Here are my top picks for reel librarian portrayals — for now. The list changes and expands 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. Arranged in alphabetical order by film title.
Bunny Watson & co. in Desk Set (1957):
In this Class I film, 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.
Wong in Doctor Strange (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
In these MCU movies, Benedict Wong plays Wong, a Master of the Mystic Arts who also becomes the new Monastery Librarian. Wong teaches Strange several important lessons throughout Doctor Strange, and he becomes Strange’s right-hand man in battle (and beyond). In Avengers: Infinity War, Wong teaches Tony Stark about the Infinity Stones — and (literally) saves Tony’s ass! In Avengers: Endgame, we discover — spoiler alert! — that Wong is the one who actually assembled the Avengers! #WongForever
Related posts: Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019) ; 3 reel librarians who have died in the line of duty ; Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films ; Perspectives about Wong’s reel librarian character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ; Will reel librarian Wong return in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’? ; First impressions: Wong’s cameos in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ (2021)
Sylvia Marpole in An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000):
Not a great movie, but this Class I film 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.
Hannah in Follow the Stars Home (2001, TV movie):
In this Class III Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, Kimberly Williams plays a young woman whose husband deserts her and their young child, who was born with genetic abnormalities. Hannah, her mother, a public librarian, helps raise the child. There are several scenes set in the library, including a party scene! We get to see Hannah in her professional role as librarian as well as in her personal life as a mother and grandmother. Throughout, Hannah is warm, understanding, and intelligent. She’s not a saint; instead, she comes across as a realistically kind and thoughtful woman.
Related posts: Meet Hannah in ‘Follow the Stars Home’
Gloria Mundy in Foul Play (1978):
In this Class I film, 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?!
Neil Klugman in Goodbye, Columbus (1969):
In this Class I film, Neil, a poor Bronx librarian, learns some some hard life lessons during a summer romance. The film does NOT depict Neil’s librarian co-workers in a positive light — they are all dysfunctional, anti-social, and racist — but there is one particularly touching scene in which Neil reaches out to a young black 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 people and public service.
Mike Hanlon in It (1990, TV mini-series) and It: Chapter Two (2019)
Mike Hanlon (played by Tim Reid in the 1990 TV mini-series and by Isaiah Mustafa in the 2019 film version), the lone black member of the young Losers’ Club, becomes the town librarian. He stays behind and becomes the researcher and historian of Pennywise the Clown. Therefore, he is in position to reunite the Losers’ Club in order to defeat It once and for all. Mike is the true hero of both cinematic versions of this Stephen King novel.
Flynn Carsen in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004, TV movie):
In one of my favorite scenes in this Class I TV movie, Flynn Carsen 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), as well as a TV series entitled The Librarians.
Related posts: ‘Quest for the’ Liberated Librarian ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn) ; Stylish male reel librarians ; In name only? Librarians as title characters
Lynn Wells in Major League (1989):
One of the few films to highlight an athletic librarian. In this Class II film, Lynn (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.”
Related posts: Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989) ; A reel librarian returns in ‘Major League II’ (1994) ; Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?
Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy (1999):
In this Class I film, 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 (inferior) sequels.
Miss Turner in 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 this Class I film 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.
Dr. Abigail Chase in National Treasure (2004) and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007):
Diane Kruger plays Dr. Abigail Chase in both the original adventure and its less-than-mediocre sequel, both Class I films. Dr. Chase is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival spaces — the National Gallery and the Library of Congress — interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. Dr. Abigail Chase is a reel archivist role model!
Mary in Party Girl (1995):
A Class I 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.
Related posts: Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’
Charles Halloway in Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983):
In this Class I film, 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.
Related posts: Librarians in horror films ; Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films and thrillers ; ‘Libraries raised me’ – a tribute to Ray Bradbury ; The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)
Vox in The Time Machine (2002):
Vox has become one of my favorite reel librarian characters, and for me, is the star of this otherwise mediocre remake and Class III film. Vox is the heart and soul of this movie — even of knowledge itself! He is the self-described “compendium of all human knowledge.” Vox is a classic example of the Information Provider character type.
Cheri Jameson in The Twelve Trees of Christmas (2013, TV movie):
In this Class I Lifetime TV movie, Lindy Booth plays Cheri, a children’s librarian who tries to save her library from being demolished for a condo building. To generate community support and media attention, she thinks up a contest for library users to decorate Christmas trees. Most of the movie takes place in and around the library, and there are also a few scenes in Cheri’s apartment. Cheri is warm, funny, creative, and sincere, and we get to see those qualities in both her professional and personal lives. Plus, she gets to explain that yes, library science is a real thing! 🙂