The short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider.
This week is finals week for summer quarter, and then I’m off for a few weeks! (In real life — I am scheduling posts for the blog during my summer break, no worries.)
And on the theme of vacation… I recently rewatched the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun from the long-running series (1989-2013) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. (And in my humble opinion, Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot for all time. Absolute perfection as the little Belgian detective.) The TV movie aired in July 2003, and it’s based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.
Evil Under the Sun is set at a luxury island hotel off the coast of Devon, where Poirot is on holiday. During his stay, a beautiful young woman, Arlena Stuart Marshall — who has been flirting with another guest, a married man, and generally upsetting everyone in her vicinity, including her own husband and stepchild — winds up strangled on a secluded beach. Poirot is ALWAYS going on a busman’s holiday!
Here’s a video review of the book:
Fun fact: The setting for this story was inspired by the Burgh Island Hotel, where Christie actually stayed in real life! And this adaptation was actually filmed at the Burgh Island Hotel!
So what does this movie adaptation have to do with libraries or librarians? Just a little over one hour into the movie, Poirot visits the mainland and has lunch with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. During lunch, Poirot reels off a list of questions about the murder, including:
“Also I wonder what was in the book that he [Arlena’s stepson, Lionel] was reading.”
Lionel had stated that he went to the mainland the morning of the murder to get a book.
Next stop? The public library!
We hear the librarian stamping in the moment we are introduced to her. Harriet Eastcott plays the Librarian; her character has no name, just the name of her profession.
Poirot has asked about the book Lionel has checked out, and the librarian immediately recognizes the name.
Librarian: Lionel Marshall, a young man staying on the island. Let me have a look.
She then goes to the card catalog and flips through cards.
Librarian: He borrowed a book yesterday morning.
She then looks at the card more closely and has a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face.
Librarian: Oh, yes, of course I remember now. I thought it was a rather strange choice, but he said it was for a homework project.
Poirot: And the name of the book, if you please, madame?
Librarian: Dangerous Chemicals and Poisons.
Duh duh dummmmmmm! SUSPICIOUS. This scene lasts only 30 seconds total, but it does move the plot along and serves to establish a potential suspect. The reel librarian serves as an Information Provider.
NOTE: I have written about this before, but this scene exhibits completely unethical behavior on the part of the librarian. At least here in the United States (although it may be different in the United Kingdom), you need a court order to view patrons’ library records. It may be convenient as a private detective or a police officer to go into a library and ask for a patron’s library records, but it is unlawful without a court order or warrant. And it is certainly unethical for a librarian to give out that information without requesting proof of a court order or warrant! I just had to do my duty in helping protect patrons’ privacy and reiterate that.
A couple of more notes from this short scene:
I appreciated how the costume designer matched the color of the librarian’s cardigan to the color of the curtains. This immediately and succinctly ties her visually to the setting of the library.
The set designer didn’t need much to establish the library setting, just a row of bookcases behind the librarian, a second row of bookcases (with organizational signs along the top in an Art Deco font, nice touch) behind Poirot, a table with card catalog drawers, and a few props like a stamp, pencils, and a notice board. I don’t know if this scene was filmed in an actual library — I couldn’t see any credits to that effect or anything mentioned online — but it could just as easily have been filmed on a set.
How does this scene compare with the book?
*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*
There is a public library mentioned in the book source material, and Arlena’s stepchild does check out a book that elicits suspicion.
However, there are some key differences, including:
Arlena has a stepdaughter in the book, Linda Marshall, which got changed to stepson Lionel in this film adaptation
Linda is obsessed with witchcraft and checks out a book on witchcraft, not poisons — still suspicious, but in a totally different way
Linda also later attempts suicide, but that is scrubbed entirely from the film adaptation
All in all, this short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider. She also looks fairly stereotypical for a reel librarian, being a white, middle-aged woman dressed in conservative clothing. Her demeanor is one of trying to be helpful (although winds up being inadvertently unethical). No glasses, but her hair is pulled back in a low chignon bun.
Are you a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series of episodes and TV movies? Have you seen this particular adaptation of Evil Under the Sun? Please leave a comment and share!
