Reel librarians with ‘A Bone to Pick’

A few months ago in this post, I highlighted a preview of a new Hallmark TV movie, “A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery,” based on the book series by Charlaine Harris. The title character is a younger librarian, played by Candace Cameron Bure, who also served as executive producer.

The Aurora Teagarden Mystery series continues this summer, with the next TV movie set to premiere this Sunday, July 26, on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Will you be watching along with me?

Snapshot of Real Murders:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery episode

I also recently rewatched the premiere movie, “A Bone to Pick,” and overall, it’s an enjoyable show. If there’s a bone to pick — I couldn’t resist the pun! — it is a typically “cozy” type of mystery, nothing too scary or mentally taxing. It’s the kind of show where there is a lot of light, and everyone seems to have huge living rooms. I most enjoyed the warm portrayal of its title character as a multi-faceted and multi-talented reel librarian.

Setting the stage for sleuthing

The TV movie starts out not in the library, but instead in Aurora’s bedroom, where she is braiding her hair and practicing a presentation about a notorious historical murder, a speech she delivers in a town hall where the “Real Murders Club” has gathered.

Reel Librarians  |  Opening shot in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  | Real Murders Club in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

After the successful presentation, an older member, Jane, ruffles up some controversy by stating that Aurora should run for president of the club. Jane then invites Aurora to her house the next day to pick up a few out-of-print titles about true crime, and we learn a lot of character background — including the fact that Jane is a retired librarian! The plot doesn’t get going until we learn that soon after, Jane has passed away and left her house and estate to none other than Aurora. Part of the legacy she left to Aurora includes a hidden skull and a mystery to solve….


The resulting mystery is not all that interesting:  It includes break-ins and cheating spouses and a really far-fetched conclusion involving a pregnant cop practically giving birth while arresting the perps.

Librarian role call

This TV movie and the series definitely fit into the Class I category, with Candace Cameron Bure as the title character Aurora Teagarden, or “Roe” for short. Here are the other librarian characters in the story (who, strangely, don’t get seem to get screen credits):

  • Jane, the spinster librarian who died and left Roe her estate
  • Lillian, the middle-aged spinster librarian meanie who scares children and is always on Roe’s case
  • Characters also mention a Mr. Crowley, the head of the library, but we never see him onscreen
Reel Librarians  |  Reel librarians in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel librarians Roe, Jane, and Lillian in ‘A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery’ (2015)

Salary and education

The low salary given to librarians gets mentioned quite a lot throughout the TV movie. Roe doesn’t even expect to afford rent on her librarian’s salary (her mother pays her rent), and she wonders how Jane was able to afford such a big house (it turns out Jane had inherited money).

  • I can’t afford a new dress.  /  Because you are woefully underpaid.
  • I never thought I’d own a house, not on a librarian’s salary.
  • Too bad I can’t afford it.

Moral of the story? Pay librarians what they are worth! (This means at least a living wage, y’all.)

Education and “library science” also merit a mention, mostly in the early exposition scene between Roe and Jane. Her master’s thesis was in true-crime literature, which sounded odd to me. Jane agreed!

Roe:  I wish I had had access to a collection like this when I was getting my master’s. My thesis was in true-crime literature.

Jane:  That wasn’t a speciality of library science in my day.

Roe:  It’s still not, officially. I think I’m the only librarian in the state who has it.

Side note:  I also did a research project in my Children’s Literature graduate class, a project all about character types in detective and mystery stories for children and young adults. We’re so alike! ;)

Here’s how Roe would probably react to that statement:

Reel Librarians  |  Librarian eye-rolling in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Whatever, Jen.

There are several scenes highlighting the bright and spacious public library. The sign on the front door says “Lawrenceton Public Library,” which is a nod to the Lawrenceton, Georgia, setting of the books. However, the TV movie was filmed in British Columbia.

Librarian tasks we see onscreen include: opening up the library, researching on the computer, shelving books, and helping a little boy find a book (he’s scared of Lillian, the dragon-lady librarian, who is really rude and condescending to him). Lillian is a total rule-monger and Spinster Librarian character type.

Reel Librarians  |  Public library in  'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe helping a young boy in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel librarian style

Roe’s fashion sense is subjected to many negative comments throughout the TV film, mainly by Roe’s mother — and by Roe herself!

