Yep, Reel Librarians is back — and on track. Although it’s April Fools’ Day, this is no joke! 🙂 As you may (or may not) have noticed, this site has been on “private” mode the past few months, due to unforeseen personal as well as professional issues that needed to take priority in my life. I apologize for the unexpected and unannounced hiatus.
But not all was lost! During the site’s downtime, I went back through allllllllllll previous 7 years of posts and pages — 450+ posts + 19 pages, y’all! — to update things behind-the-scenes, including:
Layout and media updates:
converting to WordPress’s new “block layout,” which exposed some bad coding that I needed to fix, especially in early posts
changing images and clip art to openly licensed ones (excluding screenshots)
deleting broken YouTube videos and replacing them, when available
standardizing font sizes, layouts, and capitalization throughout all pages and posts
refreshing the site’s background to a more recognizable (i.e. less pixelated) and public domain image of theater curtains
adding alt text and captions to all images
changing spelled-out URLs within posts into more accessible linked text/phrases
consistently using header blocks for headings (and NOT for random text!)
when applicable, changing table formatting into regular text
Inclusivity and transparency updates:
condensing the separate “Actor” and “Actress” lists into one, gender-inclusive “Actor” list (Note: I decided to go with the word “actor” as a general, non-gendered term)
condensing the separate “Male Character Types” and “Female Character Types” pages into a single “Character Types” page
the “Class V” category now contains films with no identifiable librarians, although they mention librarians or include scenes set in libraries
the new “Class VI” category now contains films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, as these films have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians (e.g. a bookseller mis-identified as a librarian)
cross-linking films and related posts among the “Reel Substance,” “Actor,” and “Movie Lists” pages and sub-pages — these cross-linkings are now highlighted in yellow call-out boxes, as seen in the collage below, for easier identification and browsability:
adding a “Sources used” section to all applicable posts and explicitly citing all sources (rather than implicitly citing sources via links in the text of posts, which was my regular habit in early posts)
adding license info to videos and images, when applicable
New posting schedule:
I plan on going forward with a new, streamlined posting schedule. Instead of weekly posts, I will now be posting twice-monthly posts on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month, at 5 a.m. PST.
You’ll note that this announcement post is a special one-off, as I posted it on Monday, April 1st. (I readily admit I did this so I could publish this on April Fools’ Day and include the “No foolin'” quote as part of the title. I will NEVER pass up the opportunity to be cheesy, y’all! 😉 )
So that means there will be a brand-new Reel Librarians post NEXT Wednesday, April 10th, which will kick off the regular 2nd and 4th Wednesday posting schedule.
Sign up for updates:
Not sure if you’ll remember to check out Reel Librarians when the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays roll around? To never miss out on a Reel Librarians post, please sign up for regular email updates so you’ll get automatically updated whenever a new post is published. How? Under the “Follow blog via email” heading on the right side, enter your email address, and then click on the “Sign me up!” button, as you can see in the screenshot below. It’s that easy!
Note: You will get sent a confirmation email to finalize signing up for automatic email updates.
Are you excited Reel Librarians is back? Please leave a comment and let me know!
Also, please note that all comments now are moderated and approved before they become visible online. So if you leave a comment and don’t see it right away, no worries; it will become visible when I approve it. I also automatically get notified whenever there’s a pending comment.
Thanks for all the support, and I will see y’all next week… stay tuned!
When movies gets call numbers right, when they get them wrong, and when they give up
If you’re a regular reader (thank you!), then you’ll be aware that I often mention call numbers in my posts about reel librarians, as books and their call numbers often serve as props and clues to movie plot points. When I spy a call number onscreen, I always look it up to see if it’s accurate, as call numbers can reveal many things. And when movies get it wrong, I have been known to go on a rant… or two… 😉
What’s a call number?
Before I get into any rants, however, let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about. Each book or item in a library has a unique number, commonly known as a “call number,” which essentially serves as an address for the item so it can be located in a library. With books, call numbers usually appear on the spines, so the call number is visible when organized on shelves.
There are different systems of call numbers, also known as “classification systems.” The most common systems are:
The Dewey Decimal system is commonly used in public and school libraries. This call number system, as seen in the photo above, starts off with a combination of numbers, 000s through 900s (10 main categories), to classify non-fiction items by subject.
An example of a Dewey Decimal call number would be: 305.20973 T39 (the 300s reveal this book has to do with Social Sciences)
The Library of Congress system, or “LC” for short, is commonly used for academic (college and university) libraries and larger collections. This system starts off with a combination of letters and numbers to classify both fiction AND non-fiction items by subject.