I have watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade many times over the years, and goodness, how this film holds up! It’s just a really solid — and really re-watchable — action adventure movie with romance and comedy perfectly mixed in. It’s the third film in the series, and in this installment, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) sets off to find the Holy Grail… and his missing father (Sean Connery), who is also a professor and historian. Such good casting!
Here’s a quick trailer for the film:
Facts, libraries, and research:
Before we get to the library scene, we first have to visit a pivotal scene that occurs 14 minutes into the film. After the introductory scenes of “Young Indy” and a glimpse of Indiana Jones in full adventurer mode at sea, we swing back to spy on Indiana Jones in the classroom. Instead of wearing a fedora and leather jacket, Indiana is in full professor mode in a three-piece tweedy suit, bow tie, and round glasses. (Put a pin in that, as we will revisit that costume.)
He writes “FACT” on the chalkboard, underlines the word, and then states what is arguably the most important speech in the entire film:
“Archeology is the search for FACT, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”
Why is this speech so important?
Not just because of the focus on the library, researching, and reading — that’s all gravy! — but because this character is setting up the rest of the film’s plot for us. Even though he’s in denial, we viewers know we’re set for lost cities, exotic travel, maps to buried treasure… and libraries!
The library scene:
Flash forward 10 minutes, almost to the half-hour mark of the film, to when Indiana Jones goes to Venice to meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody). She takes him to where his father was last seen, a local library.
Elsa Schneider: I have something to show you. I left your father working in the library. He sent me to the map section to fetch an ancient plan of the city. When I got back to his table, he’d gone, with all his papers, except for that scrap, which I found near his chair. Here is the library.
Indiana Jones: That doesn’t look much like a library.
Marcus Brody: Looks like a converted church.
Elsa Schneider: In this case, it’s the literal truth.
Trivia alert: The exterior is St. Barnaba church in Venice, but it’s actually still a regular church, not a library. (Bummer, right?!) The interiors were filmed elsewhere.
Below, watch a video of the entire library scene, which lasts about four minutes in total:
I love the “X marks the spot” reveal in this scene — harkening back to that pivotal speech in the classroom.
The reel librarian:
And of course the BEST PART of this scene is the reel librarian stamping his books, which exactly syncs up when Indiana Jones hits the floor tiles with the end of a metal post. (Suspension of disbelief? Yep.) It only takes three hits to crack the tile, and the closeups of the reel librarian’s face after each stamp are priceless. He never says a word, yet says SO MUCH through his facial expressions.
My favorite moment of this scene is when the reel librarian — an older man, dressed in a suit, formal collar, and bow tie — stares at the stamp in his hands, then puts the stamp atop the last book softly, in a daze, like he can’t fathom the power he just unleashed. Thus is the power of the library stamp! 😉
Reel librarian as comic relief:
This reel librarian is onscreen for a maximum of 30 seconds in a 4-minute scene (thus landing the film in the Class IV category), and the actor goes unidentified in the film’s credits. Yet he makes such an impact! Literally. 😉
This reel librarian is a prime example of the Comic Relief character type. The purpose of this character type is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, to entertain, but the reel librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.
They are also the most extreme physically — note how the reel librarian in this film is rail-thin, which is emphasized by the slightly oversize nature of his suit. And these physical characteristics are part of the humor; marveling at this heretofore unseen and unknown strength (!), this reel librarian could not fathom that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.
Now for a few additional things I noted while rewatching this film…
First up, I enjoyed the peek at the signs at the end of each bookcase, which give hints about the organization and classification system for this part of the library collection. They’re obviously in the Arts & Literature section of the library, including literature, dramatic arts, and music.
Reel library goof:
I watched this film on Amazon Prime, which also provides trivia and goofs. I had never noticed this goof before, that when Indiana Jones gets to the top of the spiral staircase, you can tell the backdrop is made up of book spines glued on a black background, rather than real books. Wow!
You can click the screenshot below to view a larger image of it in a new tab. Tip: Look for the shadows on the shelf behind Indiana’s elbow, which reveal that the books are really just book spines.
A tale of two personal libraries:
The two Dr. Joneses like to think they’re so different — yet they’re so alike! And this goes to the state of their personal spaces, as well.
For example, here’s a screenshot of Dr. Jones, Sr., in his personal library at home, in the film’s introductory scenes. The room is lined with bookcases, but none of the items in the bookshelves — books, artifacts, scrolls — look to be very well organized or neatly arranged. Quite disheveled! And the father is dismissive of his own son.
