Hall of Shame

Bottoms up! My list of negative reel librarian portrayals

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!

Related posts: Little miss serial killer librarian in ‘Chainsaw Sally’ ; Revisiting favorites | ‘Serial killer librarian,’ Oct. 30, 2013 ; Conan the Librarian and Chainsaw Sally

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.

Related posts: A Liberated Librarian ‘versus the volcano’ ; In name only? Librarians as title characters ; The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn) ; Reel librarians take a trip

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!

Related posts: The librarian in ‘The Attic’ ; ‘The Killing Kind’ vs. ‘The Attic’

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!

Related posts: Naughty Librarians (ladies, take it away) ; Reel librarians on library ladders ; It all started with a big list

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.

Related posts: Out of the habit ; Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

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!

Related posts: The hand that rocks the school in ‘The New Guy’ ; Behind the blog: What goes into a film analysis post

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.

Related posts: The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn) ; Librarian as Failure ; The Anti-Social Librarian ; Advertising the reel librarian ; It all started with a big list

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.

Related posts: Reel librarians in ‘Rollerball’ | Analyzing the 1975 original film and 2002 remake ; Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies

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.

Related posts: Repeat offenders ; The Anti-Social Librarian ; Between perfect order and perfect chaos ; Out of the habit ; War films and reel librarians ; It all started with a big list

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!

Related posts: He’s… Conan the Librarian! ; Conan the Librarian and Chainsaw Sally

Hall of Fame

All-stars of reel librarian portrayals

Here are my top picks for reel librarian portrayals — for now. The list changes and expands the more librarian films I watch. For the following, I have tried to limit my comments to specifically address the depiction of the librarian(s) in each film. Some of my choices in this Top 10 might not be good films, but I am not judging the films on just artistic or storytelling merit. I am, however, giving my personal take on the portrayals of librarians in these films and how well they represent the occupation. Arranged in alphabetical order by film title.

Bunny Watson & co. in Desk Set (1957):

In this Class I film, the librarians at a TV network’s research department are pitted against an efficiency expert’s data computer. The librarians, especially Katharine Hepburn, are depicted as both intelligent and feminine throughout the film — a rarity for reel librarians.

Related posts: Comparing two ‘Desk Sets’ (and I don’t mean furniture) ; Revisiting favorites | ‘Comparing two desk sets,’ Jan. 26, 2012

Wong in Doctor Strange (2016),  Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

In these MCU movies, Benedict Wong plays Wong, a Master of the Mystic Arts who also becomes the new Monastery Librarian. Wong teaches Strange several important lessons throughout Doctor Strange, and he becomes Strange’s right-hand man in battle (and beyond). In Avengers: Infinity War, Wong teaches Tony Stark about the Infinity Stones — and (literally) saves Tony’s ass! In Avengers: Endgame, we discover — spoiler alert! — that Wong is the one who actually assembled the Avengers! #WongForever

Related posts: Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019) ; 3 reel librarians who have died in the line of duty ; Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films ; Perspectives about Wong’s reel librarian character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ; Will reel librarian Wong return in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’? ; First impressions: Wong’s cameos in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ (2021)

Sylvia Marpole in An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000):

Not a great movie, but this Class I film does contain one of the most memorable (animated) librarians. She seems at first a would-be spinster, but she soon reveals a different side—one that is sexy, playful, and confident enough to party in 1970s Abba-like green polyester.

Related posts: The Liberated Librarian (ladies, you’re up) ; What’s in a name?

Hannah in Follow the Stars Home (2001, TV movie):

In this Class III Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, Kimberly Williams plays a young woman whose husband deserts her and their young child, who was born with genetic abnormalities. Hannah, her mother, a public librarian, helps raise the child. There are several scenes set in the library, including a party scene! We get to see Hannah in her professional role as librarian as well as in her personal life as a mother and grandmother. Throughout, Hannah is warm, understanding, and intelligent. She’s not a saint; instead, she comes across as a realistically kind and thoughtful woman.

Related posts: Meet Hannah in ‘Follow the Stars Home’

Gloria Mundy in Foul Play (1978):

In this Class I film, shy librarian Gloria (Goldie Hawn at her most appealing) battles an albino in the library after hours, solves a mystery, and falls in love—what’s not to like?!

Related posts: It all started with a big list ; Librarians save the day!

Neil Klugman in Goodbye, Columbus (1969):

In this Class I film, Neil, a poor Bronx librarian, learns some some hard life lessons during a summer romance. The film does NOT depict Neil’s librarian co-workers in a positive light — they are all dysfunctional, anti-social, and racist — but there is one particularly touching scene in which Neil reaches out to a young black boy who likes art books. Even though Neil is not a career librarian (he admits that he doesn’t really know what he wants to do in life), he does actually care about people and public service.

