Reader poll of runner-ups: Soylent Green and the Books

Last week, the winner of the reader poll of runner-ups (say that phrase 3 times fast!) was the 1973 sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In the year 2022, food is scarce, and a majority of the world’s population relies on a food product called “Soylent Green.” A detective, played by Charlton Heston, investigates the murder of a Soylent official… and discovers the secret behind Soylent Green.

Reel Librarians| DVD cover for 'Soylent Green' (1973)

DVD cover for ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

If you don’t already know what Soylent Green really is, then I won’t spoil it for you. (I just hope you didn’t have any with your Thanksgiving leftovers!ūüėČ ) “What is the secret of Soylent Green?” is also the hook¬†for the original trailer:

The film stars screen legend Edward G. Robinson, in his final performance. The director’s commentary track on the DVD also revealed that Robinson was almost totally deaf by the time he made this film. He learned his scenes by timing during the rehearsals!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth in ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

Robinson plays Sol Roth, and we meet him within the first five minutes of the film. He’s described in the trailer as:

Sol Roth, Thorn’s private library. A Living Book in a world without books.

This futuristic world — only 5 years away from our current present day! — has stopped printing books for almost 20 years. The word “Book” now refers to people, to former scholars and librarians who serve as personal researchers for others. Sol¬†is a self-described “Police Book,” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn, and there is a “Supreme Exchange” where he goes almost daily for information and to talk to other Books.

Real books are treasures to be hoarded in this overcrowded, dirty, violent nightmare of a future, and Thorn and Sol live together in comparative luxury, in an apartment filled with bookcases.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Bookcases in Thorn’s and Sol’s apartment

Even though they look to have a lot of books, we learn that Sol is having trouble finding files for Thorn, looking up information on suspects and cases. This scene also sets up their relationship and how insulting each other is their way of showing their mutual love and respect for one other.

Thorn: What’d you dig up on those cases I gave you? You’ve been telling me that for the last three days.

Sol: ¬†Well, I can’t locate the files. I spent hours on it at the Exchange today. Talked to every other Book who was there. […] What the hell kind of miracle do you want of me? I’m just an ordinary Police Book, not the Library of Congress. I don’t know why I bother.

Thorn: ¬†Because it’s your job. Besides, you love me.

Thorn then goes to the apartment of Simonson, the Soylent official who has been killed (another screen legend, Joseph Cotten, in a¬†cameo role), and Thorn comes back with multiple treasures. Twenty-two minutes into the film, we are treated to a wondrous site: ¬†new books. Thorn brings back two large volumes¬†from the dead man’s¬†apartment, books entitled¬†Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report from 2015 to 2019.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Book cover for the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol’s amazement at the new reference books Thorn finds

Sol:  Where the hell did you get all these?

Thorn:  Off his shelves. They were the only reference books he had. You like them?

Sol:  I love them. Do you know how many books were published in this country, once upon a time? When there was paper and power and presses that worked.

A little over 10 minutes later, Thorn again asks for more info about Simonson.

Sol’s response: ¬†I‚Äôve got a handful of reference work 20 years out of date. You throw out a name, and you expect a miracle?

He then proceeds to read out Simonson’s bio from the last biographical survey that was published, in 2006.

Thorn then asks about the books he brought back from Simonson’s apartment.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol describes the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report

Sol: ¬†Oh, very technical and highly classified. Unnumbered copies. Officially they don’t exist. […] What else do you want?

Thorn:  Everything. Across the board.

Sol:  Across the board? That’s impossible.

Thorn:  Check the Exchange.

Sol:  Check the Exchange? I need you to tell me that? You know, I was a teacher once, a full professor, a respected man.

This short conversation conveys a lot of information — about the books, about Sol and his past, as well as about the Exchange and its importance in their work.

The next scene that features the Exchange, which comes in at a little over an hour into the film, is one of the most important scenes in the entire movie. It anchors the film and sets up the finale. It is a scene in which the Books reveal that they know the secret of Soylent Green… only Thorn, and by extension the audience, remain¬†in the dark.

