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:


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Get out your white gloves and lemon juice! Reel archivist in ‘National Treasure’

It’s clear that Dr. Chase is the one in charge

I have been exploring quite a few reel archivist portrayals lately, inspired by articles I have recently read, as detailed in my “Reel librarians vs. reel archivists” post. In all the articles I read about reel archivists, Diane Kruger’s role as Dr. Abigail Chase in National Treasure (2004) was highlighted, so I thought it would be perfect timing to revisit that film, “arguably one of the best known movies with an archival plot line” (Region of PEEL Archives).

So get out your white gloves and lemon juice — this analysis post is a long one!

*SPOILERS AHEAD THROUGHOUT*

Here’s a trailer for National Treasure:

National Treasure Official Trailer (2004),” uploaded by Jake Smith, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Below is a quick recap of the film from the “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists” article by Aldred, Burr, and Park:

“Benjamin Franklin Gates is a treasure hunter searching for the Founding Fathers’ hidden treasure. Clues lead him to the conclusion that he must steal the Declaration of Independence , where Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), National Archives and Records Administration employee, gets caught up in the affair, and helps Gates discover the treasure.” (p. 88)

Diane Kruger gets 2nd billing in the cast, and is the top female lead. According to the film’s IMDb.com trivia page, her character’s name, Abigail Chase “is a combination of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, and Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.”

Here’s how Aldred, Burr, and Park describe the character of Dr. Chase and how she fits into the history of reel archivists who are also main characters:

“Those reel archivists who were main characters were portrayed in an overall positive light, rather than as a stereotype. They were the heroes of the film, solving mysteries, fighting vampires, and trying to help those in need. They were educated individuals with distinct personalities. Abigail Chase of National Treasure (2004) was a curious, intelligent archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration. She was the only reel archivist examined whose level of education was explicit (doctorate), who was the protagonist’s love interest, and was the only female main character in the film. Unfortunately, even though she was positively portrayed, she was never formally identified as an archivist at any time during the film. To the audience, she is nothing more than a knowledgeable treasure hunter.” (p. 84-85)


First archives spotting:


At 23 mins into the film, Gates is trying to alert authorities that Ian Howe (Sean Bean) will try to steal the Declaration of Independence. After getting laughed out of the FBI, Gates and his sidekick assistant, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), set out for the National Archives.

National Archives building in Washington D.C.
National Archives building in Washington D.C.

Why the National Archives?

Right before this scene, Gates and Riley discuss who they should contact to help prevent the theft of the document.

GatesWe don’t need anyone crazy. We just need someone short of crazy.

RileyObsessed?

GatesPassionate.

As Buckley states in the “The Truth is in the Red Files” essay:

The next scene shows the two characters waiting for a meeting with the archivist, indicating that the archivist had the requisite ‘passion’ they were seeking” and “Equally telling is the portrayal of the archivist, and the emphasis placed on her passionate dedication to her profession” (p. 121).

But before showcasing her passion, Dr. Chase demonstrates a healthy dose of skepticism.

As Gates and Riley wait, Dr. Chase’s assistant announces that “Dr. Chase can see you now.” This reveals her qualifications immediately but does not reveal her gender. The two men are (annoyingly) surprised that “Dr. Chase” is a woman.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)
Just a sec, I’m busy

I also love that Chase has a “Rosie the Riveter” poster in her office, which you can spy in the upper right corner in the screenshot below.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)
Dr. Abigail Chase and Rosie the Riveter — we can do it!

They exchange a bit of small talk. It’s also important to note that Gates has stated his surname is “Brown,” because his family has a less-than-stellar reputation.

ChaseNice to meet you.

GatesYour accent. Pennsylvania Dutch?

ChaseSaxony German.

RileyYou’re not American?

ChaseOh, I am an American. I just wasn’t born here. 

[Note:  I really liked this brief exchange. It not only neatly dispatched the issue of Diane Kruger’s real-life German accent, but also reinforced the idea that there are Americans born abroad who are just as American and as patriotic as those born in the U.S. Full disclosure, I also happen to be an American born abroad!]

In this exchange below, you can also get the sense of how Gates thinks he is being clever in trying to “talk around” Chase, but she’s not having any of it. Her questions are insightful, knowledgeable, and to the point.

ChaseNow, you told my assistant that this was an urgent matter.

GatesYes, ma’am. Well, I’m gonna get straight to the point. Someone’s gonna steal the Declaration of Independence.

Riley: It’s true.

ChaseI think I’d better put you gentlemen in touch with the FBI.

GatesWe’ve been to the FBI.

ChaseAnd?

RileyThey assured us that the Declaration cannot possibly be stolen.

ChaseThey’re right.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)
Don’t try to play me, dudes. I know what’s up.

