Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’

Avengers: Infinity War opens this weekend, and if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe series of films, then you’ll know that one of the (many, many) characters and heroes of the Marvel Universe is sorcerer librarian Wong, who was first introduced onscreen in 2016’s Doctor Strange.

Wong made the Avengers: Infinity War‘s promotional poster, in the upper right corner, and he scored his own character poster, as well. And there are a few glimpses of Wong in the first trailer (at 10 seconds, 46 seconds, and 1:02 minutes) that was released back in November 2017.

Before we rush to see the new film in the Marvel saga, let’s get to know the sorcerer librarians from Doctor Strange a bit better, yes?
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

Library scene #1

The first library scene in Doctor Strange is also the first scene of the film, period. The librarian is shelving books in the Kamar-Taj monastery library. The villains, headed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), break into the library and string up the librarian.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

The librarian is surrounded

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Librarian torture

They kill the librarian in order to gain access to the chained-up books in the restricted section, and Kaecilius then rips out a secret spell from one of the books, which we later learn is the Book of Cagliostro. Such is the power of knowledge, eh? Librarians, who in this context are literally the gatekeepers to forbidden knowledge, should get hazard pay for the very real dangers that come with the job.

When I first watched this film in theaters, I literally thought, “Wow. Is this the first time onscreen that a reel librarian’s murder has begun a film?!”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

The book of spells falls into the villain’s hands

This reel librarian, listed in the credits as the “Kamar-Taj Librarian,” is played by Ezra Khan, and he does get more backstory in one of the digital comics, Doctor Strange Prelude – The Zealot. This comic helped fill in some of the plot points and motivations for characters in the film, including prior interactions between the Kamar-Taj Librarian and Kaecilius.

Library scene #2

Our next library scene introduces us to the new monastery librarian, Wong (played by Benedict Wong, who also gets 4th billing in the credits list, and is credited above the title). Thirty-five minutes into the film, Strange begins his studies in earnest and brings a stack of books back to the library. Wong has a deadpan, inscrutable face — he takes the “librarian glare” to another dimension! — and he has no patience for Strange. #TeamWong

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the librarian and Doctor Strange “meet cute”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong’s librarian glare

The library entrance is dark and full of shadows, with dim lighting — like the inner sanctum of the library itself — and this is where the librarian’s desk is, a wide and solid wood desk stacked with papers and books. The walls are lined with overstuffed bookcases. Wong wears burgundy robes, fitting his station as a Master of the Mystic Arts. His head is shaved, and he does not wear glasses.

Wong introduces himself with one word, his name. Doctor Strange tries to make a joke out of his one name (“Just Wong? Like Adele? Aristotle? Drake? Bono? Eminem?“), which becomes a running joke throughout the film.

Wong ignores him and reads the titles of the books Strange has brought back (Book of the Invisible Sun, Astronomia Nova, Codex Imperium, and Key of Solomon), and then invites Strange on a tour of the library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the librarian provides backstory and context for Doctor Strange

We get to see much more of the library — dimly lit with lamps, of course — which has rows of bookcases that slide in and out, full of books individually chained up. A very interesting shelving system!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the librarian chooses books for Doctor Strange

We also get lots of exposition as Wong looks for and selects books for Wong to read next. This is one of the main roles that Wong fulfills, that of an Information Provider. And we get a LOT of information in the exchange below:

Wong: This section is for masters only but at my discretion, others may use it. You should start with Maxim’s primer. [He unchains a book.] How’s your Sanskrit?

Strange: I’m fluent in Google Translate.

Wong: Vedic, classical Sanskrit.

Strange: What are those? [points to the chained-up books]

Wong: The Ancient One’s private collection.

Strange: So they’re forbidden?

Wong: No knowledge in Kamar-Taj is forbidden. Only certain practices. Those books are far too advanced for anyone other than the Sorceror Supreme.

Strange: [unhooks a book] This one’s got pages missing. [This is the same book featured in the movie’s first scene, the book that Kaecilius ripped pages out of]

Wong: That’s the Book of Cagliostro. A study of time. One of the rituals was stolen by a former master. The zealot, Kaecilius. Just after he strung up the former librarian and relieved him of his head. I am now the guardian of these books. So if a volume from this collection should be stolen again I’d know it, and you’d be dead before you ever left the compound.

Wong then slams shut the book for emphasis. [This is a totally bad-ass move — and speech. I love how Wong makes it very clear that he cares deeply about his duty as the monastery librarian. Again, #TeamWong]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong lays down the (library) law for Doctor Strange

Strange: What if it’s just overdue? Any late fees I should know about? Maiming perhaps?

Wong responds in silence and hands him a stack of books.

Strange: People used to think that I was funny.

