Reel librarians in ‘Rollerball’ | Analyzing the 1975 original film and 2002 remake

“Zero. He’s the world’s file cabinet.”

I have seen Rollerball, the 1975 sci-fi cult classic starring James Caan, several times, and the film features a couple of reel librarians and corresponding library scenes. I had not yet seen the 2002 remake starring Chris Klein, due to scathing reviews, but I decided to watch the remake recently for the purposes of comparing and contrasting it to the original film — and to see if the reel librarians made the cut in the remake. I also wanted to revisit the original Rollerball film, to see how well it held up.

Ready, set, analyze!

The original film, Rollerball (1975):

In Rollerball (1975), a not-too-distant future controlled by corporations, Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the star of the ultra-violent sport Rollerball. The corporate executives want him to quit, but Jonathan defies them.

Rollerball Official Trailer #1 – James Caan Movie (1975) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, under a Standard YouTube license.

Library computer center scene:

The first library scene — in this future, they are called “computer centers” — takes place 35 minutes into the 2-hour film. It is a short scene, lasting only a minute and a half. Jonathan goes with friend and teammate Moonpie to the local branch, and the location is like that of a futuristic mall, with escalators. (This location is in Germany, and as director Norman Jewison reveals on a commentary track, it’s a building that was built specifically for the Olympic Games.)

Library of the future, set in a mall-like luxury center, in Rollerball (1975)
Library of the future, set in a mall-like luxury center, in Rollerball (1975)

There are different information desks, including one labeled “Library” and another one labeled “Travel.” The message is that the “Library” is just another service and just another desk among countless others.

The library Circulation desk in a scene from 'Rollerball (1975)
The library Circulation desk in a scene from ‘Rollerball (1975)

At the “Library” desk, a young, pretty, brunette Circulation Clerk — listed as “Girl in Library” in the film’s credits and played by Nancy Bleier– starts off the conversation.

Girl in Library:  Can I help you, please?

Jonathan:  Yeah. I tried to order some books. They sent me this notice that I had to appear at the center personally.

Girl in Library:  That’s right. This is our circulation unit. You can make your choice here or by catalog. There must be some mistake. The books you’ve ordered are classified and have been transcribed and summarized.

Jonathan:  Who summarized them?

Girl in Library:  I suppose the computer summarized them.

Moonpie:  What do you need books for?

Jonathan:  I just want to study up on some things.

Girl in Library:  You could go to the computer center where the real librarians transcribe the books, but we have all the edited versions in our catalog, anything I think you’d want.

Jonathan:  Well, let’s see then. This is not a library, and you’re really not a librarian.

Girl in Library:  I’m only a clerk, that’s right. I’m sorry about it, really.

Cue vacant expression:

The Circulation clerk's vacant smile and facial expression
The Circulation clerk’s vacant smile and facial expression

Jonathan:  And the books are really in computer banks being summarized. Where is that?

Girl in Library:  There’s a computer bank in Washington. The biggest is in Geneva. That’s a nice place to visit. I guess that’s where all the books are now.

Jonathan:  Thank you.

This is a pivotal scene, one that confirms Jonathan’s suspicions that “something is not right” and provides him motivation to seek out the real books — and a reel librarians — in Geneva. The “Girl in Library” fulfills the Information Provider role.

Here’s how Norman Jewison described the scene and its importance, in a commentary track on the DVD:

Here is where we bring into the story, bring into the film, that knowledge and access to knowledge is controlled. Much like it was controlled in Nazi Germany, during World War II, or indeed in the Soviet Union, where books were banned. And of course in America. It’s happened here too. Where people are prevented from finding out information that may in some way increase their opposition, perhaps to established authority.

We keep referring to “something’s going on,” there’s some sort of conspiracy, this is the build to reveal to Jonathan, the gladiator, that he is really just a cog in the wheel and is being totally manipulated.

Walking and talking outside the mall library
Walking and talking outside the mall library

Jewison and screenwriter William Harrison also emphasized this theme as Jonathan and Moonpie walk out of the library:

Moonpie:  Yeah, but why books? I mean, anything you’d want to know, you could hire yourself a corporate teacher. Call somebody up. Use your privilege card.

