Somewhere in the library

For the month of February, I will focus on love stories and reel librarians. A match made in heaven? ♥

First up is a movie my husband and I recently rewatched, the cult classic romance, Somewhere in Time (1980), starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as crossed-in-time lovers. The film was a flop at the time it was released, with Reeve fresh off his Superman fame; at the time, his 180-degree turn in a time-traveling romance was not appreciated. Now, of course, the film has reached cult classic status — even inspiring an international fan club, INSITE (International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts), whose members frequently revisit the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan, where the movie was filmed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

Based on the Richard Matheson novel Bid Time Return (1975), Somewhere in Time (1980) is a genre film, one that is totally committed to its central romance. I respect genre films that revel in their chosen genre, and this is a Romance with a capital R. And if you go into the film knowing that, you will enjoy it. (I did.) It also shows off Christopher Reeve’s under-appreciated acting range, a gorgeous award-winning score inspired by Rachmaninoff, and undeniable chemistry between the two leads. I also appreciate that this film presents time travel as a totally mental construct; there are no flashy special effects, and the resulting simplicity actually works in the film’s favor.

Reel Librarians  |  Maude Adams portraits + 'Bid Time Return' book coverI also loved reading that author Matheson was inspired to write the story after seeing a portrait of Maude Adams, an early American stage actress who originated the role of Peter Pan on Broadway. (And yes, I totally Googled her name and sifted through portrait galleries, fantasizing about which portrait stirred Matheson’s imagination. HELLO, I’m a librarian and self-confessed romantic. ♥ )

So what does this film itself have to do with librarians? Once again, a reel librarian helps provide vital information that keeps the plot moving.

But first, a little backstory. Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) is in college, basking in the success of a play he’s written. In the middle of the adoring crowd — which includes William H. Macy and George Wendt in their screen debuts! — an old woman glides in, gives Richard a gold pocket watch, and urges him to “Come back to me.” He’s never seen her before. Flash forward eight years, and Richard is drawn to the Grand Hotel, where he falls in love with a portrait of a stunning young woman (Jane Seymour). An old caretaker of the hotel, Arthur (veteran character actor Bill Erwin), reveals the name of the woman in the portrait, Elise McKenna, and that she was a famous actress. Richard becomes obsessed with finding out more about Elise.

And where does he think to go first to find out more information? The library, of course! Smart man. :)

About fifteen minutes into the film, Richard asks Arthur where the nearest library is. Arthur responds, “In town, right past the church.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Somewhere in Time'

The next few frames reveal Richard rifling through reference books on early American theatre, along with closeups of brief entries he comes across.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

Finally, he asks the librarian, an African-American female with a short ‘do and MAJOR glasses, for help:

Richard:  Excuse me. Do you have any theater biographies … that aren’t in the racks under the rare books or magazines?

Librarian: Well, we do have some magazines. But they’re in the back, and I’d have to find them, and…

Richard: Oh. Could you do that for me, please?

She’s in the middle of organizing cards in the card catalog, and clearly is reluctant as she checks her watch and sighs. But OF COURSE she agrees to go to the back and retrieve the magazines. (If you had Christopher Reeve in his prime smiling at you and turning on the charm, wouldn’t you?!)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

One magazine issue has a cover story of Elise McKenna’s later years and reveals the final photograph ever made of her … which drops a primary piece into the puzzle for Richard. This is the woman who came to the college theatre that night eight years ago and urged him to come back to her. He now understands why he has been drawn to the Grand Hotel and to her portrait. This key piece of information, provided to him by the public librarian, helps Richard on the path to his long-lost-but-not-yet-found love.

This reel librarian, played by Noreen Walker, is on screen for less than a minute, and is listed in the credits simply as Librarian. She is an Information Provider in a Class IV film. However, her role is essential in setting up the central plot, and it is a relatively rare portrayal of a reel librarian of color. According to, this is Noreen Walker’s sole film credit. This movie was filmed on location in Chicago and on Mackinac Island … perhaps this scene was filmed in the island’s actual public library and with its real-life staff at the time?

