Of libraries and G-Men

J. Edgar Hoover’s connection to libraries

I have been slowly reading my way through Kathleen Low’s book Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession, published by McFarland in 2007. (By the way, Casanova was only a librarian the final four years of his life, a job he took out of desperate need for money.) While reading about famous librarians throughout history, my husband had to endure lots of “I didn’t know that!” shout-outs. For example, I never knew that J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous iron fist behind the FBI, was at all associated with libraries. In fact, he worked for five years at the Library of Congress. (By the way, I got to visit our nation’s premier library at an American Library Association Annual Conference, on a special behind-the-scenes tour for librarians. It was fabulous!)

Born in Washington D.C., Hoover got a job as a messenger at the Library of Congress in order to qualify for the federal work-study program, to help fund his way through George Washington University. He rose to the position of library cataloger and finally, clerk — but never to the level of librarian. After graduating with a master’s in law, he quit to pursue a position at the Department of Justice, and the rest, as they say, is history.

J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Photos, is in the public domain
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Photos, is in the public domain

Several biographers, including Curt Gentry in J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets, speculate that had Hoover stayed at the Library of Congress, he would have eventually become the head librarian. And the absence of a library science degree wouldn’t have been an issue. Of the 13 individuals — all men — who have held the Librarian of Congress title, only 3 have had prior experience and/or library education. (Sigh.)

But, of course, most librarian films do not mention library training or job qualifications (click here for a previous related post on that topic), and I personally include any library worker as reel librarians, as well.

So it looks like I’ll be putting the latest Clint Eastwood film, J. Edgar, on my list to watch. It has earned middling-to-respectable reviews, and lead star Leonardo DiCaprio has garnered Best Actor nominations for the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards. Will he get an Oscar nomination?

The Library of Congress can be glimpsed in the trailer below. And a review in the Seattle Times mentions a scene from the film set in the library, in which Hoover is “thrilled by the organization of the card catalog.” And who wouldn’t be? 😉

J. Edgar Movie Trailer” video uploaded by Kellvin Chavez is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Also, you might be interested in The F.B.I. Story (1959), cinematically illustrating (or embellishing?) the history of the FBI. Jimmy Stewart plays G-Man John Michael “Chip” Hardesty, who marries public librarian Lucy Ann (Vera Miles).


Sources used:


  • Gentry, Curt. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. W. W. Norton, 2001.
  • Low, Kathleen. Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession. McFarland, 2007.
  • Macdonald, Moira. “Confusing ‘J. Edgar’ More Sketch than Portrait.” Seattle Times, 10 November 2011.
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Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

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