But the younger Dr. Jones is equally dismissive of his own students — he escapes by his office window! — plus his own office, full of bookcases and artifacts, is equally messy.
Attention to detail:
I also appreciate the attention to detail in this film. In that same scene I mentioned above, when Young Indy tries to enlist his father’s help, we see a closeup of his father’s hands sketching a stained glass window in a small book.
We see that drawing again in the library scene, when Indiana Jones takes out his dad’s diary and flips to the page with the stained glass drawing.
A tale of two suits:
And here’s one final thing I noted this time around while rewatching this film. Remember when I said put a pin in the costume Indiana Jones wore while teaching? Let’s revisit that. And I used the word “costume” very deliberately, as Indiana Jones only looks truly comfortable when he’s in his leather jacket and fedora. His entire being — posture, manner, etc. — gets stiff when he’s wearing the three-piece suit and bow tie.
And notice just how similar that costume is to what the reel librarian is wearing:
Both of them are wearing a three-piece suit, a bow tie, and round eyeglasses. There are differences, of course: Indiana Jones’s suit is lighter in color, and a different texture, while the librarian’s suit looks shabbier, and his collar is more old-fashioned. Both bow ties have polka dot patterns, however, and it’s the same outfit formula. It’s like they’re wearing a uniform to do research!
I recently watched the tearjerker romance Me Before You (2016) on Amazon Prime, and I was — once again — surprised to see a library scene pop up in the middle of the film. The film stars Emilia Clarke as Lou Clark, a ditzy but warm-hearted girl who loves bright colors, striped tights, and fashion with a bedazzled “F.” Sam Claflin plays Will Traynor, a recently paralyzed man that Lou helps take care of.
Here’s a trailer for Me Before You, directed by Thea Sharrock in her directorial debut:
The film is based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay. I have to note that it has become a controversial film, with criticism and protests from the disability rights movement protesting the film’s central issue of disabilities and voluntary euthanasia. (I did warn you about spoilers.) But it’s not really a spoiler when the fact that Will wants to kill himself comes up halfway through the film and provides the motivation for the remaining half of the film — and the library scene. And that it’s a plot point featured in the trailer.
So. Will is depressed and convinced he is a burden to his family and cannot reconcile the ideal of his former self with his current self. (Can you understand why this film has garnered criticism?) In an attempt to stimulate Will and get him out of his depression, Lou tries to plan fun activities for him. This idea comes out of a conversation with her sister, Treena (played by Jenna Coleman).
Treena: If this is what he really wants, then use the time he’s got left. Make it special. … A bucket list. Show him how good this time can be.
Lou: But.. what if that list could do more than that? What if it could make him change his mind?
Cue library research montage!
The director then cuts immediately to a public library. This scene occurs 47 minutes into the film.
Note: I’m not sure where this scene was filmed, as its filming locations on IMDb.com don’t list a public library. If anyone reading this blog knows the real-life library used in this scene, please leave a comment and share!
Research is hard, y’all:
I laughed so hard at the next bit of the scene. The director starts out with a shot of Lou searching online from the perspective of the audience looking over her shoulder (so that we see the back of her head and the computer screen, a website about activities and support for quadriplegics)…
… then overlays a shot of Lou’s face getting more confused as she reads the computer screen…
… and THEN finishes off with Lou’s doubly confused face(s), one looking down at a stack of books she has loaded into her arms and the other still staring at the computer screen.
Also… maybe ask a librarian for help next time. That’s why we’re here!
The reel librarian:
The first time I watched this scene, I thought it would turn out to be a Class V film, a movie that may have a library scene but does not feature any reel librarians. But the second time I watched this scene, I am convinced that I spy a reel librarian — or at least the back of one leaning down to either retrieve or shelve a book. I’ve indicated the character I’m referring to in the screenshots below. The bun, cardigan, and dowdy skirt sealed the deal for me. Even though no background character from this scene is listed in the credits, I’m putting Me Before You in the Class IV category, with cameos and bit parts for reel librarians.
A real-life story:
The entire library scene only lasts thirty seconds. Near the beginning of this research montage, Lou pulls out a book from the bookcase, and the title clearly reads Walking Papers.
