Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

A few weeks ago, I posted a follow-up to my call for reader questions and ideas, and I am following up with this question posed by my spouse, Sam:

As a writer, I’m interested in portrayals of writers in film (and since writers write the films, we get a lot of those). But there seems an obvious relationship between writers and librarians, and I’m curious how many Reel Librarians are themselves writers. I know you’ve touched briefly on literary librarians in posts about Before Night Falls, for example, but I wonder how common or rare this is.

My initial response was that I thought it was a very interesting idea, and one I hadn’t thought about before holistically, the relationship between writers and librarians or “literary librarians” and how often that is portrayed onscreen. It also made me smile that my husband wrote that “there seems to be an obvious relationship between writers and librarians” — and we ourselves are evidence of that, as a writer and librarian who are a couple! The obvious connection, of course, is research — and yes, I basically serve as my husband’s private librarian whenever he has research needs for his writing! 🙂

And of course librarians promote literacy — but what about librarians who are also themselves literary? Let’s investigate!


Reel librarians as writers, scribes, and translators


Before Night Falls (2000)

The Oscar-nominated biopic Before Night Falls (2000) explores the life of Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), who struggles against the Cuban revolution and government censorship of his writings. As a young man, he enters a young writers and storytelling contest sponsored by the National Library — and the prize is a job at the Library! Although there are only a couple of brief glimpses of the library in the film, this job at the library came at a critical point in his literary career.

In an interview in The New Yorker, Arenas revealed that this job in the National Library was “a job that allowed him time to write.” In a Publishers Weekly review of the source memoir, the reviewer writes that “The young Arenas, in the early days of Fidel Castro’s revolution, gained his literary education working at the National Library; he then joined a fervent literary circle.”

Blade (1998)

In this action film, the title character Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a half-vampire on a mission to destroy vampires, while vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is on a mission to destroy the human race. In a brief-but-pivotal scene, Blade tortures Pearl, the Record Keeper (Eric Edwards), who confesses he helped Deacon by translating the Vampire Bible’s prophecy.

Ever After (1998)

In this Cinderella-inspired story, which I analyzed here in this post, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) is trying to impress Danielle/Nicole (Drew Barrymore). Knowing the lady’s fondness for reading, he invites her to the Franciscan monastery library.

Reel Librarians: Ever After monastery library

Screenshot of the monastery library in ‘Ever After’ (1998)

They walk down the stairs of the monastery library and look over a railing at the monks in the library. It is clear, even in these few seconds, that these monks are not only reading their books and scrolls, they are also creating them (you can spot two of the monks seated at tables, complete with book and quill). They were the scribes and writers of their day.

UPDATES (8/14/17):

The Name of the Rose (1986)

Speaking of monks and scribes… here is an addition to this original post, as I had forgotten to add the monk librarians in this historical mystery thriller! In this medieval mystery set in a Benedictine Abbey, William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) investigates a series of deaths. Several scenes involve a restricted book, the abbey’s “forbidden library,” and its strange librarians hold the key to the mystery.

This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

The weekend after I wrote and posted this round-up of literary librarians, we happened to watch this 2016 quirky comedy starring Jessica Brown Findlay as an obsessive-compulsive young woman who eventually discovers the joy of a garden. She also turns out to be a literary librarian! When asked what she does for a living, she states:

I work in the library. Filing, mostly, but really, I’m a writer.


Introducing others to literature


Borstal Boy (2000)

This biopic film, which I analyzed more in-depth here, is based on the autobiography of (in)famous Irish writer and activist Brendan Behan. The film focuses on his time in a borstal (a kind of youth prison/labor camp in the UK) during World War II. A prison librarian, played by Arthur Riordan, has scenes throughout the film, and it is he who introduces the future writer Behan to the works of Oscar Wilde, a “fellow Irishman, a fellow jailbird and rebel.”

