A list of banned reel librarian movies

Banned Books Week, as described on ALA’s site, is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Banned Books Week is a big deal for librarians — and for ALL of us, really, as censorship and challenges to our freedom to read occur every day — which got me thinking, what about banned films?

"Banned" graphic by HypnoArt is licensed under CC0

Movie censorship has its own history in the United States, including with the “Motion Picture Production Code” in the 1930s, when only a few big film studios controlled the content of almost all films made in this country. This code was more commonly known as the “Hays Code,” named after after Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), which later became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This code, enforcing rules of decency and conduct, was implemented in 1930, but wasn’t strictly enforced until 1934, and it lasted through 1968. The MPAA board, itself the subject of a 2006 documentary called This Film is Not Yet Rated, continues to cause controversy with its film rating system (the G through NC-17 scale). Some argue that this board’s non-transparent methods of rating films creates a chilling effect on filmmakers.

And censorship is nothing new internationally. Many countries still have boards that review and censor books and films. I saw the effects of this firsthand when I lived and worked overseas in the UAE. A lot of movies I watched in theaters in the UAE had scenes cut from them — it made watching The Watchmen, for example, very confusing, since sooooooo much was cut, including almost every scene with Dr. Manhattan — and I bought a book once because it had been censored. (Trinny & Susannah’s Who Do You Want To Be Today?: Be inspired to Dress Differently included photos of a topless Josephine Baker, and these photos had been marked through with a large black Sharpie.)

Circling back around to reel librarians, I wondered if any reel librarian movies have been banned. Short answer? YES.

Reel librarian movies banned graphic

Long answer:  I did some research! The first step was to locate lists of banned or challenged films, including ones here, here, and here. I then compared these lists, and others listed below in the “Sources” section, to my Master List of reel librarian films.

Below is my (starting) list of titles of reel librarian movies that have been banned, either in the U.S. or internationally. I’ve arranged the list alphabetically by film title.

All foreign films made before 1980:

Where they were banned:

  • Uganda:  From 1972-79, President Idi Amin banned all foreign films on the grounds that they contained “imperialist propaganda.” So technically, that means that all foreign films made before 1980 were banned in Uganda. Based on my recent post about reel librarian movie totals, that means at least 83 reel librarian films that were made before 1980 were banned.

Angels and Demons (2009)


A mystery thriller film directed by Ron Howard, based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name and the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code. It once again stars Tom Hanks as historian-adventurer Robert Langdon, who travels to the Vatican and Rome to track down a vial of antimatter that has gone missing. Set against a conclave to select a new Pope, this movie includes scenes in the Vatican Library.

Where it was banned:

  • Samoa:  Banned by film censor Lei’ataua Olo’apu for being “critical of the Catholic Church” and to “avoid any religious discrimination by other denominations and faiths against the Church.”

Angels & Demons Clip Watermark” uploaded by Seb2009aetd, 2009, Standard YouTube license

The Big Sleep (1946)


A complex crime story with private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) hired to keep an eye on General Sternwood’s daughter (Lauren Bacall). In a brief library scene, a young, blonde librarian is curious about Marlowe’s reading choices. The Hollywood Public Library and another female librarian, a brunette, also feature in the film’s trailer.

Where it was banned:

  • Ireland:  In its original release due to sexual references.
  • Malaysia:  It was banned originally, but the film passed in 1999 with a VCD release and a delayed DVD release from Warner Malaysia Video.

The Big Sleep Trailer 1946” uploaded by Video Detective, 2014, Standard YouTube license

Blade (1998)


Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-vampire, is on a mission to destroy vampires, while vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is on a mission to destroy the human race. Blade tortures the Record Keeper, who confesses he helped Deacon in translating the Vampire Bible’s prophecy.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia:  The film was never released in cinemas, but it passed for a VCD release and a delayed DVD release.

Pearl the Fat Vampire – Blade (original)” uploaded by Sean Field, 2010, Standard YouTube license

The Blue Kite (aka Lan feng zheng, 1993)


This film, directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, shows the perspective of a young boy, Tieto, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing, China. The film is organized into three episodes:  Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Tieto’s father works in a library and, while he goes to the bathroom, is selected by his colleagues as a “rightist” to report to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.

Where it was banned:

  • China:  For being “offensive” and overtly criticizing government policies. The film was also smuggled out of China for final editing and not submitted to the China’s Central Film Bureau for post-production approval. Its director received a 10-year ban from making films.