Sol takes the two large volumes with him to the former public library, now known simply as the “Supreme Exchange.” A sign on the door reveals it’s for “Authorized Books Only,” and as Sol earns admittance, he is therefore visually confirmed as an “Authorized Book.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Supreme Exchange: Authorized Books Only

Sol slowly walks past row after row of crumbling books and papers, on his way to talk to the others. The books and the Books are all that is left of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Bookshelves in the Supreme Exchange

As the director states on the commentary track, Sol is “reporting on this committee on what he’s learned through his research,” and he brings the two volumes to the Exchange Leader. The other Books greet him by name, so they are obviously familiar with and comfortable around him.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

The Books at the Supreme Exchange

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

The Exchange Leader looks in reverence at the volumes

The rest of¬†this scene — a pivotal scene lasting only a minute and a half total! —¬†features all of the Books: ¬†Celia Lovsky as Exchange Leader,¬†Morgan Farley as Book #1, John Barclay as Book #2,¬†Belle Mitchell as Book #3, and Cyril Delevanti as Book #4.

However, only two of the Books exchange words during this scene, Sol and the Exchange Leader. Here’s their entire conversation:

Sol:  It’s horrible.

Exchange Leader:  You must accept it.

Sol:  I see the words, but I can’t believe them.

Exchange Leader:  Believe. The evidence is overwhelming. Simonson was a member of the board. He learned these facts, and they shook his sanity. The corporation knew he was not reliable anymore. They felt he might talk, and so he was eliminated.

Sol:  Then why are they doing this?

Exchange Leader:  Because it’s easier. I think expedient is the word. What we need is to prove what they are doing, before we bring it to the Council of Nations.

Sol:  Good God.

Exchange Leader:  What God, Mr. Roth? Where will we find Him?

Sol:  Perhaps at Home. Yes. At Home.

The director’s commentary during this scene is illuminating and thoughtful:

This sequence is an interesting comment on the state of humanity in¬†this period. When this hidden-away little niche in this enormous library. That’s all there is. There are really no big libraries, and communication is very difficult. People have to actually get together and¬†talk to each other, but they have nothing technical to help them. They have to read the books, and analyze them themselves. Which is not a bad idea, but under these circumstances, it’s terrible when you think there are no books being printed, everything is stopped. No paper, no ink. Just these wonderful people, like this actress, Celia Lovsky, who carries the scene. She’s wonderful, brings the whole feeling in her face of what is really wrong with that civilization.

Can you imagine? These are the only people left who can analyze information, who even know how to read reference books — or any books! And they are all old. The director rests the camera on their faces and wrinkles, and he does not flinch away. When they are gone, there will be no one left to remember. Librarians are holding down the fort for civilization in this film; they are gatekeepers in a very literal sense.

Although the rest of the Books are silent, their expressions speak volumes.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Books at the Supreme Exchange

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Books at the Supreme Exchange

It’s honestly¬†hard to watch this movie today, as parts of it feel TOO real, thinking how close we really might be to the edge of this dystopian future. Corruption is a fact of life in Soylent Green, and people are categorized into functions: ¬†Furniture, Books, and so on.¬†And the Books, although they hold the key to knowledge in this future, are arguably no more effective than Thorn himself is as a policeman. But they all carry themselves with dignity, particularly Sol and the way he holds himself upright in his threadbare blazer and beret. All of the Books, including Sol, serve as reel librarians in the role of Information Providers.

Sol does go Home, and his final words¬†to Thorn are, “You‚Äôve got to prove it, Thorn. Prove it. The Exchange…”

Sol’s words spur Thorn to finally uncover the terrible secret behind Soylent Green. As he walks home to his apartment, he passes by the old public library building and current home of the Supreme Exchange. Before, when Sol entered the building, it was quiet and deserted. Now it is the scene of violence. Foreshadowing of the future, perhaps?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Sol walks to the Supreme Exchange, the former public library

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Violence in front of the Supreme Exchange, the former public library

The final words of the film also focus on the former library, as Thorn’s supervisor states, “I promise. I‚Äôll tell the Exchange.”

