How to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen

For some reason, I had never gotten around to watching the 2006 family film hit Night at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller as a night guard at a museum where history comes alive at night… literally. But it has been on my Master List of films to watch, so I finally got around to watching it recently through my cable’s On Demand program.

Night at the Museum (2006) isn’t that great a film — there are some serious pacing issues, and too many random characters and meandering subplots — and there wasn’t a library or librarian in the film, after all. Wah wahhhhhhh. [Enter sad trombone sound.] Therefore, it ends up a Class V film, with no reel librarians.

But not all is lost. Ben Stiller, as Larry Daley, does do some research to figure out how to cope with all the exhibits and historical figures coming to life at night. About a third of the way through the film, he starts his research quest by first asking museum worker and historical researcher Rebecca (Carla Gugino) about Attila the Hun. The director then cuts to Larry sitting cross-legged, surrounded by books, and his own nose buried in a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

Larry then switches from old-school investigations to searching online, and we are treated to websites about the Easter Island statues, stagecoaches, monkeys, and Roman war strategies. And all of this research DOES pay off in the end, as he saves the day as the main culprit is getting away. How did he know what to do?

“I read up on my history. Thanks for the tip.”

Of course, methinks he would have had an easier time researching if he had asked a librarian for help! ;)

And how do I know that he is reading that book in a bookstore and not in a library? I can see where there might be some confusion, as the camera pans at the end of this brief scene to reveal some kids in the corner and the back of a person who looks to be shelving books, as seen below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

There is one major clue in how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen.

Hint:  Look at the spines of the books on the shelves.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

That’s right, there are no call numbers on those books! A real library will ALWAYS have call numbers and/ or other kinds of labels on whatever materials stock their shelves. It’s how we organize collections, and how users locate the materials. Trust me. I’m a librarian. ;)

Of course, it doesn’t help when propmasters mix up this simple rule of library books needing call numbers and stock non-library books to fill out a library set, like in the movie Urban Legend. [Insert eye roll here.]

Also, the book that Larry is reading, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun? It’s not a real book, either. I suspected as much when I saw that whoever designed that fake book cover capitalized the word “the” between “Attila” and “Hun” in the title — which you can spot, just barely, in the screenshot above. You’re not supposed to capitalize filler words like “the” unless it’s at the beginning of a title, subtitle, or sentence, so it immediately looked strange to me. But I looked it up just to make sure. (FYI, I checked WorldCat, Amazon.com, as well as the Idiot’s Guides site.)

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

And one last thing… yes, I did watch the 2009 sequel, Night at the Museum:  Battle of the Smithsonian, just in case. No library or librarian in that film, either.

Y’all knew I would be thorough, right? ;)

What not to do in a library

Although the focus of this website and blog is all about librarians in movies, I wanted to highlight a TV episode this week. Last year was the final season of “What Not to Wear” (2003-2013), a long-running American spin-off of the original British reality makeover series. I was a general fan of the show, as their best episodes touched on deeper, complex issues such as self-esteem, postpartum depression, transgender body issues, and negative body issues that can haunt victims of sexual abuse. How you project an image through clothing/style/hair/etc. so often has psychological and sociological roots, as I’ve explored often on this site.

During recent “What Not to Wear” reruns on TLC, I came across the 2013 episode for “Courtney D.,” season 10, episode 15, about “a tomboy who wears camouflage is advised to accept a style that’s more appropriate for her age and body type.” This is NOT one of their best episodes; in fact, it’s downright uncomfortable to watch, as Courtney is painfully shy but also quite vocal about her (very understandable) privacy concerns. At the beginning of each episode, the hosts Stacy and Clinton surprise the unsuspecting person who has been nominated for the makeover, and they set up a scenario to fit the interests or lifestyle of that particular person.

For this episode, the producers set up a fake prize of a New York city guided tour, which included a stop at a library. “Little does she know that when we get to her library tour, the hit will be on.” :(

Here’s a shot outside the library building that was the first stop on a “tour of historic New York architecture.” (FYI, I haven’t been able to find a credit for the building they did use, and if indeed it was a library in real life or not.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

The producers explained the opening scenario to Stacy and Clinton:

Then the librarian is gonna tell her to look for something in the card catalog. She [Courtney] is gonna pull a book off the shelf, and then you guy are going to pop your faces in behind.