Wong: Did that work for you?

Strange: All right. Well it’s been lovely talking to you. Thank you for the books… and for the horrifying story… and for the threat upon my life.

Wong nods, turns, and chains up the book again.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong secures one of the book in the library’s forbidden section

This scene lasts only three minutes, but wow, does it pack a punch! And Wong establishes his sorcerer and warrior bonafides with the bare minimum of dialogue and facial expressions. In his first scene, Wong has already established himself as one of the most interesting and dynamic reel librarian characters EVER.

Library scene #3

A few minutes later, at 43 minutes into the film, Strange returns to the library. Wong is sitting in his chair by the front table. He gets straight to the point.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Facial expression showdown!

Wong: What do you want, Strange?

Strange: Books on astral projection.

Wong: You’re not ready for that.

Strange: Try me Beyonce. Oh come on, you have heard of her right? She’s a huge star. Do you ever laugh? Oh come on just give me the book.

Wong: No.

Strange is not one to take “no” for an answer, so the next scene demonstrates how Strange bends the rules to get what he wants. It’s a seconds-long scene played for comedic effect. The central joke is that Wong, sitting at his desk while Strange steals books literally behind his back, is listening to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” song, which can be heard through his headphones. Of course he knows about Beyonce! This scene also hints at Wong’s (hidden) sense of humor. The joke is ultimately on Strange, as it’s clear that Wong misled him about his knowledge of Beyonce, in order to put a check on Strange’s big ego.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Library theft!

But Wong is also not one to take this deception lightly. In the next scene, the Ancient One scolds Strange for not following “the rules.”

Ancient One: Like the rule against conjuring a gateway in the library?

Strange: Wong told on me?

Ancient One: Trust your teacher, and don’t lose your way.

I like that last line, because it clearly designates the reel librarian as a teacher in his own right and someone to be respected. After all, he is a Master of the Mystic Arts, like the librarian before him. Yep, librarians are educators, too.

Library scene #4

Almost 50 minutes into the film, Strange heads back to the library, which now appears empty. Strange calls out to Wong; hearing no answer, he then heads straight to the restricted. Because OF COURSE. Strange grabs the Eye of Agomotto — which is itself an Infinity Stone and therefore very powerful — and figures out how to turn back time. He then uses the spell to resurrect the torn-out pages in the Book of Cagliostro. While I appreciate that he repaired the book — Strange could have a second career repairing books in libraries across the globe! — this was very reckless behavior.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Doctor Strange resurrects the missing pages from the book of spells

Wong and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) then burst in. Time to teach Strange a lesson.

Strange: I was just doing what was in the book.

Wong: What did the book say about the dangers of performing that ritual?

Strange: I don’t know. I hadn’t gotten to that part yet.

Mordo: Temporal manipulations can create branches in time. Unsuitable dimensional openings. Spatial paradoxes. Time loops! You wanna get stuck reliving the same moment over and over forever or never having existed at all?

Strange: Really should put the warnings before the spell.

It was at this moment that my husband, Sam, yelled aloud at the screen: “You did get the warning before, you just didn’t listen. It was the librarian!” Damn straight. ♥

Wong: Your curiosity could have gotten you killed. You weren’t manipulating the space time continuum, you were breaking it. We do not tamper with natural law. We defend it.

Again, Wong steps up and exposes the consequences of Strange’s rash actions. At the same time, he highlights how the Kamar-Taj librarians are not just defenders of the books in the library, they are also defenders of natural law.

Librarian as teacher

More exposition time! This scene continues with Wong leading a lesson about the scope of what the Masters defend and explains the roles of the Ancient One and the three sanctums of power, Hong Kong, New York, and London. Wong also explains about Dormammu, the evil force that Kaecilius has sold his soul to.

Wong is also the one who links Doctor Strange to the world of the Avengers, in one of the film’s most important lines:

“While heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers, we sorcerers safeguard it against more mystical threats.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

History lesson from the reel librarian

Wong’s lesson is not a minute too soon, because right after he finishes, they learn that the London sanctum has fallen, and that the New York sanctum is under attack. Strange gets sucked into that dimension and fights Kaecilius for the first time to defend the New York sanctum.

Librarian as warrior

At 1 hour, 26 minutes into the film, the final big action sequence takes place in Hong Kong, where the third and final sanctum is. Wong has traveled to Hong Kong, and we see him leading a group of warriors. He directs the warriors to “choose your weapon wisely.”

Wong then picks up his own weapon, which looks like some kind of club relic.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the warrior librarian

Wong then declares, “No one sets foot in this sanctum. No one.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the warrior librarian

And he stays true to his word, going outside to head Kaecilius off before he can enter the Hong Kong sanctum. The two square off, and Wong readies for a fight. Unfortunately, we don’t actually get to see Wong fight. By the time Strange arrives on the scene, the Hong Kong sanctum has fallen, and Wong has been defeated, dead in the rubble.

