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:

Favorite reel librarian posts, 2017

Did you enjoy these posts, too?

As promised last week in my 2017 review post, here are my personal favorite posts from 2017. I have presented them below in chronological order of when they were published:


A disappearing reel librarian (Jan. 2017):


This post took a long time to write… because the film in question, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, actually comes in 3 different versions! Y’all know I like to be thorough, so yes, I watched all 3 versions and analyzed the reel librarian’s character in each version (the reel librarian is the sister of the title character). It was an interesting post to put together, as I had to think my way around how to structure the post and incorporate all 3 different versions of the film — and thus, 3 different versions of this same reel librarian character!

Periodicals library scene from The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
Periodicals library scene from The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)

Librarians of Congress (March 2017):


I got the idea to explore the history of the Librarians of Congress after I did an in-depth analysis of the classic 1976 film, All the President’s Men, which features a pivotal scene in the Library of Congress. I went down the research rabbit hole for this post — and enjoyed every minute of it!

Screenshot from Librarians of Congress post
Screenshot from Librarians of Congress post

The reel librarian in The Handmaid’s Tale (April 2017):


This post was a timely film to revisit, right before the Emmy Award-winning mini-series adaptation premiered. I enjoyed revisiting this film and how well it held up, and how relevant this story remains today.

Scene from The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
Scene from The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

New book ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ — and I’m in it! (April 2017):


This was a joyous post to write and news to share with everyone! It still gives me chills to think that I am helping represent the librarian profession in a published book. ♥ ♥ ♥

Reaction to being included on the cover of This Is What a Librarian Looks Like book
Reaction to being included on the cover of This Is What a Librarian Looks Like book

Portrait of a real librarian adventurer (June 2017):


This post was one of the most popular posts in 2017! Years ago, I had asked Bill Nikolai — a real-life librarian as well as an actor, a stand-in, and a photo-double — to share his story with my readers, and it was definitely better late than never! He has had such an interesting and inspiring life, on and off screen.

Collage on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D., courtesy of Bill Nikolai
Collage on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D., courtesy of Bill Nikolai

A list of banned reel librarian movies (Sept. 2017):


This post took quite a bit of time to research and put together — but it was worth it! It coincided with the annual Banned Books Week, and I thought a list of banned reel librarian movies added to that national conversation about censorship. And it’s a good kind of post to revisit every couple of years for updates.

Reel Librarians graphic
Reel Librarians graphic

Conan the Librarian and Chainsaw Sally (Oct. 2017):


I enjoyed this post mainly because the idea of Conan the Librarian and the serial killer librarian Chainsaw Sally getting together made me laugh. As did my subheading, “Conan and Sally sitting in a tree… K-I-L-L-I-N-G.” 😀

Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage
Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage

Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (Dec. 2017):


I didn’t expect much out of rewatching this 1969 film adaptation of the 1959 young adult novel of the same title — but I ended up falling in love all over again with the reel librarian in this film! Basically, the librarian helps save a young boy AND Christmas at the same time.

Christmas with a reel librarian in My Side of the Mountain (1969)
Christmas with a reel librarian in My Side of the Mountain (1969)

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Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’

It’s perfect timing to spend some quality holiday time with a reel librarian

I have mentioned the reel librarian from My Side of the Mountain (1969) before, most recently in my library ladders round-up post. I had forgotten, however, that there was a Christmas scene in that film, so it’s perfect timing to spend some quality holiday time with a reel librarian.

Shall we?


The movie plot and the book it’s based on:


My Side of the Mountain (1969) is based on the Newbery Honor Award-winning book of the same title by Jean Craighead George, published a decade earlier in 1959. The librarian, Miss Turner, is a character in both the book and the movie adaptation. I haven’t yet read the book, although I have read other titles by that same author. I had watched this film years ago, but I recently rewatched the film for purposes of this post, borrowing the sole copy available throughout our various regional library systems.

Here’s a copy of the DVD cover, and I was happy to see the librarian is included on the back cover!

