The Jedi Librarian vs. Darth Vader

As the new Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opens nationwide this Friday, Dec. 15th (oh, you haven’t heard? 😉 ), it was perfect timing that my husband recently brought home a new Star Wars comic… featuring Jocasta Nu, the Jedi librarian! He was very excited to show me this issue. Below is the cover of this new comics issue, Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III, featuring the Jedi librarian vs. Darth Vader!

Protecting the archives

Cover of Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Cover of Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Here’s the plot summary for this issue:

Plot summary for Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Plot summary for Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Jocasta Nu gets to bust some badass moves using her light saber, although the Grand Inquisitor taunts her with this line:

“I thought it would be so easy. After all, they didn’t stick you in the library because of your combat skills.”


Excerpt from Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Librarian light saber skills

Librarian stereotypes and skills

This issue plays off librarian stereotypical traits and behaviors, like hoarding information and enforcing rules and regulations:

Excerpt from Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Librarian insults

Excerpt from Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Librarian insults

But the Jedi librarian also gets to highlight positive librarian skills and traits, including ethical use of information and the vital skills of finding information and navigating complex collections and systems.

Excerpt from Darth Vader 9: The Dying Light, Part III

Librarian finding skills

She also recognizes that she is valuable to the Dark Side for those very skills, as when she says to Darth Vader:

“I know why you want me alive. You want my secrets, and the secrets in this archive. It is too vast to be easily navigated without assistance, after all.”

Ultimately, Jocasta Nu showcases her sense of ethics and personal responsibility — as well as her survival skills! (SPOILER:  She lives to fight another day… at least until the next issue in the comics series.) For me, reading this comics issues went a long way to redeeming her portrayal and epic reference interview fail in 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Want more Jedi librarian fun?

I have written before about Jocasta Nu here in this 2013 “The Jedi librarian” post, which also got mentioned and linked in a Washington Post article this past spring.

I noted at the end of that 2013 post that Jocasta Nu made a reappearance in the 2005 video game version of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, as well as earned her own action figure. She has also since appeared in several episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series. Jocasta Nu also is featured in other Darth Vader comics issues, 6-10, but please note that this issue is the only one I’ve read.

Have you read the other Darth Vader comics or Clone Wars episodes that feature Jocasta Nu? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Jocasta Nu,” Wookieepedia: The Star Wars Wiki, is licensed under CC BY SA.

Soule, Charles (w), Guiseppe Camuncoli (p), Daniele Orlandini (i), and David Curiel (c). “The Dying Light: Part III.” Darth Vader #9 (Feb. 2018), Marvel.


Sharing my personal collection of movie books

At the end of last week’s post, I asked readers to share what their own personal book collections say about themselves, so I thought it only fair to share myself!

Here’s a wide shot of our personal library at home (so many IKEA Billy bookcases! 😉 ):

Reel Librarians | My personal library

And here’s the specific collection I want to share, my personal collection of movie-related books, which are on a shelf closest to our bookcase of DVDs and videos (I am nothing if not practical):

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

It’s not a very big collection, I admit, and a hodge-podge one at that. I have picked up most of the titles here via second-hand book sales or as gifts. Here are some of my personal faves from my small collection of movie-related books:

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

This is Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars: One Critic’s Defiant Choices for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress – From 1927 to Present, published in 1991. I read through this book so many times when I was younger. It’s one of the major reasons that I know a lot about the Oscars, as factoids soaked in as I read and re-read Peary’s in-depth writing. It also probably helps explain why I’m so opinionated about the Oscars. 😉

You can read more about my love — and opinions! — about the Oscars here, here, here, here, and here.

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

Yep, you can definitely tell I love the Oscars! And I loved the Cinematherapy books, as well, which were a thing in the early 2000s, even resulting in a long-running TV series. I analyze all kinds of films for this blog — and often joke about watching some bad movies SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO — but I also watch films according to specific moods I’m in, and the Cinematherapy books recognize and help answer that need.

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

On that same theme, Rob Christopher’s movie advisory book, Queue Tips: Discovering Your Next Great Movie, was published by ALA in 2012. I received this copy of the book for a review on this blog, which you can read here, and I still often find my way back to this book.

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

I like my movie criticism with a bit of snark, and this fun 1996 title, The Critics Were Wrong: Misguided Movie Reviews and Film Criticism Gone Awry, by Ardis Sillick & Michael McCormick, fits that bill. It focuses on underrated cinematic gems that went unappreciated when they first came out.

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

An autobiography of my favorite film critic — and only Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic — Roger Ebert, who published his autobiography, Life Itself: A Memoir, in 2011 before his death in 2013. I mentioned this book here in this tribute post to Roger Ebert. What I always appreciated about Roger Ebert is how much of a movie FAN he was. I can relate to that. ♄

Reel Librarians | From my personal collection of movie books

And, last but not least, one book that you actually won’t find on my movie collection bookshelf… because I refer to it so often that it just stays on my desk! 😀 It’s the invaluable 2005 book, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, by Ray and Brenda Tevis, a book I refer to and quote a lot on this blog. I also reviewed this book here in this post.

So what does my personal collection of movie books say about me? I think it shows that I love reading about movies (and movie recommendations), plus I enjoy reading about movie critics and criticism. I think that is an apt reflection of what I do here on this site. 😉

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment and share!

Private libraries + librarians onscreen, reader question follow-up

I am following up on another reader question from my call earlier this year for reader questions and ideas, a question posed by Kvennarad, who left a comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including this one:

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!

Here was my initial response to Kvennarad’s comment, in my reader Q&A follow-up post:

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?!)