Jonathan:  I can’t, and that’s just it. I feel like there’s something going on. Somebody’s pushing me.

Geneva library scene:

An hour and a half into the film, Jonathan travels to the central computer bank in Geneva that the Circulation Clerk had mentioned. Jonathan wants to go to computer center in Geneva and see what he can find out. The Geneva library computer center looks like a classical building from the outside, but it’s all polished doors and computer machinery and fluorescent lights inside.

The exterior of the library computer center is the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. As director Norman Jewison stated in the director’s commentary, “We tried to show that there was still some respect for some older pieces of architecture, so we decided that we would make the League of Nations into the world’s library.

Contrasting the exterior and interior of the main library computer center in Geneva, in a scene from Rollerball (1975)
Contrasting the exterior and interior of the main library computer center in Geneva, in a scene from Rollerball (1975)

This is a longer scene, clocking in at six and a half minutes, and the English actor Ralph Richardson plays the librarian, who is star-struck at first by meeting Jonathan. We also get to see the librarian’s office, which looks like a computer storage area.

During this scene, the librarian happens to mention — in an offhand, casual kind of way — that he’s misplaced some data.

Librarian meets celebrity, in the Geneva library scene from Rollerball (1975)
Librarian meets celebrity, in the Geneva library scene from Rollerball (1975)

Librarian:  Hello, hello. Yes, it is. The famous Jonathan E. Hard to believe. Sorry things are in a mess. The rollerball champion. Wonderful. Not many people come to see us, you know. We’re not easy to talk to, Zero and I. We’re a little confused again here today. This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.

Jonathan:  Misplaced some data?

Librarian:  Hmmm, the whole of the 13th century. [Tears up cards and throws them on the floor.]

Losing the whole of the 13th century, no biggie
Losing the whole of the 13th century, no biggie

Librarian:  Misplaced the computers, several conventional computers. We can’t find them. We’re always moving things around, getting organized. My assistants and I. But this, this is Zero’s fault. Zero. He’s the world’s file cabinet. Yeah. Pity. Poor old 13th century. Well. Come along now. You want to get started, don’t you?

Jonathan:  Yes, sir.

Librarian:  This way. Now, we’ve lost those computers, with all of the 13th century in them. Not much in the century. Just Dante and a few corrupt popes. But it’s so distracting and annoying. You’ve unlimited restrictions here, of course. But you have to come so, so many times. It all takes such effort.

Yes, you read that right. The librarian just dismissed the WHOLE OF THE 13th CENTURY that just disappeared from archival existence. That “Just Dante and a few corrupt popes” amount to “not much.” So I’m pausing in the middle of their conversation to have a moment of silence for the “poor old 13th century” that just got wiped out. RIP, 13th century, RIP.

It’s also becoming obvious how emotionally numb and exhausted the librarian has become.

Reel librarian exhaustion, as seen in Rollerball (1975)
Reel librarian exhaustion, as seen in Rollerball (1975)

Jonathan:  Do the executives still come here?

Librarian:  Oh, they used to. Some of them.

Jonathan:  What about the books?

Librarian:  Books, books, oh no, they’re all changed, all transcribed. All information is here. We’ve Zero, of course. He’s the central brain, the world’s brain. Fluid mechanics, fluidics. He’s liquid, you see. His borders touch all knowledge. Everything we ask has become so complicated now. Each thing we ask. This morning we wanted to know something about the 13th century. It flows out into all our storage systems. He considers everything. He’s become so ambiguous now. As if he knows nothing at all.

Jonathan:  Could you tell me something about the corporate wars?

Librarian:  Wars? War? Oh, yes, of course. We have them all here. Punic War. Prussian War. Peloponnesian War. Crimean War. War of the Roses. We could recall them in sequence. But corporate wars… hmmm. Well, Zero will, or can, I’m sure, tell you anything.

Zero is not a hero
Zero is not a hero

Librarian:  A memory pool, you see. He’s supposed to tell us where things are and what they might possibly mean. Look, Zero, a visitor. Jonathan E., the rollerball champion. You’ve filed away a lot of data on him. Do you remember?

Jonathan:  Does it answer you?

