Movie in a haystack

I love movies, and I love librarians. And I love watching librarians in movies. That much is obvious.

Most people are surprised when I mention there are hundreds, even thousands (when you count up the foreign films, TV shows, etc.), of examples of reel librarians. But I’m sure that other professions, like lawyers or teachers, have scores more cinematic counterparts. Of course, most reel librarians are not significant to the film (see my lists for Class III and Class IV), so when you think about major roles for reel librarians, the number is considerably smaller (see my lists for Class I and Class II). And hey, while you’re at it, take a look at my Master List for the most complete list I have compiled so far of reel librarian films.

I’ve already written about how I go about getting movies to watch. But how do I go about finding which movies have librarians?

It helps that I’m a list-maker. 😉

Selected bibliography for my thesis – click for larger image

So here’s how I’ve done it, starting with research for my undergraduate thesis, A Glimpse through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film, over a decade ago. First, I wrote down all the librarian movies I could think of. As I remember, that list wasn’t very long, but I’m sure It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Desk Set (1957) were on it. (FYI, I eventually ended up with a list of 47 titles for my thesis.)

Then I gathered as many sources as possible about the subject — you can see these in my Resources page — including books, articles, dissertations (gold mines!), and web sites. I began a file of movie titles, and checked this growing list against any new resource I was able to get my hands on.

This remains my basic strategy.


The Whole Library Handbook series (see left) is quite useful, with a “Librariana” section and “Media” sub-section in every edition. There are several annotated filmography articles out there, including Martin Raish’s website, Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography, which have proved invaluable. And, as I’ve mentioned before, Raish’s interest grew from asking his students for examples they knew of. The Film Librarian site is also a good starting point. – advanced search

I also have scoured sites like, using “advanced search” features to look for librarian films. Searching tip #1: Seek out and use any advanced search options you can!

And IMDb – the Internet Movie Database. How I love thee. I cannot even count the ways. It has fantastic basic and advanced search options, including keyword, plot summaries, advanced title text searches, etc. Its advanced keyword search is called MoKA, Movie Keyword Analyzer. Fancy! I have been using the IMDb to help compile these lists for years now, and its search features and capabilities have continued to improve.

IMDb search bar

My family has been very supportive of my research and contribute ideas and titles all the time. My mom has sent film copies my way – always much appreciated (thanks, Mom!). My husband has come back from several academic conferences with books in tow — including the best book published so far on the topic, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999.

So, as you can see, there’s not just one approach — I use many, many sources available in various formats. Sometimes, it can be tedious, as it IS a bit like finding a movie in a haystack. But the hunt can be as exciting as watching the films themselves.

I enjoy re-browsing some of my favorite sites on this topic, including Movie Librarians: Notable Librarians & Libraries in Film, as well as the newest addition to my resource list, the Libraries at the Movies blog. For example, from these sites I’ve added about 15 new titles in the past couple of weeks, including: Jury Duty (1995), Grave of the Vampire (1974), The Incubus (1982), Frankenstein (2005 TV movie), The Namesake (2005), The Pink Chiquitas (1987), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979, plus a remake is coming out soon).

I continue to add movies to my various lists, and I’d like to think that one day, my site will be a go-to resource for others interested in the topic. I keep my ears and eyes open for any news about upcoming librarian films or characters.

And I find that people, those who are aware of my interest, come to me about new (or old) movies with reel librarians. I love when that happens! So let me know if you have a movie in mind with a memorable librarian. And please share your personal favorites – I always enjoy discussing reel librarians. 🙂


Weekend Special: You had me at hello

You had me at 'hello'

Happy weekend!

♥ Sometimes, I find I just need some pretty in my life. Here are some fantastic-yet-forgotten fonts of the Art Nouveau period.

♥ I’m a listmaker, so I love articles that list and rank things. And since this is a blog about (a particular slice of) pop culture, why not throw in Slate’s list of the new classics? Let the arguing begin.

♥ This site was recommended by my awesome husband, Sam Snoek-Brown. It’s a blog featuring a cute baby boy named Arthur, who happens to enjoy recreating scenes from classic movies. That’s right. You know me so well, Sam. 😉

♥ This clip of librarians getting their best Lady Gaga on has been out there awhile. This does not negate its awesomeness. (Don’t forget the databases!)

Repeat offenders

I was recently updating my Actor and Actress lists, and I noticed a couple of actors who have portrayed reel librarians more than once. And I don’t mean those who have portrayed the same character in multiple movies (Stringer Davis in the Miss Marple series of the 1960’s; Noah Wyle and Bob Newhart in The Librarian TV movies; Rachel Weisz in The Mummy franchise). I’m talking about those who have multiple reel librarian characters to their resume.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

John Rothman is one of those character actors who have been in LOTS of movies — so when you see him, you feel a flash of vague recognition. He has portrayed two reel librarians, each one quite brief yet memorable. He played Roger Delacorte in Ghostbusters (1984) and the Librarian in Sophie’s Choice (1982). He was obviously the go-to male librarian of the early 1980’s.