But luckily, Strange knows how to turn back time, so he manages to resurrect Wong, whose chest had been punctured by a rebar.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Reel librarian death

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Reel librarian resurrection

Librarian as comic relief

In the midst of all the action and drama, Wong then provides two unexpected doses of comic relief. First is Wong’s stunned reaction after Strange resurrects him. Strange expects a lecture from the librarian.

Strange: Breaking the laws of nature, I know.

Wong: Well, don’t stop now.

Strange then figures out a way to beat Dormammu and get rid of the zealots, who get sucked up into Dormammu’s dimension. Strange makes a quip that echoes his earlier schooling from Wong and Mordo.

Strange: You should have stolen the whole book, because the warnings come after the spells.

[Pause]

Wong [laughs]: Oh, that’s funny.

Both Strange and Mordo stop and stare at Wong, who is cracking up and shaking with laughter. This is the first time Wong has smiled, let alone laughed!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the librarian cracks a rare smile

Final library scene

The films ends in the library, the same location where it began. As Strange puts back the Eye of Agamotto, Wong then sets up the upcoming Infinity Wars showdown.

Wong: Wise choice. You’ll wear the Eye of Agamotto once you’ve mastered its powers. Until then best not to walk the streets wearing an Infinity Stone.

Strange: A what?

Wong: You might have a gift for the mystic arts, but you still have much to learn. Word of the Ancient One’s death will spread through the multiverse. Earth has no Sorceror Supreme to defend it. We must be ready.

Strange: We’ll be ready.

Role of the reel librarians

The two Kamar-Taj librarians we meet, one who begins the film and Wong who ends the film, primarily serve as Information Providers. We see the first librarian onscreen for perhaps a total of 30 seconds, while Wong has a much bigger supporting role, with scenes throughout the film.

Wong never really changes; he is steady and steadfast. He is who he is, a Master of the Mystic Arts and guardian of the library and natural law. And even though his laughter at the end of the film is surprising, we already got hints earlier in the film that he had a (hidden) sense of humor. I would argue that Wong, along with nurse Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), is one of the only characters in the film who remains completely trustworthy. He never loses faith in his mission, and the audience never loses faith in Wong. I would also argue that that trust also stems from the fact that he’s a reel librarian, as librarians are often used in cinema as shortcuts to establish trust.

Reel librarian roles are also frequently used to provide exposition and lead to clues that propel the plot forward. In each scene, Wong does both. Benedict Wong is also a first-class actor whose facial expressions and voice lend instant authority and credibility to the role. And thanks to his voice acting and verbal expression, his expository speeches never fall flat.

Wong also serves as Comic Relief throughout the film. His deadpan facial expressions and non-reactions to Strange’s jokes at the beginning of the film help lighten the mood, and the audience joins Strange in amazement when Wong cracks up at one of Strange’s jokes at the end of the film.

Librarian as right-hand man

When I was preparing screenshots I took while watching my DVD copy of the film, I noticed that when Wong is shown with another character (usually Strange) and in a stationary position (i.e. not walking across the screen), he is shown almost always on the right side of the screen.

He’s also often seen on the right side of the screen in extreme closeup, as evidenced below:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Why is this?

I would argue that Wong — ever loyal, ever steadfast — is (almost) always on the right side of the screen because he is always right, period. He’s intelligent, he’s dedicated, he’s ready to defend what he believes is right. It’s visual affirmation that what Wong believes is right IS right.

Kaecilius tries to goad Wong before the Hong Kong fight, taunting Wong that he will “be on the wrong side of history.” But we know better. Wong will remain on the right side of history.

I think it’s also a visual pun that plays off the idea that Wong is the right-hand man of Doctor Strange. He may be a right-hand man, but he is not a sidekick; Wong supports Strange, yes, but he is not subservient to Strange in the film. (Unlike the comics, in which he is Strange’s servant.) The reel librarian is the master who teaches Strange lessons, again and again, but he also owes his life to Strange. In the end, they will face the future together, side by side. “We’ll be ready.

There is one major exception to Wong being on the right side of the screen. When he laughs aloud at Strange’s joke, he is shown on the left side of the screen. The three major warriors are all in a row, with Strange at the center, Mordo on the right, and Wong on the left. (I repeated this screenshot below, so you don’t have to scroll up to doublecheck.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Wong the librarian cracks a rare smile

I think Wong is shown on the left side of the screen in this scene to underscore the strangeness of this moment. The director breaks his visual shortcut for Wong’s character just as Wong breaks character by laughing aloud. It’s a subtle, but very clever, touch.