The librarian in 'Borstal Boy' (2000) introduces future writer Brendan Behan to literature

The librarian in ‘Borstal Boy’ (2000) introduces future writer Brendan Behan to literature


Interacting with writers


In several films I’ve watched and analyzed, reel librarians — while not being writers themselves — frequently interact with writers. Sometimes in admiration, sometimes in aid, and sometimes in abetting. 😉

Wonder Man (1945)

In this musical comedy, Danny Kaye plays a dual role as nightclub singer Buster Dingle, who gets killed by a mob boss, and whose spirit then enters the body of his identical twin brother, Edwin. A a bookworm writing a history book, Edwin then gets involved with a young and attractive librarian (Virginia Mayo).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

In this classic romantic drama, free spirit Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) finds love with writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard). There are a couple of scenes set in the New York Public Library; in one of those scenes, Varjak autographs the copy of his book that’s in the library collection. Instead of being appreciative of this “personal touch,” the librarian freaks out and exclaims that he is “defacing public property!”

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954)

In this comedy, the 7th in a series of 10 “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, the eldest Kettle son writes an essay about the family farm for a college scholarship, and the whole family then scrambles to get the farm ready for the big city contest judges. We first see the “maiden lady librarian,” played by veteran character actress Mary Wickes, when she drops off a book about successful fruit growing. She then gets to be a total fan-girl when she meets one of the judges, Alphonsus Mannering (Alan Mowbray). It is through the librarian that we learn of the judge’s literary credentials:

I’m just simply thrilled to meet a literary figure of your stature. I’m a devoted fan of yours. I read your beautiful column every month.

I analyzed the film more in-depth here in this post.

Reel Librarians: Ma and Pa Kettle and the Maiden Lady Librarian

The librarian and the literary judge “meet cute” in ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

Possession (2002)

In this literary drama, two literary researchers and writers (Gwyneth Paltrow & Aaron Eckhart) track down the correspondence and relationship between two Victorian poets (Jeremy Northam & Jennifer Ehle). In an early scene, Eckhart checks out a book at the British Museum library and answers questions from a nosy male librarian (Hugh Simon).


Related occupations or education


Fast and Loose (1939)

This comedic mystery revolves around a stolen manuscript and the rare books business. Joel Sloane (Robert Montgomery), a rare books dealer, takes a commission to buy a Shakespeare manuscript from a personal collection and private library. Joel meets up with his protégé, Phil Seargent (Anthony Allan), who is currently working as private librarian and secretary. The plot quickly spirals into murder. As Joel says early on, “something funny is going on at that library.”

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)

Does “perpetual student” Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) have an English literature degree among his 22 advanced degrees? This TV movie doesn’t specify, but Flynn does consider books as real friends, revealing early on that “they speak to me.” I’m also assuming that Flynn has written more than his fair share of graduate theses and dissertations, so I’m going ahead and including him in this round-up. You can read my analysis post of the TV movie here in this post.

Rome Adventure (1962)

In this romantic drama, librarian Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette) quits her job at Briarcroft College for Women after the board reprimands her for recommending a “too adult” book to a student. She goes to Italy in search of adventure and love — and ends up working in a bookshop! You can read my analysis post of the film here in this post.

The film trailer below includes scenes from both the college and the bookshop:


Booksellers misidentified as reel librarians


Speaking of bookshops… there have been several instances of booksellers misidentified as reel librarians. These films end up in my Class V category of films with no identifiable librarians, including films that have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

In this highly stylized film, a crime boss’s wife (Helen Mirren) carries on an affair with another man (Alan Howard) at her husband’s restaurant. Howard plays a bookseller — not a librarian — and in one scene, he takes Mirren to his book warehouse.

The Final Cut (2004)

In this science-fiction thriller, Robin Williams plays Alan Hakman, a Cutter who edits together footage of a person’s memories for “Rememory” services after they die. One resource lists his on-and-off lady friend, Delila (Mira Sorvino) as a “rare-book librarian.” However, in the film, she appears to be a bookstore owner — or possibly, a restorer of rare books as part of the book shop business.

Night at the Museum (2006)

There is no librarian in this adventure comedy, but the bookstore in this film has been mistaken for a library. In this post, I go into how you can spot the differences between a bookstore and a library onscreen.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

The bookstore, not the library, in a brief scene in ‘Night at the Museum’ (2006)

Red Dragon (2002)

In this thriller, ex-FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) needs to look up a quotation he gets from Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). He gets help from a bookseller — not a librarian — who looks like a 1980s Madonna wannabe. I go into more detail here in this post.