What is the purpose of private libraries onscreen?

I am primarily interested in the purpose of librarians onscreen, but it’s an interesting exercise to extend that question to thinking about the purpose of showing private libraries onscreen. As I went through my own lists and prior posts that mentioned private libraries, I noted a few recurrent themes about what purposes private libraries served when seen onscreen:

  • Private libraries are used to reflect personal OR work collections of books or materials
  • Private libraries often help establish setting, particularly of characters in upper social classes (like those seen in English country homes) and/or characters whose occupations are in academia or education.
  • Private libraries can be used to reflect the level of education or culture for a character, even if that character is seen as coming from a lower social class
  • Private libraries can be used to contrast with a public or college library setting — a smaller, personal collection versus a larger, more impersonal collection
  • Private libraries can sometime serve as the setting for a main action in the film, providing a contrast to heighten the plot and provide interest (such as a brutal murder taking place against the relatively sedate backdrop of a private collection of books)
  • The collection or items within a private library can serve as the reason or impetus for the main plot, like a rare book or artifact that someone would steal or kill for.

List of notable private libraries/librarians onscreen

Below are a list of films, organized alphabetically by title, that I’ve analyzed thus far on this site that feature notable personal libraries or personal librarians and their purpose in their respective films. It is not an exhaustive list, but rather I tried to spotlight films in which private libraries serve one, or more, of the purposes I outlined above.

Abandon (2002)

College senior Katie (Katie Holmes) deals with exams, finishing her thesis, job interviews, and a cop (Benjamin Bratt) investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing her boyfriend again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? A few scenes highlight the socially awkward Mousy Julie, a student library assistant at the college library.

When I analyzed this low-key horror film, I noticed that in addition to several scenes set in the college library, there were also quite a few private library collections featured in the film, including rows of books and bookshelves in:

  • the thesis advisor’s office
  • the counselor’s office
  • the cop’s home
  • Katie’s dorm room
  • Embry’s dorm room
  • and… you could argue the thesis-related collection Katie builds in her private study cubicle in the college library serves as a miniature version of a personal library collection!
Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Abandon' (2002)

Personal cubicle in ‘Abandon’ (2002)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “An Abandon-ed reel librarian“]

Fast and Loose (1939)

This comedic mystery revolves around a stolen manuscript and the rare books business. A personal library in a private home serves as the main setting for the film — and the library’s collection serves as the main motive for the murder mystery!

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 protĂ©gĂ©, 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.”

Here’s an original trailer for Fast and Loose, which includes footage of a private office library starting at the 1:37 mark, as well as a larger country home’s private library at the very end of the trailer, at the 2:16 mark:

FAST AND LOOSE 1939 trailer,” uploaded by One Minute Move, 2016, Standard YouTube license

From a Whisper to a Scream, aka The Offspring (1987)

In this film, a private library serves as the main setting and structure for the plot — a collection of “short stories,” so to speak.

In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local private librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories — stories about the town’s “long history of violence” — to a nosy reporter (Susan Tyrrell). White and the stories from his library serve as a framework for the film, but none of the stories he retells involve a library or librarian.

The historian’s private library is set in his private home, and the reporter walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Private library setting in ‘From a Whisper to a Scream’ (1987)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Welcome to Oldfield“]

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)

Two siblings, Claudia and her brother, Jamie, run away from home to stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They try to solve the mystery of the new angel statue, rumored to be the work of Michelangelo, which leads them to the statue’s donor and famous recluse, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (played by Ingrid Bergman).

At the end of the film, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler takes Claudia to her private library to find a particular file. Her private library and filing cabinets are organized from floor to ceiling. I love that in this film, the personal library — or rather, the files within them — serve almost as title characters! 😉 It also shows a bit of diversity in what constitutes a private library collection, as her library is a collection of files more so than books.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler' (1973)

Private library and files from ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ (1973)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “From the mixed-up files“]

Ghostbusters (2016)

In this recent remake of the 1984 original Ghostbusters with female leads, the personal library in a private home has become part of a museum — and it is the main setting for the opening scene, which puts into motion the rest of the film.

The film begins in a library, a private library in a house museum called the Aldridge Mansion Museum. The ghost in the opening scenes is not a reel librarian, however, but rather the ghost of an Aldridge family member. (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.)

It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”

Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in 'Ghostbusters' (2016)

Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016)

The Aldridge Mansion Museum’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.), then seeks out help from scientist Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Analyzing the library scene in the ‘Ghostbusters’ remake“]

The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

In the first five minutes of the film, we are introduced to a private library, as well as a book called Unsolved Murders that becomes central to the “locked room” mystery plot. Another private library that serves as the main setting and impetus for the film’s plot!

The private library in question belongs to Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy), who employs a private secretary, Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan). Five minutes into the film, we are treated to a classic cinematic shot of a bookshelf, revealing a close-up of Brisbane’s face. The bookshelves serve as a natural framing device. Brisbane grabs a book entitled Unsolved Murders, places it in an overnight bag, and prepares to leave on a trip.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Book closeup and private library central to ‘The Kennel Murder Case’ (1933)

A little over a half-hour into the film, Philo Vance (William Powell) leads the detectives to Grand Central Station, where they locate Brisbane’s bag. Philo takes out the Unsolved Murders book, which has a bookmark opening up to a chapter that includes a description just like the murder scene of his brother. The plot thickens from there!

