In this reel librarian’s life

Reel librarian in Filipino film ‘In My Life’ (2009)

Last week, I mentioned discovering the YouTube and Librarians (Movies) channel. Although I don’t focus on foreign language films on this blog, I do have a list of those that feature reel librarians, adding to it whenever possible. From this YouTube channel, I have added several more titles to the Foreign Films list, including the award-winning Filipino film, In My Life (2009). Check out the full trailer (over 4 minutes long!) below:

Official Trailer | ‘In My Life’” video uploaded by ABS-CBN Star Cinema is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Even if you don’t understand the words — the film’s languages include Filipino and Tagalog, along with some English — the plotline seems pretty easy to follow! I’ve run out of fingers counting the reel librarian stereotypes… which ones are your faves? 😉

Mine might be the glasses-on-a-lanyard look as she throws some canoodling students out of the library.

The reel librarian in the Filipino film In My Life, starring Vilma Santos. Screenshot from the film's trailer.
Glasses on a chain? Mean glare? Pursed lips? Check, check, check! The reel librarian in the Filipino film In My Life, starring Vilma Santos. Screenshot from the film’s trailer.

You can read a review of the film here.

Sources used:

Unreflected glory: Librarian authors and their mediocre movie adaptations

This post isn’t exactly on topic, but you know how I love a good tangent. 😉

I’ve actually been thinking about librarians who are also authors for a while now, ever since reading Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession and its section on famous librarians (read my review of the book here). And last week, I came across this web site, Librarians Who Are Authors of Children’s Literature (which is no longer online), which involved lots of “I didn’t know that?!” kinds of shout-outs.

And one thing that kept coming to my mind was how few good cinematic adaptations there are of books written by librarian authors. It seems that most of these movie adaptations are mediocre at best. What’s the deal?

Jorge Luis Borges:

Take Jorge Luis Borges. He was a bad-ass librarian, rising to Director of the National Library of Argentina in 1955, but having to resign (twice, in 1946 and in 1973) due to political clashes with Juan Perón. And all the while writing, writing, writing. From his “Poem of the Gifts” [“Poema de los Dones”] comes one of the most beloved library-related quotations:

I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.

I first read a few of his short stories in college, and became enraptured with his labyrinthine imagery. So much so that I checked out Death and the Compass, a 1992 film adaptation (see right) of one of his most famous stories. Unfortunately, this movie ranks as one of the WORST movies I have ever seen. Ever. Ever. EVER.

Madeleine L’Engle:

And how about Madeleine L’Engle? She was a longtime librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Sam and I were lucky enough to meet her while we were in college — and even got her autograph on our well-worn copy of A Wrinkle in Time (see below), the YA classic that won the Newbery Medal in 1963.

Our autographed copy of A Wrinkle In Time
Our autographed copy of A Wrinkle In Time

But the most high-profile adaptation of one of her classic works — of the 3 total (!) listed on IMDb — was the 2003 TV movie of A Wrinkle in Time. There was a movie released this past spring, an adaptation of Camilla Dickinson, but I haven’t read any major reviews of it yet. Here’s hoping it’s good.

Beverly Cleary:

I looooooved Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books while growing up — seriously, I thought I was Ramona! But I didn’t realize she was a librarian until my mom recommended this past year that I read her autobiographies, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet (which chronicles her library science education and her experiences as a children’s librarian in Washington state and as an Army librarian during WWII). And I fell in love with her writing all over again.

I vaguely remember a few Mouse and the Motorcycle ABC Weekend Specials back in the late ’80s (IMDb tells me there were 3 total), and there was a Ramona and Beezus movie released in 2010 (see left), starring teen star Selena Gomez as Beezus. The recent film got decent reviews, but from what I understand, it was a pretty vague interpretation — not exactly a classic adaptation of a classic book series. Beverly Cleary deserves better.


I’ve read a lot of Avi books, starting with Something Upstairs: A Tale of Ghosts back in 1988. He’s got some modern YA classics on his shelf, including The Man Who Was Poe, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Newbery Honor in 1991, see right), Nothing But the Truth (Newbery Honor in 1992), and Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Newbery winner in 2002).