Librarian:  Oh yes, it speaks. It finds things, and loses them, and confuses itself. [Dusts it.] Ask anything. He’ll find it for you, section and lot. Won’t you, Zero?

Jonathan:  All right. I’d like, uh, I’d like some information about corporate decisions:  how they’re made and who makes them.

Librarian:  Zero, you heard the question. Answer him.

Zero:  Negative.

Librarian:  You don’t have to give him a full political briefing. Answer.

Zero:  Negative.

Librarian:  This is Jonathan E. He has to know. Make it simple. Answer.

At first, the librarian speaks lovingly and protectively of Zero, almost like a parent reminiscing about a spoiled child’s antics. Things quickly go downhill from there, as the librarian realizes that Zero refuses to provide the information asked of it. In short, Zero lives up to its name.

Librarian dusts off Zero
Librarian dusts off Zero

Zero:  Corporate decisions are made by corporate executives. Corporate executives make corporate decisions.

Librarian:  I know we have the answers. It’s the waters of history.

Zero:  Knowledge converts to power. Energy equals genius. Power is knowledge. Genius is energy.

Librarian:  I don’t want to bully you. You have to answer!

Librarian sees red in Rollerball (1975)
Librarian sees red in Rollerball (1975)

Zero:  Corporate entities control elements of economic life, technology, capitol, labors, and markets. Corporate decisions are made by…

Librarian:  You have to, Zero! [kicks the base] Let’s show him! Answer him!

Zero:  Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative.

Librarian vs. Zero the library computer
Librarian vs. Zero the library computer

As the librarian kicks Zero, in a fruitless attempt to prize information out of it, Jonathan — along with the audience — realize how impotent we all are in this corporatized world. The librarian is educated and intellectual and still valued knowledge, but it is to no avail. The librarian in Geneva is of no more use than the Circulation Clerk back home.

Here’s how Norman Jewison summed up the scene in his director’s commentary:

We came up with the name of Zero for the name of the computer, because we felt that somehow zero was the beginning, and the end, of everything. And I guess we were trying to indicate that as you hear in this scene, that all knowledge. […] I think probably Kubrick’s film 2001, which dealt with HAL, actually was part of the inspiration for this scene. When you start to deal with information stored in one place and one computer, naturally the computer must take on a kind of an identity. You can see here… this is a wonderful scene. [Chuckles.] You can see this is a difficult question for… He’s trying to get Zero to give him some information.

And this is where Jonathan realizes that even the computer is, will not reveal the certain truths that he wants about who really is in charge. So we have a society in which nobody knows really, who’s calling the shots. And there’s only one man questioning it, and he can’t even, he can’t find the answers. And this is where the picture takes off, a little bit, emotionally.

The original 1975 version of Rollerball ends up in the Class III category of films featuring reel librarians, and Ralph Richardon’s librarian ends up being another Information Provider, however ineffectual his information turned out to be.

Although the library scenes in the movie combine for less than 10 minutes total, it’s obvious — especially from Norman Jewison’s commentary — how important those scenes are to the film’s overall message as well as its flow and plot progression.

The remake, Rollerball (2002):

Rollerball Official Trailer #1 – Jean Reno Movie (2002) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, under a Standard YouTube license.

As I mentioned before, the 2002 remake of Rollerball was not well-received, to put it mildly. It has a 3% — !!! — freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes. As in 97% rotten. Yikes. The remake’s director, John McTiernan, also went to federal prison due to an investigation resulting from the production of this film. Double yikes.

As for the question of whether or not the reel librarians made it to the remake, the short answer is NO.

The long answer? Also NO.

There is just no room for subtlety or subtext in this remake, which is all about quick action shots and bad special effects. This remake epically fails on all levels, including acting, storytelling, casting, accents, reel librarians, you name it. Very disappointing since the original film was, well, so original. Some movies just don’t need to be remade. The Rollerball remake ends up in the Class V category, films with no librarians.

Just one more cinematic reason why I watch some films so you don’t have to. 😉

Sources used:

  • John McTiernan” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Rollerball. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck. MGM/UA Entertainment, 1975.
  • Rollerball. Dir. John McTiernan. Perf. Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn. MGM, 2002.
  • Rollerball (2002).”, 2002.

