Here are my bottom picks for reel librarian portrayals — again, for now. Again, I have tried to limit my comments to specifically address the depiction of the librarian(s) in each film. Some of the films in this Bottom 10 are good, or even classic, films, so I am not judging the films on just their artistic or storytelling merit. I am, however, judging the portrayals of librarians in these films. So here’s my personal take on how the following depictions (mis)represent the occupation.
(Arranged in alphabetical order)
Cain and Mabel (1936)
One of the plainest and most severe Spinster Librarians ever onscreen! A couple kisses in a public library, and a librarian — wearing a high-necked blouse, cameo brooch, and wilted print dress — immediately descends upon them, quite like a vulture.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Another severe Spinster Librarian, one who is loath to give out information to a reporter. She doesn’t so much as have hair as a helmet!
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Another Spinster Librarian (a pattern perhaps?), this one arguably the most recognizable of all reel librarians. Lovely Mary becomes — what else?! — a librarian in the film’s nightmare alternate reality, after her husband George is granted his wish that he had never been born. In this classic film — which I’ve written about before, it’s one of my favorites as a film, but not as a librarian film — the message is depressingly clear: get married soon, or you will end up an old-maid librarian.
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
This film is not so much a lamentable depiction of a librarian — Joe seems to want more responsibility in his job — as a (perhaps unintended?) criticism and over-the-top depiction on how little librarians are valued and respected. In one scene, he is asked about his job, and he states, “I was an advertising librarian for a medical supply company.” The reaction? “Oh. I have no response to that.” Devastating.
The Name of the Rose (1986)
There are two male librarians in this medieval mystery — one a scary-looking, almost skeletal, man who restricts any access to the library and the other an overweight flagellant who engages in sexually deviant behavior. Not the reel librarian’s finest hour.
Off Beat (1986)
A completely ridiculous film — the title isn’t kidding! It’s a film that involves satiny cop costumes, a bank heist, and show tunes — no, I’m not kidding, I just put all those words into one sentence — with a cast of library employees who are all dysfunctional and socially inept in some way.
Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
This film made me sit up and yell at the screen! It includes the completely unethical behavior of two librarians, who set a trap — using information from circulation records, no less! — to turn two frustrated writers into the police. Yes, the writers had typed obscene passages onto book covers, but that does not justify one mean-spirited librarian’s actions.
A thoroughly depressing depiction of libraries and librarians in the future. Librarians have turned into censors, as their job now is to summarize and edit manuscripts to be suitable for the public. They are also completely ineffectual as computers have replaced them; one librarian flippantly laments a computer’s loss of all data from “the whole of the thirteenth century.” Sigh.
A Simple Plan (1998)
For me, this quote sums up why this film is on this list: “What about me — spending the rest of my life 8 hours a day with a fake smile plastered on my face, checking out books?” Double sigh.
Sophie’s Choice (1982)
After Sophie (Meryl Streep in an Oscar-winning role) dares to ask a question, an intimidating and rude librarian causes her to faint! Enough said.
- Academic/research librarians blogging in non-librarian communities [Confessions of a Science Librarian] (scienceblogs.com)
- It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype? (reel-librarians.com)
- Of Citizen Kane (ageer370.wordpress.com)
- Women in the Library (athenaeumofme.wordpress.com)
- Where shhh happens? I don’t think so. (philbradley.typepad.com)