Changes from comics to cinema

In the comics, Wong is depicted as Strange’s “tea-making manservant.” The director, Scott Derrickson, also co-wrote the script, and he changed Wong’s character from an Asian stereotype to a more active role. I applaud this change, because Wong ends up a very interesting character and an inspirational reel librarian. I also have to admit that it was very nice to see not one, but TWO, reel librarians of color featured in this film (even though one literally ends up, err, on the chopping block).

I do, however, feel obligated to point out the controversy created by the film’s script and casting, particularly the casting of Tilda Swinton, a non-Asian actress, who was cast as the Ancient One, a significant Asian character in the comics. The character gets reframed as a Celt in the film, and Swinton does a great job, as always, bringing gravitas and laser-focus to her role. She is totally believable as an ancient, mystical, wise being. But I have to admit discomfort in knowing that a major Asian role was recast with a white woman, and that Wong’s character was written, at least in part, after-the-fact in order to offset that controversial casting; Derrickson felt obligated to include Wong’s character in the film after rewriting the character of the Ancient One. (But you don’t have to have just one Asian role! If you wanted to put a more feminine, or androgynous, spin on the Ancient One, why not cast an Asian actress?!) You can read more about this passive-aggressive type of racism, called “Orientalism,” here in this very interesting essay, “Orientalism Is Alive And Well In American Cinema.”

Benedict Wong himself was pleased with the changes to his character, stating in an interview:

“I’m certainly not going to be the tea-making manservant. We’re heading in a different direction. He’s more of a drill sergeant. There isn’t any martial arts for Wong in Doctor Strange actually, he’s more of a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj. He’s one of the masters of sorcery.”

Although it’s clear that he did fight with Kaecilius in the Hong Kong showdown, we do not actually see Wong perform martial arts in the film, thereby avoiding another Asian cinematic stereotype.

Book cameo

I wanted to give a shout-out to Stan Lee’s cameo in Doctor Strange, which clocks in at 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, during the chase and fight scene between the zealots and Strange and Mordo. Stan Lee is seen on a bus, reading a book and laughing, oblivious to Strange and Mordo slamming into the side of the bus.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Cameo of Stan Lee

The book Stan Lee is reading is Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, a book of Huxley’s experience taking psychedelic drugs and how that influenced this art. This cameo most likely plays off the long-held association between psychedelic drugs and the kaleidoscope imagery of the Doctor Strange comics (something Marvel disputes). Stan Lee laughs uproariously at the book he’s reading in this cameo, so perhaps he is dismissing this decades-long notion?

Last but not least…

Director Derrickon has also hinted that Wong has a significant role to play in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film. We shall see! I plan on watching it this opening weekend and reporting back next week with a “First Impressions” type of post.

Are you looking forward to the Avengers: Infinity War film? Have you seen Doctor Strange? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Avengers: Infinity War Trailer #1 (2018) | Movieclips Trailers” uploaded by Movieclips Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Doctor Strange. Dir. Scott Derrickson. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong. Marvel Studios, 2016.

Mellor, Louisa. “Exclusive: Benedict Wong on new direction of his Doctor Strange role.” Den of Geek, 27 June 2016.

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Call number shenanigans | Public library scene in another ‘Psych’ TV episode

I was still enjoying watching episodes of the Psych TV show before our Amazon Prime free trial ran out… and color me surprised when I came across another library scene — and this time, a librarian character! — in the Season 5 episode “Dual Spires.”(See my post from a few weeks ago about a school library scene in a Season 2 episode of Psych.) This episode, which originally aired back in December 2010, brilliantly riffs off of the iconic Twin Peaks series. Below is a 20-second promo for the episode, which includes a peek at the reel librarian on the intro image and at the very end:

The basic plot of this episode? Here’s the write-up from Prime:

Shawn and Gus receive a mysterious email inviting them to the Cinnamon Festival in Dual Spires, a quirky small town nearly invisible on a map. They arrive to find themselves embroiled in the mystery of the drowning death of a teenage girl — who was declared dead under similar circumstances seven years ago in Santa Barbara. Sherilynn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, Robyn Lively, Lenny Von Dohlen and Catherine Coulson guest star.

The call number clue

When Shawn and Gus arrive at the town — which has a population of 288 — they are on the spot when the girl’s body is discovered by the lake. Twelve minutes into the 50-minute episode, Shawn also finds the one spot of cell phone coverage by the lake — they’ve been told the town has no internet or phone coverage — and his phone goes off, alerting him to a new email.

There’s a close-up of the email message, which is one short line: F796.352

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Call number clue from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

I immediately screamed out loud, “It’s a call number!!!

