Phase one of our own Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians!
When I was rounding up my first impressions of Wong in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), I was marveling (har har 😀 ) about how many Marvel movies I had written about on my site. Then I thought… why not finally go back through all the Marvel movies, this time in phase order, and make sure I’ve watched, reviewed, and analyzed them all for any library, archives, and reel librarian scenes? Thus, the idea of the Marvel Summer was born!
Yep, that’s right, this entire summer is going to be our own Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians, as I wind my librarian way through the MCU, starting with Phase One.
*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*
Iron Man (2008)
I can still remember going to the movie theater to watch this movie! And yes, I still tear up at the beginning when Yinsen (Shaun Toub) tells Tony Stark not to waste his life.
Alas, there are no library scenes in the “one that started it all” — not even a private library at Tony Stark’s house!
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
At 49 mins into this movie — is this the most overlooked Marvel movie in the bunch?! — Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is trying to get away from military soldiers, so he cuts through the Culver University Library to escape. No reel librarian is visible in this scene, but you can tell it was filmed in a real university library, because there’s a yellow sign that reads “Please Do Not Reshelve Books.” 😉 IMDb says University of Toronto and Drew University in New Jersey served as filming locations for the university. Most of the action in this brief scene happens in the bound periodicals section. This movie qualifies for the Class V category, because it has library scenes with no identifiable librarians.
Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.
Below is my Twitter thread breaking down this brief library scene, also with lots of screenshots:
Iron Man 2 (2010)
No library scene.
On a personal note, I remembered shockingly little about this movie when I rewatched it. Maybe if there had been a library scene, I would have remembered more about it! 😉
Archives or vault?
My husband wondered if the vault of treasures seen at 9:56 into the movie could be considered an archives, but it’s referred to clearly in the movie as “the weapons vault” with “these relics.” Loki also refers to this vault later, at 41 minutes: “So I am another stolen relic, locked up here until you have use of me.”
Public library scene
At 49 minutes into the movie, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) visits the public library because he needs to email a contact, after his laptop was confiscated by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. (I had vaguely remembered there being a library scene in this movie, but couldn’t remember why. But when Erik finds out his laptop had been taken, I shouted out loud, “He’s going to the library because they have internet access!” I clapped my hands in delight when this proved true. 😀 ) There’s even a “Free Internet” sign in the window of the library, along with READ posters (classic library decoration), computers, and bookshelves in an alcove. No obvious reel librarians, but we do see two other library patrons browsing the shelves.
Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.
Erik walks across the small library to pick up a book, The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence, on a rolling cart. He then picks up the book Myths and Legends from Around the World by Sandy Shepherd, and looks up entries for the Bifrost and for Thor (Thursday). Signs for “audio books” and “young adults” can be seen on the walls behind Erik.
Both of those titles are real books, by the way! The other titles on this cart that I could decipher, to the best of my ability, include:
Such a clever collection of book titles that reflect elements of this movie’s plot and characters — and they’re all real books. Props to the propmaster!
I noticed that there were no call numbers on the books on the cart, but there were call numbers on the books on the bookshelves lining the wall behind the cart. I immediately theorized that the books on the cart were book donations for sale, which is a common thing for libraries to do– and indeed, there is a “Book Sale” sign near the cart!
Again, this movie qualifies for the Class V category, because it has library scenes with no identifiable librarians.
Library book debate
At the 1 hour mark, we return to the book that Erik got from the public library, and that book then inspires a debate about science fact vs. fiction. Darcy (the ever-hilarious Kat Dennings) is flipping through the book on the table, and she points to the page for Mjolnir (which she pronounces as Myeu-muh, like a cat’s meow, and to this day, I cannot help but also say Mjolnir like that).
Jane: Where’d you find this?
Erik: The children’s section. [Turns to the page for Loki.] I wanted to show you how silly his story was.
Jane: But you’re the one who’s always pushing me to chase down every possibility, every alternative!
Erik: I’m talking about science, not magic!
Jane: Well, magic’s just science we can’t explain yet. Arthur C. Clarke.
