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Is it a “Jedi Archives” or a “Jedi Library” in Star Wars?

While there is some confusion not only among librarian-sympathetic quarters (like Jeff O’Neal of Book Riot) but the writers of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series as to whether it is a Jedi Archive or Jedi Library portrayed in the Star Wars series (first in 2002 in Attack of the Clones). Worst of all is Martin Raish of David O. McKay Library at Brigham Young University in Idaho adds in his “Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography,” confusing the terms, noting that Obi-Wan goes to the “Jedi Archives for information but he doesn’t find what he needs” and claims that “in this library the “books,” that glow with an iridescent blue color, are lined up on shelves, with busts of famous Jedi at the ends of the ranges,” not thinking these are actually records. This confusion spread to the UW Madison Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists, incorrectly describing Madame Nu as the “Head Librarian of the Jedi Archives” when she is really the chief archivist and lone arranger. They do get is right that she has dedicated her life to “accessioning every existing record in the galaxy,” leading to  her overconfidence, “classic negative archivist stereotypes” and is “pretty typical of the physical traits that the popular imagination associates with the information profession: she’s old, slightly crooked, and most importantly, sports a large top knot bun complete with chopsticks.” They also note rightly that while she “seems like a textbook example of the librarian stereotype” she is a “leader among the Jedi,” sitting on the Jedi Council, is “known for her fighting skills and spent her youth exploring the galaxy” along with continuing to “carry a light saber to commemorate her years of active service” along with “intimidate nasty patrons” (lol).

Furthermore I do not agree with David Mattison that distinctions between librarian and archivist “as we maintain on Earth in the 21st century may be meaningless” in the Star Wars universe, as it is a part of popular culture and created by people. [1] After all, archivists have clearly claimed Madame Nu as one of their own. For example, a presentation by Amanda Oliver & Anne Daniel of the Western University Archives (“Seeking an Identity: The Portrayal of Archivists in Film“) says this film has an example of “restrictions” by the archivist and facility, while archivist Samantha Cross of POP Archives wrote about this in 2016 and former SAA president Randall Jimmerson gave a speech about this in 2005. While I’ve already written about this topic in the past, extensively, I see no need to quote from that post and repeat what I have said here. Instead, I’ll first rely on the retired Star Wars Databank and the Wookiepedia entry on Madame Nu, to further my analysis.

We first learn that the Jedi Temple Archives contained “possibly the single largest source of information in the galaxy” where huge “amounts of data were stored electronically and holographically.” But this data was carefully organized by investigators and Jedi scholars. We also learn that within the archives were “sacred and ancient texts,” with the main hall of the archives being nearly 2,500 years old, with most information “in holobook format, an ancient self-contained technology requiring only small amounts of energy.” Additionally, the archives were said to be complete enough that there was “forbidden lore” like the only known “Sith Holocrons, information repositories of dark knowledge whose existence was revealed to only a few select Jedi Masters.” The Star Wars Databank also adds that the “vast repository of information” within this archives was cared for by “Madame Jocasta Nu, the Jedi archivist” who was said to be of a “sprightly demeanor and an abrupt temperament.” Additionally, Madame Nu was noted as a person who “served as Archives Director for over 30 years, attending the position after a decade-long term on the Jedi Council” with her robes “indicating devotion to knowledge and learning,” with, apart from her role as “custodian of the records, she would prepare mission briefs for Jedi taskforces and Knights on assignment.”

This is where some complications come in. According to the Star Wars Databank, the architecture and vaulted ceilings of the Jedi Archives were inspired by… “a variety of real-world libraries, including the Vatican and those found in old English estates.” This is why people will see it and shout: it’s a library! Some could even say the holobooks, which stored information in the archives, are like blue-glowing books. However, even Wookiepedia, the same place that can’t get it straight about Madame Nu as either “Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives” or “archivist” (with a quote from Nu herself calling her a “Master Archivist”), admits that holobooks were slim, crystalline boards used to “store vast amounts of information” and were incredibly durable, some of which dated back to “the origins of the Republic.” It is further noted that these resources must be properly stored and maintained, providing interactive interfaces to their knowledge, allowing readers to “delve as deeply into their subject manner as desired.” In this way,  perhaps it could be said that these records are like rare books, not just regular books as they require specific care and maintenance unlike just books sitting on a shelf.