We get a special behind-the-scenes look at the set up of the library scene. At one point, a producer yells out, “So where’s the librarian?” and we are treated to a close-up of Jillian, the librarian, or rather the “librarian” as written on the screen.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

I assume the grey-haired lady is an actress. However, she missed her cue (!) as they started the scene (er, tour). She put on her glasses and then sputtered, “Okay. Hold on. I didn’t know we were about to go.” The co-hosts and producers behind the scenes started cracking up, whispering, “She’s rogue! She’s rogue!”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

The rest of the scenario went off as planned. Stacey and Clinton then reveal themselves through the gap in the bookshelf, and they proceed to explain the whole “What Not to Wear” scenario in quiet whispers. Whenever anyone cheers, there are cuts to the librarian saying, “Shhhhh!” The co-hosts even shush THEMSELVES twice!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'What Not to Wear' episode

Predictably, the “librarian” in this opening scene falls into the stereotypical image of a Spinster Librarian:  an older lady who wears conservative clothing and glasses, and of course, shushes anyone who talks above a whisper.

Sigh.

What not to wear? The librarian is wearing a scrunchie in her hair, for goodness sake! Maybe they should have started with the reel librarian instead! ;)

‘Meet cute’ marathon

I feel like quite a few of my posts begin by accident rather than design. I will happen to be watching a film when BAM! out of nowhere pops a library and/or librarian. Sometimes, I am elated. Sometimes, I am cranky because I wanted to watch the film instead of immediately taking notes and pics, if possible. Such is life for the Reel Librarian. ;)

While rewatching the 1976 thriller Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, I was at first surprised when there was a scene at a college library. I did not remember that scene the first time I watched the film, although to be fair, that was several years ago. One cannot help but admire the library interior, which is, of course, the focus — but you can juuuuuust spy the reel librarian checking out books in the lefthand corner, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

I was even more surprised when I realized that the library interior — while supposed to be the Columbia University Library in New York — was actually filmed in Los Angeles! More specifically, it was filmed at Doheny Library on the USC campus, which has been the library setting for many films, including City Slickers II (click here for that film analysis post). It was ALSO the library setting for Dustin Hoffman’s 1967 classic film, The Graduate. It’s a small world, after all, for reel libraries. ;)

A little more than a half-hour into Marathon Man (1976), Dustin Hoffman has a “meet cute” moment with a French-speaking lady sitting at his table. They both have a stack of books beside them.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Dustin Hoffman, as graduate history student Babe, then hides one of her books — it happens to have her contact info printed inside on the front page — and then uses it as an excuse to meet up with her later. A little creepy, no? Here is their revealing conversation as he makes a play for her:

Elsa:  Why do you pursue people who sit at your library table?

Babe:  You’re pretty.

Elsa:  [Laughs, then starts to walk away]

Babe:  I can’t talk about how smart you are. I don’t even know you. … You won’t meet another thief like me in the library.

Charming.

You see the reel librarian in this film for a few seconds only, and it comes as no surprise that the character is left out of the film’s credits. Therefore, this anonymous reel librarian gets to “meet cute” with the other Class IV reel librarians.

If you’re interested in more Marathon Man filming locations, check out this interesting post, complete with screenshots. The film holds up well, and the director, John Schlesinger, ratchets up the tension quite effectively. It’s also a film notable for turning its MacGuffin into a catchphrase (“Is it safe?”).

So is it safe to watch this film? Yes. But it’s not so safe to have your contact info pencilled in your books and then leave those books unattended in the library. Now you know. You’re welcome. ;)

The Lindgren trilogy

I recently was able to watch the original Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), thus completing the cycle; I have also read the books — translated into English, of course — and watched the 2011 American film version of the first book in the trilogy by Stieg Larsson. I also blogged about the reel librarian character, Lindgren, who shows up in the book, in this post, and in the American film version, here in this post. And now, with this post, I complete the Lindgren trilogy.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo collage

click collage for original image sources

However, Lindgren was nowhere to be found in the Swedish film adaptation, making it a Class V film. No “if looks could kill” librarian glare. No battle of wills between the reel librarian and the researcher/hacker Lisbeth. NO LINDGREN. Imagine my disappointment! :(

