I thought it would be fun to take a brief sojourn down memory lane and revisit posts that I published back in September 2011, the first month that I launched Reel Librarians.
As my 8th blog anniversary occurred in-between my regular posting schedule, I thought a blog-iversary two-fer was in order. I published my first post on Reel Librarians back on September 19th, 2011. When I started this website and blog, I was regularly writing and publishing 3 new posts a week (!!!), but I was also working part-time back then. Fast forward 8 years, and I am now a full-time, tenured faculty librarian, and I’ve scaled back to 2 new posts a month.
I thought it would be fun to take a brief sojourn down memory lane and revisit posts that I published back in September 2011, the first month that I launched Reel Librarians. Note, I didn’t publish my first post until September 19th, the third week of September. But in the 12 remaining days of September 2011, I published 6 (!!!!!!) new posts.
Below are first paragraph excerpts from each of those first 6 posts, with links to the full posts so you can explore each one. Enjoy!
Where do I begin? A love story. (Sept. 19, 2011)
Welcome to my new site about librarians in film! For me, librarians + movies = love! Technically, this site is a new (and hopefully more permanent) incarnation of my previous “Reel Librarians” site, which I had developed off a previous work site and server. But the site’s back now – hopefully, better than ever. Please check back often or sign up for RSS or email updates.Welcome to my new site about librarians in film!
It’s a wonderful movie, truly. It’s a Wonderful Life. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.
In Rome Adventure (1962), Suzanne Pleshette plays Prudence Bell, an assistant librarian at the Briarcroft College for Women. The first scene sets the stage: Prudence lands in trouble for letting a young girl read Lovers Must Learn, a book considered “too adult” for this school. The board has banned the book (this also serves as a clever advertisement for the real book, which the film was based on, and its author, Irving Fineman, who is name-dropped in the first five minutes) and reprimands Prudence in the process. Prudence, however, stands up to them and defies their rules. She delivers a speech about the importance of love — what’s hiding in every girl’s heart, that need to be loved — and quits the library to follow the book’s advice. She says, “This is Independence Day!” We are on her side for standing up to the board — and, in effect, standing up against censorship. [Plus, this week is the annual Banned Books Week, so this post is right on target!]
Mistaken identity in ‘Spellbound’ (Sept. 28, 2011)
How should a woman react when she is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian? To her credit, Dr. Constance Petersen, played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, takes it in good humor. The moment does inject a bit of comedy (although at the expense of librarians!) in the otherwise suspenseful and dramatic film, Spellbound (1945).
The ‘Year of the Librarian’ continues (Sept. 30, 2011)
Since the 1970s, the study of “popular culture” has increased in academic relevance, but I believe the image of librarians in media really began to be looked at as a serious topic of research after 1989. That was when ALA declared it the “Year of the Librarian” in its January 1989 issue of American Libraries. The article, below, and theme focused on the media image of librarians and “public awareness efforts on the library professional for the first time.”
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Being typecast as a totally adorable reel librarian? There are worse things in life.
I have been wanting to see the Lifetime TV movie The Twelve Trees of Christmas since it came out in 2013, and right before we moved this summer, I was able to watch it on the Lifetime Movie Channel during their “Christmas in July” special marathon. I have been saving this post for Christmas to help celebrate the holidays. And to make it extra special, here are twelve lessons learned from The Twelve Trees of Christmas.
1. The Christmas part of the plot doesn’t really make sense
Here’s how the plot was described on the TV guide channel:
“A children’s librarian tries to save her beloved Manhattan library from being demolished to make way for a developer to build high-rise loft apartments. To generate media attention, she holds a Christmas tree decorating contest.”
The connection between Christmas and the library being demolished is pretty tenuous… it’s best not to pull on that thread too hard. That thread is made of spun sugar. And if you can’t guess the ending, then you don’t know your Lifetime TV movies. The Christmas tree angle shoe-horned into the plot does make, however, for some beautiful set decorations:
Also, the Christmas part of the movie plot might have been inspired by a real-life Toronto tradition!
When I was researching where this TV movie was filmed (this interview with co-star Mel B. reveals that the film was filmed during summertime in Hamilton, a city in southern Ontario, Canada), I also came across posts about a long-standing tradition in Toronto at the Gardiner Museum. Every year, the museum has a “12 Trees of Christmas” exhibition and theme.