The answer lies somewhere in time, I’m sure. ;)

Click the image below to view the short clip of the library scene on the Metacafe site.

Reel Librarians  |  Clip of 'Somewhere in Time'

Shushing the ‘Old Gringo’ librarian

Old Gringo (1989), based on the novel Gringo Viejo by Carlos Fuentes, is a fictionalized account of what happened to real-life American journalist Ambrose Bierce. He traveled to Mexico in 1913 for a firsthand experience of the Mexican Revolution, and subsequently disappeared, presumed dead. The mystery surrounding his death has never been solved. A very intriguing premise, but the resulting film adaptation is all the more disappointing for going absolutely nowhere with the story.

The book is also highlighted in a NYPL blog post about literature and time travel:

“In Bierce’s case life intersects fiction, when the writer vanishes on a route to Mexico. In one of the last known letters Bierce posts to a friend, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination,” subsequently Bierce then becomes a character in fiction when his disappearance fictionalized in the novel by Carlos Fuente’s ‘The Old Gringo.’”

And even though this film adaptation boasts talented actors — Gregory Peck as the title character and Jimmy “Yes, I always look smoldering” Smits as General Tomas Arroyo, one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution — the main star, Jane Fonda, is astoundingly miscast as would-be spinster Harriet Winslow. Seriously, her romantic scenes with both Gregory Peck and Jimmy Smits are painful to watch, and I laughed at loud when Arroyo lamented at the end of the film what Harriet would one day tell her children. Fonda simply seems a decade (or maybe two) too old for this role (she was in her early 50s at the time of filming). As her own company, Fonda Films, produced this film, it comes across as a badly miscalculated vanity project; Fonda also “earned” a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress in this film. Ouch.

Reel Librarians  |  1989 Razzie nominations, Worst Actress

Even though Harriet Winslow calls herself a spinster in the film — prompting her to travel to Mexico to avoid that dreadful fate — she is NOT the reel librarian in this film. That honor (?) belongs to Laurel Lyle, in a no-name librarian role. After the opening credits, the film opens in a library, a traditional two-level design that looks similar to the law library featured in Criminal Law (1988). We are told that the location is Washington, D.C., 1913. It’s not clear if the library is a public or private library (perhaps a law library?), and I haven’t yet found a listing of filming locations for this film.

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

Ambrose Bierce (Peck) is engaging in a lively debate, as seen above, but the camera quickly pans upstairs to a smaller room lined with bookshelves and an overloaded table. The librarian greets Harriet warmly; Harriet is obviously a returning library patron, and there is a feeling of familiarity (and similarity?) between the two ladies.

Librarian:  Nice to see you, Miss Winslow. Have classes begun yet?

Miss Winslow:  I’m not sure I’m going to be teaching this year.

Librarian: Oh. And how is your charming mother?

Miss WinslowVery well, thank you.

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

Pleasantries accomplished, Harriet quickly gets down to business.

Miss Winslow: I’d like to learn some Spanish. Have you any books that might help me?

Librarian:  Spanish? Well, we must have something. Let me see. Spanish, how interesting.

The librarian heads off to the stacks, looking backwards at Harriet and giving her a perplexed look. Her role is definitely that of an Information Provider, but she is providing more than just a Spanish language book to Harriet. She is also providing, to the audience, a sense of the then-mainstream societal biases and prejudices about not only Mexico and the Spanish language, but also about foreigners in general. She sets up the oh-so-polite disdain that Harriet will face when she decides in the next scene to travel to Chihauhau, Mexico, to work as a governess for a Mexican family.

As the librarian searches for Spanish-language materials, Harriet turns back to the debate, obviously captivated by the older speaker. The veteran journalist gets into a lather about the corruption of writing and journalists selling their writing to the highest bidder; rather, he extolls the virtues of experience:

Day after day, believing that every printed word was eternal. And would, somehow… open men’s minds. … And for what? I wrote. You read. He [William Randolph Hearst] grew richer. Hearst, the owner of my newspaper. Now, after this triumphant presentation, of these 14 volumes of meaningless paper, I bid you farewell.