  • This has no pizzazz. [her mother, referring to a blazer with piped trim, seen above]
  • I’m sorry, I wanted to change into something nicer. [Roe, wearing a sweater on a date]
  • This is what you wore, on a date?! [Her mother, after Roe’s date]
  • Please tell me you’re not wearing that to church. [Roe’s mother]
  • I wish I had more fashion sense. [Roe, going shopping]

I didn’t really get this style criticism, because she looks cute, relatable, and modern to me. Cardigans and practical coats abound. (I did think they overdid it with the praise whenever she wore a dress.) But no one except her mother ever comments on her hair and her signature side braid.

Reel Librarians  |  Collage of Roe's style in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Collage of Roe’s style in ‘A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery’ (2015)

Librarian skillz

Roe has got skillz. She is smart, observant, and resourceful, and she’s not afraid to do research and get her hands dirty. And it’s nice to see how she uses her skills as a public librarian, as well, using knowledge of patrons she observed who were frequent visitors to the library. People also trust her, given her position in the community.

We definitely see a well-rounded character in Roe and an atypical reel librarian portrayal. I haven’t read the series, so I don’t know how close it is to the character in the books. We get to see different sides to Roe, the good and the flawed. Other characters, including her friends, both compliment and challenge her.

Reel Librarians  | Best friends in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Best friends Roe and Sally

Roe has relatable flaws — she is stubborn and doesn’t really listen to her closest friend or her mother. She prioritizes her own pleasure in figuring out a puzzle above the logical (and legal) step of handing over evidence to the police — and then doesn’t want to return the skull to the police because she doesn’t want to get in trouble for withholding evidence! Gotta go with her mother on that one — “maybe you deserve to be behind bars.”

Roe is also warm-hearted, friendly, and generous. And she’s definitely got spunk! It is interesting to note that Roe is susceptible to stereotypes — she starts dating a young minister — but is also open-minded when those stereotypes are challenged. (As a librarian, wouldn’t Roe be used to being stereotyped by one’s profession?)

Her sleuthing skills are highly praised throughout, including how she had set up a crime board in the living room of her new house. But it really annoyed me that common sense takes a back seat sometimes. For example, she set up her “secret” crime board — complete with maps and post-it notes and records — in full view of the front door and the front windows with blinds wide open for anyone to see what she was up to.

Reel Librarians  |  Snapshots of Roe's evidence wall in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Roe’s evidence wall, which is visible from the front door and windows

Connections between research and sleuthing

Does Roe being a librarian matter to the story? In some ways, it seems more important that she’s a member of the Real Murders Club, but the fact that she’s a librarian is emphasized throughout the TV movie. She applies the same skills — her intelligence and logical way of thinking, her organizational and research skills, as well as her friendly demeanor — to both her job as a librarian and to her adventures as an amateur sleuth.

Roe connects the dots for the audience by using research in her sleuthing, skills she obviously picked up as a librarian. So I would argue that yes, identifying Roe as a librarian not only helps the audience trust Roe but also helps us believe in her skills as an amateur detective.

Reel Librarians  |  Roe researching in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe studies a skull in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe compares maps in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

I mentioned in this prior post, “Nancy Drew as a librarian?,” how much overlap I personally see between private detectives and librarians, and I’ve already stated that I think Nancy Drew would have been an AWESOME librarian. I’d like to think that in the character of Aurora Teagarden, we can have the best of both worlds — why choose between being a private detective and a librarian? You can be good at both! ;)

I will wrap things up with a compliment(?) that Jane bestowed upon Roe in an early scene:

You have a mind for murder like no one else I know.

Thank you. I think.

Again, the next Aurora Teagarden Mystery movie, “Real Murders,” premieres in a few days, on July 26. Are you interested in watching along with me?


A body in the library in ‘Murder, She Wrote’

I love the classic TV series, “Murder, She Wrote” (1984-1996). The character of Jessica Fletcher? Angela Lansbury? Angela Lansbury’s repertoire of facial expressions? LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Lansbury ReactionsThere’s even a Twitter account, Lansbury Reactions, shining the spotlight on her priceless facial expressions. Genius!

I recently had a “Murder, She Wrote” TV marathon going on in the background while I worked on other things (they regularly run classic TV marathons on the Hallmark channel). By the way, I don’t believe in “guilty pleasures” — there’s no guilt or shame in liking what you like, and no apologies.

So I’m sure you can imagine my delight when a reel librarian appeared onscreen! The episode “Family Secrets,” which was the second episode of Season 9 and aired in September 1992, opens in the local public library.

Here’s the episode write-up from

“One of Jessica’s former students is murdered when he returns to Cabot Cove to write a book exposing new information on a 30-year-old town scandal.”

The episode opens with a bird’s-eye view of the local public library, dark and stuffed to the gills with bookcases, furniture, and piles on tables.


Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from an episode of 'Murder She Wrote'

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from an episode of 'Murder She Wrote'

Jessica is typing on a laptop (!) and looking over a stack of books. Behind her creeps up a librarian, complete with thick bottle glasses and a buttoned-up cardigan.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from an episode of 'Murder She Wrote'

Librarian:  Ms. Fletcher? Ms. Fletcher?

Jessica:  I’m sorry, Arnold, I’m guess it’s getting to be that time.

Librarian:  I’m afraid so. Still looking for that perfect poison?

Jessica:  Oh, yes. I know it’s here somewhere, deadly, exotic, virtually impossible to detect.

Librarian:  Until the murderer gets caught on the last page.

Jessica:  You’ve been reading my books! I’ll just gather my stuff together.

Librarian:  No hurry. I just wanted you to know that I’m leaving. Just be sure and lock up when you’re finished.

Jessica:  Oh fine, thank you, Arnold, I’ll do that… See you tomorrow, Arnold!

My immediate reaction to this opening scene:  Ummm, WHAT??!! I know I’m going to get all capsy on y’all. While I’m glad to see the librarian — and a less common portrayal of a male librarian — enjoying a friendly rapport with Jessica, there is NO WAY I would allow a patron to stay in a library after hours. Not even for my beloved Jessica Fletcher. (Unless she were a librarian. And Jessica Fletcher would have been an AWESOME librarian.)

It’s just unrealistic to expect a librarian to NOT do a thorough walk through the library before closing time and secure everything and (kindly but firmly) escort any remaining patrons out. There’s the issue of library assets, for one thing.

And for another, the prevention of murder.

This is evidenced by a scene halfway through the episode, when a nosy former student, Randy, winds up dead in the library.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from an episode of 'Murder She Wrote'

But we do get to see Randy a few times before he winds up dead. We first meet him in the library in the episode’s opening scene, after Jessica is left to lock up the library. Randy had gotten “lost in the old files” while researching. We see Randy in the library again on the night he died, table full of materials that he tries to hide from the prying eyes of Arnold.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from an episode of 'Murder She Wrote'

I guess Arnold wasn’t the only one interested in Randy’s research. Someone figured out Randy would be researching in the library past closing hours and took advantage of an opportunity… Methinks that locking up the library properly could have helped prevent that murder.

Or is the librarian the murderer? He is immediately pegged as a suspect, because he was jealous of Randy’s success. We learn that on the night Randy died, when Arnold brings up the past:

Arnold:  I was just remembering how we would take all those writing classes together. We’d always share notes and talk about how we were both going to make it big time. Then you went off to Portland to become a hot-shot reporter, while I… well, you know.

Randy:  Arnold, we earn our big breaks. And this is mine. Yours will come, huh?

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from an episode of 'Murder She Wrote'

I also groaned aloud when Arnold opened up the library the next morning, right before discovering Randy’s body:

“That’s funny, the door’s open. Randy said he’d lock up when he finished last night.”

Way to blame the murder victim! In fact, the expression on my face probably looked similar to this:

Lansbury Reactions tweet

Click the photo for the animated GIF. It’s worth it!

So did the reel librarian commit murder in his own library? I won’t spoil the ending for you. I would never deny y’all the opportunity to watch an episode of “Murder, She Wrote.” ;)

Happy sleuthing!

The bigfoot librarian

My husband and I recently rewatched the ’80s film Harry and the Hendersons (1987), which was filmed and set in nearby Washington state. It’s a cult classic comedy starring John Lithgow and (surprise!) David Suchet. The film is about a family who (literally) run into Bigfoot while on a family camping trip, and they take him home. Hilarity and hijinks ensue. As one could surmise from the title font. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Title card from 'Harry and the Hendersons' (1987)

In a short scene almost exactly halfway through the film, Lithgow goes to the public library and asks for information on Bigfoot. The librarian directs him to the section on fantasy, myths and legends.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from 'Harry and the Henderson' (1987)

Here’s how their entire reference interview goes:

Librarian:  May I help you?

George:  Yes. I’m on my lunch break, and I’m kind of in a hurry. Could you point me to some books on the, uh, Bigfoot?  

Librarian:  Sasquatch?

George:  Sasquatch.

Librarian: Sasquatch?

George:  That’s the one.

Librarian:  Fantasy, folklore, myths and legends, basement stacks, take the stairs.

George:  Thank you.

Librarian:  You could also try children’s books.