Sitting Pretty (1948)

In this Oscar-nominated comedy, eccentric Lynn Belvedere (Clifton Webb) answers a family’s ad for a live-in babysitter and shakes up the family and the neighborhood with his manner and methods. A few scenes showcase the Book Shoppe Proprietress (Mary Field); she is not a librarian as listed on some other sites.


Summing up


So after going through the films I’ve watched and added to my Reel Substance section of the site, there aren’t that many actual “literary librarians” onscreen — at least that I’ve come across so far. The gold standard remains Before Night Falls (2000), a film about Reinaldo Arenas, a writer and poet who started out working at Cuba’s National Library. But if you expand that “literary librarian” definition to include reel librarians in related occupations — like librarian-turned-bookseller Prudence Bell in Rome Adventure (1962), or reel librarians who help writers, like the librarians in Wonder Man (1945) and Possession (2002) — then the pool deepens.

And if you’re interested more in real-life writers who were also librarians, you’re in luck! I explored that in a previous post, “Unreflected glory: Librarian authors and their mediocre movie adaptations” as well as this post, “The Quotable Librarian | Inspirational quotes from famous librarians,” in which I seek out inspirational quotes about libraries and librarians from real-life librarians themselves, including writers who were librarians.


More questions? No problem!


Thank you, Sam, for your question about “literary librarians” and for inspiring this follow-up post!

And if you have any reel librarian-related questions or specific films you’d particularly like me to analyze, please send them my way! You can email me through the “Ask the Real Librarian” link and form above.

Call for reader questions follow-up

Last week, I put out an open call out for reader questions and ideas, including:

  • Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask, but you just haven’t gotten around to asking yet?
  • Do you have an idea for a post that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about yet?
“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

Thank you to everyone who left comments on the post and/or emailed me directly. I really appreciate it! I wanted to honor the time y’all took to ask questions of me, so I’m pulling together the initial questions/ideas sent my way, as well as my first thoughts or ideas about each.


Writers and reel librarians


This comment came from Sam (full disclosure: he’s also my husband, so he’s super-invested in this blog by default!):

As a writer, I’m interested in portrayals of writers in film (and since writers write the films, we get a lot of those). But there seems an obvious relationship between writers and librarians, and I’m curious how many Reel Librarians are themselves writers. I know you’ve touched briefly on literary librarians in posts about Before Night Falls, for example, but I wonder how common or rare this is.

Very interesting idea, and one I hadn’t thought about before holistically, the relationship between writers and librarians or “literary librarians” and how often that is portrayed onscreen. This is a blog post idea I’m putting on my list!


Random musings


Kvennarad left a series of great ideas or musings via the comments section on last week’s post, so I’m going to break down each section:

Writers/libraries/marketing – I notice, for example, that a boxed collection of the Harry Potter novels plus all the spin-off books is being marketed as ‘The Hogwarts Library’. Interesting use of the word ‘library’ here, to mean “All the books you already have but need to buy again to make someone richer who is already very rich” (and, I might add, who has an honorary Doctorate at the University of Edinburgh AND the Légion d’ f-ing Honneur!).

This idea sort of relates to Sam’s suggestion, about exploring links between writers and libraries, but has a different flavor, into the use of “library” to give credence (?) to a marketing strategy. My first thought is to correlate this to the common usage of using librarians in films, period, to give credence to a plot line or a character. The underlying notion here:  libraries, and by extension, librarians, enjoy a large degree of trust by the general public. And writers, directors, and marketing strategy specialists definitely use this to their advantage! So I’m putting this on my list of blog ideas to explore… 🙂

Mr Norrell’s library of magical books in ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke -> adapted for TV.

I just added this to my Master List of reel librarian titles, for further exploration!

Christopher Lilly’s library in ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters, a library of pornography that grew by the addition of more material as it was written -> adapted for TV. This was possibly based on the real-life collection/bibliography of Henry Spencer Ashbee.

That sounds fascinating! Definitely just added this to my Master List of reel librarian titles.

The library of the Unseen University in the ‘Discworld’ corpus -> various adaptations. Ook!