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Kennel clubs and unsolved murders“]

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

The 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman in Jane Austen’s original novel to a personal librarian for Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of Mr. Collins in 'Pride and Prejudice' (1940)

Screenshots of Mr. Collins in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1940)

It is also interesting to note that we, the audience, never actually get to see the inside of the library that Collins curates for Lady Catherine; his profession is mentioned once at the beginning and never referred to again. And it is quite revealing on retrospect that Mr. Bennet, who has his own personal library which serves as an important personal retreat, does not mention libraries or books at all with Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet does not take the opportunity of using an apparently mutual love of libraries to bond with his cousin and heir.

[Click here for my full analysis post of “Pride and Prejudice and librarians“]

Soylent Green (1973)

Another major character who serves as a private librarian! Edward G. Robinson, in his final film role, plays Sol Roth, and we meet him within the first five minutes of the film. He’s described in the trailer as:

Sol Roth, Thorn’s private library. A Living Book in a world without books.

This futuristic world has stopped printing books for almost 20 years. The word “Book” now refers to people, to former scholars and librarians who serve as personal researchers for others. Sol is a self-described “Police Book,” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn (Charlton Heston), and there is a “Supreme Exchange” where he goes almost daily for information and to talk to other Books.

Real books are treasures to be hoarded in this overcrowded, dirty, violent nightmare of a future, and Thorn and Sol live together in comparative luxury, in an apartment filled with bookcases. You could argue that they live inside their own private library.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Soylent Green' (1973)

Private library in ‘Soylent Green’ (1973)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Reader poll of runner-ups: Soylent Green and the Books“]

A real-life private librarian

Before wrapping up this post, I had to mention Casanova, the famous lover — who in real life ended up a private librarian on a private estate. However, in the 2005 film version of his adventures in Venice, in which Heath Ledger plays the title role, libraries and librarians are never mentioned in this film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film, and a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), visits a libreria, which is Italian for bookstore. There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Casanova, the lover and the librarian“]

Private and personal

And a final note about private libraries, you can tell a lot about a person’s interests by looking at their personal collection of books. Private libraries are therefore quite personal, in both real and reel life. As Douglas Groothius stated in this blog post, “Thoughts on Your Personal Library” from his personal blog and website:

If your collection of books crosses the mystical threshold and becomes a library, then you should curate it well. It is both a reflection of you and you are reflection of it.

What does your own private library reveal about you? Is there a notable private library in a film that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment — or two! — and share.

Reel librarians on library ladders

I have written before about occupational tasks and props often seen in reel librarian films, including in this post, “Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?” in which I stated:

Typically, the term “librarian” is rarely said out loud in movies — most likely because of time — and in most films, there is really no need to verbally identify the librarians. Standing behind the counter, shelving books, or pushing a cart is quite enough to establish a reel librarian.

In the invaluable book, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, by Ray and Brenda Tevis — which I reviewed here in this post — the two framed these occupational tasks and props in a similar way:

 [O]ccupational tasks are utilized to sufficiently establish the character’s identity as a librarian. The occupational tasks used most frequently by actors are:  standing or sitting behind a desk, stamping a book, standing on a ladder, holding or shelving a book, picking up a book from a table, pushing a booktruck, and turning out the lights. (p. 18)

For this post, I thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into how often the “library ladder” is used in reel librarian films — and how the cinematic use of a library ladder has progressed (or not!) over the years.

"Library ladder" by klimkin is licensed under a CC0 public domain license

“Library ladder” by klimkin is licensed under a CC0 public domain license

Below, I’ve arranged films in chronological order by year the films were released. Let’s take a trip down library ladder lane!

The Lost Romance (1921)

This film is notable for being the first film to feature a reel librarian atop a ladder in the library. Alas, this film appears lost. It stars Lois Wilson as public librarian Sylvia Hayes, seen atop the ladder in the pic below. In the film’s plot, she has to deal with two proposals, a child’s disappearance, a meddling aunt, and rekindled love. And of course, Sylvia promptly ends her librarian career at the prospect of marriage.

Library ladder still from 'A Lost Romance' (1921)

Library ladder still from ‘A Lost Romance’ (1921), from the Tevis book

When she is standing on the three-step ladder and supposed to be shelving books, Sylvia daydreams instead about her upcoming vacation. While daydreaming, she doesn’t notice the long line of patrons piling up at the Circulation desk. Her boss, played by Mayme Kelso, admonishes her (and Kelso, according to the Tevises, also is the first reel librarian to sport the stereotypical librarian props and hairstyle of eyeglasses and a bun!)

Only 38 (1923)

Actress Lois Wilson plays the lead role, Mrs. Stanley, an “aging” housewife at 38 (!) who wants to assert her independence after sending her 18-year-old twins off to college. The route of this independence? Employment at the college library, of course. This leads to a more youthful appearance (the time-honored cinematic makeover), romance (of course) with an English professor, and confrontations with her outraged children. In one scene, Mrs. Stanley uses the library ladder to fetch a book for a patron.

Movie poster for 'Only 38' (1923), public domain

Movie poster for ‘Only 38’ (1923), public domain

As the Tevises point out, “The film also introduces the tall library ladder as a climbing device for reel librarians to reach high shelves in stack areas while assisting patrons.” The library ladder prop in this scene serves a utilitarian purpose only. “Males leering at the ankles and calves of women librarians on library ladders — occurs for the first time nine years later in No Man of Her Own” (p. 13).

No Man of Her Own (1932)

A con artist and gambler, Babe (Clark Gable), goes to a small town to escape prosecution — and falls in love with the young librarian, Connie (Carole Lombard). A few scenes are set in the library, including one in which Babe looks up the librarian’s skirt while she shelves books!

As detailed in The Image of the Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 book, this film “contained the first library ladder comedic scene in sound films, allowing Babe the opportunity to ogle Connie’s ankle and calf” (p. 26).

Obviously, we are supposed to believe that Gable’s sex appeal knocks Lombard off her library ladder. 😉 The two actors later married in real life.

Cain and Mabel (1936)

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, played by Lillian Lawrence and Harry C. Bradley in uncredited roles.

As the Tevises sum up the library ladder in this scene, “As they [Clark Gable and Marion Davies] kiss in the aisle, another librarian
 whom they fail to notice standing on the higher rungs of a tall library ladder, accidentally drops a book, almost hitting them” (p. 31).

This film highlights another use for the library ladder — it’s convenient for librarians to spy on patrons!

The library scene did make it onto one of the “lobby cards” used in the film’s marketing — but not the library ladder, alas!

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

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

Sea Devils (1937)

In this film, Preston Foster stars as Seaman Mike O’Shay, who sets his sights on young librarian Doris, played by Ida Lupino. There is also an older librarian colleague — in this case, actress Fern Emmett playing Miss McGonigle, sporting a severe bun and pince nez — to contrast with the younger female librarian.

The library scene in this film involves BOTH librarians! Doris starts to shelve books under the library ladder, and when Mike tries to kiss Doris, the other librarian comes down the library ladder and steps on his hand.

I do NOT feel sorry for Mike in this scene. Sexual harassment 0, library ladder 1.

Navy Blues (1937)

The film stars Dick Purcell as Russell J. ‘Rusty’ Gibbs, a sailor whose friends bet that he can’t get a woman of their choosing to go out on a date with him. The woman they choose is a librarian, Doris, played by Mary Brian. There are a couple of scenes set in the public library. I reviewed the film more fully here in this post.

He tries to butter up the librarian with clichĂ© phrases like, “Old books, you know, are like old friends” and “When I get engrossed in a book, the hours just fly.” She isn’t having any of it and crisply hands the book over and informs him of closing time.

She also climbs a book ladder a few minutes later, and Rusty makes a face at the closeup of her ankle, encased in sturdy Oxfords. The reel librarian makes a face right back at him.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

In ‘Navy Blues’ (1937), the librarian glares at the male lead after he looks up her skirt while she’s atop the library ladder.

As the Tevises astutely point out, this library ladder scene contrasts with the library ladder scene in No Man of Her Own, in which the male lead character was excited by the reel librarian’s sight of ankles. (p. 34).

This Was Paris (1942)

In this comic spy thriller set in Paris in 1940, before the German invasion, a reporter suspects a man of being a German spy, so he looks at the newspaper archives—and he makes a mess by throwing pictures and files around. He also takes time to insult Watson, the newspaper librarian.

This scene involves a library ladder, as described by the Tevises, “The scene opens with Butch atop a tall ladder, tossing documents out of folders onto the floor. The newspaper’s librarian… complains that Butch is ‘undoing the work of years’” (p. 41).

The Human Comedy (1943)

This 1944 Best Picture nominee, set in the U.S. homefront during WWII, feature one touching scene at the local public library. Two young boys go to the public library to look at books even though they can’t read yet, and encounter a friendly female librarian (Adeline De Walt Reynolds). This older librarian is atop a tall ladder as she notices the young boys, and she comes down the ladder to ask them questions.

You can view the full library scene in the clip below:

The Wonder of Books: Library Scene from The Human Comedy (1943),” uploaded by Lunamation, 2013, Standard YouTube license

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

In this film, a notorious criminal, Dimitrios, fascinates mystery writer Leyden (Peter Lorre). In one early scene, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and gets help from an easily frustrated archives clerk. I analyzed the film more fully here in this post.

The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less.

It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out
 you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

Library ladders and file cabinets in ‘The Mask of Dimitrios’ (1944)

Weird Woman (1944)

While on an expedition in the South Seas, college professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney, Jr.) marries Paula (Anne Gwynne), a native woman who continues her superstitious beliefs upon their return to the U.S. His unexpected marriage angers his ex-girlfriend, college librarian Ilona (Evelyn Ankers, who starred in several horror films, including the classic The Wolf Man), who embarks on revenge. Hell hath no fury
 like a librarian scorned! I delve more into this horror film here in this post.

Ilona is blonde, young, beautiful, and wears striking modern clothing. However, she does not seem like a dedicated librarian because she is never in the library; rather, she is always in her office, which appears as large as or even bigger than the actual library. Of the actual college library, we only get to see a glimpse of bookcases, a tall library ladder, and a dictionary stand.

As the Tevises put it, “the library, which is drastically inadequate for any college but, for cinematic purposes, establishes the illusion of a library” (p. 49).

Here is a trailer for the film:

Weird Woman – Classic Movie Trailer,” uploaded by Cliff Held, 2013, Standard YouTube license

Wonder Man (1945)

Nightclub singer Buster Dingle (Danny Kaye) gets killed by a mob boss, and his spirit enters his identical twin, Edwin (also played by Danny Kaye). Edwin, a bookworm writing a history book, gets involved with a young and attractive librarian (Virginia Mayo).

The library scene includes two rolling library ladders (and you can see a photographic still of the library ladder scene online here). While trying to woo the librarian, Edwin falls off one of the ladders, bringing down several shelves of books. We learn that this incident actually gets the librarian fired! NOT COOL.

This also goes to show how dangerous library ladders can be!

The Trespasser (1947)

This late ’40s murder mystery stars Dale Evans in a rare non-Western film. And although Evans received top billing, she apparently has only a minor role. The real star of the film is Janet Martin, who plays Stephanie “Stevie” Carson, a recent college graduate who starts work at a newspaper’s research library. She teams up with her boss, Danny Butler (Warren Douglas), to investigate a rare book forgery and the frame-up of one of their newspaper editors.

The large newspaper library includes rolling ladders and floor-to-ceiling file cabinets. This scene also shows how dangerous rolling library ladders can be.

It appears that the library ladders play a role in multiple library scenes. Here’s how the scenes are summed up in the Tevis book: “When Stevie reports to work, Danny, standing on a ladder as he works in the films, informs Steve, ‘I expect people who work for me to be on their toes. I demand, well, I think you got what I demand'” (p. 60). He’s known as a womanizer. Stevie, an intelligent and independent woman, responds to him by grabbing the ladder and pushing it forcefully — “the abrupt stop causes Danny to go somersaulting off the ladder” (p. 61) and onto a desk. Later, Stevie has to climb the ladder to file folders, and Danny ogles her ankles. Stevie complains — way to go! — and says later to Danny that “from now on
 I’ll keep my feet on the ground.”

The Web (1947)

In this film, a lawyer (Edmond O’Brien) and a detective (William Bendix) team up to trap a financier who has framed the lawyer for murder.

The film includes a 45-second scene in a newspaper’s “Index Department.” Robin Raymond plays the newspaper librarian, who is standing on a ladder at the beginning of the library scene, and she proceeds to retrieve a large volume from one of the top shelves.

Katie Did It (1951)

Ann Blyth stars as the title character, Katie, who works at the local public library in a rigidly Puritan New England town. In this kind of romantic comedy, she’s got to fall in love with someone, and in this case, she falls in love with Peter Van Arden (Mark Stevens), a “city slicker commercial artist.”

I have not been able to track down a copy of this film yet, but there’s a Meet Cute moment that involves a ladder — this time, outside the library — as well a funny scene that involves a ladder inside the library.

Here’s how the Tevises describe the significance of this scene, in which Katie, a librarian, is walking to the library when she stops and talks to an inn owner — and the painter (Stevens), atop a tall ladder while painting a new sign for the inn, drips paint on her hat: “In preceding films, librarians in their own bailiwicks, the library, are always on the ladder. In this film there is a touch of irony, a sarcastic twist of events, as the librarian, no longer within the safe confines of a library, is under the ladder, becoming the unintentional target of a falling object” (p. 71).

However, in a later library scene, Katie is the one on a library ladder when Peter the painter comes in, and he takes the opportunity to ogle and whistle at her calves and ankles.

Still from library ladder scene in 'Katie Did It' (1951)

Still from library ladder scene in ‘Katie Did It’ (1951), taken from “Katie Did It 1951 Ann Blyth Mark Stevens Cecil Kellaway,” uploaded by Kemal Baysal, 2017, Standard YouTube license. Click the image to view the video.

As Young As You Feel (1951)

In this comedy, John R. Hodges (Monty Woolley) is enraged that he is being forced to retire at age 65, and in a very short scene, he goes to the library to find out the name of the president of his business’s parent company. Carol Savage plays the young librarian, who is standing on a ladder in the library and consulting a reference book. She gets very excited at finding the information Hodges asks for, scampering down the ladder and shouting, “Here it is! I found it!”

Gotta love an enthusiastic librarian! 😀

A Girl Named Tamiko (1962)

The title character of Tamiko (Frances Nuyen), who is from a wealthy Japanese family, works as a librarian for the Foreign Press Club in Tokyo. There are a couple of scenes set in the Foreign Press Club library.

Here’s how the Tevises describe the scene that includes the library ladder:  “The film’s second library scene utilizes one occupational clue — standing on a ladder. Tamiko’s occupation, however, is not pertinent to the story line” (p. 118).

Below is a trailer for the film, which includes a glimpse of the library — and the library ladder! — at 2:07 minutes into the trailer:

The Girl Named Tamiko – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2013, Standard YouTube license.

Twisted Nerve (1968)

Martin (Hywel Bennett) is a troubled young man with an obsessive mother, a dismissive stepfather, and a brother with Down’s Syndrome who lives in an institution. Martin becomes fixated on Susan Harper (Hayley Mills), a young library assistant studying to be a teacher. There are a few scenes set in the public library with Susan and the head librarian, Mr. Groom. I analyzed this film more in-depth in this post.

Our first introduction to Susan in a library setting is a classically sexist and stereotypical one; while looking for a book atop a library ladder, two young lads enjoy the view up her (short) skirt.

Library ladder screenshot from 'Twisted Nerve'

Library ladder scene in ‘Twisted Nerve’ (1968)

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

A poor Bronx librarian, Neil Klugman (Richard Benjamin), has a summer romance with a privileged “Jewish-American princess” (Ali MacGraw), and their affair highlights how different their worlds are. Neil works in a public library, and in one scene, he helps a black boy who is hanging out in the art room, climbing a ladder to talk to him. He shows genuine interest in the boy and real humanity in the art books the boy is interested in — in contrast to the other librarians, who are very suspicious (and frankly, racist) toward the boy.

My Side of the Mountain (1969)

A boy, Sam (Ted Eccles), leaves home to spend a year in nature, like Thoreau. He goes to the public library in one scene, and librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. In the first library scene, Miss Turner climbs a library ladder to find some books for him.

Maxie (1985)

In this film, a couple (Glenn Close & Mandy Patinkin) move into a new apartment, where the ghost of a 1920s starlet still resides. The ghost, Maxie, takes over Close’s body. Patinkin plays a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

In one scene, he is on a rolling metal ladder and gets sexually harassed by his supervisor, Ophelia Sheffer (Valerie Curtin as Miss Ophelia Sheffer), who fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type.

More sexual harassment atop a library ladder — but this time, a gender reversal! (That doesn’t make it any better.)

Below is a trailer for the film, and you can see the library scene — and the library ladder — at 1:37 minutes into the trailer:

MAXIE [1985 TRAILER],” uploaded by W. David Lindholm, 2009, Standard YouTube license

Criminal Law (1988)

Hotshot lawyer Ben Chase (Gary Oldman) successfully defends a client (Kevin Bacon), realizing after that his client is guilty. In one scene about a half-hour into the film, Ben visits an old professor in the law library. Everyone seems to be on familiar and friendly terms with the librarian.

Rounding a corner, Ben finds his old professor, Clemens (Michael Sinelnikoff), sitting on a library ladder and decked out in a long, grey cardigan. An older lady (Irene Kessler) is handing him thick volumes and helping him shelve books. At first glance, it’s hard to tell which is the librarian!

Library ladder scene in 'Criminal Law' (1988)

Library ladder scene in ‘Criminal Law’ (1988)

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

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

Comprised of three story segments based off of H. P. Lovecraft’s works, this film also includes a “wraparound” entitled The Library, which serves as a framing device for the other stories. H. P. Lovecraft goes to a monastery library and steals a librarian monk’s key in order to read the Necronomicon, the book of the dead — and in the process, he opens up more than he intended.

After signing in, we next spy the librarian on a library ladder. Obviously up to something, Lovecraft nervously directs the librarian to the alchemical encyclopedia on the top shelf (of course). While the librarian is busy reaching for the volume, Lovecraft manages to unhook the librarian’s keys from his waist sash without him noticing the sound of jangling keys or the sudden missing weight. Yeah. Right.

Library ladder scene in 'Necronomicon: Book of the Dead' (1993)

Library ladder scene in ‘Necronomicon: Book of the Dead’ (1993)

This scene not only features a reel librarian using a library ladder to help aid a patron — but the patron uses the ladder as a means to distract the librarian! I also think this library ladder gets the prize for the most ornate ladder design.

I delved headlong into this oddball of a  film and analyzed it here in this post.

The Mummy (1999)

In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene,” uploaded by Hammerfall541, 2013, Standard YouTube license

The Tevises call this library ladder scene “one of the funniest library ladder scenes in twentieth century cinema” (p. 180).

The Age of Adaline (2015)

Adaline (Blake Lively), a young woman and a recent widow, gets into a car accident in the 1930s and stops aging as a result of the accident. After decades of living alone, she meets a man, Ellis (Michel Huisman) who makes her question her life choices. Adaline works in the archives at the San Francisco Heritage Society library, and there are several scenes set in the library.

A half-hour into the film, Ellis returns to the library to donate a lot of rare first editions. (It turns out he has made a lot of money in the tech industry and is now giving back and doing good works.) Just the way to capture a reel librarian’s heart!

Ellis then proceeds with his real mission: to flirt with Adaline. Cue the obligatory library ladder scene!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Library ladder scene in ‘The Age of Adaline’ (2015)

You can read many more details and library scenes in this film analysis post.

Films that include library ladders but do not include reel librarians:

  • Slightly Dangerous (1943): Although no librarian in sight, a library ladder does get featured! In a scene set in a newspaper archives, room, Peggy (Lana Turner) finds a bound volume of newspapers atop a conveniently placed library ladder. Read more about the film in this post.
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959):  Lawyer Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) defends Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is charged with murder of a local man. Biegler argues temporary insanity and pulls an all-nighter in a law library to find a case to use as a precedent. No library ladder — but there IS a chair on which Stewart climbs to reach a book on a high shelf. Read more about the film in this post.
  • What’s New Pussycat? (1965):  In one scene, Carole (Romy Schneider) and Victor (Woody Allen) argue in a library, and another man takes a book that Carole wanted. To prove his love for her, Victor “fights” with the man. No librarian in sight, although there is a quiet, bespectacled man (uncredited in the film cast) reading in the corner who doesn’t stir throughout the entire fight scene. Victor and Carole also kiss atop library ladders.
  • The Lickerish Quartet (1970) has a scene that involves “The Visitor” (Silvana Venturelli) who gets invited into the castle owner’s private library through a secret doorway and ladder.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973): Two siblings, Claudia and her brother, Jamie, run away from home to stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They try to solve the mystery of the new angel statue, rumored to be the work of Michelangelo, which leads them to the statue’s donor and famous recluse, Mrs. Basil E. Frankerweiler. Her private library and filing cabinets also includes a library ladder, which you can see here in this post.
  • Homicide (1991):  Joe Mantegna stars as conflicted Jewish cop Bobby Gold. While investigating a minor case, he gets involved with a secretive Jewish group, which makes him question his faith and self-worth. He investigates the word Grofaz at a special archives library for Jewish studies in one pivotal scene. And OF COURSE, while Gold is placing the book high on a shelf, he just happens to overhear a suspicious conversation between the head librarian and the grey lady assistant. In earlier films, library ladders served as convenient spots for librarians to spy on patrons — here’s a scene in which a patron uses a library ladder to spy on librarians! Read more about the film here in this post.
  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006):   Uma Thurman plays Jenny Johnson as well as her superhero alter ego G-Girl. She starts dating Matt (Luke Wilson), but goes crazy when he breaks up with her. Although initially described as “an uptight librarian on the outside,” we find out Jenny’s an art curator. There is a scene at Matt’s workplace, a design firm, that includes a library ladder. Read more about the film here in this post.
  • Atonement (2007):  In this drama, there is a sexual tryst LITERALLY ON A LIBRARY LADDER — very memorable!

Honorable mention:

In the 1994 animated classic and Oscar-nominated film, Beauty and the Beast, features a rolling library ladder — but in a bookstore, not a library. But the scene is SO memorable that I had to include it as an Honorable Mention entry!

Beauty and the Beast ‘Bonjour’ Bookshop scene,” uploaded by cmekhail, 2010, Standard YouTube license

Have you enjoyed this trip down library ladder lane? Did I miss any? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Source used:

Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.

Reader poll winner write-up: Possession

Possession (2002) won the most recent reader poll, so let’s get to it!

The film is based on A.S. Byatt’s 1990 Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, a “brainy romance” which contrasts modern and Victorian times and uses a flashback structure to move between a current investigation and a long-ago affair. Two literary scholars, Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow, an American playing British) and Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart, an American playing a character who was British in the book but got turned into an American in the film) track down the heretofore unknown correspondence and relationship between two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle). Director Neil LaBute also helped adapt the screenplay.

How does the title come into play? As per the book’s Wikipedia entry:

The title Possession highlights many of the major themes in the novel: questions of ownership and independence between lovers; the practice of collecting historically significant cultural artefacts; and the possession that biographers feel toward their subjects.

Maud and Roland explore their own budding relationship as they research Ash and LaMotte’s relationship — but it’s really the latter that holds the viewer’s interest. The chemistry, such as it is, between Paltrow and Eckhart really cannot hold a candle to the scorching sparks between Ehle and Northam, as also evidenced in the film trailer below:

I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.

The reel librarian

How does the reel librarian fit into all this literary foreplay and mating rituals? I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if there is a librarian character in the source material. But in the movie adaptation, we actually get our first glance at the reel librarian less than 3 minutes (!) into the film, in a library scene critical to the entire plot.


Roland Michell is a research assistant and scholar of the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, and he catches a London double-decker bus to the London Library to pick up a book for a professor. The reel librarian (played by Hugh Simon) plonks down an old book from Ash’s personal library.

(I love this screenshot of the old book, carefully tied with ribbon, juxtaposed next to a computer keyboard and mouse!)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The book that started it all

Although we first see the hands of the reel librarian before we see his face, the camera is not kind to the facial expressions of the reel librarian:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The librarian at London Library

Let’s see how the researcher and the reel librarian “meet cute,” shall we? 😉

Librarian:  Bit of an old monster.

Roland:  Yeah, but an important monster. It’s Randolph Ash’s.

Librarian:  Yes. Who are you with again?

Roland:  I’m Roland Michell.

Librarian:  Who?

Roland:  Professor Blackadder’s research assistant.

Librarian:  Isn’t that Dr. Wolfe?

Roland:  Was. Fergus got the lectureship position at St. John’s… over me.

Librarian:  Of course he did. Oh yes, Dr. Wolfe mentioned you. You’re that American who’s over here.

Roland:  Well, I’m sure there are others. I mean, after all, you are our favorite colony.

The librarian has no comeback for that. Score a point for the American! The librarian drops what he’s holding, sighs, then picks up a book to read it.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland and the librarian at London Library

We learn several things from this short, but contentious exchange, between Roland and the librarian, who is definitely serving as an Information Provider. We learn that the librarian is old-fashioned and conservative, dressed in his sweater vest, tie, and tweeds. The librarian also manages to be both oblivious AND nosy at the same time. The librarian’s nosiness is convenient for purposes of exposition, as we get to learn not only a brief backstory (and credentials) of Roland’s character, but we also learn about his rivalry with another researcher, Dr. Wolfe. Also, this “Britains vs. Americans” theme — unique to the film, as Roland’s character was British in the book — will come up again throughout the film. The librarian is also dismissive of Ash’s book, which helps provide plausibility to Roland’s impending discovery.

The London Library and the letter

This first scene in the library lasts less than a minute, but we return to the London Library a minute later, with this bird’s-eye view:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

London Library

We then zoom into Roland’s table, surrounded by books and index cards, as he starts going through Ash’s book, a setting nicely juxtaposed with a brief flashback of Ash inserting the letter into the book 150-odd years ago:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland Michell finds the letter

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Randolph Henry Ash hides the letter

Roland immediately understands the significance of what he is reading. Randolph Henry Ash is known for his love poems, but here he is writing a letter to a woman, a poet, who is NOT HIS WIFE. Roland looks up and around, suddenly acutely aware of other researchers… and the reel librarian’s suspicious gaze.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland Michell’s reaction to the letters

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The librarian’s look

The music swells as we see Roland mentally wrestle with what to do. Should he put the letter back into the book and inform the London Library of his discovery? But based on what we’ve already heard — he’s gotten passed over for a position, he’s an American who isn’t respected over here in England, nobody attaches any importance to Ash’s old book — we anticipate what he’s about to do instead.

Yep, Roland Michell chooses to pilfer the letter. (That’s fancy talk for “stealing.”) And see how nonchalantly he pulls it off, in the following pair of screenshots.

Step 1: Move the letter over to his personal notebook, which is behind the column, out of sight from the librarian.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland hiding the letter from the librarian in London Library

Step 2:  Sliiiiiiiide over to the other seat behind the column and close the notebook. Done! Now you see him, now you don’t…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland hiding the letter from the librarian in London Library

Selling the plot

This pivotal scene ends at 6 minutes and 50 seconds. The combined library scenes last a combined 3 minutes, setting up the premise for the rest of the film.

Roland takes the letter to his flat and reads it, and then visits his landlord, Euan, who also happens to be a lawyer (played by the always hilarious Tom Hollander). Roland buys “7 minutes of attorney-client privilege” to confess what he’s done, and therefore has the opportunity to really sell the plot to the viewer:

Roland:  They’re practically love letters.

Euan:  Rather racy, actually.

Roland:  You see, Ash, supposedly, never even looked at another woman. I mean, not even glanced at one his entire marriage. Can you imagine what would happen if I could prove that Mr. Perfect Husband had this Shakespearean-type dark lady thing going on?

Euan:  Yeah, but that would be extraordinary. It would be rewriting history, old chap.


Research and the British Museum

I believe the library scenes, set in the London Library, were actually filmed on location, as evidenced by photos of the library seen on their website. However, the London Library is not included on the filming locations list on the page for Possession. The London Library is described as “one of the world’s largest independent lending libraries, and one of the UK’s leading literary institutions.” Scottish philosopher and essayist Thomas Carlyle helped initiate the founding of the London Library, formed in 1841, in reaction to the restrictive policies of the British Museum Library.

Knowing this rivalry between the London Library and the British Museum Library makes it even funnier when we realize that Roland works as a research assistant at the British Museum! We next see him entering the museum by the staff entrance, and then we are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at an office and private research library for Professor Blackadder:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Roland heads to his office at the British Museum

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Roland does attempt to tell Blackadder of his discovery, but Blackadder cuts him off with, “No need, the novice blunders on the discovery. The scholar investigates.”

As Blackadder rushes off, he instructs Roland to answer the “wretched requests” that came in from the public, including — and I am not kidding here — a question about how many jars of gooseberry jam Ash’s wife made in 1850.

Roland responds, “This is not a job for a grown-up!

But this job IS important, as Roland gets inspired for how to do more research for his own discovery in the midst of researching Ash’s wife’s diaries and personal correspondence. He begins getting clues (keywords!) from Ash’s letter and looking up his wife’s diaries to uncover the next step in the research trail.

Bonus:  The viewer gets treated to the old-school index files for this private research collection, as well as all the file boxes. Nothing looks computerized!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The research library files behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The research library files behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Teaming up

The research trail then leads him to Dr. Maud Bailey (Paltrow), who works at the University of Lincoln in Lincolnshire and is an expert scholar on Christabel LaMotte. We also find out that Maud is related to LaMotte. Maud is immediately dismissive of Roland’s theories (“It does seem rather pointless“) but humors him by allowing him to look over letters of LaMotte’s lover, Blanche Glover (played by Lena Headey), from that time period.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Maud and Roland walk through a library en route to Maud’s office

We also get to see Maud’s office, which is light and airy and filled with neatly stacked books and illustrations tacked up over the desk.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Dr. Maud Bailey’s office

Roland then stays overnight at Maud’s place, and at 21 minutes into the film, decides to take a chance at revealing his secret to Maud (to impress her?):

Roland:  Maud, can I show you something? [digs into his bag and hands her the letters]

Maud:  Are these…

Roland:  Those are the originals.

Maud:  How did you get them?

Roland:  I took them.

Maud:  Took them?

Roland:  I sort of stole them.

Maud:  Where from?

Roland:  The London Library.

Maud:  How could you do that?

Roland:  It was on impulse.

Here is Maud’s priceless reaction to the letters — and to Roland’s cavalier attitude to stealing:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

Maud’s reaction to the letters

This scene, which ends at 22 minutes, then completes the plot set-up, that Maud and Roland will team up to research the relationship between Ash and LaMotte, a journey that takes them several different places, including all over England and over to France.

Ethics? What ethics?!

Along the way, Roland’s unorthodox — er, unethical — practices totally corrupt Maud’s own standards as a scholar, all the way up to the end of the film. I won’t spoil all their adventures, but here’s just a smattering of quotes throughout the rest of the film that involve research, research methods, and increasingly deteriorating standards of professional behavior:

Maud, upon discovering a cache of letters between LaMotte and Ash:

Can we please do it properly. Let me run downstairs and get with some notecards and some pencils?

Maud’s reaction to the necessities of researching Ash’s wife’s diaries, an interesting way to rephrase that old saying, “The devil is in the details”:

God is in the boring housewife’s stuff. We should check it.

Maud’s reaction to Roland wanting to keep tracking down LaMotte and Ash’s movements, instead of going back to work at the British Museum:

I thought you were mad when you came to Lincoln with your stolen letter. Now I feel exactly the same.

Roland’s reaction to having to go back to work, while Maud leaves to doublecheck her archives:

Good. I guess I’ll just… I don’t know… go look up shit on the microfiche.

Spoiler: He totally doesn’t. We see him hanging out amongst the bookshelves instead, while his co-worker pushes a cart down the aisle, working.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Possession' (2002)

The research library stacks behind-the-scenes at the British Museum

Totally corrupted by this point, Maud’s smiley reaction to Roland taking the fax a rival researcher sent:

You’re shameless.

Perhaps “shameless” would have been a better title for the film? 😉

Sources used:

London Library” from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Possession. Dir. Neil LaBute. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle. Warner Bros., 2002.

Possession (2002).”

Possession (2002 film)” from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Possession (2002) PossessĂŁo – Trailer” uploaded by dezeroadezfilmes, Sept. 4, 2009, Standard YouTube license.

Possession (Byatt novel)” from Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.