Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

Last week, in response to a reader question, I delved into researching “literary librarians,” reel librarians who are also writers (creative or non-fiction). I also updated that same post a few days ago, adding two extra examples!

While researching writer-librarians, I also took note of other notable and interesting occupations that reel librarians have dabbled in, including former occupations as well as future vocations they are studying for. (Are they dabbling in other occupations, or is it the other way around — is librarianship the “side occupation”?!)

"Job search" graphic by geralt is licensed under Public Domain CC0

Here are my thoughts regarding the significance of additional occupations — past, current, or future — for reel librarians:

  • A dual occupation for a reel librarian provides extra depth for a character and serves as a shortcut to establishing the audience’s trust in a reel librarian’s expertise or experience in a specific field or topic. This is also true of a former occupation for a reel librarian.
  • It is also socially reflective of how often librarians in real life take up librarianship as a second career. This often enriches the profession, as older professionals then are able to apply their former job skills in the context of librarianship and research. (For example, read this post for an in-depth profile of a real-life adventurer librarian, Bill Nikolai, who was an actor and stand-in and studied to be a librarian later in life. He also continues to act on the side!)
  • A reel librarian character studying to be “something else” is a hallmark of the Liberated Librarian and Spirited Young Girl librarian character types. Having a future occupation demonstrates that they’re not really serious or committed to being a librarian, but working in a library is a useful, or practical, job that enables them time to study and prepare for their “real” vocation down the line.

Below is an alphabeted list of other occupations for reel librarians that I’ve come across, along with the related films and characters. A different kind of “job search,” if you will… 😀


Actor

  • The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014):  Jess Weixler plays Katy, Eleanor’s sister, who manages the periodicals at a public library. We learn in one scene in the Her version of the film that she used to be an actress.
  • Scream 3 (2000):  The third in the Scream trilogy, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to help solve murders on the set of Stab 3. Reporter Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) and the actress playing Gail in the film (Parker Posey) look up information about Sidney’s mother in the film studio’s archives. Carrie Fisher makes a brief—but memorable—appearance as the failed movie actress-turned-archivist who knows every face in the files.

Amateur detective

Side notes:  I’ve also written in this post about how I think Nancy Drew, perhaps the most famous amateur detective of them all, would have been an awesome librarian. And I’ve written here in this follow-up post about the crossovers in skills between librarians and private investigators.


Athlete

  • Major League (1989):  In this comedy, Rene Russo plays Lynn, a former athlete and the ex-wife of catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger). We learn that she was an alternate for the Olympics in the 200 individual medley swimming competition.

Armed services/intelligence/spy

  • Flight of the Intruder (1991):  In one short scene in this action drama, a young officer in the ship’s library allows another young officer to check out a non-circulating issue of National Geographic that contains maps of North Vietnam.
  • Goodbye, Columbus (1969):  Richard Benjamin plays a man who, after getting out of the Army, finds work as a clerk at a public library in the Bronx. He has a summer romance with a privileged “Jewish-American princess” (Ali MacGraw), and their affair highlights how different their worlds are.
  • The House on Carroll Street (1988):  In this drama, a woman (Kelly McGillis) is fired after refusing to give names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. There is a brief scene at the FBI headquarters, which includes an FBI librarian handling a microfilm projector and equipment.
  • RED (2010):  In this comedy-action film, retired but extremely dangerous (“RED”) agents team up against people trying to kill them. In one of his final roles, Ernest Borgnine pays Henry, the CIA records keeper.
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965):  British spy Alec Leamus (Richard Burton) pretends to quit the Secret Service and defect to the Communists. As part of his cover as a failed spy, he starts work as a librarian at the Institute of Psychical Research. Another librarian, Nan (Claire Bloom), befriends him and joins in his defection.

Banker

  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994):  Young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. While he maintains his innocence and plots to escape, Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and eventually transforms the library into a true center of learning.

Beauty pageant contestant

  • Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999):  In this pitch-black comedy about a local beauty pageant, there are a couple of brief, memorable scenes with the reel librarian, who we learn was a beauty pageant winner in the 1940s — she had to melt her crown for the war effort!

Civil service

  • The Wicker Man (1973):  In this cult film, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) investigates the apparent disappearance of a girl on a remote island. In one scene, Howie visits the registrar’s office, and the woman in the office (played by Ingrid Pitt) reluctantly complies. Later, he searches for the missing girl and enters a house’s bathroom — the woman from the Registrar’s office is in a half-tub of water, naked, with her hair loosely pinned up. There is also a brief scene actually in the public library, but Ingrid Pitt does not appear in that scene. The credits list Ingrid Pitt’s role as “The Librarian” — and she has given many interviews stating that she played the “nymphomaniac librarian” — even though she is only seen onscreen working in the Registrar’s office.

