The Anti-Social Librarian

Continuing our series of reel librarian character types (click here, here, here, here, and here), this week we’re shining the spotlight on the Anti-Social Librarian, aka “The Male Librarian with No Life Outside the Library.” That was the moniker I used in my undergraduate thesis (more on that here) — and my talent for awkward titles is well-documented. While the previous name was an apt description, I decided to simplify it.

This character type may seem more like a variation on the Male Librarian as a Failure type. Both are awkward in social situations, and minor roles usually used to contrast with other reel librarians or major characters in the film (see Off Beat, 1986; Goodbye, Columbus, 1969; Prick Up Your Ears, 1987; and Fast and Loose, 1939) . However, I set the Anti-Social Librarian apart because there are a few characteristics that apply to this type of male librarian and not necessarily to the male librarians who fit the “loser” mold.

Exhibit A: The Anti-Social Librarian

Exhibit B: The Spinster Librarian

Essentially, this is the male equivalent of the Spinster Librarian:  conservative library workers who hoard knowledge and focus on rules. There are also physical similarities between the two (see above). They do NOT like people and display extremely elitist attitudes, resulting in those strict rules. In this category, the reel librarians are almost never seen outside the library — or at least, never in any sense of home or social setting — because they are seen as literal extensions, or representations, of the library. It comes as no surprise that whenever an Anti-Social Librarian shows up in a film, an unflattering light is cast on libraries in general. Instead of places of knowledge and access to information, libraries are depicted as places blocked off with barriers and secrets.

Most Anti-Social Librarians do not have important roles in these films, which helps to cement stereotypical traits of personality (anal retentive, unfriendly) and physical appearance (conservative clothing, unattractive). These types don’t like the public, and the very idea of the public using their libraries can send them into a panic, as in Goodbye, Columbus (1969). In that film, Neil’s co-workers include  twoAnti-Social Librarians, who seek to prohibit an African-American boy from visiting the library.

John McKee (Bill Derringer):  What’d you let him in for?

Neil Klugman (Richard Benjamin):  It’s a public library.

John: You know where I found him yesterday? In the stacks looking at the nudes. He was hiding there all morning. [Note: The boy is actually interested in art books]

Neil:  Did you throw him out?

John: Of course I threw him out.

John Rothman (he also stars in my “Repeat Offenders” post) has made his mark in playing this type of male librarian, appearing in two films as an Anti-Social Librarian. First, in Sophie’s Choice (1982), he has a memorable scene as the uncaring library clerk who ridicules Polish immigrant Sophie (Meryl Streep), who mistakenly asks for information on “Emil Dickens” when she means “Emily Dickinson.” He has no concept of polite behavior; he shouts, argues, ridicules, and basically causes an already emotionally and physically frail women to fall down on the floor in a faint. His oily hair, glasses, and bow tie complete his image of anal retentiveness. It is important that he remains behind his high desk; he cannot be removed from that desk, or his image as the snooty, unbending keeper of privileged knowledge would be diluted.

In a more modern perspective, Rothman played a library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984). His job — again, never seen outside library doors — centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.

Malachia, the Head Librarian, from The Name of the Rose

A film set in the fourteenth century, The Name of the Rose (1986), features one of the strangest male librarians in reel history, Malachia (played by Volker Prechtel). A monk with an enormous nose and ears and tufts of red-orange hair, he is depicted as strange and rude, with no social skills whatsoever. His name — derived from Malachi, a minor prophet from the Bible, whose name means “my messenger” — reflects his ties to the library, or at least how he perceives the purpose of his life’s vocation. Malachia works to isolate the library from any prying eyes. Only three monks in the monastery know the key to the library’s peculiar system of cataloging books, explaining how Malachia (who is referred to as the “head librarian”) helps hoards knowledge and limits physical access to any books deemed unsuitable.

Here’s what happens when William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and his sidekick, Adso of Melk (Christian Slater), encounter Malachia outside the library door:

William:  I was just looking for your assistant, Brother Berengar. Is he here?

Malachia:  No.

William:  Oh. I see. Do you know where we might find him?

Malachia:  No.

William:  Is he perhaps upstairs in the library?

Malachia:  No.

William:  I am most curious to see the library for myself. May I do so?

Malachia:  NO! [moves to physically block door to library]

William:  Why not?

Malachia:  It is a strict rule of the abbot, that no one is permitted to enter the abbey library, other than myself and my assistant.

Of course, William and Adso find a way into the library later. Take a peek for yourself, in the clip below:

Next Friday, we’ll take a look at the Comic Relief librarians… so you’d better start saving up your laughs now, okay? ;)

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