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

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

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:

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 “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). Image is in the public domain.
Claire Windsor as Amelia Briggs in The Blot (1921). Image is in the public domain.

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.


Librarian as Failure:


The “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 “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 “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.

Naughty Librarian from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Naughty Librarian 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.
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! 😀


Sources used:


  • The Blot. Dir. Phillips Smalley & Lois Weber. Perf. Philip Hubbard, Margaret McWade, Claire Windsor. Lois Weber Productions, 1921.
  • Cain and Mabel. Dir. Lloyd Bacon. Perf. Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Allen Jenkins. Cosmopolitan/Warner Bros., 1936.
  • Fast and Loose. Dir. Edwin L. Marin. Perf. Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Morgan, Anthony Allan, Ian Wolfe. MGM, 1939.
  • Forbidden. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy. Columbia, 1932.
  • The Philadelphia Story. Dir. George Cukor. Perf. Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young. MGM, 1940.
  • The Seventh Victim. Dir. Mark Robson. Perf. Kim Hunter, Jean Brooks, Tom Conway, Isabel Jewell, Erford Gage. RKO, 1943.
  • The Tell-Tale Heart. Dir. Ernest Morris. Perf. Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri, Dermot Walsh. Danziger Productions, 1960.

Earliest reel librarians I’ve come across, reader question follow-up

Exploring my own firsts of discovery with reel librarians

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.

TheBlot.FirstScene.mp4” video uploaded by Karen Petruska is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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!

Forbidden 1932 – Barbara Stanwyck – Adolphe Menjou – Ralph Bellamy” video uploaded by ClassicMovieShop is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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!

Clark Gable in No Man of Her Own (1932)/ famous quotes” video uploaded by JohnnyDepp Persianfan is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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! 😀


Sources used:


  • The Blot. Dir. Phillips Smalley & Lois Weber. Perf. Philip Hubbard, Margaret McWade, Claire Windsor. Lois Weber Productions, 1921.
  • Cain and Mabel. Dir. Lloyd Bacon. Perf. Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Allen Jenkins. Cosmopolitan/Warner Bros., 1936.
  • Forbidden. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy. Columbia, 1932.
  • The Good Companions. Dir. Victor Saville. Perf. Jessie Matthews, Edmund Gwenn, John Gielgud, Mary Glynne. Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 1933.
  • No Man of Her Own. Dir. Wesley Ruggles. Perf. Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Dorothy Mackaill, Grant Mitchell. Paramount, 1932.
  • Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel Librarian Firsts.” Reel Librarians, 23 Sept. 2011.

Revisiting reel librarian totals

There’s no way or even a reason to sugar-coat the fact that there are not that many cinematic representations of librarians of color, and even fewer roles that are major characters.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a follow-up to my call for reader questions and ideas. I plan on addressing all the great reader questions and ideas that came my way — thank you again, dear readers! Today, I address an email request from a reader who preferred to remain anonymous, who asked me to revisit the previous questions readers asked me from the 2013 Reader Q and A post:

How many movies have librarians in them?
How many movies are there with librarians of color?

Here was my immediate reaction:

It would definitely be worth going back over those lists again and seeing how those numbers have changed!

"Laptop and calculator" by TheAngryTeddy is licensed under Public Domain CC0
“Laptop and calculator” by TheAngryTeddy is licensed under Public Domain CC0

So that’s exactly what I did:  I went back over my reel librarian lists again and added up the numbers again, in order to revisit these running totals.


Reel librarian totals:


First up, the number of movies with librarians in them!

This number keeps growing, because movies are made each year that feature reel librarians, and I keep uncovering past movies that I hadn’t come across yet. Therefore, I am always adding to my Master List of titles that I am also slowly working my way through and verifying.


At current count:


Running total = 1,234 reel librarian films

  • an increase of 193 titles in 4 years
  • 1,041 titles counted in 2013

Reel librarians of color:


Again, this number continues to grow, as I work my way through my Master List, a lifelong project. Whenever I watch (or re-watch) a film, I add it to my Reel Substance section, which currently includes 259 film titles, representing almost 30% of the total films on my Master List.

Therefore, for this question, I took another look through the films in the Reel Substance section to (a) keep count of total films I’ve actually seen, and (b) jot down portrayals of librarians of color. It is admittedly a sensitive issue to count and categorize portrayals of librarians of color, especially considering our society’s racist history (and present). It’s also awkward when actors of color are tasked to play different ethnicities — because no one will care or notice?! (Sigh.) When this happened, I added them to the ethnicity category that reflected their role, rather than the ethnicity of the actors themselves. This categorization is imperfect also in not providing for multi-ethnic portrayals.

Side note:  I choose to focus my reel librarian analysis primarily on the purpose reel librarians serve in a given film and how we advance plot. There are many other lenses with which to analyze librarians onscreen, and I would recommend this 2015 article, “The Stereotype’s Stereotype: Our Obsession with Librarian Representation” to read about looking at librarian portrayals through the lenses of gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Without further ado, let’s roll some numbers on the current running totals for reel librarians of color. Please keep in mind these are portrayals from the 259 film titles thus far in my Reel Substance section, Classes I through IV, and that the ethnicity category reflects the role, not necessarily the ethnicity of the actors playing the role(s).


At current count:


  • 32 reel librarians of color
    • 7 major characters
    • an increase of 8 roles in 4 years
    • 24 roles counted in 2013

Librarian roles, African or African descent (19 total):


Time Machine(2002) Vox System” video uploaded by Stamatios Giannoulakis is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Librarian roles, Asian + South Asian (7):


Monk librarians in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)
Monk librarians in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

Librarian roles, Latinx (4):


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

Librarian roles, Arab + Middle Eastern (1):


  • Erick Avari as Dr. Terrence Bey in The Mummy (1999) — NO ONE in this film set in Egypt is actually played by an Egyptian! (Seriously, I went through the cast list and double-checked.) Avari is an Indian-American portraying an Egyptian who is the director of the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. Because the role is meant to be Egyptian, I have counted it in this ethnic category.
Erick Avari at Motor City Comic Con 2009” video uploaded by bloggingchick is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Librarian roles, Native American (1):



There’s no way or even a reason to sugar-coat the fact that there are not that many cinematic representations of librarians of color, and even fewer roles that are major characters. I have cataloged an increase the last 4 years, but these numbers remain woefully slim.

Are these numbers reflective of diversity, or lack thereof, within the librarian profession as a whole? The percentages of reel librarians of color are even lower (I estimate around 10%) than the already low numbers of real librarians of color. Based on numbers from the 2010 Census, the librarian profession continues to be overwhelmingly female (80+% for credentialed librarians) and white (83+%). See more facts and figures here and here, and read this excellent blog post, “The unbearable whiteness of librarianship” that compares diversity of librarians versus the general population.

However, as we also celebrate our first official Librarian of Congress who is a person of color — you can read all about the fabulous Carla Hayden and her predecessors here in this post — I hope that we are moving in the right direction toward addressing the lack of diversity in librarianship, both reel and real.


Sources used:


Call for reader questions follow-up

Thanks again to everyone who rose to my challenge and call for reader questions!

Last week, I put out an open call out for reader questions and ideas, including:

  • Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask, but you just haven’t gotten around to asking yet?
  • Do you have an idea for a post that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about yet?
“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0
“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

Thank you to everyone who left comments on the post and/or emailed me directly. I really appreciate it! I wanted to honor the time y’all took to ask questions of me, so I’m pulling together the initial questions/ideas sent my way, as well as my first thoughts or ideas about each.


Writers and reel librarians:


This comment came from my husband (so he’s super-invested in this blog by default!):

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.

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. This is a blog post idea I’m putting on my list!


Random musings:


Kvennarad left a series of great ideas or musings via the comments section on last week’s post, so I’m going to break down each section:

Writers/libraries/marketing – I notice, for example, that a boxed collection of the Harry Potter novels plus all the spin-off books is being marketed as ‘The Hogwarts Library’. Interesting use of the word ‘library’ here, to mean “All the books you already have but need to buy again to make someone richer who is already very rich” (and, I might add, who has an honorary Doctorate at the University of Edinburgh AND the Légion d’ f-ing Honneur!).

This idea sort of relates to Sam’s suggestion, about exploring links between writers and libraries, but has a different flavor, into the use of “library” to give credence (?) to a marketing strategy. My first thought is to correlate this to the common usage of using librarians in films, period, to give credence to a plot line or a character. The underlying notion here:  libraries, and by extension, librarians, enjoy a large degree of trust by the general public. And writers, directors, and marketing strategy specialists definitely use this to their advantage! So I’m putting this on my list of blog ideas to explore… 🙂

Mr Norrell’s library of magical books in ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke -> adapted for TV.

I just added this to my Master List of reel librarian titles, for further exploration!

Christopher Lilly’s library in ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters, a library of pornography that grew by the addition of more material as it was written -> adapted for TV. This was possibly based on the real-life collection/bibliography of Henry Spencer Ashbee.

That sounds fascinating! Definitely just added this to my Master List of reel librarian titles.

The library of the Unseen University in the ‘Discworld’ corpus -> various adaptations. Ook!

This is one I’ve gotten to, yay! 😀 I have written about the Unseen University library, and its ook-y librarian in this post analysis of the TV movie The Color of Magic (2008), adapted from two of Terry Pratchett’s books, the 1983 work of the same name (although it is spelled in the English way, The Colour of Magic, the first in his famous Discworld series) and the second book in the series, The Light Fantastic.

Every novel and every adaptation of a novel set in a big house in England will, at some point, feature a library. This is a rule. Every novel and every adaptation of a novel where any of the characters are at university will feature a scene where a character is studying in the university library. These are the rules! 

This is so true! I primarily focus on the portrayals of librarians, rather than just libraries, but I have also often written about onscreen libraries, especially in film analysis posts of Class V films. I have thought about writing a post about private libraries, like the ones seen in films or series set in a big house in England (have you found your Gutenberg Bible, yet, Lord Grantham of Downtown Abbey?!) or in films set in academia. It is for that reason that I have added, and continue to add, mannnnnnny college- or university-focused films onto my Master List of films — sooner or later, as you’ve noted, there’s a scene in the library! 😀 For example, that’s totally why I watched The Rewrite, because it was set at a university, and I thought it might have a library scene, and perhaps a reel librarian. It didn’t end up having a librarian, but it did have a library scene — and the resulting post was actually quite interesting to put together and write!

‘Wings of Desire’ is an amazing film, with lots of footage set in a library… No reel/real reason why I include this, it just haunts me.

Yes, this film was already on my Foreign Films reel librarians list. I have also written an analysis post on City of Angels, the (inferior) U.S. remake starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. It would be interesting to do a post about Wings of Desire, and then perhaps a follow-up comparing the two films and their two reel libraries/librarians. Adding this to my ideas list… 🙂


Exploring more firsts:


Longtime reader popegrutch, who has his own awesome film site, Century Film Project, left a short comment with 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!

I have done 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. Hmmm… this has got me thinking… thanks, Michael!


Revisiting past reader questions:


I also received an email from a reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, asking me to please revisit the previous questions readers asked me from the 2013 Reader Q and A post:

How many movies have librarians in them?
How many movies are there with librarians of color?

My Master List has definitely grown since that post I wrote four years ago, when I added up a running total of 1,041 reel librarian films thus far (pulling together the titles on my Master List, Foreign Films, and Short Films & Documentaries lists). I have also personally watched more reel librarian films in the last four years, as well. Back in 2013, from the films I have personally watched and added to my Reel Substance section, I had also counted at least 24 portrayals of reel librarians of color.

It would definitely be worth going back over those lists again and seeing how those numbers have changed!


Thanks again to everyone who rose to my challenge and call for reader questions! I count at least a dozen, if not more, additional blog post ideas stemming from these four reader comments/questions.

I’ll be back next week with a film analysis post, and then I’m hoping to dig into some of these great ideas. Stay tuned! 🙂

Ask the real librarian: Call for reader questions

Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask?

I did a Reader Q and A post a few years ago, and I do a reader poll post twice a year, but I thought it would be fun today to put an open call out for reader questions and ideas. I’m a librarian, so it feels natural for me to answer questions!

Do you have a reel librarians question you’ve been wanting to ask, but you just haven’t gotten around to asking yet? Do you have an idea for a post that I just haven’t gotten around to writing about yet?

"Question mark" by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0
“Question mark” by qimono is in the Public Domain, CC0

Or perhaps you’d like me to revisit some of the previous questions readers have asked me from that 2013 Reader Q and A post, including:

  • How many movies have librarians in them?
  • How many movies are there with librarians of color?

So, I am officially asking for you to ask me, the “real librarian” behind this Reel Librarians site, about your question(s) or your post idea(s).

How? There are various ways to contact me:

  • leave a comment on this post below
  • email me directly at reel.librarians@gmail.com

Thanks in advance, and I look forward to your questions and ideas!