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

He finishes his speech by holding up this 14-volume set of books — the cumulation of his life’s work — and drops them in one fluid motion on the floor, and then marches out the door. Quite radical for a speech taking place … IN A LIBRARY. His actions draw gasps from the crowd — and I’m sure any librarians in attendance were scandalized. (Don’t take it out on the books, man!)

Note:  After watching the film, I did some light research on Bierce. Turns out his Collected Works, published in 1909, was a 12-volume set, NOT a 14-volume set as the film states. In my humble librarian’s opinion, this seems an error that would have been simple to correct (or not make in the first place.). You can read more about Bierce’s life and works on the Ambrose Bierce Project site,

Even though the library scene is brief, and the librarian’s role in the scene even briefer (landing her in the Class IV category), the film does get a bit clever with the librarian’s final moments. Almost toward the end of the speech, the librarian comes back to talk with Harriet, but is shushed and waved away by Harriet herself. I did let out a chuckle at the librarian being shushed!

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

The no-name librarian, a 30ish female librarian, is properly dressed in a high-necked Victorian blouse and drab-colored skirt. She also has her hair pulled back in a braided bun, and wears eyeglasses. I’m sure there is a similar outfit underneath Harriet’s dark coat and hat; the two women do look similar when seen side-by-side. And in the very next scene, Harriet decides to change her life and travel to Mexico, and has this pointed conversation with her outraged mother:

Mrs. Winslow:  You’re an educated, independent girl.

Miss Winslow:  I’m not a girl, Mother. I’m a spinster. 

As this scene comes right after the library scene, one cannot help but compare the two characters. Harriet was inspired by the speaker (Peck as Bierce), of course, but the idea that she was on a similar path as the librarian was probably also on her mind. The two women are (supposed to be) around the same age, both educated, independent, and outwardly proper in appearance and diction. So if Harriet thinks of herself as a spinster, she must also view the librarian as one, as well. Things that make you go hmmmm…..

Although the librarian shows up in only the first five minutes of the film, I did my duty in watching the remainder of this (ultimately boring and disappointing) film. Even my husband remarked, once again, of my dedication to my research!

And if I hadn’t watched the rest of the film, I would have missed the following nugget. Toward the end of the film, the old gringo, Bierce, is with a Mexican prostitute, and the subject of books comes up. As you do. ;)

Mexican prostitute:  What you do when you’re not fighting?

Old gringo:  I read.

Mexican prostitute:  You read books? The priest in my village, he says, ‘To read books can make a man go crazy.’

Old gringoI can’t blame the books. At least not the ones I’ve read. Perhaps the ones I’ve written.

Mexican prostitute:  You wrote books? So, why are you sad? When you are gone, the people who know how to read, they’re going to remember you. You give me one of your books, I no charge you. Your work for my work.

I also had fun picking out my favorite outtakes from the screenshots I captured:

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' outtake Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' outtake

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' outtake

I also had fun looking up the term “gringo,” which definitely predates the Mexican Revolution. The Oxford English Dictionary states that it was a  well-established word by the mid-1850s, while A New Dictionary of Eponyms, published by Oxford University Press, expounds on several theories of origin:

  • The word sounds like the Spanish word for “Griego,” meaning “Greek.” Therefore, it’s similar to the English phrases, “It’s Greek to me” or “It’s gibberish.”
  • Another theory stems from the idea that the word comes from the Robert Burns’s song, “Green grow the rashes,” 1783.
  • And yet another theory circulates around Major Samuel Ringgold, mortally wounded in the battle of Palo Alto in 1846, that his name was so mispronounced that it sounded like “gringo.”