I originally had placed¬†this film in the Category III and listed only the four Books and the Exchange Leader as reel librarians. Upon rewatching the film, I realized that I had overlooked Sol Roth as another reel librarian. We learn he was a former teacher, yes, but as an “Authorized Book,” he also serves the same role as the other Books. I have therefore reclassified this film as a Class I film, as Sol’s job¬†is indeed integral to the plot.

I will leave you with a riddle from Michael, a longtime reader of Reel Librarians:

All librarians may be books, but are all books librarians?

What say you, dear readers?

Reader poll: A runner-up becomes the winner

The votes for the most recent reader poll are in‚Ķ and y‚Äôall chose¬†Soylent Green¬†by a very large margin. In this 1973 sci-fi classic, librarians play a small, but important role, and are known as ‚ÄúBooks.‚ÄĚ

Reel Librarians reader poll winner

I will be¬†enjoying some Soylent Green¬†along with my Thanksgiving leftovers over the weekend (hah!).¬†Next week I will be back with a film analysis post — stay tuned!

Reader poll of runner-ups: Choose your next adventure

Y’all have indulged my tangents the last couple of weeks (the danger of a single story for reel librarians two weeks ago and thanking librarians in book acknowledgments last week), so now I’m flipping¬†the lens back around.

I started reader polls back in May¬†2014 for you to choose your next¬†adventure, and I’ve continued doing reader polls every 6 months or so ever since. I had an idea for this next round, to select the next winner¬†from the runner-ups of the 5 prior reader polls.

From runner-up to winner… you get to choose the next¬†reel librarian¬†movie I watch and analyze!

Reel Librarians | Reader poll runner-ups

Adventure (1945)

This film place second in the November 2014 reader poll. A sea-going adventurer (Clark Gable) falls for a librarian (Greer Garson), but their relationship is not smooth sailing.

An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000)

This tied for second place in the first reader poll, along with Soylent Green. It’s an animated film and includes a memorable college¬†librarian character.

A Girl Named Tamiko (1962)

This film, available online through the Paramount Vault YouTube channel, was runner-up in the most recent reader poll, from this past spring. The title character of Tamiko, who is from a wealthy Japanese family, works as a librarian for the Foreign Press Club in Tokyo. There are a couple of scenes set in the Foreign Press Club library.

Public Access (1993)

This tied for runner-up in the scary-movie edition reader poll from Sept. 2015, along with¬†Wilderness. In this film, director Bryan Singer’s first feature-length film, a¬†stranger arrives in the sleepy, small town of Brewster and stirs up dark secrets with his public access TV show that asks, ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs wrong with Brewster?‚Ä̬†He dates the shy, young town librarian.

Soylent Green (1973)

This classic sci-fi film also tied for second place in the first reader poll, along with An Extremely Goofy Movie. The librarians in this film are known as ‚ÄúBooks.‚ÄĚ

Wilderness (1996)

This tied for runner-up in the scary-movie edition reader poll from Sept. 2015, along with Public Access. Amanda Ooms plays Alice White, a librarian at a British university, who has a dark secret: she locks herself away every month when she transforms into a werewolf!

Note: Originally a three-part British mini-series, I have a copy of the abridged movie version released in the U.S.

Wonder Man (1945)

This film was runner-up in the third reader poll in May 2015. Nightclub singer Buster Dingle (Danny Kaye) gets killed by a mob boss, and his spirit enters his identical twin, Edwin (also played by Kaye). Edwin, a bookworm writing a history book, gets involved with a young and attractive librarian (Virginia Mayo).

The poll will stay open through next Tuesday, Nov. 23, 10 p.m. PST.

I’ll be back next week on Wednesday with the winning runner-up!

Thanking librarians in book acknowledgments

Please allow me to go off on yet another tangent… today’s post was inspired by the book I’m currently reading (The Mystery of Agatha Christie by Gwen Robyns, a biography published¬†in 1978, just two years after Christie’s death). As I started the book, I glanced over the Acknowledgments page, and I happened to notice that the author actually thanked librarians — not just libraries, but the librarians themselves!