The unnamed librarian is played by Peggy Platt, and the most memorable thing about her is… her spiky mullet hairstyle. Yikes. The ’80s indeed. Perhaps her hairdo was an homage to Bigfoot? ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Comparing the reel librarian and Bigfoot from 'Harry and the Hendersons' (1987)

Even Bigfoot has a friendlier face than the reel librarian in ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ (1987)

The librarian fulfills the role of Information Provider in a Class III film. Granted, she doesn’t give much information, and her attitude is very dismissive. But this also serves a purpose. Her dismissive attitude of Bigfoot and Sasquatch as fantasy and in the children’s domain is also reflective of the common viewpoint of such legends. We are treated to several more different variations of this social dismissal of the Bigfoot legend throughout the film, jokes and laughter coming from a local policeman and a local television personality, among others.

The librarian’s directions, although minimal, obviously helped, as we see the family going through some a pile of materials later at home. One of the books he takes home is entitled Bigfoot One on One: A True Story by Oliver Dear.

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from 'Harry and the Henderson' (1987)

Side note:  Y’all KNOW I looked that title up in WorldCat, but no such book exists. But I noticed that the author, Oliver Dear, has the same last name as the film’s director, William Dear — and it turns out Oliver is William’s son! Both are still involved in the film industry, William Dear in directing and Oliver Dear in visual production.

George’s son is a born critic, declaring: “This book sucks!”

Reel Librarians  |  A screenshot from 'Harry and the Henderson' (1987)

I’m sure his son wouldn’t say that about the film he’s in… ;) It’s a mediocre comedy, to be sure, and a modest success when it was released. It’s become a bit of a cult classic since then, and a film thought of fondly around here, especially as it was filmed on location.

And Sasquatch in general is still a big deal up here in the Pacific Northwest. As evidenced by a shot I took while at the ACRL Conference this past spring:

ACRL Sasquatch sighting

Bigfoot lives! Sasquatch + librarians = ♥


Baby Boom

First thought upon rewatching Baby Boom? SO EIGHTIES! From the opening title card (seen below) to the music to the massive shoulder pads to the opening narration, complete with bon mots like “sociologists say the new working woman is a phenomenon of our time” and “a woman like this has it all!“. The movie was made in 1987, after all, and stars Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, a successful businesswoman who, through reasons of PLOT, becomes the custodian for a one-year-old.

I think this kind of movie probably had to be made at that time period, and it was well-received by critics and audiences, even inspiring a TV show of the same name from 1988-1989. Diane Keaton is the main reason this movie works.

Reel Librarians  |  Title screen for 'Baby Boom' (1987)

Typically ’80s font for the title screen for ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)


At 1 hour, 14 minutes into the film, J.C. has moved to Vermont and has the idea of manufacturing her homemade baby food. And where does she head first? To the library, of course! Smart woman. ;)

Specifically, she heads to the Bennington College Library.

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the Bennington College Library sign in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

The next shot highlights J.C. back to her fast-talking self, listing all the info she needs from the young librarian at the desk. She wants materials on starting a small business and marketing trends, including info on Baby Boomers, demographics, and new consumerism.

The reel librarian — possibly a student library assistant? — doesn’t get any lines; rather, she just nods and starts making notes. She is wearing glasses and an awesomely ’80s Cosby-like sweater vest. There is also a large tape dispenser and a book truck beside her:  examples of classic “librarian props.” ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the reel librarian scene in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the reel librarian scene in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

The librarian obviously got her what she needed because in the next shot, we see J.C. with a pile of materials and taking notes. As she describes it, “I’m doing a little bit of research.”

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of library research in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

And lo and behold, the cute local vet (played by Sam Shepard) walks down the library stairs. Turns out he teaches a class at the college, and I appreciate the attention to detail that he’s coming from the “Medical Science” section of the library!

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the library in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

He and J.C. then proceed to “meet cute” in the library. J.C. tries to hide behind a magazine, and then later drops all her library materials. Smoooooooooth.

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the “meet cute” scene in the library in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Baby boomer research

Screenshot of the “meet cute” scene in the library in ‘Baby Boom’ (1987)

And later in the film, when J.C. and the vet (finally) get together, she references that scene in the library! :)

The library scene is extremely short, lasting only two minutes seconds in total. The reel librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds of that scene, and she doesn’t even earn a screen credit. This short cameo role lands Baby Boom in the Class IV category, in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue. The reel librarian definitely fulfills the Information Provider role, providing information to Keaton’s character as well as helping establish the library setting.

And the library itself is quite lovely. The stained glass windows are gorgeous, and the dark wood paneling and bookshelves give the library a traditional feel. And there is a Bennington College in real life, and they have two libraries:  the main Crossett Library (which looks super modern, as seen here), and the Jennings Music Library.