And word to the wise:  Do NOT play a drinking game with how many times the word “gringo” is uttered in the film. You will NOT remember the film afterwards. But then, maybe that’s a good thing. ;)

Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

This post was inspired by my mother, who was reading recently about legendary character actress Mary Wickes, a biography called Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before (Hollywood Legends). She came across an entry that she quickly emailed me about:

It mentioned that she played a librarian in the movie Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954).  This is the quote from the book:

Mary is the town’s helpful librarian, but she is quickly dismissed by Ma as “a maiden lady librarian who knows all about books but nothing about cooking.”

And then she was sweet enough to track down a copy of the film and sent it my way. ♥

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954) was the 7th in a series of 10 “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, starting with The Egg and I in 1947. It was also the last film of the series starring Percy Kilbride as Pa. Mary Wickes — who was 44 at the time of filming — gets 7th billing as Miss Wetter, definitely a supporting character in the film.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The distinctive profile of character actress Mary Wickes, here playing lady librarian Miss Wetter in ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

What of the film itself? If you are nostalgic for the “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, then you might enjoy it. Not ever having seen any of the series — although I was familiar with lead actress Marjorie Main, who has quite a distinctive voice — I found the film quite tedious, and it felt way longer than its 80-minute running time. My husband summed it up as equal-opportunity offensive, poking fun at Native Americans, big city snobs, intellectuals, country folk — as well as maiden lady librarians!

The plot, such as it is, kicks into gear when an essay about the “perfect, modern farm” written by their eldest son, Elwin, gets chosen as a finalist for a 4H college scholarship. The problem? The family farm is in terrible disrepair. Ma and Pa Kettle have to set off cleaning up the place before the “big city judges” come out to judge the finalists. Elwin — who got them all in this mess to begin with — just seems to laze around and moon over his misfortune. Like father, like son? ;)

The head judge, Alphonsus Mannering (Alan Mowbray), is portrayed as very effeminate, fussing about his plants, eating a special diet, pouring bath salts into the tub, and wearing a sleeping mask. And guess who Ma wants to set him up with? Of course, the maiden lady librarian! (Neither one would be too picky, right?)

Almost 45 minutes into the film, the librarian first gets a mention. One of the judges wants to photograph Ma, but she says she has to hurry because she has to pack a basket of bread for Miss Wetter, “a maiden lady librarian, [who] knows all about books but nothing about cooking.”

Cue scene to visually introduce Miss Wetter, who soon drives up — in the library bookmobile! — to drop off a book about successful fruit growing for Elwin.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The bookmobile serves as the visual representation of the library in this film, as Miss Wetter is never seen inside an actual library.

Miss Wetter is more than happy to meet the contest judges, especially Mr. Mannering. Here’s how their “Meet Cute” goes:

Ma:  Miss Wetter’s our lady librarian.

Miss Wetter:  Oh, Mr. Mowbray. I’m just simply thrilled to meet a literary figure of your stature. I’m a devoted fan of yours. I read your beautiful column every month. Honored to have your colleague, too, of course. Through you, culture has come to Cape Lattery (?), and I for one am speechless with delight. Now you must tell me what’s happening with the theater and the dance in New York this season?

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

Ma:  Here’s your bread, honey. Now don’t forget to come to the Christmas Eve party. As you’re both interested in literature, it might be right nice of you to be partners at the party.

Mr. Mannering:  It would be a pleasure.

Miss Wetter:  It would? I’ll be dreaming of Christmas Eve. Bye.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

“It would?” A sweet moment between the lady librarian and the big city judge

Although it’s kind of sweet to see how excited Miss Wetter is to attend the party with Mr. Mannering (that quick look up and catch in her voice when she says, “It would?” is just one example of how Mary Wickes could do so much with so little), it comes across as kind of condescending how she sees her role as bringing culture to this hick town. And she obviously dreams of bigger and better things than the County Library in which she works. Also, I do have to mention their character names:  Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. Goodness, could we be more obvious about how hot-to-trot the maiden lady librarian is for Mr. Fussy Britches?!

