Law librarian sighting in ‘The Pelican Brief’

Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.

I recently rewatched The Pelican Brief (1993), based on the John Grisham thriller of the same title and directed by Alan J. Pakula. I didn’t have a copy of the film itself, so I checked out a (double-sided!) DVD from my local public library.

Don’t you just love the fact that after you read on the back that The Pelican Brief is a “heart-stopping, spine-chilling, adrenaline-pumping, run-for-your-life thriller” … you then see a photo of Julia Roberts studying in a library?! Research CAN BE adrenaline-pumping, y’all! 😀

DVD covers for The Pelican Brief (1993)
DVD covers for The Pelican Brief (1993)

If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen this legal thriller, it stars Julia Roberts as law student Darby Shaw, who uncovers the reason behind the recent assassinations of two Supreme Court justices and, therefore, unwittingly becomes a target herself. Denzel Washington co-stars as Gray Grantham, a well-known and respected newspaper reporter who joins Darby in her quest to uncover the truth. Sam Shepard also shines in a supporting role as law professor Thomas Callahan, who is also dating Darby.

Here’s a trailer to (re?)familiarize yourself with this star-packed movie:

The Pelican Brief (1993) Official Trailer – Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts Thriller Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

The research process begins

At almost 17 minutes into this 141-minute movie, Darby begins musing theories aloud to Thomas about the recent assassinations of the two Supreme Court justices. Next stop? The library, of course! (But we don’t yet get to see the library. But patience, dear reader, we’ll get there. 😉 )

A couple of minutes later, Thomas follows up with Darby. Their ensuing conversation provides a peek at how Darby’s mind works, and highlights the planning and prep work of her research process.

Thomas: Where have you been?

Darby: The library. I studied a printout of the Supreme Court docket. I even made a list of possible suspects. And then threw it in the garbage because they’d be obvious to everyone. 

Thomas: Then you looked for areas Jensen and Rosenberg [the two Supreme Court justices who have been assassinated] had in common.

Darby: Exactly. … Everyone is assuming the motive is either hatred or revenge, but what if the issue involved old-fashioned material greed? A case that involves a great deal of money? 

We then see Darby visiting a records office. She’s in the research process stage of gathering evidence for her thesis and seeing where evidence leads her.

Records scene in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Lady, don’t mess with me. I’m Julia Roberts, and my red curls are at their best in this movie.

I’m not classifying the woman at the counter as an archivist, as she seems to be more like a city or county clerk or office manager. Their verbal exchange is satisfying to watch Darby flex a little of her law school knowledge and know-how.

Clerk: Can I help you?

Darby: I’d like to see this file please.

Clerk: Why?

Darby: It’s public record isn’t it?

Clerk: Semi-public.

Darby: Are you familiar with the Freedom of Information Act?

Darby’s sass gets her to a back room of filing cabinets, where all the records are. We also learn of an upcoming appeals deadline of a local case, but we don’t yet know the details of this case that Darby is researching.

Records storage in The Pelican Brief (1993)
This back room of records storage makes me sad.

Law library scene #1

We then see the culmination of her research process, pulling it all together. And where’s the best place to do that? The library, of course!

We get treated to a montage of Darby in various spots in the library, first at a microfilm machine:

Microfilm research in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Remember microfilm?

And then typing on a computer in a study desk carrel, deep in the stacks:

Library research collage from The Pelican Brief (1993)
Library research montage, start at the upper left and go clockwise

The camera slides away as Darby continues to type, and the shadows darken, signifying the passage of time as Darby concentrates on finishing her research project.

Side note: I appreciated that this was filmed in a real library. How do I know? The books have call numbers! 😀 The IMDb.com Film Locations page for this movie listed Tulane Law Library, so that’s where I’m assuming this library montage was filmed. What’s missing from this scene, of course, is any recognizable librarian onscreen.

The ACTUAL Pelican Brief

And now for the finished product! Next we see a closeup of her brief — the title role — as it prints out. Darby collects the pages into a folder. It’s important for reasons of PLOT to note that Darby’s name and address are included on the cover sheet.

A closeup of the actual "Pelican Brief" in The Pelican Brief (1993)
I could not resist a shot of the ACTUAL Pelican Brief.

Alas, the moment of triumph is brief, as Darby then drops the folder onto her cluttered desk and dismisses her research. But Thomas is not so easily dissuaded.

Thomas: So, whodunit, Miss Shaw? You have some obscure suspect unknown to the FBI and the CIA and the secret service and 10,000 police departments?

Darby: I had one which I have now discarded.