Y’all knew I would look that up, right? ;)

Reel Substance: A look at Class V… and a Class VI?

Finishing up my spotlight on the “Reel Substance” part of my site… This week, let’s look at the (current) final category, Class V films. (Last week was Classes III and IV, and the week before that Classes I and II.)

If you’re new to this mini-series, then here’s a quick note about what the “Reel Substance” section is all about. One way I analyze and categorize films is according to the importance of the librarian role to the film overall. The “Reel Substance” section of this site is currently divided into 5 categories, starting with major librarian characters integral to the movie’s plot (Class I), and on down.

Reel Librarians | Reel Substance screenshot

The basics

Currently this is how I define Class V films:  They have no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. Some of these films have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

So there are two different kinds of films I currently include in Class V, with examples:

Includes scenes set in libraries or mentions librarians (but doesn’t include any actual librarians)

Mistakenly listed as including reel librarians

  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
  • Blackmail (1929)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
  • Slightly Dangerous (1943)
  • Urban Legend (1998)
  • Wanted (2008)
  • Big (1988)
  • The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
  • The Final Cut (2004)
  • Night at the Museum (2006)
  • Red Dragon (2002)
  • Sitting Pretty (1948)
  • Summertime (1955)

With the latter — films mistakenly listed on other sites or lists as including reel librarians — many times, a bookseller is mistakenly identified as librarian, or a bookstore mistakenly identified as a library. That’s the case with The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), The Final Cut (2004), Night at the Museum (2006), Red Dragon (2002), and Sitting Pretty (1948). In my post analyzing Night at the Museum, I point out some helpful tips on how to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen. Other times, a mousy or spinster-ish female lead is mistaken for a librarian, like Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (1955) — in that film, she’s actually described as a “fancy secretary”.

Side note:  Katharine Hepburn did play a librarian in Desk Set (1957). Plus, one of her sisters, Peg Hepburn Perry, was a children’s librarian in real life, for over 50 years! She was featured in The Hollywood Librarian documentary, which I reviewed here in this post.

Wherefore art thou, reel librarians?

Films that complicate matters are the ones that mention librarians but don’t include any actual librarians. Here are four interesting examples:

Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941):  In this film, Miss Bishop, a college English professor, reflects back on her life. Miss Bishop advises a female student to take the librarian’s course, but we later find out the student became a “world-famous historian” instead. At one point, Miss Bishop also tells the university president that she is leaving to become an assistant librarian in New York, but he convinces her to stay on at the college. Therefore, there is no actual librarian in this film, but it is interesting that the film mentions a college librarian course.

You can read my full post about Cheers for Miss Bishop here.

Demolition Man (1993):  In this film, Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan, a cop who is brought out of cryogenics in order to pursue an old enemy (Wesley Snipes) running rampant in a future, nonviolent society. Sandra Bullock also co-stars as Lenina Huxley, a cop in the future. About an hour into the film, Lenina mentions visiting the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library to find archives of John’s past cases.

You can read my full post about Demolition Man here.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970):  The main plot of this film involves the opportunistic Mr. Sloane, who lodges with an eccentric family, consisting of the aging nymphomaniac Kath, her uptight brother Ed, and their doddery Dadda. Kath lies to Ed, saying she met Sloane in the library.

You can read my full post about Entertaining Mr. Sloane here.

Spellbound (1945):  A psychiatrist realizes that the mental hospital’s new director, Dr. Edwardes, is an impostor and suffers from paranoid amnesia. They go on the run to find out what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes. There is no actual librarian in this film, although a character in the film, a hotel detective, guesses that her occupation is that of a librarian.

You can read my full post about Spellbound here.

Should there be a Class VI?

I have been thinking for awhile that the films that have been mistakenly listed as having reel librarians should be their own category, a new Class VI. What do y’all think? Does it overcomplicate matters? Or would it help clarify my “Reel Substance” section and balance out the film categories?

Please leave a comment and let me know!



Reel Substance: A look at Classes III and IV

Continuing the spotlight on “Reel Substance“… Why the reason for this mini-series? Because I also use this website as a repository for my lifelong research of librarians in film, so this mini-series of posts highlight the research behind the blog.

One way I analyze and categorize films is according to the importance of the librarian role to the film overall. I do this through the “Reel Substance” section of this site, which is currently divided into 5 categories.

Reel Librarians  |  Reel Substance screenshot

Last week, I started by taking a look at the differences between Class I and Class II films. This week, let’s look at Class III and Class IV films.

