Librarians of Congress

After last week’s post analyzing the reel librarians featured in All the President’s Men (1976), including two library clerks who worked at the Library of Congress, I was inspired to dig into the history of our own Librarians of Congress.

What is the Library of Congress, and when was it established?

Before we even get into the Librarians of Congress, first we need to know what the Library of Congress actually is. The Library of Congress — referred to by librarians as either “LOC” or “LC” for short — is a research library that was established primarily to serve the United States Congress. It is considered the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, as well as the largest library in the world. It is also considered the de facto national library of the United States, but that took quite a long time to develop!

Library of Congress Reading Room

Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress in the Thomas Jefferson Building (image in the public domain)

1783:

  • James Madison is credited with the initial idea of a congressional library

1800:

  • President John Adams signed an act of Congress providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington
  • Part of that legislation appropriated funds for a collection of books for the expressed use of Congress
  • The first “Library of Congress” collection consisted of 740 books and 3 maps, all bought from London

1814:

  • The Library of Congress had a collection of 3,000 volumes
  • The War of 1812 led to the burning of the capitol building, and the library’s original collection was destroyed by fire.

1815:

  • Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of over 6,500 volumes to Congress, to help rebuild the Library of Congress.

1897:

  • New headquarters were established in the building we now refer to as the “Thomas Jefferson Building” and its iconic circular “Reading Room”
  • With over 840,000 volumes, the Library of Congress became known as the largest library in the United States
  • Much of this expansion of its holdings and influence is thanks to then-Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford, whose ultimate goal was to turn the Library of Congress into a de facto national library. His progressive policies, from 1865-1897, included:
    • collecting Americana and American literature
    • regulating copyright registration and putting that back under the purview of the Library of Congress
    • acquiring the Smithsonian libraries
    • restoring the Library’s international book exchange

Was the “Librarian of Congress” position established at the same time as the Library of Congress itself?

No, it wasn’t until 1802 — two years after the Library of Congress was officially established under President John Adams — that President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill that provided the basic structure for the position. This bill allowed the president to appoint an “overseer” of the Library of Congress and established a Joint Committee in Congress to help regulate the Library (basically, the means to keep funding it!).

This structure is still largely in place today, with the President appointing a nominee for Librarian of Congress. It was not until 1897, however, that this presidential nomination required Senate approval (“advice and consent”). This requirement elevated the profile and importance of the position.

There were also no term limits originally for the “overseer” — AKA the “Librarian of Congress” — essentially making the position a lifetime appointment. It wasn’t until 2015 that President Barack Obama signed into law the “Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015,” which put a 10-year term limit on the position with an option for reappointment.

How many Librarians of Congress have actually been librarians?

By the term “librarian,” I am referring to the modern definition of a librarian as an information professional with a degree in Library Science or related field (e.g. Information Science).

The answer of how many Librarians of Congress have actually been librarians is more complicated than I expected. Including the current one and dating back to 1802, there have only been 14 official Librarians of Congress in total. There was also an Acting Librarian of Congress, who served inbetween the 13th and 14th appointees, from 2015-2016.

Librarians of Congress… Out of 14 official Librarians of Congress, 1802-2017 Including the Acting Librarian of Congress, 2015-2016
… with advanced education and/or degrees 14 15
… with library science degrees 2 3
… with library experience prior to working at the Library of Congress  3 4
… who were white males 13 13
… who were/are female (reflecting 75-80% of the librarian workforce in the U.S.) 1 1
… who are librarians of color 1 2

One caveat: Library science as a science and educational degree in the United States was not established until 1887, the year that Melvil Dewey founded the world’s first library school at Columbia College, now Columbia University, in New York (after first proposing the idea in 1883). It is for this reason that Dewey is often referred to in the U.S. as the “Father of Modern Librarianship.” 1889 marked the year of the first graduating class from Columbia.

So if we take the year 1889 as the starting point for the possibility of having “actual librarians” and compare that with the historical list of Librarians of Congress, that would reduce the list of possibles to 8 (or 9, if you count the Acting Librarian of Congress from 2015-2016). And then counting from that list those who have been actual librarians, it brings the percentage up to 25% (2 of 8), or 33% (3 of 9) if you count the Acting Librarian. That’s still a very low percentage of Librarians of Congress being professionally trained and educated librarians.

Who is the current Librarian of Congress?

Carla Hayden is our current and 14th Librarian of Congress, becoming the first woman and the first African American to lead our national library. She received her master’s and doctorate degrees in Library Science from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. I believe that also makes her the first Librarian of Congress to have earned a doctorate in library science!

Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress (2016- )

Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress (2016- )

Her librarian experience is deep and varied:

  • 1973-1982:  Children’s librarian and then young adult services coordinator at Chicago Public Library
  • 1982-1987:  Library services coordinator for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry
  • 1987-1991:  Assistant Professor of Library Science at the University of Pittsburgh
  • 1991 to 1993:  Deputy commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library
  • 1993-2016:  Director at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland
    • 2003-2004:  President of the American Library Association (ALA)

I earned my own library science degree in 2003, just a few weeks before Carla Hayden became ALA President. Her theme during her ALA Presidency was “Equity of Access,” and she has continued to be an outspoken voice for librarian advocacy. When she was named Ms. Magazine‘s 2003 Woman of the Year, she stated in her interview:

Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted, and they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.