There’s an adaptation of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle planned for 2014. Reportedly starring Saoirse Ronan as the title character (yay!) and co-starring Pierce Brosnan and Morgan Freeman (double yay!), fingers crossed that it breaks tradition and finally does some justice to a librarian author’s work!

A not-so-enchanting librarian in ‘Ella Enchanted’

“I can’t find anything in any of these books!”

The 2004 film Ella Enchanted, adapted from Gail Carson Levine’s book, is a delightful twist on the Cinderella tale. Winningly goofy, it features a sparkling Anne Hathaway as Ella; a, well, charming Hugh Dancy as Prince Charmont (“Char” to his friends); and a deliciously scheming turn by Cary Elwes as Char’s Uncle Edgar and regent of the kingdom.


The well-known plot hinges on Ella’s gift of obedience bestowed by a fairy godmother, Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox), whom Ella is trying to find in order to release this curse of a blessing. Almost an hour into the film, Char tells Edgar that he needs to take Ella to the Hall of Records, to try and find where her fairy godmother Lucinda is located. The camera than cuts to a young black woman, billed as the Hall of Records Attendant (Merrina Millsapp), slamming down a thick book on a table, releasing a cloud of dust.

Hall of Records librarian in Ella Enchanted
Whatever, Ella

The attendant, dressed in modest medieval garb, appears quite disinterested in Ella’s task. “Here’s the latest census. Names are listed first by location then species.” As she walks away, she rattles off a “Good luck” with a dismissive flip of her hand. Although more of an archives clerk than an actual public services librarian — perhaps this explains her lack of customer service? — she serves the basic function of a reel librarian.

Due to the incompetence of Ella’s magical aunt, one of Ella’s sidekicks, Benny (Jimi Mistry), has been accidentally stuck in a book for years. Benny, therefore, is right beside her in the Hall of Records (his book, the one that looks more like a frame, is propped up in the screenshot above). He, too, grimaces at the sight of the massive volume. “Look at the size of that thing!” And as Ella heaves the book open, she sighs, “Lucinda, I hope you’re in here.”

Bird's-eye view of the Hall of Records in Ella Enchanted
Bird’s-eye view of the Hall of Records

The camera than spirals up, giving us a bird’s eye view of the messy table in the Hall of Records (see above). The reel librarian will certainly be of no help, and this camera trick underscores just how alone Ella is in this seemingly hopeless task.

A few minutes later, after a brief scene full of Edgar’s evil scheming, we return to Ella slumped in a chair in the Hall of Records. “I can’t find anything in any of these books,” she laments, banging her head on the book. “I don’t know where else to look.” Because asking the librarian is obviously not an option!

Finally, Ella spies a clue in the book in which her friend Benny is enspelled — NOT in one of the library books, I might add — and figures out how to find Lucinda. But alas! Edgar comes into the room and blocks her way, sneering, “I hope you’ve found everything to your satisfaction?” Due to the total lack of help or interest from the reel librarian, I would have answered with a definitive NO! But Ella is more polite than I am. 😉 Then Edgar tests Ella’s secret and sends her out in order to kill Char. Fortunately, Edgar doesn’t notice Benny stuck in the book, who has overheard the entire evil plot.

Archives librarian from Ella Enchanted
This book doesn’t look familiar…

A few minutes later, the archives clerk walks back into the library — sighing at the all the mess, of course — and discovers the book of Ella’s friend (see above). However, Benny can only reveal himself to certain people, so the reel librarian sees only empty pages. Heaving another big sigh, she immediately dumps Benny and his book into the “recycling parchment” bin. Sigh. Thank goodness, Ella’s other sidekicks find Benny in the trash and recycling center outside the castle the next morning. So it’s a relief that the actions — or rather, inactions? — of this disinterested Information Provider did help advance the plot after all.

Sources used:

  • Ella Enchanted. Dir. Tommy O’Haver. Perf. Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes. Miramax, 2004.

Oscar-nominated reel librarians

No winners (yet)

If you know me, you know I love the Oscars. It’s a family tradition, librarian-style. My mom and I used to watch the Oscars together every year — no slackers in this family. We have kept this up, even several time zones apart (even while I lived overseas). And I’m totally down with the tradition of griping about the Oscars… but just like with voting, you gotta participate to be able to complain! You gotta earn it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, waxing rhapsodic about the Oscars. So if you, too, are caught up in Oscar fever, then I’ve compiled a list below of Oscar-nominated reel librarians.

