Law libraries (and librarians) in pop culture

A couple of months ago, I was fortunate to enjoy a special tour of the Washington State Law Library, which has a fascinating history. Their collections also hold some gems, including an original set of the Pentagon Papers!

Pentagon Papers in the Washington State Law Library collection

Pentagon Papers in the Washington State Law Library collection

One of the displays in the public entrance to the library I enjoyed most was a “Law in Pop Culture” display, seen below. (And yes, you can also see the back of me in the photo below — I’m the one in the red jacket.)

"The Law in Pop Culture" display at the Washington State Law Library

“The Law in Pop Culture” display at the Washington State Law Library

I chatted with the law librarian who created the display — and lo and behold, she had recently written about this very topic on the Washington State Law Library blog!

Screenshot of "Leading Lady Justice — The Law in Pop Culture" blog post, Washington State Law Library blog

The first post about this topic is entitled “Leading Lady Justice — The Law in Pop Culture,” and this part really hit home for me:

The law has been such a star in pop culture that some law schools study the intersection between the courtroom and the theater and the effect of its influence on perceptions of the legal profession and court system. After all, what we see in the movies and on TV and read in books can heavily influence how we view the real life subjects they portray. 

That last line pretty sums up the point of this Reel Librarians blog! 😀

Screenshot of "Courtroom Drama — The Law in Pop Culture Sequel" blog post, Washington State Law Library blog

The second post, “Courtroom Drama — The Law in Pop Culture Sequel,” explores some of the stories behind famous court cases depicted in film, including:

  • The real-life case behind the 1952 novel Anatomy of a Murder. I have written about the 1959 Oscar-nominated film version, starring Jimmy Stewart, here in this “Anatomy of a law library” post; the film version showcases a law library (but no law librarian, alas).

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

  • The real-life case behind the Oscar-winning film Philadelphia . There IS a reel librarian in this film, but I haven’t yet analyzed the film for this blog. It’s on my list!

I have also written about a reel law librarian portrayal in the 1989 film Criminal Law, a legal thriller starring Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon. Can you tell which one is the law librarian from the screenshot below? Check out my “Criminal law librarian” post to find out!

Screenshot from 'Criminal Law' (1988)

So please check out the Washington State Law Library blog… and if you spot any more reel law librarians onscreen, let me know! 😀

 

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Criminal law librarian

In the 1988 legal thriller Criminal Law, Gary Oldman is almost unrecognizably bland as lawyer Ben Chase. After successfully defending a wealthy client, Martin (Kevin Bacon), against a murder charge, Ben finds out that Martin is, indeed, guilty. Oops. What’s a hotshot lawyer to do? Get drunk and pass out in your living room? Check! Reveal top-secret details of the crime by shouting on the street at a victim’s roommate? Check! Violate ethical codes by working with a police officer against his client? Check!

No doubt troubled by all his ethical violations, Ben goes his alma mater’s law library to talk to an old professor. Occurring a little over a half hour into the film, the camera pans around the double-decker library, lingering over statues and rows and rows of volumes. The light streaming in all the windows is quite atmospheric, doing its best to add some drama to this drama.

CriminalLawLibrary

Rounding a corner, Ben finds his old professor, Clemens (Michael Sinelnikoff), sitting on a library ladder and decked out in a long, grey cardigan. An older lady (Irene Kessler) is handing him thick volumes and helping him shelve books. At first glance, it’s hard to tell which is the librarian! 🙂

Note: That’s when credits really help out, as Irene Kessler’s role is listed as “Librarian Peggy” (ding ding ding, we have a winner!).

CriminalLawLibrarian2

Professor Clemens calls out from atop the ladder:

Ben, here, give me a hand? And we’ll let Peggy get back to work.

Peggy:  He’s a hard master.

Ben: You’re telling me.

Peggy, also decked out in a long cardigan, then disappears down a back staircase. Onscreen for only a few seconds, she joins the Class IV category of librarians. Although we hardly see Librarian Peggy, it’s obvious she has a warm rapport with both the professor and former student.

CriminalLawLibrary2

And based on the subsequent conversation (Ben to the professor, “You’re giving these away? Your collection of quotations?”), the professor has donated his collection to the law library. Later, we find out why, when Ben visits Professor Clemens in the hospital, who is quote-worthy and optimistic even on his deathbed.