2. The star is a veteran reel librarian
The TV movie stars Lindy Booth as main character and reel librarian Cheri Jameson, and if Booth looks familiar, it’s probably because she also plays a lead role in the The Librarians TV spin-off series. Being typecast as a totally adorable reel librarian? There are worse things in life. 😉
3. Lindy Booth is the most adorable reel librarian ever
This is fact, and here is the evidence of Lindy Booth’s adorable facial expressions:
Her character, Cheri, is also described at one point as “a little bit of a Pollyanna.”
4. Don’t watch this TV movie for tips on how to read a book for storytime
As the movie opens, children’s librarian Cheri is wandering through the library — convenient for us getting a good look at this beautiful old building the library is housed in — and walks up to join a volunteer who is reading a storybook to the children. Cheri finishes the rhymes from memory.
Pro tip: You don’t read a book like that at storytime hour. Instead, you hold it out to the side with one or two hands so the kids can see the illustrations as you read it aloud. It’s best to combine the aural and visual experience for the children at storytime. Alternatively, you can read the words off the page, and then show the illustrations to the children, but that takes longer.
5. Involve your community and library staff when promoting your library
Within the first five minutes, we get a closeup of an interoffice memorandum email sent from the library director/head librarian Bette Greven. This memo reveals the catalyst for the plot, about how the Shaughnessy Library’s lease will not be renewed, and the library building will be demolished to make way for a condominium building development. Robin Dunne plays Tony Shaughnessy, the grandson of the Shaughnessy Foundation president, and Casper Van Dien plays a cameo role as Charles Harris, the businessman who will be building the condominium. (Plus, Mel B. — yep, Scary Spice! — plays a supporting role as a diva designer.)
This is how Cheri reacts to the news:
Cheri also interacts with Mack, the library handyman, who already has a resume in his hand. He is already anticipating having to look for another job soon, as the library is shutting down with such short notice!
Cheri immediately goes out to talk with Bette, the head librarian, who is doing “desk duty.” This presents an interesting visual dynamic between the two, as the children’s librarian is standing, and the head librarian is sitting.
Cheri: Bette, what is going on?
Bette: I take it you read the memo.
Cheri: This building has been a library for half a century. The foundation can’t just suddenly shut it down.
Bette: They can and they will. Believe me, I’ve been burning up the phones for months trying to stop them.
Cheri: Wait. You’ve known about this for months?
Bette: Sit. I haven’t told any of the staff yet, because so far it’s only been rumors, and I didn’t want to upset people unnecessarily. This is a public library in a private building. The Shaughnessy Foundation gave the city a 50-year, $1-a-year lease, which expired last month. They’ve decided not to renew it but to instead redevelop this property as part of a new condominium and apartment complex.
This conversation reveals not only more details about the plot, it also reveals the important fact that the head librarian did NOT seek any additional help from her staff — or the community of users they serve! — for months leading up to this crisis. Not a smart move.
Cheri immediately has the idea of contacting the foundation president’s grandson, who happens to live in her building, and of course, she also comes up with the idea of the “12 Trees of Christmas” community contest and the “What the Shaughnessy Library Means to Me” theme. This is convenient to the Christmas holiday timing, but it also demonstrates that if the head librarian had involved her library staff and community sooner, then perhaps all of this could have been prevented!
At the announcement of the “12 Trees of Christmas” contest, Artie, a younger guy who’s a loyal patron of the library, asks about the rumor that they’re going to tear down the library. Bette confirms the rumors, and Cheri turns the announcement into an incentive to show the community how much this means. Artie, and others (including Tony, who loves competition!) immediately sign up to compete in the contest.
We’re hoping for a miracle. At least, if we go, we go in a blaze of glory.
6. Public libraries need to be funded by the public.
It’s vital for communities to fund and support their local libraries. This the main point of the movie’s plot, and a plot focusing on the proper funding of libraries is a rarity among reel librarian movies. (Also see the movie Miranda and the British Project: Library web series, and to a lesser extent, the plot of Party Girl.)