The Blue Kite film review” uploaded by jabarbadi, 2009, Standard YouTube license

Brief Encounter (1945)


A classic romantic drama about an ordinary English wife and mother (Celia Johnson) and an ordinary English husband and father (Trevor Howard) who meet one day by chance and fall in love. The woman stops by the Boots Lending Library on her weekly shopping trip.

Read here for my analysis post for Brief Encounter.

Where it was banned:

  • Ireland:  The film was considered “too permissive of adultery”
Screenshot of Boots Lending Library and librarian in 'Brief Encounter' (1945)

Screenshot of Boots Lending Library and librarian in ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945)

Note:  As I mentioned in my analysis post for Brief Encounter, when she picks up her book at the Boots Lending Library, she states that “Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.” Kate O’Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright (1897-1974), who explored gay/lesbian themes in several of her works. Some of her work was quite controversial, as two of her books were banned in her native Ireland. Just like this film!

Carrie (1976)


A supernatural horror film directed by Brian De Palma and based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel. The film focuses on Carrie, a shy, bullied high school student who is also in the process of discovering her supernatural powers. In one scene, Carrie searches through her high school library looking for books on mental telepathy.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia:  This film was never shown in cinemas during its release. The ban lifted by 1996 with a VCD release from Warner-MGM Malaysia and with its out-of-print DVD release. Most other films based on or written by Stephen King have also been banned in Malaysia.

Carrie (1976) – Original Trailer” uploaded by Movies Fan, 2010, Standard YouTube license

Citizen Kane (1941)


A classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). A reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian.

Where it was banned:

  • United States:  The film was not technically banned, but newspaper magnate and publisher Willian Randolph Hearst — who was the inspiration for the film’s main character — ran a dirty campaign to try and suppress the film, which included efforts of intimidation, blackmail, negative articles, and even FBI investigations. The film finally premiered in the U.S. in May 1941.
  • Hungary:  As per a reader comment below:  “[I]n the documentary “Visions of Light,” cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond tells an interviewer that in Hungary “the movie played in theaters for just one week, then the [Communist] government pulled it.” He says the next chance to see it came years later, in a tiny screening room at a film school.”

Citizen.Kane.(1941).WMV” uploaded by deanxavier, 2008, Standard YouTube license

A Clockwork Orange (1971)


Sometime in the not-to-distant future, gangs of teenage thugs roam the streets and terrorize citizens. Alex, the leader of one of the gangs, is sent to prison, where there is, if I remember correctly, at least one scene is in the prison library. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!

Where it was banned:

  • Canada:  Provinces Alberta and Nova Scotia banned the film, but Alberta reversed the ban in 1999. The Maritime Film Classification Board has also reserved the ban, and both provinces have now granted an R rating to the film.
  • Ireland:  The film was banned due to its “extreme depictions of violence and rape.” The ban was lifted in 2000.
  • Singapore:  The film was banned for over 30 years. An unsuccessful attempt at releasing the ban was made in 2006, but the ban was not lifted until 2011, when the film was shown as part of the Perspectives Film Festival.
  • South Africa:  The film was banned under the apartheid regime for 13 years, then released with minor cuts and only available for people aged 21+.
  • South Korea:  The film was banned due to “depictions of violence and gang rape,” but the ban has since been lifted.
  • United Kingdom:  When the film was first released without cuts in the UK, it created a huge uproar because of its depiction of violence, and stories soon began circulating about “copycat” crimes. Kubrick also allegedly received death threats against his family. The film was then withdrawn from the UK for 27 years. The film returned to British screens in 2000, after director Kubrick’s death in 1999.
  • United States:  The film was not banned in the U.S., but Kubrick was forced to cut 30 seconds of the film to transition from an X rating to an R rating.

A Clockwork Orange (1975) Official Trailer – Stanley Kubrick Movie” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2014, Standard YouTube license

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)


WWII propaganda film about a G-Man (Edward G. Robinson) who investigates a Nazi spy ring in the United States. There is a brief but important scene in the New York Public Library’s periodicals room.

Read here for my detailed analysis post of Confessions of a Nazi Spy.

Where it was banned:

  • Nazi Germany:  Banned by Adolf Hitler because it was the first anti-Nazi movie made in Hollywood. Hitler also banned all Warner Bros. films and reportedly planned to execute the makers of this film upon winning the war. This film was not publicly screened in Germany until 1977.
Reel Librarians | 'Confessions of a Nazi Spy' screenshot

Screenshot of NYPL periodicals librarian in ‘Confessions of a Nazi Spy’ (1939)

The Da Vinci Code (2006)


An adaptation of the controversial Dan Brown adventure and mystery thriller involving a murder in the Louvre and a quest to find the Holy Grail. In the book, the main character, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is a historian, and goes to a library for research. I need to rewatch the film, but if I remember correctly, that library scene was changed to a Google search on Langdon’s cell phone. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!