(By the way, I am totally going to put her name in all caps from now on. Just because.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Toward the end of the film, we do get the cinematic trick of cutting back and forth between Mikael and Lisbeth as they zero in on the killer’s identity, albeit from two different locations and pathways. Lisbeth figures it out by looking up archives at the Vanger Industry headquarters. This scene is briefly detailed in the book — again, click here for my post where I highlighted the specific book passages — and the scene, as well as Lindgren’s role, is actually expanded in the David Fincher’s American film version. In the Swedish version, however, this scene feels abbreviated, or at least simplified. There is no tension of Lisbeth racing against time and battling Lindgren for access to the locked archive files; instead, Frode provides archives access to Lisbeth up front. The tension is focused solely on Lisbeth tracking down clues from the archive files and receipts and running down the bookcase aisles with loads of books and file boxes in her arms.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

It is nice to know, however, that Lisbeth is as equally dismissive of Frode in the Swedish version as she was of LINDGREN in the American version. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Funnily enough, there is an additional library scene in the Swedish version, when Lisbeth and Mikael research newspaper reports of earlier murders; the scene occurs a little more than halfway through the 2 1/2 hour running time. The library in that scene is obviously a public library, but alas, no librarian appears — not even in the background. It’s interesting to note that in the American version, the research of earlier murders is handled remotely, as Lisbeth gets to show off her research skills — and mastery of Boolean logic! — to track down online police and newspaper accounts of earlier murders.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Although I bemoan the lost opportunity of another LINDGREN glare, I can understand why the character was dropped. The plot doesn’t lose anything major by axing the reel librarian character, although it was useful to know in the book (and American film version) that Martin Vangar was using LINDGREN as a way to keep tabs on Lisbeth’s whereabouts; this added another layer of awareness as the net tightened. However, the shorter and simpler archives scene in the Swedish version helps to amp up the pace toward the final third of the film. (By contrast, David Fincher spun out the archives scene in his version to add tension, which also worked.)

American version (2011) The Book (2005) Swedish Version (2009)
Librarian character name: Lindgren Bodil Lindgren — we get her first name! N/A
Archives access: Lindgren tries to lock up. When Lisbeth resists and requires access to locked records, she tells Lindgren to “call Frode.” Lindgren is unhappy about giving Lisbeth access, “but Herr Frode had given her instructions that could not be misinterpreted. This slip of a girl was to be free to look at anything she pleased.” Frode, Henrik Vangar’s lawyer, personally introduces Lisbeth to the archives.
Martin Vangar reference: “archives manager” “archives manager” N/A

I quite enjoyed the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, especially the fearless performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. I found it interesting to mentally compare the Swedish and American versions — even beyond their choice to include LINDGREN or not! — and I honestly cannot choose a favorite. They are both done so well, and the lead actresses both so well cast, that the two films are equally good in my mind. One can enjoy both and appreciate them for the distinct expressions of artistic creativity they are.

The Swedish version gains points by being Swedish, of course, but the American version gains that ground back by including LINDGREN and that classic librarian glare.

If looks could kill

If looks could kill

And we end with that chill-worthy parting shot of LINDGREN from the 2011 American film version. You’re welcome. ;)

LINDGREN.

In Dewey’s country

I was able to catch the 2007 TV movie, In God’s Country, recently on my cable subscription. It’s a film I saw ages ago, so I already had notes — but I hadn’t taken screenshots at the time. It’s interesting to go over notes I wrote years ago, to see what I focused on then and if the notes differ to how I view the film now.

Reel Librarians  |  Notes from 'In God's Country' (2007)

Initial notes for ‘In God’s Country’ (2007)

This Lifetime TV movie — which has been renamed The Ultimate Sin – is an earnest but ultimately mediocre effort taking aim at a big issue, the issue of young women who feel trapped in polygamous religious communities. Kelly Rowan stars as Judith Leavitt — her last name foreshadows the plot! — who “leaves it,” leaving her community, her house, and her life as she has known it. She takes her five children with her and tries to start fresh. Of course, they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”

The children particularly struggle at public school (Judith reveals that she wasn’t allowed to go to school past grade 7). In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  Can I help you?

Alice:  I’m looking for a book on astronomy.

Librarian:  Astronomy is in the 520′s.

Alice:  [shakes her head, clueless]

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  520′s. Dewey Decimal system.

Librarian: [Hands stack of books to the other girl.] Millie, can you show her for me?

Millie: All the books are numbered. You just have to look at the spines. I know where the astronomy ones are because I like astronomy, too. Actually, I have a telescope.

Alice:  You have a telescope at home?

Millie:  You should come and see it.

