Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?

In the film history of librarians, anyone who works in a library is deemed a librarian. I confess to doing the same for the purposes of this web site, even when the characters are not technically — or the audience has no way of knowing if they are — librarians.

Sometimes, a character will make a distinction between librarians and library workers, as in Party Girl (one of my favorite librarian movies!), but that is the exception, not the rule. Below are some lines from a library scene between Mary (Parker Posey) and her godmother, Judy (Sasha von Scherler), a public librarian:

Judy: I lost two dedicated clerks last month because I couldn’t afford to pay them a competitive wage. They make more money at McDonald’s. You… no, a girl like you couldn’t –

Mary: What do you mean, a girl like me? … You think I couldn’t be a librarian?

Judy: Darling, a librarian is a professional with a master’s degree in library science. Even a clerk, who merely shelves and stamps –

Mary: You think I couldn’t be a library clerk? …

Judy: A library clerk is smart, responsible –

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

Judy: I think nothing of the sort.  … Fine, you can start right now!

Mary:  Fine! I will. Great.

Typically, the term “librarian” is rarely said out loud in movies — most likely because of time — and in most films, there is really no need to verbally identify the librarians. Standing behind the counter, shelving books, or pushing a cart is quite enough to establish a reel librarian.

Few films mention the education required for librarians. Again, Party Girl (1995) is an exception! There is a wonderful scene toward the end where Mary and her co-workers discuss the value of different library science degree programs. There is also a scene in the film, shown below, that highlights the 19th century qualifications for a “lady librarian”:

Major League (1989) includes a subplot about veteran ballplayer Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) trying to woo back his ex-wife, athlete-turned-librarian Lynn Wells (Rene Russo). This scrap of info about her education comes in the scene where he runs into her at a restaurant:

Lynn:  Jake? How’d you know I was here?

Jake:  Oh, just a hunch. I took you there when you got your master’s degree, remember?

A few other films also mention education specific to librarians. In The War of the Worlds (1953), Sylvia Van Buren (played by Ann Robinson) teaches library science courses, and the main character in Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) almost quits her teaching position to take a college librarian course in New York. In Desk Set (1957), head librarian Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) mentions taking a few college courses in her interview with efficiency expert Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy). Miss Watson more than earns Mr. Sumner’s respect — and ours! [The battle-between-the-sexes witticisms begin flying about a minute into the clip below].

Hall of Fame

Here are my top picks for reel librarian portrayals — for now. The list will probably change the more librarian films I watch. For the following, I have tried to limit my comments to specifically address the depiction of the librarian(s) in each film. Some of my choices in this Top 10 might not be good films, but I am not judging the films on just artistic or storytelling merit. I am, however, giving my personal take on the portrayals of librarians in these films and how well they represent the occupation.

The All-Stars

(Arranged in alphabetical order)


Desk Set (1957)

The librarians at a TV network’s research department are pitted against an efficiency expert’s data computer. The librarians, especially Katharine Hepburn, are depicted as both intelligent and feminine throughout the film — a rarity for reel librarians.


An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000)

Not a great movie, but it does contain one of the most memorable (animated) librarians. She seems at first a would-be spinster, but she soon reveals a different side—one that is sexy, playful, and confident enough to party in 1970s Abba-like green polyester.


Foul Play (1978)

Shy librarian Gloria (Goldie Hawn at her most appealing) battles an albino in the library after hours, solves a mystery, and falls in love—what’s not to like?!


Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

Neil, a poor Bronx librarian learns some hard life lessons during a summer romance. The film does NOT depict Neil’s co-workers in a positive light (they are all dysfunctional and anti-social), but there is one particularly touching scene in which Neil reaches out to a young African-American boy who likes art books. Even though Neil is not a career librarian (he admits that he doesn’t really know what he wants to do in life), he does actually care about public service.


The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)

In one of my favorite scenes, Flynn Carson interviews for the librarian position, stating that he likes books, knows the Dewey and Library of Congress system, does web searching and “can set up an RSS feed.” The interviewer (a fantastically droll Jane Curtin) responds, “Everybody knows that. They’re librarians. What makes you think you’re The Librarian?” Most. Awesome. Quote. Ever. Also spawned two TV movie sequels with equally cheesy titles, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006) and The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008).


Major League (1989)

One of the few films to highlight an athletic librarian. Lynn (the beautiful Rene Russo), a former swimmer and Olympic alternate, is smart, feisty, and proud that she has “put together one of the best special collections in the country.” We even get treated with a close-up of her license plate, which urges the audience to “READ.”


The Mummy (1999)

Evelyn Carnahan proclaims (albeit in a drunken stupor), “I am proud of what I am. I… am a librarian!” in another witty, feisty librarian characterization. It is Evie, not the male hero, who saves the day — and the entire world, I might add — by using her intelligence and knowledge. Also spawned a(n inferior) sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001).


My Side of the Mountain (1969)

An admittedly odd film (a 12-year-old boy leaves home and spends a year alone in nature—but that’s okay because he left a note to his parents and told them not to worry?!), but it does contain one of the most caring and thoughtful of all reel librarians. A public librarian helps a young boy find information about peregrine falcons and goes out of her way to find him more resources. She also gets a few scenes outside the library, where we see that she is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast.


Party Girl (1995)

A comedy about Mary, a “party girl” who finds her true calling as a librarian, that flips librarian stereotypes upside down—and my sentimental favorite librarian film! Includes a rare scene that features library education, in which a group of librarians discuss the best school for Mary to obtain a library science degree.


Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

A town librarian, played with sensitivity and depth by Jason Robards, challenges the film’s villain, Mr. Dark, and saves the day and the whole town! A rare depiction of a male librarian as the hero.