The film culminates in the Christmas party scene, and Miss Wetter (putting pay to her name!) pounces on Mr. Mannering when he enters the house — even taking his hand!

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Maiden Lady Librarian

When I said “pounces,” I wasn’t exaggerating. Miss Wetter was definitely on the prowl for Mr. Mannering!

Miss Wetter:  I’ve been waiting for you. I’m so excited about tonight. It’s probably because you’re going to be my partner at supper.

Mr. Mannering:  I’d not forgotten. I, too, was looking forward to it, too.

Miss Wetter:  Can I get you some refreshments? [ever so helpful, that librarian!]

A few minutes later, Ma reads a Christmas poem, which includes one  stanza about Miss Wetter:

Our wish to Miss Wetter, who knows all about books,
Is she marries the right man and becomes a good cook.

Cue sweetly awkward look between Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. Miss Wetter titters and puts her hair behind her ear and looks embarrassed — but also hopeful.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The big city judge and the librarian serve as the butt of jokes in the reading of the Christmas poem at the end of ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

A few minutes later, as the Kettle children are singing carols, Miss Wetter sees Mr. Mannering under the mistletoe and boldly plants a kiss on his cheek. They both smile and look quickly away and then back; they look a little dazed at their own forwardness! ;)

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

I like the juxtaposition of the younger couple in the background and the older couple in the foreground, both at the beginning stages of romance.

There is a happy ending, of course, and I liked that the happy ending included the promise of romance between Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. It would have been so easy to drop the “maiden lady librarian” character after that first scene. And although they kept poking fun at how she couldn’t cook — obviously less of a woman for any normal man, but she would do for a fussy fellow like Mr. Mannering — their budding romance actually came off as rather sweet in the end. I think this has more to do with the acting abilities of Mary Wickes and Alan Mowbray, who are easily the best actors in the entire movie.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady LibrarianSo what role does maiden lady librarian Miss Wetter serve? She is a supporting character, which lands her in the Class III category. As she does serve as the butt of several jabs and jokes about her book sense — and no cooking skills — her primary role is that of Comic Relief. But she also deserves honorable mention as an Information Provider, as she is quite helpful in several ways. First, she brings a book for their eldest son, and at the end of the film, she relays information about 4H clubs and how they “have all sorts of money-raising projects, where the members can learn by doing.”

One reviewer laments about Wickes’s role in the film: “Sadly, she hardly gets any dialog, and none of the brittle wisecracks she would become famous for.”  But I was pleasantly surprised about how much screen time she actually got — and Wickes was a genius at grabbing each second she had on screen and making it her own!

And if you ever do watch this film, it would probably go over better if you make a drinking game out of it. I would suggest taking a drink whenever the phrase “lady librarian” gets uttered — and feel free to do so when reading this post, as well. ;)

The next three seconds

Sam and I were scouting around for a movie to watch last weekend, and took a gamble on the Russell Crowe pic The Next Three Days, available for free through our OnDemand subscription. Crowe plays a man who tries to get his wife out of prison for a murder she didn’t commit — or did she? Although this was released in 2010 and starred not only Crowe, but also Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, and Liam Neeson (in a cameo role that made the trailer!), and was written and directed by Oscar winner Paul Haggis, I had NO MEMORY of this film. And that’s rare. How did this film fly so low under the radar? I blame the totally blah title. And generic-looking posters.

All in all, this was quite an entertaining genre flick, although not quite as smart as it thought it was — a signature vibe from Paul Haggis, IMHO. You know Elizabeth Banks had to be so psyched to get the role of Russell Crowe’s wife in this film, a role that played with the is-she-or-isn’t-she-a-murderer-mind-game with the audience. And then nothing came of it. Too bad.

Anywho, Sam and I were just getting into the film when BAM! A reel librarian flashed by! Twenty-three minutes into the film, John Brennan (Crowe) gets busy researching his wife’s legal case and the prison where she’s currently being held. And where do you go to visually shortcut this kind of research process? You guessed it:  a library! ♥ Although we don’t get any shots of John actually asking a reel librarian for help, we do get a flash — and I do mean a flash — as an older librarian (uncredited) rolls by the screen, pushing her cart of books. Definitely an Information Provider in a Class IV film; her reel purpose is to help establish the library setting.