Note:  Because I am a librarian, I also knew that this call number was a Library of Congress call number, a classification system that uses a combination of letters and numbers. And y’all know I looked up the general topic area for this particular call number, right? Class F, as according to the Library of Congress site, is the section for “Local History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America,” and the call number range for 791-805 focuses on the history of New Mexico.

Back to the episode…

First library scene

A few minutes later, Shawn and Gus then bicycle to the local public library after a suspect, the town’s resident jock, says he was in the library during the night the teenage girl died. The first library scene occurs 20 minutes into the episode.

The exterior of the library kind of looks like a converted train station, doesn’t it?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Public library exterior in “Dual Spires” Psych episode

The interior of the library reveals it to be one long room, with a fireplace on one end and rows of bookcases on the other. The librarian’s desk faces the door, and the middle of the room contains a chunky wooden table, wooden filing cabinets, and old-fashioned library card catalog drawers. The librarian’s desk has stacks of books piled up on it, along with a magnifying glass and a retro-style tabletop fan. Basically, this library is where time stopped in the 1940s.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Library interior from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

The reel librarian in this episode also looks like she hails from the 1940s, in her retro attire and hairstyle. Sherilyn Fenn, who starred in the original Twin Peaks TV series, plays the librarian, Maudette Hornsby. Her character name provides an initial clue that her reel librarian character is going to play off of reel librarian stereotypes, particularly the Naughty Librarian character type. Demure yet sexy attire? Check! Glasses? Check! Suggestive, flirty dialogue? Check!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

The reel librarian Maudette Hornsby from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

Let’s listen in on their conversation, which provides a lot of exposition and flirting:

Shawn: Excuse us.

Maudette: Shhhh. Keep your voice down, please.

GusIt’s just us and you.

Maudette: Just a bunch of words on paper to you guys, right? Wrong. Each is alive with a story to tell. Listen.

[Pause, as Shawn and Gus cock their ears in silence.]

Maudette: I’m just messing with you guys! Thanks for playing along. That was really sweet. I’m Maudette Hornsby. Isn’t cherry the best? [sips a cherry soda and straw suggestively, invoking the “cherry stem” scene from Twin Peaks]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

GusThe best what?

MaudetteEverything, silly. I thought you were psychic.

Shawn I am. I am the psychic. But how did you know that?

MaudetteMmmm, word travels. You know, we don’t get a lot of gossip around here. So, untimely death, a psychic, and a black man all in one day. Epic.

ShawnI really thought we were being discreet.

GusDo you even know what discreet is? That’s a serious question.

ShawnI know what–

Gus:  [To Shawn] Shhh. [To Paula] Was Randy Jackson [the football star] with you the night Paula died?

MaudetteWhy? Do you think she was m-u-r-d-e-r-e-d or something?

ShawnM-a-y-b-e.

MaudetteYes, Randy was here. We have a very special bond, you see. His mom passed away when he was very young. Sheriff Jackson never remarried, so I sort of stepped in and filled a role. For both of them.

Shawn then spies a row of books behind the librarian, and the camera zooms in on the call numbers. These are clearly call numbers using the Library of Congress classification system, which uses a combination of letters and numbers on the first line of call numbers. But one call number in the middle reveals it’s part of a “Parent Teacher” collection, which is odd because none of the other spine labels have that designation. (My thought at this point was that the propmaster didn’t look too closely at their book props.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of Library of Congress call numbers

But the glimpse of call numbers are enough for Shawn to put two and two together and realize that their email clue is a call number.

GusDo you mind if we poke around?

Shawn Poke. Peek. Peek around.

MaudetteKnock yourselves out.

Shawn and Gus then walk around the back of a standing bookcase, where Shawn reveals his deductions.

ShawnOkay, remember the last email, the one with all the weird hieroglyphics?

Gus:  They were letters and numbers, Shawn.

ShawnOkay, it was one of these things. [Points to a call number on the shelf.]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Call numbers are not hieroglyphics, Shawn

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers

GusThe Dewey Decimal system? I didn’t even know they still used this.

ShawnThat’s ’cause people don’t want to crack war codes when the payoff is Jane Eyre.

GusWhat was the number, Shawn?

ShawnF796.352

Gus700’s, that’s sports and recreations.

Okay, I have to press pause on this analysis — and this episode, which I literally did in real life at this point — because THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Let me break down it down.