Reel Substance: A look at Class V… and a Class VI?

Shining a spotlight on the “Reel Substance” portion of my Reel Librarians site.

Finishing up my spotlight on the “Reel Substance” part of my site… This week, let’s look at the (current) final category, Class V films. (Last week was Classes III and IV, and the week before that Classes I and II.)

If you’re new to this mini-series, then here’s a quick note about what the “Reel Substance” section is all about. One way I analyze and categorize films is according to the importance of the librarian role to the film overall. The “Reel Substance” section of this site is currently divided into 5 categories, starting with major librarian characters integral to the movie’s plot (Class I), and on down.

Reel Substance section
Reel Substance section

The basics:

Currently this is how I define Class V films:  They have no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. Some of these films have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

So there are two different kinds of films I currently include in Class V, with examples:

Includes scenes set in libraries or mentions librarians (but doesn’t include any actual librarians):

  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
  • Blackmail (1929)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
  • Slightly Dangerous (1943)
  • Urban Legend (1998)
  • Wanted (2008)

Mistakenly listed as including reel librarians:

  • Big (1988)
  • The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
  • The Final Cut (2004)
  • Night at the Museum (2006)
  • Red Dragon (2002)
  • Sitting Pretty (1948)
  • Summertime (1955)

With the latter — films mistakenly listed on other sites or lists as including reel librarians — many times, a bookseller is mistakenly identified as librarian, or a bookstore mistakenly identified as a library. That’s the case with The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), The Final Cut (2004), Night at the Museum (2006), Red Dragon (2002), and Sitting Pretty (1948). In my post analyzing Night at the Museum, I point out some helpful tips on how to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen. Other times, a mousy or spinster-ish female lead is mistaken for a librarian, like Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (1955) — in that film, she’s actually described as a “fancy secretary”.

Side note:  Katharine Hepburn did play a librarian in Desk Set (1957). Plus, one of her sisters, Peg Hepburn Perry, was a children’s librarian in real life, for over 50 years! She was featured in The Hollywood Librarian documentary, which I reviewed here in this post.

Wherefore art thou, reel librarians?

Films that complicate matters are the ones that mention librarians but don’t include any actual librarians. Here are four interesting examples:

Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941):  In this film, Miss Bishop, a college English professor, reflects back on her life. Miss Bishop advises a female student to take the librarian’s course, but we later find out the student became a “world-famous historian” instead. At one point, Miss Bishop also tells the university president that she is leaving to become an assistant librarian in New York, but he convinces her to stay on at the college. Therefore, there is no actual librarian in this film, but it is interesting that the film mentions a college librarian course.

You can read my full post about Cheers for Miss Bishop here.

Demolition Man (1993):  In this film, Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan, a cop who is brought out of cryogenics in order to pursue an old enemy (Wesley Snipes) running rampant in a future, nonviolent society. Sandra Bullock also co-stars as Lenina Huxley, a cop in the future. About an hour into the film, Lenina mentions visiting the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library to find archives of John’s past cases.

You can read my full post about Demolition Man here.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970):  The main plot of this film involves the opportunistic Mr. Sloane, who lodges with an eccentric family, consisting of the aging nymphomaniac Kath, her uptight brother Ed, and their doddery Dadda. Kath lies to Ed, saying she met Sloane in the library.

You can read my full post about Entertaining Mr. Sloane here.

Spellbound (1945):  A psychiatrist realizes that the mental hospital’s new director, Dr. Edwardes, is an impostor and suffers from paranoid amnesia. They go on the run to find out what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes. There is no actual librarian in this film, although a character in the film, a hotel detective, guesses that her occupation is that of a librarian.

You can read my full post about Spellbound here.

Should there be a Class VI?

I have been thinking for awhile that the films that have been mistakenly listed as having reel librarians should be their own category, a new Class VI. What do y’all think? Does it overcomplicate matters? Or would it help clarify my “Reel Substance” section and balance out the film categories?

Please leave a comment and let me know!

2019 UPDATE: 

I have added a Class VI category! The official description for this new category is “films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, as these films have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.”