The librarian here is friendly — and it’s nice to see a reel librarian in a bright color! — but as clueless about service as much as Alice is clueless about the Dewey Decimal system. She essentially passes off her reference duties to a young student, who has to explain the classification system to Alice. Peer learning can be great, but there was no good reason that the librarian couldn’t step out from behind her desk and do her job. Of course, the plot required that Alice make a friend, so I understand in terms of plot why the reference duty got passed on to Millie. But in terms of real life, this is NOT a great example of a reference interview!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Ultimately, this reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, in which librarians appear only briefly with little or no dialogue. The librarian in this film is onscreen less than a minute, and fulfills the basic Information Provider role. She doesn’t provide that much useful information to Alice, of course, but the librarian also provides information to the audience. She is yet another example of how the “real world” doesn’t really understand what goes on in these kinds of communities and the impact of different social and educational structures.

At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520′s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.

There is also a scene involving the 520′s — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post. When I relayed this tidbit to my husband, he laughed, and said that I might be the only person to have made a connection between this TV movie and Conan the Librarian.

In Dewey we trust, right? ;)

The Quotable Librarian

It’s time for another “Quotable Librarian” round-up! This time, the theme focuses on descriptions of librarians, from either reel librarian characters themselves or from others.

Reel Librarians Collage

Click collage for image sources


Enough Said (2013)


Will:  Eva was telling me that there are no men at this party that she’s attracted to.

Albert [who works at a television archives library]:  That’s OK, there’s no one here I’m attracted to either.

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for my analysis post about this film]


Major League (1989)


Jake Taylor: [at the library, discussing Jake's one-night stand with a flight attendant] I had no choice. She bet me fifty dollars that she had a better body than you and I had to defend your honor.

Lynn Wells [a special collections librarian]: Oh, what a bunch of bullshit! I have a much better body than she does!

[everyone in the library turns to look]

Jake Taylor: She’s right.

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for a round-up of librarians in sports movies]


The Music Man (1962)


Marian Paroo [a public librarian]: Do you think that I’d allow a common masher – ? Now, really, mama. I have my standards where men are concerned and I have no intention…

Mrs. Paroo: I know all about your standards and if you don’t mind my sayin’ so there’s not a man alive who could hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat, and Noah Webster you’ve concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness, and your li’berry full of books!

 

[click here for more about the film]

[click here for a “Marian or Marion?” post]

[click here for a post about Shirley Jones’s memoir]


Party Girl (1995)


Mary: You don’t think I’m smart enough to work in your fucking library?

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for more of my “Hall of Fame” of personal reel librarian faves]


Pump Up the Volume (1990)


Nora [student worker at the school library]: I’m the “Eat me, beat me” lady.

 

[click here for more about the film]

[click here for more about the “Spirited Young Girl” character type]


The Station Agent (2003)


Joe Oramas: It’s the librarian fantasy, man. Glasses off, hair down, books flying.

Finbar McBride: She doesn’t wear glasses [referring to librarian character Emily, played by Michelle Williams]

Olivia Harris: Well, buy her some, it’s worth it.

 

[click here for more about the film]


VAmL (2009)


Gina: Now that is one fucking hot librarian.

Lynn: This is a library. Shh.

Gina: What? I’m just saying?

Lynn: I know. But you are supposed to be quiet in a library.


The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992)


Betty Lou Perkins [a children's librarian at a local public library]: Why is it so hard to believe, that I might be exciting to other men? People have affairs. People have lovers. Why not me, Alex?

 

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for more about librarians as title characters]


You’re a Big Boy Now (1966)


Barbara Darling: You’re perfect.

Bernard Chanticleer [works at the New York Public Library and son of a rare books librarian]: Me?

Barbara Darling: Absolutely hunky dory perfect. You’re just what I need in my life.

 

[click here for more about the film]

Plans for the summer

I do not have an in-depth post today, as I have just gotten back from the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, which was held in Las Vegas this year. Twenty thousand plus librarians in Vegas?! [Insert your favorite naughty librarian joke here.]

I am also finished with the academic year and will start back up again in the fall. Therefore, I thought a preview of what I hope to do this summer on the blog was in order. Here are some of my goals:

  • Gather questions for another “Reader Q&A” post — so send me questions you have about librarians in film! (reel.librarians[at]gmail.com)
  • Do another “Quotable Librarian” post
  • Make a dent in this huge pile of reel librarian movies from my personal collection, as seen below:

Reel Librarians  |  Reel librarian films

What are your plans for the summer? What would you like to see on the Reel Librarians site? Please leave a comment and let me know! :)