First Impressions guest post: ‘Columbus’

Today, I am very excited to introduce you to a guest post by Dale Coleman, a librarian I am lucky enough to work with in real life — and a fellow movie buff. We have enjoyed many interesting conversations about movies! Dale is the one who alerted me to Columbus, which also made several film critics’ “best of ” lists of 2017, as I highlighted in a post a few weeks ago. I asked Dale to contribute a guest post of his own “first impressions” of Columbus, in the tradition of my other “first impressions” posts of reel librarian films.

Dale has a wicked sense of humor and is one of the kindest fellow librarians I have ever had the pleasure to work with. You can enjoy his insight and sense of humor here on his Twitter account and his Instagram account. Dale also talks about movies online, here on his Letterboxd profile. After the “Columbus plot + trailer” section below are Dale’s thoughts and “first impressions” of Columbus. Enjoy!

Columbus plot + trailer

A quick introduction to the film Columbus, which is the debut film from director Kogonada. The film stars Haley Lu Richardson as a young library worker living in Columbus, Indiana, who also loves architecture. She meets Jin (John Cho) and starts to show him her favorite buildings around the city. (A quick glimpse of the library can be seen in the trailer below, at 1:24 mins.) Rory Culkin plays Haley Lu Richardson’s co-worker, the library director, and he enjoys a fair amount of screen time.

Columbus Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Indie,” uploaded by Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films, Standard YouTube license

‘First impressions’ of Columbus from a real-life librarian

by Dale Coleman

There are two scenes in Kogonada’s visually rich and quietly stirring debut feature, Columbus, that I identify with more than any scene from any other film in 2017 (with the possible exception of Rooney Mara eating an entire pie in A Ghost Story). The first scene is one in which it is revealed that John Cho’s character once confessed his undying love to Parker Posey’s character when he was 17 years old. Same here.

The second scene I identified with requires a bit of backstory.

In late 2012, I found myself at an existential crossroads. After completing my undergraduate degree and promptly realizing that there probably was no future for me in public relations or campaign speech writing, I decided to go a different way. Drawing from my delightful work study experience as a circulation assistant and a handful of research assistant jobs, I landed a gig as a reference specialist at Tacoma Community College. In short time, I realized it was the library life for me. Accordingly, around this time, as I weighed the prospects of pursuing an advanced degree in library science, a fun Forbes article made the rounds within the library blogosphere. In a ranking of master’s degrees, based on employment prospects and mid-career median salary, the MLS ranked… (you already know) dead last. I decided to power through and get my MLIS anyway. Buoyed by data from job satisfaction surveys, a handful of wonderful mentors, and my own overwhelmingly positive experience working in libraries, I got my dang master’s (and a job). I’m super glad I did.

Anyway, you can imagine the kaleidoscope of delight, anxiety, and empathy blooming in my consciousness, as this very Forbes article is referenced at the beginning of Columbus, a softly-told coming-of-age/coming-to-terms story, set amid the modernist architectural wonders of Columbus, Indiana. In this particular scene, Casey, a circulation assistant (played by Haley Lu Richardson, who seems poised for world domination) chats career prospects with her librarian colleague, Gabe (played with disaffected, smart-guy irony, by an all-grown up Rory Culkin). “Whatever you do, don’t get an MLS,” Gabe tells Casey in a deadpan mansplain. “It was recently declared the worst master’s for a job.” In spite of  my bubbling defensiveness, I was kinda thrilled to see, even briefly, this weirdly specific, if somewhat pessimistic, depiction of librarianship as a career path.

Screenshot from 'Columbus' (2017)

Screenshot from ‘Columbus’ (2017)

Happily, Columbus is not a film about the job prospects for people with advanced degrees in library science. Casey (Richardson) is a recent high school graduate with an eye for architecture and a promising spark. She has a loving, but complicated, relationship with her mother, with whom she lives and very much fears abandoning. Jin (played by John Cho) arrives in Columbus, on leave from his high-pressure job in South Korea, to look after his estranged father in the wake of a medical emergency. Each at their own crossroads, the two strike up an unlikely friendship, touring the town’s architecture and sorting out their complementary existential dilemmas.