The Class V category now focuses solely on “films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, although they mention librarians and/or have scenes set in libraries.”

No reel librarian, no biggie in ‘Big’

No reel librarian, but a short research scene sets up the rest of the movie’s plot.

The 1988 film Big, starring Tom Hanks in his first Oscar-nominated role, is a modern classic. Such a simple premise:  A boy’s wish to be big comes true — literally. And the film, anchored by Hanks’s luminous, all-in performance, still holds up (even if the technology featured in the film does not).

It’s also a film that has been mistakenly identified as one that features a reel librarian. On the “Librarians in the Movies” site by Martin Raish, Big is included in the Group B films. Raish describes Group B as films in which “A library is used for research, for study, to meet someone or for some other purpose, but any librarian that might be visible is essentially no more important than a piece of furniture that helps to identify the setting.” (By the way, Martin Raish’s site is still a great place to start on this topic, even if the site is no longer maintained.)

This is Raish’s synopsis of Big itself in relation to libraries:

Screenshot of 'Big' movie on Librarians in the Movies site
Screenshot of ‘Big’ movie on Librarians in the Movies site

The first part of this synopsis is correct — until the part about going to a reference desk in a library.

A little after 20 minutes into the film, Josh and his best friend are trying to find their way back to Zoltar, the fortune teller machine that made Josh “big.” They first visit a video game store, with no success, and the next scene sees them walking up steps to some kind of City Hall building (or perhaps a Public Works building — but not a library).

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Public Works building, not a library

Josh is not optimistic:  “They’re not going to have it.” His friend, however, is unfailingly positive:  “They’ll have it.”

Their first stop in the building — again, very clearly NOT a library — is to ask an Administrative Clerk (Jordan Thaler) for a list of all carnivals and fairs and arcades in the city. The clerk, who is standing in a glass Information Booth, directs them to Consumer Affairs, down the hall.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Information booth, not a reference desk

The film then cuts to a young woman (Nancy Giles), who snaps out directions as quickly as she snaps her gum.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
An administrative clerk, not a reel librarian

Administrative Woman:  Fill this out in triplicate, $5 filing charge. One month to process, you’ll get it in 6 weeks.

Josh:  6 weeks?

Administrative Woman:  Sometimes longer, but you could get lucky. Next, please.

Screenshot from Big (1988)

And there you have it! No reel librarian, but this short research scene sets up the rest of the movie’s plot, as Tom Hanks is stuck being an adult for the next six weeks, waiting for the info about where Zoltar is.

And that info does arrive, almost an hour later into the film, when his friend receives a manilla envelope in the mail… stamped with the logo for The City of New York and the Department of Consumer Affairs. (By the way, there is a real NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? 😉 )

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Department of Consumer Affairs return address

Final evidence that there was no reel librarian or library in Big (1988) — but in the end, it’s no biggie. 😉

Ultimately, this classic film lands in the Class VI category of films, films with no identifiable librarians and that has been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

Sources used:

  • Big. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, John Heard, David Moscow. 20th Century Fox, 1988.
  • Raish, Martin. “The B Group.” Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Bibliography, 5 Aug. 2011.

Casanova, the lover and the librarian, in real life and in ‘Casanova’ (2005)

Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

This past week, I rewatched the 2005 film Casanova, starring the late Heath Ledger as “the world’s greatest lover.” It’s a slight film, to be sure, but an enjoyable one amidst stunning backdrops. Heath Ledger is well cast as the title role, and a large cast of well-known actors — including Oliver Platt and Jeremy Irons (!) — romp their way through the film.

It starts off with a closeup of Casanova writing his memoirs, and flashbacks reveal tales of love and adventure (along with heartbreak). “10,000 pages, my life and loves. That’s just about 1 woman for every page.”

Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Nice handwriting

So what does this have to do with librarians?