An example of a Library of Congress call number would be: LB 2395 .C65 1992 (the “L” part reveals it’s in Education)
In my experience, call numbers often get confused with ISBNs (international standard book numbers). ISBNs are unique codes, either 10 or 13 digits, purchased and assigned to books by publishers, whereas call numbers are created and assigned by librarians (more specifically, catalogers). ISBNs are like a book’s DNA while call numbers reveal where the book currently lives. Make sense?
Who cares about call numbers?
You mean outside of librarians and catalogers? EVERYONE SHOULD. Well, all library users… which means EVERYONE, right?! 😉
In all seriousness, call numbers are useful and necessary. It’s how you find items in a library. Period. If you don’t have some kind of organizational system — and that’s all a call number system is — then how do you find anything you’re looking for? (And if you suggest by book cover color, then you can go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.)
Here’s a scene in one of my favorite reel librarian movies, Party Girl (1995), that delves into this very question, after she spies a patron randomly (mis)shelving a book:
Below is Mary’s rant in total:
Mary: Excuse me? What are you doing? Were you just putting that book away? It looked like you were just putting that book away. I guess you didn’t know we have a system for putting books away here. You know, I’m curious, you were just randomly putting that book on the shelf, is that it? You’ve just given us a great idea. I mean, why are we wasting our time with the Dewey Decimal system, when your system is so much easier? MUCH easier. We’ll just put the books ANYWHERE. Hear that, everybody? Our friend here has given us a great idea. We’ll just put the book ANY DAMN PLACE WE CHOOSE. WE DON’T CARE. Right?! Isn’t that right?
I wish I could play that clip for every library user ever.
When movies get call numbers wrong:
Sometimes, movies get call numbers wrong. And that’s when I get all CAPSY.
Finding Forrester (2000):
In Finding Forrester (2000), the lead character goes to the New York Public Library to search for copies of a classic book. And they get the call numbers ALLLLLLLLLLLL kinds of wrong:
This looks like a pretty typical card catalog screen, especially for that time period. But what is UP with those janky call numbers? D-107424, D-109478, D-783719, etc. Those do not look like any call numbers I’ve ever come across — especially not for a fiction book. They look more like accession numbers to me, which are automatically assigned numbers to items as they are entered into a system. (Archives collections are the only collections I’m aware of that sometimes shelve items by accession numbers. A public library would have a more generic call number for a work of fiction, something like FIC FOR, for “Fiction – Forrester”)
This movie gets call numbers both right AND wrong. Pretty impressive.
In this thriller, college senior Katie (Katie Holmes) is trying to finish her thesis (in the library, natch), when a cop (Benjamin Bratt) starts investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing Embry again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? She wakes up in one library scene to find a call number scratched into her desk.
It’s interesting to note that this is a Dewey Decimal call number, which is an odd choice for a college/university library. Usually, college and university libraries have larger collections and therefore use the Library of Congress (LC) classification system.
So y’all know I had to look up this call number, right? RIGHT. Turns out it’s the call number for Dante’s Inferno (Embry’s last student production was “Trip Hop Inferno” — spooky!). Then I had to look up where this scene was filmed, and it was in a library at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. That then led me to look up the book in the McGill University’s library catalog — and they use the LC classification system, NOT the Dewey Decimal system! So CLEARLY this whole call number sequence in the movie was created just for the film. Odd.
In this action adventure sequel, treasure hunter Gates (Nicolas Cage) kinda sorta kidnaps POTUS and gets a clue in return: XY 234786. I immediately knew this was a call number clue, which leads the adventurers to the Library of Congress to track down the “Book of Secrets” referenced in the film’s title.
Riley: Where do we start?
Chase: XY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.
Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!
Note: The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.
This movie didn’t get it wrong so much as it went rogue with call numbers. It is a comedy, after all. They created their own call numbers for a short library scene:
The call numbers highlighted in this scene are also fake — “AS” begins the section on astrophysics call numbers, while “CA DIR” begins the section on camp directing — but I had to laugh out loud at this celluloid call numbering system!
In the action thriller The Next Three Days, star Russell Crowe looks up books in an online library catalog. This movie didn’t include call numbers at all but got an ISBN wrong instead.