His role in Sophie’s Choice has already made my “Hall of Shame” list — talk about a memorable first impression! He is so rude in the brief library scene that Sophie (Meryl Streep) faints right after. Yes, of course, there are other factors affecting her poor health — but I am convinced it is the tongue-lashing she receives from this terrible reel librarian that pushes her over the edge (see below). In a film filled with flashbacks of Nazi soldiers, his librarian character STILL manages to come off as mean. Yikes.

So how did Rothman do his second time around? Not much better, I’m sorry to say. In Ghostbusters, he plays an insensitive, nervy library administrator, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. Sigh.

Justine Johnston has also played two reel librarians. She barely registers in Running on Empty (1988) when she helps the main characters with some microfilm.

However, she certainly makes a bigger impression in her next reel librarian role, in The New Guy (2002). In that film’s opening scene, Johnston’s character portrays some of the most crass behavior EVER from a reel librarian! Let’s just say she provides a unique twist to the film — and to a young man’s certain sensitive body part. This unfortunate — and, no doubt, painful — incident happens in front of the entire school. So this reel librarian basically becomes the reason the main character switches schools. Poor guy!

Woof! Beware of librarian

Woof! (1989) details the comic adventures of an English boy, Eric (played by Edward Fidoe), who turns into a dog — a Norfolk terrior, to be exact — whenever his nose starts twitching. The movie, although a bit dull and hokey to me, is connected to a long-running (!) British TV series.

Stereotypes abound in this movie. There is the stuffy, child-hating teacher who yells at students to keep off the grass; the absent-minded and slightly buffoonish father; and, of course, the glasses-wearing, sour-faced librarian. This movie seems harmless enough, but I got an overwhelming sense of rules, rules, RULES. There are rules about not walking on the school lawn, no toys in the pool, no dogs allowed, no talking, and so on. Perhaps the boy (subconsciously) simply wants to escape!

The boy becomes determined to figure out why he keeps turning into a dog and tells his parents he’ll be going to the library later. His mother’s reaction? To feel his forehead and ask if he’s all right. It seems in this household, going to the library is odd behavior and cause for concern. Brushing away his mom’s concern, he tells his not-so-bright friend, Roy, at school that they must start by collecting data. Roy sees a light bulb, “Oh, that’s why you asked about the library tickets!”

Their first stop is the school library, a small room with few books available. There doesn’t appear to be any school librarian. The room is filled with older wood-and-metal tables and chairs, a chalkboard, a bulletin board covered with pictures, and a few low bookcases. From one angle, we see a large window along the back wall with a view of trees. There are a few books haphazardly stacked up on one bookcase, and a small 6-drawer card catalog on top of another. Overall, the look is very cluttered and disorganized.

The school library from the Woof! movie – no school librarian to be seen

The school library in the TV series seems to be better stocked – did they finally get a librarian?

Although the scene is only two minutes long, the message of RULES gets hammered again. Two girls come in and immediately ask, “Have you got permission to be in here?” Then a teacher — the same one who had yelled at them about walking on the grass — bursts in and yells again. “What are you up to?!” The fact that he’s holding a gun in his hand is commented on but never explained. Decidedly odd.

“It’s not easy is it, research?” Eric muses, on their way to the public library. This five-minute scene takes place toward the end of the first hour of the movie. The public library looks cheerful from the outside, with its traditional red brick and gold lettering; it seems quite busy and popular with lots of people going in and out. No “beware of librarian” signs to be seen.

The next shot showcases the main librarian (Sheila Steafel), checking out books with a scanner at the Circulation desk. She appears to be middle-aged, with short blondish hair, glasses perched low on her nose. She wears a tan cardigan and a light blue/grey blouse with an undone bow at the neckline. She wags her finger at two girls, who promptly move to the other side of the librarian’s right side (again, RULES alert!). After the girls have moved to the proper place, the librarian then motions for their library card. There is another librarian, uncredited, with her back to the camera. We see glimpses of her later on; she is of African descent, and she also wears rather conservative clothing (a black cardigan, white button-up shirt, long black-and-white polka-dotted skirt).

We get to see more of the public library, which has many bookcases, light-colored walls, and several informational signs. A character even mentions a second floor. There are several dark wood tables and comfy chairs visible.

Actions speak louder than words

The boys apparently find more books, judging by the stack on their table, but their research is cut short. Next, we see the librarian standing in the middle of the floor, in a light tan, calf-length skirt and brown flats, but without her glasses. She’s waving a large bell, a not-so-subtle way to signify closing time. Seeing no reaction from two kids right beside her, she waves the bell right in their faces (see right). Still no words, just crude gestures. After putting the bell back on the desk, she turns to a book cart, then taps impatiently to the man standing on the other side of the cart. He moves quickly (fearing worse her bite or her bark?), and she hurriedly pushes the cart in front of him.

