Here are my bottom picks for reel librarian portrayals. I have tried to limit my comments to specifically address the depiction of the librarian(s) in each film. Some of the films in this Bottom 10 are good — or even classic — films, so I am not judging the films on just their artistic or storytelling merit. I am, however, judging the portrayals of librarians in these films. So here are my personal takes on how the following depictions (mis)represent the occupation. Arranged in alphabetical order by film title.
Librarians in Cain and Mabel (1936):
One of the plainest and most severe Spinster Librarians ever onscreen! In this Class III film, a couple kisses in a public library, and a librarian immediately descends upon them, quite like a vulture.
Related posts: Reel librarians on library ladders ; Earliest reel librarians I’ve come across, reader question follow-up ; Earliest reel librarians in different character type categories, reader question follow-up
Sally in Chainsaw Sally (2004):
In this Class I indie film, April Monique Burril plays the title role, a librarian by day and serial killer by night. She murders several patrons, for offenses like talking too loudly in the librarian, misspelling words, and never returning library books. Not the best role model for librarians!
Miss Anderson in Citizen Kane (1941):
This Class III film features another severe Spinster Librarian, one who is loath to give out information to a reporter. She doesn’t so much as have hair as a helmet!
Related posts: Updating the list of Best Picture nominees featuring librarians ; Reel librarians vs. reel archivists ; A list of banned reel librarian movies ; Out of the habit ; Between perfect order and perfect chaos ; The Spinster Librarian ; It all started with a big list
Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):
Another Spinster Librarian (a pattern perhaps?), this one arguably the most recognizable of all reel librarians. In this Class I film, lovely Mary becomes — what else?! — a librarian in the film’s nightmare alternate reality, after her husband George is granted his wish that he had never been born. In this classic film — which I’ve written about before, it’s one of my favorites as a film, but not as a librarian film — the message is depressingly clear: get married soon, or you will end up an old-maid librarian.
Related posts: ‘It’s a wonderful’… stereotype? ; Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ ; All hail Mary? ; Hall of Shame ; The Spinster Librarian ; Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s ; Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list? ; Three cheers for librarians! ; Librarian as nightmare ; ‘The danger of a single story’ for reel librarians ; Reel Substance: A look at Classes I and II ; War films and reel librarians ; The Quotable Librarian 5 ; It all started with a big list
Joe in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990):
This Class I film is not so much a lamentable depiction of a librarian — Joe seems to want more responsibility in his job — as a (perhaps unintended?) criticism and over-the-top depiction on how little librarians are valued and respected. In one scene, he is asked about his job, and he states, “I was an advertising librarian for a medical supply company.” The reaction? “Oh. I have no response to that.” Devastating.
Louise in The Killing Kind (1973) and The Attic (1980):
This reel librarian character is kind of complicated. The Attic (1980) serves as a kind of cinematic continuation of two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973), including Louise the librarian. Luana Anders plays Louise in The Killing Kind (1973), as a thoroughly nasty and sly peeping tom. We never see her in the library, and Louse is a supporting character in that initial film. Carrie Snodgress plays Louise, the main character, in The Attic (1980), and her character’s motivations are revealed to be more bittersweet and pathetic. She does have hallucinations of doing terrible things, like burning books in her library, and she makes bad decisions, like drinking while working in the library. Neither Louise is a great role model for librarians!
Miss Ophelia in Maxie (1985):
In this Class II film, a couple (Glenn Close and Mandy Patinkin) move into a new apartment where the ghost of a 1920s starlet still resides. Patinkin plays a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library who fends off sexual harassment from his supervisor, Miss Ophelia (Valerie Curtin). Shameful — and criminal! — behavior for anyone, let alone a librarian!
Librarians in The Name of the Rose (1986):
There are two male librarians in this medieval mystery and Class I film — one who restricts any access to the library and the other a flagellant who engages in sexually manipulative behavior. Not the reel librarian’s finest hour.
The school librarian in The New Guy (2002):
In this Class III film, Dizzy (DJ Qualls) tries to restart the year at another school as the cool “new guy,” after being humiliated at his old high school when a group of jocks pulled his underpants over his head and pushed him toward the school librarian. The scene comes immediately after the opening credits — a mere five minutes into the film — and it is a memorable one, showcasing perhaps the crassest, most twisted behavior ever from a reel librarian!
Librarians in Off Beat (1986):
A completely ridiculous film — the title isn’t kidding! This Class I film involves satiny cop costumes, a bank heist, and show tunes — no, I’m not kidding, I just put all those words into one sentence — with a cast of library employees who are all dysfunctional and socially inept in some way.
Librarians in Prick Up Your Ears (1987):
This Class III film made me sit up and yell at the screen! It includes the completely unethical behavior of two librarians, who set a trap — using information from circulation records, no less! — to turn two frustrated writers into the police. Yes, the writers had typed obscene passages onto book covers, but that does not justify a mean-spirited librarian’s actions.
Related posts: The Anti-Social Librarian
Librarians in Rollerball (1975):
This Class III film is a thoroughly depressing depiction of libraries and librarians in the future. Librarians have turned into censors, as their job now is to summarize and edit manuscripts to be suitable for the public. They are also completely ineffectual as computers have replaced them; one librarian flippantly laments a computer’s loss of all data from “the whole of the thirteenth century.” Sigh.
Sarah Mitchell in A Simple Plan (1998):
For me, this quote sums up why this Class II film is on this list: “What about me — spending the rest of my life 8 hours a day with a fake smile plastered on my face, checking out books?” Double sigh.
The librarian in Sophie’s Choice (1982):
After Sophie (Meryl Streep in an Oscar-winning role) dares to ask a question in this Class III film, an intimidating and rude male librarian causes her to faint! Enough said.
Jocasta Nu in Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002):
Don’t @ me, Star Wars fans! So although I love the Star Wars trilog(ies), I have to call out the Jedi Librarian’s imperious, condescending, and ultimately unhelpful attitude as seen in one of the most disappointing reference interviews onscreen. In this Class III film, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) cannot find any information about a mysterious planet at the Jedi Archives, and the Jedi librarian insists that “if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” LIBRARIAN FAIL.
Related posts: The Jedi librarian ; May the archives be with you | Shining the spotlight on the Jedi librarian ; A funny thing happened on the way to the Jedi library… ; The Jedi Librarian vs. Darth Vader ; Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films
Conan the Librarian in UHF (1989):
This cult classic Class III film stars Weird Al Yankovic and features segments from a public TV station. One segment features an over-the-top “Conan the Librarian,” who yells at patrons for not knowing the Dewey Decimal system and slices a guy in half because his books were overdue. Not typical librarian behavior, I assure you!