Related posts: Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn) ; It all started with a big list

Mike Hanlon in It (1990, TV mini-series) and It: Chapter Two (2019)

Mike Hanlon (played by Tim Reid in the 1990 TV mini-series and by Isaiah Mustafa in the 2019 film version), the lone black member of the young Losers’ Club, becomes the town librarian. He stays behind and becomes the researcher and historian of Pennywise the Clown. Therefore, he is in position to reunite the Losers’ Club in order to defeat It once and for all. Mike is the true hero of both cinematic versions of this Stephen King novel.

Related posts: Scary clowns + reel librarians ; First impressions: ‘It: Chapter Two’ (2019) and the town librarian hero

Flynn Carsen in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004, TV movie):

In one of my favorite scenes in this Class I TV movie, Flynn Carsen interviews for the librarian position, stating that he likes books, knows the Dewey and Library of Congress system, does web searching and can set up an RSS feed. The interviewer (a fantastically droll Jane Curtin) responds, “Everybody knows that. They’re librarians. What makes you think you’re THE Librarian?” Most. Awesome. Quote. Ever. Also spawned two TV movie sequels with equally cheesy titles, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006) and The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008), as well as a TV series entitled The Librarians.

Related posts: ‘Quest for the’ Liberated Librarian ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn) ; Stylish male reel librarians ; In name only? Librarians as title characters

Lynn Wells in Major League (1989):

One of the few films to highlight an athletic librarian. In this Class II film, Lynn (Rene Russo), a former swimmer and Olympic alternate, is smart, feisty, and proud that she has “put together one of the best special collections in the country.” We even get treated with a close-up of her license plate, which urges the audience to “READ.”

Related posts: Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989) ; A reel librarian returns in ‘Major League II’ (1994) ; Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s ; Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?

Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy (1999):

In this Class I film, Evelyn Carnahan proclaims (albeit in a drunken stupor), “I am proud of what I am. I… am a librarian!” in another witty, feisty librarian characterization. It is Evie, not the male hero, who saves the day — and the entire world, I might add — by using her intelligence and knowledge. Also spawned (inferior) sequels.

Related posts: Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’ ; Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films and thrillers

Miss Turner in My Side of the Mountain (1969):

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 this Class I film 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.

Related posts: Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’ ; Reel librarians on library ladders

Dr. Abigail Chase in National Treasure (2004) and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007):

Diane Kruger plays Dr. Abigail Chase in both the original adventure and its less-than-mediocre sequel, both Class I films. Dr. Chase is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival spaces — the National Gallery and the Library of Congress — interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. Dr. Abigail Chase is a reel archivist role model!

Related posts: Get out your white gloves and lemon juice! Reel archivist in ‘National Treasure’ ; A reel archivist returns in ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’

Mary in Party Girl (1995):

A Class I 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.

Related posts: Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’

Charles Halloway in Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983):

In this Class I film, a town librarian, played with sensitivity and depth by Jason Robards, challenges the film’s villain, Mr. Dark, and saves the day and the whole town! A rare depiction of a male librarian as the hero.

Related posts: Librarians in horror films ; Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films and thrillers ; ‘Libraries raised me’ – a tribute to Ray Bradbury ; The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)

Vox in The Time Machine (2002):

Vox has become one of my favorite reel librarian characters, and for me, is the star of this otherwise mediocre remake and Class III film. Vox is the heart and soul of this movie — even of knowledge itself! He is the self-described “compendium of all human knowledge.” Vox is a classic example of the Information Provider character type.

Related posts: Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films ; Stylish male reel librarians ; Information Provider librarians

Cheri Jameson in The Twelve Trees of Christmas (2013, TV movie):

In this Class I Lifetime TV movie, Lindy Booth plays Cheri, a children’s librarian who tries to save her library from being demolished for a condo building. To generate community support and media attention, she thinks up a contest for library users to decorate Christmas trees. Most of the movie takes place in and around the library, and there are also a few scenes in Cheri’s apartment. Cheri is warm, funny, creative, and sincere, and we get to see those qualities in both her professional and personal lives. Plus, she gets to explain that yes, library science is a real thing! 🙂

Related posts: Twelve reel lessons learned from ‘The Twelve Trees of Christmas’ ; Stylish female reel librarians

A ‘weird’ librarian

Hell hath no fury… like a librarian scorned!

The 1944 film Weird Woman, directed by Reginald Le Borg, is a horror story, one whose title character could be either of the two main female characters in the film.

Weird Woman – Classic Movie Trailer” video uploaded by Cliff Held is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

While on an expedition in the South Seas, college professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney, Jr.) marries Paula (Anne Gwynne), a native woman who continues her superstitious beliefs upon their return to the U.S. His unexpected marriage angers his ex-girlfriend, college librarian Ilona (Evelyn Ankers, who starred in several horror films, including the classic The Wolf Man), who embarks on revenge.

Hell hath no fury… like a librarian scorned!