In a subsequent article in Ms. Magazine in 2016, Hayden stated:

(Librarians) are activists, engaged in the social work aspect of librarianship. Now we are fighters for freedom.

Carla Hayden is also active on Twitter, via the Library of Congress Twitter account!

Who were the previous Librarians of Congress?

All of the previous Librarians of Congress have in common a couple of visual traits:  white and male. They were all also highly educated. Here’s a look at the Previous Librarians of Congress page from the Library of Congress website:

Previous Librarians of Congress, 1802-2015

I have compiled a list below of the previous Librarians of Congress, which includes the time period in which they served in that role, their previous professions, and items of note during their tenure.

 1. John J. Beckley (1802–1807)

  • Former American political campaign manager
  • Served concurrently as Librarian of Congress and as Clerk of the House of Representatives until his death in 1807
  • Oversaw the creation of the first “Library of Congress” collection, consisting of 740 books and 3 maps

2. Patrick Magruder (1807–1815)

  • Lawyer
  • Also served concurrently as Librarian of Congress and as Clerk of the House of Representatives
  • After the War of 1812 and the destruction of the Library’s collection, he resigned after an investigation by Congress into the destruction of the Library and the use of Library funds

3. George Watterston (1815–1829)

  • Former lawyer and newspaper editor
  • The first full-time Librarian of Congress (the position was separated from the Clerk of the House of Representatives in 1815) — and therefore sometimes referred to as the first true “Librarian of Congress”
  • Oversaw the restoration of the Library’s collection and the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of books
  • Published the Library’s first public catalog of its holdings — and was criticized by Congress for doing so, due to its expense!
  • Strong advocate for expansion of the Library and lobbied successfully for additional staff, naming an Assistant Librarian in 1828
  • Opposed the election of President Andrew Jackson and was subsequently replaced

4. John Silva Meehan (1829–1861)

  • Printer and publisher
  • During his tenure, several of the Library’s functions were transferred to other government agencies, thus weakening the role and purpose of the Library of Congress (public document distribution activities to the Department of the Interior; international book exchange program to the Department of State; depository of copyrighted books to the Patent Office)
  • During his entire tenure, the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library — not the Librarian of Congress! — selected the books for the Library’s collection
  • Served under 9 U.S. Presidents

5. John Gould Stephenson (1861–1864)

  • Physician and soldier
  • During his tenure, also served as physician for the Union Army during the Civil War

6. Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864–1897)

  • Journalist and publisher
  • Served as Assistant Librarian to Stephenson
  • Progressive leadership that transformed the Library of Congress into a national institution that also served the American public
  • Oversaw the building of a new home for the collection, creating a physical structure for the Library of Congress, separate from the Capitol building
  • Retired to become Chief Assistant Librarian under the next two Librarians of Congress, a position he held until his death in 1908

7. John Russell Young (1897–1899)

  • Journalist, author, and diplomat
  • Oversaw the physical move of the collection from the Capitol building to the new Library of Congress building
  • Served only two years, until his death in 1899

8. Herbert Putnam (1899–1939)

  • Former lawyer
  • Although he did not have a degree in library science (it was still a new degree), he was the first Librarian of Congress to have prior library experience, having served as Librarian of the Minneapolis Athenaeum (1884-87), the Minneapolis Public Library (1887-91), and the Boston Public Library (1895-99)
  • Longest-serving Librarian of Congress
  • Developed the Library of Congress Classification system, still in use today by the Library of Congress and academic libraries worldwide
  • Urged the creation of a second Library of Congress building; the John Adams Building opened in 1939
  • Upon his retirement, Putnam was made Librarian of Congress Emeritus

9. Archibald MacLeish (1939–1944)

  • Former lawyer but best known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer
  • Controversial appointment, which included a letter writing campaign by the American Library Association (ALA) against MacLeish’s nomination. Part of the reason the ALA opposed the appointment? The fact that he had not attended a professional school of library science and had no library experience!
  • Developed policies, procedures, and the first explicit statements of the institution’s goals and collection development criteria
  • Created a new program of resident fellowships for young scholars and the Fellows of the Library of Congress, a group of prominent writers and poets

10. Luther H. Evans (1945–1953)

  • Political scientist
  • Served under MacLeish as head of the Legislative Reference Service and later Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress
  • One of the few government officials to openly resist McCarthyism
  • Resigned from the Library to accept a position as UNESCO’s third Director General, the only American to hold this post

11. Lawrence Quincy Mumford (1954–1974)

  • Bachelor of Library Science degree at the School of Library Science, Columbia University
  • Served as librarian at New York Public Library (NYPL) and director of the Cleveland Public Library system
  • Married a librarian (!), Permelia Catherine Stevens, a children’s librarian for the NYPL system
  • Considered to be the first professionally trained and educated librarian to be appointed Librarian of Congress!
  • Oversaw the establishment of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for substantial and lasting contributions to literature for children
  • Implemented the construction of the James Madison Memorial Building (finished in 1980), which became the third Library of Congress building
  • Ushered the Library of Congress into the computer age, including establishing the Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) system, which is still in use today by library catalogers worldwide
  • Note:  It was during Mumford’s tenure that Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein sought help from Library of Congress clerks while beginning their investigation into the Watergate scandal.