Erik: Who wrote science fiction.
Jane: A precursor to science fact!
And OF COURSE you know I looked up that Arthur C. Clarke quote, right? Right. 🙂 Clark’s original quote — known as “Clarke’s third law” — is:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
This was published in a 1968 letter to Science magazine and was added to the 1973 revision of the “Hazards of Prophecy” essay. But Clarke had written a similar sentiment earlier in 1952, and this Wikipedia entry traces earlier variations of this concept that pre-date Clarke. The bottom line? Science as magic, and vice versa, is not a new idea.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
No library scene.
Do I still tear up every time when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) explains the good he sees in Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)? Yes, yes, I do. No shame in feeling emotions, y’all. Movies are good for emotional catharsis. ❤
The Avengers (2012)
No library scene.
This movie is notable for Mark Ruffalo’s first outing as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, a role that Edward Norton did not reprise (thank goodness).
2/6 library or archives scenes
0/6 reel librarian sightings
The Avengers will return…
… in our next regular post! 😀 Yes, we will continue our Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians for Phase Two. Stay tuned!
The Avengers. Dir. Joss Whedon. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2012.
Captain America: The First Avenger. Dir. Joe Johnston. Perf. Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2008.
This is another post in my “first impressions” series of posts, which focus on current films that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes that I have watched in theaters. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater, but I do take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.
This spring, I was able to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at our nearby drive-in theater, Rodeo Drive-In. Sorry it has taken me so long to get this post together; real-life complications got in the way, y’all, and as my husband advised, “Multiverse of mind, embrace the chaos.” 😉 And it is interesting to note that it is actually good timing this “first impressions” post got delayed because this movie will soon be available for streaming via Disney+, on June 22, so you can watch (or re-watch) the movie very soon!
Below again is the trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to set the stage for the film’s plot and main characters of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wong (Benedict Wong), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
***SPOILER ALERTS BELOW***
1. Did Wong ever get invited to Tony Stark’s wedding?
Hear me out, I swear this random question will make soon make sense. Near the beginning of the movie, Strange attends Christine’s wedding, without Wong by his side. That made me wonder if Wong ever got invited to Tony Stark’s wedding? This connects back to a scene in Avengers: Infinity War (2018):
Wong then ultimately defeats Cull Obsidian by transporting him to a snowy region/planet and then severs off the villain’s arm when closing the portal. It’s nice to see Wong victorious in battle in this movie, especially considering his previous battle at the end of Doctor Strange, which I went into detail in last week’s post. Stark is so impressed with Wong’s quick thinking and magical skillz that he shouts, “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” (We had learned earlier that Tony and Pepper are recently engaged.)
We never did learn that cliffhanger question in that movie, if Wong ever got to go to Tony and Pepper’s wedding. And why wasn’t Wong invited to this wedding? Obviously, as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) showed, Wong would make an excellent guest. 😉
2. Wong looks bad-ass wielding a sword.
Wong is ALWAYS a bad-ass, of course, but it was cool to get to see him literally in action. In the initial fight scene with Wong, Strange, and America Chavez battling Gargantos (a big eyeball, squid-like monster variant of Shuma-Gorath), Wong wields a lasso and a sword. Plus, we get a closeup view of Wong’s costume, which we had gotten a sneak peek of when his action figure came out earlier this year:
3. There are books kept secret from the Kamar-Taj librarian?!
When Wong and Strange debrief with Chavez after they dispatch Gargantos, they start talking about the Book of Vishanti. Wong explains how he found out about this book:
You find out there’s a secret book you get when you become Sorcerer Supreme.
So that means that when Wong was the Kamar-Taj librarian, back in 2016’s Doctor Strange, he DID NOT yet know about all the books in that library’s collection!
