Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

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

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

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

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

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

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


Actor

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

Amateur detective

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


Athlete

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

Armed services/intelligence/spy

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

Banker

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

Beauty pageant contestant

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

Civil service

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

Crime/gangs

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

Doctor/medical services

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

Educator/teacher

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

Historian

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

Musician

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

Jedi

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

Party girl

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

Serial killer

An extra level up the crime scale….

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

Writer:

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


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

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Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

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

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

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

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


Reel librarians as writers, scribes, and translators


Before Night Falls (2000)

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

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

Blade (1998)

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

Ever After (1998)

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

Reel Librarians: Ever After monastery library

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

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

UPDATES (8/14/17):

The Name of the Rose (1986)

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

This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

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

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


Introducing others to literature


Borstal Boy (2000)

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

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

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


Interacting with writers


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

Wonder Man (1945)

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

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

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

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

Possession (2002)

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


Related occupations or education


Fast and Loose (1939)

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

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

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

Rome Adventure (1962)

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

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


Booksellers misidentified as reel librarians


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

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

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

The Final Cut (2004)

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

Night at the Museum (2006)

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

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

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

Red Dragon (2002)

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

Sitting Pretty (1948)

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


Summing up


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

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


More questions? No problem!


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

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

Revisiting reel librarian totals

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&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

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 racialized society and history. 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):

Librarian roles, Asian + South Asian (7):

Screenshot from 'Necronomicon: Book of the Dead' (1993)

Librarian roles, Latinx (4):

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.

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.

A closer look at the reel librarians in the original Ghostbusters

I have written about 1984’s Ghostbusters in bits and pieces before on the blog, including a “Who you gonna call?” post delving into the Librarian Ghost, as well as a “Repeat offenders” post highlighting John Rothman and his penchant for playing insensitive librarians in the early ’80s, including Ghostbusters. The comedy classic was also on the original list of reel librarians films I watched for my original undergraduate thesis, as well as on my list of best librarian films by decade.

However, when I recently rewatched Ghostbusters, I realized there was an opportunity for a closer, more comprehensive look at the librarians and library scene that opens the film. After all, the film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

Opening scenes in the library

The film opens on the steps of the New York Public Library, with a close-up gaze upon one of the iconic “Library Lion” statues guarding the central branch.

Reel Librarians | One of the "Library Lion" statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

One of the “Library Lion” statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The film then immediately cuts to a close-up of a reel librarian, who is also as stone-faced as the statue outside. Character actress Alice Drummond, 56 years old at the time of filming, plays a public librarian named Alice, and her librarian props are out in full force, with a cart and books. Her clothing, consisting of a ruffled tie blouse and a cardigan sweater, is also conservative and buttoned-up. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a stereotypical librarian is a pair of glasses on a chain!

Reel Librarians | Opening shot of Alice the librarian in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Opening shot of Alice the librarian in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

We follow Alice as she goes downstairs to shelve a few books.  The DVD commentary revealed that while the upstairs scenes were filmed in the actual New York Public Library — the library allowed the film crew to film until 10 a.m., so they had to work quickly! — the downstairs scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.

As Alice walks deeper into the stacks, spooky things happen behind her back (literally), as books float past shelves, and card catalog drawer fly open and start spewing cards into the air. (I learned through the commentary that this was a practical effects shot of pushing drawers from behind a fake wall and blowing air through tubes to make the cards fly up.)

Reel Librarians | Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

It’s interesting to note that Alice is almost completely silent through this opening scene. The first time we hear her voice is when she screams. It’s also very clever that we don’t see the ghost ourselves in this opening scene. In fact, with the screaming and up-lit visage of the scared librarian, she looks kind of like a ghost herself!

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian screams in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Reel librarian screams in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

You can see a clip from the opening scene here:

Ghostbusters Library Index Card and Entrance Theme,” uploaded by Dan Baierl, Standard YouTube license

A quick scene in-between the two library scenes takes place at a local university, at the Paranormal Studies department, and helps establish the characters of the scientists and soon-to-be-Ghostbusters.

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting an experiment when Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) bursts in, excitedly shouting, “This is it. This is definitely it!” He goes on to explain:

At 1:40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian.