12. Daniel J. Boorstin (1975–1987)

  • Rhodes Scholar, lawyer, and historian
  • Former director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History and Technology (today known as the National Museum of American History)
  • His nomination was also controversial, with the ALA opposing his nomination because “however distinguished [his background] may be, [it] does not include demonstrated leadership and administrative qualities which constitute basic and essential characteristics necessary in the Librarian of Congress.”
  • The first Librarian of Congress to take the oath of office at a formal ceremony in the Library itself
  • Instrumental in the creation of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress
  • Upon his retirement, was made Librarian of Congress Emeritus

13. James H. Billington (1987–2015)

  • Rhodes Scholar and academic who taught history at Princeton and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Oversaw the creation of a massive new Library of Congress online, including the American Memory site in 1990, which became The National Digital Library site in 1994
  • Reconstructed Thomas Jefferson’s original library (a majority of the volumes had been destroyed by a fire in 1851) — I was lucky to see this exhibit personally and up close in 2010!
  • Created the National Book Festival, founded in 2000 with Laura Bush, herself a former school and public librarian

David S. Mao (2015-2016, Acting)

  • Earned a master’s degree in library and information science from The Catholic University of America
  • Law librarian experience, including at a private law firm and the Georgetown University Law Library
  • Joined the Library of Congress in 2005, hired by the American Law Division in the Congressional Research Service (CRS). In 2010, he joined the Law Library of Congress as its first Deputy Law Librarian, and then became the 23rd Law Librarian of Congress in 2012. In 2015, then-Librarian of Congress James Billington appointed him to the Deputy Librarian of Congress office.
  • Under his brief tenure as Acting Librarian of Congress, he brought to the Library a copy of the 1215 Magna Carta for a historic 800th anniversary exhibition

After researching the backgrounds and tenures of the previous and current Librarians of Congress, I have come away with a profound respect — and pride, both as a librarian and as an American! — for their collective contributions. The Library of Congress today is a respected institution worldwide, and it took a lot of work and leadership to get there!

Sources:

About the Librarian.” Library of Congress, n.d.

History of the Library.” Library of Congress, n.d.

Previous Librarians of Congress.” Library of Congress, n.d.

Librarian of Congress” article from Wikipedia is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Library of Congress” article from Wikipedia is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

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All the president’s librarians

As I featured last week, All the President’s Men (1976) is one of the few films featuring reel librarians that have been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. It also seemed timely to revisit this classic film, which follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), the scandal that eventually brought down President Nixon. The film closely follows its source material, Bernstein’s and Woodward’s book of the same title, published just two years earlier in 1974.

All the President's Men book and movie collage

All the President’s Men book and movie collage

When I first watched this film, I noted four reel librarian characters. After carefully rewatching it recently, I realized I was mistaken — there are actually FIVE reel librarians.

Let’s count ’em down, shall we?

Reel Librarian #1

Almost 25 minutes into the film, Bernstein flirts with interviews a former assistant to a Nixon administration staffer, who was paranoid about Ted Kennedy. The assistant reveals, “I remember seeing a book about Chappaquiddick on his desk. He was always getting material out of the White House Library and the Library of Congress. Anything he could find.

Cue the next scene, Bernstein on the phone to the White House library. This reel librarian is never seen, only heard, a female voice on the other end of the line. Let’s listen in to their conversation:

Bernstein:  This is Carl Bernstein, from the Washington Post. I was wondering if you can remember any books that a Howard Hunt checked out on Senator Kennedy?

White House librarian:  Howard Hunt? … Yes, I think I do remember. He took out a whole lot of material. Why don’t you hold on and I’ll see?

Bernstein:  I sure will. Thank you very much.

Reel Librarians | Bernstein calls the White House librarian in 'All the President's Men' (1976)

Bernstein calls the White House librarian in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

White House librarian:  Mr. Bernstein?

Bernstein:  Yes, ma’am?

White House librarian:  I was wrong. The truth is… I don’t have a card that says Mr. Hunt took any material. I, uh, I don’t remember getting material for… I do remember getting material for somebody, but it wasn’t Mr. Hunt. The truth is I didn’t have any requests at all from Mr. Hunt. The truth is, I don’t know any Mr. Hunt.

As seen in the collage above, Bernstein’s facial expressions reveal his investigative instincts, as his face goes from polite, distant interest to confusion to suspicion. He smells a rat. Why would a librarian lie?! Definitely something is up!

Bernstein immediately walks across the room to Woodward. This is how he describes the interaction: “I just got off the phone with the librarian. … Between the first and second quote there’s a complete contradiction… in a space of about five seconds.”

