Now it’s time to shine the spotlight on our intrepid Information Providers (for previous entries in this series of librarian character types, click here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). As I wrote about in my previous post in this series, I used to combine this category with the Comic Relief librarians, entitled “The Librarian Who Provides Information or Humor.” Yep, telling the truth when I was said I was bad with titles.
Their role seems pretty self-explanatory: supporting or minor characters who provide information — or misinformation — to a character.
Take the film All the President’s Men (1976), which includes a trio of Information Providers. One librarian, a female, is heard only over the phone; with her frightened manner of supplying the wrong information, she helps heighten the tension of the Watergate scandal at the center of the film. Contrast her role’s purpose with the two other Information Providers in the film: two male librarians, one Caucasian and one African-American, both of whom work in the Library of Congress. The white male is, shall we say, reluctant to help the two reporters, but the African-American librarian’s helpful research spurs the two reporters on their successful trail to uncovering the Watergate story. The two male librarians are both more helpful than the untruthful female librarian in the film.
The Information Provider character type may also simply provide information to the audience, such as helping to establish:
- a library setting
- information crucial to the plot
- insight into a main character
- social attitudes
For example, the library scene in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn highlights the diligence and intelligence of little Francie (Peggy Ann Garner), and in Bed of Roses, Lewis Farrell’s (Christian Slater) friendship with the children’s librarian at the local public library reveals his character’s inner sensitivity.
In Philadelphia (see film clip below), Tracey Walter plays a librarian who gives main character, Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), a book about HIV discrimination and proceeds to ask if he wants a private room. After Andrew’s refusal, Walter is almost rude in his insistence, demonstrating his (and society’s) discrimination. This brief role helps turn the audience’s sympathy even more toward Andrew, and the movie relies on this sympathy to move the plot forward.
Physically, Information Providers are the most diverse of all the character types, spanning ages, clothing styles, gender and ethnicities.
The Information Providers are also the most identified with occupational tasks, such as shelving, filing, stamping, pushing carts, checking out books, etc. The tasks and props usually included in a reel library setting are most associated in real life with library assistants or technicians. See my post on library education and job duties.
There are so many examples of Information Providers that although they make up the majority of reel librarian roles, they are the least important roles overall of librarians in film, at least according to screen time. Makes sense, then, that they are almost exclusively ensconced in the Class III or Class IV film categories.
For my money, the most informative Information Provider ever onscreen — so far — would have to be Vox from the 2002 remake of The Time Machine. In his time travels, a disillusioned inventor (Guy Pearce) encounters Vox (Orland Jones), a holographic librarian who supplies him with information about time travel and the history and evolution of the planet and its population. Vox is truly informative, but he also embodies the library itself. Hundreds of thousands of years later, Vox IS the library, literally all that remains of the “compendium of all human knowledge.”
Next up in our series, we’ll be peeking in on the Naughty Librarians. Stay tuned!