The Quotable Librarian

bss-613.QuotationMarksIt’s time for another “Quotable Librarian” round-up! This time, the quotes are generalizations about theoretical, or would-be, librarians.

The emphases in the quotations below are mine. (Also, the films in question may not actually include a reel librarian, just a description of a librarian.)

Juno (2007)

Juno MacGuff: The funny thing is that Steve Rendazo secretly wants me. Jocks like him always want freaky girls. Girls with horn-rimmed glasses and vegan footwear and Goth makeup. Girls who play the cello and wear Converse All-Stars and want to be children’s librarians when they grow up. Oh yeah, jocks eat that shit up.

Beautiful Girls (1996)

Gina: At first, after the breakup, you’ll have these visions. Of you alone, 57,58, walking around, wearing a nightgown, your hair in a bun, maybe you’re a librarian, heating up a can of soup for one, and worrying about the cobwebs that are growing in your womb.

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for my analysis post about this film]

Motherhood (2009)

Woman in Bakery Line: You have to admit it’s your own fault. If you have named her Sophie or Ella you wouldn’t be having this problem. But you gave her an Edna name.

Eliza: A what?

Woman in Bakery Line: You know, an Edna name? Like Mabel or Agnes or Velma…

Bakery Clerk: Yeah, like lesbian librarian names.

[click here for a post about reel librarian character names]

[click here for a post about anonymous librarian characters]

The Ugly Truth (2009)

Mike Chadway: [to Abby, on how to attract a guy] You have to be two people. The saint and the sinner. The librarian and the stripper.

The mask of organization

In the film noir-style drama, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), a mystery writer becomes obsessed with Dimitrios, a master criminal. In the opening scene, Dimitrios appears to have washed up dead on a beach. Is he dead? Has he faked his death? Just how dangerous is Dimitrios?

Peter Lorre stars as Leyden, the mystery writer — he gets to play a good guy for once! Sydney Greenstreet plays a smuggler with his own agenda, and Zachary Scott plays the shadowy Dimitrios. The story structure consists of a series of flashbacks, in which we witness the ruthlessness and cunning of the mysterious Dimitrios.

In one early scene almost 20 minutes in, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and seeks help from an archives clerk. The scene is short, only 2 minutes long, landing the film in the Class III category. However, the archives clerk makes a distinct impression as an Anti-Social Librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

A white male archives clerk (30s?, extremely thin, dark suit and tie, thick glasses, dark hair, starting to go bald) looks up records in this uncredited role. The clerk seems very anal-retentive, and spouts off phrases like, “Organization is the secret of modern statecraft, but patience is necessary” and “This is organization.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)


At first, he does not find the file and gives up easily, until Leyden asks him to look under another name (Talat, an alias used by Dimitrios). Ironic, then, that the clerk had emphasized patience! But obviously, that patience is one-sided in his mind.

The clerk becomes agitated when another man (Greenstreet, seen in the screenshot below) enters the office and then leaves. He sputters, “I have no assistance in my work of organization here. The whole burden falls on my shoulders. People have no patience. If I am engaged for a moment, they cannot wait. A man can do his duty, no more, no less.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

The clerk appears frustrated by people and their requests  — answering inquiries seems to be more about showing off his organizational skills than anything else — and he becomes extremely agitated when his methods are not successful or are called into question. This display of poor social skills, elitist attitude about rules and organization, and general dislike of the public, are all hallmarks of the Anti-Social Male Librarian character type. The archives clerk also plays a secondary role as Information Provider, as he is helpful in the end in confirming Dimitrios’s identity and alias.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less. ;)

It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out… you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)

Leyden’s reaction to the clerk’s system of organization? “Very clever.” So clever that Leyden takes the opportunity to leave as the archives clerk turns away to boast, yet again, “You see? That is organization!”

Reel Librarians blog turns 3!

This week, the Reel Librarians blog celebrates its third anniversary — can’t believe it’s been three years already!

Three cheers to everyone who enjoys reading this blog! What have YOU enjoyed so far? Please let me know and leave a comment while you’re here.

Reel Librarians | Lego Librarian giveaway winner

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Reel Librarians  |  Reel Librarians blog turns 3

Reel Librarians — Year 3 stats

Top 10 most popular posts & pages

For a trip down memory lane, check out the blog’s first and second anniversaries! :)

South Street librarian

Pickup on South Street (1953), a film noir minor classic starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter, includes a brief library scene that combines microfilm, a pickpocket, and the first African-American librarian portrayal on film — all in less than a minute!

A well-known pickpocket, Skip McCoy (Widmark), picks the wrong purse one day on the subway, accidentally stealing a roll of microfilm a lady (Peters) was on her way to deliver. As you do. This leads to a clash between the police and a Communist gang — OF COURSE — while Skip schemes amongst all the chaos.

Skip discovers the microfilm in his stash and has the idea to visit the public library in order to get a close look at the microfilm. Very clever! About 25 minutes in, he skips (har har) up the stairs to the New York Public Library, where we get a shot of a sign that reads, “Newspapers on Microfilm — Apply Here.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'

The camera then pans over two white gentlemen behind a library counter, both in white shirts and ties. The older gentleman is flipping through a book with a male patron, as seen above. Skip moves down the counter to a African-American male, also outfitted in the standard white shirt and tie.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'

Microfilm Library Clerk:  May I help you?

Skip:  Yes. I’d like to see a copy of the New York Times, January 5, 1947.

Microfilm Library Clerk [hands him a card and pencil]:  Fill this out, please.

The microfilm library clerk, played by Jaye Loft-Lyn, is portrayed as friendly and competent, a classic Information Provider. No fuss, no muss. The scene lasts only seconds, ending up in the Class IV category. Although the length of the scene is short, it is significant, as I mentioned before, in that it is the earliest film I have come across so far to include an African-American reel librarian. Too bad the role is uncredited.

The next scene cuts to Skip rolling the stolen microfilm onto the library microfilm reader, looking TOTALLY nonchalant and unsuspicious while doing so.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Pickup on South Street'

Although the public machine is used for illicit reasons, Skip did end up a satisfied library patron! ;)

I also watched the remake ofPickup on South Street (1953) — I am NOTHING if not thorough, and it’s all for you, dear readers!  —  a tedious 1967 affair called The Cape Town Affair, which changed the locale from New York to Cape Town, South Africa, and starred James Brolin as pickpocket Skip McCoy. Instead of going to a local library, Skip goes to a fellow thief (one who has ripped off a camera store) to view the microfilm. A decidedly inferior remake in every way, including in its decision to nix the opportunity of showcasing a library onscreen.

Pickup on South Street vs. Remake

Click collage for image sources

Librarian t-shirt collection

I was going through some of the archived posts here on this Reel Librarians blog, and I came across this early post about my “Marian the Librarian” coffee mug. And then two things clicked:

  1. My husband just gifted me a new library-themed t-shirt for my birthday
  2. I realized that I hadn’t yet highlighted my ever-growing collection of librarian t-shirts

Oversight corrected. You’re welcome. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Librarian t-shirt collection

From top to bottom, left to right:

I became a librarian for the money — the power and fame were just a bonus.

(This t-shirt was a gift from my mom, who is also a librarian. ;) )

Librarian Appreciation:  LONG OVERDUE

(I picked this neon green tee up as a giveaway at the most recent
American Library Association (ALA) Conference.)

This “Worship a Librarian” t-shirt is AWESOME. Behold its manifesto:

Ok, sure. We’ve all got our little preconceived notions about who Librarians are and what they do. Many people think of Librarians as diminutive civil servants, scuttling about “Sssh-ing” people and stamping things.

Well, think again buster. Librarians have degrees. They go to graduate school for information science and become masters of data systems and Human-Computer interaction. Librarians can catalog anything from an onion to a dog’s ear.

They could catalog you. Librarians wield unfathomable power. With a flip of the wrist they can hide your dissertation behind piles of old Field & Stream magazines. They can find data for your term paper that you never knew existed. They may even point you toward new and appropriate subject headings.

People become Librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to disciplines. Librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing.

They bring order to chaos.

They bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. Librarians rule.

And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.

I have secret powers… I’m a librarian!

(I’ve had this baseball t-shirt for years!)

23 Mar 1984
04 Apr 1984
18 Jun 1984
24 Jul 1984
18 Aug 1984
28 Sep 1984

(This library-stamped t-shirt from Out of Print Clothing
was a recent birthday gift from my husband!)

Li•brar•i•an  n  1 : a specialist in the management of a library
2 : an information professional
3 : the person who finds sh!t

(So true! I love this shirt, but I don’t wear it to work. ;) )


(Hah! This was also a recent gift from my husband,
who picked up this Unshelved t-shirt at a writer’s conference. Looooooove it.)

There are so many cute and clever librarian-themed t-shirts out there, and I love adding to my personal collection!

The ultimate Information Provider

The action comedy RED (2010) features one of the most textbook examples of the Information Provider reel librarian character type. It’s a cheeky, action-packed film, with funny, committed performances by all the leads, including Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren. They all play RED agents, which stands for “Retired but Extremely Dangerous.” Someone has been a hit out on Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), so he teams up with his fellow retired agents to get revenge — and romance along the way with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).

About a half-hour or so into RED (2010), Frank and Sarah follow up a lead in New York from a reporter who had been killed. When they question the reporter’s mother, they come across an odd number written on back of a postcard:

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

The next scene cuts to Frank and Sarah outside frosted glass doors that read “Downtown NYC Campus Branch” library. (By the way, no such library. The film credits list the Toronto Reference Library as the location for the library scene; the director most likely was playing off the NYU name.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)
Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)
Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

Sarah:  Why are we here again?

Frank:  Because those number on Stephanie Chang’s postcard are actually the call number for a book.

Sarah:  Call numbers start with letters.

Frank:  In Library of Congress, yeah. In Harvard-Yenching, it’s a classification for Asian literature.

Sarah:  How could you possibly know that?

Frank:  [Starts speaking Mandarin]

They use that call number — which points to a book in the Christianity section, by the way, because you know I looked that up! — to find a book, inside of which they find clues to a hit list. Which leads to the next plot point as well as the next RED character… libraries and reel librarians really are so useful to propel plots forward. :)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

NOTE:  By the way, the Harvard-Yenching classification system was begun in the late 1920s to catalog Chinese-language materials in the Harvard-Yenching Institute. The Library of Congress (LC) system was not capable at the time of classifying those kinds of materials, so other libraries around the world followed suit by using the Harvard-Yenching system to catalog their own Asian-language collections. Through the 1970s and 1980s, however, the LC system added extensive subject headings for Asian and other languages and literatures, and most U.S. libraries now classify Asian-language materials under the LC system. You can read more about the Harvard-Yenching classification system here and more about the Harvard-Yenching Library here.

I was impressed by Frank’s knowledge of call number systems, but the reel librarian fun doesn’t stop there!

In the next scene, which takes place at CIA Headquarters, a director gives a file number to agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) to look up info about Frank Moses. “That’s a file number. You need to visit the back room. You’re going to meet the Records Keeper.”

William Cooper’s reaction to the “back room” is an incredulous, “I didn’t even know this place existed.”

The records keeper (Ernest Borgnine), wearing a cozy grey sweater and a scowl on his face, turns and replies, “It doesn’t.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

The back room of records is a room full of metal file cabinets, although the entrance looks like a bank vault.

The records keeper pulls out a large file labeled RED, its contents heavily blacked out with marker. The Records Keeper then fulfills his Information Provider role, providing exposition about what “RED” means to both the young agent as well as to the audience.

William Cooper:  You gotta be kidding me.

Records Keeper:  Frank Moses was one of the most effective black op agents we’ve ever had. … He was truly gifted.

William Cooper:  Why was he retired?

Records Keeper:  He got old. Some thumbsucker came along and tagged him “RED”

William Cooper:  Red?

Records Keeper:  RED. R-E-D. Retired:  Extremely Dangerous.

Records Keeper:  Yeah. They don’t make them like that anymore.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

Contrast the spare look and feel of the CIA archives and records room, as seen above, with the files of another RED agent Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), who is the next stop for Frank and Sarah.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

Just a litttttttle bit different than the CIA files, eh? ;)

Almost halfway into the film, Frank Moses goes back to break into the CIA, with help from the Russian spies. We find out more info about the “back room” from Frank, as he reveals the records room is in the lowest basement level. He also reveals the record keeper’s name, which is Henry.

Henry’s reaction to Frank is very different from how he greeted the younger agent:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

Henry:  Mr. Moses. [shakes his hand] It’s been a long time.

Frank:  I’m going to need to see that Guatemala file.

Henry:  Guatemala? Uh huh. I think I can help you.

Henry:  You know, it’s been a whole new world around here since you left. Guatemala.

Frank:  You know you’re gonna catch hell for this.

Henry:  After what I’ve seen? [They both laugh.]

Henry then proceeds to warn Frank about the young CIA agent out looking for him. A true Information Provider to the end, and Frank thanks him warmly.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Red' (2010)

Although Henry makes no more appearances in the film, and does not get mentioned by name again, there is one final mention of the “back room” in the film.

Toward the end, agent William Cooper captures and interrogates Sarah, and he throws down the Guatemala file down on the desk. We get a closeup of its stamp, which reads “Archives copy.”

William:  Frank left this for me. Where did he get it from?

Sarah:  The secure records depository of the CIA.

William seems surprised at this, but Sarah has a total poker face as she reveals the truth. Perhaps Henry will “catch hell for this,” but along with Frank, we wish this Class III reel librarian the best.

RIP, Ernest Borgnine, rest in peace.

An FBI librarian

I had watched The House on Carroll Street (1988) many years ago, and I recently had the opportunity to rewatch it in order to revisit my notes about its minor reel librarian character. Everything about the film is minor, even though it features some major stars (Jessica Tandy, Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin, etc.) and tackles the heavy-hitting subject of McCarthyism. Kelly McGillis, fresh off her role in Top Gun, stars as Emily, who gets involved in an FBI investigation after refusing to give names to a 1951 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing. Emily also gets intimately involved with FBI agent Cochran (Jeff Daniels).

There isn’t much to tell about the plot, except it involves a lot of running, dark alleys, red lipstick, retro waves, fedoras, and dark grey suits.

One of those dark grey suits is filled by an FBI librarian (played by William Duff-Griffin), who runs some stills and footage for FBI agent Cochran about three-quarters of the way through the film. The middle-aged, portly, white male — complete with glasses and receding hairline — shows off his technical skills by handling the projector as well as answering the telephone. [Tongue firmly in cheek.]

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The House on Carroll Street' (1988)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The House on Carroll Street' (1988)

He also shows himself to be a man of few words as he answers the telephone: “Library. Wentworth speaking.”

He then turns to Cochran to tell him that the boss wants to speak to him, which leads to the next plot plot; we learn that Cochran has meddled too much and has been taken off the case.

The FBI librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds and therefore ends up in the Class IV category of reel librarians. He serves as a typical Information Provider.

The film also includes a earlier scene set in a bookstore. Emily suggests the bookstore as a place to meet up with a suspected spy, thinking that it would be a safe place that no one else would think of. Wrong! They get caught immediately, and a chase scene ensues in the bookstore, complete with toppling bookcases and turned-over book carts.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The House on Carroll Street' (1988)

And what is the main clue for how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen, as mentioned in last week’s post? That’s right, there are no call numbers on the books in the bookstore! :)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The House on Carroll Street' (1988)

So long, dear readers, and I’ll see y’all next week!