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

1920s

0 1 0 0 1

1930s

4 1 3 2 10

1940s

4 2 12 1 19

1950s

3 4 4 1 12

1960s

6 6 10 3 25

1970s

2 4 7 3 16

1980s

5 8 18 14 45

1990s

10 9 22 27 68

2000s

7 7 24 12 50

2010s

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!

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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… 😀


Actor

  • 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.


Athlete

  • 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.

Banker

  • 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.

Crime/gangs

  • 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.

Educator/teacher

  • 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.

Historian

  • 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!”)

Musician

  • 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.

Jedi

  • 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.

Writer:

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!

Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

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

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

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

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


Reel librarians as writers, scribes, and translators


Before Night Falls (2000)

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

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

Blade (1998)

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

Ever After (1998)

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

Reel Librarians: Ever After monastery library

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

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

UPDATES (8/14/17):

The Name of the Rose (1986)

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

This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

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

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


Introducing others to literature


Borstal Boy (2000)

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

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

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


Interacting with writers


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

Wonder Man (1945)

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

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

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

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

Possession (2002)

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


Related occupations or education


Fast and Loose (1939)

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

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

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

Rome Adventure (1962)

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

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


Booksellers misidentified as reel librarians


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

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

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

The Final Cut (2004)

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

Night at the Museum (2006)

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

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

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

Red Dragon (2002)

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

Sitting Pretty (1948)

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


Summing up


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

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


More questions? No problem!


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

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