Note: The info in this post has been updated; please see my 2021 “Reel librarians of color, 2021 update” post
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a follow-up to my call for reader questions and ideas. I plan on addressing all the great reader questions and ideas that came my way — thank you again, dear readers! Today, I address an email request from a reader who preferred to remain anonymous, who asked me to revisit the previous questions readers asked me from the 2013 Reader Q and A post:
How many movies have librarians in them?
How many movies are there with librarians of color?
Here was my immediate reaction:
It would definitely be worth going back over those lists again and seeing how those numbers have changed!
So that’s exactly what I did: I went back over my reel librarian lists again and added up the numbers again, in order to revisit these running totals.
Reel librarian totals:
First up, the number of movies with librarians in them!
This number keeps growing, because movies are made each year that feature reel librarians, and I keep uncovering past movies that I hadn’t come across yet. Therefore, I am always adding to my Master List of titles that I am also slowly working my way through and verifying.
At current count:
- Master List = 934 titles
- Foreign Films List = 196 titles
- an increase of 44 titles in 4 years
- 152 titles counted in 2013
- Short Films & Documentaries List = 104 titles
- an increase of 10 titles in 4 years
- 94 titles counted in 2013
Running total = 1,234 reel librarian films
- an increase of 193 titles in 4 years
- 1,041 titles counted in 2013
Reel librarians of color:
Again, this number continues to grow, as I work my way through my Master List, a lifelong project. Whenever I watch (or re-watch) a film, I add it to my Reel Substance section, which currently includes 259 film titles, representing almost 30% of the total films on my Master List.
Therefore, for this question, I took another look through the films in the Reel Substance section to (a) keep count of total films I’ve actually seen, and (b) jot down portrayals of librarians of color. It is admittedly a sensitive issue to count and categorize portrayals of librarians of color, especially considering our society’s racist history (and present). It’s also awkward when actors of color are tasked to play different ethnicities — because no one will care or notice?! (Sigh.) When this happened, I added them to the ethnicity category that reflected their role, rather than the ethnicity of the actors themselves. This categorization is imperfect also in not providing for multi-ethnic portrayals.
Side note: I choose to focus my reel librarian analysis primarily on the purpose reel librarians serve in a given film and how we advance plot. There are many other lenses with which to analyze librarians onscreen, and I would recommend this 2015 article, “The Stereotype’s Stereotype: Our Obsession with Librarian Representation” to read about looking at librarian portrayals through the lenses of gender, race, class, and sexuality.
Without further ado, let’s roll some numbers on the current running totals for reel librarians of color. Please keep in mind these are portrayals from the 259 film titles thus far in my Reel Substance section, Classes I through IV, and that the ethnicity category reflects the role, not necessarily the ethnicity of the actors playing the role(s).
At current count:
- 32 reel librarians of color
- 7 major characters
- an increase of 8 roles in 4 years
- 24 roles counted in 2013
Librarian roles, African or African descent (19 total):
- Jaye Loft-Lyn as Microfilm Library Clerk in Pickup on South Street (1953) — a role featured in my Reel Librarians Firsts post!
- Jaye Stewart as Male Librarian in All the President’s Men (1976) — he’s the librarian who helps break the case for the reporters!
- Paul Benjamin as English in Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
- Tim Reid as Michael Hanlon in Stephen King’s It (TV, 1990) — a Class I major character and Liberated Librarian
- C. Francis Blackchild as Wanda & L. B. Williams as Howard in Party Girl (1995)
- Aunjanue Ellis as Jo & Demene E. Hall as Mrs. Biddle in Men of Honor (2000)
- Orlando Jones as Vox in The Time Machine (2002) — one of my personal favorites and prototypical Information Provider
- Merrina Millsapp as Hall of Records Attendant in Ella Enchanted (2004) — click here for my write-up of this film
- Zarrin Darnell-Martin as Intern Wanda in Oscar-winning Spotlight (2015) — read my in-depth analysis post here
- Ronald William Lawrence as Library Clerk in The Ring (2002)
- Octavia Spencer as Hildy in Follow the Stars Home (TV, 2001) — future Oscar winner alert!
- Noreen Walker as Librarian in Somewhere in Time (1980) — her bit part is crucial in the film’s plot, as explored in this post
- Jeff Feringa as Librarian #1 in Dangerous Minds (1995)
- Mary Alice as Alice, a children’s librarian, in Bed of Roses (1996)
- Lynette DuPree as Librarian in Back When We Were Grownups (TV, 2004)
- Delores Mitchell as Librarian in Autumn in New York (2000)
- Uncredited book cart shelver in City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994)
Librarian roles, Asian + South Asian (7):
- Shakti as Kala in The Golden Child (1986)
- Alfred Ono as Mr. Fong in Elephant (2003)
- Sophia Wu as Librarian as Finding Forrester (2000) — read my film analysis post here
- Anjali Jay and Hiro Kanagawa in Age of Adaline (2015) — read my film analysis post here
- Tony Azito as Librarian and Juan Fernández as Attendant in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993) — this one was awkward! Two real-life Latinos (I’m assuming? let me know if I’m mistaken, please) in this film play monks who are most likely South Asian or Indian. But the movie goes even further with this… you have to read my post about the film to believe it!
Librarian roles, Latinx (4):
- Liz Torres as Delores Rodriguez in Just Cause (1995)
- Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000) — an Oscar-nominated role, a definite rarity for any reel librarian!
- Damian Chapa as Miklo in Bound by Honor (aka Blood In, Blood Out… Bound by Honor, 1993)
- Rose Bianco as Bella in The Ultimate Gift (2006)
Librarian roles, Arab + Middle Eastern (1):
- Erick Avari as Dr. Terrence Bey in The Mummy (1999) — NO ONE in this film set in Egypt is actually played by an Egyptian! (Seriously, I went through the cast list and double-checked.) Avari is an Indian-American portraying an Egyptian who is the director of the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. Because the role is meant to be Egyptian, I have counted it in this ethnic category.
Librarian roles, Native American (1):
- Jane Lind as Noayak in Salmonberries (1991)
There’s no way or even a reason to sugar-coat the fact that there are not that many cinematic representations of librarians of color, and even fewer roles that are major characters. I have cataloged an increase the last 4 years, but these numbers remain woefully slim.
Are these numbers reflective of diversity, or lack thereof, within the librarian profession as a whole? The percentages of reel librarians of color are even lower (I estimate around 10%) than the already low numbers of real librarians of color. Based on numbers from the 2010 Census, the librarian profession continues to be overwhelmingly female (80+% for credentialed librarians) and white (83+%). See more facts and figures here and here, and read this excellent blog post, “The unbearable whiteness of librarianship” that compares diversity of librarians versus the general population.
However, as we also celebrate our first official Librarian of Congress who is a person of color — you can read all about the fabulous Carla Hayden and her predecessors here in this post — I hope that we are moving in the right direction toward addressing the lack of diversity in librarianship, both reel and real.
- Bourg, Chris. “The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship.” Feral Librarian, 3 March 2014.
- Dorning, Jennifer. “Fact Sheets 2011: Library Workers: Facts & Figures.” Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, May 2011.
- Keer, Gretchen, and Andrew Carlos. “The Stereotype Stereotype: Our Obsession with Librarian Representation.” American Libraries, 30 Oct. 2015.
- Lance, Keith Curry. “Racial and Ethnic Diversity of U.S. Library Workers.” American Libraries, May 2005.