Now you see her…

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Next Three Days'

Now you don’t…

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Next Three Days'

We also get a couple more shots of John taking notes, gathering up books — the title Handbook on Prisons is highlighted, call number sticker on the spine and all – as well as performing an advanced catalog search for related titles. Judging from the list of results, it was a pretty decent library catalog search, a rarity onscreen.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Next Three Days'

It’s a real book! I looked up that title, which was published in 2007, and edited by Yvonne Jewkes.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Next Three Days'

Screenshot of search results in the online library catalog

The library catalog screen reads “AlleyCat,” and y’all KNOW I had to look that up. Turns out, it’s the library catalog system for the Community College of Allegheny County, located in the Pittsburgh area. Now that’s the kind of accurate detail a real librarian can appreciate. :D

That list of results also led him to this (fictitious) title, Over the Walls, with an author’s picture, seen below. Soooooo not accurate, because:

  1. Library catalog records do not include authors’ pictures, at least none that I’ve seen
  2. They don’t include info about where an author lives (dude, privacy issues)
  3. There would definitely be info in the publisher, pub year, and pages fields, or a note indicating that no such info could be found (but that’s really only for rare old books).
  4. The ISBN listed, 029019745716, is 12 digits, and ISBNs are either 10- or 13-digit numbers. But I still plugged in that number into the ISBN Search database. And yes, there is such a thing as an ISBN Search database. Now you know. ;)

But hey, it gives Liam Neeson a bit more screen time (hah!), and propels the plot forward for John to meet up with Damon, an ex-convict who has broken out of several prisons. And I totally get why they used an invalid ISBN for the purposes of the film, like they do with fake 555 telephone numbers.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Next Three Days'

Moving on…

This reel librarian cameo reminded me of a very similar opening shot in Junior (1994), which I’ve compared below with The Next Three Days (2010). Don’t these look like almost the same shots?! There’s something visually compelling about this kind of angle, how the rows of library shelves focus in like a triangle. And you get kind of a voyeuristic vibe, which helps ratchet up the tension, I’m sure.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Next Three Days'

The reel librarian in ‘The Next Three Days’

Reel Librarians  |  A junior librarian

The reel librarian in ‘Junior’

And together, these two blink-and-wait-was-that-a-librarian shots reminded me of a scene in the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy, Knocked Up, in which the main guy in the film, Ben (Seth Rogan), is building an online database of porn scenes. To each his own. I’m not judging. ;) And he and Alison (Katherine Heigl) are starting to watch a film together, and all of a sudden:

Alison:  Boobs! Boobs and bush!

Ben:  All right, credit bush! That’s the best; we’re not even five minutes in.

Except in my case, it could be “Buns! Buns and books!” ;)

That’s right, folks. Stay classy.

Getting carried away

Reel Librarians  |  Carrie title screen

Title screen for the TV remake of Carrie

In the TV remake of Carrie (2002), a plodding by-the-numbers mediocrity filled with actors too old to play high schoolers, the school library serves as the setting for several small scenes throughout the film.

Three minutes in, a teacher calls out Carrie (Angela Bettis), saying she’s been excused as per her mother’s request (Patricia Clarkson, too little seen in this remake). “You might as well head down to the library right now.” This introductory statement sets up the library as a more social place, and indeed, we soon see the school library filled with students, hanging out throughout the library, at tables and computers and in group and individual study spaces.

In this school library scene, the camera peeks in behind Carrie, busy doodling pictures of a boy named Tommy Ross, and looks up. Her perspective reveals the real-life Tommy (Tobias Mehler), and in the background, a peek at the school librarian (played by Irene Miscisco).

