By Burkely Hermann
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 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 wonderous places of valuable information.
Much of the library’s screen time for the season takes place in the eighth episode. 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 the 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 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, 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.
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