First impressions: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (2019) and its memorable fight scene in the NYPL

This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian.

I was NOT planning to write about the new film John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum when I went to see it a couple of weeks ago during its opening weekend. I’d seen the two previous John Wick installments in theaters, so this outing to its third chapter was planned as a fun date night out. But when John Wick hails a cab within the first 5-10 minutes of the movie and directs the taxi driver to the New York Public Library, I knew my next post HAD to be about this movie.

And yes, a little bit of me felt like saying, “Dammit! There’s going to be a library scene, so now I have to really pay attention to this movie!” This happens to me ALL the time, y’all. Librarians and libraries pop up everywhere in movies, just when you least expect it.

What’s a “first impressions” post?

First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film. I also was able to rewatch most of this library scene and grab some (grainy) screenshots, thanks to a few YouTube videos.

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

John Wick’s reference interview

Now, back to the movie… when John Wick’s cab gets stuck in traffic, he runs to the NYPL’s central branch and then up the center aisle to the front circulation counter. A white, female librarian with a no-nonsense attitude asks if she can help him. She is older, has short brown hair, and is wearing glasses and a cardigan; her character displays all of the (stereo)typical visual cues of a reel librarian, except for the bun. Susan Blommaert is credited as the Librarian, and she mirrors John Wick’s impassive facial expression.

John Wick’s taciturn reference request?

Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864.

The librarian doesn’t ask any follow-up questions in this brief reference interview. Instead, we hear her typing (I’m assuming in a library catalog search screen) and then writes something on a slip of paper (I’m assuming a call number). John Wick stares down at the slip of paper, then back at the librarian, who then points her finger to the right.

Her equally taciturn response?

Level 2.

This is the barest-bones reference interview I think I have ever seen onscreen. And one of the most successful, as we next see John Wick walk down a row of books, straight to the book he needs. This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian. To my mind, she is a highly efficient Information Provider in a Class III film.

Side note: Is real life like that? Not quite… Slate’s Natalia Winkelman wanted to see if she could replicate this reference request at the NYPL, and you can read her real-life reference interview experience here. Winkelman also answers the question of whether this book really exists. Bless. ♥

Shhhh! This library book has a secret

When John Wick slides out the exact book he needs and opens it up, we find out that he has hollowed out the inside! He has stashed valuables in this book’s hidey-hole, including a large token, a rosary with a large cross, a few coins, and a photograph of his dead wife.

Library book prop in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)
Library book prop!

At this point, five thoughts flashed through my head, in this order (it took me longer to suss them out completely on the page):

  1. A book published in 1864 would be out in the main circulating stacks? I don’t think so! That kind of book would probably be super valuable and in an archives or rare books room somewhere. (And this is one of the things that Winkelman found out in the article I referenced above, hah!)
  2. The idea of carving out a hidey-hole in an actual library book — and a rare one at that! — made my librarian heart gasp in dismay. And it is likely to be an actual library book he mutilated, rather than a book he brought from the outside and just placed on the shelves, because otherwise the book wouldn’t have come up in a library catalog search. Unless he swapped a copy of the library book for the real book, which is possible, but he would had to have made a replica call number. It’s also possible I’m overthinking this point… next!
  3. It’s condescending to think that NO ONE would be interested enough in Russian folk tales to check this book out and discover its secret. Every subject out there has its dedicated researchers, and in my experience, folk tales are perennially popular. And if the book were not popular and had no check-outs whatsoever, then it would have been a prime candidate for librarians to (eventually) weed from the collection.
  4. I did mentally pause to appreciate the fact that this scene was filmed in a library — or at least uses or mimics real library book props — because all of the books on the shelves have… say it with me, now… CALL NUMBERS! 😉
  5. Alas, I could not make out the actual call number on the book John Wick slides out or the call numbers in the books around it. If the propmaster wanted to be accurate, the call number would most likely be in the 398.2 call number range, as that’s the Dewey Decimal call number for folk tales and folklore. (And yes, afterward I searched for “Russian folk tales” in the NYPL online library catalog, and that’s the general call number used. I am thorough, y’all. Goes with the librarian territory. 😉 )

Side note: This scene was actually filmed at NYPL’s main branch, as they are thanked in the film’s credits and acknowledgments.

Fight scene in the library!

As John Wick prepares to reshelve the book, a fellow hitman walks around the corner, quoting Dante. This hitman, named Ernest, is played by 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, an NBA player. He towers over Keanu Reeves by more than a foot.

Ernest towers over John Wick, as seen in the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Ernest towers over John Wick

Ernest has come to kill John Wick and claim the reward money. (Context: Wick broke the rules at the end of Chapter 2, so he was given an hour of freedom before the contract to kill him went live. Chapter 3 starts off, time-wise, immediately after the events of Chapter 2.) No rest for the ‘Wick’-ed! 😉

John Wick: I still have time.

Ernest: It’s almost up. Who’s gonna know the difference?

Ernest then pulls out a knife, and the fight begins in earnest. (Pun intended. I couldn’t help myself! Again. 😉 )

At one point during the fight, Ernest shushes Wick. THE NERVE.

Shushing John Wick during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Shushing John Wick

The entire fight scene lasts about a minute, and John Wick eventually defeats his foe with the SAME book he came to the library for.

I admit, I was thinking about this scene’s similarity to a fight scene in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, in which Jason Bourne fights off a fellow assassin with a rolled-up magazine.

Fight in the library stacks in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Fight in the library stacks!

Don’t try this at home the library

And then the kicker. John Wick stands up, walks back into the stacks, and then REPLACES THE LIBRARY BOOK on the shelf, bloodstains and all.

John Wick goes back to replace the library book in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
John Wick goes back to replace the library book

This detail is lauded in several reviews and articles:

Wick’s respect for library protocol is made plain, however — after using a book (Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864) as a deadly weapon, his first instinct is to replace that book where he found it. Great work.

Shannon Connellan, Mashable.com

Eventually John kills him by utilizing the book he’s holding as a weapon. That part is great, but the moment of true inspiration comes next when he goes back and replaces the book on the shelf where he found it. This detail works not because it is funny, but because it fits the character so perfectly that it would almost be weird if he didn’t do it. In a genre where impersonality is the name of the game more than ever, it’s a delight.

Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

This detail is admittedly clever when it comes to reinforcing Wick’s character. OF COURSE he would replace the library book! He is a disciplined man. And he might need the book again. I get all that, and I chuckled myself in the movie theater during this scene.