Woodward immediately calls the White House Communications office. While he’s waiting for a response, Woodward and Bernstein suss out the significance of what had just happened:

Reel Librarians | Bernstein and Woodward discuss notes in a scene from 'All the President's Men' (1976)

Bernstein and Woodward discuss notes in a scene from ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

Woodward:  This was all one conversation?

Bernstein:  First, “I think I got a bunch of books for Hunt.” Five seconds later, she says, “I don’t even known a Mr. Hunt.” It’s obvious someone got to her.

Woodward:  There’s not enough proof. If there was a piece of paper… that said Hunt was taking out books on Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. Like a library slip.

Bernstein:  He also took out from the Library of Congress. But what’s more important, somebody got to her in that space of time.

Woodward:  How do you know?

Bernstein:  Because she said that Hunt… there was a lot of books that Hunt checked out. Then she comes back and doesn’t even know him.

The White House Communications officer than calls back, stating that the librarian “denies that the conversation with Mr. Bernstein ever took place.

Bernstein’s succinct response? “Total bullshit.” AGREED.

Side note:  I have not been able to find out much at all about the White House Library, mainly that the library was established by 1853 by First Lady Abigail Fillmore and that the collection was expanded in the early 1960s in order to reflect “a full spectrum of American thought and tradition for the use of the President.” Also, the page about the White House Library on the current White House website has been removed.

This scene in the film is very similar to how it’s described in the book, on pages 31-33 of the original 1976 hardback edition. The White House librarian has no name in the film — and doesn’t even get a screen credit! — but she is named (and therefore shamed?) in the book, Jane F. Schleicher.

This scene with the first reel librarian lasts about three minutes in total.

Reel librarians #2 and #3

Immediately following the contradictory story from the White House press office, Woodward declares, “We’ve got to get something on paper.”

Next stop? The Library of Congress!

Reel Librarians | Woodward and Bernstein climb the steps of the Library of Congress

Woodward and Bernstein climb the steps of the Library of Congress

While at the iconic library building, the two reporters are immediately blocked by a sneering, dismissive, white Congress Library Clerk, played by James Murtaugh.

You want all the material requested by the White House? All White House transactions are confidential. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Reel Librarians | Woodward and Bernstein visit the Library of Congress

Woodward and Bernstein visit the Library of Congress

The reporters, however, remain undeterred. As they walk down a side hallway of the Library of Congress filled with columns, the two continue to strategize.

Reel Librarians | Woodward and Bernstein walk a column-lined hallway of the Library of Congress

Woodward and Bernstein walk a column-lined hallway of the Library of Congress

We need a sympathetic face.

We’re not going to find one here.

I can understand their lack of confidence in librarians, based on the two encounters they’ve had thus far. But they DO end up finding a friendly face while at the Library of Congress! Notice the differences in facial expressions below:

Reel Librarians | A contrast of two male librarians at the Library of Congress, in 'All the President's Men' (1976)

A contrast of two male librarians at the Library of Congress, in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

Jaye Stewart plays a character billed simply as “Male Librarian,” with as much screen time and as many lines as the previous seen Library of Congress clerk.

You want every request since when? [The answer is July of ’71] … I’m not sure you want ’em, but I’ve got ’em.

Cue the stacks of library card checkout slips!

Reel Librarians | Checkout slips from the Library of Congress

Checkout slips from the Library of Congress

As Bernstein and Woodward flip through seemingly endless checkout slips, director Alan J. Pakula cannot help but take advantage of the round Reading Room, slowly panning up so we can get a glorious bird’s-eye view of this iconic space.

Reel Librarians | A bird's-eye view of the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen in 'All the President's Men' (1976)

A bird’s-eye view of the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

Alas, all that work to go through the library checkout slips does not provide the information they want, to confirm if any White House staffer checked out books on Ted Kennedy.

Bernstein:  Maybe they pulled the cards. Maybe they changed the names.

Woodward:  Maybe there was a card there, and we missed it.

But not all is lost, as Woodward gets another idea for how to confirm the information.

Side note:  As a librarian, I cringed a little during this scene. I had conflicting emotions. Although I was so glad that at least ONE librarian on screen had a face described as “friendly,” it’s sooooooo not ethical to give out checkout slips or records without a court order. We do have an obligation to protect the privacy rights of our patrons.

The two reporters then write up the article, and they take it to editor Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning turn for Best Supporting Actor. He is unimpressed.

You haven’t got it. A librarian and a secretary saying Hunt looked at a book. That’s not good enough. […] Get some harder information next time.

Reel Librarians | Reporters discuss a story in 'All the President's Men' (1976)

Reporters discuss a story in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

The reporters, though disappointed, stay on the trail, which leads us next to two librarians at the Washington Post itself.

Reel librarian #4

Ten minutes later, at 41 minutes into the film, Bernstein is looking up newspaper article archives in the Washington Post library. We can just spot a male Post Librarian in the background, played by Ron Menchine, chatting away at a table.

Reel Librarians | Bernstein researches newspaper archives, while the Post librarian sits back and chats

Bernstein researches newspaper archives, while the Post librarian sits back and chats

The takeaway? Bernstein’s doing all the work while the reel librarian idles in the background. Reel librarian FAIL.