But there is a twist on this funding angle. It’s the issue of setting up a municipal service, such as a public library, in a building that is privately owned. As this funny list and review points out, the #1 lesson from this TV movie is that “Setting up a municipal service in a privately owned building will only lead to tears and a run on genuine Irish crystal.”
The second half of that initial conversation between Cheri and Bette provides more details on this central conflict.
Bette: I’ve been head librarian for 10 years. I’ve dealt with the city on hundreds of issues. I know how to get things done, but I need a few good cards to play, and we’ve got nothing. The thing is, they’ve got all the legal advantages on their side. The Shaughnessy Foundation is exercising a right that is very clearly theirs.
Cheri: We could do a fundraiser. The community would support us. People love this building. I grew up here. This building, it’s a landmark in the neighborhood.
Bette: It doesn’t matter. The foundation doesn’t need community approval. They can do whatever they want.
When Cherie then talks to Tony Shaughnessy, to try and convince him not to sell the building to a developer, he also points out this conflict of a public service in a private building:
Cheri: This neighborhood, it needs a library.
Tony: Sure. And that’s a matter for the city. The point is that libraries are a municipal matter.
On a personal note, I happen to agree with Tony here, at least with the general principle (if not his methods). Municipal services for the public good are a matter for the municipalities — or whichever region, like a county, that they are part of — and they need to fund public libraries accordingly. And members of those communities also need to vote to support stable funding for those public libraries! (This is also why so many public libraries put measures on the ballot to try and create library tax districts, in order to provide some kind of stable funding for public libraries. That way, they don’t have to depend so much on the election cycle whims of local politicians.) Libraries, unfortunately, are often among the first services cut in times of economic crisis, even though during those times, library resources and services become even more important to the general public.
7. Libraries and librarians impact people’s lives in many different ways
As Cheri states:
This is more than just a library. It’s a watering hole for the community. You know what happens in Africa when a watering hole dries up? Everything dies.
Throughout the film, scenes in the library are featured. And as a librarian, it is wonderful to see just how many different kinds of users this library serves, and in different ways.
As the children’s librarian, Cheri obviously highlights the services provided to children. And here’s how she drops the mic during a conversation with Tony:
When you see witness the joy on the children’s faces, and then crush all of their dreams when you announce your great plan to demolish their sanctuary of imagination, knowledge, and art. For a condo.
And this description, that the library is a “sanctuary of imagination, knowledge, and art” is evidenced in the movie. For example, we get to see users — and even library staff — of all ages doing research, or quiet study, in the library. The community members who signed up for a Christmas tree get busy researching books and information to support their different themes. Mack researches vintage recipes for his Christmas foods-themed tree. Deirdre and Artie team up to research technology for their technology-meets-art-in-the-library theme. Parents of a library-loving child team up to research children’s literature.
There are other scenes where people have space to work together on projects.
There are also spaces for different kinds of social group activities, from the children’s storytime hour to art class in the library.
Toward the beginning, a young girl gives Cheri, or “Miss Jameson,” a present. As she explains, “It’s kind of a Christmas and a thank you gift. I’m really happy you’re tutoring me.” This small, lovely scene reveals that the library and librarians also offer personal tutoring services.
Cheri also relates her own personal memories of the Shaughnessy Library, where her father wrote his doctoral thesis:
I grew up in that building… It was amazing… this magical land filled with everything in the whole world. It’s where I learned to love books. And reading. It’s the greatest gift my father gave me. And I think every child in this neighborhood should experience that feeling.
Later, Tony and Cheri get stuck in the elevator of their apartment building. Tony starts hyperventilating, and Cheri manages to helps calm him down with EMDR techniques.
Tony: Where’d you learn that? Wait, don’t tell me, the library.
Cheri: Not all of us can afford a world-class education.
This exchange highlights how library resources spread the importance of education and knowledge to community members who can’t afford tuition rates for higher education. It also supports how libraries and librarians serve as educational support.
8. Literacy is vital, and libraries are vital to promoting literacy
There’s also a really nice message in the film about literacy and community and the importance of libraries. Yes, we’re going into a very technological age where some people may argue we don’t need things like libraries and everyone is reading books on iPods. Still, at the end of the day, we do need to promote literacy and encourage reading with children. These places, like libraries in the community, really support that environment for kids. That’s a nice message.