  1. I am usually #TeamGus, but WTF with the dismissal of the Dewey Decimal system?! That’s just cold, Gus. Just about every public library system worldwide uses the Dewey Decimal system.
  2. This second closeup of the call numbers, as seen above, highlights call numbers that are clearly using the Dewey Decimal system — which uses numbers only, between the range of 000’s to 900’s, for the first line of its call numbers — instead of the Library of Congress system we just saw seconds ago on books behind the reel librarian’s desk. And NO LIBRARY EVER IN THE HISTORY OF LIBRARIES uses both Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classification systems for organizing their collections. You choose one or the other. Most public and school libraries go with Dewey, while most academic libraries go with Library of Congress. The only reason you would have both call numbers in your library is if you are in the middle of transitioning from one system to the other (which is so tedious, y’all, and most libraries don’t bother).
  3. Shawn clearly recalls the call number and says aloud the “F” in that call number yet fails to notice that the call numbers he just pointed to do NOT have letters at the beginning of their numbers. And Shawn is the one who is supposed to be so detail-oriented that he’s able to pass off those observational skills as being psychic. (Uh, spoiler if you’ve never seen the show.)
  4. Gus is correct that the “796” part of the call number falls in the “Arts & recreation” range of the Dewey Decimal classification system, and the 790’s are specifically “Sports, games & entertainment” (and yes, a search for 796.352 on WorldCat pulls up books on golf, because I am thorough, y’all, unlike the consultants on this show). But that doesn’t matter, because that “F” in front of that call number completely changes that call number from a Dewey Decimal call number into a Library of Congress call number. If the call number clue had JUST been “796.352,” I would not be getting ALL CAPSY right now.
  5. So the show switches — mid-library scene!!! — from Library of Congress to Dewey Decimal call number systems, and seems utterly clueless about THEIR OWN CLUES.

This show should have consulted with a real-life librarian, who would have pointed out that error in a nanosecond. And yes, I totally yelled that at the screen.

But the show wasn’t done being clueless. Because as Gus backs out and peeks at the librarian — slurping her cherry soda — we get more close-ups of books on the bookcases. And these books have NO CALL NUMBERS whatsoever on their spines.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of no call numbers

So. We have three different call number situations going on in this scene, within a span of 30 seconds:

  1. Library of Congress call numbers on a row of books behind the librarian
  2. Dewey Decimal call numbers on a row of books in a standing bookcase
  3. No call numbers at all on a row of books at the end of a bookcase.

The propmaster for this episode totally messed up. I. Am. Seriously. Displeased. And thank you, reader, for allowing me to rant online about my rage over these call number shenanigans.

But time stops for no librarian, so the scene continues as Gus and Shawn move around to the next bookcase.

GusThese books are archaic.

ShawnAnd really old.

GusExcept this one. [Pulls out a book, reads title.] Putt Your Way to a Better Life.

ShawnBy Earl Wyndam.

This is an inside joke for Twin Peaks fans, as “Windom Earle” was a character from the TV series. But y’all know I also doublechecked WorldCat for that title, right, just to be sure? Yep. No such title.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

More book clues in the “Dual Spires” Psych episode

GusMy short game could use some work. [thumbs through book]

ShawnThere’s no pictures?

GusThis is the weirdest golf book I’ve ever seen.

Shawn then takes the book and flips off the cover, revealing the book’s true title:  Reincarnation and Rebirth, by Ann Power. Clue!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Closeup of another book clue

Again, I looked that title and author up in WorldCat, just to make sure. No book by that exact title, although some come close, but there is an author by that name who looks to be an historian.

ShawnOur emailer wants us to think that Paula was reincarnated? We should get back to the lake. Juliet should have something by now.

As clues go, this one’s more than a little thin. But the object of this library scene is to get to the next clue. And set up another potential suspect, which the next shot does.

Shawn puts the book back on the shelf, replacing the cover. Immediately, we get a tried-and-tested scary-movie trick of a person’s face staring from the other side of the bookcase. This time, it’s a close-up of the librarian, who is giving her best “librarian glare.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Librarian glare!

MaudetteYou’re gonna need a library card if you want to check something out.

ShawnI think we’re good, Maudette.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Two scared dudes

The reel librarian definitely scared them! (And the audience?)

Second library scene

This first scene in the library lasts only three-and-a-half minutes. The second scene set in the public library comes in at 29 minutes into the episode, when Shawn and Gus need some more clues (and a new suspect). This second library scene is even shorter, only two minutes long, but it starts out memorably, with a close-up of the reel librarian’s peep-toe heels — and her legs.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

A peep at the librarian’s peep-toe heels

ShawnNice shoes.

Maudette I know.

ShawnGus was wondering if you would like to be his date to Betty Boop Night at the road house.

[…]

Maudette [to Gus]:  Sure you can keep up with me? I like to dance ALL night long.

There is a suggestive pause, which includes multiple flirty looks from Maudette.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Reel librarian flirting

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Reel librarian flirting

GusWell.. Shawn?