Thomas: You mean, you skipped class and ignored me for a week and now you’re throwing it away? Let me see it.

Darby: Don’t laugh. It was ludicrous of me to think that I could solve it. Hubris of the young huh?

This series of scenes highlighting the research process — the description of the initial visit to the library, the local records office, and the holing up in the law library to write the brief — lasts three minutes in total screen time, representing what we hear took a week of work. I do appreciate that the movie takes pains to highlight that good research takes time and involves several steps.

Thomas later shares Darby’s brief with a former law school buddy who works in intelligence, who then takes the brief up the chain. The only problem? Darby’s theory turns out to be correct, and the baddies find out who and where she is. Thomas, therefore, unknowingly has put Darby in danger — and himself!

More than 70 minutes into the movie, after many attempts on her life (and others close to her), Darby gets interviewed by reporter Gray Grantham in Washington, D.C., and we finallllllllly get to learn all the details about what’s in the brief. (Fun tidbit: Darby’s theory all started because of a PBS Frontline special! #GoPBS)

Law library scene #2

At 92 minutes into the movie, Gray walks into a law library. (That sentence sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?! 😉 ) This law library turns out to be the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library in the Georgetown University Law Center.

And that’s when we finalllllllly get to see a reel librarian! It’s fleeting, but we can glimpse a white, middle-aged woman pushing a cart of books as Gray walks in. Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.

Reel law librarian sighting in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Blink, and you’ll miss the reel librarian in this scene!

The law librarian, who is uncredited, serves as your basic Information Provider, helping establish the library setting. Information Providers are most closely identified by occupational tasks; in this case, that happens to be pushing a cart full of books.

But we’re not done in this law library — or with research! Gray walks over to where Darby is sitting. He taps the table and whispers to Darby to meet him “by the stacks.” Gotta love that library lingo! 😉

Researching in the Georgetown Law library
What? I’m researching!

Darby has been looking up law firms, and she is totally prepared for research with her pad of paper and pencil. We also get a closeup of the legal book she’s been looking at, open to an entry for a law firm located in the Washington D.C. area.

We then see a long overhead shot of the tables and library as Darby packs up. It makes sense that director Alan J. Pakula would insert an overhead view of a library in this film; he did the same thing with the Library of Congress Reading Room in 1976’s All the President’s Men. (Click here to revisit my analysis of that classic political drama.)

Overhead view of the Georgetown Law Library, as seen in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Overhead view of the Georgetown Law Library

The final shot in the library is Gray and Darby talking together in what presumably is a group study room in the library. This final law library scene lasts a minute long.

Private conference in one of the library's study room
Private conference in one of the library’s study room

Wrapping it up

And there we have it! A (literal) roll-by cameo of a reel law librarian, scenes in two law libraries, and extended shots of Darby going through stages of the research process. Not bad for a Class IV film, eh?

Did you remember the law libraries in The Pelican Brief? How long has it been since you’ve seen this movie? Please leave a comment and share.

Sources used

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‘Summer school’ in the library

“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”

I am working at my college library this summer quarter, so I got to thinking about the 1987 comedy classic Summer School. The film stars Mark Harmon as gym teacher Freddy Shoop, who gets stuck teaching remedial English in summer school. I checked out a DVD of the movie from a local regional library system, and I watched the “Life’s a Beach” DVD edition that had a few special features, including commentary from director Carl Reiner and star Mark Harmon.

Summer School DVD covers
DVD covers for Summer School (1987), “Life’s a Beach” edition

I had watched Summer School before, and my vague recollection was that there was a scene (or two?) in the school library, but no librarian present. It felt like perfect timing to revisit this ’80s comedy, just to make sure. I am nothing if not thorough, y’all. 😉

Before we dive in, below is a trailer for the film. I was pleased that the school library does get highlighted in the trailer!

“Summer School-Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Let’s all go to the… library?

At almost 19 minutes into this 97-minute film, Shoop is flipping through curriculum sheets, trying to figure out what to do. Context: This is the second day of class. He seizes upon book reports, and you can practically see the light bulb go off in his brain. Shoop calls out to the class:

“Anybody want to get out of here? Go to the library?”

All of the students shout enthusiastically at this idea.

“Let’s go!”

This bit highlights just how BORED both the students AND the teacher must be, if going to the — gasp! — library sounds like a good idea. (Sigh.)

And, of course, almost everyone takes off and ditches while Shoop is leading the students across campus to the library. (Double sigh.)