Can the fifth and final reel librarian help restore some shine to the profession?

Reel librarian #5

At 47 minutes into the film, Woodward is busy doing research in what appears to be the reference section of the Washington Post library. I spot several law books along the shelves.

A well-dressed woman walks into the frame, her back to the audience. We can see that she has long blonde hair and glasses resting on top of her head. Jamie Smith-Jackson plays the second Post Librarian seen in the film.

Reel Librarians | The second Post Librarian redeems the librarian profession, by providing a vital clue to Woodward, in 'All the President's Men' (1976)

The second Post Librarian redeems the librarian profession, by providing a vital clue to Woodward, in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

Post Librarian:  You’re the one that wanted the articles on Dahlberg, Kenneth H. Dalberg? Couldn’t find anything in the clip file at all.

Woodward:  Oh, wonderful. [sarcastic tone]

Post Librarian:  I did find one picture, though, if it’s any help.

And lo and behold, it DOES help! What the female Post Librarian digs up in that picture provides a vital clue — a man’s name that they can directly connect to a check involved in the Watergate Hotel arrests — that leads to the unraveling of the scandal. This scandal turns out to be much bigger than anyone suspected at first.

Reel Librarians | Connecting the research dots in 'All the President's Men' (1976)

Connecting the research dots in ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

I also loved that old-school research materials (phone books, newspaper clippings) and research methods (cross-checking indexes and noting proximity of page numbers) are key to solving the mystery. I was reminded of similar details and research highlighted in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

Reel Librarians | Doing research in the Washington Post library

Doing research in the Washington Post library

How important is the work that Bernstein and Woodward are doing? As their editor Bradlee states toward the end of the film, “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters.

The final score

Ultimately, how do these reel librarians matter to this story and to this film? I enjoyed how the film — again, closely following the source book material — rolled back to the beginning. But the story was so layered and so huge that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to decide where the beginning was. And the beginning point that mattered, that spurred all the resulting actions forward, went back to the research. Back to when their suspicions were first roused by a White House librarian who lied. Back to when they had to ask themselves, Who got to her? Why would a librarian lie about a book being checked out? After all, if a librarian was lying to them, WHO ELSE was lying to them? And that trail led all the way to the President of the United States.

The final tally for the 5 reel librarians from All the President’s Men? When it came to helpfulness to other characters, only 2 of the 5 librarians scored any points. But when it came to helpfulness to advancing the plot, 5 for 5. 🙂

The Oscar-nominated film lands in the Class III category, in which reel librarians are minor or supporting characters, and all 5 librarians fulfill the Information Provider role.


For more about Ted Kennedy and the Nixon administration’s paranoia — and more details about which book Hunt did check out from the Library of Congress — check out this article from the Daily Beast, “How Kennedy Brought Down Nixon.”

‘Spotlight’-ing a news library

Spotlight (2015), the Best Picture winner from this year’s Academy Awards, focuses on the Spotlight team of reporters who, in 2002, published a series of stories about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. Spotlight also won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and was nominated for four other Oscars.

The film’s spotlight (har har) is on the months of investigative reporting that led to the publication of the initial story in January 2002, as the reporters went from investigating one priest, John J. Geoghan, to uncovering a decades-long cover-up from the Catholic Church. That first story, which you can read here, led to hundreds more stories, across the United States and around the world, as the film’s closing cards reveal. It also led to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team, “for its courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Spotlight team was Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo, in an Oscar-nominated performance), Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (played by Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams, also an Oscar-nominated performance), and Matt Carroll (played by Brian d’Arcy James).

Fifteen minutes into the film, we get our first glimpse into the newspaper archives and library research team.

Reel Librarians | News librarian in 'Spotlight' (2015)

News librarian in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Spotlight news reporter Matt drops off an info request to Lisa Tuite, the head of the news library. Lisa (played by Michele Proude) is sitting behind a desk and typing on a computer, and you can see shelves and shelves of files and boxes in the background.

Matt:  Hey Lisa. Could you pull all the relevant clips on that for me?

Lisa:  Yeah. [looks at paper] Is this for Spotlight?

Matt:  Just drop them off when they’re ready? Thanks.

A few minutes later, at 22 minutes into the film, there is a series of quick cuts and closeups of a variety of research methods and materials, including microfilm, photographs, clipping files, and keyword searching in an online database.

Reel Librarians | Variety of news research materials and methods in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Variety of news research materials and methods in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

It’s clear that the news researchers are all women, and we see closeups of the hands and backs of the researchers, almost no faces. The focus, therefore, is not on the librarians and researchers — the focus is on the research itself.

Also, news flash:  Not all information is available on the internet! There’s still value in research the “old-fashioned” way.

We then see the initial results of all that research rolled, literally, into the Spotlight offices.

Reel Librarians | News research files in 'Spotlight' (2015)

News research files in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

The research librarians are curious about the story, too, but the reporters have been directed to be “more discreet than usual” on this story. After more folders get dropped off, the Spotlight team discuss some of the possible leads.

Robby:  How much longer you need to get through the clips?

Sacha:  I mean, a few days. There’s a lot. Lisa’s still sending up more.

