Finding a reel librarian

So if you’re a regular reader of this blog — thank you! — you know that the idea for this blog all started with my undergraduate thesis over a decade ago. And in this post, “It all started with a big list,” I list the films included in that thesis. Finding Forrester (2000) was one of those films, and although I’ve mentioned it here in the “Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies” post, I have not analyzed the film yet on the blog. Correcting that oversight now…

Here’s what I wrote about the film in my thesis:

In Finding Forrester (2000), Sophia Wu only remains on screen only long enough to inform the main character that all William Forrester’s books are checked out, but her part is notable for the fact that she is Asian.

But let’s go a little bit deeper, shall we?

This was director Gus Van Sant’s second film released after 1997’s Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrester (2000) enjoyed solid, if not spectacular, reviews and box office at the time of its release. It’s a film I’ve rewatched a few times, and it holds up well. Rob Brown co-stars as Jamal Wallace, a young African-American teenager who has skill in both academics and athletics. He strikes up a mentoring friendship with the neighborhood recluse, played by Sean Connery, who turns out to be the title character, William Forrester. Forrester is an author (and recluse) famous for having written only one book, Avalon Landing, which won the Pulitzer Prize and became an instant American classic. The fictitious character of Forrester is based on J.D. Salinger and his classic book, Catcher in the Rye.

I personally like the film for its message — I’m married to a writer, and it’s one of his favorite movies about writing! — and for how Rob Brown’s style matches up well with the director’s style. There is a stillness in his delivery — his eyes are always watching, always observing — but you can tell there is so much happening beneath the surface. Even more impressive given that this was Rob Brown’s acting debut!

Almost exactly an hour into the film, Jamal jokes with Forrester about the neighborhood changing.

Jamal:  Go ahead. I want to hear about the neighborhood, back when people were still reading your book.

Forrester [choking on his drink]:  What did you say?

Jamal:  Nothing.

Forrester:  No. you said, ‘back when people were still reading my book.’ Didn’t you?

Next stop:  The library! More specifically, the New York Public Library and a close-up of its online card catalog and its copies of Avalon Landing.

Reel Librarians  |  NYPL library catalog in 'Finding Forrester'

Side note:  This looks like a pretty typical card catalog screen, especially for that time period. But what is UP with those janky call numbers? D-107424, D-109478, D-783719, etc. Those do not look like any call numbers I’ve ever come across — especially not for a fiction book. They look more like accession numbers to me, which are automatically assigned numbers to items as they are entered into a system. (Archives collections are the only collections I’m aware of that sometimes shelve items by accession numbers. A public library would have a more generic call number for a work of fiction, something like FIC FOR, for “Fiction – Forrester”)

And YES, I looked up the current New York Public Library online card catalog. Y’all knew I was going to do that, right? ;) I did a title search for Catcher in the Rye, which came up with 63 items, 49 of which are currently available. And the call number is the logical “CLASSICS FIC S.”

NYPL Library catalog search for 'Catcher in the Rye'

Back to the scene… we hear the voice of the reel librarian (Sophia Wu, as Librarian) narrating her title search for Avalon Landing:

Librarian:  We have 24 copies. But I’m sorry, they’re all checked out.

Jamal:  Ok. Well, thank you anyway.

Reel Librarian  |  Screenshot of the library scene in 'Finding Forrester'

Jamal then walks away, and when he returns to Forrester’s apartment, Forrester is reading a tabloid and sarcastically calls out behind him, “Any luck? Did you get on the waiting list?” ;)

By the way, the librarian did not offer to put Jamal on the waiting list, or offer Interlibrary Loan (ILL), a common library service to request items from other libraries. Tsk, tsk.