After compiling the list below, I noticed that I included all the films in my “Best Librarian Films by Decade” lists (click here and here).

Sam Jaffe as Doc Erwin Riedenschneider:

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

The Asphalt Jungle trailer” video uploaded by Mrbrandnewmovies is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Richard Burton as Alec Leamas:

Nominated for Best Actor in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” video uploaded by MarcelloPoletti is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Ali MacGraw as Jennifer Cavalleri:

Nominated for Best Actress in Love Story (1970)

Love Story (1/10) Movie CLIP – I Like Your Body (1970) HD” video uploaded by Movieclips is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas:

Nominated for Best Actor in Before Night Falls (2000)

Before Night Falls (2000) Official Trailer – Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp Movie” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

A tale of seven shushes in ‘City Slickers II’

Subtlety is not its strong suit, as we will also see in the library scene.

The 1994 film City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold includes a brief scene filmed in the beautiful Doheny Library Reference Room, University of Southern California. This library has starred in several films. Opened in 1932, the library has an elegant yet cozy feeling, with tall windows, light woods, tile floors, and stunning light fixtures.

That’s the good stuff.

Now for the rest…

In this vastly inferior sequel, the main plot is pretty obvious by the film’s subtitle. Subtlety is not its strong suit, as we will also see in the library scene.

The MacGuffin? Mitch (Billy Crystal) has discovered a treasure map in Curly’s hat. His excitable friend Phil (Daniel Stern) has been researching the Western Pacific Railroad because he suspects the money traces back to a train robbery. A trip to the library — a logical next step, no? — basically serves to legitimize the plot, such as it is.

The library scene takes place a little over 30 minutes into the film. The camera pans down from the gorgeously ornate library ceiling to a closer shot of Billy Crystal rifling through bound newspaper volumes. Blink, and you might miss a male reel librarian cruise by. Although unidentified in the film’s credits, how do you know he’a reel librarian? Because he’s pushing a shelving cart, of course! This unidentified African-American male is quite young (maybe in his 30s?), dressed in typically conservative outfit of grey slacks and a red button-down shirt.

Librarian with library cart in City Slickers II
Library cart alert!

I counted 7 shushes in this 3 1/2 minute scene — or a one-shush average per 30 seconds. Let’s count ’em down:

Phil is looking up old newspaper clippings on a microfiche machine, his eyes wide. He shouts out “I got it!” as he reads an article from the Carson City News.

He and Mitch talk loudly, and Phil excitedly shouts out again: “This is fate!”


Brought to us by an older man — billed in the credits as Annoyed Man in Library. There’s no indication that he’s a librarian, only that he’s following library rules. Phil shoots back an “Up yours” to Annoyed Man.

They get excited again (of course).

Annoyed Man in Library
Annoyed Man in Library


Again, by the Annoyed Man in Library. This time, Mitch whispers back, “Sorry, sorry.”

The Annoyed Man throws some more exasperated looks their way. Finally, he stands up, slams his book closed, and walks away.


These shushes come from other library users.

Mitch pushes Phil across the aisle and into the stacks — still arguing loudly.


Time to bring out the big guns! This time, a white, middle-aged female librarian gives them the shush, contributing her bit to Comic Relief. The reel librarian (Helen Sigh) whizzes by, pushing a shelving cart (of course). She wears conservative jewelry (gold button earrings and brooch) and clothing (a long-sleeved and high-necked green blouse), with glasses hanging off a lanyard.

Note:  She’s billed as Shushing Lady. Subtle.

Shushing Lady in City Slickers II
Shushing Lady in City Slickers II


Still more arguing. As Mitch turns away, Phil cries out after him, earning SHUSHES SIX and SEVEN from Mitch himself. Phil’s reaction? “Don’t shush me!”

A few seconds later, after spying a picture of the train robber who looks just like the deceased Curly, Mitch then lets rip a shush-curdling scream. The film cuts away immediately, so we can only imagine the reaction in the library!

Sources used:

  • City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold. Dir. Paul Weiland. Perf. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Jon Lovitz, Jack Palance. Castle Rock Entertainment/Warner Home Video, 1994.