Where it was banned:

  • China:  It was withdrawn from cinemas three weeks after the film’s release for “blasphemous content” and political reasons for upsetting Catholics in China.
  • Egypt:  “Blasphemous content”
  • India:  Banned in several states in India, includingPunjab, Goa, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, for its “perceived anti-Christian message.”
  • Jordan:  “Blasphemous content”
  • Lebanon:  “Blasphemous content”
  • Malaysia
  • Pakistan:  Banned due to protest by the Christian community in Pakistan, due to “blasphemous content”
  • Philippines:  “Blasphemous content”
  • Samoa:  The film was banned outright after church leaders watching a pre-release showing filed a complaint with film censors. This banned included local television stations in Samoa, as well as the country’s only cinema. The government censorship office also prohibited the sale or rental of future VHS and DVD versions of the film.
  • Solomon Islands:  Banned by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who states that the film “undermines the very roots of Christianity in Solomon Islands.”

The Da Vinci Code (2006) Official Trailer 1 – Tom Hanks Movie” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2017, Standard YouTube license

Elephant (2003)


A drama edited, written, and directed by Gus Van Sant, chronicling the events surrounding a school shooting, based in part on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. There are a few scenes in the school library, including a school librarian and a student library worker.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

Elephant (Library Scene)” uploaded by atqmen, 2015, Standard YouTube License

Ghostbusters (2016)


An all-female reboot of the classic film. There is a library scene featured in the film’s trailer, but I have not been able to watch this film yet to determine if it’s a reel librarian or not.

Read here for my analysis of the film’s trailer.

Where it was banned:

  • China:  Despite dropping the Chinese character for “ghost” from its Chinese title, the film was barred from premiering in the country.

GHOSTBUSTERS – Official Trailer (HD)” uploaded by Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2016, Standard YouTube License

The Girl Next Door (2004)


A romantic comedy about a high school senior who falls in love with the girl next door, before learning but that she is a former pornographic actress. At the end of the film, the main character breaks into the high school library to shoot a porn video.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

The Girl Next Door (Trailer)” uploaded by RaulElisha, 2009, Standard YouTube License 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012)


American version of the Swedish novel about a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who investigates the 40-year disappearance of a young woman. He is aided in his search by a punk investigator/computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Late in the film, Lisbeth researches records in a company’s archives, disgruntling an older archives librarian.

Read here for my detailed analysis post of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Where it was banned:

  • India:  The film was banned for its “adult scenes of rape and torture,” and director David Fincher refused to cut scenes demanded by the Central Board of Film Certification.
  • Vietnam:  It was banned because its international distributor, Sony Pictures, did not accept the requirement by the Vietnamese National Film Board to cut some sensitive scenes.
Lindgren the librarian in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)

Lindgren the librarian in ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)

Peeping Tom (aka Face of FearFotographer of Panic, 1960)


A young man (Carl Boehm) uses a handheld movie camera to film the dying expressions of girls he murders. Helen (Anna Massey) is a young woman who befriends him, and she reveals in one scene that she works at the public library.


  • Finland:  Banned for 21 years
  • United Kingdom:  This film was very controversial, blasted by critics, and pulled from theaters. Director Michael Powell’s career never recovered, although the film has subsequently earned critical praise.

Peeping Tom Trailer (1960) – Official” uploaded by MrHorrorTVNetwork, 2011, Standard YouTube License

The Reader (2008)


German-American film about Michael Berg, a German lawyer who, as a teenager in 1958, has an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-winning performance), who resurfaces years later in a war crimes trial about from her actions as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Hanna learns to read in the prison library and with the help of the prison librarian.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

‘The Reader’ Trailer” uploaded by Associated Press, 2009, Standard YouTube License

Sex and the City (2008)


Movie sequel to the HBO comedy series of the same name about four female friends in New York City: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). Carrie sees a wedding at the New York Public Library while returning a book, which inspires her to hold her upcoming wedding there, too.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

Sex And The City (2008) Official Trailer #1 – Sarah Jessica Parker Movie” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2014, Standard YouTube License

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)


In this modern classic, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy maintains his innocence and plots to escape. Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia:  For “depiction of cruelty, profanity, and violence.” It was later released on DVD.

Shawshank Redemption – Building Library Scene” uploaded by brownsuga1122, 2017, Standard YouTube License

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)


American horror-thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in two Oscar-winning roles. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer. In one scene, Clarice looks at newspapers on microfilm to learn more about Hannibal Lecter’s past. I need to rewatch it to doublecheck if this or other scenes include or mention a library or librarians.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

The Silence of the Lambs Official Trailer #1 – Anthony Hopkins Movie (1991) HD” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, Standard YouTube License

Sleeping with the Enemy (1990)


Sara Waters (Julia Roberts) fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband (Patrick Bergin), and he comes after her once he discovers the deception. When Sara relocates to a small town, she starts working at the public library.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

Sleeping with the Enemy | #TBT Trailer | 20th Century FOX” uploaded by 20th Century Fox, 2015, Standard YouTube License

Spotlight (2015)


Best Picture winner for 2015. Focuses on the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team of reporters who published a series of stories in 2002 about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. A few scenes and montages feature the Boston Globe news librarians and research methods of using church directories to track down priests.

Read here for my detailed analysis post of Spotlight.

Where it was banned:

  • Lebanon:  The film was technically not banned by the country’s government. Instead, the country’s film distributors made a collective decision to self-censor the film by not presenting it to the General Security censors, which kept the film from being shown in the country. The reason was due to the “sensitive” topic of the film, the topic of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Reel Librarians | Print collection of news library in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Boston Globe news library and librarian in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

The Ten (2007)


The film is comprised of ten stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. Chaper two, “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain,” stars Gretchen Mol as a librarian who experiences a sexual awakening in Mexico with a local man (Justin Theroux) who turns out to be Jesus Christ.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

The Ten (Official Trailer)” uploaded by FilmBuff Movies, 2010, Standard YouTube License

Have you seen any of these reel librarian movies that have been banned or suppressed? Are you inspired now to watch any of them? Does your library shine the spotlight on censorship during Banned Books Week?

Please leave a comment and share!


Dirks, Tim, “The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time,” AMC Filmsite, n.d.

Film Censorship in China,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Khalife, Leyal, “5 Films that were Banned in Lebanon Other than ‘Wonder Woman’,” Step Feed, 2017.

List of Banned Films,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in India,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in Malaysia,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in Pakistan,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in the United Kingdom,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Pillai, Shruti, “17 International Films that Were Banned In India By The Censor Board,” Scoop Whoop, 2016.

Robertson, Victoria, “15 Controversial Movies that have been Banned Around the World.” Screen Rant, 2015.

Sabelhaus, Clare, “Top 10 Movies that have been Banned Around the World,” Listverse, 2017.


Reel librarians by the numbers + through the decades

This is a post inspired by the comment posed by longtime reader Michael of the Century Film Project site. He left a short comment on my call for reader questions and ideas that contained 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!

Two weeks ago, I detailed the earliest reel librarian portrayals I’ve been able to come across so far, and last week, I detailed the earliest portrayals for each character type category.

Calculator photo by edar is licensed under CC0

As I prepared those posts, I made notes of the number of films for each decade per class, so I thought I’d share those totals here in this follow-up post and in the table below.

As a quick reminder, here are the brief descriptions for each class category of reel librarian films:

  • Class I:  Films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot.
  • Class II:  Films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.
  • Class III:  Films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
  • Class IV:  Films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

Class I

Class II

Class III

Class IV

Decade Totals


0 1 0 0 1


4 1 3 2 10


4 2 12 1 19


3 4 4 1 12


6 6 10 3 25


2 4 7 3 16


5 8 18 14 45


10 9 22 27 68


7 7 24 12 50


2 2 5 4 13

Class Totals

43 44 105 67 259

Please note that the above table is a snapshot, by decade, of the 259 films I have seen and analyzed thus far. This is not a reflection of every reel librarian film that exists, or those I have identified thus far on my Master List.

Looking at the totals by this angle, I am most surprised by how many 1990s reel librarians I have identified and analyzed thus far. In general, I have watched more recent films than older films. This might be partly explained by the fact that it’s simply easier to get copies of newer films and more difficult to get copies of older films.

I am not surprised that Class III, filled with supporting characters, garners the most reel librarian portrayals for all but one decade (the 1930s).

If you love numbers, then I also broke down more numbers of the Master List I’ve compiled thus far, and more, here in this “Revisiting reel librarian totals” post.

Stay tuned for next week…

Next week, I will be begin celebrating the 6th year anniversary of Reel Librarians — and I will be hosting a special giveaway for readers!

Earliest reel librarians in different character type categories, reader question follow-up

I am following up on another reader question from my call for reader questions and ideas, a question posed by longtime reader Michael of the Century Film Project site. He left a short comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including this one:

I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found…  first “liberated” librarian, first instance of each character type…

I cross-referenced my reel substance lists with my character types section to answer this reader query.

Spinster Librarian

The “Spinster Librarian” is arguably the most stereotypical female librarian image. This character type includes “old maid” librarians who are uptight and sexually undesirable (or at least, seen as asexual).

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across is in 1936’s Cain and Mabel. In this film, Clark Gable plays a prizefighter who falls in love with a struggling Broadway actress (Marion Davies). In one scene, they meet at the library to plan their elopement and startle a couple of librarians — one of whom is Lillian Lawrence in an uncredited role!

Interesting that, although her role was uncredited, Lawrence made it onto one of the “lobby cards” use in the film’s marketing:

Reel Librarians | Lobby card for 'Cain and Mabel' (1936) showcasing the library scene

Lobby card for ‘Cain and Mabel’ (1936) showcasing the library scene

Anti-Social Librarian

The “Anti-Social Librarian” character type serves as essentially the male equivalent of the “Spinster Librarian.” This character type hoards knowledge and is a supporting or minor character rarely seen outside the library.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Ian Wolfe as Mr. Wilkes in 1939’s Fast and Loose, a comedic mystery involving a stolen manuscript, rare books, and a collector’s private library. Ian Wolfe’s role fulfills both the “Anti-Social Librarian” and “Male Librarian as Failure” character types. But Wolfe’s role is so small that it doesn’t even make the film’s trailer!

Spirited Young Girl

The “Spirited Young Girl” character type describes a young girl who works in the library — only a temporary job — and usually meets the leading man while working. These tend to be more substantial roles.

Claire Windsor as Amelia Briggs in 'The Blot' (1921)

Claire Windsor as Amelia Briggs in ‘The Blot’ (1921)

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Claire Windsor as Amelia Griggs in 1921’s The Blot. In this silent film, Amelia is courted by both a wealthy young man and a poor minister. Her family is poor, but her librarian’s salary makes no difference in her family’s finances.

See here for an analysis post of The Blot I wrote a few years ago.

Male Librarian as Failure

The “Male Librarian as Failure” character type is suggestive of flaws in library:  only “failures” would choose to—or resort to—work in a library. Sometimes, this failure is used as a pretense or social construct (e.g. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold).

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Ian Wolfe as Mr. Wilkes in 1939’s Fast and Loose, a comedic mystery involving a stolen manuscript, rare books, and a collector’s private library. Ian Wolfe’s role fulfills both the “Anti-Social Librarian” and “Male Librarian as Failure” character types. (See above for the film’s original theatrical trailer.)

Liberated Librarian

The “Liberated Librarian” female character type denotes a trapped and/or naïve woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—with the help of a man or in face of an adventure/disaster.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu Smith in 1932’s Forbidden:  Lulu quits her librarian job in the film’s first five minutes, setting off to Havana and adventure.

You can view the opening library scene here on the TCM site.

Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu in 'Forbidden' (1932)

Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu in ‘Forbidden’ (1932)

The “Liberated Librarian” male character type seems initially similar to the “Male Librarian as Failure” type — but eventually breaks free (often at the very end of the film). They usually need outside force or action to instigate the “liberation.”

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Anthony Allan as Phil Sergeant in 1939’s Fast and Loose:  Sergeant is a rare book dealer who became a private librarian — and finds himself involved in a mystery and reunited with his former mentor!

For each “Liberated Librarian,” the liberation can be positive or negative, and they are usually substantial roles, with the librarian’s “liberation” often serving as the film’s major plot.

Naughty Librarian

The “Naughty Librarian” female character type describes a flirtatious or sexually charged librarian who often engages in violent (or otherwise criminal behavior) when her love or sexual desires go unfulfilled or are repressed. Sometimes, these characters are quiet when working in the library and then “let their hair down” after work.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Sarah Selby as Miss Gottschalk in 1943’s The Seventh Victim. She gives away confidential patron records in exchange for a flirtatious interlude with Jason Hoag (Erford Gage), a book clerk by day and poet by night. Naughty Librarians tend to be major characters; however, Miss Gottschalk’s character is a minor character in only one (but pivotal) scene. She is also a mild-mannered “Naughty Librarian” compared with later portrayals (e.g. the serial killer librarian in 1990’s Personal Ads), but she does engage in unethical behavior for the sake of her desires.

Read my analysis post of The Seventh Victim here in this post — the film also serves as the first horror film featuring a reel librarian!

Miss Gottschalk as Sarah Shelby in 'The Seventh Victim' (1943)

Miss Gottschalk as Sarah Shelby in ‘The Seventh Victim’ (1943)

The “Naughty Librarian” male character type is a sexually charged male librarian — focused on sex rather than a diluted vision of love — who is usually unsuccessful professionally.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Laurence Payne as Edgar Marsh in 1960’s The Tell-Tale Heart. He also engages in violent behavior when his sexual desires go unfulfilled!

Read more about this adaptation in my analysis post of The Tell-Tale Heart.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Screenshot from ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ (1960)

Information Provider

The “Information Provider” character type, male or female, provides information — or sometimes, misinformation — to a character, or to the audience. This includes establishing the library setting, highlighting rules, and occupational tasks, like shelving, stamping, pushing book carts, checking out books, answering a reference question, closing up, etc. These characters tend to be supporting or minor characters.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far are:

  • An uncredited female in 1921’s The Blot, who works with one of the film’s leads, Claire Windsor. In the screenshot below, you can see a glimpse of her answering the telephone. Read more about her role and the film here in my analysis post of the film.
An uncredited librarian in 'The Blot' (1921)

An uncredited librarian in ‘The Blot’ (1921)

Opening library scene in 'Forbidden' (1932)

Opening library scene in ‘Forbidden’ (1932)

Comic Relief

The “Comic Relief” characters are usually the target of jokes. These are the crudest portrayal of librarians and usually supporting or minor characters.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far are:

  • Harry C. Bradley in an uncredited role in 1936’s Cain and Mabel.
  • Hilda Plowright as the Quaker Librarian in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story (1940). The audience is invited, along with Jimmy Stewart, to make fun of the Quaker Librarian’s “thee’s” and “thou’s.” Read my analysis post of The Philadelphia Story here.
Reel Librarians | The shushing librarian in 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

The shushing librarian in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940)

Thanks again, Michael, and I’ll be back next week with one more follow-up post inspired by your comments and ideas! 😀

Earliest reel librarians I’ve come across, 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 longtime reader Michael, who has his own awesome film site, Century Film Project. He left a short comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including:

I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found: first reel librarian you’ve found so far… maybe first of each class of reel librarian as well!

I have written 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.

So to answer this question, I went back through my Reel Substance section, Classes I through IV, and noted the earliest reel librarian films I’ve come across in each category in order to build my list of the first and earliest reel librarians I’ve found thus far.

The Blot — 1921 (Class II)

This is the earliest reel librarian film and portrayal I’ve come across. And it’s a reel librarian in a major role! In this silent film, a young librarian, Amelia (Claire Windsor), is courted by a wealthy young man and a poor minister. The film was also directed by a well-known woman director of the time, Lois Weber.

See here for an analysis post of The Blot I wrote a few years ago. And you catch the tiniest glimpse of the library scene at the end of the clip below.

Forbidden — Jan. 1932 (Class I)

The second earliest reel librarian film I’ve come across — and another major reel librarian character! Barbara Stanwyck pays Lulu, a lonely and idealistic young librarian. She quits her library job within the film’s first 5 minutes and sets sail for Havana, where she becomes romantically involved with an older man (Adolphe Menjou). Romantic melodrama ensues: the plot includes an illegitimate child, a lifelong adulterous affair, murder, and a deathbed pardon!

No Man of Her Own — Dec. 1932 (Class I)

Another major reel librarian character! In this drama, Carole Lombard plays a young librarian in a small town. A con artist and gambler (Clark Gable) goes to the small town in order to escape prosecution, and OF COURSE he falls in love with the young librarian. A few scenes are set in the library, including one in which Gable looks up Lombard’s skirt while she shelves books!

The Good Companions — 1933 (Class IV)

Three wayward souls find their way to a variety troupe called the “Dinky Doos” — thankfully, they change the name straightaway to “The Good Companions,” hence the film’s title. A brief library scene with a male librarian serves as cinema’s first “Shush!” from a reel librarian.

See here for an analysis post of The Good Companions that I wrote a few years ago.

Cain and Mabel — 1936 (Class III)

Another early reel librarian film starring Clark Gable! In this film, he plays a prizefighter who falls in love with a struggling Broadway actress (Marion Davies). In one scene, they meet at the library to plan their elopement and startle a couple of librarians.

And here are the remainder of the reel librarian films from the 1930s decade:

Thanks again, Michael, and I’ll be back next week with another follow-up inspired by your comment! 😀

Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

Last week, in response to a reader question, I delved into researching “literary librarians,” reel librarians who are also writers (creative or non-fiction). I also updated that same post a few days ago, adding two extra examples!

