Last week I piggybacked off my post on ilovelibraries and talked about She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. In this post, I’d like to talk about the other show mentioned in that post: Cleopatra in Space, and the archivy themes in the show.
First of all, the school library serves as a repository for information not seized by Octavian, the show’s main villain, who has destroyed all copies of recorded knowledge except his own. In the show’s third episode, “Clubbing,” Cleo, the show’s protagonist, desperate to learn more about her home, travels to the school library after hours with her mentor, and possible library docent, Khensu, and her two friends Akila and Brian. As I noted in the ilovelibraries article, Khensu brings Cleo and her friends to the library’s Ancient Egypt section, where there are only a few physical records, all accessible in holographic form. I noted that if this was a real library, “these artifacts would be housed in a library’s special collections.” After that Cleo is dismayed by this lack of records, so she thinks about her dad, floats in the air, glows pink, “then sucks all the electricity of the school and nearby city into her body, causing a massive power outage.” After saying that, I make a broader point about saying how this moment could be indicating that “libraries need adequate resources and support to assist the communities they serve—otherwise there will be information deficits which put patrons at a disadvantage.” I also note that libraries are a beloved hangout space for one of the main characters, with Akila liking to spend her time in the library studying and insists “all the cool students” spend time there too in the show’s 12 episode, “Double.” I even note how she reminds me of myself in college, because “I extensively used the well-endowed campus library to study, research, and relax, even when some of my friends disliked it” for frivolous reasons.
There is something more, however. Obviously, the school library on Mayet is a “collection of published materials, including books, magazines, sound and video recordings, and other formats” with special collections which has research materials, like documents and holograms, organized by a specific focus (Ancient Egypt) and archival principles. This obviously includes provenance, referring to discussing the origin and source of the information, and the “origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection,” following the SAA definition of the term, which is implied, but not directly talked about.
He first talks about access, with a screencap from that scene shown at the beginning of this article. He tells Cleo, and her friends there are “just a few dozen artifacts, fragments of scrolls, and books” about Ancient Egypt, and that she “can access it all here.” At a later point, Khensu presents a document to Cleo, specifically the one that mentions her by name, as shown in the below screencap:
He hands her the document, describing it as about her, and noting it was “written long after her time.” She then laments, after reading the document, that while it mentions her, she had hoped to learn more about herself. Specifically, she was looking about something when she is older, confirming she would come back. She then mentions that one of the holograms is her dad, with Khensu explaining their historical research, noting that they could find that he was one of the Ptolemys but weren’t sure which one. Right after that, she begins sucking all the power out of the special collections room, the library, the P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. campus, and the nearby Mayet City. The library does not make a recurrence in the episode after this two-and-a-half-minute scene, since Cleo and her friends are trying to avoid asteroids crashing into the school, even though libraries have another significant role in the series. Akila is shown studying in the library in the episodes “Akila Says No.”
There is no reappearance of the Ancient Egypt special collections room, which is tucked away in the library, shown below:
What can we make of this episode? Clearly, there are many more nods to libraries than archives in the episode. However, special collections are, as I envision them, mini-archives, often as an offshoot of libraries themselves. In that way, they operate in a library-archives space of sorts. Even so, Khensu is, in his role as Cleo’s mentor and something equivalent to a library curator, is identifying and preserving essential records which “document the cultural heritage of society,” assumedly helping organize and maintain “the documentary record of institutions, groups, communities, and individuals,” specifically of those from Ancient Egypt, to summarize from the stated duties in the SAA’s Core Values of Archivists. While he is undoubtedly helping interpret “documentation of past events through the use of primary source materials,” like Cleo herself, it is hard to say who uses this special collections room. Presumably, Callie, Cleo’s “archnemesis” at the high school, who heads the Ancient Egypt club, uses the room, but who else? The library, as a whole, seems well-used, as shown in other episodes, but what about the special collections? Sadly, it seems like special collections and archives were used as a plot device to help Cleo learn about herself. And since she is dissatisfied with the number of records they have, she will not be returning. The series is generally from her point of view, apart from some scenes from the perspective of Octavian, this room will likely never be shown again. That is deeply unfortunate.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about the special collections room in this episode. On the one hand, it serves an important role in the story, but on the other, there is a sense of inadequacy about the records they have. Khensu does not have the mentality of Jocasta Nu, that if a record does not exist in the archives, it does not exist, but their historical understanding is still limited. In any case, highlighting these themes in the show will helpfully encourage others to analyze shows they like for similar themes, learn more about special collections, and archives themselves. So, that is the positive that can be gleaned from this series.