This is one I’ve gotten to, yay! 😀 I have written about the Unseen University library, and its ook-y librarian in this post analysis of the TV movie The Color of Magic (2008), adapted from two of Terry Pratchett’s books, the 1983 work of the same name (although it is spelled in the English way, The Colour of Magic, the first in his famous Discworld series) and the second book in the series, The Light Fantastic.

Every novel and every adaptation of a novel set in a big house in England will, at some point, feature a library. This is a rule. Every novel and every adaptation of a novel where any of the characters are at university will feature a scene where a character is studying in the university library. These are the rules! 

This is so true! I primarily focus on the portrayals of librarians, rather than just libraries, but I have also often written about onscreen libraries, especially in film analysis posts of Class V films. I have thought about writing a post about private libraries, like the ones seen in films or series set in a big house in England (have you found your Gutenberg Bible, yet, Lord Grantham of Downtown Abbey?!) or in films set in academia. It is for that reason that I have added, and continue to add, mannnnnnny college- or university-focused films onto my Master List of films — sooner or later, as you’ve noted, there’s a scene in the library! 😀 For example, that’s totally why I watched The Rewrite, because it was set at a university, and I thought it might have a library scene, and perhaps a reel librarian. It didn’t end up having a librarian, but it did have a library scene — and the resulting post was actually quite interesting to put together and write!

‘Wings of Desire’ is an amazing film, with lots of footage set in a library… No reel/real reason why I include this, it just haunts me.

Yes, this film was already on my Foreign Films reel librarians list. I have also written an analysis post on City of Angels, the (inferior) U.S. remake starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. It would be interesting to do a post about Wings of Desire, and then perhaps a follow-up comparing the two films and their two reel libraries/librarians. Adding this to my ideas list… 🙂


Exploring more firsts


Longtime reader popegrutch, who has his own awesome film site, Century Film Project, left a short comment with several very intriguing post ideas:

I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found: first reel librarian you’ve found so far, oldest library in a movie, first “liberated” librarian, first instance of each character type, maybe first of each class of reel librarian as well!

I have done a post about “Reel Librarian Firsts,” but that early post focused on librarian firsts in cinema history — not about exploring my own firsts of discovery with reel librarians. Hmmm… this has got me thinking… thanks, Michael!


Revisiting past reader questions


I also received an email from a reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, asking me to please revisit the previous questions readers asked me from the 2013 Reader Q&A post:

How many movies have librarians in them?
How many movies are there with librarians of color?

My Master List has definitely grown since that post I wrote four years ago, when I added up a running total of 1,041 reel librarian films thus far (pulling together the titles on my Master List, Foreign Films, and Short Films & Documentaries lists). I have also personally watched more reel librarian films in the last four years, as well. Back in 2013, from the films I have personally watched and added to my Reel Substance section, I had also counted at least 24 portrayals of reel librarians of color.

It would definitely be worth going back over those lists again and seeing how those numbers have changed!


Thanks again to everyone who rose to my challenge and call for reader questions! I count at least a dozen, if not more, additional blog post ideas stemming from these four reader comments/questions.

I’ll be back next week with a film analysis post, and then I’m hoping to dig into some of these great ideas. Stay tuned! 🙂

Ask the real librarian: Call for reader questions

I did a Reader Q&A post a few years ago, and I do a reader poll post twice a year, but I thought it would be fun today to put an open call out for reader questions and ideas. I’m a librarian, so it feels natural for me to answer questions!

Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask, but you just haven’t gotten around to asking yet? Do you have an idea for a post that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about yet?

"Question mark" by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

Or perhaps you’d like me to revisit some of the previous questions readers have asked me from that 2013 Reader Q&A post, including:

  • How many movies have librarians in them?
  • How many movies are there with librarians of color?

So, I am officially asking for you to ask me, the “real librarian” behind this Reel Librarians site, about your question(s) or your post idea(s).

How? There are various ways to contact me:

  • leave a comment on this post below
  • use the inquiry form on the “Ask a Real Librarian” link that’s also on the navigation bar above
  • email me directly at reel.librarians@gmail.com

Thanks in advance, and I look forward to your questions and ideas!

Revisiting ‘The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ for its 50th anniversary

This year marks the 50th anniversary of E. L. Konigsburg’s classic YA novel, 1967’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which won the 1968 Newbery Medal. I also recently read a very informative article from the always excellent Smithsonian Magazine online, “The True Story Behind Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Her Mixed-Up Files.”

Screenshot from Smithsonian Magazine article

The article’s author, Patrick Sauer, aptly sums up how beloved this book remains:

“If visions of Claudia and Jamie bathing—and collecting lunch money—in the Met’s Fountain of Muses bring up fond childhood memories of your own, you’re among the legions of readers who grew up loving E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The classic children’s book turns 50 in 2017, and the tale of the Kincaid siblings spending their days wandering about the paintings, sculptures and antiquities, and their nights sleeping in antique beds handcrafted for royalty, is as popular as ever. The 1968 Newbery Medal winner has never been out of print.”

The article then goes into the many inspirations behind the book and Konigsburg’s writing, including this sweet memory shared by her son Paul:

“When we were in grade school, Mom would write in the morning. When the three of us kids would come home for lunch, she would read what she wrote,” says Paul Konigsburg, 62. “If we laughed she kept it in. If not, she rewrote it.”

The article also mentions the 1973 film version of the book, also released under the title The Hideaways, which I wrote a post about almost two years ago on this blog. The film doesn’t feature a librarian, but it DOES shine a spotlight on the vital role of research, as well as libraries, both public and private.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of public library scene in 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler' (1973)

Screenshot of public library scene in ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of public library scene in 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler' (1973)

Screenshot of private library scene in ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ (1973)

As I wrote back in 2015 about the film’s version of the “mixed-up files” scene:

The scene in the film is different from the book, but it’s still fun to see a visual representation of all those “mixed-up files.” Although, of course, they’re not mixed-up at all. They files are quite logically organized, at least according to the logic of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

And I learned something new about the film from the Smithsonian article — that the 1973 film version was the first film ever shot inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

I also learned that last year, the Met produced and released a video tour called “Can We Talk About the Mixed-Up Files and the Met?”:

#MetKids—Can We Talk About the “Mixed-up Files” and The Met?” by The Met, Standard YouTube license

And finally, next week on July 13 and 15, in honor of the book’s 50th anniversary — and of course, the Met’s starring role in the book! — the Met will host special Art Trek family tours featuring several exhibits mentioned in the book that are still in the museum, including the mummy and the bronze cat in the Egyptian wing.

Have you ever been to the Met? Are you a fan of the book? Please leave a comment and share!

Portrait of a real librarian adventurer

Portrait of a librarian, Bill Nikolai.

Portrait of a librarian, Bill Nikolai.

Last week, I promised a post about another adventurer librarian… this time, a real one! 😀

This week’s post shines the spotlight on Bill Nikolai, a librarian at Vancouver Community College (VCC) in Vancouver, British Columbia… who also happens to be an actor, a stand-in and a photo-double (those are two different jobs, as I have found out), as well as a paraglider, among other things. Wow!

A few years ago, Bill contacted me after he came across my post on Reel Librarians about our visit to the Vancouver and the (awesome) Vancouver Public Library, a post that included a behind-the-scenes look at a TV pilot that was shooting at the library one of the days we happened to visit. After a few emails back-and-forth, I asked Bill if we could do a librarian profile, and just three years later… here we are! And it’s sooooooo worth the wait, as Bill has had — and continues to have — an amazing life, both in AND outside the library.

By the way, here’s the quick backstory for the photo shown at right: This pic was a photo gag for an April Fool’s blog post about fitness in the VCC Library, and was also part of a “Men of IT” charity calendar at VCC.


From the film biz…


Prior to beginning his career as an academic librarian, Bill, in his own words, “dabbled in the film biz” after taking acting courses as an undergraduate.

MacGyver

He so much resembled actor Richard Dean Anderson that he ended up as his double for both MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. (Side note:  I *loved* MacGyver, y’all. LOVED. Watching MacGyver every week with my family remain some of my happiest memories of childhood. I grew up in the country backwoods of northeast Texas, with access to only one TV channel, ABC. Thank goodness MacGyver was on ABC!) So this bit of trivia about MacGyver had me geeking out and asking Bill questions like, “How glorious was Richard Dean Anderson’s feathered mullet up close?