This bit of dialogue bridges to the library scenes, as Venkman and Stantz meet up with Egon Spengler in the library itself. Venkman makes noise slamming a book on the table, which alerts the library administrator. This is our first glance at Roger Delacourt (John Rothman), who is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and tie:

Reel Librarians | First glance at the library administrator in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

First glance at the library administrator in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Delacourt — notice that he gets a last name, plus a pair of glasses! — approaches the three scientists. After brief introductions, he immediately gets down to business and reveals his real concern:

Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can clear this up quickly, and quietly.

Reel Librarians | Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Next, everyone is clustered around a table, with “some poor librarian” on her back and murmuring. This scene is also when we first hear her character’s name, Alice (but we only get her first name). Delacourt, the library manager, hovers around as if he’s fighting the urge to all shush them for causing a scene in the library.

Reel Librarians | Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Remember, up to this point, all we’ve heard from Alice is her screaming. This next scene, we get to hear her actual speaking voice as Venkman asks her a series of questions, in order to gauge her competency.

Alice:  I don’t remember seeing any legs but it definitely had arms, because it reached out for me.

Peter Venkman:  Alice, I’m gonna ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any member of your family ever been diagnosed schizophrenic, mentally incompetent…?

Alice:  My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.

Peter Venkman:  I’d call that a big yes. [Pause] Are you habitually using drugs, stimulants, alcohol?

Alice: No. [horrified]

By this point in the interview, Roger begins to look even more nervy and agitated.

Peter Venkman:  No, no, just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?

Roger can no longer stand it and butts in.

Roger Delacourt:  What has THAT got to do with it?

Peter Venkman:  Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

Reel Librarians | The library administrator gets the jitters in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library administrator gets the jitters in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The three paranormal scientists then go down to the library basement themselves. The first spooky thing is… symmetrical book-stacking! The horror! As Venkman assesses, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

We learn on the DVD commentary that it was Ivan Reitman’s idea on the day to do the symmetrical book-stacking!

Reel Librarians | Paranormal book-stacking in a library scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Paranormal book-stacking in a library scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

They then come across the card catalog drawers and ectoplasmic residue — “Look at this mess!” — and as they round a corner, a bookcase topples. Turns out, this bit was not planned!

The part where the bookcase falls over and Venkman asks Ray “Has this ever happened to you before?” was not part of the original script. The bookcase actually fell over of its own accord (possibly from being disturbed by various crew members) and the subsequent lines were ad-libbed. It was decided to leave this material in as it added an extra element of mystery to the atmosphere as to whether it was a natural occurrence, or a malicious act on the part of the ghost for which the soon-to-be Ghostbusters were looking. (from IMDB.com Trivia page)

Reel Librarians | A library bookcase falls -- by accident! -- in a library scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

A library bookcase falls — by accident! — in a library scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The scientists then come across the Librarian Ghost — excuse me, the “full torso vaporous apparition” — who is reading a book and floating in her Victorian-style dress.

When Venkman tries to speak to her, the ghost shushes him. (That’s how we know it’s a librarian!)

Reel Librarians | The library ghost in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library ghost in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

When they try to corner the Librarian Ghost, she morphs into a monstrous form and scares the socks off them, “some poor scientists.”

The DVD commentary revealed that this scene was one of the first ones they finished the special effects for. This first moment of seeing the librarian ghost was one the producers screened about 3 weeks after editing the film, and the audience freaked out, screaming and laughing at the same time. That’s when they knew the film was going to work!

As the soon-to-be Ghostbusters run screaming from the library, the hapless library director runs out after them.

Did you see it? What was it?

We’ll get back to you.

WHAT?!

Reel Librarians | The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The role of the librarians

Now that we’ve gotten a look at all three reel librarian in Ghostbusters, let’s delve into the roles and purposes they provide in this Class III film:

I previously identified Alice as fulfilling the dual roles of the Spinster Librarian character type, as well as the Comic Relief character type.

Her Spinster Librarian role is reflected in:

  • Her conservative, buttoned-up clothing
  • Uptight demeanor, as shown in the first shot, turning into timid/meek personality, after being scared by the librarian ghost
  • Rule-monger who is horrified first by the mess made by the spilling of library cards in the card catalog
  • Her sexual undesirability, or at least de-emphasis on her femininity, as revealed through the menstruation question and her horrified (and speechless) reaction to it

In my post about Comic Relief librarians, I wrote:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes. The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.”

This description perfectly sums up how Alice fulfills the Comic Relief role in this film. We most definitely laugh at her distress, or at least remove ourselves, like the Ghostbusters, from her personal distress in order to focus on the cause (the ghost) rather than the effect (“some poor librarian”).

I also enjoyed putting together the different facial expressions of Alice the librarian. Her facial range is impressive!

Reel Librarians | The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Interestingly, the Librarian Ghost (Ruth Oliver) also fulfills the Spinster Librarian role:

  • Conservative, buttoned-up clothing? Check.
  • Hair in a bun? Check.
  • Rule-monger? CHECK. (Evidenced by her shushing.)
  • Unfriendly/stern demeanor? DOUBLE CHECK. (She suffers no fools, y’all.)
Reel Librarians | The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The library administrator, Roger Delacourt, is in his early 30s, a white male. He is an insensitive, nervy library bureaucrat, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. His role fulfills the Anti-Social Librarian character type:

  • Conservative clothing
  • Poor social skills
  • Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
Reel Librarians | The main facial expression from the library administrator in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The main facial expression from the library administrator in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

His job centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.

Hmmm… I think I should add him to either my Hall of Shame or Dishonorable Mention lists…

The role of research

The combined scenes in the library wrap up by 12 minutes into the 105-minute film. We never go back to the New York Public Library — what happened to the Librarian Ghost?! — but the role of research still played a vital role in the film.

Even though the Ghostbusters lose their university funding because their “methods are sloppy” and their “conclusions are highly questionable” — thus providing the incentive to start the Ghostbusters business — the three scientists do highlight their scientific chops in a brief scene after Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) comes to report a demon named Zuul in her refrigerator.

Venkman:  There are some things we do, standard procedures in a case like this, which often brings us results.

Stantz:  I could go to the Hall of Records and check out the structural details in the building. Maybe the building itself has a history of psychic turbulence.

Spengler:  I could look for the name “Zuul” in the usual literature.

Stantz:  Spates Catalog.

Spengler:  Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

Dr. Spangler also references the book, The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects (also known as simply the Roylance Guide), in the film.

Side note:  Y’all know I looked up those titles, right? Although they were invented for the film, making Wikipedia’s List of Fictional Guidebooks, each title does play a role in subsequent Ghostbusters-related series and games. Each title — as well as the book Dr. Spengler wrote later on, Spengler’s Spirit Guide — is detailed in the Ghostbusters Wikia site. See here for the entry on Tobin’s Spirit Guide, here for the entry on Spates Catalog, and here for the entry on the Roylance Guide. Also, Ghostbusters: Tobin’s Spirit Guide was published last year, as a guide for the original movies, as well as the “expanded Ghostbusters universe, delving into supernatural phenomena from the comics, animated shows, video games, and other aspects of the franchise.”

An hour and 10 minutes into the film, Stantz pulls out the building plans — in a jail cell, as you do — and reveals that “the whole building… was designed and built expressly for the purpose of pulling in and concentrating spiritual turbulence…. Spook Central.

Their research pays off! 😀

Need more Ghostbusters?

Alice, the one who got her “socks scared off” in the film, is also featured in the music video for the Oscar-nominated title song by Ray Parker, Jr.

Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters,” uploaded by RayParkerJuniorVEVO, Standard YouTube license

For those who would like to read more of those bits and pieces I’ve written previously about Ghostbusters:

Do you vividly recall the film’s opening scenes in the library? I have to admit that I had forgotten that the two scenes in the library were on either side of the scene in the Paranormal Studies office. I had melded the two library scenes together in my mind.

Have you revisited the original Ghostbusters lately? Or seen the recent remake? Please leave a comment and share! 🙂

 

Call for reader questions follow-up

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 Sam (full disclosure: he’s also 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&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! 🙂