GatesMy friend and I are less certain. However, if we were given the privilege of examining the document, we would be able to tell you for certain if it were actually in any danger.

Chase:  [shooting him a knowing look, sits back in her chair] What do you think you’re gonna find?

Gates:  [getting uncomfortable] We believe that there’s an… encryption on the back.

Chase:  An encryption, like a code?

GatesYes, ma’am.

ChaseOf what?

GatesUh… a cartograph.

ChaseA map.

GatesYes, ma’am.

ChaseA map of what?

Gates: The location of… [nervously clears throat, as per the subtitles] hidden items of historic and intrinsic value.

Chase:  [shakes head as though to clear it] A treasure map?

RileyThat’s where we lost the FBI.

ChaseYou’re treasure hunters, aren’t you?

GatesWe’re more like treasure protectors.

ChaseMr. Brown, I have personally seen the back of the Declaration of Independence, and I promise you, the only thing there is a notation that reads, “Original Declaration of Independence, dated… “

Gates:  … “Fourth of July, 1776.” Yes, ma’am.

ChaseBut no map.

GatesIt’s invisible.

ChaseOh, right.

RileyAnd that’s where we lost the Department of Homeland Security.

ChaseWhat led you to assume there’s this invisible map?

GatesWe found an engraving on the stem of a 200-year-old pipe.

RileyOwned by Freemasons.

ChaseMay I see the pipe?

RileyWe don’t have it.

ChaseDid Bigfoot take it? [This line was used in the trailer!]

GatesIt was nice meeting you.

Lasting 3 minutes in total, what is the ultimate point of this introductory scene? It establishes Dr. Chase as smart, credentialed, skeptical, and protective of historical artifacts — plus, she can more than hold her own against men who think they know more than she does. It also establishes a lot of backstory and exposition in a brief amount of time.

This scene is also vital because after this exchange with Dr. Chase, Gates decides he has to steal the document himself, in order to protect it. Riley then tries to convince Gates that stealing the Declaration of Independence cannot be done.


Library of Congress research scene:


Cue the obligatory research scene in a library!

At 28 minutes into the film, the camera pans down the iconic Library of Congress Reading Room, to where Riley and Gates are seated at a desk, surrounded by books. And it’s these readily available books that allow them to figure out a way into the National Archives to steal the Declaration of Independence.

Don’t try this at home, y’all. Or in your local public library. 😉

Research in the Library of Congress
Research in the Library of Congress

RileyI’ve brought you to the Library of Congress. Why? Because it’s the biggest library in the world. Over 20 million books. And they’re all saying the same exact thing: Listen to Riley. What you have here, my friend, is an entire layout of the Archives, short of builder’s blueprints. You’ve got construction orders, phone lines, water and sewage — it’s all here. Now, when the Declaration is on display, ok, it is surrounded by guards and video monitors and a little family from Iowa and little kids on their eighth-grade field trip. And beneath an inch of bulletproof glass is an army of sensors and heat monitors that will go off if someone gets too close with a high fever. Now, when it’s not on display, it is lowered into a four-foot-thick concrete, steel-plated vault that happens to be equipped with an electronic combination lock and biometric access-denial systems.

GatesYou know, Thomas Edison tried and failed nearly 2,000 times to develop the carbonized cotton-thread filament for the incandescent light bulb…. He only had to find 1 way to make it work.

Gates then puts a book on the table.

[Note:  As according to IMDb.com trivia page, “The book that Ben shows Riley in the Library of Congress, that has the information about the Preservation Room, is called ‘The Earth System.’ It is some sort of a textbook, and it is authored by Lee Kump, James F. Kasting, and Robert G. Crane. The ISBN is 0131420593.”]

Gates: The Preservation Room. Enjoy. Go ahead. Do you know what the Preservation Room is for?

RileyDelicious jams and jellies?

GatesNo. That’s where they clean, repair and maintain all the documents and the storage housings when they’re not on display or in the vault. Now, when the case needs work they take it out of the vault, directly across the hall, and into the Preservation Room. The best time for us, or Ian, to steal it would be during the gala this weekend, when the guards are distracted by the VIPs upstairs. But we’ll make our way to the Preservation Rom, where there’s much less security.

RileyHuh…. this might be possible.

They then prepare for the heist… uh, rescue.


Chase in charge:


Riley hacks into a computer system to heat up the glass surrounding the Declaration of Independence, in order to force the document into the Preservation Room. Dr. Chase is immediately alerted to this and sets off, with a male colleague, into the basement to enter the room. It’s clear that Dr. Chase is the one in charge, and we hear her narration as she orders a full diagnostics.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)
Chase in charge

Of course, Dr. Chase does not realize that she is unwittingly helping Gates and Riley steal the very artifact she is pledged to protect!