And here are some awesome photos of some AWESOME mullets, courtesy of Bill himself:

Photodoubling Richard Dean Anderson for a low-flying helicopter scene in Season 4 of MacGyver, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai.

Photodoubling Richard Dean Anderson for a low-flying helicopter scene in Season 4 of MacGyver, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai.

Working as a stand-in for Richard Dean Anderson on MacGyver (complete with mullet!), photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

Working as a stand-in for Richard Dean Anderson on MacGyver (complete with mullet!), photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

Bill Nikolai and Richard Dean Anderson had a lot of fun on and off set, occasionally skiing together as well as playing a version of hockey on set with pucks made out of used camera tape, with doorways and table legs used as goals. Such an awesome visual — I’m sure there were a lot of double-takes (har har, pun intended) when they were together! ♥

Stargate

Bill also got an occasional line or two on Stargate SG-1 as the character Tech. Sergeant Vern Alberts, in addition to photo-doubling and standing in for Richard Dean Anderson.

In uniform as Airforce Tech Sergeant Vern Alberts on Stargate SG-1, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

In uniform as Airforce Tech Sergeant Vern Alberts on Stargate SG-1, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

Photodoubling RDA in Stargate SG-1, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

Photodoubling RDA in Stargate SG-1, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

More about the Stargate experience and his role as Vern Alberts:

“Stargate was an interesting gig in that mostly I worked as a stand-in, but I also often would do Richard’s off-camera lines for other actors if he wasn’t available on set for their singles (as opposed to two shots or other wide shots that included RDA). Sometimes the shot would catch a bit of “Richard’s” back (an “over-the-shoulder” shot); often that shoulder would be mine. I did a lot of the close-up hand doubling as well, both on MacGyver and Stargate. Lastly, occasionally, I would get a line or two as my own recurring character, an Airforce Tech Sergeant (my character finally became known as Vern Alberts), often with General Hammond (played by the late Don Davis) hovering over my shoulder in the Stargate control room. The name “Vern” was established in an episode called Window of Opportunity when Rick shouts “How’s the wife and kids, Vern?” as he is cycling past me in a hallway.  My real-life middle name is Vern (after my father, Werner); the “wife and kids line” was improvised, so just before delivering it, Rick asked me what I wanted my first name to be. Vern was a bit of an homage to my dad.”

Kibbitzing with Richard Dean Anderson, in 2006, underwater, on the set of Stargate Atlantis. Photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai.

Kibbitzing with Richard Dean Anderson, in 2006, underwater, on the set of Stargate Atlantis. Photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai.

Here’s the backstory of the photo above, courtesy of Bill:

“This episode involved a spacecraft crashing into the ocean and Colonel O’Neill (by then, a general, I believe) is forced to try to regain control of the craft as it sinks and fills up with water. I was there to potentially double RDA in some of the scenes. ( I have Advanced SCUBA training and am comfortable in confined spaces.) In the end, Rick did all his own action in this episode. This was just prior to the start of library school at UBC and coincidentally, this episode was largely shot on campus in the Marine Engineering facility, where the production had access to a large tank that could accommodate the submerged spacecraft.”

And OF COURSE y’all know that I looked Bill up on IMDb.com, right? Check out Bill Nikolai’s IMDb.com profile for yourself.

First Target

What was Bill’s favorite day on a set? It was for a 2000 TV movie called First Target (also, check out the film’s trailer here, which also features him!), and as Bill described it, “[A day] in which I got to kiss a very bad girl, then got drugged, kicked and drowned by her.” The “very bad girl” was a beautiful assassin, played by Ona Grauer, and it serves as the one time he also got to do a stunt. The TV movie also starred Daryl Hannah.

You can check out the scene in the video below:

First Target,” uploaded by Eduardo Pérez, Standard YouTube license


… to the library biz…


Bill earned his Master’s in Library Science at the i-School at the University of British Columbia in 2008 at the age of 51 and has been working full-time ever since at the Vancouver Community College Library, where he co-led the library instruction program and teaches information literacy classes. (As Bill and I are both librarians at community colleges, we have shared via email our common experiences about our love of teaching; our love of serving a diversity of students; and the myriad responsibilities, and usually smaller library staffs, that are a common reality for many community college librarians.) Before earning his MLS, Bill also had an academic career as an ESL instructor at different universities in Japan.

