No reel librarian, no biggie in ‘Big’

No reel librarian, but a short research scene sets up the rest of the movie’s plot.

The 1988 film Big, starring Tom Hanks in his first Oscar-nominated role, is a modern classic. Such a simple premise:  A boy’s wish to be big comes true — literally. And the film, anchored by Hanks’s luminous, all-in performance, still holds up (even if the technology featured in the film does not).

It’s also a film that has been mistakenly identified as one that features a reel librarian. On the “Librarians in the Movies” site by Martin Raish, Big is included in the Group B films. Raish describes Group B as films in which “A library is used for research, for study, to meet someone or for some other purpose, but any librarian that might be visible is essentially no more important than a piece of furniture that helps to identify the setting.” (By the way, Martin Raish’s site is still a great place to start on this topic, even if the site is no longer maintained.)

This is Raish’s synopsis of Big itself in relation to libraries:

Screenshot of 'Big' movie on Librarians in the Movies site
Screenshot of ‘Big’ movie on Librarians in the Movies site

The first part of this synopsis is correct — until the part about going to a reference desk in a library.

A little after 20 minutes into the film, Josh and his best friend are trying to find their way back to Zoltar, the fortune teller machine that made Josh “big.” They first visit a video game store, with no success, and the next scene sees them walking up steps to some kind of City Hall building (or perhaps a Public Works building — but not a library).

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Public Works building, not a library

Josh is not optimistic:  “They’re not going to have it.” His friend, however, is unfailingly positive:  “They’ll have it.”

Their first stop in the building — again, very clearly NOT a library — is to ask an Administrative Clerk (Jordan Thaler) for a list of all carnivals and fairs and arcades in the city. The clerk, who is standing in a glass Information Booth, directs them to Consumer Affairs, down the hall.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Information booth, not a reference desk

The film then cuts to a young woman (Nancy Giles), who snaps out directions as quickly as she snaps her gum.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
An administrative clerk, not a reel librarian

Administrative Woman:  Fill this out in triplicate, $5 filing charge. One month to process, you’ll get it in 6 weeks.

Josh:  6 weeks?

Administrative Woman:  Sometimes longer, but you could get lucky. Next, please.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Next!

And there you have it! No reel librarian, but this short research scene sets up the rest of the movie’s plot, as Tom Hanks is stuck being an adult for the next six weeks, waiting for the info about where Zoltar is.

And that info does arrive, almost an hour later into the film, when his friend receives a manilla envelope in the mail… stamped with the logo for The City of New York and the Department of Consumer Affairs. (By the way, there is a real NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? 😉 )

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Department of Consumer Affairs return address

Final evidence that there was no reel librarian or library in Big (1988) — but in the end, it’s no biggie. 😉

Ultimately, this classic film lands in the Class VI category of films, films with no identifiable librarians and that has been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.


Sources used:


  • Big. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, John Heard, David Moscow. 20th Century Fox, 1988.
  • Raish, Martin. “The B Group.” Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Bibliography, 5 Aug. 2011.

Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

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