Film, he coldly watches as the woman crumples to the floor in front of him.  Then he goes back to sorting the card catalog.

Library Dragons

Image

From The Library Dragon by Carmen Arga Deedy (image via The Unemployed Librarian)

Why are librarians often depicted as strict, inflexible, and sometimes downright mean?  Perhaps some librarians are dragon-like, but what public services-related position doesn’t have a person or two who obviously shouldn’t be anywhere near the public?  Ah, but we’re the keepers of knowledge – such a huge responsibility will turn anyone into a mean, old lady librarian, am I right?  That’s what this children’s book seems to teach.

When an elementary school advertises for a “thick-skinned professional” who is “on fire with enthusiasm,” it gets just that-and then some. A bespectacled, dress-wearing dragon, Miss Lotta Scales replaces all the books with spanking clean ones, and refuses to let the students (“with their gooey fingers and snotty noses”) touch them. The kids’ grades are “going up in smoke,” but neither the principal nor the teachers can convince the headstrong dragon to let the pupils near the stacks until one myopic girl accidentally wanders into the library and begins to read a story (“Snuff the Magic Dragon”) aloud. The tale manages to soften the librarian’s scaly skin-figuratively and literally.