4. How many languages can Wong speak?
There was also a brief bit in this scene with Chavez where she and Wong start speaking Spanish to each other, much to the annoyance of Strange. (But everything seems to annoy Strange, doesn’t it?) It just makes me wonder how many languages Wong speaks… and how good he is at everything he does! #TeamWong #WongVerse
Wong invites Chavez to Kamar-Taj to help keep her safe from Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. And once again, Wong proves how he is the Supreme Researcher, as he then provides the exposition about the Scarlet Witch and the prophecy:
The Scarlet Witch is a being of unfathomable magic. She can re-write Reality as she chooses, and is prophesied to either rule or annihilate the cosmos.
Wong also explains about the Darkhold vs. the Book of Vishanti. Essentially, it’s the story of good vs. evil, embodied within books. Darkhold contains spells of black magic and represents the evil, whereas the Book of Vishanti contains spells of white magic and represents the good.
Wong primarily serves the role of an Information Provider, but at this point you could argue he’s grown into an Atypical character, which are reel librarian “portrayals [that] go beyond stereotypical constraints.”
6. Are we seeing the missing book from the Kamar-Taj library in this movie?
Could either the Book of Vishanti or the Darkhold be the missing library book from the Kamar-Taj library’s “forbidden section,” as glimpsed in Doctor Strange (2016)? I would suspect it is likely the Darkhold, rather than the Book of Vishanti, because Wong only found out about the latter when he became Sorcerer Supreme (see #3 above).
Ryan Arey from ScreenCrush also theorizes it’s the Darkhold that went missing from the Kamar-Taj library:
7. Wong is also a man of action.
When Wanda the Scarlet Witch attacks Kamar-Taj, Wong wastes no time in snapping into commander-in-chief mode — he IS the Sorcerer Supreme, after all! — and shouting orders to the students:
Kamar-Taj must now become a fortress. Stop the teaching, arm the students.
Defensive positions, now!
Fortify your minds!
8. Reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book!
Yep, (former?) reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book. But not just any book. The Darkhold, the book of dark magic, the book of evil. Do the ends justify the means?
Wong tries to save Chavez from the Scarlet Witch, but he ends up getting blasted by Wanda and banging his head and passing out. When he wakes to finds himself tied up, he spies one of the students, Sara (Sheila Atim), sneaking her way into the room. He tries to stop Sara.
Sara: I need to destroy the book.
Wong: No, it cannot be you!
The Darkhold does gets destroyed in this scene. I know that the Darkhold and the Book of Vishanti serve as this movie’s MacGuffins, but if we’re not going to get to see the Kamar-Taj library again, then at least we’re getting a Wong story focused around books!
9. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed?
We see Kamar-Taj in rubble after the Scarlet Witch blasts it to pieces. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed, or is it still intact? Is there a new librarian? Where is the library located within the monastery? Inquiring minds want to know!
Here’s a quick look behind-the-scenes of destroying Kamar-Taj:
10. One of Wong’s superpowers is his humanity.
One of Wong’s greatest strengths, or superpowers — and a big reason why I think he’s become a fan favorite — is his humanity and belief in people. But this superpower can also be manipulated.
Although the Darkhold gets destroyed, Wanda figures out that Wong must know about more the Darkhold. (Because he’s the librarian and knows everything, right? Kinda slow there, eh, Wanda?!) Wong says that she will have to kill him to get that knowledge. But Wanda has also already figured out about Wong’s humanity — and that his humanity can be manipulated — so she threatens to kill the other students, including the Rintrah (a green-skinned minotaur that was part of Marvel’s Build-A-Figure marketing ploy with Wong’s action figure).
Of course, Wanda’s evil ploy works, and Wong confesses that the Darkhold that got destroyed was a copy, and the original is at Wundagore Mountain. (Did anyone else hear this first as Wandacore? Sorry, I don’t read the comics, so I was unfamiliar with it.)
Here’s a quick video that explains the significance of Wundagore Mountain:
11. A library of one?
So although we don’t get to see the Kamar-Taj library again — no, I’m NOT letting that go, such a wasted opportunity in a storyline about forbidden books! — we do get a scene of the Gap Junction, “a plane between universes” where Strange hid the Book of Vishanti.