School library scene

Shoop leans on the library door as the few remaining students shuffle into the school library. I thought it interesting to spot the library hours sign on the door. (For you purists out there, the library is open 9 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 to 3 p.m. You’re welcome. 😉 )

Library hours sign in Summer School
Library hours sign in Summer School (1987)

Here’s a look at the students in the library at the beginning of this scene. Pretty empty, huh?

Wide shot of the school library in Summer School
Wide shot of the school library in Summer School (1987)

We then get a closeup of Dave and Chainsaw, who are trying to flirt with the new foreign exchange student, Anna-Maria, who is taking the class to brush up on her English language skills. In the closeup below, you can see that Anna-Maria has a stack of books about the English language. I appreciated this detail — and the fact that the library does contain materials that she could use!

Dave, Chainsaw, and Anna-Maria in the school library in a scene from Summer School
Dave, Chainsaw, and Anna-Maria in the school library in a scene from Summer School (1987)

In fact, this library has a large range of materials for all different ages and reading abilities:

Shout-out to Dr. Seuss in Summer School
Shout-out to Dr. Seuss in Summer School (1987)

From this initial angle, the library looks quite empty. But when the camera swings back to Shoop, who’s reading a newspaper in front of the periodicals section, we see more people on the other side of the library. A security guard then brings back the rest of Shoop’s students, who went out for doughnuts. (Eating in the library, gasp!)

Security guard brings students back to the library in Summer School (1987)
So. Many. Hand-lettered. Library. Signs.

What I found most interesting when I paused this back view of the library was the figure right below the “Please Return Books Here” sign in the upper left corner. It looks to be a woman with blonde hair tied back with a large white bow, and she’s wearing a light blue blazer or shirt. There also seems to be a large computer or machine behind her and to the left.

Therefore, I’m calling it… I think that’s the school librarian! Who else would stand below a “Please Return Books Here” sign?!

This role goes uncredited, but I’m convinced. Therefore, Summer School belongs in the Class IV category, films in which reel librarians make a cameo role. This librarian also clearly fulfills the “Information Provider” character type, as she’s there simply to help establish that it is a library. Of course, all the hand-lettered reading signs around the library also help establish setting. (My favorite sign is the “To read is to feed your mind” sign. Rewatch this scene to see if you can spot it!)

And here’s another wide shot of the school library, upon the return of all of Shoop’s students. Definitely less empty now.

Shoop's students in the school library in Summer School
Shoop’s students in the school library in Summer School (1987)

Of course, none of the students want to be there. Heck, not even the teacher wants to be there! Shoop makes that clear when he says:

“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”

Trapped in the school library? Enh, there are worse things in life. 😉

That’s when students get the idea to go on field trips, and the rest of the film’s plot kicks into high gear. The school library scene lasts exactly 3 minutes total.

The students never return to the school library en masse, but there are a couple of mentions or glimpses of the school library throughout the remainder of the movie.

Library as excuse

Vice Principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) takes over the class toward the end, at 72 minutes into the movie. The students want Mr. Shoop back, so they start humming under their breath to annoy Mr. Gills.

Chainsaw then sees an opportunity:

“I just cannot study. I am going to the library.”

Spoiler: He never makes it there.

Studying montage

One minute later, we get treated to a study montage before the big final exam. Denise (Kelly Minter) has been diagnosed with dyslexia, and she meets with a reading specialist.

Where do they meet up? At the school library, OF COURSE. ❤

Denise and a reading tutor meet up in the school library in Summer School (1987)
Denise and a reading tutor meet up in the school library in Summer School (1987)

The real school library location

As per the movie’s IMDb.com Locations page, scenes set at the movie’s fictional high school, Oceanfront High School, were filmed at the real-life Charles Evans Hughes Jr. High in Woodland Hills, California. And this school library really looks and feels like a genuine school library, once you soak in its hodgepodge of signs, orange carpet, paperback book racks, bulletin boards, and old-school card catalogs.

#Memories #CardCatalogsForever #SchoolLibraryNostalgia

And fun fact — courtesy of the Movie Locations & More site — this same location served as the school in both The Karate Kid (1984) and Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985).

Continuing the conversation

Did you enjoy this trip down memory lane? Do you remember the school library scene in Summer School? Are you in summer school right now??! Please leave a comment and share.

More school library movie scenes

Putting this post together reminded me of when I analyzed the school library scene in Pretty in Pink (1986). For that ’80s classic, I also spotted a school librarian from behind. Hmmm… I’m sensing a theme here. 😉

Want more school library scenes and glimpses of reel school librarians? No worries, I’m on it:

Sources used

The dragon lady librarian in ‘The Golden Child’ (1986)

This is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals

Usually, when I write the phrase “dragon lady librarian,” an image of an older, scowling librarian who’s white and female and metaphorically spewing fire and brimstone at an innocent library user comes to mind, yes? Ah, the power of stereotypes. (SIGH.)

But the dragon lady librarian in 1986’s classic comedy The Golden Child is very different from that stereotypical depiction above. Let’s investigate, shall we?

First, here’s a trailer for the film, in case you’re unfamiliar with the film, or it’s been awhile. Eddie Murphy plays as Chandler Jarrell, a man who finds missing children. The Golden Child, a young boy in Tibet who has mystical abilities, is kidnapped by evil men led by Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance). A young woman, Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), enlists Chandler’s help and calls him “The Chosen One,” because he is destined to find The Golden Child, and therefore help save humanity, yada, yada, yada… you know the drill, right?

“The Golden Child Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by FilmTrailersChannel is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS***

The dragon lady librarian shows up three times in the film, at critical points in the plot, at 17 minutes, 45 minutes, and 78 minutes in this 93-minute long film.

Librarian scene #1

At 17 minutes into the film, Chandler has just come back from scouting out a house where the body of another child he was looking for, a young girl, was found. There seems to be a connection to the gang who kidnapped the Golden Child, as there are Tibetan graffiti markings on the walls and a bowl of oatmeal soaked with the girl’s blood. (I first watched this movie as a kid, and the blood-soaked oatmeal in this movie always creeped me out the MOST. Shudder.) Chandler asks Kee why they were trying to feed the child blood-soaked oatmeal, and Kee responds that she doesn’t know but that “There is somebody we could ask about the blood.”

Chandler and Kee next walk into a store that looks to be an apothecary, and they walk into the back and downstairs into a brick basement.

In one corner is a three-paned screen, and we can see the shadow of a woman sitting, and she is wearing a headdress. We also get a glimpse of the woman’s face through the left side of the screen. The mysterious woman smokes (what I presume to be) opium through a long-handled instrument.

Dragon lady silhouette and the three-paned screen in The Golden Child
‘Meet cute’ with the dragon lady

Let’s listen in on the exposition:

Chandler Jarrell: Tell me about the Golden Child.

Kala: Every thousand generations, a perfect child is born, a Golden Child. He has come to rescue us.

Chandler: Rescue us from what?

Kala: From ourselves. He is the bringer of compassion. If he dies, compassion will die with him.

Chandler: So if something happens to the kid, the whole world goes to hell?

Kala: The world will BECOME hell.

Chandler: Ah! Not far from that now. Listen, who would want to take the kid, anyway?

Kala: Those who want evil rather than good.

Chandler: Can you be a little bit more specific?

Kala: We do not know who took him.

Chandler: Well, could you tell me why the people that took him are trying to make him eat blood?

Kala: Nothing in this world will hurt him, but if he were to pollute himself with anything impure, he would become vulnerable.

Chandler: Ok. So if they… if he eats the blood, they could kill him.

Kala: Yes.

Chandler: Oh.

Kala: Do you have any other questions?

Chandler: As a matter of fact, I do. What are you doing this weekend? Because your silhouette is kickin’.

We then hear her rattling in frustration at his impudence. And librarians everywhere feel her pain. Sexual harassment is NOT COOL, y’all. Step off. And this librarian is not afraid to voice her displeasure and incredulity:

Kala: THIS is the Chosen One?

It’s interesting to note that we don’t actually know yet that she’s a librarian. But in two minutes, she’s already conducted a reference interview, filled in lots of exposition, and revealed the high stakes for the quest. I also love that although she’s clearly an unconventional librarian, she says what any librarian would say: “Do you have any other questions?

Next, we see Chandler and Kee walking and talking, and Kee fills in the exposition about Kala:

Chandler: You people certainly do put on a good show. Where’d you find her at?

Kee: She’s the librarian at the Secret Repository at Palkor Sin. She was flown here to help us. She’s over 300 years old.

Chandler: And how’d she manage that one?

Kee: One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.

Thank you, Kee! Now we know that Kala is literally a dragon lady librarian! And clearly, she is knowledgable and highly respected. Who else but a librarian would the audience trust? 😉

#TeamKala #RespectLibrarians

It’s also interesting to note here that two women actually played Kala. Shakti Chen, a Chinese actress, played Kala, while Marilyn Schreffler, an American actress, voiced the character.

Librarian scene #2

Kala’s expertise is needed again after Chandler learns about the Ajanti Dagger, a weapon the baddies plan to use to kill the Golden Child.