Ilona is blonde, young, beautiful, and wears striking modern clothing. However, she does not seem like a dedicated librarian because she is never in the library; rather, she is always in her office, which appears as large as or even bigger than the actual library. Of the actual college library, we only get to see a glimpse of bookcases, a ladder, and a dictionary stand.

Her student assistant, Margaret, shelves books, and students always have to open Ilona’s door in order to talk to her. Margaret, obviously intelligent and efficient, displays an eagerness to help. She  is a brunette with shoulder-length hair, skirt suit, and no glasses. Ilona, of course, abuses her assistant’s eagerness and stirs up trouble among Margaret, her boyfriend, and Professor Reed.

Ilona is a classic example of a Naughty Librarian who turns to violent and/or criminal manipulation when her love is unrequited or thwarted. She also uses her library’s resources to create more mischief (of course!). She is the (deserving?) recipient of several nasty, unflattering comments, including the following descriptions:

“A jealous old cat”

“There’s something about your smile right now that makes me think of Jack the Ripper”

An interesting note about the film’s 1962 remake: In Burn, Witch Burn! (aka The Night of the Eagle), the librarian character is changed to a female professor. The character’s name is also changed, from Ilona Carr to Flora Carr. The student library assistant’s name, Margaret Mercer, is also changed in the remake, to Margaret Abbott; her occupation, other than that of a student, is unknown in the 1962 version.


Sources used:


  • Weird Woman. Dir. Reginald Le Borg. Perf. Lon Chaney, Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers. Universal, 1944.

The ‘Year of the Librarian’ continues

Research on this topic continues to build, and hopefully, more respect is given to reel — and real! — librarians in the process.

Since the 1970s, the study of “popular culture” has increased in academic relevance, but I believe the image of librarians in media really began to be looked at as a serious topic of research after 1989. That was when ALA declared it the “Year of the Librarian” in its January 1989 issue of American Libraries. The article, below, and theme focused on the media image of librarians and “public awareness efforts on the library professional for the first time.”

My well-used copy of the "Year of the Librarian" article
My well-used copy of the “Year of the Librarian” article

There had been general research studies on librarians before, like Pauline Wilson’s book, Stereotype and Status: Librarians in the United States, published in 1982. However, researchers began to look more at media portrayals of librarians, which had not really been delved into that deeply before.

In 1990, Martin Raish, an academic librarian, began a class discussion on the image of librarians and Hollywood’s contribution (as described in the 1997 School Library Journal article “Reel Librarians Don’t Always Wear Buns” – see Resources). This class discussion spurred a major project that has since produced several articles; a web site, Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography; and several book contributions. I appreciate that Raish went beyond stereotypes, as the article states:

For one, he doesn’t subscribe to the view that the film industry has portrayed librarians only as stereotypes. “There’s a lot of old ladies with their hair in a bun that go around saying ‘shush,'” he acknowledged, “but there’s a lot of films where they’re bright, young, energetic.”

Amen! However, there is a notice on his web site that he has retired, and therefore, the site will no longer be maintained. Martin Raish continues as one of the major voices in librarian film research because he was one of the first — he began just a year after ALA’s “Year of the Librarian.” Also, in that year, 1990, at least 5 related articles/studies, including 1 dissertation, were published (see Resources).

The Popular Culture Association, which teams its annual conference with the American Culture Association, includes a section exclusively for “Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Popular research.” In 2005, McFarland & Company published a book-length analysis on this topic, with the very well-researched title, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, by Ray & Brenda Tevis (yep, I’ve got a copy!). And in 2007, The Hollywood Librarian documentary premiered at the ALA Conference in Washington, D.C.; the documentary combines film clips and interviews of actual librarians. (Note to self: I need a copy of this documentary.)

So it is quite encouraging that research on this topic continues to build, and hopefully, more respect is given to reel — and real! — librarians in the process.


Sources used:


Mistaken identity in ‘Spellbound’

A step backward for (real) librarians

How should a woman react when she is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian? To her credit, Dr. Constance Petersen, played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, takes it in good humor. The moment does inject a bit of comedy (although at the expense of librarians!) in the otherwise suspenseful and dramatic film, Spellbound (1945).

*SPOILER ALERT*

In this Hitchcock classic — which features a stunning dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali — Dr. Petersen (Bergman) realizes that the mental hospital’s new director, Dr. Edwardes (Peck), is an imposter and suffers from paranoid amnesia. They go on the run to find out what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes.

Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in 'Spellbound' (1945); image is in the public domain
Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in ‘Spellbound’ (1945); image is in the public domain

While Bergman waits for Peck in a hotel lobby — remember, they are on the run, so recognition would be disastrous — she comes under the scrutiny of the house detective. He tries to guess her occupation, and by her conservative appearance (dark and conservative suit & hat), he guesses either schoolteacher or librarian! She is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian. A success for her character, as her real identity and occupation are safe, but alas, a step backward for (real) librarians.


Sources used:


  • Spellbound. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll, Michael Chekhov. Selznick International, 1945.