Essentially, this serves as a library of one, right? Riiiiiiiiiight. 😉
12. Wong still has his sense of humor.
After Wanda throws Wong off a cliff on Wundagore (RUDE!), he uses his lasso to climb back up. He also picks off one of the guard monsters to help distract them for Zombie Strange.
When Zombie Strange shows up, Wong quips:
I don’t even want to know.
Never change, Wong. Never change. 😀
13. Wong is wrong!
Wong is… wrong?! I know. I was shocked, too.
When Zombie Strange is trying to rescue America Chavez while simultaneously battling Wanda, Wong conjures up a cage to contain Wanda (ever helpful, our Wong). Zombie Strange hesitates between untying Chavez or usurping her magical powers (and therefore killing her) in order to beat Wanda once and for all.
Wong urges him to do the latter:
It’s the only way!
But Wong is wrong.
The only way forward is for Strange to save Chavez, so she can finally believe in her true power and and wield it to save herself.
Honestly, I thought this was a pretty cheap and manipulative use of Wong in this movie. (And don’t get me started with the cheap and manipulative use of Wanda and her motivations and lack of agency in this movie!) They showed Wong’s humanity when he gave up the secret of the Darkhold to help save the Kamar-Taj students, but then they flipped the script — and Wong’s personality — at the end in order to make room for Zombie Strange to show his ultimate humanity and character growth. (That was an odd sentence to write. It’s a weird storyline with lots of characters, y’all!) It didn’t have to be either/or; both Wong and Zombie Strange could have had cinematic space to show their humanity.
14. Strange is finally Wong’s right-hand man.
There’s a running gag throughout the movie that Strange can’t be bothered to bow to Wong, even though Wong is the Sorcerer Supreme. (Shades of White supremacy, anyone?) But at the end, Strange finally does bow to Wong, showing his respect. About time!
Throughout my analysis post of Doctor Strange (2016), I kept pointing out how many times Wong is visually shown to be Strange’s right-hand man (note: he stands on Strange’s right side, which reflects opposite onscreen), which fits his role in that movie as a supporting player. But Wong has grown as a character — and as a fan favorite! — and is now the Sorcerer Supreme, at least in this universe. Therefore, Strange is now Wong’s right-hand man, and it’s fitting that he finally accepts that. Again, about time! 🙂
15. Is Wong a Nexus being?
At the end of the movie, Strange asks Wong a question.
Strange: Are you happy?
Wong: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I do wonder about my other lives. But I’m still grateful of this one. Even with its own tribulations.
Wong sounds very wise here, being grateful and content for this life in this universe. But although we see many variants of Dr. Strange in this movie, we never see variants of Wong, even though Wong references “my other lives” in this brief exchange. In the other universes we see, the Dr. Strange variant is also the one serving as Sorcerer Supreme. But in this reality, Wong serves as Sorcerer Supreme, not Strange.
That got me thinking… could Wong be a Nexus Being?
A Nexus Being is someone who exists in all parallel worlds of the Multiverse, serving as anchors to that reality. America Chavez proves to be a Nexus Being in this movie, because she can travel between worlds, and she always remains herself. It is my understanding that the Scarlet Witch is a Nexus Being in the comics… but because this movie’s plot depended on there being variants of Wanda, doesn’t that mean that she isn’t a Nexus Being in the movie versions? If I have misunderstood this, leave a comment!
This Screen Rant article ponders the question of Wong being a Nexus Being:
As his appearances have grown more frequent, Wong has also become more powerful than audiences had ever seen him before, perhaps indicating that the sorcerer is dealing with a larger power that he is perhaps unaware of. Given that he will no doubt accompany Dr. Strange on his multiversal exploits, it may be revealed that the beloved character has been a Nexus being all along.
If Wong does end up being a Nexus Being, that would be AWESOME. And befitting one of the most beloved reel librarian characters ever.
16. Wong shows up when you need him.
The opposite of a bad penny (turning up when no one wants you), Wong turns up exactly when you need him. Or rather… when the plot needs him! That’s why he’s often used for exposition, to explain things in order to move the plot forward.
Here’s the way my husband put it:
Wong shows up when you need him. Not like “deus ex machina,” but like “sorcerer and the script.” It’s like plot armor!
I agree with this article that argues that Wong is “the real one holding it all together” in this movie:
Despite what you may have been led to believe, the hero of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not Benedict Cumberbatch’s [Stephen] Strange. At least, he isn’t the real one holding it all together. Sure, he may get top billing on all the posters where he towers above everyone else. However, the real protector of all that is good across the various multiverses has proven time and time again to actually be the reliable Wong. He is the true Sorcerer Supreme, the protector of the New York Sanctum, and the dedicated librarian of Kamar-Taj.
Below are a couple of other perspectives on why Wong is so popular.
The secret is probably Benedict Wong, the actor chosen to portray the character. Fans seem to love this character, one that was once a dull stereotype and a reminder of a more unpleasant age. Thanks to a new take and a stellar casting choice, Wong has become the universe-hopping fixed point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wong is everywhere and nobody is complaining, in fact, they want more. Let this once-minor character continue to outgrow his start and become as important and iconic to the MCU as Steve or Tony. He’s earned it.
So, we created this no-nonsense, midfield general librarian with hints of Roy Keane [former Manchester United player] in there. This character has progressed now, and I found out when [director] Sam Raimi was on a conference call and talking me through the story. Here was this legend. He said, ‘Of course, you’re going to be the Sorcerer Supreme,’ and as this geek, it’s so great what they’ve done with the character and how he stands toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Plus, Benedict Wong is credited to appear in at least one episode of the upcoming TV series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. So we will see Wong again… and not a moment too soon!
So there’s my round-up of random thoughts, questions, and first impressions I had while watching Wong and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). What other thoughts, questions, theories, and observations did you have? Please leave a comment and share!
Please note that this is NOT a sponsored post, and there are no affiliate links in this post. These are are all items from my personal wardrobe that I have either personally purchased or received as gifts from friends and family.
Previous librarian-themed t-shirt collection
First, here is a quick look at the librarian-themed t-shirts I had in my wardrobe back in 2014:
#Librarian t-shirt (made and gifted by my sister-in-law)
“Never Forget” card catalog t-shirt (TopatoCo, past personal purchase)
Details, from left to right:
Green bookshelf print dress (Svaha, birthday present last year)
Cats & bookshelves print dress (Svaha, past birthday present)
Microfiche print dress (Svaha, past birthday present)
Book mandala print dress (Svaha, past personal purchase)
Details, from left to right:
Book spines print skirt (Svaha, past birthday present)
Cats & books print skirt (ModCloth, past Christmas present)
“Librarian’s Secret Chamber” print items
Details, from left to right:
Pajama pants (Svaha, past Christmas present)
Dress (Svaha, past Christmas present)
Details, from left to right:
Dress (Svaha, past personal purchase)
T-shirt (Liz Claiborne, past personal purchase)
Bags, totes, & accessories
Details, from left to right, top to bottom:
Bookshelf print lunch bag (Svaha, past Christmas present)
Library shelves & ladders print tote bag (no tag, past Christmas present)
Yellow library card print tote bag (Out of Print, past birthday present)
Details, from left to right, top to bottom:
Purses made from books (won at a past librarian conference raffle)
Banned books print zip purse (Out of Print, past personal purchase)
Composition book print zip purse (Out of Print, past personal purchase)
Open book infinity scarf (Svaha, past Christmas present)
Book spines print face mask (Svaha, personal purchase)
Details, left to right, top to bottom:
Blue library card print socks (Out of Print, past gift)
Banned books print socks (Out of Print, past gift)
“Fuck off, I’m reading” socks by Blue Q (Blue Q, past Christmas present)
Bookworm socks (no tag, past gift)
I debated on whether or not to include librarian-themed jewelry (of which I have a few) in this post, and I finally decided not to overload you all. But if you would like to see an additional post featuring librarian-themed jewelry, please leave a comment and let me know!
As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll — thanks again to everyone who voted in the poll! — I am analyzing Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and its library scenes set in the New York Public Library. The Oscar-winning film, based on Truman Capote’s classic 1958 novella, was directed by Blake Edwards and written by screenwriter George Axelrod. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a New York “society gal” and free spirit who started out as Lulamae, a “wild thing” from Tulip, Texas. George Peppard co-stars as Paul Varjak, a once promising writer who now idles away his time as a “kept man” of married socialite Mrs. Emily Eustace “2E” Failenson, played by Patricia Neal. Buddy Ebsen and Martin Balsam also shine in supporting roles.
The film’s original trailer focuses primarily on Hepburn’s charm and style, which have helped make this movie a cultural and sartorial touchstone (especially Hepburn’s iconic “little black dress”).
But this movie is dark, y’all. It has its issues, which I will get into, and every character has flaws. Beneath the glitter and parties, there’s an undercurrent of sadness and self-doubt; this is also reflective of the source novella’s tone. When I was a teenager, I remember a friend of mine couldn’t stand this movie because of how the cat was treated at the end of the movie. (Orangey, who played the no-name cat, has his own Wikipedia page!) The film’s saddest and most truthful moments are the ones I personally relate to and remember the most (e.g., “the mean reds“).
And I don’t think pointing out this film’s flaws and racism is unfairly holding up this 1961 film to 2022 standards. “It was considered a crude caricature even at the time of the film’s 1961 release,” and critics expressed qualms about Rooney’s portrayal from the beginning. For example, in 1961, the movie reporter in Variety called the film “whitewashed” and that “Mickey Rooney’s participation as a much-harassed upstairs Japanese photographer adds an unnecessarily incongruous note to the proceedings.” Rooney’s personal assertion in a 2008 interview that “Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it – not one complaint” is revisionist history.
So… do the library scenes fare any better? Let’s investigate.
Library scene #1
Let’s set the stage for the events that lead to the first library scene, seen in the video clip below.
At 1 hour and 8 minutes into the 114-minute film, Holly and Paul decide to go out and “spend the whole day doing things we’ve never done before.” Holly muses that “Of course I can’t really think of anything I’ve never done” — but she’s wrong!
Five minutes later into the film — after a trip to Tiffany’s, as you do — Paul takes Holly… to the New York Public Library!
Holly: What is this place, anyway?
Paul: You said you wanted to sit down. It’s the public library. You’ve never been here?
Holly: No. That makes two for me. I don’t see any books.
Paul: They’re in there.
They take a peek into the Reading Room.
Then Paul takes her to the wall of card catalog drawers. (So dreamy! Happy sigh. 🙂 )
Paul then explain the basics about card catalogs and library organization.
Paul: Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.
Holly: It’s fascinating.
Holly: Really?! [flips through the cards] Look! Isn’t it marvelous? There you are, right in the public library. “Varjak, Paul. Nine Lives.” Then a lot of numbers. You think they really have the book itself, live?
Paul: Sure. Follow me. [He takes the drawer out]
They walk across the room to the desk, where a Black man, dressed in a brown suit and tie, stands beneath a sign that reads “File call slips here.” Holly and the man share polite smiles. This reel librarian is not included in the credits list.
A moment later, then a board lights up with the number 57 — it’s like waiting at the doctor’s office or at the DMW, hah! — and Holly and Paul walk up to another desk, where a middle-aged, auburn-haired White woman stands. She is also dressed in a suit, this one a dark blue plaid. This reel librarian is credited in the cast list, and was played by Elvia Allman.
Holly [in a loud voice]: 57, please. Nine Lives by Varjak, Paul.
Holly: Did you ever read it? It’s simply marvelous.
Librarian: No, I’m afraid I haven’t. [Goes back to filing or typing cards.]
Holly: Well, you should. He wrote it. He’s Varjak, Paul in person. [To Paul] She doesn’t believe me. Show her your driver’s license or your diner’s club card or something. [To the librarian] Honest, he is the author. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow.