HOWEVER. I could not be a self-respecting librarian without pointing out that in real life, please DO NOT re-shelve books on your own. You are not doing librarians a favor when you do this. In fact, you’re doing the opposite. Why? Because we like to scan the barcodes of books that are used in the library but not checked out, so we can get a sense of how books are used in the library, even when they’re not checked out or not able to be checked out, like reference books. (This is referred to as “in-house usage.”) So you replacing that book on your own means that you’re depriving that book of its potential in-house usage stats. Also, library staff workers like pages and clerks are trained to re-shelve books, as it’s a major part of their jobs. So those library carts you usually find beside the stacks? Those carts are there for you to put books that need to be re-shelved. Use them, please.

Soap box time over. Thanks for sticking with me!

What about library patrons?

After John Wick replaces the book on the shelf, we next see him rushing down the library steps and into the street. So there seems to have been no consequences — or even acknowledgment! — of there being a very loud fight in the library stacks, which resulted in a dead body.

I can hear you asking, “But if he’s on level two, and there’s no one around, then this is theoretically possible.” Books do, indeed, insulate noise very well. That’s why quiet zones in libraries are often located beyond stacks of books, since they serve as natural sound barriers.

However, the two end their fight outside the stacks, where the tables are, which means the sound would carry. And there are angles in the fight scene that clearly show that there ARE library patrons on level two. Below is an example of what I’m referring to (you can also click the photo to open it in a larger size):

Library patrons in the background of the fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Library patrons in the background of the fight scene

And these patrons, who are listed in the IMDb.com credits but are uncredited in the movie, do not move or react at all to the carnage happening behind them.

Odd, right? Why include patrons at all in this scene? It would have made a lot more sense in this scene for the level to have been deserted.

Why the library?

One of John Wick’s earliest and most imaginative kills in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum occurs at, of all places, the New York Public Library.

Natalia Winkelman, Slate.com

Why did the director, Chad Stahelski, choose to stage one of the fight scenes in a public library? I figured the main reason is the juxtaposition, that we expect libraries to be quiet, so a noisy fight scene in such a quiet space would feel jarring and unexpected and fresh.

Stahelski confirmed this in a Los Angeles Times interview, that he spent a lot of time thinking about how “to be non-repetitive” in the fight scenes that the John Wick films are famous for. It’s important to note that Stahelski has directed all of the John Wick films, and he is a former stunt performer.

Library bookcases, when there are rows and rows of them, are often visually compelling onscreen. This is also the case in this film, as you can see in the screenshot below:

Rows of bookcases during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Rows of bookcases are always visually compelling onscreen

What I found really interesting is that Stahelski was inspired to do this fight scene in the New York Public Library WHILE actually being in the New York Public Library. So meta! And the fact that Stahelski is a library user? ♥

“I spent a lot of time in the New York Public Library trying to do some work because it’s quiet,” Stahelski says. “One day, I was down in the stacks and I thought, ‘This would be a great place for a fight scene.'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

Stahelski was also inspired by the constraints of filming a fight scene in the library:

“A lot of people would avoid using the stacks because it’s difficult to shoot in and it would limit their choreography — you can’t do big flying kicks and stuff like that,” Stahelski says. “We’re kind of the opposite: We think, ‘What’s the hardest situation you can put someone in? And are we smart enough to figure it out?'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

And they did indeed figure it out. Well done!

Continuing the conversation

And they did this scene so well that it took me more than FOUR HOURS (!!!!) to draft this initial post. For a scene that lasts less than two minutes. My initial notes, the ones I jotted down on the notepad app on my phone, were pretty brief. But once I started to unpack, er, unshelve the scene, there was a lot more there to analyze and think through than I had originally thought! And of course, I spent time looking up reviews and articles and cross-checking details and citing sources. All part of the service, y’all. 😉

Are you a fan of the John Wick trilogy? Have you seen Chapter 3? You would alert a librarian or call 911 if you witnessed a fight scene in a library, right? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

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The good, the bad, and the misshelved | Library call numbers in the movies

When movies gets call numbers right, when they get them wrong, and when they give up

If you’re a regular reader (thank you!), then you’ll be aware that I often mention call numbers in my posts about reel librarians, as books and their call numbers often serve as props and clues to movie plot points. When I spy a call number onscreen, I always look it up to see if it’s accurate, as call numbers can reveal many things. And when movies get it wrong, I have been known to go on a rant… or two… 😉


What’s a call number?


Before I get into any rants, however, let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about. Each book or item in a library has a unique number, commonly known as a “call number,” which essentially serves as an address for the item so it can be located in a library. With books, call numbers usually appear on the spines, so the call number is visible when organized on shelves.

Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode
Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers | Screenshot from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

There are different systems of call numbers, also known as “classification systems.” The most common systems are:

  • The Dewey Decimal system is commonly used in public and school libraries. This call number system, as seen in the photo above, starts off with a combination of numbers, 000s through 900s (10 main categories), to classify non-fiction items by subject.
    • An example of a Dewey Decimal call number would be: 305.20973 T39 (the 300s reveal this book has to do with Social Sciences)
  • The Library of Congress system, or “LC” for short, is commonly used for academic (college and university) libraries and larger collections. This system starts off with a combination of letters and numbers to classify both fiction AND non-fiction items by subject.
    • An example of a Library of Congress call number would be: LB 2395 .C65 1992 (the “L” part reveals it’s in Education)

In my experience, call numbers often get confused with ISBNs (international standard book numbers). ISBNs are unique codes, either 10 or 13 digits, purchased and assigned to books by publishers, whereas call numbers are created and assigned by librarians (more specifically, catalogers). ISBNs are like a book’s DNA while call numbers reveal where the book currently lives. Make sense?


Who cares about call numbers?


You mean outside of librarians and catalogers? EVERYONE SHOULD. Well, all library users… which means EVERYONE, right?! 😉

In all seriousness, call numbers are useful and necessary. It’s how you find items in a library. Period. If you don’t have some kind of organizational system — and that’s all a call number system is — then how do you find anything you’re looking for? (And if you suggest by book cover color, then you can go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.)

