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.
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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.

‘Finding’ a reel librarian

This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog — thank you! — you know that the idea for this blog all started with my undergraduate thesis years ago. And in this post, “It all started with a big list,” I list the films included in that thesis. Finding Forrester (2000) was one of those films, and although I’ve mentioned it here in the “Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies” post, I have not analyzed the film yet on the blog. Correcting that oversight now…

Here’s what I wrote about the film in my thesis:

In Finding Forrester (2000), Sophia Wu only remains on screen only long enough to inform the main character that all William Forrester’s books are checked out, but her part is notable for the fact that she is Asian.

But let’s go a little bit deeper, shall we?

This was director Gus Van Sant’s second film released after 1997’s Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrester (2000) enjoyed solid, if not spectacular, reviews and box office at the time of its release. It’s a film I’ve rewatched a few times, and it holds up well. Rob Brown co-stars as Jamal Wallace, a young African-American teenager who has skill in both academics and athletics. He strikes up a mentoring friendship with the neighborhood recluse, played by Sean Connery, who turns out to be the title character, William Forrester. Forrester is an author (and recluse) famous for having written only one book, Avalon Landing, which won the Pulitzer Prize and became an instant American classic. The fictitious character of Forrester is based on J.D. Salinger and his classic book, Catcher in the Rye.

I personally like the film for its message — I’m married to a writer, and it’s one of his favorite movies about writing! — and for how Rob Brown’s style matches up well with the director’s style. There is a stillness in his delivery — his eyes are always watching, always observing — but you can tell there is so much happening beneath the surface. Even more impressive given that this was Rob Brown’s acting debut!

Almost exactly an hour into the film, Jamal jokes with Forrester about the neighborhood changing.

Jamal:  Go ahead. I want to hear about the neighborhood, back when people were still reading your book.

Forrester [choking on his drink]:  What did you say?

Jamal:  Nothing.

Forrester:  No. you said, ‘back when people were still reading my book.’ Didn’t you?

Next stop:  The library! More specifically, the New York Public Library and a close-up of its online card catalog and its copies of Avalon Landing.

Card catalog closeup in Finding Forrester
Card catalog closeup in Finding Forrester

Side note:  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”)

And YES, I looked up the current New York Public Library online card catalog. Y’all knew I was going to do that, right? 😉 I did a title search for Catcher in the Rye, which came up with 63 items, 49 of which are currently available. And the call number is the logical “CLASSICS FIC S.”

NYPL Library catalog search for Catcher in the Rye
NYPL Library catalog search for Catcher in the Rye

Back to the scene… we hear the voice of the reel librarian (Sophia Wu, as Librarian) narrating her title search for Avalon Landing:

Librarian:  We have 24 copies. But I’m sorry, they’re all checked out.

Jamal:  Ok. Well, thank you anyway.

Reel librarians in Finding Forrester
Reel librarians in Finding Forrester

Jamal then walks away, and when he returns to Forrester’s apartment, Forrester is reading a tabloid and sarcastically calls out behind him, “Any luck? Did you get on the waiting list?” 😉

By the way, the librarian did not offer to put Jamal on the waiting list, or offer Interlibrary Loan (ILL), a common library service to request items from other libraries. Tsk, tsk.

In my original notes after watching the film for my thesis, I noted the following:

Initial notes on Finding Forrester
Initial notes on Finding Forrester

(In case you can’t read my terrible handwriting, that reads:  “younger white male sitting beside her, typing on a computer, blue shirt, dark sweater vest”)

The trivia section on IMDb.com reveals that the film’s director, Gus Van Sant, is that “younger white male sitting beside her,” — he made a cameo as the library assistant in this scene! This might just be the only time a film director has also played a reel librarian! 😀

Gus Van San's reel librarian cameo in Finding Forrester
Gus Van San’s reel librarian cameo in Finding Forrester

The library scene lasts only a few seconds, so this definitely lands in the Class IV category. Sophia Wu fulfills the Information Provider role, as she not only helps reinforce the library setting, but also provides the information that the book is still popular and relevant and credible — and by extension, William Forrester. He then becomes more relevant and credible to Jamal, thus solidifying and deepening their friendship.

This part is also notable for bringing a little diversity to the world of reel librarians, as she is Asian (or Asian-American). This makes sense, as Finding Forrester (2000) is a film filled with racial — as well as socioeconomic — diversity. This role is one of only three Asian/Asian-American reel librarians I have come across so far.

If you’d like to see more examples of reel librarian diversity, see my “Reader Q and A” post which answers the reader question, “How many movies are there with librarians of color?

Toward the end of the film, Jamal pens a private letter to William Forrester. His choice of sanctuary? The New York Public Library, of course. 😉

Screenshot from Finding Forrester
New York Public Library as sanctuary

And who do we spy in the background with a book cart? Another (anonymous) reel librarian!

Screenshot from Finding Forrester
Book cart? It must be a reel librarian!
Screenshot from Finding Forrester
NYPL stationary

Until next week…


Sources used:


  • Finding Forrester. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Perf. Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham. Columbia, 2000.
  • Trivia.” Finding Forrester (2010), IMDb.com