Librarian: Would you kindly lower your voice, miss?
Here is the reel librarian’s EPIC shushing face:
Holly: [To Paul] Why don’t you autograph it for her, Paul? [To the librarian] Don’t you think that would be nice? Sort of make it more personal?
Holly:[To Paul] Go on, then. Don’t be so stuck-up. Autograph it to her.
Paul: All right. What shall I say?
Holly: Something sentimental, I think.
Librarian: What are you doing? Stop that!
Paul:[To the librarian] Shhhhh!
Librarian [in a quieter tone]: You’re defacing public property!
Holly: Well, all right, if that’s the way you feel. Come on, Fred darling, let’s get out of here. I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s.
And here’s the reel librarian getting shushed herself!
This first scene lasts 2 minutes total.
Here was my initial summation of this scene from my undergraduate thesis over 20 years ago:
“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for humorous purposes only also are the films that exhibit probably the crudest portrayals of librarian stereotypes. … George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) harass a middle-aged librarian (played by Elvia Allman) in the New York Public Library by signing a book, thereby “defacing public property.” (p.13)
Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “A Glimpse Through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film.” Thesis, West Texas A&M U, 2001.
I think my initial view was a bit harsh and more than a little biased. Maybe I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older. 😉 I certainly don’t condone the dismissive and flippant attitude that Holly displays, but I also think that the librarian could have been a LOT friendlier and shown some basic human kindness to them with a greeting and small talk. I mean, she greeted Holly with a shush! NOT COOL. I realize that this script is played for laughs, and stereotypical portrayals of minor characters help set the foundation for easy laughs, but it still kind of irks me that the librarian character is written so stereotypically. The point is definitely to laugh AT this uptight, prissy librarian.
I do kind of love that the librarian gets shushed by Paul, though! That made me laugh. But honestly, these kinds of shushing scenes perpetuate the myth that libraries are these tomb-like, quiet places. Libraries DO often have designated quiet zones, but libraries also serve as community spaces where small groups and friends and family gather, so I almost always encounter a low-to-medium hum of noise whenever I visit public libraries.
I also quite like that the beginning of this library scene depicts joy in discovering how a library works. I love that little micro-scene at the card catalog wall because of the look of delight on Holly’s face! Also, this scene conveys the joy of writers having their names and resources in libraries. (I’m married to a writer, so this scene rings true for me on both counts. 😉 )
And Paul does a very efficient job in explaining the purpose of the card catalog system. (And thank you for being accurate in the call numbers, as they are indeed under the correct “U-V” section of the card catalog. Those kinds of details matter!)
This is also an example of a “closed stacks” library, where the public users do not have access to most of the library’s collection. Most public libraries have what are known as “open stacks,” or bookshelves and collections that are open for the public to wander around and browse. By the way, the NYPL Library website has a “Library Lingo” page that defines this common library term and concept:
“STACKS: The area where the library’s books and other materials are stored. In common with other major research libraries, The New York Public Library has “closed stacks”: you must request material instead of going to the shelf to retrieve it yourself. The New York Public Library’s Branch Libraries have “open stacks” where you may browse and retrieve material yourself.”
General Research Division, “Library Lingo,” New York Public Library, Nov. 1995
The White female librarian in this first library scene fulfills the Comic Relief character type, while the uncredited Black male librarian is your basic Information Provider character type. I think it’s interesting to note that the reel librarian of color is visibly friendlier than the White reel librarian, although the reel librarian of color has much less screen time and makes less of an impression onscreen.
Library scene #2
The second, and final, library scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) needs a little context, as well. At 1 hour and 24 minutes into the film, Paul dumps his lady friend and goes in search of Holly. He calls and looks everywhere and finally finds himself back in the New York Public Library, where he is surprised to see Holly!
This second library scene is in the video clip below:
By the way, in earlier viewings, I had missed that a different reel librarian was on duty at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby. This time, a younger White man, also dressed in a suit and tie, is standing at the desk and helping a library patron.