This message — that there are different kinds of literacy, and that libraries are vital in promoting literacy — also gets voiced in a couple of conversations.
First, Tony and Cheri spar yet again:
Tony: Kids, they get everything online.
Cheri: Yes, but it’s not the same. You can read Dickens on an e-book. You get the words, but you’re missing the music.
Cheri then has a conversation with her boss Bette about what Tony said.
Bette: Yet he does have a point. E-books are taking over, and most kids these days haven’t even heard of an encyclopedia, much less opened one. And with Google, why should they?
Cheri: The internet can add to the mix, but you’re never going to be able to replace physical books. I mean, you need to be able to see and touch and hold and even smell a book to get the whole reading experience.
This kind of message, that it benefits us to be conversant in both internet literacy as well as traditional literacy, is also the ultimate message of a few other reel librarian movies, like the 1957 classic, Desk Set.
9. Librarians and library staff have different roles and tasks
This TV movie showcases a diversity of roles and type of work to be done in a public library. It’s not just checking out books and shelving books, y’all!
For example, Cheri interacts with Deirdre, a young woman who volunteers at the library, because as Deirdre states, “I’m new to the city, so volunteering at the library helped me make new friends.”
There are several nice scenes featuring Mack, the library handyman and custodian, who also reveals one of the best perks about working in a library. “I read whatever I get my hands on. It’s one of the perks of working here. I get to see all the new stuff as it comes out, and I grab it right away.”
Side note: TRUE STORY. This is one of the best perks!
Cheri and Bette also enjoy a warm and collegial relationship, like a mentoring relationship that is based on mutual respect. This is also visually reflected in a couple of scenes in which they sit across from each other, as equals, and each contributes something to the conversation.
Bette’s responsibilities as head librarian are clearly different from Cheri’s duties as the children’s librarian. As Bette states, “I’ve been head librarian for 10 years. I’ve dealt with the city on hundreds of issues. I know how to get things done.”
But Bette and Cheri both have “desk duty,” which means working at the reference desk in order to help answer questions from the public. It’s really nice to see onscreen a library director working with the public in this way!
10. Librarians need their own spaces, both at work and at home
Cheri’s work desk is the setting for multiple, albeit brief, scenes in this TV movie. It is indeed a rarity to see a reel librarian’s private work space! (See also Desk Set.) Cheri’s desk is very traditional, a long wooden table, and it’s always piled high with stacks of books and files.
We also get a couple of glimpses of Cheri’s apartment, another rarity on screen! (Once again, see Desk Set.) Cheri’s home decor is quite cozy and cheery — and filled with bookcases. 🙂
In the scene below, Tony comes over to help put together even more bookcases for Cheri!
11. Librarians can be stylish, and in different ways
Cheri has a consistent style throughout the TV movie, dressing in a retro-inspired way with cardigans or sweaters paired with flared dresses or skirts. Cheri is also not afraid of pairing together patterns and bright colors, which reflect her cheerful and energetic personality. She wears her hair down in loose curls, the better to show off the glorious red hue of her hair. She has a cute, classic look, one that feels appropriate for a children’s librarian.
Her boss, Bette, also has a signature style, but one that is more traditional and conservative. She wears her hair in a classic bob hairstyle, and she wears blazers in classic cuts and solid colors. Her jewel-toned blouses and jewelry hint at a bit of flair underneath. She is the head librarian, and she dresses like one.
We also get a peek at Cheri and Bette getting ready for the big Christmas tree finale and party. We even get to see Bette with her hair in rollers! Is this the first time we get to see a reel librarian getting her hair done onscreen? 😉
12. Library science is a real thing
In yet another (confrontational yet flirty) scene between Tony and Cheri, he asks why she wanted to become a librarian. She reveals she thought she was going to be a college professor, like her father.
Cherie: But once I got to college, I became this voracious reader. I spent all my spare time at the library out at the library and decided to major in library sciences.
Tony: Library sciences is not a real thing. You just made that up.
Cherie: Seriously. It’s a real thing.
Tony: You totally made that up. Wow. What did your dad say? Was he disappointed?