While researching writer-librarians, I also took note of other notable and interesting occupations that reel librarians have dabbled in, including former occupations as well as future vocations they are studying for. (Are they dabbling in other occupations, or is it the other way around — is librarianship the “side occupation”?!)

"Job search" graphic by geralt is licensed under Public Domain CC0

Here are my thoughts regarding the significance of additional occupations — past, current, or future — for reel librarians:

  • A dual occupation for a reel librarian provides extra depth for a character and serves as a shortcut to establishing the audience’s trust in a reel librarian’s expertise or experience in a specific field or topic. This is also true of a former occupation for a reel librarian.
  • It is also socially reflective of how often librarians in real life take up librarianship as a second career. This often enriches the profession, as older professionals then are able to apply their former job skills in the context of librarianship and research. (For example, read this post for an in-depth profile of a real-life adventurer librarian, Bill Nikolai, who was an actor and stand-in and studied to be a librarian later in life. He also continues to act on the side!)
  • A reel librarian character studying to be “something else” is a hallmark of the Liberated Librarian and Spirited Young Girl librarian character types. Having a future occupation demonstrates that they’re not really serious or committed to being a librarian, but working in a library is a useful, or practical, job that enables them time to study and prepare for their “real” vocation down the line.

Below is an alphabeted list of other occupations for reel librarians that I’ve come across, along with the related films and characters. A different kind of “job search,” if you will… 😀


  • The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014):  Jess Weixler plays Katy, Eleanor’s sister, who manages the periodicals at a public library. We learn in one scene in the Her version of the film that she used to be an actress.
  • Scream 3 (2000):  The third in the Scream trilogy, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to help solve murders on the set of Stab 3. Reporter Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) and the actress playing Gail in the film (Parker Posey) look up information about Sidney’s mother in the film studio’s archives. Carrie Fisher makes a brief—but memorable—appearance as the failed movie actress-turned-archivist who knows every face in the files.

Amateur detective

Side notes:  I’ve also written in this post about how I think Nancy Drew, perhaps the most famous amateur detective of them all, would have been an awesome librarian. And I’ve written here in this follow-up post about the crossovers in skills between librarians and private investigators.


  • Major League (1989):  In this comedy, Rene Russo plays Lynn, a former athlete and the ex-wife of catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger). We learn that she was an alternate for the Olympics in the 200 individual medley swimming competition.

Armed services/intelligence/spy

  • Flight of the Intruder (1991):  In one short scene in this action drama, a young officer in the ship’s library allows another young officer to check out a non-circulating issue of National Geographic that contains maps of North Vietnam.
  • Goodbye, Columbus (1969):  Richard Benjamin plays a man who, after getting out of the Army, finds work as a clerk at a public library in the Bronx. He has a summer romance with a privileged “Jewish-American princess” (Ali MacGraw), and their affair highlights how different their worlds are.
  • The House on Carroll Street (1988):  In this drama, a woman (Kelly McGillis) is fired after refusing to give names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. There is a brief scene at the FBI headquarters, which includes an FBI librarian handling a microfilm projector and equipment.
  • RED (2010):  In this comedy-action film, retired but extremely dangerous (“RED”) agents team up against people trying to kill them. In one of his final roles, Ernest Borgnine pays Henry, the CIA records keeper.
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965):  British spy Alec Leamus (Richard Burton) pretends to quit the Secret Service and defect to the Communists. As part of his cover as a failed spy, he starts work as a librarian at the Institute of Psychical Research. Another librarian, Nan (Claire Bloom), befriends him and joins in his defection.


  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994):  Young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. While he maintains his innocence and plots to escape, Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and eventually transforms the library into a true center of learning.

Beauty pageant contestant

  • Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999):  In this pitch-black comedy about a local beauty pageant, there are a couple of brief, memorable scenes with the reel librarian, who we learn was a beauty pageant winner in the 1940s — she had to melt her crown for the war effort!

Civil service

  • The Wicker Man (1973):  In this cult film, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) investigates the apparent disappearance of a girl on a remote island. In one scene, Howie visits the registrar’s office, and the woman in the office (played by Ingrid Pitt) reluctantly complies. Later, he searches for the missing girl and enters a house’s bathroom — the woman from the Registrar’s office is in a half-tub of water, naked, with her hair loosely pinned up. There is also a brief scene actually in the public library, but Ingrid Pitt does not appear in that scene. The credits list Ingrid Pitt’s role as “The Librarian” — and she has given many interviews stating that she played the “nymphomaniac librarian” — even though she is only seen onscreen working in the Registrar’s office.


  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950):  Sam Jaffe, in an Oscar-nominated performance, plays an ex-convict who became an assistant librarian in prison. After getting out, he immediately joins a criminal gang in order to plan a big jewelry heist.
  • Bookies (2003):  Johnny Galecki plays a student library employee who also helps run an illegal bookmaking business in his dorm room. He even uses the library as the drop-off spot for bets!
  • Bound by Honor, aka Blood In, Blood Out… Bound by Honor (1993):  In this drama, Damian Chapa Miklo plays Chapa, who belongs to the “Vatos Locos” gang. When Chapa gets sent to prison for the second time, he gets assigned to work in the law library.
  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979):  A group of inmates plan an escape from the prison on the island of Alcatraz. In one scene, Clint Eastwood delivers books to prisoners, and he becomes friends with the prison librarian (Paul Benjamin), another inmate who has been in prison a long time for a violent crime.
  • You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939):  Billy Halop plays Johnnie Stone, a young man who gets in over his head by helping Frank (Humphrey Bogart) on a couple of jobs — and gets thrown in prison along with Frank for his efforts. Johnnie starts to work at the prison library and becomes friends with the old timer who runs the prison library.

Doctor/medical services

  • Men of Honor (2000):  Based on the true story of the first African American U.S. Navy diver Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Carl goes to the local library for tutoring assistance, and a young library assistant, Jo (Aunjanue Ellis), helps him. We learn that Jo is studying to be a doctor while she works at the library.
  • The Ring (2002):  In this thriller, Naomi Watts plays Rachel, a reporter who investigates the death of her niece and a mysterious videotape that kills anyone who watches it. In one scene, Rachel’s ex (Martin Henderson) asks to see session tapes at a mental hospital, receiving help from the hospital archivist and library clerk.


  • Primary Colors (1998):  A fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy. The film begins with Jack Stanton (John Travolta) visiting an urban school that provides adult literacy classes, and he introduces the “very special librarian,” Miss Walsh, a klutzy but dedicated teacher and school librarian. She is later described as a “teacher AND a librarian” who serves on the regional board of the Teachers Union.
  • Soylent Green (1973):  Edward G. Robinson, in his final film performance, plays Sol, a “Police Book” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn (Charlton Heston). In one scene, we learn that Sol was “was a teacher once, a full professor, a respected man.”
  • Twisted Nerve (1968):  Hayley Mills plays Susan Harper, a young library assistant studying to be a teacher. She becomes the object of obsession by a troubled young man.
  • The War of the Worlds (1953):  Ann Robinson plays the female lead, Sylvia Van Buren, who teams up with the hero-scientist (Gene Barry) in order to defeat the aliens who have invaded the planet. We learn that she teaches library science courses.


  • From a Whisper to a Scream, aka The Offspring (1987):  In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his last roles) retells four horror stories — stories about the town’s “long history of violence” — to a nosy reporter (Susan Tyrrell).
  • The Mummy (1999) and its sequels:  Rachel Weisz originated the role of reel librarian Evelyn Carnahan, who is also an Egyptologist and reads and writes Ancient Egyptian. Very useful dual occupation, for the purposes of plot! (But of course, she famously identifies primarily as a librarian:  “I am proud of what I am…. I am a librarian!”)


  • Love Story (1970):  Ali MacGraw plays a college music major who also works as a library assistant at the Radcliffe library. After meeting, falling in love with, and marrying a Harvard law student and jock (Ryan O’Neal), she tutors music at a private school.


  • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002):  The second prequel in the Star Wars saga. In one short scene, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) cannot find any information about a mysterious planet at the Jedi Archives, and the librarian insists that “if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” We know she’s also a Jedi because of the light saber swinging on her hip!

Party girl

  • Party Girl (1995):  Parker Posey plays the title role of a New York party girl, which was a full-time job for her… until she has to work as a library clerk to repay a loan from her godmother. She discovers her future career choice (“I want to be a librarian!”) after learning the Dewey Decimal system one wild night at the library. 😉

Serial killer

An extra level up the crime scale….

  • All About Evil (2010):  Natasha Lyonne plays a “mousey librarian” discovers her inner serial killer — in this case, after she inherits a movie house.
  • Chainsaw Sally (2004):  A librarian by day, a serial killer by night. ‘Nuff said.
  • Personals (TV, 1990):  Another librarian by day, a killer by night! Jennifer O’Neill plays a librarian who finds men through newspaper personal ads and kills them on the first date.


Looking for writer-librarians? Check out last week’s post!

I am positive there are many more examples and/or occupations that I missed… can you add more to this list? Please leave a comment and share!