There is again, another complication, While the Wookiepedia entry notes that the archives contained “historical records dating back thousands of years; maps of the entire galaxy; scientific, mathematical and astronomical journals; engineering and technology documents; and Jedi records on the Sith,” along with detailing “geography and cultures of various planets and species across the galaxy, as well as their zoology and botany” and the “secrets about how the Jedi used the Force and biographies of numerous Jedi and their identification details were also housed in the Archives,” it was originally based on a place called the “Great Jedi Library” with this archives holding “remnants of the texts” once stored there. The entry gets worse, saying that the archives had “four wings branched out from the rotunda and held tens of millions of books,” along with a reference desk, with the person they call the “Chief Librarian” (actually the chief archivist) assisted by “associate librarians” (actually associate archivists), along with various analysis droids. They do admit that Madame Nu was the lone arranger of the archives during the Clone Wars, assisting “Jedi in finding the information they needed” while also controlling “controlled access to the restricted Holocron Vault” within the archives, a combination of archivist and librarian tasks. Furthermore, it is noted that as the Star Wars series continued, the forces of the Empire studied “the records about the Jedi and their combat forms” while Madame Nu went into a “secret vault within the Archives,” and was apparently mad that the Grand Inquisitor “dared to read her books only to toss them aside.” From there, as the entry goes on, Nu retreated to a computer and “subsequently purged all the archive files.” After that, the temple itself, which contained the archives became the personal palace of the Emperor, with the empire destroying “the remaining secrets within the Archives, removing all Jedi-related material and destroying much of their history in the process within a year” of the seizure of the archives. While that would seem to fit with an archives, there is another problem: the main archives room we see in Attack of the Clones is “actually an almost exact digital reconstruction of the Long Room of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland” with its imitation extending “to the busts of the Lost Twenty, which, in Trinity Library, are busts of alumni.”

In essence, the confusion between libraries and archives was clearly intentional, as the space itself was based on a place that is not only “the largest library in Ireland” but it has “over 6 million printed volumes with extensive collections of journals, manuscripts, maps and music reflecting over 400 years of academic development” and it also “pioneers modern methods of resource discovery and developments in the teaching, learning and research processes.” So, when this space was shown in Attack of the Clones, they clearly wanted to invoke, for the audience a sense of a library. However, the fact that there are, clearly, records which are unique, irreplaceable, unique, specialized, fragile, original, or rare, with specific guidelines for use, it would be best to say that the Jedi Archives, officially the Jedi Temple Archives, is an archival institution with a library within it, hence the “glowing books.” We do not see how the holobooks themselves are arranged, however, so we can’t say whether they are arranged according to the person/organization who created them, or by subject. After all, as the SAA notes, as quoted earlier, an “archives may have library as part of its name, or an archives may be a department within a library.”

There is one more factor that shows that this is an archives rather than a library. While it is said to have one of the biggest repositories of knowledge in the galaxy, can anyone come in to access this information? Or is it emblematic of the Library of Congress’s original purpose…to be a library for Congress? What I mean is it seems the only users of the archives are Jedi (effectively religious warriors and a bit like samurai you could say), from what we can tell from the animated series and 2002 movie, so it is clearly an exclusive place that not everyone can access easily. You could say, rightly, this sets a bad image for archives as exclusive, dark places that only certain people go. But this viewpoint is changing as archives are not only taking in concepts from the realm of libraries, rightly so but expand access to their holdings as they, like all institutions, adapt to our world, which is becoming more and more digital all the time.


Notes

[1] Is it any surprise that he calls her simultaneously “a Jedi Archivist/Librarian” and a “Jedi Archivist.” Also, his point that “it was probably Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious, played by (Ian McDiarmid) who erased the record” is wrong, because all hints are that Count Dooku (played by Christopher Lee) erased the record, as ONLY Jedi can erase records from the archives, and Palpatine/Darth Sidous was, by all accounts, NEVER a Jedi.

By histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

11 replies on “Is it a “Jedi Archives” or a “Jedi Library” in Star Wars?”

[…] At this point in the series, I began to doubt if archives were still in this series, but I pursued watching the rest anyway. In the fifth episode, “The Magician’s Daughter,” they tell the former lieutenant of Huey he can take a magical tome from their library, which he appreciates. We find out that Huey was the man’s former superior officer. At one point, Viola says she managed the archives of Dantalian, calling it a “mystical library which seals 960,000 tomes,” surprised it actually exists at all. She has no memory of anything except when she arrived to the town three years prior! A winged woman tries to kill her but is unsuccessful, giving her a warning of what is to come. What bothered me most about that scene was the fact that they literally confused archives and libraries, just like Star Wars did. […]

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[…] That’s really about it at this point. So, how the episode describes this is a mixed bag, unfortunately, sad to say, as it perpetrates the archives=library idea. They could have been distinguished, but sadly they were not. There’s not much more to say about the archives, as it is not shown very often and is confused with libraries, just like the Mystic Archives of Dantalian and the Star Wars series. […]

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