Crime/gangs

  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950):  Sam Jaffe, in an Oscar-nominated performance, plays an ex-convict who became an assistant librarian in prison. After getting out, he immediately joins a criminal gang in order to plan a big jewelry heist.
  • Bookies (2003):  Johnny Galecki plays a student library employee who also helps run an illegal bookmaking business in his dorm room. He even uses the library as the drop-off spot for bets!
  • Bound by Honor, aka Blood In, Blood Out… Bound by Honor (1993):  In this drama, Damian Chapa Miklo plays Chapa, who belongs to the “Vatos Locos” gang. When Chapa gets sent to prison for the second time, he gets assigned to work in the law library.
  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979):  A group of inmates plan an escape from the prison on the island of Alcatraz. In one scene, Clint Eastwood delivers books to prisoners, and he becomes friends with the prison librarian (Paul Benjamin), another inmate who has been in prison a long time for a violent crime.
  • You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939):  Billy Halop plays Johnnie Stone, a young man who gets in over his head by helping Frank (Humphrey Bogart) on a couple of jobs — and gets thrown in prison along with Frank for his efforts. Johnnie starts to work at the prison library and becomes friends with the old timer who runs the prison library.

Doctor/medical services

  • Men of Honor (2000):  Based on the true story of the first African American U.S. Navy diver Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Carl goes to the local library for tutoring assistance, and a young library assistant, Jo (Aunjanue Ellis), helps him. We learn that Jo is studying to be a doctor while she works at the library.
  • The Ring (2002):  In this thriller, Naomi Watts plays Rachel, a reporter who investigates the death of her niece and a mysterious videotape that kills anyone who watches it. In one scene, Rachel’s ex (Martin Henderson) asks to see session tapes at a mental hospital, receiving help from the hospital archivist and library clerk.

Educator/teacher

  • Primary Colors (1998):  A fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy. The film begins with Jack Stanton (John Travolta) visiting an urban school that provides adult literacy classes, and he introduces the “very special librarian,” Miss Walsh, a klutzy but dedicated teacher and school librarian. She is later described as a “teacher AND a librarian” who serves on the regional board of the Teachers Union.
  • Soylent Green (1973):  Edward G. Robinson, in his final film performance, plays Sol, a “Police Book” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn (Charlton Heston). In one scene, we learn that Sol was “was a teacher once, a full professor, a respected man.”
  • Twisted Nerve (1968):  Hayley Mills plays Susan Harper, a young library assistant studying to be a teacher. She becomes the object of obsession by a troubled young man.
  • The War of the Worlds (1953):  Ann Robinson plays the female lead, Sylvia Van Buren, who teams up with the hero-scientist (Gene Barry) in order to defeat the aliens who have invaded the planet. We learn that she teaches library science courses.

Historian

  • From a Whisper to a Scream, aka The Offspring (1987):  In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his last roles) retells four horror stories — stories about the town’s “long history of violence” — to a nosy reporter (Susan Tyrrell).
  • The Mummy (1999) and its sequels:  Rachel Weisz originated the role of reel librarian Evelyn Carnahan, who is also an Egyptologist and reads and writes Ancient Egyptian. Very useful dual occupation, for the purposes of plot! (But of course, she famously identifies primarily as a librarian:  “I am proud of what I am…. I am a librarian!”)

Musician

  • Love Story (1970):  Ali MacGraw plays a college music major who also works as a library assistant at the Radcliffe library. After meeting, falling in love with, and marrying a Harvard law student and jock (Ryan O’Neal), she tutors music at a private school.

Jedi

  • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002):  The second prequel in the Star Wars saga. In one short scene, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) cannot find any information about a mysterious planet at the Jedi Archives, and the librarian insists that “if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” We know she’s also a Jedi because of the light saber swinging on her hip!

Party girl

  • Party Girl (1995):  Parker Posey plays the title role of a New York party girl, which was a full-time job for her… until she has to work as a library clerk to repay a loan from her godmother. She discovers her future career choice (“I want to be a librarian!”) after learning the Dewey Decimal system one wild night at the library. 😉

Serial killer

An extra level up the crime scale….

  • All About Evil (2010):  Natasha Lyonne plays a “mousey librarian” discovers her inner serial killer — in this case, after she inherits a movie house.
  • Chainsaw Sally (2004):  A librarian by day, a serial killer by night. ‘Nuff said.
  • Personals (TV, 1990):  Another librarian by day, a killer by night! Jennifer O’Neill plays a librarian who finds men through newspaper personal ads and kills them on the first date.

Writer:

Looking for writer-librarians? Check out last week’s post!


I am positive there are many more examples and/or occupations that I missed… can you add more to this list? Please leave a comment and share!

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2 comments on “Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

  1. popegrutch says:

    I have written elsewhere that Sylvia van Buren may be the only professor of Library Science (presumably a PhD) ever portrayed in film. Sadly, she doesn’t use these abilities at all – it just seems to be written into the script to establish that she’s smart enough that Dr. Clayton Forrester might be interested.

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