What we talk about when we talk about reel librarians

Being part of the scholarly conversation about librarians in movies

Continuing the research thread about reel librarians from last month’s research round-up about Wong’s reel librarian character in the MCU… over the years that I’ve been analyzing and writing about librarian portrayals in movies, my work on this Reel Librarians blog has been referenced in several different articles and books — which I always get unapologetically excited about! This is because (a) it is proof that someone other than my mom and my spouse read this blog, (b) there is a scholarly conversation about this topic, and (c) my work contributes to that scholarly conversation. As a librarian, I teach students information literacy skills, and those skills include understanding the information cycle and understanding that they, too, are part of the scholarly conversation.

Research chalkboard image by Nick Youngson, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Alpha Stock Images
Research chalkboard image by Nick YoungsonCC BY-SA 3.0 via Alpha Stock Images

I have also guest lectured in a few English composition classes about different types of blogs and how blogs can contribute to research and the scholarly conversation. When I presented about reel librarians on my campus a few years ago (which you can view and read about here in this post), I also talked about this:

“This research that I do kind of exists in-between what we think of as popular and scholarly. […] What I do, when I analyze films, is based in scholarship. This work requires deep analysis and research, but I choose to present it in a popular format, that of the blog.”

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “Shush-ers, Spinsters, and Sirens: Exploring Librarians in Film” presentation, May 2018

I am certainly not the first — nor the last! — to be interested, in a deeper way, about the portrayal of librarians in movies. You can tell that just by browsing the Resources page on this blog. And I just added two articles published within the past year to that Resources page — both of which cite me and my Reel Librarians blog!

These two articles by Jaeger and Kettnich (note that they traded places in the bylines for each article) were published in Library Quarterly last year. I came across them because I had gotten a Google alert about the Part 2 article (Yes, I have set up Google alerts for my name as well as for the “reel librarians” phrase. #KeepingItReal #NoShame). Realizing that this was a two-parter, I tracked down both articles. Note: These two articles are only fully available to read online for subscribers. I first checked to see if these articles were available via my college’s library database subscriptions. They were not available full-text, so I requested copies of the full-text articles via my library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service. Almost every library provides ILL services, just in case you wanted to request these articles for yourself, too!

Getting referenced in “Libraries and Librarians Onscreen and in Library Quarterly Decade by Decade, Part I” article

The first article, “Libraries and Librarians Onscreen and in Library Quarterly Decade by Decade, Part I, Or, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and in LQ” was inspired by the debut of sound films in the late 1920s and the debut of the Library Quarterly publication in 1930. In that article, the authors generally follow a chronological timeline of major librarian characters in film and compare themes in those films to themes of librarianship written about in Library Quarterly during those time periods, in “an attempt to compare these representations with what were actually contemporaneous concerns in librarianship at the time” (p. 251). The authors also correctly point out that “Library Quarterly has provided a forum for many of the small number of scholarly articles about librarians in film” (p. 250). Side note: I currently cite 6 articles from Library Quarterly on my Resources page… and I will probably add a few more after going back through this article!

For their research starting point, Jaeger and Kettnich primarily used the The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 book by Ray and Brenda Tevis (you can also read my review of this book here). And this Reel Librarians blog gets a shout-out on p. 250, as an additional resource:

Excerpt from article ; to view a larger image, right-click to open image in a new tab

It’s a really interesting idea to compare-and-contrast librarian representation onscreen with librarian representation in library scholarship. The authors conclude that “the perceptions of filmmakers are often at odds with the perceptions of the members of the library profession through the first 45 years of the journal’s existence. For the most part, alignment, correspondence, and exchange did not emerge until later decades” (p. 260-261).

Getting referenced in Libraries and Librarians Onscreen and in Library Quarterly, Part 2, Or, The Greatest Hits of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and Today! article

In order to more deeply explore this alignment of librarians on- and off-screen, the authors delve into the more recent decades of film in their “Part 2” article. Interestingly, the films they focused on come from three primary genres: drama, science fiction, and action-adventure.

My work on Reel Librarians gets cited in a few places in this article, including in the first two footnotes, on p. 390:

Excerpt from article ; to view a larger image, right-click to open image in a new tab

Although Kettnich and Jaeger focused on genre films in this article (drama, science fiction, and action-adventure), they consciously chose NOT to analyze films in the horror genre. They suggest that watching horror films is personally hard to do with a critical eye. I get that, as I have watched and analyzed a number of horror films with reel librarians. I think it is generally easier to critically analyze films — even horror films that can be emotionally draining to watch — when you go into it with that critical intent. That’s why I can get a little annoyed when I’m watching a film for fun, and a librarian pops up unexpectedly, because I have to switch my brain over to view the movie through a more critical lens. #BloggerProblems 😉 (Note: If you like horror films, check out the Fright Club podcast and my guest appearance discussing library scenes in horror films!)

My post about “Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films” gets cited on p. 393 of the article when the authors transition into sci-fi films:

Excerpt from article ; to view a larger image, right-click to open image in a new tab

And my “Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989)” post gets cited on p. 400, when the authors discuss Rene Russo’s portrayal of a librarian and former athlete:

Excerpt from article ; to view a larger image, right-click to open image in a new tab

I was super excited when my colleague Dale Coleman also got cited in this article! Coleman contributed a guest post review of the 2017 film Columbus back in Jan. 2018, and Kettnich and Jaeger cite his review on p. 393, when they write about how the theme of privilege shows up in Columbus and that it is “library work that may be inaccessible.”

Excerpt from article ; to view a larger image, right-click to open image in a new tab

Additional references for Reel Librarians

If you are interested in seeing what other researchers have cited my work published here on the Reel Librarians blog, check out my prior posts about La imagen de la biblioteca en el cine (1928-2015), a book by María Rosario Andrío Esteban that was published by a university press in Spain; as well as when my work got referenced as an inspiration for a film project. I didn’t write blog posts about the following resources, but you can also see my Reel Librarians work referenced in:

Continuing the conversation

This post has kind of meandered, but hopefully, the main takeaway is that there is, indeed, a scholarly conversation about librarians in film, and I’m proud — and extremely humbled — to be part of that conversation.

And you can be a part of that conversation, too! Has reading this blog made you think more deeply about how librarians are portrayed in film? Are you more aware now when a librarian pops up onscreen in a movie that you’re watching? Please share your thoughts and comments!

Sources used

Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

2 thoughts on “What we talk about when we talk about reel librarians”

  1. Thanks for putting this together! Personally, I’ve been thinking of trying to publish something on libraries in popular culture for American Libraries, and, perhaps, I will at some point. I always love to see scholarly work about libraries in popular culture. Its great to see.

    1. Thanks, Burkely! Agreed, I get excited at any scholarly works about librarians in pop culture. Many years ago, I presented about reel librarians at the Pop Culture Association national conference, which was really fun! I do hope you continue to pursue your publishing about libraries, librarians, and archivists. 🙂

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