So at 45 mins into the film, Chandler returns to Kala.

Returning to the dragon lady librarian in The Golden Child
Returning to the dragon lady librarian

Kala: So. It is Sardo Numspa.

Chandler: What’s this knife?

Kala: The cross-dagger of Ajanti. He brought it to this world to kill the second Golden Child, the bearer of justice. His death was a great loss.

Doctor Hong: Sardo needs it to kill the child, but you can use it to save him.

Kala: You must obtain the knife and lure Numspa into freeing the child. But you must never let him get possession of the knife.

In this 30-second scene, Kala once again provides important details (the main baddie’s name), backstory (the knife), the high stakes (the killing of a previous Golden Child), PLUS directs Chandler onto the next quest. Librarians are so efficient!

Librarian scene #3

At 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, Chandler has successfully completed his quest to obtain the Ajanti dagger and returned to Los Angeles, but Kee has died in a fight with the baddies. Chandler, filled with grief and anger, returns to the brick basement, this time taking Kee’s body with him.

Kala: You can save her. The Golden Child can bring her back, as long as sunlight still shines on her body.

Chandler: No more magic. No more riddles, all right? She’s dead!

In anger, Chandler rushes up to the screen and throws it aside. We get our first true glimpse at the dragon lady librarian, scales and all.

Dragon lady librarian exposed in The Golden Child
Dragon lady librarian exposed!
Closeup of Kala, the dragon lady librarian in The Golden Child
Closeup of Kala, the dragon lady librarian

Kala tries to block Chandler’s gaze with her arms, and he looks terrified (rightly so, because that move was seriously disrespectful!). Dr. Hong then sternly redirects Chandler’s attention and reiterates Kala’s final task for Chandler, that he has until nightfall to the find the Golden Child and save Kee.

My final thoughts

Although we know the dragon lady librarian is named Kala — by the credits and by the captions — her name is never actually mentioned onscreen, at least not in the scenes featuring her. And we are told by someone else, Kee, that she is a librarian; without that line of vital dialogue, we would never know Kala is a librarian, as she’s never seen in a library or with typical library props.

I’m pretty confident in stating that this is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals 😉

Ultimately, although Kala is a most unconventional reel librarian by way of accessories and backstory, she serves a relatively conventional reel librarian role, that of an Information Provider. Right on cue throughout the film, she provides vital plot points and helps propel the plot forward.

Kala is seen onscreen for less than 5 minutes total, yet her presence is quite memorable. Ultimately, I have classified her reel librarian portrayal as Class III, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with memorable or significant scenes.

Your thoughts?

Have you seen The Golden Child? Was it a comedy staple during your childhood? Do you remember the dragon lady librarian? Please share your thoughts below.

Sources used

  • The Golden Child. Dir. Michael Ritchie. Perf. Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis. Paramount, 1986.

First impressions: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (2019) and its memorable fight scene in the NYPL

This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian.

I was NOT planning to write about the new film John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum when I went to see it a couple of weeks ago during its opening weekend. I’d seen the two previous John Wick installments in theaters, so this outing to its third chapter was planned as a fun date night out. But when John Wick hails a cab within the first 5-10 minutes of the movie and directs the taxi driver to the New York Public Library, I knew my next post HAD to be about this movie.

And yes, a little bit of me felt like saying, “Dammit! There’s going to be a library scene, so now I have to really pay attention to this movie!” This happens to me ALL the time, y’all. Librarians and libraries pop up everywhere in movies, just when you least expect it.

What’s a “first impressions” post?

First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film. I also was able to rewatch most of this library scene and grab some (grainy) screenshots, thanks to a few YouTube videos.

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

John Wick’s reference interview

Now, back to the movie… when John Wick’s cab gets stuck in traffic, he runs to the NYPL’s central branch and then up the center aisle to the front circulation counter. A white, female librarian with a no-nonsense attitude asks if she can help him. She is older, has short brown hair, and is wearing glasses and a cardigan; her character displays all of the (stereo)typical visual cues of a reel librarian, except for the bun. Susan Blommaert is credited as the Librarian, and she mirrors John Wick’s impassive facial expression.

John Wick’s taciturn reference request?

Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864.

The librarian doesn’t ask any follow-up questions in this brief reference interview. Instead, we hear her typing (I’m assuming in a library catalog search screen) and then writes something on a slip of paper (I’m assuming a call number). John Wick stares down at the slip of paper, then back at the librarian, who then points her finger to the right.

Her equally taciturn response?

Level 2.

This is the barest-bones reference interview I think I have ever seen onscreen. And one of the most successful, as we next see John Wick walk down a row of books, straight to the book he needs. This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian. To my mind, she is a highly efficient Information Provider in a Class III film.

Side note: Is real life like that? Not quite… Slate’s Natalia Winkelman wanted to see if she could replicate this reference request at the NYPL, and you can read her real-life reference interview experience here. Winkelman also answers the question of whether this book really exists. Bless. ♥

Shhhh! This library book has a secret

When John Wick slides out the exact book he needs and opens it up, we find out that he has hollowed out the inside! He has stashed valuables in this book’s hidey-hole, including a large token, a rosary with a large cross, a few coins, and a photograph of his dead wife.

Library book prop in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)
Library book prop!

At this point, five thoughts flashed through my head, in this order (it took me longer to suss them out completely on the page):

  1. A book published in 1864 would be out in the main circulating stacks? I don’t think so! That kind of book would probably be super valuable and in an archives or rare books room somewhere. (And this is one of the things that Winkelman found out in the article I referenced above, hah!)
  2. The idea of carving out a hidey-hole in an actual library book — and a rare one at that! — made my librarian heart gasp in dismay. And it is likely to be an actual library book he mutilated, rather than a book he brought from the outside and just placed on the shelves, because otherwise the book wouldn’t have come up in a library catalog search. Unless he swapped a copy of the library book for the real book, which is possible, but he would had to have made a replica call number. It’s also possible I’m overthinking this point… next!
  3. It’s condescending to think that NO ONE would be interested enough in Russian folk tales to check this book out and discover its secret. Every subject out there has its dedicated researchers, and in my experience, folk tales are perennially popular. And if the book were not popular and had no check-outs whatsoever, then it would have been a prime candidate for librarians to (eventually) weed from the collection.
  4. I did mentally pause to appreciate the fact that this scene was filmed in a library — or at least uses or mimics real library book props — because all of the books on the shelves have… say it with me, now… CALL NUMBERS! 😉
  5. Alas, I could not make out the actual call number on the book John Wick slides out or the call numbers in the books around it. If the propmaster wanted to be accurate, the call number would most likely be in the 398.2 call number range, as that’s the Dewey Decimal call number for folk tales and folklore. (And yes, afterward I searched for “Russian folk tales” in the NYPL online library catalog, and that’s the general call number used. I am thorough, y’all. Goes with the librarian territory. 😉 )

Side note: This scene was actually filmed at NYPL’s main branch, as they are thanked in the film’s credits and acknowledgments.

Fight scene in the library!

As John Wick prepares to reshelve the book, a fellow hitman walks around the corner, quoting Dante. This hitman, named Ernest, is played by 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, an NBA player. He towers over Keanu Reeves by more than a foot.

Ernest towers over John Wick, as seen in the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Ernest towers over John Wick

Ernest has come to kill John Wick and claim the reward money. (Context: Wick broke the rules at the end of Chapter 2, so he was given an hour of freedom before the contract to kill him went live. Chapter 3 starts off, time-wise, immediately after the events of Chapter 2.) No rest for the ‘Wick’-ed! 😉

John Wick: I still have time.

Ernest: It’s almost up. Who’s gonna know the difference?

Ernest then pulls out a knife, and the fight begins in earnest. (Pun intended. I couldn’t help myself! Again. 😉 )

At one point during the fight, Ernest shushes Wick. THE NERVE.

Shushing John Wick during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Shushing John Wick

The entire fight scene lasts about a minute, and John Wick eventually defeats his foe with the SAME book he came to the library for.

I admit, I was thinking about this scene’s similarity to a fight scene in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, in which Jason Bourne fights off a fellow assassin with a rolled-up magazine.

Fight in the library stacks in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Fight in the library stacks!

Don’t try this at home the library

And then the kicker. John Wick stands up, walks back into the stacks, and then REPLACES THE LIBRARY BOOK on the shelf, bloodstains and all.

John Wick goes back to replace the library book in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
John Wick goes back to replace the library book

This detail is lauded in several reviews and articles:

Wick’s respect for library protocol is made plain, however — after using a book (Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864) as a deadly weapon, his first instinct is to replace that book where he found it. Great work.

Shannon Connellan, Mashable.com

Eventually John kills him by utilizing the book he’s holding as a weapon. That part is great, but the moment of true inspiration comes next when he goes back and replaces the book on the shelf where he found it. This detail works not because it is funny, but because it fits the character so perfectly that it would almost be weird if he didn’t do it. In a genre where impersonality is the name of the game more than ever, it’s a delight.

Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

This detail is admittedly clever when it comes to reinforcing Wick’s character. OF COURSE he would replace the library book! He is a disciplined man. And he might need the book again. I get all that, and I chuckled myself in the movie theater during this scene.

HOWEVER. I could not be a self-respecting librarian without pointing out that in real life, please DO NOT re-shelve books on your own. You are not doing librarians a favor when you do this. In fact, you’re doing the opposite. Why? Because we like to scan the barcodes of books that are used in the library but not checked out, so we can get a sense of how books are used in the library, even when they’re not checked out or not able to be checked out, like reference books. (This is referred to as “in-house usage.”) So you replacing that book on your own means that you’re depriving that book of its potential in-house usage stats. Also, library staff workers like pages and clerks are trained to re-shelve books, as it’s a major part of their jobs. So those library carts you usually find beside the stacks? Those carts are there for you to put books that need to be re-shelved. Use them, please.

Soap box time over. Thanks for sticking with me!

What about library patrons?

After John Wick replaces the book on the shelf, we next see him rushing down the library steps and into the street. So there seems to have been no consequences — or even acknowledgment! — of there being a very loud fight in the library stacks, which resulted in a dead body.

I can hear you asking, “But if he’s on level two, and there’s no one around, then this is theoretically possible.” Books do, indeed, insulate noise very well. That’s why quiet zones in libraries are often located beyond stacks of books, since they serve as natural sound barriers.

However, the two end their fight outside the stacks, where the tables are, which means the sound would carry. And there are angles in the fight scene that clearly show that there ARE library patrons on level two. Below is an example of what I’m referring to (you can also click the photo to open it in a larger size):

Library patrons in the background of the fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Library patrons in the background of the fight scene

And these patrons, who are listed in the IMDb.com credits but are uncredited in the movie, do not move or react at all to the carnage happening behind them.

Odd, right? Why include patrons at all in this scene? It would have made a lot more sense in this scene for the level to have been deserted.

Why the library?

One of John Wick’s earliest and most imaginative kills in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum occurs at, of all places, the New York Public Library.

Natalia Winkelman, Slate.com

Why did the director, Chad Stahelski, choose to stage one of the fight scenes in a public library? I figured the main reason is the juxtaposition, that we expect libraries to be quiet, so a noisy fight scene in such a quiet space would feel jarring and unexpected and fresh.

Stahelski confirmed this in a Los Angeles Times interview, that he spent a lot of time thinking about how “to be non-repetitive” in the fight scenes that the John Wick films are famous for. It’s important to note that Stahelski has directed all of the John Wick films, and he is a former stunt performer.

Library bookcases, when there are rows and rows of them, are often visually compelling onscreen. This is also the case in this film, as you can see in the screenshot below:

Rows of bookcases during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Rows of bookcases are always visually compelling onscreen

What I found really interesting is that Stahelski was inspired to do this fight scene in the New York Public Library WHILE actually being in the New York Public Library. So meta! And the fact that Stahelski is a library user? ♥

“I spent a lot of time in the New York Public Library trying to do some work because it’s quiet,” Stahelski says. “One day, I was down in the stacks and I thought, ‘This would be a great place for a fight scene.'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

Stahelski was also inspired by the constraints of filming a fight scene in the library:

“A lot of people would avoid using the stacks because it’s difficult to shoot in and it would limit their choreography — you can’t do big flying kicks and stuff like that,” Stahelski says. “We’re kind of the opposite: We think, ‘What’s the hardest situation you can put someone in? And are we smart enough to figure it out?'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

And they did indeed figure it out. Well done!

Continuing the conversation

And they did this scene so well that it took me more than FOUR HOURS (!!!!) to draft this initial post. For a scene that lasts less than two minutes. My initial notes, the ones I jotted down on the notepad app on my phone, were pretty brief. But once I started to unpack, er, unshelve the scene, there was a lot more there to analyze and think through than I had originally thought! And of course, I spent time looking up reviews and articles and cross-checking details and citing sources. All part of the service, y’all. 😉

Are you a fan of the John Wick trilogy? Have you seen Chapter 3? You would alert a librarian or call 911 if you witnessed a fight scene in a library, right? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’

“You don’t need some high status degree. You want the best program for the least money in the shortest amount of time.”

It’s the time of year for graduations, and that got me thinking about my own graduation when I earned my Master’s degree in Library Science over 15 years ago. And then that got me thinking about a particular scene in 1995’s Party Girl

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

If you’re unfamiliar with Party Girl, then welcome to Reel Librarians! It’s one of my favorite reel librarian movies, even making my Hall of Fame list. Here’s what I wrote about the film on that Hall of Fame list:

A 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.