There are folders and folders of clippings and articles stacked up on the reporters’ desks. The research library team is definitely delivering on their end, and it is clear that their research is vital in helping the reporters pinpoint names of both priests and victims, as well as follow up on a victims’ organization and support group.

It’s also clear that Lisa, as head of the library, is well-known and on a first-name basis with the entire Globe staff. At 49 mins into the film, Matt asks advice from Eileen MacNamara, the columnist who had initially written about the priest Geoghan.

Matt:  Hey Mac, if I wanted historical data on a priest and parishes he’d been assigned to, where would I find that?

Eileen: The Geoghan case? It’s all in the clips. Lisa has the source material.

In the very next scene, we see Lisa again, this time in what must be the print collection of the newspaper library and archives. We get a closeup of the multi-volume Catholic Encyclopedia and paperback copies of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory, all with spine labels of what looks to be Dewey Decimal call numbers in the 200’s. [And that is correct, Class 200 in the Dewey Decimal classification system is about religion. Y’all knew I would doublecheck that, right?!]

Reel Librarians | Print directories in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Print directories in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Lisa:  The Archdiocese puts out an annual directory. Every priest and parish.

Matt:  Oh, that’s great. Do these go back any further than ’98?

Lisa:  Oh yeah, going back to the ’80s in the mez. Beyond that, you gotta go to the BPL. [Boston Public Library]

Matt:  The mez, huh? Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa:  You bet.

Reel Librarians | Print collection of news library in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Print collection of news library in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

There are rows of shelves in the news library, and there looks to comfy seating in the back with a padded chair.

We next see Mike and Walter join Matt in the aforementioned “mez” (short for “mezzanine”), looking through the old church directories. The “mez” is decidedly less comfortable than the news library, with metal shelving, stacked-up boxes, no light (no one can find the light switch), and a suspicious smell.

Mike:  What the hell is that smell?

Matt:  There’s a dead rat in the corner.

Reel Librarians | Mezzanine library archives in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Mezzanine library archives in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Reel Librarians | Church directory archives in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Church directory archives in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

These old church directories provide a series of vital clues that propel the rest of the investigation — and therefore, the rest of the film. The reporters realize that through these directories, they can track down priests who were reassigned by the church in order to obscure their crimes. With the 13 names of priests they currently have, Matt figures out that guilty priests were designated in the directories with a variety of related keywords, like “sick leave,” “absent on leave,” “unassigned,” “emergency response” and “treatment center.”

Reel Librarians | Sick leave designation in church directories

Sick leave designation in church directories

At 1 hour into the film, almost at the halfway mark of the 128-minute running time, the reporters realize there is an even bigger scope to the investigation. They could be looking at 90 or more priests, and they need a way to quickly identify them. They had been using the directories to track down and confirm priests revealed through interviewing victims — but what about using the directories the other way around? Therefore, the reporters use the directories — with the keywords they had already identified! — to track down more potentially guilty priests.

There is a resulting montage of this methodical research, all featuring the four reporters going through the directories, line by line, in different locations — at their desks, in the news library, even in public places like a bar.

We even get a quick clip of Sacha in what must be the Boston Public Library (Lisa had mentioned in an earlier scene that the BPL had even older copies of the church directories), at a library table and surrounded by the iconic green lamps you find in classical libraries. A security guard announces “Library closing,” and Sacha checks her watch.

Reel Librarians | Boston Public Library library scene in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Boston Public Library library scene in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Matt (who was described by the Globe as “the database reporting specialist for the Spotlight Team”) then begins building a database of names. This research method results in a database file of 87 names.

Reel Librarians | Cross-checking names in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Cross-checking names in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

I have to admit, I clapped my hands at this montage and shouted out, “Keywords! It’s all about keywords!” My husband thought my outburst hilarious, but I was seriously pleased at the inclusion of this kind of old-school, thorough method of research — and critical thinking. It made my librarian heart smile and burst with pride! 😀

By the way, this 2016 interview with the real-life Lisa Tuite reveals that it was also the news librarians — not just the reporters — who “manually cross-referenced the directories to follow priests from parish to parish. As names of the priests involved in the scandal came to light, Tuite and her team researched the priests’ backgrounds. Tuite’s “research forensics” revealed the story.” (By the way, Lisa Tuite is also personally thanked in the film’s acknowledgements.)

In a Boston Globe article from Oct. 28, 2015, Lisa is included in “The real people behind the ‘Spotlight’ characters,” about actors and the real people they are portraying.

Boston Globe article screenshot

I also looked up Lisa’s current staff profile page on the Boston Globe website:

“Tuite directs a staff of researchers who provide background and fact-checking to reporters and editors. The library manages the Globe text and photo archive as well. She joined the Globe in the library in 1979.”

Librarian staff profile page on Boston Globe site

Librarian staff profile page on Boston Globe site

In her scenes, Lisa is dressed in comfortable, professional clothing (cardigan and shirtdress in one scene and a button-down and black trousers in another), wears glasses and subtle jewelry (small hoop earrings and a thin gold watch), and has long brown hair with the front half pulled back. The film’s credits also list Zarrin Darnell-Martin as Intern Wanda (she’s the one who delivers the files to the reporters), and the IMDb.com cast lists includes Colleen Kelly as a Librarian, uncredited. There are at least two other library researchers uncredited, women you can see in the background of the library and archives research scenes. All fulfill the Information Provider role in this Class III film.

You can see Michele Proude’s clips in the film via Vimeo, here at https://vimeo.com/159127965.

Spotlight librarian video

Click on screenshot to play video of librarian scenes in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

I really enjoyed watching Spotlight, a film that is smart and mature — it goes deeper than the surface of the sensational stories they uncover and write about. And it doesn’t do that with flashy performances or “gotcha” moments. It builds slowly, methodically, until the evidence they uncover cannot be denied:  not by the reporters themselves, not by the church lawyers, not by the public, not by the audience watching the film. And as a librarian, I gotta love a film that treats research — “Get those directories upstairs!” — as pivotal and key scenes.

To sum up, I have to highlight a contribution to the “Auto-Cat” listserv (a listserv for automation & cataloging librarians) from Michael Klossner, who highlighted the library scenes in Spotlight. I can’t sum it up any better than he does:

The film is being described as a valentine to an old institution which is often considered out-of-date in the wired world, the newspaper. It is also a tribute to another old-school  institution, the library — in spite of the rat in the corner.

I highly recommend Spotlight not only as an excellent film, but also as a film that highlights excellent research. And kudos to Lisa Tuite and her staff of librarians and researchers at the Boston Globe news library!

Lilly the Librarian in ‘Rising Sun’

In the 1993 drama, Rising Sun, young, beautiful woman is found strangled atop a table in the L.A. headquarters of a Japanese corporation. Who killed her? To solve the crime, Wesley Snipes, who plays Lt. Webster ‘Web’ Smith, partners with Sean Connery, who plays Capt. John Connor, an expert on Japanese culture. They delve into the seemingly seamy underworld of Japanese business etiquette.

Rising Sun (1993) official trailer HD,” Paradise Of Trailers, uploaded Oct. 2012. Standard YouTube license.

I’ve watched this film before (and I had totally forgotten it was based on a Michael Crichton novel!), and I’ve always wanted it to be a better film than it turned out to be. One night, when I was working on my computer, I came across this movie in my DVR listings, so I had it playing in the background while I was working on something else. I did NOT remember this movie having a reel librarian, but once your radar is on, you find them EVERYWHERE. When I heard the words “Lilly the Librarian” spoken in the background, I stopped what I was doing and looked up in surprise. Instant reel librarian research — and resulting blog post! 😀

The scene happens exactly halfway through the movie, at 1 hour and 4 minutes. The scene lasts only a minute, and we get only a brief glimpse of Lilly the Librarian. It is also a rare instance where a Class IV librarian gets a name! (And a rare portrayal of a newspaper librarian/archivist, as well.)

So what’s the context? Smith gets a call from a reporter informant, Ken Shubik, who is keeping tabs on a weaselly investigator, played by Steve Buscemi (!). And yes, Buscemi’s character on the cast list is officially listed as Willy ‘the Weasel’ Wilhelm. Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt he can find on Lt. Smith, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Ken Shubik:  Where the hell you been? Did you get my message?

Web Smith:  Yes, about the weasel?

Ken:  Last night, I’m working late at the paper, I see the weasel arrive, dressed in his tux. He goes right to the library. I could tell the ambitious little terd had the scent of blood. He’s still here. I asked Lilly the Librarian, what’s he checking out? A cop she says, a cop named Web Smith.

Willy the Weasel IS successful in digging up dirt — obviously with help from Lilly the Librarian. And actually, the brief scene reveals the possibility of TWO reel librarians, both of them redheads. Here’s the first, who walks away, shaking her head in frustration.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

As the first woman walks away, we see another redhead — the one I theorize is the actual Lilly the Librarian — sitting at a desk filing periodicals, which you can see in the screenshot below and in the first screenshot above. Willy the Weasel, who has been pacing back and forth to a bank of computers, then walks back over to her, talking and pointing, and we see only the side of her head.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Rising Sun' (1993)

Lilly the Librarian definitely fulfills her role as Information Provider. Too bad that wasn’t enough to warrant a credit in the cast list. 😦

This reel librarian cameo also reminded me a little of another reel librarian character in You, Me and Dupree (2006). Although the characters fill VERY different roles, there are some striking coincidences:

  • Both are redheads
  • We see both only briefly — and mostly from behind or from the side
  • We never hear them speak
  • Both are named similarly:
  • Both are uncredited in the cast lists

Amazing the things you start to connect when you dig into reel librarian research!

Of monsters and missing maps

My colleague Michael from the Century Film Project passed on The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) to me for the website. It’s a ’50s sci-fi film about how an earthquake in California unleashes radioactive mollusk monsters. As you do. The special effects are… pretty much what you’d expect from that plot description. Earnest and enjoyably cheesy.

