Next up in our global guest post adventure is Tom Goodfellow, a film nerd and librarian at the University of Sydney, Australia. This post — all about reel libraries and dystopian futures — is derived from his Masters dissertation, where you can enjoy more of his witty insights into libraries and film.
In the eye of the survivor
by Tom Goodfellow
The world as you know it has ended. The countryside is a barren wasteland, resources are scarce, lawlessness is rampant and shadowy forces control whatever remains. First up, you’ll probably need some heavy duty weaponry to defend yourself from marauding wolves/cannibals/robots. Next, some clean water and tinned food are probably necessary, along with clothing and shelter.
And not forgetting that great essential, the public library.
This being Reel Librarians, obviously my main source for this assertion is the world of movies, which have provided us with a range of apocalyptic futures that feature a surprising number of libraries.
The Day After Tomorrow offers a particularly literal use of the library as a safe space. Following a climate change induced big freeze hoo-ha, a group of chilblained survivors hole up in New York Public Library. They preserve themselves by burning books, allowing for much ironic chat about which tomes should be first for the pyre. Sorry legal librarian readers, but by unanimous agreement the tax codes get it first.
Preservation, in fact, is the key theme here. In several movies, ruined libraries are visited by our square-jawed hero, and the lost secrets (re)discovered therein lead to ultimate victory.
In Zardoz, a copy of The Wizard of Oz inspires Sean Connery (resplendent in ponytail and bright red codpiece/suspenders combo) to discover the power behind the throne of his own society.
Inspiration is also crucial in Logan’s Run, in which Michael York and Jenny Agutter come across the crumbling Library of Congress, thereby understanding some of the culture that preceded them, i.e. 20th century America. The film is not subtle in conveying its agenda, featuring a discussion of who the individual portrayed in a portrait might be (it is Abraham Lincoln) and the eventual impalement of the main villain on a flagpole bearing the U.S. flag, both of which take place in the main reading room.
My favourite, though, is the incomparable Battlefield Earth (I watch it so you don’t have to). Once again the LoC is the setting, and an old text that we recognise as the Declaration of Independence is what spurs Barry Pepper on to defeat the alien critters that John Travolta has inflicted on us all. In a stroke of somewhat implausible good fortune, he also finds an instruction manual for building the nuclear bomb necessary for ridding the world of nefarious extra-terrestrials. As library/patron interactions go, this can probably be marked down as a success.
There is another strand of science fiction/library crossover movies in which a futuristic information source provides library-style information – think The Time Machine, Soylent Green or Rollerball. I could go on about these for a while, but I hear the reader crying (quoting Jane Austen):
You have delighted us long enough.