MaudetteRelax. [Rolls her eyes.] Okay, here we go. This is the most recent Dual Spires yearbook.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Librarian to the research rescue!

ShawnThank you, Maudette. Feels a little thin.

Maudette Small book for a small school. [We learn that there were only 6 people in the graduating class, and Maudette’s class only had 3 graduates! Exposition much?]

ShawnPaula sure is in a lot of photos.

MaudetteOh, that’s not surprising. She loved the attention.

Shawn thumbs through the yearbook and then notices a clue. He does NOT have a poker face.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Clue face

Then as the guys leave, Maudette thumbs through the yearbook herself, seeming determined to figure out the clue for herself.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode

Librarian hunts for clues in the yearbook

There is another library scene in the episode’s final 10 minutes, a scene that sets up the final action, but I don’t want to give away any major spoilers. Let’s just say… Maudette is keeping a few more secrets that play a vital and personal role in figuring out the mystery and the murder(s).

Significance of reel librarian role

So what is the significance of Maudette’s role as a reel librarian? She is a supporting but memorable character, one who plays off both the Naughty Librarian and Information Provider character types, winking suggestively at Shawn and Gus, as well as the audience. Maudette also provides a lot of exposition and clues to the audience.

We also learn more about Maudette’s personal life, through details she and other characters reveal, like how she was close to the football star student and his dad. However, we never see her physically outside the library. She is physically — and, uh, literally — tied to her library until the very end.


Have you seen this episode of Psych? Did you remember this reel librarian character? Please leave a comment and share! And feel free to browse more TV reel librarian characters on my TV Shows page.

Sources used:

“Dual Spires.” Psych. USA Network, Dec. 2010.

Psych on USA Network – “Dual Spires” 12/1 Promo” uploaded by Psych on USA, Standard YouTube license.

RIP to a reel librarian

Last week, a friend and librarian colleague let me know that Peggy Platt, the comedian who played a librarian in Harry and the Hendersons, had recently passed away. My friend also let me know that the filming location for the library in that film was the West Seattle branch of the Seattle Public Library system. But update, there is a discussion going on right now in the “Librarians in the Northwest” Facebook group with convincing evidence that it’s actually the Green Lake branch — librarian crowd-sourcing for the win! (Side note: I really appreciate how many friends and family members alert me to reel librarian movies and updates!)

I had previously written a post analyzing that library scene in Harry and the Hendersons, and I knew that the film had been made in the Pacific Northwest — but I hadn’t realized that the person who played the reel librarian was a local comedian.

I found Peggy Platt’s obituary on the Seattle Times website, and learned that she passed away last Monday at the age of 58 (so young!). There is also a memorial service planned at a local theatre this coming Monday, April 16; more details are in the article. I also learned that Peggy was a leader in Seattle’s LGBTQ community, and that she loved using this quote from a past Seattle Times profile:

“Let’s keep this simple: Peggy Platt is a feminist. Peggy Platt is funny. Peggy Platt thinks feminist issues can be funny.”

Her Seattle Times obituary also highlighted Peggy’s “national marquee moment” in Harry and the Hendersons, describing her role as “a deadpan librarian.” They even included a clip of her short but memorable turn as a reel librarian:

RIP to a reel librarian and real-life inspiration.

Regarding a public library

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, directed by Mike Nichols and written by J. J. Abrams (!), a library scene takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie.

Movie plot

But first, let’s set the context. Harrison Ford plays the title role, a hot-shot and ruthless New York lawyer who is out of sync with his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, or his wife, Sarah (played by Annette Bening). One fateful night, Henry gets shot by a kid holding up a corner store, a shot that causes brain damage. When Henry wakes up, he has to figure out how to start all over again — including the basics of movement and speech — including getting to know his family again.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.

Library rules

Rachel takes her father to the library, and she explains the basic rules of the library on the walk there.

Rachel: Some of them [books] you can borrow and take home, but some of them you have to read here.

HenryAnd you can’t talk loud.

RachelRight.

Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)

Library scene

The camera then pans quickly through the library, following the polished floors and atmosphere so quiet you can hear every step of every shoe and squeak of every chair. Every table is occupied, showcasing a variety of people.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Henry’s daughter hard at work in the library

Henry’s daughter is working and studying, writing in a notebooks. A stack of National Geographic magazines are on the table in-between father and daughter. (It isn’t clear if the magazines are for Henry or for his daughter.) There is also a large photography book open in front of Henry.

Henry then starts throwing wads of paper from a box of call number slips, crumpling them up, and then flicking them at his daughter. (This is the part of the scene that makes the trailer.) The sly expressions on Harrison Ford’s face make this scene a(n initially) comic one.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

What? I’m not up to anything…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Nothing to see here…

His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.

Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The library is VERY serious.

But the third time he flicks a paper wad at her, Rachel cracks a smile. But then this short scene turns serious.

Rachel: Read your book.

HenryI can’t.

Rachel:  [Realization dawning on her face] I’m sorry.

Rachel’s mother no doubt hid a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter, including details about how he had to painstakingly learn how to speak and walk again. It never occurred to Rachel — or the audience?! — until that moment in the library that her father no longer remembered how to read.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The moment Henry’s daughter realizes her father can’t read

This realization then leads to Henry’s daughter teaching him how to read again. This is significant because he had always put pressure on his daughter to be smart and self-reliant and grown-up; this friction had caused emotional distance between them. Henry being able to admit weakness to his daughter helps them bond again.

It’s a poignant scene. And that this discovery — that Henry can’t remember how to read — is made IN A LIBRARY makes this scene even more poignant and memorable.

Although memorable, this scene lasts less than two minutes. No librarian is visibly present in the scene. Theoretically, one of the several people in the background could be a librarian, but there is nothing obvious — like, say a prop like a book cart — to make this connect visibly clear for the audience. And no librarian is needed in this scene; rather, the focus is on the relationship between father and daughter.

Therefore, Regarding Henry lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.

Library filming location

The filming locations mentioned in its IMDb page are very general — it was filmed in New York City — but luckily, an internet search turned up the “On the Set of New York” site. This site’s page for Regarding Henry reveals that the library scene was filmed at the 5th avenue branch of the New York Public Library. This turns out to the iconic central, or main, branch of the library. Kudos to director Mike Nichols for finding a way to make the library space in this scene look more cozy and warm than the usual cinematic shots of the NYPL central branch.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Interior shot for the library scene

Sources used:

Regarding Henry. (1991). Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Rebecca Miller. Paramount Pictures.

Regarding Henry – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2012, Standard YouTube license.

Research skills: What ‘Suits’ you?

Sometimes, ideas for posts come from the most unlikeliest of places.

Trying Suits on for size

This past week, I decided to give the TV series Suits a try (while we are still enjoying a free preview of Amazon Prime!).

In the pilot episode, I was particularly drawn to the character of Rachel Zane (played by very-soon-to-be-a-princess-in-real-life Meghan Markle), who is the law firm’s top paralegal and researcher — and knows it! I do love a woman who is smart and is not afraid to be smart.

Here are just a couple of snippets of how Rachel describes herself and her work ethic in the pilot episode:

  • “I’m smart.”
  • “I take my job seriously.”

Breaking down the research scene

A little over halfway into the episode, the newbie assistant lawyer, Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams), asks Rachel for her help on a case. Let’s beak down their conversation.

First, the ask and recognition of Rachel’s research skillz. (I also have to admit that at one point, I thought seriously about becoming a paralegal and putting my own research skills to use in a different way.)

MikeRachel! I need your help!

RachelSo why are you coming to me?

MikeBecause Donna says you’re the best researcher in the firm.

They walk into her office, which, in the pilot episode at least, is lined with bookshelves. A woman after my own heart!

Screenshot from pilot episode of 'Suits'

Rachel Zane, paralegal

Screenshot from pilot episode of 'Suits'

Rachel Zane at her desk

Mike: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You have an office? How do you have an office, and I have a cubicle?

RachelLike you said, I’m the best researcher in the firm.

Next, the research set-up:

RachelYou’re asking to look at private files without any evidence of your assertion.

MikeYeah, but the only way we can find the evidence is to look at those files.

RachelIt’s a rickety argument.

MikeBut is there precedent?

RachelLet’s go see if we can find one.

Finally, the pay-off at the firm’s in-house law library. (Two stories, no less!)

Screenshot from pilot episode of 'Suits'

Rachel Zane in her natural habitat, the law library

RachelResearch is as much art as science. So, we’re gonna look at privacy and harassment law to see if we can find a combination of cases to make an argument. I’ll take privacy.

MikeI’ll take harassment law.

RachelThis’ll take a while.

Final lessons about research

What do we learn from these few seconds about research with ace paralegal Rachel Zane?

Screenshot from pilot episode of 'Suits'

Rachel Zane, paralegal, tellin’ it like it is

  1. Research is a combination of art and science — in other words, being BOTH “book smart” AND “street smart”
  2. Have a plan before you start researching
  3. Think about multiple starting points/keywords/potential sources
  4. Research can take time
  5. If you need help, ask a research expert!

I’m admittedly new to Suits — even though its final season is about to air, having already hit that 100-episode marker! — but I was very pleasantly surprised by how invested I was in the characters by the end of the pilot episode.

Have you seen Suits? Do you like Rachel Zane’s character? Please leave a comment and share!