Guest post: Tom Goodfellow

Just a reminder to everyone that I’m on vacation this week. Hope you enjoy the guest posts!

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.

Guest post: Beautiful libraries

Just a reminder to everyone that I’m on vacation this week. Hope you enjoy the guest posts!

Next, please welcome Beth @ Beautiful-libraries.com, a site of beautiful libraries, indeed. Beth shares her personal inspiration behind the site, and a love of libraries that, as she so rightly points out, connects us the world over. 


Here’s the story… of a lovely library site…


by Beth @ Beautiful-libraries.com

I have always loved libraries – as a kid, my favorite place was my elementary school library filled with books and beanbag chairs; my parents, university academics both, always had a large collection of books. One of my earliest recollections is waiting for the Bookmobile to park and climbing aboard to choose among the children’s offerings.

Hearst Castle Library, Beverly Hills, CA
Hearst Castle Library, Beverly Hills, CA

As an adult, I assumed I would always be surrounded by books and dreamed of the cozy home library I would someday have. The first thing I did when my new husband and I bought our first house in 1998 was to design and build a wall of four-foot-high shelves in an upstairs room to create an office/library. Those shelves filled up fairly quickly.

The MA library from This Old House Magazine that started my "collection"
The MA library from This Old House Magazine that started my “collection”

The following year, I ran across an article that left a deep impression on me: In the July 1999 issue of This Old House Magazine were photos of a truly magnificent home library addition to an older house in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Since I was reading a public library copy, I returned the magazine, but over the years my thoughts returned often to the magnificence of that home library. About five years ago, I searched online for that back issue, which became the start of a binder I kept of beautiful home library photos, which I added to as I found other impressive library portrayals in Architectural Digest and other magazines, as well as online photos.

Two years ago, my husband, two children and I, well-settled into our third and (we hope) permanent house, and running out of space for free-standing bookcases to hold the 5,000-or-so books I had managed to amass, decided that we might like to build our own library addition.

Alnwick Castle, England (I have an extensive collection of English Country House Library photos)
Alnwick Castle, England (I have an extensive collection of English Country House Library photos)

I immediately began looking through my binder and looking online for inspiring photos of well-designed home libraries, and found, to my surprise, that although several sites had lists of ten or so library photos, no one had yet compiled an extensive collection online.

Thus began Beautiful-libraries.com, a site dedicated to inspirational photos and information about libraries of all kinds: private, public, academic, commercial and many other types – including Libraries in Art and Libraries in Film, naturally!

I have now added over 600 photos and still continue to add more, whenever I have a moment (and we’ve finished our own library addition too, BTW). I try to accompany each photo with information about that library, and personal observations and commentary about its design. And I have received photos of libraries from visitors around the globe, from Europe to Africa to Asia. The love of beautiful libraries is universal.

Château de Groussay in France
Château de Groussay in France

Many thanks to Jennifer, for her permanent link to my site as well as for giving me this chance to do a guest blog here at Reel-librarians.com. I hope you find a moment to visit and enjoy Beautiful-libraries.com.

Guest post: Libraries at the Movies

Just a reminder to everyone that I’m on vacation this week. Hope you enjoy the guest posts!

First up is Colin @ Libraries at the Movies, one of my favorite reads. His posts are always insightful, funny, and illuminating. If you like Reel Librarians, then you’re probably already a fan of Colin’s blog! (And if not, then you need to get on that, pronto.) And you will be a fan of his guest post below. How can you NOT enjoy something that combines words like “solipsism” and “mundanity” along with laugh-out-loud lines like “So we are not under siege at all (though sadly, there are no libraries or librarians in Under Siege)”?! 🙂


Libraries at the Movies
Libraries at the Movies

by Colin Higgins

What can the cinematic portrayal of libraries tell us about the practice of cinema? The answer is surprisingly complex. Libraries provide filmic shortcuts. They are backgrounds that foreshadow moods and provide the architecture of mise-en-scène. They are places of discovery, sources of inspiration, stores of myth. We don’t expect anything dramatic to happen in a library, so they are perfect locations for unexpected drama. And they look great on screen.

This is why the embarrassing, reckless, and sudden turning point of Atonement must take place in a library. It is why crumbling libraries are such frequent features of post-apocalyptic worlds that the ruined library is now almost a cliché. New York movies use its great Public Library as a signature almost as often as they show the Brooklyn Bridge. Directors and screenwriters are drawn to librarians because the word has power – the power of expectation, long unrecognized until Jennifer’s blog revealed the currency, mundanity, and complexity of librarian archetypes.

Ever since I launched the Libraries at the Movies blog, I can’t seem to go to the cinema or watch a DVD without seeing a library somewhere. Which gives me great hope. I started writing on libraries in film as a reaction to the introspection, defensiveness, and mutually-reinforcing solipsism that seemed the common currency of most library bloggers on this (the east) side of the Atlantic. I wanted to say “Look, cinema is full of libraries and librarians, and movies are our most dominant cultural reference point!” Filmmakers use libraries in their films because libraries are meaningful to their audiences. So we are not under siege at all (though sadly, there are no libraries or librarians in Under Siege). We are cherished by Hollywood.

There are as many librarians in America as there are bakers. What’s the last film you watched with an important scene set in a bakery? If you’re reading this blog then thinking of films with libraries in them should be easy. If not, then visit my blog