Disaster strikes! Eric turns into a dog at the library. Roy leaves his duffel bag of the library table, where it catches the ire of the librarian, who is busy pushing the cart and clearing up books. When she spies the offensive bag, she rolls her eyes, gives it a glare, huffs, and throws the bag on the cart. While Eric’s friend is trying to figure out a way to get them out of the library without the librarian seeing, the director cuts to the librarian back at the Circulation desk. (Side note: we see the electronic scanner, but no computer. Hmmmm…..)  Up to this point, the librarian has been more of the “Actions speak louder than words” type, but she finally speaks up — albeit in a whispering tone — in the presence of an adult (her perceived equal?), a schoolteacher. The teacher, who is also the cricket coach, invites the librarian — and even calls her by her first name, Marjorie, although she is listed only as “Librarian” in the credits — out to the cricket match. The librarian seems horrified at this idea. The teacher, giving no notice to the librarian’s obvious social discomfort, leaves by trilling, “Till this evening.” This prompts the librarian to finally raise her voice, shouting out, “NO! I — ” before breaking off. She seems quite embarrassed at her outburst — breaking her own rules, tsk tsk — and looks around guiltily while biting her nails (see below).


When Roy braves his life to ask the librarian about the missing duffel bag, we see the librarian glare at the boy with pursed lips. She shows no concern, airily telling him that the teacher took the bag. She shows much more concern about getting out of there, as she is in the process of putting her glasses up in a case. The boy, not getting the message from the librarian’s first dismissive smile, earns a scathing warning, “We are CLOSED now, actually” and another dismissive nod. Roy then walks slowly away, carrying out Eric-turned-dog in his other bag. Eric lets out a bark — what a mischief-maker! — which causes a look of confusion on the librarian’s face (in yet another close-up). She purses her lips again, raises her eyebrows, and looks around in confusion, as if she’s hearing things. She puts on her wide-brimmed black hat (which is NOT shaped like a witch’s hat), and that is that.

So what’s the point of the library scenes? Eric thinks of the library first when it comes to research — yay! — and seems to find more info at the public library than at the woefully understocked school library. But the kids are definitely on their own, either way. No help from this librarian. She appears quite dowdy, with a dismissive attitude when it comes to children or library users in general. She is not social — the idea of going out in public to a cricket match scares her into a shout! — and her mannerisms betray this social awkwardness. The only library tasks depicted are checking out books, pushing a cart, picking up books, and telling people to go home.

The public librarian serves as yet another authority figure who presents obstacles for the kids and delivers more rules. She is another guard dog — mirroring the big, scary black dog the boys have to confront every morning on their paper route. But her bark — or glare, in this case — is decidedly worse than her bite. Not a flattering portrait. She serves as both a Spinster Librarian (an uptight rule-monger) and Comic Relief (the target of derision and laughter in socially awkward situations).

Eric succinctly sums up his experience with the public librarian. At the end of the movie, he says, “Anyway, I’m glad it’s over. Remember the swimming baths, the telephone box, getting trapped in that library? Tell you, Roy, I still have nightmares about that!”

Relive the nightmare for yourself, below [library scene starts at 2:40].

Library stacks and bow ties and ducks, oh my!

A little peek behind the curtains of this blog…

My husband did such a great job putting together the header graphic for my blog. He volunteered — because he’s so much faster at Photoshop than me and because he’s a sweetie — and he was so good at being able to put together what I described. I wanted more of a vintage, old-cinema feel to the blog, and I’ve always loved the look of film canisters and film reels. So when I described having a film reel behind the blog title (and we’d already been through a discussion and several renditions of Hollywood lights as a border, which just wasn’t gelling), Sam had an “A-ha!” moment and started pounding furiously on the computer. And yes, I mean that literally: the phrase “A-ha” did escape, out loud, from his mouth. So Sam took one of his own photographs, did a sepia wash over it, and inserted that into the film reel graphic. I love the effect! Do you?

The photo is one of library stacks — appropriate — which are in the University of Oregon’s Knight Library. 2nd floor, to be exact. We took a trip down to Eugene in late summer, and I can’t resist visiting libraries wherever we go. Here’s the original photo (above). And I love that with the repetition of the film reel in the header, the bookcases create kind of a bow-tie effect. (Go ahead, scroll up to the top and take another look at the header. I’ll wait.) The hint of bow tie is also appropriate in my mind, and a bit sentimental — I did a program, “Beyond the Bow Tie: Male Librarians in Film” at the 2008 Popular Culture/American Culture Association Conference in San Francisco.

Detail showing the seven engravings over the f...

Knight Library - Image via Wikipedia

Also, you might remember that the University of Oregon also starred as the backdrop of the cult film, Animal House (1978). It is a very beautiful campus, one with lots of trees and lovely corners to sit and think or discuss meaningful (or trivial!) things. And Knight Library (at right), the main library on campus, feels quite majestic and full of grandeur, with all its wrought iron and glass details. I’m so happy to have that Oregonian touch for my blog, as Oregon is now my home.