Revisiting favorites | Comparing two desk sets, Jan. 26, 2012

The next stop on my “Summer of Nostalgia” blog tour and revisiting past favorites on this blog is a January 2012 post, comparing-and-contrasting the play and film versions of one of my favorite reel librarian films, Desk Set. The 1955 play first starred Shirley Booth as head librarian Bunny Watson, and the resulting 1957 film starred Katharine Hepburn as Bunny and Spencer Tracy as efficiency expert Richard Sumner.

I’ll pause while you read the original post, which also happens to have one of my favorite post titles “Comparing two desk sets (and I don’t mean furniture)“…

Screenshot from a favorite post on Reel Librarians

Screenshot from a favorite post on Reel Librarians

Why this post?

This has always been one of my favorite posts — to research, to write, and to re-read — even way back at my one-year blog anniversary, in which I identified it as one of my personal favorite posts.

It also helps that Desk Set is one of my all-time favorite reel librarian films, as showcased in both my “Hall of Fame” list as well as my “Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s” list. In the latter, here’s how I described why I love this film and the reel librarian character of Bunny Watson:

Hepburn plays the best reel librarian EVER — sassy, funny, smart as hell — a woman who isn’t afraid to downplay her professional skills or love of pretty dresses. The film crackles with wit, style, chemistry, and an enduring central issue of how technology affects libraries and librarians.

Putting together this post, comparing the play and film versions, also revealed how the Bunny Watson character originated on the page and stage as a sassy, funny, and smart woman and librarian character. Yay! I had also forgotten that Bunny was a nickname — her real name, Bonita, is mentioned in Act III of the play.

This post also serves as an early example of how this site affords me the opportunity to explore a variety of angles and perspectives in researching librarian portrayals in film. It’s not always just about the movies; it’s also fun to explore the origins of a reel librarian character, or different versions of that character.

New thoughts?

Looking back, I’ve realized that this early post from 2012 was the first of several resulting posts in which I tracked down and read the play versions of reel librarian films, including this post about the Debbie Does Dallas play and this post about comparing the play and film versions of The Philadelphia Story, which included a “shushing Quaker librarian” character in the film version.

Reel Librarians screenshot

Reel Librarians screenshot

In other presentations I’ve given in my professional work, I’ve also referenced this film and expanded on the idea I explored near the end of the post, seen above, about how the final message of the story — in both the stage and film versions — still rings true today.

“And it seems an endless debate in the library world: are libraries and librarians so easily replaced by computers and online sources? One of the (many) things I love about Desk Set is that the conclusion (you need both!) is STILL relevant today, and just as true.”

I’ll be back next week to revisit another Reel Librarians favorite!

Revisiting favorites | A brief encounter, Nov. 28, 2011

Our second stop on the “Summer of Nostalgia” tour through the Reel Librarians blog… today, I am spotlighting the “A brief encounter with a librarian” post that I wrote and published on Nov. 28, 2011.

Reel Librarians screenshot

Revisiting a favorite post on Reel Librarians

Again, I’m pausing while you reread the original post

Why this post?

I chose this post to revisit because it’s an early example of a film analysis post, in which I analyze a reel librarian portrayal in-depth. It’s also an analysis of one of my favorite films, the often-overlooked 1945 classic, Brief Encounter, starring Celia Johnson in an Oscar-nominated performance.

This post is also a great example of how I can do a lot with a little — in this case, a librarian who is onscreen for a few seconds only — and yet I wrote almost 1,000 words about it! And part of the reason why I wrote so many words about a Class IV portrayal is also one of the reasons why I enjoyed rereading this post, because I got to go off on a research tangent. In this post, I explore why the main character is checking out a book in the Boots pharmacy chain.

As I wrote then:

Boots is still around, but their lending libraries ceased in the late 1960’s. The Boots Lending Library was an example of a subscription library. You’d pay a small monthly or annual fee to the library — or a small fee per item — to be able to check out materials. Sound familiar? It’s basically the same idea as video rental stores or Netflix.

Reel Librarians screenshot

Reel Librarians screenshot

New thoughts?

This past spring, I enjoyed a lecture program about the origins of subscription libraries (aka “lending libraries” or “membership libraries” and precursors to public libraries), and how subscription libraries were one factor in helping women enter the writing profession. (There was such demand for fiction, particularly by women, that publishers started seeking out and publishing women’s writing!) It was a fascinating peek into the power of libraries throughout history, as both an agent for change in the literary world and an agent for social change, as well.

You can read more about subscription libraries here and here, as well as this interesting post about how subscription libraries might be seeing a rebirth.

Also, rereading this post makes me want to rewatch Brief Encounter… excuse me…🙂

Thanks for reading this past favorite, and I’ll be back with another favorite next week!

Revisiting favorites | Soul and inspiration, Nov. 7, 2011

The first stop in my “Summer of Nostalgia” blog tour and revisiting past favorites on this blog… first up is an early post from November 2011, the “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” post spotlighting my inspiration for analyzing reel librarians.

I’ll pause while you read the original post…😉

Reel Librarians screenshot

Revisiting a favorite post on Reel Librarians

As I wrote back then:

So the long-term inspiration for this blog stems deep, from my childhood love of movies and librarians. But there is another, more specific inspiration for connecting the two, to seek out and analyze reel librarians specifically.

This came in the form of the July 1997 issue of the now-defunct print version of Movieline magazine.

More specifically, I loved the article “The Drilling Fields: An Oral History of Hollywood’s Unfair Depiction of a Tragically Downtrodden Minority — Dentists” by Joe Queenan.

So after I first read this article and stopped chuckling over Queenan’s irresistible mix of smarty-pants film analysis and interesting trivia, I couldn’t help thinking…. wouldn’t this be so fun to do for librarians?!

And I’ve been having fun ever since.

Reel dentists article

Reel dentists article

Why this post?

Because, first of all, it’s nice to revisit WHY I was inspired to start analyzing librarians in film. I also sincerely believe Joe Queenan’s writing style has helped shape my own writing style. I strive for a writing style that is fun, conversational, and a bit snarky, in addition to including some (hopefully) sharp insights sprinkled throughout for a few “oh, I didn’t think about that!” kind of moments. I love analyzing reel librarian portrayals, and I want to have FUN doing that — and hopefully, it’s fun as well for my readers.🙂

Reel Librarians screenshot

Reel Librarians screenshot

I’m not sure how Joe Queenan would feel if he knew that he had inspired a teenager back in 1997 to grow up and research librarian portrayals in films — for almost two decades at this point — and end up writing a weekly post about it… and doing it FOR FREE. That last part would probably have him shaking his head the most.😉

But if you ever do read this, Joe Queenan, thank you for the inspiration!

New thoughts?

I looked up to see what Joe Queenan is doing now. On his (woefully short) Wikipedia page, he’s quoted as “a self-described ‘full-time son of a bitch’,” which makes me laugh. According to his profile on The Guardian, he’s a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times and The Guardian, and he’s written quite a few books, including a memoir! And even just judging from the titles of articles he’s written for The Guardian — including “From Titanic to The Revenant: why don’t movie stars learn from their characters?” and “Why bad films aren’t getting the disrespect they deserve” — he’s still in fine comedic, snarky form.

And yes, if you’re wondering, I do still have that 1997 Movieline issue. I paused while packing it up to flip through the magazine again. And smile.😀

I’ll be back next week to revisit another Reel Librarians favorite!

Revisiting favorites | A summer of nostalgia

Several things have come together lately, including finishing up my current job and looking forward in the fall to starting my new job in a new state (Tacoma, Washington), as well as my upcoming 5th year blog anniversary (!!!!!) for Reel Librarians, which will occur the first week of fall term at my new job. This week is also the official start of summer, and this will be — and already is! — a summer full of packing, moving, unpacking, buying a new house, selling our old house, and getting to know a new place. And who knows how long it will take to get internet access hooked up in our new home…

Therefore, I thought it the perfect opportunity to spend some time on personal reflection and revisit some of my personal favorite posts from the past five years. Also, I have written and published over 350 (!) posts on this blog, so why not shine the spotlight on a few “oldies but goodies”?

CC-licensed cinema photo from Flickr

“Cinema 1 2 3” by Steve Snodgrass is licensed under CC BY 2.0

So here’s my plan for a “Summer of Nostalgia” blog tour:

  • Embark on revisiting favorite posts from Reel Librarians for the next 12 weeks
  • I will revisit, in no particular order, 1 favorite a week on Wednesdays, starting next Wednesday, June 29, 2016; each post will include reflecting on why it’s a favorite and any new thoughts I have on the topic/film/post
  • Celebrate my 5th year blog anniversary on Sept. 21, 2016, along with a giveaway contest
  • Perfect timing for a “summer of nostalgia,” as the autumn equinox this year falls on Sept. 22!

Are y’all with me for sharing and revisiting summer favorites? Please share some of your own favorite posts in the comments!

Reviewing ‘The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999’

In last week’s post, I mentioned and quoted from a book I have in my personal library, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, written by Ray Tevis and Brenda Tevis and published by McFarland in 2005. Although I have quoted from this book in several previous posts, and the book is included on my Resources page, I realized that I had not yet devoted an entire post to this book!

Reel Librarians | Front cover of 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Front cover of ‘The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999’

My husband picked up this book for me at a Popular Culture Association Conference years ago, knowing that I would find it useful. And I have! In prior posts, I have described this Tevis book as “invaluable” and “well-researched” and “a great source for information on reel librarians.” The authors also refer to librarians in cinema as “reel librarians,” as evidenced in their table of contents.

Reel Librarians | Table of contents of 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Table of contents of ‘The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999’

The Tevises, who are themselves librarians, organize the book by time period and highlight patterns throughout film history in regards to librarian portrayals onscreen. (Librarians have been in film since the silent screen days, with one of the first reel librarian film sightings in 1917, with A Wife on Trial.) The Tevises identify an early turning point for reel librarians — for better or for worse — with the 1923 film, Only 38; they continue to use that phrase, “only 38,” throughout the rest of the book. As they highlight:

Throughout the twentieth century, the majority of reel librarians, especially those in supporting roles, will be afflicted with this “only 38” characteristic. These reel librarians are portrayed as middle-aged or older, a stigmatization of librarians that begins the first time individuals, when as children, enter a library and encounter an adult librarian, an “only 38” person. (p. 13)

Reel Librarians | Page in 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Section in book about the film ‘Only 38’

In a 2012 post entitled “The Liberated Librarian (ladies, you’re up),” I connect the “only 38” stereotype with my own “Liberated Librarian” character type.

The Tevises also include a filmography of films included in the book and note common characteristics of reel librarians in those films, such as “B” for “Bun” and “E” for “Eyeglasses.”

Reel Librarians | Filmography in 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Filmography of movies that were included in the book

These details then are collected in tables in the Afterword, with percentages of reel librarians who wear eyeglasses, etc. I highlighted these tables in my “Visual characteristics of reel librarians” post, comparing characteristics of “reel” versus “real” librarians. Take a look at that past post — the comparisons might surprise you!

There is also a filmography of films NOT included in the film, along with the reasons why. For example, they did not choose to include science fiction/fantasy films, TV movies, short films, or prison films, among others. (I do choose to include these kinds of films in my own Master List and other related lists on this site.)

Reel Librarians | Filmography in 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Filmography of movies not included in the book

On the back cover, the write-up highlights a silent 1921 film that “set the precedent for two female librarian characters: a dowdy spinster wears glasses and a bun hairstyle, and an attractive woman is overworked and underpaid.” The (unnamed) film referred to on the back cover is 1921’s The Lost Romance.

Reel Librarians | Back cover of 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Back cover of ‘The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999’

Reel Librarians | Page in 'The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999'

Section in book about the film ‘The Lost Romance’

So if you are interested in this research topic, then I would recommend checking out a copy of this book, as it is one of the most comprehensive collections and analyses of reel librarians I have come across in printed form. It is available, new or used, on, and according to WorldCat, it’s available in multiple formats in almost 400 libraries worldwide, if you’d like to request it from your local library via InterLibrary Loan (ILL).

I do refer to The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 as a “reference book,” as it is not the kind of escapist book you read in bed the end of a long day. It doesn’t serve that purpose — not even for me! It has been referred to in one external review as “slow-moving” (libref); I would describe the pace as methodical, as the authors work through 80+ years of reel librarian portrayals and “employ a content analysis methodology to examine reel librarians” (Riggins).

I am grateful that Ray and Brenda Tevis spent years researching this topic — kindred spirits, I am sure! — and were able to capture that research in this book, which I will continue to find useful in my own exploration of reel librarian portrayals.

Works Cited:

Libref. “Librarians in Cinema.” Wells Reference Blog, Indiana University Libraries. 22 October 2015. Web. 14 June 2016.

Riggins, Adina L. “Review of the book ‘The image of librarians in cinema, 1917-1999.” NC Docks, The University of North Carolina, Greensboro. 2009. Web. 14 June 2016.

Tevis, Ray and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2005.