Let’s explore the last bit that I highlighted in the above synopsis, the scene in which a group of librarians discuss graduate library science programs. The scene occurs late in the film, at 1 hour and 18 minutes, and lasts 50 seconds.

A bit of background: Mary has realized she wants to become a librarian as well as prove her intentions to her godmother, Judy, who’s head librarian at a public library branch. Judy got Mary a job as a clerk at the library, in order to pay back bail money, but she doesn’t take Mary seriously.

Okay, now let’s break down the scene, shall we?

Graduate library school discussion:

The beginning of the library science discussion scene in Party Girl (1995)
The beginning of the library science degree scene in Party Girl (1995)

Seated at the table, from left to right, are Howard, Mary (taking notes), Ann, and Wanda.

Howard: You don’t need some high status degree. You want the best program for the least money in the shortest amount of time.

Wanda: Absolutely.

Ann [rolling her eyes]: Oh, please! You went to Columbia. You think you’d be working here if you went to some dinky small town program?

Wanda: I say Michigan. I did my undergraduate there. Ann Arbor is so much fun.

Mary: I don’t want to leave New York.

Howard: Well, don’t. You’re going public, right?

[Mary looks confused.]

Ann [interjecting]: Public libraries. As in non-academic. Howard doesn’t approve of academia. He thinks it’s for wimps.

Howard [to Ann]: It is.

Ann [to Howard]: I am sick of your reverse snobbery. Just because a person might want to live in a pleasant, non-urban setting, doesn’t mean they’re selling out.

Wanda: Ann worked in Ithaca, at Cornell.

Ann [to Mary]: How do you feel about the Senate?

Mary: I don’t know.

Ann: There’s a Washington-based program that my friend runs. I think it would be perfect for you, Mary. It’s a little competitive, but she’s an excellent connection…

What a wonderful scene! I love the diversity of ethnicities, genders, and ages of reel librarians represented onscreen. I love how the camera slowly tightens to just focus on Mary as she listens to everyone and takes notes, as seen below. I love how serious the conversation is about the pros and cons of different library science degree programs. And I love that the librarians themselves expose their own biases and differences of opinions about graduate library programs, as well as about different kinds of libraries.

This all feels VERY true to life.

The end of the library science degree scene in Party Girl (1995)
The end of the library science degree scene in Party Girl (1995)

Library school reference interview:

It’s also an interesting take on a reference interview — for AND by librarians! Mary is the one with the reference need, as she is looking for advice on graduate library science degree programs, and her library colleagues are all helping her out. But it seems to me that Howard is the only one actually listening to Mary during this reference interview. Wanda mentions Michigan, and Ann mentions Washington, D.C. (I’m assuming D.C. instead of Washington state, because she preceded that sentence by asking about the Senate), even though Mary said she wants to stay in New York.

And for a 50-second-long scene, we get a bevy of clues and references about different graduate library schools! As seen below, I noted the various places or school names the characters mentioned and then cross-checked them against the directory of current ALA-accredited master’s programs in library and information science as well as the historical list of accredited ALA programs. (Note: ALA stands for “American Library Association,” and most prospective librarians in the U.S. want to get library science degrees from an ALA-accredited program.)

  • Columbia: This could refer to a few different programs:
    • Columbia University in New York, which was discontinued in 1992 with its accreditation status continuing through 1993; as this film is set in 1995, it is possible (and in my mind, probable) that Howard would have gotten his degree there. It is also interesting to note that Melvil Dewey began the very *first* library science degree program at Columbia in the 1880s!
    • University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC.
    • University of Missouri in Columbia, MO.
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan: This refers to the program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.
  • Cornell in Ithaca: There is no library school program at Cornell, so Ann must have worked professionally as a librarian at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
  • Washington-based program: This is most likely the program at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It’s unlikely that Ann is referring to the program at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.

And by the way, I’ll jump into the reference interview with Mary… the only ALA-accredited graduate library school in New York that would have been available to Mary in 1995? The Pratt Institute, located in New York City. And they’re still the only ALA-accredited graduate library school in New York. Although there are plenty of online library science degree pathways available now, that was NOT the case in 1995. Looks like Mary is going to Pratt… 🙂

Continuing the conversation about library science:

Want to know about more films that mention library science and educational qualifications for librarians? I’ve got ya covered! Explore these previous posts:

If you’re a librarian, what library school program did you go to? Do you enjoy this scene in Party Girl as much as I do? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used: