It’s the time of year for graduations, and that got me thinking about my own graduation when I earned my Master’s degree in Library Science over 15 years ago. And then that got me thinking about a particular scene in 1995’s Party Girl…
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
If you’re unfamiliar with Party Girl, then welcome to Reel Librarians! It’s one of my favorite reel librarian movies, even making my Hall of Fame list. Here’s what I wrote about the film on that Hall of Fame list:
A comedy about Mary, a “party girl” who finds her true calling as a librarian, that flips librarian stereotypes upside down—and my sentimental favorite librarian film! Includes a rare scene that features library education, in which a group of librarians discuss the best school for Mary to obtain a library science degree.
Let’s explore the last bit that I highlighted in the above synopsis, the scene in which a group of librarians discuss graduate library science programs. The scene occurs late in the film, at 1 hour and 18 minutes, and lasts 50 seconds.
A bit of background: Mary has realized she wants to become a librarian as well as prove her intentions to her godmother, Judy, who’s head librarian at a public library branch. Judy got Mary a job as a clerk at the library, in order to pay back bail money, but she doesn’t take Mary seriously.
Okay, now let’s break down the scene, shall we?
Graduate library school discussion:
Seated at the table, from left to right, are Howard, Mary (taking notes), Ann, and Wanda.
Howard: You don’t need some high status degree. You want the best program for the least money in the shortest amount of time.
Ann [rolling her eyes]: Oh, please! You went to Columbia. You think you’d be working here if you went to some dinky small town program?
Wanda: I say Michigan. I did my undergraduate there. Ann Arbor is so much fun.
Mary: I don’t want to leave New York.
Howard: Well, don’t. You’re going public, right?
[Mary looks confused.]
Ann [interjecting]: Public libraries. As in non-academic. Howard doesn’t approve of academia. He thinks it’s for wimps.
Howard [to Ann]: It is.
Ann [to Howard]: I am sick of your reverse snobbery. Just because a person might want to live in a pleasant, non-urban setting, doesn’t mean they’re selling out.
Wanda: Ann worked in Ithaca, at Cornell.
Ann [to Mary]: How do you feel about the Senate?
Mary: I don’t know.
Ann: There’s a Washington-based program that my friend runs. I think it would be perfect for you, Mary. It’s a little competitive, but she’s an excellent connection…
What a wonderful scene! I love the diversity of ethnicities, genders, and ages of reel librarians represented onscreen. I love how the camera slowly tightens to just focus on Mary as she listens to everyone and takes notes, as seen below. I love how serious the conversation is about the pros and cons of different library science degree programs. And I love that the librarians themselves expose their own biases and differences of opinions about graduate library programs, as well as about different kinds of libraries.
This all feels VERY true to life.
Library school reference interview:
It’s also an interesting take on a reference interview — for AND by librarians! Mary is the one with the reference need, as she is looking for advice on graduate library science degree programs, and her library colleagues are all helping her out. But it seems to me that Howard is the only one actually listening to Mary during this reference interview. Wanda mentions Michigan, and Ann mentions Washington, D.C. (I’m assuming D.C. instead of Washington state, because she preceded that sentence by asking about the Senate), even though Mary said she wants to stay in New York.
And for a 50-second-long scene, we get a bevy of clues and references about different graduate library schools! As seen below, I noted the various places or school names the characters mentioned and then cross-checked them against the directory of current ALA-accredited master’s programs in library and information science as well as the historical list of accredited ALA programs. (Note: ALA stands for “American Library Association,” and most prospective librarians in the U.S. want to get library science degrees from an ALA-accredited program.)
- Columbia: This could refer to a few different programs:
- Columbia University in New York, which was discontinued in 1992 with its accreditation status continuing through 1993; as this film is set in 1995, it is possible (and in my mind, probable) that Howard would have gotten his degree there. It is also interesting to note that Melvil Dewey began the very *first* library science degree program at Columbia in the 1880s!
- University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC.
- University of Missouri in Columbia, MO.
- Ann Arbor, Michigan: This refers to the program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
- Cornell in Ithaca: There is no library school program at Cornell, so Ann must have worked professionally as a librarian at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
- Washington-based program: This is most likely the program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It’s unlikely that Ann is referring to the program at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.
And by the way, I’ll jump into the reference interview with Mary… the only ALA-accredited graduate library school in New York that would have been available to Mary in 1995? The Pratt Institute, located in New York City. And they’re still the only ALA-accredited graduate library school in New York. Although there are plenty of online library science degree pathways available now, that was NOT the case in 1995. Looks like Mary is going to Pratt… 🙂
Continuing the conversation about library science:
Want to know about more films that mention library science and educational qualifications for librarians? I’ve got ya covered! Explore these previous posts:
- Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian? — a post highlighting films that mention the education required for librarians
- Twelve reel lessons learned from ‘The Twelve Trees of Christmas’ — Lesson #12 is “Library science is a real thing”
- ‘Quest for the’ Liberated Librarian — Flynn has 22 degrees, including one in library science
- ‘Cheers for’ library education — a post in which I deep-dive into the timelines of library science courses available in the late 1800s
- Comparing two ‘Desk Sets’ (and I don’t mean furniture) — “good old Columbia” is mentioned in both the play and film versions!
If you’re a librarian, what library school program did you go to? Do you enjoy this scene in Party Girl as much as I do? Please leave a comment and share!
- “Accredited Library and Information Studies Master’s Programs from 1925 through Present.” American Library Association, 2019.
- “Directory of ALA-Accredited and Candidate Programs in Library and Information Studies.” American Library Association, 2019.
- “Melvil Dewey” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Hall of Fame.” Reel Librarians, 5 Oct. 2011.
- Party Girl. Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Perf. Parker Posey, Sasha von Scherler, Guillermo Diaz, Liev Schreiber. First Look, 1995.
6 thoughts on “Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’”
I’d never heard of that movie. It’s on my list now, thought!! 😎
Oh, yes, Party Girl is required viewing for reel librarians! Glad it’s on your list — the movie is also quintessentially ’90s! 😀
I had taught school for a number of years, and finally moved closer to Commerce, Texas, where a Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS) was offered. I got my degree and then worked part time as a school librarian along with being a regular teacher. This degree is no longer offered, just certification.
You brings up a good point about certification — there are more library certification programs nowadays, which can be particularly useful for school librarians and public librarians, especially in rural areas.