Screenshot from 'Columbus' (2017)

Screenshot from ‘Columbus’ (2017)

The visual appeal of this film is immediately striking. Anyone with even a passing interest in architecture will appreciate the loving eye at work in Columbus. (And if you are the type of person who can recognize an off-hand brutalism pun, you are in for a treat indeed.) The titular town is a bit of an architectural mecca, and the ubiquitous modernist marvels are almost characters themselves. The buildings frequently take the central framing of a shot with characters populating them as a secondary interest. Throughout the film, we return to a handful of set locations, often in a new emotional context or at a different time of day. It is a subtle technique that illustrates the manner in which our built physical environments are both spaces we inhabit, and reflections of our inner lives that change over time. It also adds a layer of visual poetry that propels the film. Of central thematic interest here is the ability of art to comfort and heal and offer new perspective. Thankfully, it’s explored in a way that doesn’t come off as banal or trite. The film also uses space to mirror the characters’ sense of confinement or restriction. Casey’s home, for example, is always shot through multiple door frames.

Screenshot from 'Columbus' (2017)

Library interior, screenshot from ‘Columbus’ (2017)

Screenshot from 'Columbus' (2017)

Architecture highlight, screenshot from ‘Columbus’ (2017)

I also appreciate the way the characters in this film all all afforded dignity and complexity, even when they are being terrible. Standout performances all around, but Richardson shines brightest. Her portrayal of a character struggling to find her way, awash in the opinions and expectations of others, is literally transcendent. She has been racking up the breakout performances, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. John Cho also delivers an understated, impactful performance that is light years removed from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Parker Posey, in addition to being brilliant and perfect and wonderful in every possible way, does a bang-up job in her supporting role.

The supporting characters all feel like real people and not cartoonish plot enablers. Kogonada withholds a lot of character information in the early scenes, opting for more subtle nods to the relationship dynamics at play in the center of this film. By the time the exposition comes in the second act, it feels natural and believable. There is so much cultural and socioeconomic subtext at work in the background that this film seems content to simply let exist without being explicitly remarked upon. A certain type of viewer might be frustrated by the slow burn and quiet unfolding of this story, but the pace feels very intentional and appropriate to me. It compliments the art exploration themes. This is a film that invites you to wander the halls and appreciate the architecture, without hammering you over the head with melodrama. The delicate character development and languid camerawork are storytelling choices that will certainly reward on future viewing.

Screenshot from 'Columbus' (2017)

Screenshot from ‘Columbus’ (2017)

Columbus was an unexpected delight, and one of my favorite films of 2017. Shout out to Kogonada for crafting a quietly confident debut that portends great things to come. Shout out to Parker Posey for being my sun and moon and stars. And shout out to advanced degrees in library science for scoring me a librarian gig, after all.

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Favorite reel librarian posts, 2017

As promised last week in my 2017 review post, here are my personal favorite posts from 2017, presented in chronological order:


A disappearing reel librarian (Jan. 2017)

This post took a long time to write… because the film in question, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, actually comes in 3 different versions! Y’all know I like to be thorough, so yes, I watched all 3 versions and analyzed the reel librarian’s character in each version (the reel librarian is the sister of the title character). It was an interesting post to put together, as I had to think my way around how to structure the post and incorporate all 3 different versions of the film — and thus, 3 different versions of this same reel librarian character!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby' (2014)

Screenshot from ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ (2014)


Librarians of Congress (March 2017)

I got the idea to explore the history of the Librarians of Congress after I did an in-depth analysis of the classic 1976 film, All the President’s Men, which features a pivotal scene in the Library of Congress. I went down the research rabbit hole for this post — and enjoyed every minute of it!

Screenshot from 'Librarians of Congress' post

Screenshot from ‘Librarians of Congress’ post


The reel librarian in The Handmaid’s Tale (April 2017)

This post was a timely film to revisit, right before the Emmy Award-winning mini-series adaptation premiered. I enjoyed revisiting this film and how well it held up, and how relevant this story remains today.

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

A screenshot from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)


New book ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ — and I’m in it! (April 2017)

This was a joyous post to write and news to share with everyone! It still gives me chills to think that I am helping represent the librarian profession in a published book. ♥ ♥ ♥

'This is What a Librarian Looks Like' cover and email


Portrait of a real librarian adventurer (June 2017)

This post was one of the most popular posts in 2017! Years ago, I had asked Bill Nikolai — a real-life librarian as well as an actor, a stand-in, and a photo-double — to share his story with my readers, and it was definitely better late than never! He has had such an interesting and inspiring life, on and off screen.

Collage of two shots taken on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D., courtesy of Bill Nikolai

Collage of two shots taken on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D., courtesy of Bill Nikolai


A list of banned reel librarian movies (Sept. 2017)

This post took quite a bit of time to research and put together — but it was worth it! It coincided with the annual Banned Books Week, and I thought a list of banned reel librarian movies added to that national conversation about censorship. And it’s a good kind of post to revisit every couple of years for updates.