And it’s a real book! (Y’all knew I would look that up, right?!) Its full title is Walking Papers: The Accident that Changed My Life, and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet by Francesco Clark, published in 2010. Here’s the write-up of this book on Amazon:
Walking Papers is the incredibly inspiring story of a young man who wouldn’t give up. Francesco Clark was a twenty-four-year-old with a bright future when he went to Long Island for the weekend–but a nocturnal dive into the pool’s shallow end changed everything, forever. Paralyzed from the neck down, Francesco was told by his doctors that he would never move from his bed or even breathe without assistance. But Francesco fought back. Within days, he was breathing on his own. His father, a doctor himself, investigated every opportunity for experimental treatment, and Francesco used every resource available to speed his recovery. To avoid having his lungs painfully suctioned, he sang, loudly, for hours–and that was just the beginning.
Seven years after the accident, Francesco continues to improve and to surprise his doctors–for instance, he can now work on a computer. Walking Papers is the inspiring story of how, with individual determination and unconditional family support, Francesco Clark overcame extreme adversity and achieved an extraordinary triumph.
“I was never asked if my book could be included in the movie, nor was I ever told that it would be included. While I understand that this movie is based on a work of fiction, my book – and my life – is not.”
If you just can’t get enough of the time-honored tradition of fast-forwarding plots with library research montages, then check out my posts for WarGames, He’s On My Mind, and Spotlight, just to name a few.
When I first watched this film, I noted four reel librarian characters. After carefully rewatching it recently, I realized I was mistaken — there are actually FIVE reel librarians.
Let’s count ’em down, shall we?
Reel Librarian #1:
Almost 25 minutes into the film, Bernstein flirts with interviews a former assistant to a Nixon administration staffer, who was paranoid about Ted Kennedy. The assistant reveals, “I remember seeing a book about Chappaquiddick on his desk. He was always getting material out of the White House Library and the Library of Congress. Anything he could find.“
Cue the next scene, Bernstein on the phone to the White House library. This reel librarian is never seen, only heard, a female voice on the other end of the line. Let’s listen in to their conversation:
Bernstein: This is Carl Bernstein, from the Washington Post. I was wondering if you can remember any books that a Howard Hunt checked out on Senator Kennedy?
White House librarian: Howard Hunt? … Yes, I think I do remember. He took out a whole lot of material. Why don’t you hold on and I’ll see?
Bernstein: I sure will. Thank you very much.
White House librarian: Mr. Bernstein?
Bernstein: Yes, ma’am?
White House librarian: I was wrong. The truth is… I don’t have a card that says Mr. Hunt took any material. I, uh, I don’t remember getting material for… I do remember getting material for somebody, but it wasn’t Mr. Hunt. The truth is I didn’t have any requests at all from Mr. Hunt. The truth is, I don’t know any Mr. Hunt.
As seen in the collage above, Bernstein’s facial expressions reveal his investigative instincts, as his face goes from polite, distant interest to confusion to suspicion. He smells a rat. Why would a librarian lie?! Definitely something is up!
Bernstein immediately walks across the room to Woodward. This is how he describes the interaction: “I just got off the phone with the librarian. … Between the first and second quote there’s a complete contradiction… in a space of about five seconds.”
Woodward immediately calls the White House Communications office. While he’s waiting for a response, Woodward and Bernstein suss out the significance of what had just happened:
Woodward: This was all one conversation?
Bernstein: First, “I think I got a bunch of books for Hunt.” Five seconds later, she says, “I don’t even known a Mr. Hunt.” It’s obvious someone got to her.
Woodward: There’s not enough proof. If there was a piece of paper… that said Hunt was taking out books on Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. Like a library slip.
Bernstein: He also took out from the Library of Congress. But what’s more important, somebody got to her in that space of time.
Woodward: How do you know?
Bernstein: Because she said that Hunt… there was a lot of books that Hunt checked out. Then she comes back and doesn’t even know him.
The White House Communications officer than calls back, stating that the librarian “denies that the conversation with Mr. Bernstein ever took place.“
This scene in the film is very similar to how it’s described in the book, on pages 31-33 of the original 1976 hardback edition. The White House librarian has no name in the film — and doesn’t even get a screen credit! — but she is named (and therefore shamed?) in the book, Jane F. Schleicher.