Here’s a scene in one of my favorite reel librarian movies, Party Girl (1995), that delves into this very question, after she spies a patron randomly (mis)shelving a book:

Librarian Lays Down the Law” video uploaded by evilkingdedede, Standard YouTube license

Below is Mary’s rant in total:

MaryExcuse me? What are you doing? Were you just putting that book away? It looked like you were just putting that book away. I guess you didn’t know we have a system for putting books away here. You know, I’m curious, you were just randomly putting that book on the shelf, is that it? You’ve just given us a great idea. I mean, why are we wasting our time with the Dewey Decimal system, when your system is so much easier? MUCH easier. We’ll just put the books ANYWHERE. Hear that, everybody? Our friend here has given us a great idea. We’ll just put the book ANY DAMN PLACE WE CHOOSE. WE DON’T CARE. Right?! Isn’t that right?

I wish I could play that clip for every library user ever.


When movies get call numbers wrong:


Sometimes, movies get call numbers wrong. And that’s when I get all CAPSY.


Finding Forrester (2000):


In Finding Forrester (2000), the lead character goes to the New York Public Library to search for copies of a classic book. And they get the call numbers ALLLLLLLLLLLL kinds of wrong:

Library catalog results in 'Finding Forrester'"
Library catalog results in ‘Finding Forrester'”

This looks like a pretty typical card catalog screen, especially for that time period. But what is UP with those janky call numbers? D-107424, D-109478, D-783719, etc. Those do not look like any call numbers I’ve ever come across — especially not for a fiction book. They look more like accession numbers to me, which are automatically assigned numbers to items as they are entered into a system. (Archives collections are the only collections I’m aware of that sometimes shelve items by accession numbers. A public library would have a more generic call number for a work of fiction, something like FIC FOR, for “Fiction – Forrester”)

You can read my full analysis of Finding Forrester (2000) here in this 2015 post.


“Dual Spires” episode from Psych (2010):


Technicality — this isn’t from a movie, but rather a TV series episode. But oh, the call number shenanigans in this episode.

Call numbers are not hieroglyphics, Shawn | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode
Call numbers are not hieroglyphics, Shawn | Screenshot from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

Allow me to recap from my original post:

So. We have three different call number situations going on in this scene, within a span of 30 seconds:

– Library of Congress call numbers on a row of books behind the librarian

– Dewey Decimal call numbers on a row of books in a standing bookcase

– No call numbers at all on a row of books at the end of a bookcase.

The propmaster for this episode totally messed up. I. Am. Seriously. Displeased. And thank you, reader, for allowing me to rant online about my rage over these call number shenanigans.

You can read my full analysis of this Psych episode here in this 2018 post.


Abandon (2002):


This movie gets call numbers both right AND wrong. Pretty impressive.

In this thriller, college senior Katie (Katie Holmes) is trying to finish her thesis (in the library, natch), when a cop (Benjamin Bratt) starts investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Embry (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing Embry again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? She wakes up in one library scene to find a call number scratched into her desk.

Dewey Decimal call numbers in Abandon (2002)
Dewey Decimal call numbers in Abandon (2002)

It’s interesting to note that this is a Dewey Decimal call number, which is an odd choice for a college/university library. Usually, college and university libraries have larger collections and therefore use the Library of Congress (LC) classification system.

So y’all know I had to look up this call number, right? RIGHT. Turns out it’s the call number for Dante’s Inferno (Embry’s last student production was “Trip Hop Inferno” — spooky!). Then I had to look up where this scene was filmed, and it was in a library at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. That then led me to look up the book in the McGill University’s library catalog — and they use the LC classification system, NOT the Dewey Decimal system! So CLEARLY this whole call number sequence in the movie was created just for the film. Odd.

You can read my full analysis of Abandon (2002) here in this 2017 post.


National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007):


In this action adventure sequel, treasure hunter Gates (Nicolas Cage) kinda sorta kidnaps POTUS and gets a clue in return: XY 234786. I immediately knew this was a call number clue, which leads the adventurers to the Library of Congress to track down the “Book of Secrets” referenced in the film’s title.

Library of Congress call number closeups in National Treasure 2 (2007)
Library of Congress call number closeups in National Treasure 2 (2007)

Riley:  Where do we start?

Chase:  XY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.

Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!

Note:  The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.

You can read my full analysis of National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007) here in this 2018 post.


Wet Hot American Summer (2001):


This movie didn’t get it wrong so much as it went rogue with call numbers. It is a comedy, after all. They created their own call numbers for a short library scene:

Call numbers in the library scene from Wet Hot American Summer
Call numbers in the library scene from Wet Hot American Summer

The call numbers highlighted in this scene are also fake — “AS” begins the section on astrophysics call numbers, while “CA DIR” begins the section on camp directing — but I had to laugh out loud at this celluloid call numbering system!

You can read my full analysis of Wet Hot American Summer here in this 2016 post.


The Next Three Days (2010):


In the action thriller The Next Three Days, star Russell Crowe looks up books in an online library catalog. This movie didn’t include call numbers at all but got an ISBN wrong instead.

Here’s what I wrote in my analysis post about this short research scene:

Library catalog record in The Next Three Days (2010)
Library catalog record in The Next Three Days (2010)

That list of results also led him to this (fictitious) title, Over the Walls, with an author’s picture, seen below. Soooooo not accurate, because:

– Library catalog records do not include authors’ pictures, at least none that I’ve seen

– They don’t include info about where an author lives (dude, privacy issues)

– There would definitely be info in the publisher, pub year, and pages fields, or a note indicating that no such info could be found (but that’s really only for rare old books).

– The ISBN listed, 029019745716, is 12 digits, and ISBNs are either 10- or 13-digit numbers. But I still plugged in that number into the ISBN Search database. And yes, there is such a thing as an ISBN Search database. Now you know. 

But hey, it gives Liam Neeson a bit more screen time (hah!), and propels the plot forward for John to meet up with Damon, an ex-convict who has broken out of several prisons. And I totally get why they used an invalid ISBN for the purposes of the film, like they do with fake 555 telephone numbers.

You can read my full analysis of The Next Three Days here in this 2013 post.


When movies get call numbers right:


Sometimes, movies get call numbers right. And that’s when I get a warm glow in my librarian’s heart. 😉


Spotlight (2015):


In this Best Picture Oscar-winning film, Boston Globe reporters do a lot of researching, enlisting the aid of the newspaper’s research team and head librarian, Lisa Tuite.