Reel librarian movies banned graphic


Conan the Librarian and Chainsaw Sally (Oct. 2017)

I enjoyed this post mainly because the idea of Conan the Librarian and the serial killer librarian Chainsaw Sally getting together made me laugh. As did my subheading, “Conan and Sally sitting in a tree… K-I-L-L-I-N-G.” 😀

Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage


Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (Dec. 2017)

I didn’t expect much out of rewatching this 1969 film adaptation of the 1959 young adult novel of the same title — but I ended up falling in love all over again with the reel librarian in this film! Basically, the librarian helps save a young boy AND Christmas at the same time.

Christmas with a reel librarian in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (1969)


Did you enjoy these posts, too? Any personal faves of yours not represented here? Please leave a comment and share!

Reel librarians in review, 2017

Happy 2018! Here’s a quick look back at Reel Librarians during 2017.

Wordpress review

10 most popular posts of 2017 overall

Almost all of the 10 most popular posts last year were published prior to 2017 — with a couple of notable exceptions, #4 and #7 — which the WordPress stats helpers interpret as “Your writing has staying power!” 😉

  1. Librarian t-shirt collection (Sept. 2014)
  2. Marian or Marion? (May 2012)
  3. Naughty Librarians (ladies, take it away) (March 2012)
  4. First impressions: ‘Hidden Figures’ and its library scene (Feb. 2017)
  5. The Killing Kind vs. The Attic (Oct. 2013)
  6. The Jedi librarian (March 2013)
  7. Books and book-burning in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (May 2017)
  8. Harry Potter and Madame Pince (Dec. 2012)
  9. You, Me, Dupree, and the Naughty Librarian (Aug. 2015)
  10. Reel librarians with ‘A Bone to Pick’ (July 2015)

10 most popular posts written and published in 2017

  1. First impressions: ‘Hidden Figures’ and its library scene (Feb. 2017)
  2. Books and book-burning in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (May 2017)
  3. The Quotable Librarian | Inspirational quotes from famous librarians (May 2017)
  4. Reel librarians in ‘Rollerball’ | Analyzing the 1975 original film and 2002 remake (Feb. 2017)
  5. All the president’s librarians (March 2017)
  6. Portrait of a real librarian adventurer (June 2017)
  7. New book ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ — and I’m in it! (May 2017)
  8. Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’ (July 2017)
  9. The reel librarian in The Handmaid’s Tale (April 2017)
  10. A closer look at the reel librarians in the original Ghostbusters (July 2017)

My personal favorite posts of 2017

I always find it an interesting exercise to take a look back and identify my own personal favorite posts of the year. That’s why I will be back next week with an entire post dedicated to it… See you then!

 

Reel librarian films make ‘best of’ lists for 2017

I was reading Vox’s “21 best movies of 2017” list by my favorite movie reviewer, Alissa Wilkinson (her writing is so articulate and beautiful), when I realized that TWO reel librarian films had made her top movies list of the year! Also, both films were in the top 10!

Columbus (2017)

Coming in at #9 is Columbus, the debut film from director Kogonada, starring Haley Lu Richardson as a young library worker living in Columbus, Indiana, who also loves architecture. She meets Jin (John Cho) and starts to show him her favorite buildings around the city. (A quick glimpse of the library can be seen in the trailer below, at 1:24 mins.)

Columbus Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Indie,” uploaded by Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films, Standard YouTube license

As Wilkinson writes:

“Columbus is beautiful and subtle, letting us feel how the places we build and the people we let near us move and mold us.”

Columbus also made the top movies list for Slate, Entertainment Weekly, The Ringer, as well as Rotten Tomatoes’ Best Reviewed Movies of 2017 (at a 97% fresh rating!).

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Ranking at #2 on the Vox list is Ex Libris, a documentary by Frederick Wiseman about the New York Public Library. It’s rare for a documentary to crack a “best of” list, let alone a documentary about a library! ♥

Trailer de Ex Libris: New York Public Library (HD),” uploaded by Cine maldito, Standard YouTube license

I teared up at Wilkinson’s summing up of this film:

Ex Libris is his mesmerizing look at the New York Public Library and the many functions it fills, which go far beyond housing books. […] It makes a case for having faith in the public institutions where ordinary people work — away from the limelight, without trying to score political points — in order to make our communities truly better.


I have not seen either one of these films (yet)… have you? What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment and share!

Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’

I have mentioned the reel librarian from My Side of the Mountain (1969) before, most recently in my library ladders round-up post. I had forgotten, however, that there was a Christmas scene in that film, so it’s perfect timing to spend some quality holiday time with a reel librarian.

Shall we?

The movie plot and the book it’s based on

My Side of the Mountain (1969) is based on the Newbery Honor Award-winning book of the same title by Jean Craighead George, published a decade earlier in 1959. The librarian, Miss Turner, is a character in both the book and the movie adaptation. I haven’t yet read the book, although I have read other titles by that same author. I had watched this film years ago, but I recently rewatched the film for purposes of this post, borrowing the sole copy available throughout our various regional library systems.

Here’s a copy of the DVD cover, and I was happy to see the librarian is included on the back cover!

Reel Librarians | DVD front and back covers of 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

DVD front and back covers of ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (1969)

The basic plot? An independent-minded boy, Sam, leaves home to spend a year in nature, like his hero, Henry David Thoreau. It’s a coming-of-age story, one in which Sam learns about himself while he learns how to survive in the wild.

Reel Librarian | Title screen for 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Title screen for ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (1969)

Where does the librarian fit into this plot? Sam travels to the public library in one scene, where librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. Using the information he learned at the library, Sam then captures and trains a peregrine falcon to hunt for him. Wiggins receives third billing in the cast list, and she shows up at crucial times throughout the rest of the film.

Public library scene

Almost a half hour into the film, Sam announces to his pet raccoon, Gus, that he’s “got to go into town… to read up on falcons.” The nearest town is Knowlton, which is a village around Lake Brome in Quebec, Canada (and also the inspiration for Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” mystery series!). The movie was shot on location in and around Knowlton, and the public library scene lasts about five minutes.

Here is a look at the interior of the public library, which is encased in wood panelling and lined with bookshelves. The librarian is seated at a large wooden desk, which has piles of books stacked on it, and she appears to be filing cards.

Reel Librarians | Public library interior in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Public library interior

Sam walks in and goes straight to the librarian and does not waste any time asking for what he needs. Here’s how their reference interview goes:

SamDo you have any books on falcons?

Miss TurnerFalcons?

SamEspecially the peregrine falcon.

Miss TurnerPeregrine falcons. Peregrine falcons were famous in England, I do believe [leading him into the stacks]. As a matter of fact, they were known as hunters for kings [reaches up on a library ladder to a top row]. If my memory serves me right, and it usually does. [hands him a book]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of a librarian on a ladder in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Librarian on a ladder alert!

Miss TurnerHere’s another one that might be of help [hands him another book]. The only trouble is, you can’t take these books out. They’re just for reference.

SamOh, that’s ok. I can sit here and use them.

Miss TurnerWell, have fun.

SamDo you think I could borrow a pencil?

Miss Turner Of course. My name’s Miss Turner [sits down and takes off her glasses]. If you want anything, just call out. [hands him a pencil]

SamThank you.

Miss TurnerWhat’s your name?

SamSam. [says reluctantly]

Miss TurnerSam.

Sam then takes the books and goes into another room, a reading room lined with more bookcases and a table in the center.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of reading from 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Reading room and reference book closeup

Sam then goes back into the main room of the library, back to the librarian, to return his books. He continues their conversation.

Sam:  I guess I got everything I’ll need. Those birds sure are interesting. If I could only catch me one.

Miss Turner:  [quoting Proverbs 1:17] ‘Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.’

Sam:  Yeah, I guess so. Those birds are darn smart.

Miss TurnerYes, they are, Sam. I often go up on McCracken’s Hill and watch them soaring over the mountains. I’m an old birdwatcher from way back.

Sam:  I guess that’s how you knew about peregrine falcons right off. Well, goodbye.

Miss TurnerSam… you’ll need a leather glove.

My reaction to this reference interview? The exchange sounded pretty spot-on to me, and it is one of the better reference interviews I’ve witnessed onscreen. In a brief amount of screen time, Miss Turner manages to:

  • listen to Sam and anticipates his needs (the “leather glove” comment at the end)
  • share relevant and information about herself to make a personal connection with a patron (her name and her interest in birdwatching)
  • quickly establish trust and interest in the patron’s needs (her knowledge about the history of peregrine falcons)
  • establish trust with the viewer by establishing trust with Sam
  • get across the idea that she is intelligent — quoting the Bible and knowing about peregrine falcons — in a way that is not condescending or off-putting
  • efficiently explain how reference books are different from other books in the library

Throughout the scene, she is warm and friendly.

Plus, we know that she has a life outside the library, because we learn that she loves the outdoors and birdwatching! This scene plants a seed that will pay off later in the film.

Reel Librarians | The reel librarian, with and without her glasses, in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Miss Turner, with and without her glasses

I thought it interesting to note that we first meet Miss Turner when she has her glasses on — to visually establish the fact that she’s a librarian? However, she takes them back off again as soon as she’s done finding the books, and we never see her wear her glasses again.

Library lady

Soon after Sam captures and trains a peregrine falcon, who he christens “Frightful,” a traveling folk singer, Bando (played by Theodore Bikel), stops by his campsite. Bando sticks around for a number of weeks and teaches Sam more survival skills.

Bando is a collector of folk songs and also is no stranger to spouting quotations, either. He even quotes from Shakespeare at one point.

A little over an hour into the film, when Bando is packing up to leave before winter sets in, Sam asks him to post a letter he’s written to his family. Bando then quotes from Proverbs 25:25: “As cool water to the thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

Sam is instantly reminded of the librarian!

SamYou know, sometimes when you get like that, when you start quoting something that you read in a book, you remind me of someone else.

BandoOh? Who’s that?

SamOh, it’s this library lady down in the village. She’s that way.

BandoMy, oh, my. I didn’t think you’d ever communicate with any human animal. Apart from myself, of course.

SamWell, I only went down there once, to read up on falcons. She knew quite a lot about them, too. She belongs to some kind of bird-watcher’s club and all. She’s a great lady. You’d like her, Bando. I did. I even trusted her. And I almost told her my plan and all.

Miss Turner definitely made an impression! “Library lady” and a “great lady” all in one… 😉

Birdwatching

About 10 minutes later after Bando sets off, Sam walks to the edge of the woods and announces to Frightful that he’s going into town. “Even Thoreau left his retreat at Walden Pond to go into Concord sometimes.

As Sam ties Frightful up to a tree stump, he spies Miss Turner walking along a path, birdwatching. (She’s dressed in an outfit — a cardigan and skirt — that seems more suitable for working in the library than for birdwatching… perhaps she stopped by the trail after work?)

Miss TurnerI was just on the trail of a beautiful speckled grouse, and I think it got away from me somehow.

SamYou remember me?

Miss TurnerYes, I think I do. Aren’t you the Peregrine falcon boy? You do look different. Your hair’s so long now. Did you manage to observe those falcons at close range? I was only wondering because I found another very good book on them. I mean, if you’re interested.

SamOh yes. You see, I caught one. Oh, I take the best care of it. I’ve even got it out here with me now. Say, would you like to see it?

Miss TurnerOf course I would.

Sam is so excited he grabs her hand to show her to Frightful.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of the librarian meeting Sam's falcon in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Librarian and falcon meet cute

Miss TurnerShe’s a beautiful bird, Sam.

SamWait til you see her in the sky. [Frightful takes off and swoops back down to Sam.]

Miss TurnerShe’s glorious. She loves you, too… Come on down, take a look at the new book I found.

SamWell, I don’t get into town much, and I like to be alone.

Miss TurnerIn any case, if you ever want to, come and see me. Please. As Cicero said, ‘We are never less alone than when completely alone.’

Later, in his journal, Sam writes:

I walked down the mountain today, when who did I meet on the outskirts, but Miss Turner, out on a hike. I showed her Frightful. It was good talking to her.

I couldn’t help but include the (hilarious!) facial expression on Miss Turner’s face at the moment Frightful swoops back down onto Sam’s leather glove. Frightful lives up to its name! 😉

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the reel librarian's facial expression in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Miss Turner’s startled facial expression!

Once again, Miss Turner demonstrates her warmth and kindness in this brief exchange. She shows that she remembers Sam — and his reference question! — and that she is observant, through her remark about his hair. And although off duty and outside the library, she is still a librarian! She has still been thinking about his reference question about peregrine falcons and set aside a book if he needs more information.

Up to this point, the librarian’s role has basically been that of an Information Provider. She has literally provided information to Sam about peregrine falcons, which he has made good use out of.

But this reel librarian is already something extra by this point — Miss Turner’s warm, friendly, caring personality goes beyond that of an Information Provider. She is not there to just find a book and provide a pencil. Rather, she is also there to provide a human connection with Sam — to remind Sam that he is not all alone in this world and that he has resources outside the forest. Like Bando, she is a vital link to the outside world, where there are people who care about him.

Librarian to the rescue

Fifteen minutes from the end of this 100-minute-long film, Sam gets snowed in inside the tree he has made into his home. Just as oxygen is running out as Sam tries to dig through the snow, guess who comes to the rescue? Bando and the librarian, of course! (The film does do a nice job of setting up this exact scenario.) Miss Turner is outfitted more appropriately this time for the outdoors, wrapped up in a long hooded coat, ski wear, gloves, and snow shoes.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of the librarian and snow from 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Librarian to the rescue!

Christmas with a reel librarian

Best of all, Miss Turner comes stocked with a picnic basket filled with a Christmas feast. Librarians are *always* prepared, y’all. RESPECT.

And in a scene that has to be unique amongst all reel librarian cinema, the librarian has Christmas dinner in a tree! “That was the best Christmas dinner I ever had.

Bando also plays Christmas carols, and Miss Turner even joins in the singing!

Reel Librarians | Christmas with the reel librarian in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Christmas with a reel librarian

Miss Turner also reveals that she kept thinking about Sam:

Miss TurnerI couldn’t get you out of my mind, Sam. I kept trying to think, how to get up to see you after the big storm.

BandoAnd then I showed up. See, I remembered about the library lady.

Miss TurnerI invited myself along.

SamI’m glad you did, Miss Turner.

Bando then reveals that quite a few people are worried about him, as he takes out newspaper clippings from his pocket. Sam then decides that it is time for him to go home, and that he’s learned a lot about himself. They then set off back down the side of the mountain.

The significance of the reel librarian character

Although Miss Turner may start off as what seems to be a typical Information Provider character type, she ends up, in my opinion, as an Atypical Portrayal of a reel librarian. She goes above and beyond her role as a librarian to provide research help. We learn of her interest in the outdoors in her introductory scene, and we then see her outside the library, birdwatching and hiking. She demonstrates that she really cares about her patrons, by remembering them and continuing to anticipate and think about how to meet their needs even after they have left the library. A true librarian at heart, and a truly positive portrayal of a reel librarian.

I had previously added Miss Turner to my “Hall of Fame” list, and here’s my write-up on that page:

An admittedly odd film (a 12-year-old boy leaves home and spends a year alone in nature—but that’s okay because he left a note to his parents and told them not to worry?!), but it does contain one of the most caring and thoughtful of all reel librarians. A public librarian helps a young boy find information about peregrine falcons and goes out of her way to find him more resources. She also gets a few scenes outside the library, where we see that she is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast.

I have ultimately classified this film in the Class I category, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot. Miss Turner definitely fits that description. The information she provides is vital to Sam’s survival in the woods, of course, but the librarian’s personal connection with Sam also proves vital to Sam’s survival.

The reel librarian ends up a savior and a hero.

The reel/real library

I wanted to end this post with a brief spotlight on the real library in Knowlton, Quebec. Below are screenshots of the exterior of the library, as seen in the film, as well as a close-up of the library’s sign (which you’ll notice, is in both English and French, as befitting a Canadian locale).

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of the public library from 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Screenshots of the public library and sign

It’s obvious that the exterior of the library served as the library location in the film, as the brick exterior seen in the film exactly matches the drawing of the library highlighted on the library’s website:

Info about the real-life public library in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada

Website info and drawing of the public library in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada

I have to wonder if the library sign in the movie is one they created especially for the movie, however, since the real public library in Knowlton is known by the name of “Pettes Memorial Library,” as you can see above. And the library has always gone by this name, as according to the library website, it was “built and bequeathed to the people of Knowlton and the Township of Brome by Narcissa Farrand Pettes in memory of her late husband, Nathaniel Pettes.” According to this booklet, “The History of the Pettes Memorial Library,” available online, Narcissa Pettes’s donation specified the name of the library, “a building known as the Pettes Memorial, which forever hereafter is destined for a free public library.” The Legislature in Quebec also passed an act in 1894 “incorporating the Trustees under ‘An Act to Incorporate the Pettes Memorial.'”

I also found it interesting that this library, founded in March 1894, was the first free rural library in the province of Quebec. You can read more about the history of the library’s founding here on the History section of the library’s website.

Sources used:

History.” Pettes Memorial Library, 2017.

My Side of the Mountain. Dir. James B. Clark. Perf. Ted Eccles, Theodore Bikel, Tudi Wiggins. Paramount, 1969.

My Side of the Mountain,” Wikimedia Foundation, is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0.

Rotherham, G. A. “The History of the Pettes Memorial Library,” 1983.