This scene with the first reel librarian lasts about three minutes in total.
Reel librarians #2 and #3:
Immediately following the contradictory story from the White House press office, Woodward declares, “We’ve got to get something on paper.”
Next stop? The Library of Congress!
While at the iconic library building, the two reporters are immediately blocked by a sneering, dismissive, white Congress Library Clerk, played by James Murtaugh.
You want all the material requested by the White House? All White House transactions are confidential. Thank you very much, gentlemen.
The reporters, however, remain undeterred. As they walk down a side hallway of the Library of Congress filled with columns, the two continue to strategize.
We need a sympathetic face.
We’re not going to find one here.
I can understand their lack of confidence in librarians, based on the two encounters they’ve had thus far. But they DO end up finding a friendly face while at the Library of Congress! Notice the differences in facial expressions below:
Jaye Stewart plays a character billed simply as “Male Librarian,” with as much screen time and as many lines as the previous seen Library of Congress clerk.
You want every request since when? [The answer is July of ’71] … I’m not sure you want ’em, but I’ve got ’em.
Cue the stacks of library card checkout slips!
As Bernstein and Woodward flip through seemingly endless checkout slips, director Alan J. Pakula cannot help but take advantage of the round Reading Room, slowly panning up so we can get a glorious bird’s-eye view of this iconic space.
Alas, all that work to go through the library checkout slips does not provide the information they want, to confirm if any White House staffer checked out books on Ted Kennedy.
Bernstein: Maybe they pulled the cards. Maybe they changed the names.
Woodward: Maybe there was a card there, and we missed it.
But not all is lost, as Woodward gets another idea for how to confirm the information.
Side note: As a librarian, I cringed a little during this scene. I had conflicting emotions. Although I was so glad that at least ONE librarian on screen had a face described as “friendly,” it’s sooooooo not ethical to give out checkout slips or records without a court order. We do have an obligation to protect the privacy rights of our patrons.
The two reporters then write up the article, and they take it to editor Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning turn for Best Supporting Actor. He is unimpressed.
You haven’t got it. A librarian and a secretary saying Hunt looked at a book. That’s not good enough.[…]Get some harder information next time.
The reporters, though disappointed, stay on the trail, which leads us next to two librarians at the Washington Post itself.
Reel librarian #4:
Ten minutes later, at 41 minutes into the film, Bernstein is looking up newspaper article archives in the Washington Post library. We can just spot a male Post Librarian in the background, played by Ron Menchine, chatting away at a table.
The takeaway? Bernstein’s doing all the work while the reel librarian idles in the background. Reel librarian FAIL.
Can the fifth and final reel librarian help restore some shine to the profession?
Reel librarian #5:
At 47 minutes into the film, Woodward is busy doing research in what appears to be the reference section of the Washington Post library. I spot several law books along the shelves.
A well-dressed woman walks into the frame, her back to the audience. We can see that she has long blonde hair and glasses resting on top of her head. Jamie Smith-Jackson plays the second Post Librarian seen in the film.
Post Librarian: You’re the one that wanted the articles on Dahlberg, Kenneth H. Dalberg? Couldn’t find anything in the clip file at all.
Woodward: Oh, wonderful. [sarcastic tone]
Post Librarian: I did find one picture, though, if it’s any help.
And lo and behold, it DOES help! What the female Post Librarian digs up in that picture provides a vital clue — a man’s name that they can directly connect to a check involved in the Watergate Hotel arrests — that leads to the unraveling of the scandal. This scandal turns out to be much bigger than anyone suspected at first.
How important is the work that Bernstein and Woodward are doing? As their editor Bradlee states toward the end of the film, “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters.“
The final score:
Ultimately, how do these reel librarians matter to this story and to this film? I enjoyed how the film — again, closely following the source book material — rolled back to the beginning. But the story was so layered and so huge that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to decide where the beginning was. And the beginning point that mattered, that spurred all the resulting actions forward, went back to the research. Back to when their suspicions were first roused by a White House librarian who lied. Back to when they had to ask themselves, Who got to her? Why would a librarian lie about a book being checked out? After all, if a librarian was lying to them, WHO ELSE was lying to them? And that trail led all the way to the President of the United States.