Print directories in Spotlight (2015)
Print directories in Spotlight (2015)

In the very next scene, we see Lisa again, this time in what must be the print collection of the newspaper library and archives. We get a closeup of the multi-volume Catholic Encyclopedia and paperback copies of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory, all with spine labels of what looks to be Dewey Decimal call numbers in the 200’s. [And that is correct, Class 200 in the Dewey Decimal classification system is about religion. Y’all knew I would doublecheck that, right?!]

You can read my full analysis of Spotlight here in this 2016 post.


WarGames (1983):


In this classic ’80s film, David, a computer whiz (Matthew Broderick), hacks into a computer game system, accidentally starting World War III. Is it a simulation, or a real-life crisis? A library research montage reveals how David discovers the secret password into the computer system.

Library card catalog in WarGames (1983)
Library card catalog in WarGames (1983)
Closeup of card catalog record in WarGames (1983)
Closeup of card catalog record in WarGames (1983)

He then goes back a third time and shuffles through a card catalog drawer to locate a card for Falken’s thesis, as seen below. (More sigh of nostalgia.) Another clue that he’s researching at a college library, because the call number is a Library of Congress (LC) call number, which uses a combination of letters and numbers. (Most public and school libraries use the Dewey Decimal call number system.)

And yes, I totally looked up that call number in WorldCat. The first part of the call number, QA76.9, is spot-on, as that’s in the call number range for computer systems and software. The Qs are for Science, and the QA subclass is for Mathematics. Also, all of the research materials in this film are super-convincing. None of the articles are real — there’s no Stephen W. Falken, of course — but the film’s prop masters used real publications, like Scientific Americanand The Atlantic to add an edge of verisimilitude. Also, somebody studied real library catalog cards, as that is the best faux-library catalog card I’ve ever seen onscreen. Look at all that info!

You can read my full analysis of WarGames here in this 2014 post.


RED (2010):


In this comedy-action film, retired but extremely dangerous (“RED”) agents team up against people trying to kill them. This film also introduces a real-life call number system that was wholly new to me, the Harvard-Yenching classification system created in the late 1920s to catalog Chinese-language materials.

About a half-hour or so into RED (2010), Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) follow up a lead in New York from a reporter who had been killed. When they question the reporter’s mother, they come across an odd number written on back of a postcard:

Call number clue from RED (2010)
Call number clue from RED (2010)

The next scene cuts to Frank and Sarah outside frosted glass doors that read “Downtown NYC Campus Branch” library. […]

Sarah:  Why are we here again?

Frank:  Because those number on Stephanie Chang’s postcard are actually the call number for a book.

Sarah:  Call numbers start with letters.

Frank:  In Library of Congress, yeah. In Harvard-Yenching, it’s a classification for Asian literature.

Sarah:  How could you possibly know that?

Frank:  [Starts speaking Mandarin]

NOTE:  By the way, the Harvard-Yenching classification system was begun in the late 1920s to catalog Chinese-language materials in the Harvard-Yenching Institute. The Library of Congress (LC) system was not capable at the time of classifying those kinds of materials, so other libraries around the world followed suit by using the Harvard-Yenching system to catalog their own Asian-language collections. Through the 1970s and 1980s, however, the LC system added extensive subject headings for Asian and other languages and literatures, and most U.S. libraries now classify Asian-language materials under the LC system.

You can read my full analysis of RED here in this 2014 post.


In God’s Country (2007):


In this TV movie, mother (Kelly Rowan) living in a polygamous religious community escapes with her children, and they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”

Library scene from In God's Country (TV, 2007)
Library scene from In God’s Country (TV, 2007)

In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.

Librarian:  Can I help you?

Alice:  I’m looking for a book on astronomy.

Librarian:  Astronomy is in the 520’s.

[…]

At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520’s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.

You can read my full analysis of In God’s Country here in this 2014 post.

NOTE:  There is also a scene involving the Astronomy section — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post.


When movies give up on call numbers:


And sometimes movies just give up on call numbers altogether. And that’s when I roll my eyes. It’s NOT that hard, y’all.


Scream Blacula Scream (1973):


In this sequel to Blacula, an ex-policeman (Don Mitchell) investigates a series of suspicious deaths. The ex-policeman visits a library in one brief scene. I had written before that this film is notable for one of the least convincing library sets on screen, LOL!

Bad library organization-- and no call numbers! -- in Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Bad library organization– and no call numbers! — in Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

The most notable aspect of the scene is how badly this library is organized. It is obviously a set — all you need are bookcases, books, a chair or two, hand-lettered signs, and a woman in glasses! — but not a very well-thought-out set. The three signs we see on the bookcases are all placed where they hang OVER the books — highly inconvenient for anyone to see or reach the books shelved behind the signs.

Also, the signs that are visible go from “GRAPHICS” to the “OCCULT” to “FICTION.” Huh? What kind of library system or collection is this?! You guessed it — the fake kind! Also, NO CALL NUMBERS on the books!

You can read my full analysis of Scream Blacula Scream here in this 2014 post.


Zodiac (2007):


In this dark, slow-moving film, director David Fincher explores the quest to track down the Zodiac killer and how that quest affects the lives of reporters and investigators. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a newspaper cartoonist, never gives up in his own investigation and checks out library books to help him crack codes from the killer’s ciphers. The propmaster for the film included real books, which Graysmith reveals all came from libraries — but only SOME of the books in the film include call numbers. I figure the filmmakers didn’t think about call numbers at all.

The first scene involving library books includes no call numbers:

Codes and Ciphers book in a scene from Zodiac (2007) -- that's not a library book copy!
Codes and Ciphers book in a scene from Zodiac (2007) — that’s not a library book copy!

At 52 minutes into this 157-minute film (it’s a really long, slow-paced film, y’all), Graysmith is talking with Avery in a bar about a cipher the Zodiac killer used to write a note to the police, challenging the public to crack his message. Graysmith explains the starting point to figuring out the coded message. (Underlining throughout signifies my own emphasis.)

Avery:  But how do you go from “A” is one, “B” is two to figuring out this whole code?

Graysmith:  Same way I did. You go to the library.

At this point, Graysmith takes out a book from his briefcase, a book entitled The Code Breakers by David Kahn.

He then takes out another book from his briefcase, this one entitled Codes and Ciphers by John Laffin. This book describes another Middle Ages code called the “Zodiac Alphabet.”

NOTE:  Yep, another real book, this one published in 1964. Gotta hand it to the David Fincher team for its research skills. HOWEVER, that team overlooked the detail of including call numbers, because neither one of these books has a call number — and Graysmith clearly states that he got them from a library. A real library book would have a call number on the spine. Back in the 1960s, it was commonplace to strip the paper covers from hardback books, and then either paint on call numbers or otherwise affix typed call numbers onto the spine. But dully colored hardback books would not have cinematic impact, so I suspect the product team just bought first edition copies and didn’t think about call numbers. But librarians do!

In a later scene, Graysmith pulls out several more books, and this scene includes a mixture of books with call numbers and those without:

A mix of books and call numbers in Zodiac (2007)
A mix of books and call numbers in Zodiac (2007)

Graysmith:  Can I show you something? [Takes out books from his briefcase — sound familiar?] I’ve been doing research on the first cipher. Everything an amateur would need to create it can be found in these books. Now, I started thinking that if you can track these books, then maybe you can track the man. So I remember that you thought the Zodiac was military, so I went to every base library and I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books, and that’s when I found this.

He then takes out a sheaf of papers and hands them to Toschi. (Side note:  I did notice that at least one of the books below, a thinner tan-colored one, *does* have a call number label on its spine. Hurrah!)

You can read my full analysis of Zodiac here in this 2018 post.


Urban Legend (1998):


In this horror flick, college students keep getting killed off in scenarios based on urban legends. Is there a serial killer on an urban legend killing spree? Early on in the film, Natalie (Alicia Witt) heads off to the college library to research urban legends.

No call numbers on the library books in Urban Legend
No call numbers on the library books in Urban Legend

I also found it HILARIOUS that the prop manager didn’t even bother stocking the shelves with real library books. How can I tell? There are no call numbers on the spines or edges of the books! Strike two.

You can read my full analysis of Urban Legend here in this 2013 post.


The Pit (1981):


In this horror film, twelve year-old Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders), a social outcast, talks to his teddy bear and fantasizes about older women, including the public librarian. He discovers Trogs in a pit deep in the woods, and with Teddy’s help, discovers a way to seek revenge on those who have been mean to him. There are several scenes set in the local public library, including an early scene that reveals Jamie’s obsessions.

Book closeup (with no call number) in The Pit (1981)
Book closeup (with no call number) in The Pit (1981)

Within the first five minutes of the film, Jamie (played by Sammy Snyders) is seen writing sentences on a school blackboard, punishment for bringing in a naughty book. The schoolteacher opens the book, titled Creative Nude Photography, and comes across a page with a nude silhouette that’s been cut out.

Even though the book clearly has NO CALL NUMBER on the spine (the tell-tale clue to differentiate between books in a bookstore vs. a library), the schoolteacher assumes it’s a library book. She also states that she’s sure “Ms. Livingstone can find some way to repair it [the book].”

Librarian:  Hello, Marian. What can I do for you?

Teacher:  I’m returning this. Jamie, one of my little boy borrowed it. There isn’t likely to be any record of it having gone out. Perhaps you could slip it back for me?

Librarian:  I’ll make sure it’s put back on the shelves.

You can read my full analysis of The Pit here in this 2016 post.


Let’s dance!


Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? How about we revisit Party Girl, this time for the awesome dance scene, in which Mary has the “wildest night of [her] existence” figuring out the Dewey Decimal system? So true to life. 😉

Party Girl Library Dance” video uploaded by jehnnamari, Standard YouTube license

This scene makes me smile every time. Carry on, call numbers! 😀

Sources used:

  • Abandon. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel. Buena Vista, 2002.
  • “Dual Spires.” Psych. USA Network, Dec. 2010.
  • Finding Forrester. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Perf. Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham. Columbia, 2000.
  • In God’s Country (TV movie). Dir. Kelly Rowan. Lifetime Telvision, 2007.
  • National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. Dir. Jon Turteltaub. Perf. Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris. Walt Disney, 2007.
  • The Next Three Days. Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson. Columbia, 1989.
  • The Pit, aka Teddy. Dir. Lew Lehman. Perf. Sammy Snyders, Jeannie Elias, Laura Hollingsworth. Amulet Pictures, 1981.
  • RED. Dir. Robert Schwentke. Perf. Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren. Summit, 2010.
  • Scream Blacula Scream. Dir. Bob Kelljan. Perf. William Marshall, Pam Grier. American International, 1973.
  • Spotlight. Dir. Tom McCarthy. Perf. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber. First Look, 2015.
  • Urban Legend. Dir. Jim Gillespie. Perf. Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson. Columbia TriStar, 1998.
  • WarGames. Dir. John Badham. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood, Dabney Coleman. United Artists, 1983.
  • Wet Hot American Summer. Dir. David Wain. Perf. Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2001.
  • Zodiac. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. Paramount, 2007.

A reel archivist returns in ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’

“The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress.”

Last week, I dived deep into the archivist’s role in 2004’s National Treasure… so it should come as no surprise that this week, it feels fitting to explore the 2007 sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:

This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”

So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

Here’s a trailer for National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets:

NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007) – Official Movie Trailer,” uploaded by soundfan, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

What do I like about the film?


That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉


What do I NOT like about the film?


Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations:  Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.


Bookstore scene:


Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)
You’re no Indiana Jones, dude.

However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.


Trouble in (archives) paradise:


We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.

As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”

Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”

Abigail Chase's Library of Congress ID
Abigail Chase’s Library of Congress ID

There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉

And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:

ConnorWow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.

ChasePretty much.

Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.

ChaseHand it over, Ben.

GatesI need to see the Booth diary page.

ChaseYou saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.

GatesNo, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?

ChaseNo need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.

GatesIt could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.

ChaseIt’s not up to me. It’s not my department.

Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.

I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!


The white glove returns!


The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)
Modern archival equipment!
White gloves in hand for the reel archivist
White gloves in hand for the reel archivist

This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉

They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! —  and she sends the document to the scanner.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)
Cipher discovered!

Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.

A reel archivist's tools: white gloves, tape, and infrared scanners
A reel archivist’s tools: white gloves, tape, and infrared scanners

Here’s how this scene and its importance to Chase’s identity as a reel archivist is described in the “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists” article by Aldred, Burr, and Park:

“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)


The book of secrets:


The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)

The chapter on the secret book in Riley's book
The chapter on the secret book in Riley’s book

It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.


Library of Congress connection:


So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.

PresidentThe book exists.

GatesWhere is it?

PresidentWhere else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.

POTUS then gives Gates a code:  XY 234786.