As you can see in the pic below, Robyns thanked:  Mr. John Pike of the Torquay Public Library, Mr. J. M. Evelyn (Michael Underwood), Mrs. Imogen Woollard, Miss Grace Rich of the City of Westminster Public Library, Miss Jennifer Emerton of the Wallingford County Branch Library, and Dr. Michael Rhodes of the Westfield College, University of London.

Reel Librarians | Librarian acknowledgments in 'The Mystery of Agatha Christie' by Gwen Robyns

And that got me thinking… how often are librarians thanked in book acknowledgments? It turns out that I’m not¬†alone in this question!

In 2011, Margaret Heilbrun,¬†a former Senior Editor for the Library Journal Book Review, wrote about “Best Acknowledgments of 2011,” looking through acknowledgments of Library Journal‘s Best Books of 2011.

Librarians‚ like all mortals‚ love to be on the receiving end of gratitude. When the occasional library, archives, or special collections researcher publishes the results of all that research and expresses thanks to the library in the book’s acknowledgments, and includes the names of the staff who helped, well, the staff in question are thrilled. Natch.

You know what? It doesn’t happen often.

Heilbrun goes on to highlight Amanda Foreman, author of¬†A World on Fire: Britain‚Äôs Crucial Role in the American Civil War, in which Foreman¬†“personally names and thanks over 200 library, archives, and special collections staff members from around the world who helped her and her assistants with access to materials over the course of several years. Her acknowledgments are not only a tribute to all the women and men who enabled her work, but a tribute to her for the stamina and focus to keep track of them all systematically and name them with little fuss or muss.”

Heilbrun went on to bestow the “Amanda Foreman Award” twice more, in¬†“Best Acknowledgments of 2012” and “Best Acknowledgments of 2013.” And Foreman herself, a Man Booker Prize Award winner, mentioned her namesake award with pride in the introductory paragraph of her 2013 “Prize-Writing” essay¬†in The New York Times.

This post, “The Story Behind the Story: An Appreciation of Authors‚Äô Acknowledgments,” runs through the history and complexities behind acknowledgments, noting that “There was a time when acknowledgements were brief and rare.” (Kind of like film credits, eh?, which seem to be getting longer and longer nowadays. People want credit!) Although that post doesn’t mention the practice of thanking librarians or other researchers, some¬†commenters do!

Comment about thanking librarians in acknowledgments

Comment about thanking librarians in acknowledgments

This informative post, “Think Before You Thank: Writers & Acknowledgments,” by Kate Messner urges writers to double-check beforehand with those they want to personally acknowledge in print, to make sure they aren’t compromising those individuals. She specifically mentions librarians as examples:

A teacher or librarian who enjoys an author’s work might be delighted to see his or her name in the back of a book.  But what if that reader wants to be on a state or national awards committee and the author’s book shows up in the pile of titles to be discussed?  Suddenly, having that public thank you in the book is awkward at best and at worst, could create pressure for the person to resign from a great opportunity.

That is admittedly something I had never thought about before, but it does make sense to double-check beforehand.

But not everyone is so appreciative of librarians or libraries in their acknowledgments! This Mental Floss article highlights “7 Book Dedications that Basically Say ‘Screw You’,” including Alfie Kohn’s diss to Harvard University Libraries in his 1986 work,¬†No Contest: The Case Against Competition.

And this satirical piece poking¬†fun at the excesses of¬†acknowledgments, “Acknowledgments Pages Say More Than Thanks,” has a section lampooning authors for thanking “Your Research Crew” but DOESN’T EVEN INCLUDE¬†LIBRARIANS. Patrolmen, detectives, lawyers, forensic anthropologists, NASCAR drivers, river guides, Civil War reenactors, and circus clowns are mentioned in this section, but NOT LIBRARIANS. I know it’s satire, but ?!#!@?! Librarians¬†ARE the Original Research Crew!

So to my fellow Research Crew members, are you intrigued enough now to start poring over¬†the Acknowledgments pages of the books you’re reading? Have you always sought out mentions of librarians in Acknowledgments pages?¬†Have you ever been personally thanked in any book Acknowledgments? If so, please share!