DVD front and back covers of My Side of the Mountain (1969)
DVD front and back covers of My Side of the Mountain (1969)

The basic plot? An independent-minded boy, Sam, leaves home to spend a year in nature, like his hero, Henry David Thoreau. It’s a coming-of-age story, one in which Sam learns about himself while he learns how to survive in the wild.

Title screen for My Side of the Mountain (1969)
Title screen for My Side of the Mountain (1969)

Where does the librarian fit into this plot? Sam travels to the public library in one scene, where librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. Using the information he learned at the library, Sam then captures and trains a peregrine falcon to hunt for him. Wiggins receives third billing in the cast list, and she shows up at crucial times throughout the rest of the film.


Public library scene:


Almost a half hour into the film, Sam announces to his pet raccoon, Gus, that he’s “got to go into town… to read up on falcons.” The nearest town is Knowlton, which is a village around Lake Brome in Quebec, Canada (and also the inspiration for Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” mystery series!). The movie was shot on location in and around Knowlton, and the public library scene lasts about five minutes.

Here is a look at the interior of the public library, which is encased in wood panelling and lined with bookshelves. The librarian is seated at a large wooden desk, which has piles of books stacked on it, and she appears to be filing cards.

Public library interior
Public library interior

Sam walks in and goes straight to the librarian and does not waste any time asking for what he needs. Here’s how their reference interview goes:

SamDo you have any books on falcons?

Miss TurnerFalcons?

SamEspecially the peregrine falcon.

Miss TurnerPeregrine falcons. Peregrine falcons were famous in England, I do believe [leading him into the stacks]. As a matter of fact, they were known as hunters for kings [reaches up on a library ladder to a top row]. If my memory serves me right, and it usually does. [hands him a book]

Librarian on a ladder alert!
Librarian on a ladder alert!

Miss TurnerHere’s another one that might be of help [hands him another book]. The only trouble is, you can’t take these books out. They’re just for reference.

SamOh, that’s ok. I can sit here and use them.

Miss TurnerWell, have fun.

SamDo you think I could borrow a pencil?

Miss Turner Of course. My name’s Miss Turner [sits down and takes off her glasses]. If you want anything, just call out. [hands him a pencil]

SamThank you.

Miss TurnerWhat’s your name?

SamSam. [says reluctantly]

Miss TurnerSam.

Sam then takes the books and goes into another room, a reading room lined with more bookcases and a table in the center.

Reading room and reference book closeup
Reading room and reference book closeup

Sam then goes back into the main room of the library, back to the librarian, to return his books. He continues their conversation.

Sam:  I guess I got everything I’ll need. Those birds sure are interesting. If I could only catch me one.

Miss Turner:  [quoting Proverbs 1:17] ‘Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.’

Sam:  Yeah, I guess so. Those birds are darn smart.

Miss TurnerYes, they are, Sam. I often go up on McCracken’s Hill and watch them soaring over the mountains. I’m an old birdwatcher from way back.

Sam:  I guess that’s how you knew about peregrine falcons right off. Well, goodbye.

Miss TurnerSam… you’ll need a leather glove.

My reaction to this reference interview? The exchange sounded pretty spot-on to me, and it is one of the better reference interviews I’ve witnessed onscreen. In a brief amount of screen time, Miss Turner manages to:

  • listen to Sam and anticipates his needs (the “leather glove” comment at the end)
  • share relevant and information about herself to make a personal connection with a patron (her name and her interest in birdwatching)
  • quickly establish trust and interest in the patron’s needs (her knowledge about the history of peregrine falcons)
  • establish trust with the viewer by establishing trust with Sam
  • get across the idea that she is intelligent — quoting the Bible and knowing about peregrine falcons — in a way that is not condescending or off-putting
  • efficiently explain how reference books are different from other books in the library

Throughout the scene, she is warm and friendly.

Plus, we know that she has a life outside the library, because we learn that she loves the outdoors and birdwatching! This scene plants a seed that will pay off later in the film.

Miss Turner, with and without her glasses
Miss Turner, with and without her glasses

I thought it interesting to note that we first meet Miss Turner when she has her glasses on — to visually establish the fact that she’s a librarian? However, she takes them back off again as soon as she’s done finding the books, and we never see her wear her glasses again.