Cherie: He wasn’t. He was actually incredibly supportive… I got this summer job as a library intern, tutoring kids and working on this literacy program… [describes how this one kid read a book by himself for the first time.] I found my calling.
Another rarity — the discussion of library science and the education behind being a librarian! (Also see, you guessed it, Desk Set. And Party Girl also has a great scene in which librarians debate different kinds of library science graduate programs.)
Although Tony’s incredulity at “library sciences” being a “real thing” is sure to illicit side-eyed shade from real-life librarians, Cherie takes it in stride and instead turns the conversation into highlighting how significant and personal a decision it really is to become a librarian. Yes, unfortunately, we librarians are used to people not understanding library science — if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “Oh wow, librarians have master’s degrees?!” SIGH — but we also often describe librarianship as a calling. The movie absolutely got it right with that line, “I found my calling.” We are librarians because we are committed to our profession and the services and resources we provide. Ultimately, we are here to help the members of our communities.
The Twelve Trees of Christmas, although sugary sweet and fairly predictable, is ultimately quite significant in several ways when it comes to portraying reel librarians onscreen. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover… I guess you can’t judge a Lifetime TV movie by its sugary coating. 😉
Happy holidays, y’all! And I’ll be back next week with a New Year’s Eve-themed reel librarian movie — stay tuned!
The male Liberated Librarians may begin as failures, but they grow in character throughout the film, just like their female counterparts; their latent skills and talents find a way to rise to the forefront — but only through the instigation of an outside force, action, or other person.
The male Liberated Librarian, as I mentioned, is usually young. Their physical appearance may or may not improve (compare this with their female [Liberated Librarian] counterparts, whose makeovers are practically a requirement!), but their wardrobes tend to get better. Personality-wise, they become more masculine and assertive. For major male librarian roles, the most common character type is the Liberated Librarian, with their liberation comprising the main plot.
There are many aspects from that general description of the Liberated Librarian that ring true for Flynn Carsen, aka “THE Librarian”:
Young in age (and a bit immature in temperament, as well)
Initially viewed as a “failure” in the eyes of his mother — and potential dates!
An outside force (in this case, the library itself!) is the catalyst for his liberation
He becomes more masculine and assertive throughout the TV movie
His “liberation” is the main plot arc of the movie
However, unlike other Liberated Librarians — who usually need to be “liberated” from their jobs as librarians — Flynn becomes “liberated” by becoming a librarian. Let’s see how!
The TV movie starts off with Noah Wyle in an Egyptian tomb, kitted out in an ill-fitting trench, spouting off factoids about Egyptian pyramids and trigonometry. He’s generally being an annoying, socially awkward know-it-all, as illustrated in an outburst by a frustrated classmate:
Stop frickin’ posing and join the rest of the students!
The first 15 minutes of this TV movie not only set up the Liberated Librarian character type and plot arc but also contain some of the most memorable dialogue about lifelong learning and libraries. Here’s a closer look at the three main scenes that comprise the first quarter-hour:
In this brief scene, Flynn’s professor tells him he has completed his work and won’t be continuing in the program.
Flynn: But I’m your best student.
Professor: Voila, that’s the problem. You are my best student. You’re everyone’s best student. You’ve never been anything but the best student… How many degrees do you have in total, Flynn? I checked your transcript: you have 22!
Flynn: School is what I know, it’s what I’m good at. It’s where I feel most like myself.
Professor: You’re a professional student, Flynn. You’re avoiding life. This is a serious problem that I will no longer enable… Have you ever been out of the city? When was the last time you went dancing or to a ball game? You need to find a job, Flynn, to get some real life experiences.
Flynn: All I want to do is learn.
Professor: We never stop learning, Flynn. Never. It’s only where we learn that changes. And it’s about you start doing it in the big, bad, real world. Sink or swim, Flynn. Look ahead, that way. Good luck. Off you go.
Flynn goes home to seek comfort — from his books, naturally.
These aren’t just books. These books are slices of the ultimate truth. The greatest thinkers of all time. And they speak to me. Like nothing else.
Flynn goes downstairs to find that his mom has set him with a “nice girl,” Deborah, wearing a cardigan and pearl earrings. Small talk quickly touches a nerve…
Deborah: What do you do?