Here’s what I wrote in my analysis post about this short research scene:
That list of results also led him to this (fictitious) title, Over the Walls, with an author’s picture, seen below. Soooooo not accurate, because:
– Library catalog records do not include authors’ pictures, at least none that I’ve seen
– They don’t include info about where an author lives (dude, privacy issues)
– There would definitely be info in the publisher, pub year, and pages fields, or a note indicating that no such info could be found (but that’s really only for rare old books).
– The ISBN listed, 029019745716, is 12 digits, and ISBNs are either 10- or 13-digit numbers. But I still plugged in that number into the ISBN Search database. And yes, there is such a thing as an ISBN Search database. Now you know.
But hey, it gives Liam Neeson a bit more screen time (hah!), and propels the plot forward for John to meet up with Damon, an ex-convict who has broken out of several prisons. And I totally get why they used an invalid ISBN for the purposes of the film, like they do with fake 555 telephone numbers.
Sometimes, movies get call numbers right. And that’s when I get a warm glow in my librarian’s heart. 😉
In this Best Picture Oscar-winning film, Boston Globe reporters do a lot of researching, enlisting the aid of the newspaper’s research team and head librarian, Lisa Tuite.
In the very next scene, we see Lisa again, this time in what must be the print collection of the newspaper library and archives. We get a closeup of the multi-volume Catholic Encyclopedia and paperback copies of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory, all with spine labels of what looks to be Dewey Decimal call numbers in the 200’s. [And that is correct, Class 200 in the Dewey Decimal classification system is about religion. Y’all knew I would doublecheck that, right?!]
In this classic ’80s film, David, a computer whiz (Matthew Broderick), hacks into a computer game system, accidentally starting World War III. Is it a simulation, or a real-life crisis? A library research montage reveals how David discovers the secret password into the computer system.
He then goes back a third time and shuffles through a card catalog drawer to locate a card for Falken’s thesis, as seen below. (More sigh of nostalgia.) Another clue that he’s researching at a college library, because the call number is a Library of Congress (LC) call number, which uses a combination of letters and numbers. (Most public and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal call number system.)
And yes, I totally looked up that call number in WorldCat. The first part of the call number, QA76.9, is spot-on, as that’s in the call number range for computer systems and software. The Qs are for Science, and the QA subclass is for Mathematics. Also, all of the research materials in this film are super-convincing. None of the articles are real — there’s no Stephen W. Falken, of course — but the film’s prop masters used real publications, like Scientific Americanand The Atlantic to add an edge of verisimilitude. Also, somebody studied real library catalog cards, as that is the best faux-library catalog card I’ve ever seen onscreen. Look at all that info!
In this comedy-action film, retired but extremely dangerous (“RED”) agents team up against people trying to kill them. This film also introduces a real-life call number system that was wholly new to me, the Harvard-Yenching classification system created in the late 1920s to catalog Chinese-language materials.
About a half-hour or so into RED (2010), Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) follow up a lead in New York from a reporter who had been killed. When they question the reporter’s mother, they come across an odd number written on back of a postcard:
The next scene cuts to Frank and Sarah outside frosted glass doors that read “Downtown NYC Campus Branch” library. […]
Sarah: Why are we here again?
Frank: Because those number on Stephanie Chang’s postcard are actually the call number for a book.
Sarah: Call numbers start with letters.
Frank: In Library of Congress, yeah. In Harvard-Yenching, it’s a classification for Asian literature.
Sarah: How could you possibly know that?
Frank: [Starts speaking Mandarin]
NOTE: By the way, the Harvard-Yenching classification system was begun in the late 1920s to catalog Chinese-language materials in the Harvard-Yenching Institute. The Library of Congress (LC) system was not capable at the time of classifying those kinds of materials, so other libraries around the world followed suit by using the Harvard-Yenching system to catalog their own Asian-language collections. Through the 1970s and 1980s, however, the LC system added extensive subject headings for Asian and other languages and literatures, and most U.S. libraries now classify Asian-language materials under the LC system.
In this TV movie, mother (Kelly Rowan) living in a polygamous religious community escapes with her children, and they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”
In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.
Librarian: Can I help you?
Alice: I’m looking for a book on astronomy.
Librarian: Astronomy is in the 520’s.
At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520’s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.
NOTE: There is also a scene involving the Astronomy section — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post.
When movies give up on call numbers:
And sometimes movies just give up on call numbers altogether. And that’s when I roll my eyes. It’s NOT that hard, y’all.
Scream Blacula Scream (1973):
In this sequel to Blacula, an ex-policeman (Don Mitchell) investigates a series of suspicious deaths. The ex-policeman visits a library in one brief scene. I had written before that this film is notable for one of the least convincing library sets on screen, LOL!
The most notable aspect of the scene is how badly this library is organized. It is obviously a set — all you need are bookcases, books, a chair or two, hand-lettered signs, and a woman in glasses! — but not a very well-thought-out set. The three signs we see on the bookcases are all placed where they hang OVER the books — highly inconvenient for anyone to see or reach the books shelved behind the signs.
Also, the signs that are visible go from “GRAPHICS” to the “OCCULT” to “FICTION.” Huh? What kind of library system or collection is this?! You guessed it — the fake kind! Also, NO CALL NUMBERS on the books!
In this dark, slow-moving film, director David Fincher explores the quest to track down the Zodiac killer and how that quest affects the lives of reporters and investigators. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a newspaper cartoonist, never gives up in his own investigation and checks out library books to help him crack codes from the killer’s ciphers. The propmaster for the film included real books, which Graysmith reveals all came from libraries — but only SOME of the books in the film include call numbers. I figure the filmmakers didn’t think about call numbers at all.
The first scene involving library books includes no call numbers:
At 52 minutes into this 157-minute film (it’s a really long, slow-paced film, y’all), Graysmith is talking with Avery in a bar about a cipher the Zodiac killer used to write a note to the police, challenging the public to crack his message. Graysmith explains the starting point to figuring out the coded message. (Underlining throughout signifies my own emphasis.)
Avery: But how do you go from “A” is one, “B” is two to figuring out this whole code?
Graysmith: Same way I did. You go to the library.
At this point, Graysmith takes out a book from his briefcase, a book entitled The Code Breakers by David Kahn.
He then takes out another book from his briefcase, this one entitled Codes and Ciphers by John Laffin. This book describes another Middle Ages code called the “Zodiac Alphabet.”
NOTE: Yep, another real book, this one published in 1964. Gotta hand it to the David Fincher team for its research skills. HOWEVER, that team overlooked the detail of including call numbers, because neither one of these books has a call number — and Graysmith clearly states that he got them from a library. A real library book would have a call number on the spine. Back in the 1960s, it was commonplace to strip the paper covers from hardback books, and then either paint on call numbers or otherwise affix typed call numbers onto the spine. But dully colored hardback books would not have cinematic impact, so I suspect the product team just bought first edition copies and didn’t think about call numbers. But librarians do!
In a later scene, Graysmith pulls out several more books, and this scene includes a mixture of books with call numbers and those without:
Graysmith: Can I show you something? [Takes out books from his briefcase — sound familiar?] I’ve been doing research on the first cipher. Everything an amateur would need to create it can be found in these books. Now, I started thinking that if you can track these books, then maybe you can track the man. So I remember that you thought the Zodiac was military, so I went to every base library and I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books, and that’s when I found this.
He then takes out a sheaf of papers and hands them to Toschi. (Side note: I did notice that at least one of the books below, a thinner tan-colored one, *does* have a call number label on its spine. Hurrah!)
In this horror flick, college students keep getting killed off in scenarios based on urban legends. Is there a serial killer on an urban legend killing spree? Early on in the film, Natalie (Alicia Witt) heads off to the college library to research urban legends.
I also found it HILARIOUS that the prop manager didn’t even bother stocking the shelves with real library books. How can I tell? There are no call numbers on the spines or edges of the books! Strike two.
In this horror film, twelve year-old Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders), a social outcast, talks to his teddy bear and fantasizes about older women, including the public librarian. He discovers Trogs in a pit deep in the woods, and with Teddy’s help, discovers a way to seek revenge on those who have been mean to him. There are several scenes set in the local public library, including an early scene that reveals Jamie’s obsessions.
Within the first five minutes of the film, Jamie (played by Sammy Snyders) is seen writing sentences on a school blackboard, punishment for bringing in a naughty book. The schoolteacher opens the book, titled Creative Nude Photography, and comes across a page with a nude silhouette that’s been cut out.
Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? How about we revisit Party Girl, this time for the awesome dance scene, in which Mary has the “wildest night of [her] existence” figuring out the Dewey Decimal system? So true to life. 😉
This scene makes me smile every time. Carry on, call numbers! 😀
Abandon. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel. Buena Vista, 2002.
“Dual Spires.” Psych. USA Network, Dec. 2010.
Finding Forrester. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Perf. Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham. Columbia, 2000.
This movie is… not good. (Seriously, it has a 3.3/10 rating on IMDb.com, and that’s kinda being generous.) I joke sometimes that I watch movies so you don’t have to. That’s usually in reference to really bad and stereotypical portrayals of librarians, but today, it’s a reference to this movie in general. The film, directed by Alex Israel and based on a story (?!) he co-wrote, is only 1 hour and 15 minutes long. And yet SPF-18 feels sooooooo long, with an overly convoluted plot, too many characters, and wooden acting (which includes flat-as-a-board voice narration work by Goldie Hawn). It focuses on the “life-changing adventures” of four teenagers housesitting Keanu Reeve’s house in Malibu (not joking). Keanu Reeves actually makes a cameo as himself in the film’s last 30 seconds. (It is the best 30 seconds in this film.) (You can tell when I feel snarky about a movie when I start getting all parentheses-y.) (Sorry.) (Not sorry.)
The importance of keywords:
And yet, not all is lost. There is a short scene 25 minutes into the film that highlights the importance of keywords! I’m SUCH a librarian, aren’t I? 😉 #NoApologies
Context for this short scene: The main lead, Penny (Carson Meyer), her cousin Camilla (Bianca A. Santos), and random musician Ash (Jackson White), who literally turns up on the beach one night and then gets invited to stay at the house and becomes a love interest because THAT’s not creepy, are researching another random lifeguard surfer dude who has history with the father of Johnny (Centineo), who died in a surfing accident the year before. Got that? Yeahhhhhh.
Let’s listen in, shall we?
Penny: Found him! Steve! The lifeguard.
Ash: We wanted to find him? I was pretty happy to see him go.
When Penny brings her laptop over to the table, she informs us of her research strategy and keywords.
Penny:You noticed how weird Johnny’s been acting, right? Well, I knew there had to be a story. So, I googled “Steve, lifeguard, Malibu, rude,” but it wasn’t until I added Johnny’s dad’s name into the mix that I found this.
Pause for a librarian’s service announcement about search tips:
I pause this post to insert some librarian search tip advice. You are WELCOME. 😉
Here’s what Penny’s search would look like, as she described above (note: Johnny is Johnny Sanders, Jr., so his dad’s name would be Johnny Sanders):
It’s honestly pretty good for a starter search! Penny has combined several relevant keywords and included a specific name to narrow down potential results.
However, I would recommend a couple of tweaks to that initial search, including:
taking out adjectives, like rude — it’s usually more productive to use nouns as keywords in order to focus on concepts
putting phrases (2 or more words) in quotation marks, like “Johnny Sanders” in my screenshot below (in all fairness, Penny could have done this last tip, but I wanted to highlight this very useful search tip anyway)
You could also narrow down your results by clicking on the “News” tab/link under the search box, in order to go directly to news article results, which would be the most likely source type to find out the kind of information they’re looking for.
Ok, thanks for letting me nerd out for a minute and pass on some search tips. 😉
Back to the research scene:
Now back to the film… Penny is successful with her celluloid search and shows her laptop screen to her friends. The screen shows what looks to be a newspaper article, with the title “Galmarini Suspended for Steroids.”
Penny reads the first paragraph from the article:
“Professional surfer Steve Galmarini has received a three-year suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He is the first athlete to be suspended under the World Surf League’s new drug testing guidelines.”
Camilla: That guy doesn’t need ‘roids, he needs a chill pill.
Penny: It says that Johnny’s dad was Steve’s first coach. But there was some kind of falling out. What if it was over the drugs?
Penny then scrolls down the page to the comments.
Penny: It says here that some people think Johnny’s dad died on that wave because he was out there trying to win back the community’s respect after the drug scandal.
Penny: I can’t believehe [Johnny Sanders, Jr.] didn’t tell me this.
I am impressed by the level of detail that went into creating this fake newspaper article, as the layout really does feel like a typical news site. Honestly, I think I am more impressed by this fake newspaper site than I am with the movie as a whole.
To quote Ash:
This scene lasts under 2 minutes total, and more dramatical moments ensue after this scene that provides exposition by way of research and keywords. The film ends up in Class V, the category in which there are no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.
SPF-18. Dir. Alex Israel. Perf. Carson Meyer, Noah Centineo, Bianca A. Santos, Jackson White. Alex Israel, 2017.
Have you seen the utterly delightful — and rewatchable! — Netflix flick To All The Boy’s I’ve Loved Before yet? It came out this past summer, and the film was written and directed by women and based on the YA novel by Jenny Han. It stars Lana Condor as Lara Jean and Noah Centineo as the Internet’s boyfriend Peter. The two leads have chemistry for days, and watching (and rewatching) this film leaves a huge smile on my face.
Here’s a trailer for the film, so you can have a huge smile on your face:
School library scene:
A very brief library scene occurs 13 minutes into the film. Lara Jean walks into the school library during her lunch period, and she breezes past the front circulation desk, where an (uncredited) reel librarian sits. The reel librarian looks up and smiles as Lara Jean walks past, serving as your basic Information Provider helping set the library scene and location.
This barest of cameos lands this reel librarian in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.
I liked the colorful panels on the front desk that read, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ♥
Breaking rules in the school library:
Lara Jean then sits down at a long table and takes out her lunch, which consists of some carrots.
There are rules, girl.
Da da DUMMMMMMM.
Soft foods only! (I love the detail of the carrot on this sign, LOL!) Lara Jean then packs up right away and heads out to find another spot for lunch.
There is no dialogue in this scene, which lasts less then 30 seconds total, but the images and facial expressions are so dynamic that they tell a story all on their own.
I also quite appreciated that the librarian didn’t need to intervene at all — the rules about the soft food and no noise was enforced by the students themselves! 😀
More school library scenes:
In the mood for more library scenes set in school libraries? I’ve got ya covered:
I have done a few “first impressions” series of posts over the years, which focus on more current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes, but they turn out to be some of my more consistently popular posts.
A little over a month ago, I was able to watch Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, at The Grand Cinema, which is an awesome, independent, arthouse-type movie theater in Tacoma. The film is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, and John David Washington (the son of Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington) is perfectly cast in the title role.
Basic plot and trailer:
In the early 1970s, Stallworth is hired as the first black officer in the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department. Initially assigned to work in the records room, he requests a transfer to go undercover and gets reassigned to the intelligence division. While reading the newspaper, he finds an advertisement to join the Ku Klux Klan. He calls and pretends to be a white man, and eventually becomes a member of the Colorado Springs chapter. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) acts as Stallworth in order to meet the KKK members in person.
This is a film that punches you in the gut, and keeps you thinking and feeling and reacting. It is VERY timely. Highly recommended.
Below is a trailer for the film:
So what does this film have to do with reel librarians?
Records room scenes:
As mentioned in the summary above, Stallworth is initially assigned to work in the records room. There is a small nameplate on the front of the shelving units that says “Records librarian” (which is visible in the screenshot below), although the records room is essentially the archives of the police department. Stallworth is really bored working in the records room, and it’s clear that the records room is like a “right of passage” for rookie cops. It’s not a prestigious job, and the “real” cops look down on their co-workers stuck behind the desk.
(Never mind that detectives could NOT do their jobs or background research without those records and archival materials, and someone to help them locate those records, but WHATEVER. SIGH. >( )
There are two major scenes set in the records room, scenes in which Stallworth endures racial slurs and harassment from his co-workers, particularly from patrolman Andy Landers, a corrupt, racist officer in Stallworth’s precinct. Stallworth lets out some steam after his initial encounter with Landers, as seen in this screenshot from the above trailer:
We also see another records room officer, played by Jeremy J. Nelson, in one of the records room scenes.
Library research scene:
There is also a very brief scene — perhaps two-thirds of the way through the movie? — where the president of the Black Student Union (Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas) goes to what looks to be an academic library and looks up microfiche. In that brief library research scene, you can catch a glimpse of a reel librarian, played by Elise Hudson, who helps set up the microfiche machine for Patrice.
Patrice is researching materials and photos for an upcoming speaker (Harry Belafonte as Jerome Turner), and in a later scene featuring Turner’s moving speech, you see the archival photos she found and used displayed around him.
Reflecting on BlacKkKlansman, I realized that this film falls into the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot. This is because John Stallworth, the lead character, worked as a “records librarian” — but more accurately, the records archivist. I would say his character reflects the “Liberated Librarian” character type pretty well, as he is literally liberated from the Records Room and promoted into the intelligence division.
There are two other reel librarians/archivists in the film as well, Jeremy J. Nelson as another Records Room Officer and Elise Hudson as a (more traditional) librarian, although we only see them collectively for a few seconds on screen. They function as your basic Information Providers, there to establish the library/archives settings of specific scenes.