Library lady:


Soon after Sam captures and trains a peregrine falcon, who he christens “Frightful,” a traveling folk singer, Bando (played by Theodore Bikel), stops by his campsite. Bando sticks around for a number of weeks and teaches Sam more survival skills.

Bando is a collector of folk songs and also is no stranger to spouting quotations, either. He even quotes from Shakespeare at one point.

A little over an hour into the film, when Bando is packing up to leave before winter sets in, Sam asks him to post a letter he’s written to his family. Bando then quotes from Proverbs 25:25: “As cool water to the thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

Sam is instantly reminded of the librarian!

SamYou know, sometimes when you get like that, when you start quoting something that you read in a book, you remind me of someone else.

BandoOh? Who’s that?

SamOh, it’s this library lady down in the village. She’s that way.

BandoMy, oh, my. I didn’t think you’d ever communicate with any human animal. Apart from myself, of course.

SamWell, I only went down there once, to read up on falcons. She knew quite a lot about them, too. She belongs to some kind of bird-watcher’s club and all. She’s a great lady. You’d like her, Bando. I did. I even trusted her. And I almost told her my plan and all.

Miss Turner definitely made an impression! “Library lady” and a “great lady” all in one… 😉


Birdwatching:


About 10 minutes later after Bando sets off, Sam walks to the edge of the woods and announces to Frightful that he’s going into town. “Even Thoreau left his retreat at Walden Pond to go into Concord sometimes.

As Sam ties Frightful up to a tree stump, he spies Miss Turner walking along a path, birdwatching. (She’s dressed in an outfit — a cardigan and skirt — that seems more suitable for working in the library than for birdwatching… perhaps she stopped by the trail after work?)

Miss TurnerI was just on the trail of a beautiful speckled grouse, and I think it got away from me somehow.

SamYou remember me?

Miss TurnerYes, I think I do. Aren’t you the Peregrine falcon boy? You do look different. Your hair’s so long now. Did you manage to observe those falcons at close range? I was only wondering because I found another very good book on them. I mean, if you’re interested.

SamOh yes. You see, I caught one. Oh, I take the best care of it. I’ve even got it out here with me now. Say, would you like to see it?

Miss TurnerOf course I would.

Sam is so excited he grabs her hand to show her to Frightful.

Librarian and falcon meet cute
Librarian and falcon meet cute

Miss TurnerShe’s a beautiful bird, Sam.

SamWait til you see her in the sky. [Frightful takes off and swoops back down to Sam.]

Miss TurnerShe’s glorious. She loves you, too… Come on down, take a look at the new book I found.

SamWell, I don’t get into town much, and I like to be alone.

Miss TurnerIn any case, if you ever want to, come and see me. Please. As Cicero said, ‘We are never less alone than when completely alone.’

Later, in his journal, Sam writes:

I walked down the mountain today, when who did I meet on the outskirts, but Miss Turner, out on a hike. I showed her Frightful. It was good talking to her.

I couldn’t help but include the (hilarious!) facial expression on Miss Turner’s face at the moment Frightful swoops back down onto Sam’s leather glove. Frightful lives up to its name! 😉

Miss Turner's startled facial expression!
Miss Turner’s startled facial expression!

Once again, Miss Turner demonstrates her warmth and kindness in this brief exchange. She shows that she remembers Sam — and his reference question! — and that she is observant, through her remark about his hair. And although off duty and outside the library, she is still a librarian! She has still been thinking about his reference question about peregrine falcons and set aside a book if he needs more information.

Up to this point, the librarian’s role has basically been that of an Information Provider. She has literally provided information to Sam about peregrine falcons, which he has made good use out of.

But this reel librarian is already something extra by this point — Miss Turner’s warm, friendly, caring personality goes beyond that of an Information Provider. She is not there to just find a book and provide a pencil. Rather, she is also there to provide a human connection with Sam — to remind Sam that he is not all alone in this world and that he has resources outside the forest. Like Bando, she is a vital link to the outside world, where there are people who care about him.