From the look of surprise on Paul’s face, it’s clear that he wasn’t expecting to see Holly there; rather, the NYPL must one of his own comfort spots.
Paul comes over to her and kisses her neck, which startles her. Dude is NOT READING THE (READING) ROOM.
Holly [turns back to her book and adjusts her sunglasses]: What do you want?
Paul: I want to talk to you.
Holly: I’m busy. [turns a page of her book]
Paul: What are you doing?
Paul [picks up a book from the table]:South America: Land of Wealth and Promise?
Paul: Let’s get out of here. I said, let’s get out of here. I want to talk to you.
[Another patron shushes him, but the camera never pans to the other person.]
Paul [to Holly]:What’s the matter with you, anyway? What’s happened?
Holly: Fred, would you please just leave me alone.
Paul [grabs her arms]: Holly, I love you.
Holly gets up from the table and walks away with her purse, leaving the books on the table. Paul follows her and grabs her arm. He raises her voice, shouting at her, and Holly tells him, very clearly, “Let me go” three times. She tries to get away, but Paul roughly grabs her arms again several times.
Holly reveals that she’s going to marry a South American, Jose de Silva Pereira. (What Paul doesn’t know is that Holly is doing this so she can help take care of her brother when he gets out of the Army.) This further enrages Paul, who continues to shout at her and grab and shake her in front of several library patrons.
Paul[grabbing her again]: You’re crazy.
Holly: What, do you think you own me?
Paul: That’s exactly what I think.
Holly: I know, I know. That’s what everybody always thinks. But everybody happens to be wrong.
Paul: Look, I am NOT everybody. Or am I? Is that what you really think? That I’m no different from all your other rats and super-rats? [Holly walks away.] Wait a minute. [He takes his $50 writing check out of his breast pocket.] That’s it. If that’s what you really think, there’s something I want to give you.
Holly: What’s that?
Paul: Fifty dollars for the powder room.
He turns and walks away, and we see that everyone in the Reading Room is staring at him. No wonder! He just grabbed a woman and yelled at her in the library! Physical assault alert in the library!
THIS SCENE IS NOT OK. This is NOT romantic. Red flags EVERYWHERE. Paul is abusive, both verbally and physically, and he confirms that he thinks he “owns” her. NOPE. And then he gives her his $50 check and stalks away. This parting shot by Paul echoes what we had learned earlier, that one of the ways that Holly earns money is to get guys to pay her $50 every time she goes to the powder room. It’s a “gotcha” moment — a moment that, script-wise, works quite well on the page — but it’s a cheap moment focusing on shaming a woman trying to earn a living, for herself and for her brother. NOT OK. Even as a young woman, this scene made me feel uneasy when I first watched this movie; now, I am better able to articulate why this scene is problematic.
One thing about this scene that I realized is positive? That Holly went back to the library for research! Although she ended the first library scene with a flippant remark, “I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s,” she DOES return when she needs some information, and when she needs a place to read and think. 🙂
This second scene in the library lasts 3 minutes. The second male reel librarian is also uncredited and serves as an Information Provider.
Altogether, we spend 5 minutes total at the New York Public Library in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Although they don’t last that long, the two library scenes are memorable, landing in the Class III category, in which reel librarians play supporting characters.
Continuing the conversation
It was an interesting exercise to revisit this movie — one I have seen several times, and a movie I do enjoy overall, despite some quite troubling scenes and portrayals, as I’ve detailed in this post. I can recognize the negatives — like the racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi and the physical assault in the library — while also enjoying the positives, like Holly’s style, the haunting “Moon River” song on the fire escape, and of course, Holly’s utter delight in learning about the card catalog system. ❤
Holly’s ambiguities, flaws, and layers make her a much more interesting protagonist […] Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a weird, gorgeous, difficult, fascinating, dark film—and it’s all the better for it, but if you’re looking for something aspirational that you can watch purely for aesthetics, well, there are thousands of other films to choose from. So next time you claim this is your all-time favorite movie, I hope you’re able to back it up with some of the film’s flaws, and not just cite the fashion as the reason.