Reel Librarians | 'The Monster That Challenged the World' VHS

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

I also love the film’s tagline, “Distinctly chilling. So real that it is nearly incredible.” Nearly incredible. Nearly. A ringing endorsement! 😉

So where does a reel librarian fit into the picture? There’s not a librarian technically, more a museum archivist. But I’m still including the character in the reel librarian category, as the character is primarily an Information Provider, along with a little Comic Relief thrown in for good measure.

The Naval officers on a base near where the mollusk monsters were unleashed are working hard to contain the issue and track down the remaining monsters. Fifty-five minutes into the film, Lt. Commander John “Twill” Twillinger (Tim Holt) and a scientist figure out that the mollusks are traveling by an underground river through a system of 700 miles of canal bank. The scientist advises them to be on the lookout for a survey map that would show underground rivers.

Twill assures him, “If there is such a map, we’ll find it.

A couple of minutes later, the director cuts to the Imperial County Museum, and we see a middle-aged, balding man closing a file cabinet drawer. Milton Parsons plays the museum archivist Lewis Clark Dobbs, in an uncredited role.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

Let’s listen in on the exchange:

Dobbs: Well, now, we gave most of our map collection to the library.

Twill:  Mr. Dobbs, we’ve already been to the library. We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.

Dobbs:  Too bad, too bad. We don’t have many documents. We don’t have room for them. We put up a bond issue, Proposition 14-A specifically asking for a document room, but… Oh, here. Here we are. [He hands them one rolled-up map.]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

Twill:  Is this all you have?

Dobbs:  I’m sorry, just not a speck of room.

Twill:  Mr. Dobbs, this is very important. Have you ever heard of an underground river or an ancient waterway in the valley that empties into a deep pool?

Dobbs:  Dear, dear. Let me think. I can’t think of a thing. But every once in a while, somebody dies, and leaves us a whole lot of documents for our room, the one we didn’t get, you understand. Propositition 14-A was defeated.

Twill:  Well, if you should hear of anything, let me know. You should be able to get me at the base.

Dobbs:  Oh sure, sure, I always cooperate with the authorities. You’ll find that I’m a very cooperative person. Just call on me any time, night or day.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

The officers are as eager to get away as Dobbs is eager to continue talking to them. He is very solicitous but doesn’t actually help them (at least not yet). He is more interested in talking about the failed bond issue. I KNOW THE FEELING. It’s an interesting choice to highlight public funding issues for a library or museum. This is definitely an issue that continues today — but not one I’d expect to find in a cheesy ’50s sci-fi flick.

I honestly thought we had seen the last of Lewis Clark Dobbs. But I was mistaken! At one hour and seven minutes, he shows up at the base — so nondescript that Twill doesn’t notice him on his way out; Dobbs calls out to him to no avail. Dobbs holds a briefcase and has smartened up a bit with a blazer and hat. He takes off his hat when the phone operator asks if she can help him. Dobbs dithers, muttering, “Well, well” several times and announces that he will wait. The phone operators shrug, and Dobbs sits down in the corner. Awkward social manners, to be sure.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

House later, Twill comes back to the base and is so focused on fighting mollusk monsters — as you do — that he doesn’t notice Dobbs in the corner. (Dobbs is probably used to this.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

After they shake hands, here’s the resulting conversation:

Dobbs:  It’s probably not anything at all.

Twill:  I see. [turns away, dismissive]

Dobbs:  You said it was important, you know, about the map.

Twill:  Yeah.

Dobbs:  Well, a very strange thing happened. I was looking for these papers — well,  actually, I was looking for this petition. [Takes out papers.] We’re campaigning again, for the Proposition 14-A, the one that was defeated. [Twill nods.] And there was this folder, and in this folder, there was this map.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Monster That Challenged the World'

As Twill reviews the map, Dobbs mutters on about a family that helped settle the area, the family that donated the map; Dobbs is oblivious that Twill is not listening. Instead, Twill points to the map and asks him if this is a river.

Dobbs puts on his glasses, and states, “Oh no, but the Indians dug wells all along there. It says here — in Spanish, of course — the wells of life. I read 18 foreign languages.

So what do we learn about Dobbs?

  • He dresses conservatively
  • He is patient
  • He doesn’t read social cues very well (which adds to the “Comic Relief” role)
  • He is a multi-linguist
  • Proposition 14-A is his favorite topic of conversation

Twill, a man of action, immediately sends the map off to the photo lab to help identify the location of the mollusk monsters. He doesn’t even thank Dobbs for the map! Twill gets all the credit (of course), but it’s really Dobbs who provided the essential evidence that saved the day. And if only that Proposition 14-A had passed, he could have helped them sooner… and perhaps saved a few more lives.

I was hoping this Class III film would end with Twill saying that the Naval base would contribute funds to the Imperial War Museum and their documents room, but alas there was no more mention of Dobbs or Proposition 14-A after that third short scene with the reel librarian. Oh, well. In my head, that’s what happened: the Imperial War Museum got a donation (and a plaque) to celebrate their pivotal role in challenging the mollusk monsters that challenged the world, and Dobbs is now happily puttering away in his new documents room.

Reel librarians save the world! Now THAT’s a movie tagline. 😉