In my original notes after watching the film for my thesis, I noted the following:

Reel Librarians  |  Notes on 'Finding Forrester'

(In case you can’t read my terrible handwriting, that reads:  “younger white male sitting beside her, typing on a computer, blue shirt, dark sweater vest”)

The trivia section on reveals that the film’s director, Gus Van Sant, is that “younger white male sitting beside her,” — he made a cameo as the library assistant in this scene! This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian! :D

Reel Librarians  |  Gus Van San's reel librarian cameo in 'Finding Forrester'

The library scene lasts only a few seconds, so this definitely lands in the Class IV category. Sophia Wu fulfills the Information Provider role, as she not only helps reinforce the library setting, but also provides the information that the book is still popular and relevant and credible — and by extension, William Forrester. He then becomes more relevant and credible to Jamal, thus solidifying and deepening their friendship.

This part is also notable for bringing a little diversity to the world of reel librarians, as she is Asian (or Asian-American). This makes sense, as Finding Forrester (2000) is a film filled with racial — as well as socioeconomic — diversity. This role is one of only three Asian/Asian-American reel librarians I have come across so far.

If you’d like to see more examples of reel librarian diversity, see my “Reader Q&A” post which answers the reader question, “How many movies are there with librarians of color?

Toward the end of the film, Jamal pens a private letter to William Forrester. His choice of sanctuary? The New York Public Library, of course. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Finding Forrester'

And who do we spy in the background with a book cart? Another (anonymous) reel librarian!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Finding Forrester'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Finding Forrester'

Until next week…

The Quotable Librarian

It’s time for another “Quotable Librarian” post! This time, in honor of the Academy Awards this past weekend, it’s an Oscars special. These quotes are from films with reel librarian roles that have been nominated for Oscars.

Oscars statuettes

Photo from Flickr – Prayitno – click image for source

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Sam Jaffe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Doc Erwin Riedenschneider, an ex-con who was a prison librarian. How did he become a prison librarian?

I cause no trouble. The prison authorities appreciate that. They made me assistant librarian.
~ Doc Erwin Riedenschneider in The Asphalt Jungle

Love Story (1970)

Ali MacGraw was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Jennifer Cavalleri.

A Harvard law student and jock (O’Neal) falls in love with a Radcliffe music major (MacGraw). They first meet at the Radcliffe library, where MacGraw works as a library assistant.

This is their “meet cute” moment:

You have your own library, preppy.
~ Jennifer Cavalleri in Love Story

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Richard Burton was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Alec Leamas in the film adaptation of John le Carré’s novel. The story focuses on spy Alec Leamus (Richard Burton), who pretends to quit the Secret Service and defect to the Communists. As part of his cover as a failed spy, he starts work as a librarian at the psychical research library.

From the book:

Finally he took the job in the library. The Labour Exchange had put him on to it each Thursday morning as he drew his unemployment benefit, and he’d always turned it down.

“It’s not really your cup of tea,” Mr. Pitt said, “but the pay’s fair and the work’s easy for an educated man.”

And could this following quote about spies also apply to librarians (reel or real)?:

What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?
~ Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

For more Oscars fun on the Reel Librarians site, see here for a post on Oscar-nominated reel librarians and here for a post on Best Picture nominees featuring reel librarians.

Kickstarter campaign for a living time capsule

Pause of the Clock posterAt the beginning of the year, I revealed my own personal favorite posts last year, one of which was my review of Queue Tips: Discovering Your Next Great Movie, a book by film enthusiast and writer Rob Christopher. This was the first book I was sent a copy of and asked to review for the site — by no less than the author himself! — so it holds a sentimental place in my heart (and my bookshelf). The book was published in 2012 by Huron Street Press, an imprint of the American Library Association.

I was also thrilled to learn recently from Rob that he has an exciting project in the works. He has launched a Kickstarter campaign to finish “Pause of the Clock,” a film he shot 20 years ago. It’s his quest to finish the film — a feature-length film which he wrote, produced, and directed. I love how he describes the film’s significance:

Pause of the Clock is not simply a souvenir—it’s a message from the past about how our society has changed in 20 years, while also exploring those things about us and our relationships that technology can’t touch. A living time capsule.

Such an intriguing project, and I’m happy to support him in this endeavor. Will you join me?

The Kickstarter campaign is open for another week, and you can read all about it here — as well as view an excerpt and a trailer — on his “Pause of the Clock” Kickstarter page.


Valentine’s Day round-up of reel librarian love

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I thought a round-up of reel librarian love was in order. Here are romance-themed posts from my blog archives that you might enjoy:

Reel librarians in love

round-up of films featuring reel librarians in love, including the appropriately named Love Story (1970).

A love song for a librarian

This post explores a few love songs inspired by librarians, including “Heaven Sent” by INXS (1992).

Romance and the reel librarian

A post lookin’ for love — or rather, romance films featuring reel librarians.

Love story analysis posts

I’ve also analyzed several love stories featuring reel librarians, in parts both major and minor, including:


Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

In the 1946 film Boston Blackie and the Law, reformed thief Blackie performs a magic show in a women’s prison, and one of the inmates, Dinah, escapes during the “disappearing booth” trick. Turns out Dinah was a former magician’s assistant! D’oh!

First things first… who’s “Boston Blackie”? This film was one of the last in a series of films featuring “Boston Blackie,” a reformed crook who became an amateur detective. Jack Boyle started writing short stories about “Boston Blackie” in 1914, and the stories were published as a collection in 1919. There were a series of silent films as well as a series of popular talkies in the 1940s starring Chester Morris as Blackie. There was even a TV series in the 1950s! You can read all about it — and more! — here at the Boston Blackie website.

After Dinah’s disappearance at the prison, the police interrogate Blackie back at police headquarters, who manages to escape police custody. From a public phone booth, he then calls a friend and urges him to “drop everything and meet me at the Reading Room of the uptown public library. Right away.” The police find out and tail him there.

The library scene occurs 20 minutes into the film, and it looks like a typical reel library set. Complete with stereotypical “spinster librarian” in residence. (Sigh.)

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

In just a few seconds of screen time, we witness:

  • A female patron sneezing and incurring the immediate wrath of the librarian, who shushes her and points to the “Silence please” sign behind her
  • Blackie’s friend entering and shouting, “Hey, boss!” — and also receiving and immediate glare and shushing from the librarian
  • A close-up of the “Silence please” sign
  • A name placard for “Miss Burton,” the librarian
  • The librarian silently fussing at the friend to remove his hat
  • The librarian dropping a book off the high library counter and receiving a reciprocal shush and sign-pointing from Blackie’s friend, as comically illustrated below

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian
Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian
Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

And wow, does this librarian check off all the boxes for what a stereotypical spinster librarian looks like. It’s almost like a Halloween costume checklist:

√ bun
√ pince nez glasses on a chain
√ high-collared blouse
√ cardigan
√ sour expression

So why is Blackie at the public library? To research background about Dinah, and he finds a series of newspaper articles in a bound volume of newspapers. Blackie then proceeds to read the articles OUT LOUD to his friend — but somehow manages to escape the shushing wrath of Miss Burton, the reel librarian. Amazing, that movie magic! ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

After reading up on Dinah — who turns out to have been involved in a robbery that netted $100,000 that was never recovered! — Blackie and his friend escape out a side door when two police detectives enter the library.

The detectives are smoking cigars and talking loudly. And guess what happens? The librarian is LIVID at this spectacle — and even gets out of her chair to admonish the two detectives, up close and personal.

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

Miss Burton:  Young man, this is a library where people are trying to think.

Detective:  Lady, we ain’t here to think.

Miss Burton:  I can certainly believe that. Take off your hat and that thing in your mouth. [pointing to the cigar]

The two detectives do leave — but they also leave a trail of cigar smoke in their wake. This then makes the librarian sneeze — and she then causes a scene in the library! All of the patrons turn to stare at her, and she looks very embarrassed. She has tasted her own medicine — and it is bitter! ;)

Reel Librarians | Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

Maudie Prickett is uncredited as Miss Burton, the reel librarian.

It is amusing to note how the librarian and the chief detective both look each other up and down in mutual disgust. Two worlds — and two worlds with their own set of rules! — colliding, to be sure. The entire library scene is played for laughs, and the humor is quite crude.

My husband’s reaction to this scene? “Are you pained by the portrayal? This just keeps getting harder, doesn’t it?” (Yes, it does at times. Sigh.)

I’ve categorized this film in the Class III category. The scene is quite short, only lasting about three minutes, but the portrayal of the reel librarian is quite memorable (if for all the wrong reasons).

The reel librarian in Boston Blackie and the Law doesn’t actually help in any way — Blackie does that himself — and her only function seems to be stamping books and shushing people. She is most definitely a Spinster Librarian character type, a minor character who is an uptight “old maid” and rule-monger who hoards information. She is all about the rules — and woe unto anyone who breaks those rules — even if it’s herself!

And finally, as I was taking screenshots, I (accidentally) managed to capture a great shot! The picture below is transitioning from the reel librarian pointing at the “Silence Please” sign in the library into a closeup of that sign. And the result perfectly sums up this reel librarian portrayal — as well as the Spinster Librarian character type in general:

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

Silence, please, as you enjoy that photo. ;)

Rating ‘The Librarians’

The TV spin-off series The Librarians finished up last week on TNT, with 10 episodes rounding out its first season. I’d earlier reviewed the premiere (the first two episodes), as seen here in this post. As I mentioned then:

I have a soft spot for “The Librarian” TV movies, which are admittedly cheesy, corny, and nerdy. They’re also fun. And that irrepressible, playful spirit all through the TV movies — lifelong learning is THE BEST, y’all! — also inhabits the spin-off series.

After watching the entire first season, I still stand by that first impression. Not every episode was great; in fact, the series as a whole was a little uneven in tone and focus. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and I looked forward to each new episode each week.

Logo of

What I loved:

  • The glimpses into the past of Jenkins, who manages the library annex. At first, the character seemed one-dimensional and stereotypical to me, but each episode provided a little more depth and gravitas to Jenkins, who continues to be a mysterious figure. Also, it helps that John Larroquette is so skilled at delivering wry line readings and throwing sideways shade.
  • The structure of the series and the links back to events and character traits throughout the series. Even the premiere harkened back to the original TV movies. The finale episode really paid off by referencing every episode before it. I love a series that rewards the fans who have paid attention throughout the season!
  • Variety and diversity of myths and legendary figures and artistic works
  • The chemistry of the lead cast, who all seemed comfortable with each other — there’s a sense of security for viewers to witness that kind of easy camaraderie
  • Great casting of guest actors, including Alicia Witt, Bruce Campbell, and Rene Auberjonois

What could use improvement:

  • The main villains, who still came across as quite thin and uninteresting. Criminal waste of actor Matt Frewer (who played “Max Headroom”).
  • Uneven pace and a few plots that seemingly went nowhere
  • Diversity of sets (Is that Slovakia? Looks like another Oregon forest to me! ;) ) and a special effects upgrade
  • Weak use of great guest actors
  • More use of Noah Wyle and library mainstays Jane Curtin and Bob Newhart

Rating each episode:

Here are the 10 episodes, in order of my personal favorites:

  1. TIE:  The premiere, “And the Crown of King Arthur,” (1.1) and the finale, “And the Loom of Fate” (1.10). Each was strengthened by the other. The finale referenced the premiere and the entire series, which provided more gravitas (to both the plot and the characters), while the premiere episode gained points in setting the tone and overall structure, which were reinforced by the finale. Bonus points for Jane Curtin and Bob Newhart reprising their roles in the premiere!
  2. “And the Heart of Darkness” (1.8). An episode set in a haunted house. Sounds stereotypical, but the tone and storyline of the haunted house was truly chilling — and original! Loved the scene in which Jenkins ran through the cataloged list of haunted houses. The series excelled at little throwaway moments like that.
  3. “And the Fables of Doom” (1.6). An absolute delight of an episode, which involved fairy tale characters coming to life in a small town — and going on attack! Such clever twists on traditional fairy tales. Bonus points for featuring another major librarian character, played by Rene Auberjonois, plus the climax is set in the town’s public library.
  4. “And the City of Light” (1.9). Another episode that seemed to start out as one thing but ended up in a highly original place — involving the legacy of Nikola Tesla, no less! Touching emotional connection between series regular Christian Kane and guest actor Haley Webb, who functions as the town’s archivist.
  5. “And the Sword in the Stone” (1.2). The second episode and one that cemented the structure of the librarians-in-training. Expect tears for the “sword in the stone” of the title.
  6. “And the Apple of Discord” (1.5). Flynn returns in this episode that features dragons who have been awoken and start wreaking havoc around the world. (As dragons are wont to do.) Eye-rolling special effects — or lack thereof. The highlight is the scene demonstrating just how dangerous Cassandra’s skills can be.
  7. “And the Horns of a Dilemma” (1.3). Standard episode that provided a twist on the labyrinth and the Minotaur myth. It earned points for how it updated the concept of the labyrinth, but lost points for its cheesy portrayal of the Minotaur in various guises.
  8. “And Santa’s Midnight Run” (1.4). I soooooo wanted to love this Christmas-themed episode — Santa gets kidnapped! — and Bruce Campbell as Santa is an absolute hoot. However, the pace really lagged in the second half of the episode, and the ending was particularly cringe-worthy.
  9. “And the Rule of Three” (1.7). An episode set at a science fair and a mash-up of science and magic. Brilliant casting of Alicia Witt, but once again, they didn’t know how to make the best use of what they had. Lame story and confusing ending.

Last but not least, my favorite line from the series, which was cleverly remixed in the finale:

I’m offering you a life of mystery and adventure. More than that, I’m offering you an opportunity to make a difference. Save the world every week.

Until next week, then… :)

Review of ‘A House of Light and Stone’ and author Q+A

Cover of 'A House of Light & Stone'At the end of last year, I was quite excited when author E.J. Runyon asked me to review her debut novel, A House of Light and Stone. She piqued my interest when she said that a librarian had a prominent role in the book. :)

The novel, set in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, is revealed through the clear-eyed gaze of a young girl named Duffy (short for “Defoe”).

Growing up is never easy, but for young Duffy Chavez, whose childhood is anything but innocent, the journey is particularly painful.

Swimming against the tides of her troubled family as well as her own cultural identity, she struggles with the cards she has been dealt. Buoyed up by the belief of a select few, she strives to achieve the kind of self-knowledge that comes so naturally to the ‘real girls’ all around her. As gaps in the narrative begin to fill, and the truth surrounding Duffy’s birth is unearthed, her determination to succeed is rendered all the more astounding.

E.J. sent me an e-book version — my first book to read on my laptop’s Kindle app! I have to admit, it took me a while to get used to e-book reading. The format kept throwing me off. But once I got over that — and changed the settings to more closely resemble a regular book, as seen below — I found myself getting into Duffy’s story.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of e-book version of 'A House of Light & Stone'

It is a YA novel in the sense that Duffy, the protagonist, is a young adult. The themes, however, transcend age or audience limitations, and I found myself harkening back to my own childhood and memories as I read Duffy’s story. Yes, I cried at certain parts. I definitely can identify with the “curse of responsibility” placed on Duffy’s young shoulders. The writing is sensitive, as befitting the plot of a young girl’s quest to discover herself. This kind of novel depends hugely on how much the reader can identify or empathize with the main character, and I found Duffy endlessly interesting, a character who drew me in while also not revealing all of herself all at once.

And yes, there is indeed a librarian in the book! Duffy signs up for a summer writing course at a local public library, led by young adult librarian Miss Patricia. There are also interesting library bits here and there throughout the book that reveal, I believe, the author’s insight into library organization and structure, as well as a personal love of libraries. That made me smile. :D

Front entrance of Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library

Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library – Los Angeles Public Library system

The public library branch is the Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library, and yes, it is indeed a branch library of the Los Angeles Public Library system, located in the Boyle Heights area — the same setting as the book.

I wrote down questions as I read through the book, as I thought it would be fun to include a little author Q+A with this review. I’m so glad E.J. Runyon was up for it!

Q: The details of the Robert Louis Stevenson Branch Library felt too detailed NOT to be real. Was this your public library while growing up? If not, have you been there?

A:  I’d lived in 7 different houses by age 10, and the city of Boyle Heights was indeed where this one was, so I’ve used what I know in my writing. And I did walk and find many books there with my sister.

But it was only one of several that could be called my ‘Childhood library’. School libraries held just as big a pull for me.

Q:  I loved Duffy’s sentiment that “I thought never being without books should definitely be on my Best Life list.” Are libraries (public OR personal) included in your own Best Life list?

A:  Most definitely. Aside for those childhood libraries, before my Freshman year, I worked my first Summer work experience job in my high school library. From there I spent time working at the Public Library in town for a few semesters while in HS. And during my community college days (in my 40’s) I worked in the campus library, again as a work experience student.

Q:  Have libraries or librarians been a personal influence in your life as a writer and/or editor?

A:  Libraries, and the librarians in them, run all though my existence. I know the spaces and character traits well. Possibly why I added that element into the novel. There have been several, some I still remember by name and location, some I’ve not. I used to read the bound volumes of ‘Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature’ like they were novels. So I was ‘using what you know’, in my storytelling.

Q:  Do you share Duffy’s and Joanna’s opinion that “we both disagreed with the Deweys about putting Buildings there [in the 700s Arts call number section].” (That made me laugh, especially after watching a recent episode of ‘The Librarians’ TV show, in which the librarian-in-training who is an art expert complained that “Architecture is just art we live in. Why doesn’t anybody get that?”)

A:  Well, when you list the other subsections, you do have to admit, that both the 710s and 720s do stand out from the others. Though I can’t see any other slot to move them to.

[Editor’s note:  Click here to browse the Dewey Decimal classification system in the 700s]

Q:  Was Miss Patricia based on any real-life librarian in your life?

A:  Not literally, not taking one person and adding her to my novel. But I did have librarians who did matter hugely in my life. Specifically at age 6/7 at Eastman Ave Elementary School, and as a teen in those early work opportunities. The Character’s name and her long red hair came from a very dear friend who passed away.

Q:  Do you see Miss Patricia — a librarian and educator — as a positive role model?

A:  It was important to me to make sure none of these adult characters were singularly positive or negative, which is why things go so swimmingly then so awry in Miss Patricia’s arc. If you notice, that’s pretty much my M.O. with most of the adults here.

In the mid-1960s so many younger folks were giving back to the kids in the areas where this book is set. So for that, yes, she’s a positive character as drawn.

But, she doesn’t always do things in the best possible way and that’s my writer’s option of deeper writing; by using the more minor characters as real folks with their own agendas, rather than only using their ups and downs as stepping stones to get Duffy going along her own path within the story.

This is Duffy’s story, first and foremost, but hopefully, it’s a broader painting of a time and a world, and I’ve succeeded in populating it in realistic ways.

As a reader — and a librarian — I believe E.J. Runyon did succeed, indeed, with populating her debut novel with characters and details in realistic ways. A huge thanks to E.J. for asking me to read and review her book!

If you, dear reader, are interested in reading more about A House of Light and Stone, please visit E.J.’s personal site here at The book is available in Kindle or paperback editions through here at And finally, click here for another review and author interview.