And may librarians continue to be thanked, on or off the Acknowledgments page. Even a simple smile and/or a “Thank You” in person/phone/email/chat will make our day.ūüėÄ


The danger of a single story for reel librarians

Last week, I attended the excellent regional ACRL-OR/WA Joint Fall Conference 2016, and the theme for this year’s conference was “Enhancing Creativity and Turning Inspiration Into Reality.” The closing keynote address was by¬†Hannah Gascho Rempel, a faculty librarian at Oregon State University, and she talked about factors for inspiring creativity at all levels.

I wrote down lots of ideas during her keynote, and one note sparked an idea for a blog post here on Reel Librarians. At one point, Rempel mentioned Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” to illustrate how creativity is enhanced by collaboration and by multiple voices.

If you have not already watched this TED Talk, then please do so. Adichie is so articulate and inspiring, and I found myself connecting to what she said in so many ways. Just one of those ways involves why I began researching portrayals of librarians in film almost 20 years ago and what sustains me to keep doing it.

Let me pull out a few quotes from Adichie’s talk and explore¬†how, in my mind, they connect to researching reel librarians:

So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. [at 9:27]

All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only those negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. [at 12:58]

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. [at 13:11]

What if someone’s first (cinematic) or ONLY encounter with a librarian was through It’s a Wonderful Life (in which the main female lead¬†becomes a spinster librarian, weak and afraid of men)? Or had only seen Big Bully, in which the¬†first thing an elderly school librarian remembers is how many days overdue a library book is? What is they had never seen, or known about, the dynamic and varied reel librarian characters in¬†Desk Set or¬†Party Girl or the librarian hero in¬†Something Wicked This Way Comes?

I am lucky in that I am a librarian who grew up in a family of educators. I knew there was a difference between the Spinster Librarian I saw in¬†It’s a Wonderful Life¬†and my mother, a real-life school librarian. I knew that there was not a single story for librarians. But what about those who don’t have a librarian in their lives, to provide that kind of contrast and context?

It is easy to get bogged down in the many, many,¬†many different negative and stereotypical portrayals of librarians onscreen (and elsewhere). We librarians tend to get very defensive about the well-worn stereotypes and tropes. (The shushing librarian, the sexy librarian, the spinster librarian, etc.) Our defensiveness is borne of frustration — because, as Adichie says so eloquently, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.

I — like¬†my fellow real-life librarians — am many things: ¬†smart, naive, funny, serious, helpful, frustrated, bored, boring, fascinating, sarcastic, klutzy, graceful, inspiring, inspired, the list goes on. I am not just one thing: not as a woman, not as an American, and not as a librarian.

I want to see myself on that screen. I want to see my profession on that screen. I want to see the varied sides of librarians in reel life just as I witness in real life. So I continue to seek that. And I seek to share what I find with you all, to bring witness to the hundreds of examples of reel librarians that I see in films, from bit parts to protagonists. I do this to show that there is not just one story.

A Librarian's 2.0 Manifesto -

“A Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto –” by Anna-Stina Takala is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Now, I am not equating the issues of reel librarians with huge, global issues of world hunger or racism. What I am doing is simply exploring¬†a connection, that stereotypes and the “danger of a single story” echo throughout every part of our lives, small and large, professional and¬†personal. Stories matter, and this site is an opportunity for me to share many stories.

And maybe, just maybe, by being more aware of the many different librarians you encounter¬†onscreen, this might lead to an increased¬†awareness (and curiosity?) of the many different librarians you might encounter¬†in real life. Or perhaps seeing a friendly librarian onscreen might help¬†you, or your children, feel more confident in going to your local public library. Or perhaps seeing an effective reference interview in a movie might lead you to seek out research help from¬†a librarian at your local college the next time you have a research¬†paper. I don’t know if any of these things happen, or will happen, or even if people are aware when or if they do happen. All I know is that the more stories we share, the more¬†possibilities open up.

Adichie concludes her talk with a line inspired by Alice Walker:

That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story, about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

And, of course, her concluding line¬†reminded of Jorge Luis Borges¬†— a librarian in real life! — whose line about libraries is often quoted:

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

So here is to Paradise, and to librarians, onscreen and off.