The final tally for the 5 reel librarians from All the President’s Men? When it came to helpfulness to other characters, only 2 of the 5 librarians scored any points. But when it came to helpfulness to advancing the plot, 5 for 5. 🙂
For more about Ted Kennedy and the Nixon administration’s paranoia — and more details about which book Hunt did check out from the Library of Congress — check out this article from the Daily Beast, “How Kennedy Brought Down Nixon.”
All the President’s Men. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander. Warner Bros., 1976.
The librarian is there not to provide information to any characters, but rather to reflect the societal rules that were in place to unjustly segregate citizens.
I recently watched the Best Picture-nominated film Hidden Figures, which is a biographical film featuring three African-American female mathematicians — or “computers” — at NASA during the early 1960s. The film sheds lights on their individual and collective struggles to earn personal and professional respect, both as women and as African-Americans in a field dominated with white males. The three female leads all deliver top-notch performances: Taraji P. Henson as brilliant mathematician Katherine G. Johnson; Octavia Spencer in an Oscar-nominated performance as mathematician and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan; and Janelle Monáe as firecracker engineer Mary Jackson.
Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson all accomplished firsts during their lives:
Johnson became the first African-American woman to desegregate the graduate school at West Virginia University;
Vaughan became the first African-American woman to supervise a staff at NASA; and
Jackson became the first African-American female engineer at NASA.
Based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly, it is an inspiring story of “hidden figures” finally being publicly recognized for their amazing contributions and talents and intelligence.
These are stories of American heroes that need to be shared and experienced.
First impressions of the film? It is excellent on all fronts; the film does justice to the legacies of the real-life women it’s based on. Highly recommended! It is also a very well-structured film, although some dates were switched around and characters merged to simplify the story and increase the drama. You can read more about the historical accuracy here and additional trivia here on IMDb.com. The film is also Oscar-nominated for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Hidden Figures has also become the highest-grossing film thus far of the Best Picture nominees.
There is a pivotal library scene, clocking in around 2/3 of the way through the film, if I am remembering correctly. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) visits the local public library to look at computer programming books in the library’s “white” section because what she’s looking for isn’t available in the library’s “colored” section. A reel librarian (Rhoda Griffis as “White Librarian,” how the character is listed in the credits) tells her she doesn’t “want any trouble” and has Vaughan thrown out of the library. When Vaughan and her two boys are back on the bus, she pulls out a library book out from underneath her coat, a book on the Fortran programming language. Her sons are aghast — and I, too, let out an audible gasp in the movie theater! — but Vaughan’s defiant reaction is, “I pay my taxes for this library just like everybody else!“
Here’s how a review on the “Library” Books blog sums up the importance of this scene and what it sets in motion:
She [Vaughan] uses the book to secretly learn to program the new room-sized IBM mainframe computer that has recently arrived at NASA that will surely put her and many of her denizens out of a job. By learning the computer language she not changes her own destiny, but that of dozens of other women, both black and white, who work for the space program. This episode is one of many in the film that reminds us that what is legal is not necessarily right, and what is illegal is not necessarily wrong. Powerful lessons that are still relevant today.
Here’s another trailer for the film that includes a peek at the library scene at 1:45 minutes into the trailer:
While Vaughan visited the public library to seek out more up-to-date materials, it is another book — this time, an older book — that provides the solution to another pivotal plot point. When Katherine Johnson is stuck in figuring out a key mathematical conversion to help bring a rocket back down safely, she is inspired to use “old math” for the solution. So she goes straight to the “Colored Computers” area, where there is a bookcase filled with older, hand-me-down books — and finds exactly what she needs! What is old is new again.
I will need to rewatch the movie in order to delve deeper into the library scene and the role that books and research play in the film, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the “White Librarian” character serves the role of Information Provider. She is there not to provide information to any characters, but rather to reflect the societal rules that were in place to unjustly segregate citizens. Her reel librarian character echoes the “That’s just the way things are” barriers of the time period, barriers that were starting to crack, brick by brick and book by book.
Have you seen Hidden Figures? What are your thoughts on the film and/or its library scene? Please leave a comment and share!
“Fortran” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
“Hidden Figures” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
Hidden Figures. Dir. Theodore Melfi. Perf. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali. Fox 2000 Pictures, 2016.