In REAL life:

Casanova spent the last dozen or so years of his life as private librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein at the Castle du Dux in Bohemia. In 1783, Casanova was exiled from his birthplace, Venice, for the second time, and from 1785 to 1798, he spent the remainder of his life at the Castle du Dux. While the job — and locale — must have been quite a lonely one, Casanova used that time well by writing his memoirs, Histoire de ma vie (Story of my Life). All 12 volumes of it! And it is because of these memoirs that we know his name today. Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

(See, librarianship helps EVERYONE. 😉 )

In REEL life:

Libraries and librarians are never mentioned in the 2005 film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film. Casanova falls in love with a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), who is a (fictional) swashbuckling intellectual who writes philosophical texts under a male nom de plume. She visits a libreria, which is Italian for “bookstore,” as seen below (Library would be “biblioteca,” FYI). There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.

Screenshot from Casanova (2005)
Libreria means bookstore, not library, in Italian
Screenshot from Casanova (2005)
Inside the bookstore

Additional fun reads about Casanova and other surprising former librarians:

There’s an interesting history to how his memoirs made it to the public, here in this article about Casanova on the Smithsonian site. The memoirs were published in bowdlerized versions all through the 19th century through the mid-20th century, and the complete text was not published until 1960. You can read the (bowdlerized) English translation of his memoirs here on the Project Gutenberg site.

You might also enjoy this round-up of 10 surprising former librarians. As well as my review of the book Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession, written by librarian Kathleen Low.

Sources used:

How to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen | Book scene in ‘Night at the Museum’

Hint: Look at the spines of the books on the shelves.

For some reason, I had never gotten around to watching the 2006 family film hit Night at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller as a night guard at a museum where history comes alive at night… literally. But it has been on my Master List of films to watch, so I finally got around to watching it recently through my cable’s On Demand program.

Night at the Museum (2006) isn’t that great a film — there are some serious pacing issues, and too many random characters and meandering subplots — and there wasn’t a library or librarian in the film, after all. Wah wahhhhhhh. [Enter sad trombone sound.] Therefore, it ends up a Class VI film, with no reel librarians and no mentions of libraries or librarians.

But not all is lost. Ben Stiller, as Larry Daley, does do some research to figure out how to cope with all the exhibits and historical figures coming to life at night. About a third of the way through the film, he starts his research quest by first asking museum worker and historical researcher Rebecca (Carla Gugino) about Attila the Hun. The director then cuts to Larry sitting cross-legged, surrounded by books, and his own nose buried in a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun.

Reading in a bookstore, not a library in Night at the Museum
Reading in a bookstore, not a library in Night at the Museum

Larry then switches from old-school investigations to searching online, and we are treated to websites about the Easter Island statues, stagecoaches, monkeys, and Roman war strategies. And all of this research DOES pay off in the end, as he saves the day as the main culprit is getting away. How did he know what to do?

“I read up on my history. Thanks for the tip.”

Of course, methinks he would have had an easier time researching if he had asked a librarian for help! 😉

And how do I know that he is reading that book in a bookstore and not in a library? I can see where there might be some confusion, as the camera pans at the end of this brief scene to reveal some kids in the corner and the back of a person who looks to be shelving books, as seen below.

Screenshot from Night at the Museum
Yep, still a bookstore, not a library

There is one major clue in how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen.

Hint:  Look at the spines of the books on the shelves.

Screenshot from Night at the Museum
No call numbers!

That’s right, there are no call numbers on those books! A real library will ALWAYS have call numbers and/ or other kinds of labels on whatever materials stock their shelves. It’s how we organize collections, and how users locate the materials. Trust me. I’m a librarian. 😉

Of course, it doesn’t help when propmasters mix up this simple rule of library books needing call numbers and stock non-library books to fill out a library set, like in the movie Urban Legend. [Insert eye roll here.]

Also, the book that Larry is reading, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun? It’s not a real book, either. I suspected as much when I saw that whoever designed that fake book cover capitalized the word “the” between “Attila” and “Hun” in the title — which you can spot, just barely, in the screenshot above. You’re not supposed to capitalize filler words like “the” unless it’s at the beginning of a title, subtitle, or sentence, so it immediately looked strange to me. But I looked it up just to make sure. (FYI, I checked WorldCat,, as well as the Idiot’s Guides listings.)

Y’all knew I would be thorough, right? 😉

Sources used:

  • Night at the Museum. Dir. Shawn Levy. Perf. Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke. 20th Century Fox, 2006.
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