I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)

And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…


Library of Congress archivist leading the way:


At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel

Library of Congress entry
Library of Congress entry
Reel archivist in charge and coming through!
Reel archivist in charge and coming through!

RileyWhere do we start?

ChaseXY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.

Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!

Note:  The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.

I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀

Two reel librarians on duty at the Library of Congress Reading Room reference desk
Two reel librarians on duty at the Library of Congress Reading Room reference desk

We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.

None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.

Reel librarian alert, with an iconic prop, the book cart.
Reel librarian alert, with an iconic prop, the book cart.

Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”

Library alcove set in the Library of Congress
Library alcove set in the Library of Congress

But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.

Call number closeup
Call number closeup

RileyMaybe someone checked it out.

ChaseWhy would he send us here if there’s no book?

RileyHe probably wanted us to get caught.

Library ladder alert! I will need to add this film to the library ladders round-up post:

Library ladder alert!
Library ladder alert!

Gates figures out the secret book’s secret hiding place, by use of additional clues POTUS gave him.

The book of secrets discovered!
The book of secrets discovered!

Trivia from IMDb.com reveals that:

The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.

And the director confirms this on the commentary track:

We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.

Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.

Random FBI AgentSo Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?

FBI Agent SaduskyMaybe he wants to check out a book.


Escape from the Library of Congress:


The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.

Escape through the Reading Room reference desk
Escape through the Reading Room reference desk

The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:

These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.

Running through the Library of Congress basement
Running through the Library of Congress basement

I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)
Librarian helper

Don’t mess with librarians! 😉


Reel archivist and librarian roles:


Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!

The other reel archivist, the White House curator Connor (played by Ty Burrell), serves as both an Information Provider and Comic Relief. And the four other reel librarian cameos glimpsed in the Library of Congress scene all serve as Information Providers.


My personal connection to this movie:


Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.

The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀


Comments?


Have you seen National Treasure or its sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets? Did you enjoy them and/or the major archivist role in these films? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


Call number shenanigans | Public library scene in another ‘Psych’ TV episode

“The Dewey Decimal system? I didn’t even know they still used this.”

I was still enjoying watching episodes of the Psych TV show before our Amazon Prime free trial ran out… and color me surprised when I came across another library scene — and this time, a librarian character! — in the Season 5 episode “Dual Spires.”(See my post from a few weeks ago about a school library scene in a Season 2 episode of Psych.) This episode, which originally aired back in December 2010, brilliantly riffs off of the iconic Twin Peaks series. Below is a 20-second promo for the episode, which includes a peek at the reel librarian on the intro image and at the very end:

“Psych on USA Network – “Dual Spires” 12/1 Promo” uploaded by Psych on USA, Standard YouTube license.

The basic plot of this episode? Here’s the write-up from Prime:

Shawn and Gus receive a mysterious email inviting them to the Cinnamon Festival in Dual Spires, a quirky small town nearly invisible on a map. They arrive to find themselves embroiled in the mystery of the drowning death of a teenage girl — who was declared dead under similar circumstances seven years ago in Santa Barbara. Sherilynn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, Robyn Lively, Lenny Von Dohlen and Catherine Coulson guest star.


The call number clue:


When Shawn and Gus arrive at the town — which has a population of 288 — they are on the spot when the girl’s body is discovered by the lake. Twelve minutes into the 50-minute episode, Shawn also finds the one spot of cell phone coverage by the lake — they’ve been told the town has no internet or phone coverage — and his phone goes off, alerting him to a new email.

There’s a close-up of the email message, which is one short line: F796.352

Call number clue from "Dual Spires" Psych episode
Call number clue from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

I immediately screamed out loud, “It’s a call number!!!

Note:  Because I am a librarian, I also knew that this call number was a Library of Congress call number, a classification system that uses a combination of letters and numbers. And y’all know I looked up the general topic area for this particular call number, right? Class F, as according to the Library of Congress site, is the section for “Local History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America,” and the call number range for 791-805 focuses on the history of New Mexico.

Back to the episode…


First library scene:


A few minutes later, Shawn and Gus then bicycle to the local public library after a suspect, the town’s resident jock, says he was in the library during the night the teenage girl died. The first library scene occurs 20 minutes into the episode.

The exterior of the library kind of looks like a converted train station, doesn’t it?

Public library exterior in "Dual Spires" Psych episode
Public library exterior in “Dual Spires” Psych episode

The interior of the library reveals it to be one long room, with a fireplace on one end and rows of bookcases on the other. The librarian’s desk faces the door, and the middle of the room contains a chunky wooden table, wooden filing cabinets, and old-fashioned library card catalog drawers. The librarian’s desk has stacks of books piled up on it, along with a magnifying glass and a retro-style tabletop fan. Basically, this library is where time stopped in the 1940s.

Library interior from "Dual Spires" Psych episode
Library interior from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

The reel librarian in this episode also looks like she hails from the 1940s, in her retro attire and hairstyle. Sherilyn Fenn, who starred in the original Twin Peaks TV series, plays the librarian, Maudette Hornsby. Her character name provides an initial clue that her reel librarian character is going to play off of reel librarian stereotypes, particularly the Naughty Librarian character type. Demure yet sexy attire? Check! Glasses? Check! Suggestive, flirty dialogue? Check!

The reel librarian Maudette Hornsby from "Dual Spires" Psych episode
The reel librarian Maudette Hornsby from “Dual Spires” Psych episode

Let’s listen in on their conversation, which provides a lot of exposition and flirting:

Shawn: Excuse us.

Maudette: Shhhh. Keep your voice down, please.

GusIt’s just us and you.

Maudette: Just a bunch of words on paper to you guys, right? Wrong. Each is alive with a story to tell. Listen.

[Pause, as Shawn and Gus cock their ears in silence.]

Maudette: I’m just messing with you guys! Thanks for playing along. That was really sweet. I’m Maudette Hornsby. Isn’t cherry the best? [sips a cherry soda and straw suggestively, invoking the “cherry stem” scene from Twin Peaks]

Reel librarian + product placement
Reel librarian + product placement

GusThe best what?

MaudetteEverything, silly. I thought you were psychic.

Shawn I am. I am the psychic. But how did you know that?

MaudetteMmmm, word travels. You know, we don’t get a lot of gossip around here. So, untimely death, a psychic, and a black man all in one day. Epic.

ShawnI really thought we were being discreet.

GusDo you even know what discreet is? That’s a serious question.

ShawnI know what–

Gus:  [To Shawn] Shhh. [To Paula] Was Randy Jackson [the football star] with you the night Paula died?

MaudetteWhy? Do you think she was m-u-r-d-e-r-e-d or something?

ShawnM-a-y-b-e.

MaudetteYes, Randy was here. We have a very special bond, you see. His mom passed away when he was very young. Sheriff Jackson never remarried, so I sort of stepped in and filled a role. For both of them.

Shawn then spies a row of books behind the librarian, and the camera zooms in on the call numbers. These are clearly call numbers using the Library of Congress classification system, which uses a combination of letters and numbers on the first line of call numbers. But one call number in the middle reveals it’s part of a “Parent Teacher” collection, which is odd because none of the other spine labels have that designation. (My thought at this point was that the propmaster didn’t look too closely at their book props.)

Closeup of Library of Congress call numbers
Closeup of Library of Congress call numbers

But the glimpse of call numbers are enough for Shawn to put two and two together and realize that their email clue is a call number.

GusDo you mind if we poke around?

Shawn Poke. Peek. Peek around.

MaudetteKnock yourselves out.

Shawn and Gus then walk around the back of a standing bookcase, where Shawn reveals his deductions.

ShawnOkay, remember the last email, the one with all the weird hieroglyphics?

Gus:  They were letters and numbers, Shawn.

ShawnOkay, it was one of these things. [Points to a call number on the shelf.]

Call numbers are not hieroglyphics, Shawn
Call numbers are not hieroglyphics, Shawn
Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers
Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers

GusThe Dewey Decimal system? I didn’t even know they still used this.

ShawnThat’s ’cause people don’t want to crack war codes when the payoff is Jane Eyre.

GusWhat was the number, Shawn?

ShawnF796.352

Gus700’s, that’s sports and recreations.

Okay, I have to press pause on this analysis — and this episode, which I literally did in real life at this point — because THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Let me break down it down.

  1. I am usually #TeamGus, but WTF with the dismissal of the Dewey Decimal system?! That’s just cold, Gus. Just about every public library system worldwide uses the Dewey Decimal system.
  2. This second closeup of the call numbers, as seen above, highlights call numbers that are clearly using the Dewey Decimal system — which uses numbers only, between the range of 000’s to 900’s, for the first line of its call numbers — instead of the Library of Congress system we just saw seconds ago on books behind the reel librarian’s desk. And NO LIBRARY EVER IN THE HISTORY OF LIBRARIES uses both Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classification systems for organizing their collections. You choose one or the other. Most public and school libraries go with Dewey, while most academic libraries go with Library of Congress. The only reason you would have both call numbers in your library is if you are in the middle of transitioning from one system to the other (which is so tedious, y’all, and most libraries don’t bother).
  3. Shawn clearly recalls the call number and says aloud the “F” in that call number yet fails to notice that the call numbers he just pointed to do NOT have letters at the beginning of their numbers. And Shawn is the one who is supposed to be so detail-oriented that he’s able to pass off those observational skills as being psychic. (Uh, spoiler if you’ve never seen the show.)
  4. Gus is correct that the “796” part of the call number falls in the “Arts & recreation” range of the Dewey Decimal classification system, and the 790’s are specifically “Sports, games & entertainment” (and yes, a search for 796.352 on WorldCat pulls up books on golf, because I am thorough, y’all, unlike the consultants on this show). But that doesn’t matter, because that “F” in front of that call number completely changes that call number from a Dewey Decimal call number into a Library of Congress call number. If the call number clue had JUST been “796.352,” I would not be getting ALL CAPSY right now.
  5. So the show switches — mid-library scene!!! — from Library of Congress to Dewey Decimal call number systems, and seems utterly clueless about THEIR OWN CLUES.

This show should have consulted with a real-life librarian, who would have pointed out that error in a nanosecond. And yes, I totally yelled that at the screen.

But the show wasn’t done being clueless. Because as Gus backs out and peeks at the librarian — slurping her cherry soda — we get more close-ups of books on the bookcases. And these books have NO CALL NUMBERS whatsoever on their spines.

Closeup of no call numbers
Closeup of no call numbers

So. We have three different call number situations going on in this scene, within a span of 30 seconds:

  1. Library of Congress call numbers on a row of books behind the librarian
  2. Dewey Decimal call numbers on a row of books in a standing bookcase
  3. No call numbers at all on a row of books at the end of a bookcase.

The propmaster for this episode totally messed up. I. Am. Seriously. Displeased. And thank you, reader, for allowing me to rant online about my rage over these call number shenanigans.

But time stops for no librarian, so the scene continues as Gus and Shawn move around to the next bookcase.

GusThese books are archaic.

ShawnAnd really old.

GusExcept this one. [Pulls out a book, reads title.] Putt Your Way to a Better Life.

ShawnBy Earl Wyndam.

This is an inside joke for Twin Peaks fans, as “Windom Earle” was a character from the TV series. But y’all know I also doublechecked WorldCat for that title, right, just to be sure? Yep. No such title.

More book clues in the "Dual Spires" Psych episode
More book clues in the “Dual Spires” Psych episode

GusMy short game could use some work. [thumbs through book]

ShawnThere’s no pictures?

GusThis is the weirdest golf book I’ve ever seen.

Shawn then takes the book and flips off the cover, revealing the book’s true title:  Reincarnation and Rebirth, by Ann Power. Clue!

Closeup of another book clue
Closeup of another book clue

Again, I looked that title and author up in WorldCat, just to make sure. No book by that exact title, although some come close, but there is an author by that name who looks to be an historian.

ShawnOur emailer wants us to think that Paula was reincarnated? We should get back to the lake. Juliet should have something by now.

As clues go, this one’s more than a little thin. But the object of this library scene is to get to the next clue. And set up another potential suspect, which the next shot does.

Shawn puts the book back on the shelf, replacing the cover. Immediately, we get a tried-and-tested scary-movie trick of a person’s face staring from the other side of the bookcase. This time, it’s a close-up of the librarian, who is giving her best “librarian glare.”

Librarian glare!
Librarian glare!

MaudetteYou’re gonna need a library card if you want to check something out.

ShawnI think we’re good, Maudette.

Two scared dudes
Two scared dudes

The reel librarian definitely scared them! (And the audience?)


Second library scene:


This first scene in the library lasts only three-and-a-half minutes. The second scene set in the public library comes in at 29 minutes into the episode, when Shawn and Gus need some more clues (and a new suspect). This second library scene is even shorter, only two minutes long, but it starts out memorably, with a close-up of the reel librarian’s peep-toe heels — and her legs.

A peep at the librarian's peep-toe heels
A peep at the librarian’s peep-toe heels

ShawnNice shoes.

Maudette I know.

ShawnGus was wondering if you would like to be his date to Betty Boop Night at the road house.

[…]

Maudette [to Gus]:  Sure you can keep up with me? I like to dance ALL night long.

There is a suggestive pause, which includes multiple flirty looks from Maudette.

Reel librarian flirting
Reel librarian flirting
Reel librarian flirting
Reel librarian flirting

GusWell.. Shawn?

MaudetteRelax. [Rolls her eyes.] Okay, here we go. This is the most recent Dual Spires yearbook.

Librarian to the research rescue!
Librarian to the research rescue!

ShawnThank you, Maudette. Feels a little thin.

Maudette Small book for a small school.

M[We learn that there were only 6 people in the graduating class, and Maudette’s class only had 3 graduates! Exposition much?]

ShawnPaula sure is in a lot of photos.

MaudetteOh, that’s not surprising. She loved the attention.

Shawn thumbs through the yearbook and then notices a clue. He does NOT have a poker face.

Clue face
Clue face

Then as the guys leave, Maudette thumbs through the yearbook herself, seeming determined to figure out the clue for herself.

Librarian hunts for clues in the yearbook
Librarian hunts for clues in the yearbook

There is another library scene in the episode’s final 10 minutes, a scene that sets up the final action, but I don’t want to give away any major spoilers. Let’s just say… Maudette is keeping a few more secrets that play a vital and personal role in figuring out the mystery and the murder(s).


Significance of reel librarian role:


So what is the significance of Maudette’s role as a reel librarian? She is a supporting but memorable character, one who plays off both the Naughty Librarian and Information Provider character types, winking suggestively at Shawn and Gus, as well as the audience. Maudette also provides a lot of exposition and clues to the audience.

We also learn more about Maudette’s personal life, through details she and other characters reveal, like how she was close to the football star student and his dad. However, we never see her physically outside the library. She is physically — and, uh, literally — tied to her library until the very end.


Have you seen this episode of Psych? Did you remember this reel librarian character? Please leave a comment and share! And feel free to browse more TV reel librarian characters on my TV Shows page.


Sources used:


‘Wet hot American’ library

As this movie is an over-the-top comedy, it comes as no surprise that the library scene is also campy (har har) and over-the-top.

It just officially became spring, but you can still look toward summer — or remember past summers in a haze of nostalgia — with the 2001 cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. This was my first time watching the film, and as the beginning credits rolled, I kept shouting out, “And there’s… Paul Rudd! And Amy Poehler! And Bradley Cooper! And Elizabeth Banks! And the guy whose friend broke up with Sarah Jessica Parker with a post-it on Sex and the City! (That would be actor Michael Showalter.)

Title card from Wet Hot American Summer
Title card from Wet Hot American Summer

The 2015 TV series spin-off, “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” stars the same actors from the 2001 film, which was set in 1981. So that makes actors who were already a decade too old to play their characters back when they filmed the movie in 2001, and now, 14 years later, they’re playing the same characters. Such is the realm of the absurd, Wet Hot American Summer-style.

It is a goofy film, one that is purposefully over-the-top and awesomely cheesy. My husband and I had a lot of fun watching Wet Hot American Summer, but you have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. (And even if you don’t have any actual memories of “summer camp,” surely you have nostalgic memories of watching movies about summer camp, right? If you enjoyed Meatballs, then you will enjoy this film!)

I’ve had Wet Hot American Summer on my Master List for awhile, for possibly featuring a reel librarian, and SPOILER ALERT, there’s no actual reel librarian. But there is a brief library scene, clocking in about 40 minutes into the film.

The context? The summer camp director, played by Jeanine Garofalo as Beth, is trying to impress Henry, a vacationing astrophysicist, played by David Hyde Pierce. She comes across Nancy, another camp counselor, who is sitting on a porch, knitting. Beth asks Nancy where she’d find a book on astrophysics.

Nancy’s dryly delivered response, “I’d have to say a bookstore… or a library.”

[Editor’s note:  Attagirl, Nancy!]

Beth tries and fails to look nonchalant (“Right… just curious.”).

The second after she scampers away, in runs Henry, who also stops to ask Nancy, “Say I wanted to get a book on… camp directing, I guess.”

Nancy’s incredulous expression and reply: “Henry, Henry, library.”

Next stop, the public library in Waterville, Maine.

Side note: There is a real Waterville, Maine, although the movie was filmed in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, at Camp Towanda. And you can check out the real Waterville Public Library here on their website. Y’all knew I would look that up, right?! 😉

As this movie is an over-the-top comedy, it comes as no surprise that the library scene is also campy (har har) and over-the-top. Beth and Henry are both poring over bookshelves in the library, on opposite sides of the same bookcase, yet totally unaware of each other.

Library scene in Wet Hot American Summer
Library scene in Wet Hot American Summer
Screenshot of the library scene in Wet Hot American Summer
Those are some VERY SPECIFIC book collections in the library!

And OF COURSE, their respective sections — astrophysics and camp directing — are on the opposite sides of this same bookcase. Is it odd that there seem to be more books on camp directing than there are on astrophysics, at least if you take into account the size of Henry’s stack of books! Also, how in tune is this public library with the needs of its users?! Bravo, Waterville Public Library, bravo.

The call numbers highlighted in this scene are also fake — “AS” begins the section on astrophysics call numbers, while “CA DIR” begins the section on camp directing — but I had to laugh out loud at this celluloid call numbering system!

Call numbers in the library scene from Wet Hot American Summer
Call numbers in the library scene from Wet Hot American Summer

Although this is only a brief scene in a movie full of quirky memorable scenes, I did enjoy the inclusion of a library — and focus on research!

Do you think their respective research journeys help lead Beth and Henry into each other’s arms by movie’s end? I’d say the odds of that are as good as the odds of seeing Daisy Duke-style cut-off shorts and feathered bangs in Wet Hot American Summer. 😀


Sources used:


  • Wet Hot American Summer. Dir. David Wain. Perf. Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2001.