Reel Librarians  |  'Carrie' library shot

Carrie’s object of affection, Tommy Ross, in the foreground, while the school librarian is visible in the top right corner

A boy — credited as “Obnoxious Student,” and billed right above (!) the school librarian — starts poking fun of Carrie and making loud sex noises and gestures. Tommy responds by throwing a book at the kid’s head, causing a string of profanity from the obnoxious student. This very loud scene garners NO response at all from the school librarian. SIGH.

Twenty minutes later and after a traumatic scene in the school gym, Carrie rounds the corner into the school library. The camera’s perspective, once again, peeks over a character’s shoulder, this time introducing us to the back of the school librarian’s head. We also see that the librarian is reading a tabloid magazine!

Reel Librarians  |  The school librarian in 'Carrie'

The stereotypical physical characteristics of this school librarian, decked out in thick glasses and lanyard, are juxtaposed with the images in the trashy magazine she’s holding.

Carrie, obviously nervous, is brave enough to ask the school librarian a question.

Carrie:  Mrs. Johnson?

Librarian:  Yes, dear? [hurriedly stashing away the magazine]

Carrie:  Can you show me how to do a search?

Besides my annoyance at yet another librarian character not being allowed a character name in the credits — even though she’s referred to by her personal name in the film! — I frowned at the significance of this scene. Why show the librarian reading a tabloid? By the guilty way she puts it away, Mrs. Johnson is obviously embarrassed to be caught reading the tabloid.

Is the reason for this shot to demonstrate the ineptitude of everyone in the school? Every authority figure in the school, however well-meaning, is shown in a not-so-flattering light in at least one scene. The gym teacher (Rena Sofer) sticks up for Carrie more than once but also shoves a student into gym lockers and verbally threatens her. The school principal (Laurie Murdoch) stands up for Carrie in front of an angry parent but can’t remember her name — even when corrected by Carrie herself. The school librarian apparently helps out Carrie in searching, but is also seen looking at a trashy tabloid on the job.

And how about that searching? The next shots reveal closeups of a woefully outdated search screen interface, as well as search results for the keyword Carrie types in, miracles. She gets a librarian to help her search, and all she can think to type in is the word miracles?! No wonder she gets wildly different search results, including:

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

Result #6, “Jesus – Man of Miracles,” which puts the keyword in a religious context…

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

… while result #22, “Miracle Underwear,” conjures up visions of Victoria’s Secret…

Reel Librarians  |  Web search results in 'Carrie'

… and finally, Result #26, “Miracles:  Hidden Powers of the Mind,” combines the keyword with paranormal activity.

And even though I didn’t get a good shot of it, after the 26th search result — the one Carrie clicks on about telepathy — there is a line that reads:  End of results. That made me laugh out loud! Even in 2002, there would have been more than 26 results for a generic search for miracles!

Reel Librarians  |  Library scene in 'Carrie'

Another shot of the school library

However little actual help the librarian provided, we do see Carrie in the school library one more time (42 minutes into the film), researching another web site about telekinesis. This time, she’s in a darkened room at the back of the library, writing in a (blank) notebook. When Tommy comes into the room and calls out her name, Carrie rapidly shuts her notebook — oddly mirroring the earlier gesture of the school librarian closing up the tabloid magazine! She also lies to Tommy about what she’s reading; she says she’s reading about sewing, foreshadowing her self-made prom dress.

In the middle of the library, Tommy asks Carrie to go to the prom with him, which attracts the attention of a gang of popular mean girls. Although the librarian is not pictured, it’s interesting how this very public scene — set in the library, already well-established as a popular place — sets in the motion the rest of the plot and the prom finale. Reel librarians often propel plots forward, but in this case, the library as place serves this function more than the librarian herself.

And by the way, even though we see other school officials at the scene of the prom, the school librarian Mrs. Johnson doesn’t appear to be one of the chaperones. But Mrs. Johnson does get to help chaperone Class IV, with other reel librarians seen only briefly in their respective films, and hang out with the other Information Providers.