Librarian to the rescue:


Fifteen minutes from the end of this 100-minute-long film, Sam gets snowed in inside the tree he has made into his home. Just as oxygen is running out as Sam tries to dig through the snow, guess who comes to the rescue? Bando and the librarian, of course! (The film does do a nice job of setting up this exact scenario.) Miss Turner is outfitted more appropriately this time for the outdoors, wrapped up in a long hooded coat, ski wear, gloves, and snow shoes.

Librarian to the rescue!
Librarian to the rescue!

Christmas with a reel librarian:


Best of all, Miss Turner comes stocked with a picnic basket filled with a Christmas feast. Librarians are *always* prepared, y’all. RESPECT.

And in a scene that has to be unique amongst all reel librarian cinema, the librarian has Christmas dinner in a tree! “That was the best Christmas dinner I ever had.

Bando also plays Christmas carols, and Miss Turner even joins in the singing!

Christmas with a reel librarian
Christmas with a reel librarian

Miss Turner also reveals that she kept thinking about Sam:

Miss TurnerI couldn’t get you out of my mind, Sam. I kept trying to think, how to get up to see you after the big storm.

BandoAnd then I showed up. See, I remembered about the library lady.

Miss TurnerI invited myself along.

SamI’m glad you did, Miss Turner.

SamI’m glad you did, Miss Turner.

Bando then reveals that quite a few people are worried about him, as he takes out newspaper clippings from his pocket. Sam then decides that it is time for him to go home, and that he’s learned a lot about himself. They then set off back down the side of the mountain.


The significance of the reel librarian character:


Although Miss Turner may start off as what seems to be a typical Information Provider character type, she ends up, in my opinion, as an Atypical Portrayal of a reel librarian. She goes above and beyond her role as a librarian to provide research help. We learn of her interest in the outdoors in her introductory scene, and we then see her outside the library, birdwatching and hiking. She demonstrates that she really cares about her patrons, by remembering them and continuing to anticipate and think about how to meet their needs even after they have left the library. A true librarian at heart, and a truly positive portrayal of a reel librarian.

I had previously added Miss Turner to my “Hall of Fame” list, and here’s my write-up on that page:

An admittedly odd film (a 12-year-old boy leaves home and spends a year alone in nature—but that’s okay because he left a note to his parents and told them not to worry?!), but it does contain one of the most caring and thoughtful of all reel librarians. A public librarian helps a young boy find information about peregrine falcons and goes out of her way to find him more resources. She also gets a few scenes outside the library, where we see that she is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast.

I have ultimately classified this film in the Class I category, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot. Miss Turner definitely fits that description. The information she provides is vital to Sam’s survival in the woods, of course, but the librarian’s personal connection with Sam also proves vital to Sam’s survival.

The reel librarian ends up a savior and a hero.


The reel/real library:


I wanted to end this post with a brief spotlight on the real library in Knowlton, Quebec. Below are screenshots of the exterior of the library, as seen in the film, as well as a close-up of the library’s sign (which you’ll notice, is in both English and French, as befitting a Canadian locale).

Screenshots of the public library and sign
Screenshots of the public library and sign

It’s obvious that the exterior of the library served as the library location in the film, as the brick exterior seen in the film exactly matches the drawing of the library highlighted on the library’s website:

Info about the real-life public library in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada
Website info and drawing of the public library in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada

I have to wonder if the library sign in the movie is one they created especially for the movie, however, since the real public library in Knowlton is known by the name of “Pettes Memorial Library,” as you can see above. And the library has always gone by this name, as according to the library website, it was “built and bequeathed to the people of Knowlton and the Township of Brome by Narcissa Farrand Pettes in memory of her late husband, Nathaniel Pettes.” According to this booklet, “The History of the Pettes Memorial Library,” available online, Narcissa Pettes’s donation specified the name of the library, “a building known as the Pettes Memorial, which forever hereafter is destined for a free public library.” The Legislature in Quebec also passed an act in 1894 “incorporating the Trustees under ‘An Act to Incorporate the Pettes Memorial.'”

I also found it interesting that this library, founded in March 1894, was the first free rural library in the province of Quebec. You can read more about the history of the library’s founding here on the History section of the library’s website.


Sources used: