Animation Archivy Fantasy

She-Ra, Bow, and the archives: An “archivy situation,” indeed

Lance and George show the Best Friend Squad (Bow, Adora, and Glimmer) First Ones artifacts

Recently, I published an article for ilovelibraries, a division of the American Library Association. In that article, I focused on the library themes in the She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, noting how the season two finale of the show, “Reunion,” focused around the two middle-aged Black librarians, George and Lance, who have a library in the Whispering Woods, who are the fathers of Bow. In that episode, Bow, Adora, and Glimmer work to translate a message, with Bow reluctantly revealing his true identity after Adora releases an elemental monster, with his dads accepting him for who he is. I also noted how in the season five episode, “Return to the Fright Zone,” with Bow and Glimmer looking for George and Lance, who recount a rebellion against the first settlers of the planet, the First Ones, and as I noted, an “existence of a fail-safe for the superweapon in the planet’s core.” This becomes important, with the information they provided helping the show’s protagonists, especially Adora and Catra, setting the stage for the final episode’s groundbreaking kiss between Adora and Catra, which saves the world and universe from being destroyed by the villainy of Horde Prime. Even saying this, there is a lot more going on in this episode, with some in the archival field have talked about it, noting archival themes.

The first of these is by Metadata Specialist Kathleen Smith of Treasures from the Archives, the blog of Old Dominion University Libraries Special Collections & University Archives. She writes enthusiastically about the episode, “Reunion,” stating that Adora and Glimmer find Bow “in the archives,” where they learn about ancient pottery and unique artifacts. She also states that she loves this episode most of all because it features a library/archive which is “complete with artifacts and rare books.” She further states that the artifacts on display inside reminds her of the ancient Cypriot pottery in ODU’s Special Collections’ Dudley Cooper collection while stating that she likes seeing “libraries and archives being represented animatedly.” While I appreciate her words, I don’t think she is completely right here, when it comes to calling the family library that Bow’s dads run an “archive.” I would call it a library/museum with archival qualities, which I’ll expand on in the next couple paragraphs, with Bow’s dads as self-defined historians of the planet’s first settlers. I know that galleries, libraries, archives, and museums are “four types of cultural institutions that share a collaborative relationship stemming from their similar missions,” otherwise known as GLAM, but these are not the same. The UK National Archives explains how libraries and archives are different,

The books in a library are often secondary sources of information, whereas the records in an archive are primary sources. Archives provide first-hand information or evidence relating to historical events or figures. Library books are arranged by subject and author, whereas information in archives is arranged according to the person or organisation that created it. This means that you will probably need to look at records from more than one source, or more than one archive, as you gather information.

Additionally, the SAA adds that while librarians and archivists both preserve, collect, and make materials accessible, they differ in ways they use, arrange, and use materials in their collections, with materials in archival collections often irreplaceable and unique, while “libraries can usually obtain new copies of worn-out or lost books.” The same page talks about the difference between historians and archivists:

These two professions have a longstanding partnership. The archivist identifies, preserves, and makes records accessible for use; the historian uses archival records for research.

On another page, the SAA states that libraries can be defined, generally as “collections of books and/or other print or nonprint materials organized and maintained for use,” with patrons accessing materials either in person, through the internet, or checking out materials for home use, with libraries existing to “make their collections available to the people they serve.” They add that while archives to make their collections accessible, they differ in the types of materials they hold and how those materials are accessed.

With this being said, I think it is clear that Bow’s dads operate a library, and it is what the American Library Association (ALA) calls a special library, which serves “particular populations, such as the blind and physically handicapped, while others are dedicated to special collections.” Adding to this, a special library provides specific information on a particular subject, serving a specific group, and delivering services to that group. [1] In the case of the library in She-Ra, its only patrons were George, Lance, presumably Bow, and Bow’s 12 brothers, before Adora and Glimmer came along, and its collections focused specifically on artifacts of the First Ones. At the same time, this library has a museum within it, which the CLIR defines as a place that identifies, acquires, preserves, and exhibits objects, while also:

[Promoting] cultural, community, and familial identity and understanding…[providing] experiences where visitors can make connections between content and ideas…[serving] as memory institutions for a culture…support[s] formal and informal learning and research…[and serving] as focal points for communities and promote community interests

While the museum in the family library does promote identity and understanding, while allowing visitors can make connections “between content and ideas,” supporting learning and research, I’m not sure it is serving as a memory institution “for a culture,” or a focal point for communities, as its original patrons were very limited, as I noted earlier. As such, the situation is archivy, and I’ll expand on that later.

This brings me to what Samantha Cross, the Pop Archives guru, writes about the episode, “Reunion,” on her blog, POP Archives, stating that while it seems like a stretch when she first considered the episode when she “witnessed the beauty that is Bow’s historian fathers,” she wanted to talk about it. She began by summarizing the show, noting that Bow’s fathers, historians “who have no idea that he’s a soldier in the resistance against the Hoard.” She adds that the home of Bow’s fathers is a museum/library/archive of “documents, research, and artifacts devoted to the enigmatic ancient-yet-advanced society” of the First Ones, with these dads believing Adora and Bow are Bow’s schoolmates at the Academy of Historical Enterprises (an academy Bow made up), giving them a tour of their home. She further notes that even though George and Lance are called historians automatically doesn’t take them out of the archives because “there are plenty of archivists who are historians and have a degree in history or started with a history major before moving into archives.” Even so, she laments that the home of George and Lance isn’t defined as a “particular institution,” but is less thought to be an archives when a “museum or a library presents a less complex visual representation.” She closes by noting the purpose of introducing Bow’s family while adding that you have to “squint and imagine George and Lance appraising, selecting, arranging, and describing their First Ones collection,” although she says she would enjoy seeing their “lavish history-based home in a future episode.” And see that we do!

In the show’s last season, Bow’s family library makes an appearance in the episode, “Return in the Fright Zone.” In this episode, Bow and Glimmer teleport into the library to check up on his dads. The place has been abandoned and is a wreck. Thanks to a note left behind, both teleport to the Crystal Castle ruins, and find his dads there. Both recount their discoveries: an ancient rebellion against the planet’s first settlers and the existence of a fail-safe for the superweapon in the planet’s core. This information becomes vitally important in the effort by Adora, Catra, and her friends to save the world (and universe) from destruction.

Library as first seen in the episode “Reunion”

All of this begs the question: is Bow’s family home a library, archives, or a museum? The fact it is basically a combination of three, it’s kinda library-archives-museum hybrid, specifically a special library with a museum within and having archival qualities. This is much better than Star Wars which badly merged a library into an archives with a good number of stereotypes. Without a doubt, it is a positive depiction of libraries in animation, beginning when Glimmer and Adora entering the library unannounced at the beginning of the episode. We know that Bow’s dads are academic in a sense as they are impressed by Bow going to an academy, even though it is a made-up one, and the majors his friends supposedly had. Later in the episode, George and Lance still help Adora, Glimmer, and Bow figure out a message, using a library projector, recognize it is a constellation, and where the message is being broadcast from. Of course, they both caution them to not travel there, but you can tell that they will go there anyway (as I predicted in one of my fan fictions), which happens at the beginning of Season 3.

Apart from this, I’d like to say that one of my favorite lines of the episode is uttered by Glimmer, who tells Adora “we have to find Bow and get him out of this…uh…library?” as is Adora’s line about being scholars. I thought it was interesting that Glimmer is hurt by the deception from Bow, who claims she doesn’t “know him” anymore, even though she misses the hints about where he came from, as Bow tells Adora in the show’s second episode, “…I’m starting to get a little freaked out. I mean, I pretty much grew up in these woods and I’ve never even seen this part of them. I’ve heard of stories about weird stuff out here.” Apart from saying all this, it is clear that Bow’s home is, more than anything else, a giant and beautiful library, with its introduction which is proceeded by music trying to make it seem magical. It seems to be a welcoming place, where you can be offered food and drink, and full of knowledge. I also enjoyed how Adora aids Bow’s dads in translating a message as part of their three-person “Best Research Squad,” and she accidentally releases an elemental monster, causing havoc in the library. Finally, I broached this subject in my fan fiction, “The Library of the Whispering Woods,” where I described the library’s outside while noting it had the “largest collection of artifacts and writings of the First Ones in all Etheria,” and described it as “open to visitors and researchers.” As I envisioned it, this library had an open public access catalog (OPAC) allowing users to easily find relevant items and searchable, along with having many resources available so that people could continue their “quest for knowledge.” This included video archives, various exhibits and rooms, and various processes in place to review their diverse and inclusive collections. I further envisioned that Bow’s dads were interested in the “open exchange of knowledge” in this special library with features which would be “befitting of an archives,” with one of them even doing an oral history interview with one of the characters. This showed I conjectured, that this library was a “magical space with never-ending potential and promise” while it was also “a repository of knowledge which could help them all find answers.” The library, as I put it, gave “them enough of an answer to move on to the next part of their quest.”

To conclude this article, I tend to see Bow’s family home as more a library than anything else, which is why, in the first version of the article I submitted to ilovelibraries, I called it a library/museum, although that was changed to a library in the published edition. There are undoubtedly archival qualities of the family library in the Whispering Woods, so it is understandable some in the field would see it as an archives. I would end by saying, from my analysis, the home itself is a special library with a museum, meaning that there are archival elements.


[1] Shumaker, David. “Special Libraries.” In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, third edition, 4966-4974. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2011; Mount, Ellis, and Renée Massoud. Special Libraries and Information Centers: An Introductory Text. Fourth edition. Washington, DC: SLA Publishing, 1999.

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.

8 replies on “She-Ra, Bow, and the archives: An “archivy situation,” indeed”

[…] Despite these negatives, the location does become central to the episode, as it allows Akko to unlock the fifth word, bringing Diana the boom of Chariot, allowing them to escape from this place. All in all, I enjoyed this episode and what this archivy place, which may resemble what the ALA calls “special libraries.” They are places that can “serve particular populations.” So it’s hard to say whether they outright confused an archives with a library here, like was done in the Star Wars franchise (mainly Attack of the Clones and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animation) or the Mystic Archives of Dantalian. Since this location is in a basement, it shares some stereotypes with the newspaper archive in Stretch Armstrong, to give one example. In some ways, it is a bit unfortunate the special library, as we can call it, is a setting, because neither Akko, nor Diana use any of the materials, like characters in Cleopatra in Space, Hilda, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. […]


[…] That connects to description, which are ways to systematically summarize descriptions, giving “researchers snapshots of what they can expect to find in collections,” with these descriptions forming finding aids or guides to the collections themselves. As she puts it rightly, not every individual item can be listed, but a description can help see if a collection is good for research. It could be said that Futurama touched on this with the Physical File Archive, although there is some debate as to whether that is an archive or a records center since it has semi-active records. However, no archivists were seen in the episode. There is implied description by archivists like Filis in Tri-Squad VoiceDrama, Destiny in the X-Men comics, and Robert Nicholas in Vatican Miracle Examiner. The same can be said of the books and materials collected in the family library, or more accurately a library-museum-archive hybrid, in the Whispering Woods in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. […]


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