Check out Bill’s profile page, brief bio, and subject specialties here on the VCC LibGuides.

Bil Nikolai's profile page on the VCC LibGuides

Bil Nikolai’s profile page on the VCC LibGuides

And Bill in another photo for the “Men of IT” charity calendar at VCC. (I feel 100% positive that charity calendar sold out! Go VCC!)

"Ask a Librarian" indeed! Photo for "Men of IT" charity calendar for VCC, courtesy of Bill Nikolai

“Ask a Librarian” indeed! Photo for “Men of IT” charity calendar for VCC, courtesy of Bill Nikolai

That photo above TOTALLY FITS the description in the last lines of Bill’s personal bio on IMDB.com, right?!:

Bill subsequently returned to school and completed a second Master’s Degree. He now works as a mild-mannered college librarian in Vancouver.

Behold the “mild-mannered” librarian below, in a fun photo collage of him in 2006, before and after scary-looking monster makeup on the set of the failed TV pilot A.M.P.E.D. Of course, my favorite part is the photobombing of the classic library science textbook, Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. Bill had just started his library science program at UBC, and he brought along study material for the long hours spent in the makeup chair.

Fun fact:  I also had the SAME textbook in library school for my reference services course in library school!

Collage of two shots Bill Nikolai put together, taken on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D.

Collage of two shots Bill Nikolai put together, taken on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D.

Also, I think I might just have my next Halloween costume idea… 😀

With retirement from the library on the horizon, Bill has started to get back into the acting game, as he is still a member of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), which is Canada’s version of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) in the United States. He recently had a non-speaking acting role on the TV series Supernatural (April 2017, Season 12, Episode 18, “The Memory Remains“). His character was named “Black Bill,” and his role was to “slit someone’s throat in a flashback sequence … very un-librarian-like!” 😀

Bill was also featured this month on the cover of a local senior’s magazine, Inspired Senior Living:

Bill Nikolai's cover and interview in Inspired Senior Living magazine, June 2017

Bill Nikolai’s cover and interview in Inspired Senior Living magazine, June 2017. Click screenshot to browse through the issue online.

The feature interview, entitled “Bill Nikolai: Flybrarian,” is a great read, with more pics of Bill and his wife, Linda. I really loved this quote in particular, which is toward the end of the article:

Quote from Bill Nikolai's feature interview in the June 2017 issue of 'Inspired Senior Living' magazine

Quote from Bill Nikolai’s feature interview in the June 2017 issue of ‘Inspired Senior Living’ magazine


… and up to the skies


Bill Nikolai, librarian and paraglider, showcases how he likes to combine his “thinking person’s pursuits” — literally! This was another gag shot for another charity calendar. In the photo below, Bill is “reading” Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight, by William Langewiesche.

Paragliding librarian, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

Paragliding librarian, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai

And last but not least, below are a couple of videos Bill has shared about his “paragliding obsession” mentioned in the article linked above.

The “Paragrinding” video below was shot in September 2013 and screened at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, as well as at the Legacy Film Festival on Aging in San Francisco. (Bill shot all the GoPro footage.)

ParaGrinding” by Bill Nikolai, via Vimeo

And here’s a link to a very recent paragliding video (3 minutes) that Bill also shot:

Grouse Spring” by Bill Nikolai, Standard YouTube license

Like I said, Bill’s story was worth the wait, right?! 😀


Thank you so much, Bill, for getting back in touch with me and your willingness to share so much of your fascinating personal and professional story and behind-the-scenes photos. I am so honored to feature you here on Reel Librarians. You go into the Reel Librarians hall of fame, for sure, as you have an insider’s view in both the library and cinematic worlds.

By the way, when I first asked Bill about doing a “guest post” or profile for Reel Librarians, his charming and modest response was that he wasn’t sure his story would be “much of great interest to the librarians out there.”

Well, I’m a fellow librarian, and I find Bill’s story extremely interesting — AND inspiring!

Anyone else feel inspired around here? Please leave a comment and share!