Last time we discovered how handy librarians might be at protecting themselves and their work if called upon. The heroic and resourceful librarians of The Edge Chronicles with their consummate skill in swordplay and hand to hand combat offer the kind of cautionary tale that should be compulsory reading for all new government ministers with responsibility for libraries so that they understand the extraordinary power of librarians and the terrible retribution they can wreak if they are attacked with malicious intent. Then again most ministers are probably complacent enough to laugh off the idea of a band of paramilitary librarians as just fantasy from some fictional other world; what they might be less blasé about is the fact that the warrior librarians have a rather more realistic looking c21st counterpart.
When I first came across the name Library War as part of my research I entertained all too brief images of some mighty international battle between the great libraries of the world over who has the oldest Shakespeare Folio or the rarest Gutenberg Bible and then my mind drifted and I though it sounds like a great idea for a more high-minded version of those vapid, life draining Saturday evening reality TV shows that invite members of the public desperate for TV exposure to make fools of themselves in the name of entertainment; the modern version of bear-baiting. The show would have three distinct phases to test all aspects of skill a bit like the Krypton Factor. Teams of librarians from all over the country will be put through their paces first answering questions about their collection; do they know their Gone Girl from Gone with the Wind or The Da Vinci Code from The Highway Code; then the numerical challenge to see who can construct the longest and most convoluted classification number for obscure books on astrophysics so that no one can find them on the shelves and finally their physical strength and agility is tested, taking a wonky trolley of newly returned Mills and Boon and Nora Roberts romances and Wilbur Smith adventures up a steep slippery slope, across a lake avoiding the giant swinging inflatable Finance Directors hoping to save a few bob by dumping them in it, and then the supreme challenge, running the gauntlet of dozens of older borrowers who have spent the past week locked in a secret location away from all reading material and are now desperate for a romance or thriller fix. The winner is the librarian who gets to the end of the assault course with most books still on their trolley or if there aren’t any left with fewest serious injuries. …Sorry got carried away there and anyway Library War isn’t anything like that.
Library War(Toshokan Sensō in Japanese) is a Japanese light books series (books aimed at young adults) and manga comic book and it together with its later spin-off TV series called Library Wars is set in the not too distant future of 2019 where there is a group of armed and trained paramilitary librarians dedicated to the protection of libraries, information and the freedom to use them which isn’t quite as unlikely at the moment as there actually being any libraries left in 2019 to protect but let’s leave that for the time being.
Library Wars, because we will concentrate on the TV series which is more easily accessible than the light novels or manga comics, is as I said set in the not too distant future and is a fantasy so it’s not real, well not yet anyway. The Government, in this case a fictional Japanese government, has decided that the explosion of easily available information has become a threat to a stable society, which as usual is a euphemism for the rich and powerful ruling elite, and has introduced draconian new laws that restrict access to information that they feel is undesirable for ordinary people to get their hands on. They have also created a new government department, The Media Betterment Committee, to manage access to government approved information and to remove critical material and punish those using or protecting it; the job that the The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph usually do here in the UK. They also have agents decked out to look Gestapo-menacing who are sent out to track down and close down any sources of uncontrolled information by any means necessary. For many local authorities and their librarians however this is in direct conflict with the Freedom of Library Law that outlaws censorship of any kind and they want to uphold that freedom. Yes local authorities wanting to support freedom of information, I told you it’s not real. The premise however is based on an actual real life Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries that is as far as I can see part of the Japanese Constitution and has been since 1954. Many countries and indeed The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), a sort of FIFA for libraries but without all the dodgy deals with shady characters and the secret bank accounts, have such statements but as far as I can see Japan’s is the only one that includes as one of its tenets to actively oppose censorship if it is imposed. This is used in the stories as the basis for the creation of local armies of armed “book soldiers” who comprise the Library Defence Force to fight the government’s attempts at censorship and the agents of the Media Betterment Committee.
With the wonderful attention to detail that these science fantasy stories inspire the LDF has not only its own insignia which is oddly and for no immediately apparent reason other than it was the favourite flower of the commander’s late wife, the German Chamomile, but also a proper hierarchy of military ranks just like a real army. These include Library Clerks 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class, Librarians with three similar grades and finally Supervising Librarians with at the highest rank Supervising Librarian Special Class. So nothing like an army really more like a real library where grades and titles for years were ridiculously tautological signifiers of importance, seniority and status producing such meaningless but genuine titles as Deputy Under-Assistant Librarian (Periodicals)! At the top of this hierarchy of supposedly military strength is not, as you might imagine, the fighters but the Administration Department responsible for HR, budgeting and presumably Health and Safety so just like real libraries then. So whenever a library (and there are still real librarians in this mythical future by the way just getting on with cataloguing or whatever librarians get up to in the C21st) is threatened by the Media Betterment Committee the Library Defence Force spring into action although they are constrained by rules about what they can and cannot do and where they can and cannot go they are after all they are librarians and librarians must play fair.
But of course all of this serious stuff about censorship and freedom means nothing without human interest which is provided by the ensemble cast of library soldiers who feature in the books and TV anime series led by young female trainee soldier, Iku Kasahara and her stern instructor Atsushi Dojo. He doesn’t rate his new recruit much; he thinks she is ill prepared and out of her depth and so he gives her a hard time and as she makes mistakes he gets on her back and she gets all upset. Of course you all know how this mismatched-odd-couple-who-can’t-stand-each-other-at-the-start scenario is going to end up and it does. But there are lots of gun battles too just to try and keep all the blokes interested as well.
It is probably a bit unlikely that in the c21st librarians will have to take to the barricades and weapons to defend libraries and freedom of information but just in case I intend to register the copyright for a couple of defiant T-shirt slogans. One features a bespectacled librarian in the turret of an armoured vehicle with the slogan I swapped my tank top for a tank and in a witty play on the old tweed skirt and bun stereotype a matronly librarian with an AK-47 acros her chest and the sloga Tweed skirts and gun. I am sure readers can do much better than that.
And of course before I finish I should wish all of who you have again persevered with all this drivel a Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year and I will see you after the festivities I hope.