The basics:

Class III

Class IV

These are films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role. Films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role.
These secondary roles range from supporting characters in several scenes to minor characters with a few lines in a memorable or significant scene. These cameo roles are seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

What are some examples?

Class III

Class IV

  • 2 Brothers and a Bride, aka A Foreign Affair (2003)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  • My Week with Marilyn (2011)
  • The Night Strangler (TV, 1973)
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
  • Soylent Green (1973)
  • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
  • That Touch of Mink (1962)
  • The Time Machine (2002)
  • UHF (1989)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
  • Awakenings (1990)
  • Beautiful Girls (1996)
  • Brief Encounter (1945)
  • City of Angels (1998)
  • Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
  • Ever After (1998)
  • Finding Forrester (2000)
  • Gods and Monsters (1998)
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  • Marathon Man (1976)
  • Old Gringo (1989)
  • Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
  • WarGames (1983)

The above lists are only selected samples — 15 titles apiece; you can view more titles and synopses in the Class III and Class IV pages.

You caught me dialoguing

One of the main differences between reel librarians in Class III vs. Class IV is in the amount of dialogue the reel librarian character has. Some Class III reel librarian characters are fully supporting characters — like Vox in The Time Machine (2002), Mr. Berry in The Night Strangler (TV, 1973) and English in Escape from Alcatraz (1979). These characters, therefore, have several scenes of dialogue throughout the film.

Other reel librarian characters in Class III have one memorable scene, like in the opening library scene in Ghostbusters (1984), or in the motel room scene toward the end of That Touch of Mink (1962), as seen below and as analyzed in this post.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'That Touch of Mink' (1962)

Screenshot from ‘That Touch of Mink’ (1962)

Contrast that with the majority of Class IV reel librarian characters, who have little or no dialogue. In some films — Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), for one — they literally only get to point. In other films, like Ever After (1998) or Marathon Man (1976), they’re only seen in the background, never heard. The lucky few get a line or two of dialogue. Sophia Wu got to say, “We have 24 copies. But I’m sorry, they’re all checked out” in Finding Forrester (2000), while Sybil Scotford grabbed a few more words (“Let’s see. This is it. This whole shelf. Black arts, occult. That should keep you busy for awhile”) during her few seconds of screen time in Scream Blacula Scream (1973), as seen below.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Screenshot from ‘Scream Blacula Scream’ (1973)

Providing information in Class III films

A majority of the reel librarian roles in Class III and Class IV consist of Information Providers and Comic Relief character types, with the odd Spinster Librarian thrown in the mix for good measure. (Interested in knowing more about those character types? Visit the “Role Call” section of the site.) But the reel librarians provide information in different ways.

In Class III films, Information Providers usually relay info essential to the plot, helping advance the plot. Again, this goes to WHY a librarian is in the film. Having librarians provide essential information to a main character is a shortcut for the audience to then trust that information.

For example, there are multiple reel librarian characters in All the President’s Men (1976) — none of them onscreen for all that long, but collectively, they are enough of a presence to merit Class III. After several attempts by the reporters to locate information — even being rebuffed by one librarian over the phone — their investigation breaks wide open after one (unwitting) library clerk provides them circulation records.

A similar plot point arises in Curse of the Demon, aka Night of the Demon (1957). Psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews) investigates a colleague’s death; in one scene, Holden investigates his colleague’s research at the British Museum and gets help from an older male librarian. (And that librarian gets gold stars for going above and beyond his duty to track down a copy of a rare book.) It’s that research that propels the rest of the film.

Reel Librarians: Star Wars Library Scene

Screenshot from Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Sometimes, the reel librarian is there to provide misinformation, like Jocasta Nu in Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), as seen above. In one short scene, analyzed here in this post, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) cannot find any information about a mysterious planet at the Jedi Archives, and the librarian insists that “if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” (Sighhhhhhh.)

Providing information in Class IV films

In Class IV, there are also a super-majority of reel librarian characters who are Information Providers. But instead of relaying actual information or research to characters, like in Class III films, Information Providers in Class IV films usually relay information about the setting to the audience. They are almost always there to help establish the library setting in scenes that occur in libraries. This is also a shortcut for the audience — but a shortcut more about place, rather than purpose.

That begs the question:  Why set a scene in a library? Sometimes, a library makes sense in the overall academic setting of a Class IV film (With Honors, Threesome, Rudy, Finding Forrester, Dangerous Minds, and more). Other times, a library is used as a “safe” and public space for the main characters to “meet cute” (Marathon Man, Ever After, City of Angels, and so on).

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of 'With Honors'

Screenshot of ‘With Honors’ (1994), where librarians are as much decoration as the actual holiday decorations

More often than not, reel librarians in Class IV films are seen in the background of a library scene or setting. Librarians as decoration? One could do worse… ;)

No-name librarians

I’ve written before, as in my “Librarian is a librarian is a librarian” post, about how most reel librarians who are title characters end up in Classes I and II. For Classes III and IV, a majority of the reel librarian characters are either credited simply as “Librarian” (or a similar title, like “Library Clerk”) or, even worse, uncredited — earning no name at all. This makes a kind of sense, given the lesser screen time given these portrayals.

Screenshot from credits of 'The Night Strangler' (TV, 1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from credits of ‘The Night Strangler’ (TV, 1973)

There are more named reel librarian characters in Class III films, like Wally Cox as Mr. Berry in The Night Strangler (TV, 1973), while there are more uncredited roles in Class IV films.

Final thoughts

I fully admit, there is no exact science for how I analyze and categorize films and their reel librarian characters. For me — admittedly viewing these films through my librarian lenses — everything boils down to context and purpose. Some of the questions I ask myself:

  • Does the librarian have any dialogue in the film? If not, then I start with Class IV and see how the rest of the film goes.
  • Does the librarian serve a clear purpose in the film, beyond just establishing a library setting? If yes, then I start with Class III and go up from there, if needed.
  • Is the librarian a main character? Then I think about the importance of that role in the context of plot, to distinguish between Class I and Class II.

And I do sometimes agonize over these decisions. I’m probably the only one who does… ;) But if I’m going to do something, I want to do it well. Sometimes, I go back and forth between Class III and Class IV (What does “significant” mean? Is this too long for a “cameo”?), sometimes between Class I and Class II (Would this be considered “integral”?).

But in the end, I do my best and hope that it’s useful for others. One of the major reasons I categorize the films into “Reel Substance” categories is to help provide interested readers a shortcut to those who want the “most bang for their buck” — if you want to watch a film in which a librarian plays a key role, I’ve got you covered.

Next week, I’ll take a deeper look at Class V… and a possible Class VI… stay tuned!

Reel Substance: A look at Classes I and II

If you’re a regular reader of Reel Librarians (thank you), you know that I write and publish one post a week. Most of those posts focus on analyzing portrayals of librarians on film; when relevant, I delve into related subjects of library roles in TV or in books. I am also fond of listmaking, like when I round up themed lists of librarian films or portrayals. That describes the focus of the blog part of this website.

I also use this website as a repository for my lifelong research of librarians in film, so sometimes it’s good to highlight the research behind the blog. Therefore, for the next few upcoming posts, I would like to shine a spotlight on the “Reel Substance” portion of my Reel Librarians site.

Reel Librarians  |  Reel Substance screenshot

When I watch and analyze reel librarian films, I categorize them in different ways. (I am a librarian, after all — organization is as natural as breathing!) One way I categorize films is according to the importance of the librarian role to the film overall. I like to think of it as providing shortcuts to those who want the “most bang for their buck” — e.g. if you want to watch a film in which a librarian plays a key role, there’s a list of starting points to choose from. ;)

Right now, my “Reel Substance” section is divided into 5 sections. For this first post, I’d like to take a look at Class I and Class II. What is the difference between these two categories? Why should one care?

First, the basics:

Class I

Class II

Films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians Films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians
The librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot The librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot

So the main difference is how important is the librarian occupation to the plot? For me, this then naturally feeds into the purpose of having a character in the film who is a librarian. I am not particularly interested in having a librarian character on film just for the sake of having a librarian. Does it matter that there’s a librarian in the film, and if so, why?

What are some examples?

Class I

Class II

The above lists are only selected samples; you can view more titles and synopses in the Class I and Class II pages.

The library setting

Sometimes in Class I films, the library itself plays a big role in addition to the librarian character, like in Desk Set and Party Girl, but that’s not always a given. For example, we only see the exterior of a library — and then only very briefly — in It’s a Wonderful Life, and there is a particularly memorable library scene early on in The Mummy. A library setting is not featured at all in Rome Adventure; rather, the library is only referred to at the beginning of the film.

In Class II films, there may be one or several scenes actually set in a library, but usually, the setting is seen only long enough to introduce the character as a librarian, as in Chances Are and Love Story.

A closer look at Class I

You’ll note that I’ve included two ways in my Class I description in which a librarian’s occupation is important to the plot:  either as a catalyst or otherwise integral to the plot. These depictions manifest themselves in different ways.