Flynn: Actually, I’m a student.
Deborah: You’ve been a college student your entire… ?
Flynn: I like to learn. Is that a crime? I mean, so what, I’ve spent most, if not all, of my adult life in school. Maybe I have missed out on a few extracurricular activities. That doesn’t make me a freak, does it?
Deborah: Of course not. I understand.
Flynn: You do?
Deborah: Sure. You like to learn. [Flynn: Yes!] And you’re in your 30’s and you’re still in school. [Flynn: Exactly!] And you live with your mother and you’re ok with that.
Flynn: Yes! No. No. Wait. I have to change my life.
Deborah: I would.
Deborah then wishes Flynn good luck as she rushes off. And just to make the point VERY CLEAR, his mother then turns to him to say:
The things that make life worth living… they can’t be thought here [pointing to his brain]. They must be felt here [pointing to his heart]. Maybe you don’t know so much.
Librarian interview scene:
Flynn then receives a mysterious invitation to interview at the Metropolitan Public Library.
As he walks to the library, he joins a very long line of candidates going up several flights of stairs. (This entire scene reminds one of the nanny interview scene in Mary Poppins!)
His interview is with Charlene, played by the stone-faced and implacable (and awesome) Jane Curtin, who is as imposing as the grand ballroom setting.
Charlene: What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: Well, I’ve read a lot of books.
Charlene: Don’t try to be funny. I don’t do funny… What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: I know the Dewey Decimal system, Library of Congress, research paper orthodoxy, web searching. I can set up an RSS feed.
Charlene: Everybody knows that. They’re librarians. What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: I know… other stuff.
Charlene: Stop wasting my time. Tell me something you know that nobody else who has walked in here can tell me.
Flynn then taps into his inner Sherlock Holmes, rattling off several facts about her, including the fact that she has three cats (a white Himalayan, a tortoiseshell, and an orange-striped tabby). Next, the disembodied voice of Judson (Bob Newhart) asks what is more important than knowledge — and Flynn totally steals his answer from his mom (“The things that make life worth living can’t be thought here. They must be felt here”).
There will be a 6-month trial period. If you don’t screw up, then you will officially be The Librarian.
Judson then makes a physical appearance and utters what is arguably the quintessential line of the entire “The Librarians” series:
You are about to begin a wondrous adventure from which you will never be the same. Welcome to the library.
The rest of the TV movie and plot focuses on Flynn’s adventures to return a stolen artifact. Oh, and saving the fate of the world. (Obviously.) He teams up with Nicole Noone (Sonya Walger), the librarian’s bodyguard.
One of my favorite aspects of the entire “Librarian” series is how it excels at clever, seemingly throwaway moments, like when Nicole and Flynn have to waltz through a booby trap — and Nicole ends up dipping Flynn at the end of the waltz. 😉
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear boasts multiple male reel librarian characters (as played by Noah Wyle, Kyle McLachlan, and Bob Newhart), a rarity in film. It is the character of Flynn Carsen, however, who best exemplifies the Liberated Librarian character type.
Becoming ‘The Librarian’:
In the final action scene, Flynn has to match wits — and spears — with the last librarian, Edward Wilde (Kyle McLachlan). He also battles his former professor from the movie’s first scene, a very clever way of “closing the loop.”
Here’s a side-by-side, before-and-after visual comparison of Flynn in the opening and final action scenes of the movie.
By the end of the TV movie — and after the librarian has saved the world, as you do — the final scene showcases just how far Flynn has come. (Even Excalibur, the “sword in the stone” thinks so.)
Flynn is not only dressing better, it is also obvious that he has more confidence, both inside and out. He even stands up to his mother! 😉
Margie Carsen [speaking to a group of ladies]: Flynn is a librarian now. But he’s capable of so much more. Just needs the right woman to push him.
Flynn: Mom, you don’t understand. Being a librarian is actually a pretty cool job.
As he speeds off on his next adventure, Flynn is now truly a Liberated Librarian; in other words, THE Librarian.
If you can’t get enough of Flynn Carsen and “The Librarian” TV movies and TV series spin-off, here are more of my posts for all-things-The-Librarian: