Character Types


Spinster Librarian | Anti-Social Librarian | Liberated Librarian | Librarian as Failure | Spirited Young Girl | Naughty Librarian | Information Provider | Comic Relief


Spinster Librarian:


Most stereotypical female librarian image

Role: Uptight “old maid” librarian who is sexually undesirable; Rule-monger who hoards information; Sometimes referred to, even if not pictured (“You don’t look like a librarian!”); Supporting or minor characters

Age: “Old maids” (but can be “young maids”); “Old maids” used as contrast with younger characters in film

Clothing: Conservative: high collars, cardigans, long skirts, sensible shoes, dark colors or subtle prints, etc.

Physical Appearance: Bun hairstyle or other “unattractive” style; Eyeglasses, either worn or on a chain; Usually skinny, to the point of unattractiveness

Personality: Uptight; Either timid/meek or very unfriendly/stern

Examples: Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life ; Georgia Backus in Citizen Kane ; Alice Drummond in Ghostbusters ; C. Francis Blackchild in Party Girl

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Anti-Social Librarian (male):


Male equivalent of Spinster Librarian

Role: Hoards knowledge; Supporting or minor characters rarely seen outside the library

Age: Middle-aged to old

Clothing: Conservative: dark colors, suit, bowtie or tie, button-up shirt, etc.

Physical Appearance: Generally unattractive

Personality: Exhibits poor social skills; Very unfriendly, seems to dislike people; Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public

Examples: John Rothman in Sophie’s Choice ; Delos V. Smith, Jr. & Bill Derringer in Goodbye, Columbus ; Volker Prechtel in The Name of the Rose ; Charles McCowen in Prick Up Your Ears

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Liberated Librarian (female):


Role: Trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—with the help of a man or in face of an adventure/disaster; “Liberation” can be positive or negative; Usually substantial roles—the librarian’s “liberation” often the film’s major plot

Age: Usually young; sometimes middle-aged

Clothing: Usually more conservative or reserved at first

Physical Appearance: Usually undergoes a change of appearance, becoming more attractive and more feminine

Personality: Intelligent but not that committed to libraries—usually leaves profession after liberation

Examples: Goldie Hawn in Foul Play ;Penelope Ann Miller in The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag ; Greer Garson in Adventure ; Shirley Jones in The Music Man ; Bridget Fonda in A Simple Plan

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Liberated Librarian (male):


Role: Initially similar to the Librarian as Failure — but eventually breaks free (often at the very end of the film); Usually needs outside force or action to aid in or instigate “liberation”

Age: Usually younger, mid-twenties to middle-aged (time to redeem themselves)

Clothing & Physical Appearance: Usually becomes more masculine after “liberation”

Personality: Becomes more assertive after “liberation”

Examples: Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano ; Judge Reinhold in Off Beat ; Jack Gilford in They Might Be Giants ; Jason Robards in Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Librarian as Failure (male):


Role: Suggestive of flaws in library: only “failures” would choose to—or resort to—work in a library; Sometimes failure is used as a pretense or social construct (e.g. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold)

Note: Prison librarians, who fit into this category as societal “failures,” often get their positions because of good behavior while in prison

Age: Usually middle-aged to old

Clothing & Physical Appearance: Conservative: dark colors, suit, bowtie or tie, button-up shirt, etc.; Drab uniforms for prison librarians

Personality: Uncomfortable in social/outside world situations

Examples: James Whitmore in The Shawshank Redemption ; Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold ; Jonathan Pryce in Brazil ; Jack Fletcher in Off Beat

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Spirited Young Girl:


Role: The young girl who works in the library—only a temporary job—and usually meets the leading man while working; More significant roles

Age: Young, teenager to mid-twenties

Clothing: Fashionable and modern

Physical Appearance: Physically attractive

Personality: Intelligent and often spunky; Unafraid to express her intelligence/personality

Examples: Ali MacGraw in Love Story ; June Allyson in Good News ; Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume ; Anna Massey in Peeping Tom

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Naughty Librarian (female):


Role: A flirtatious or sexually charged librarian; Can become violent (or exhibit otherwise criminal behavior) when love/sex desires go unfulfilled or are repressed

Age: Young to middle-aged

Clothing & Physical Appearance: Either (1) Attractive with fashionable clothing or (2) Conservative clothing in library—like a young spinster—and then “lets her hair down” outside the library

Personality: Flirtatious; Sexual undertones in conversation

Examples: Heather Stephens in Tomcats ; Valerie Curtin in Maxie ; Jennifer O’Neill in Personals ; Sarah Shelby in The Seventh Victim

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Naughty Librarian (male):


Role: A sexually charged male librarian (focused on sex rather than a diluted vision of love); Usually unsuccessful professionally

Age: Middle-aged to old

Clothing & Physical Appearance: Generally depicted as unattractive and sexually unappealing to others

Personality: Usually viewed as creepy, sexually deviant, or wimpy

Examples: Peter Sellers in Only Two Can Play ; Michael Habeck in The Name of the Rose ; Rip Torn in You’re a Big Boy Now

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Information Provider (all genders):


Role: Provides information/misinformation to a character (or to the audience: includes establishing library setting); Highlights importance of rules: Either rule-mongers or rule-breakers (will bend the rules in special circumstances); Most identified by occupational tasks: shelving, stamping, pushing book carts, checking out books, answering a reference question, closing up, etc.; Supporting or minor characters

Age: Variety of ages

Clothing & Physical Appearance: Racially diverse with variety of clothing and physical characteristics

Personality: Often roles are too brief to establish personality; Usually listed only as “Librarian” in credits

Examples: Mary Pat Gleason in Lorenzo’s Oil ; Lillian Bronson in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ; Alethea McGrath in Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones ; Orlando Jones in The Time Machine ; Victor Desy in Agnes of God ; Adam Biesk in Flight of the Intruder ; Hugh Simon in Possession

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Comic Relief (all genders):


Role: Usually the target of jokes; Crudest portrayal of librarians; Supporting or minor characters

Age: Middle-aged to old

Clothing: Conservative

Physical Appearance: Either too thin or overweight (extremes add to the humor); Conservative or plain appearance and hair style

Personality: Prefers books over people; Anal-retentiveness makes them funny!

Examples: Elvia Allman in Breakfast at Tiffany’s ; Isla Cameron in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ; Barbara Collentine in That Touch of Mink ; Kathleen Freeman in Chances Are ; Melville Cooper in Pride and Prejudice ; Stringer Davis in Murder at the Gallop ; Roger Callard in UHF

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