Reel Librarians  |  Class I films

For example, in Desk Set, the essence of the plot itself is inextricably linked to librarianship. The major conflict — manifested in the main characters Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn), the head librarian of a TV research library, and the efficiency expert played by Spencer Tracy — boils down to technology vs. the human mind. This is a central conflict in librarianship even today (Do librarians matter in the age of Google? Spoiler alert:  YES), and the conclusion of the film is still relevant for modern librarians.

But what about the librarian characters in Rome Adventure or It’s a Wonderful Life? In the former, the film starts with librarian Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette) quitting her job at Briarcroft College for Women after the board reprimands her for recommending a “too adult” book to a student. She goes to Italy in search of adventure and love, and the rest of the film takes place in Italy. So how does this qualify as a Class I film? In her role as a librarian, Prudence quite literally sets off the rest of the film’s plot — and exemplifies the virtues of standing up for what she believes in. But there’s a little something deeper, as well. In my post analyzing Rome Adventure, here’s how I put it:

[Why] a librarian? I think a young woman in that profession lends an air of intelligence and, let’s be honest, respectability — which she might need as support once she goes traipsing on long weekends in Italy! And […] being a librarian provides a more solid contrast to the idea of “liberation” — that without this chance of a “Rome Adventure” to broaden her horizons, she will have to face a future of spinsterhood (and overbearing would-be censors, a sad fate indeed). There just isn’t the same kind of contrast if she had simply been a salesclerk or a young lady with no profession. So when Prudence does explore her sexuality in the film, the audience might even be relieved for her, instead of condemning her more liberated escapades (perhaps a more serious issue in 1962, when the film was released?). Ahhh, the specter of the Spinster Librarian!

This specter of the Spinster Librarian links back to the ultimate Spinster Librarian portrayal in the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) falls on hard times, tries to commit suicide, and an angel grants him the wish to experience life as if he’d never been born. This set ups the alternate reality/nightmare played out in the second half of the film, in which his lovely wife, Mary (Donna Reed), has become an old maid librarian. The short scene in which George sees Mary as a librarian — a scene only 30 seconds long! — serves as the catalyst for the rest of the film. No longer desperate to end his life, George is now desperate to return to his real life.

In my post analyzing It’s a Wonderful Life, here’s how I summed it up:

What’s so disturbing about this scene — again, only about 30 seconds long! — is the uncomfortable undertones of this scene (at least for librarians). That without men in our lives, the ultimate nightmare for women is… to become “old maid” librarians?! That if we get married, we are spared from this oh-so-terrible fate? Again, sigh.

I know this scene is taken to extremes for the sake of the plot. George is near breaking point, and he needs a shock to get him to appreciate life again. And Mary becoming an “old maid” highlights the point that they are each other’s true loves — that without the other, they are not truly whole. Plot-wise, this scene makes sense. But emotionally, as a librarian, it is hard to swallow.

A closer look at Class II

In contrast to the myriad ways a librarian are shown to be integral or function as a catalyst for the plot in Class I films, many of the films in the Class II films follow a similar plot structure: Girl meets boy in a library in a “Meet Cute” kind of scene to set up the film’s plot/setting. Sometimes, the two leads have some kind of confrontation or otherwise dramatic scene in a library. Otherwise, the library — and the librarian’s occupation — are not major factors for the rest of the film.

Reel Librarians  |  Class II film

Variations of this structure play out in Class II films such as Major LeagueLove StoryMen of HonorMirandaThe BlotChances AreThe FBI StoryPump Up the Volume, Strike Up the Band, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and on and on. The librarian — usually a younger female — in these Class II films still continues to be a major character in the film, but the profession itself is really no more important than a placeholder.

For example, in the film The Time Traveler’s Wife, the two romantic leads “meet cute” in the library where he works as a “special collections librarian.” But as I said in my analysis post of the film:

Truthfully, it is not important to the plot that Henry is a librarian — except that it allows him to time travel, which IS the plot — so this film winds up in the Class II category.

Final thoughts

This post is not meant to say that Class II films are bad, or that Class I films are better. I don’t categorize these films in this way as a mark of quality. There are some Class II films I love — hello, Major League (I ♥ Rene Russo’s reel librarian character and her “READ” license plate!) — and other films I don’t. (Cough, Forever Mine, cough.) Same goes for Class I films. Party Girl and Desk Set? Two thumbs up! Adventure and Bookies? Not so much. But it is interesting to me to view films through the lens of evaluating how important or purposeful the librarian characters and roles are to the films.

Have you ever wondered about the “Reel Substance” categories on this site? If so, you’re in luck… next week, I’ll delve deeper into Class III and Class IV. Stay tuned!