A gala, a chase, and Chase:


A gala scene at the National Archives begins at 37 minutes into the film, and we get to see Dr. Chase all dressed up in a classic cocktail dress and kitten heels. Gates hands her champagne for a toast, “Here’s to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right. What they knew was right.” Chase’s eyes narrow as she listens. She knows he’s up to something!

Gates then uses Chase’s fingerprints on the glass of champagne to get into the Preservation Room! Gates does successfully steal the document but also encounters the rival team of (evil) treasure hunters, led by Ian Howe (Sean Bean). As Gates tries to escape through the National Archives — buying a dummy copy of the document in the lobby’s gift shop! — Abby spies Gates and, full of suspicion, follows him.

RileyBen, the mean Declaration lady’s behind you.

Totally unafraid — and undeterred by being called the “mean Declaration lady” — Chase then calls out for security, grabs the rolled-up document, and attempts to run back to the National Archives in heels. Unfortunately, that’s when the baddies grab her AND the document. The lead baddie, Howe, tries to scare her into giving up the document, but she doesn’t give in. Gates and Riley then follow her in a van and rescue her, but Kruger did most of her own stunts in this scene!


Turning Chase into a fellow treasure hunter protector:


As they speed away from the baddies, Chase is still not having any of it:

ChaseI’m not all right. Those men have the Declaration of Independence!

Gates shows her the real document, meaning that the baddies got the dummy poster copy.

Chase:  [attempting to grab the document] Give me that! Who were those men?

GatesJust the guys we warned you would steal the Declaration of Independence.

RileyAnd you didn’t believe us.

GatesWe did the only thing we could do to keep it safe.

The truth then comes out about Gates’s true identity.

ChaseI want that document, Mr. Brown!

GatesMy name is Gates.

ChaseDid you just say Gates? Gates? You’re that family with the conspiracy theory about the Founding Fathers? You know what? I take it back. You’re not liars. You’re insane.

The two men then reveal their plan to run chemical tests on the Declaration of Independence to uncover the “invisible map” they had alluded to in their earlier conversation with Chase.

ChaseYou can’t seriously intend to run chemical tests on the Declaration of Independence in the back of a moving van.

RileyWe have a clean-room environment all set up. EDS suits, a particulate air filtration system, the whole shebang.

ChaseReally?

It is nice to hear that Chase had set up a “clean-room environment” to preserve the archival integrity of the document. And that Dr. Chase is impressed by this.

GatesWe can’t go back there. … We need those letters.

ChaseWhat letters? You have the original Silence Dogood letters? Did you steal those, too?

GatesWe have scans of the originals. Quiet, please.

ChaseHow’d you get scans?

GatesOh, I know the person who has the originals. Now shush.

ChaseWhy do you need them?

GatesShe really can’t shut her mouth, can she? Tell you what, look. I will let you hold on to this [hands her the Declaration of Independence in the case] if you promise to shut up, please. Thank you.

While he’s thinking and talking with Riley, Chase is plotting yet another escape. She’s scrappy, isn’t she?! She tries to run, but she doesn’t get very far. And this next bit is the final turn in the screw, when Chase becomes complicit in the treasure hunter adventure.

ChaseI’m not going. Not without the Declaration.

GatesYou’re not going with the Declaration.

Chase Yes, I am. I’m not letting it out of my sight, so I’m going.

As the Region of Peel Archives put it:

“Gates and his assistant Riley Poole manage to steal the document from the National Archives, and while doing so they unwittingly involve Abigail Chase, one of the nation’s archivists. The three of them then attempt to locate the treasure before a ruthless gang of criminals can. It is interesting that while dragged in against her will initially, Chase comes to embrace the adventure, although she, like any good archivist, remains fiercely protective of the Declaration document.”

I was also super impressed by Diane Kruger’s facial expressions throughout these scenes. Her suspicious glare is excellent, and it deepens as she gets drawn into the plot, as evidenced in the screenshots below. The top screenshot is from her introductory scene, the middle is from the gala, and the bottom is when she holds onto the Declaration of Independence case in the van.

Screenshot collage from 'National Treasure' (2004)
Suspicious minds…

Destroying the Declaration of Independence:


The trio then travel to visit Gates’s father, played by Jon Voight, in order to uncover the code on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Instead of a “clean-room environment,” they have a dining table, a hairdryer, and a bowl of lemons. At least they’re wearing white gloves?! No wonder Dr. Chase is looking so guilty.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)
Looking guilty

Gates then takes a lemon and is about to squeeze it onto the back of the Declaration of Independence. Not so fast!

Chase:  You can’t do that.

GatesBut it has to be done.

ChaseThen someone who is trained to handle antique documents is gonna do it.

GatesOk.

ChaseOk. Now, uh, if there’s a secret message, it’ll probably be marked by a symbol in the upper right-hand corner. [rubs a Q-tip on the lemon] I’m so getting fired for this.

GateWe need more juice.

ChaseWe need more heat. [she grabs a hairdryer!]

Chase then handles the hairdryer. With gloves on. As any self-respecting archivist would do. 😉

Screenshots from 'National Treasure' (2004)
The white gloves make it all okay

Chase, Riley, and Gates are definitely in it together now!

Buckley comments on the juxtaposition of a reel archivist protecting and destroying the archival documents at the same time:

“Although the objections of the archivist [in National Treasure] to the use (abuse?) of archival documents are overruled in favour of the entertainment value of high-speed chases and nail-biting cliffhangers, those objections are strongly voiced, and they are heard. While the audience may enjoy the entertaining machinations involved in retrieving the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives, the authority of this document or of its custodians is never in question. The continued importance placed on archival value is evident in the scenes involving the Declaration, as well as in the preservation and display of the Silence Dogood letters in the Benjamin Franklin Archive.” (p. 121)

They make their way to the next clue in the Silence Dogood letters in the Benjamin Franklin Archive as then on to the Liberty Bell and the Independence Hall in Philadelphia. At Independence Hall, at 1 hour and 17 minutes into the film, they unfurl the Declaration of Independence in order to read the next clue, and Gates tries to school Chase on archival etiquette. And bless Dr. Chase’s sassy heart.

ChaseHere, help me.

GatesCareful.

ChaseYou think?

The Declaration of Independence returns to Independence Hall!
The Declaration of Independence returns to Independence Hall!

Calling the shots:


The baddies then show up, and Riley and Chase run off together with the document case, in order to create a diversion from Gates. Lots of ACTION and PLOT and CLUES ensue, but it finally comes down to Chase figuring out how to make a trade with the baddies.

Or as the bald baddy says to Gates, “Ask your girlfriend [referring to Chase]. She’s the one calling all the shots now. She won’t shut up.” Hah! 😀

The final action scene takes place in an underground passageway and vault, where they find the hidden treasure. But what is the most valuable hidden treasure for the reel archivist?

The pen is mightier than the sword... a reel archivist admiring scrolls from the lost Library of Alexandria
The pen is mightier than the sword… a reel archivist admiring scrolls from the lost Library of Alexandria

I loved that Chase was not wooed or awed by the gold and the jewels but rather by the scrolls from Alexandria!

As the Region of Peel Archives states:

The team is ultimately successful, locating the treasure deep underground in Manhattan. Ever the faithful archivist, Chase is not drawn to the gold jewelry, statues, or other artifacts found in the huge underground cavern, but rather to what she identifies as scrolls from the lost Library of Alexandria.

Abigail Chase also made an impression on Ben Gates, as the first things Gates asks the FBI is that “Dr. Chase gets off clean, without a mark on her record.” I really appreciated that Gates (a) put her professional needs first, and (b) referred to Chase by her title and credentials.


Getting the last line:


In the final scene, Chase and Gates and Riley are all talking together in a garden setting. It’s clear Chase and Gates are together, as they are holding hands. Ever the professional, Chase has a book in her hand.

Final scene from National Treasure (2004)
Final scene from National Treasure (2004)

Riley then takes off in his new sports car, and Chase has one last surprise for Gates:

ChaseI made something for you.

GatesYou did?

ChaseA map.

GatesWhere does it lead to?

ChaseYou’ll figure it out.

I love that the reel archivist gets the last line in the movie!


Alternate ending in the National Archives:


But Gates did not get the last line in the movie in the original ending, which was changed after the original didn’t test well with audiences.

The original ending was set back in the National Archives, with the Declaration of Independence back in its case. Gates is looking over the Constitution, also in a glass case. Chase has her arm through Gates’s arm, so it’s still clear that they are together.

Alternate original ending from National Treasure (2004)
Alternate original ending from National Treasure (2004)

ChaseWhat are you thinking about?

GatesNothing.

ChaseThere’s nothing on the back of the Constitution.

GatesI wasn’t thinking that. Are you sure?

ChaseI already checked it out. [They laugh together]

This original exchange is funny — and reinforces Chase’s ambition and initiative! — but Riley gets the last line:  “Guys, do you think we could keep some of the treasure this time?

I like that they changed the ending so that the reel archivists gets the last laugh!


The importance of the reel archivist role:


Ultimately, I agree with Buckley, who sums up Dr. Abigail Chase’s role and this popcorn action film this way:

“Buried beneath the stereotypical images are elements of the truth:  that records matter, that protection of the record matters, and that the protectors of the records are dedicated to their profession.” (p. 120-121)

Although the film is full of plot holes and historical errors — see here for a video run-down of all the historical inaccuracies in 13 minutes or less — I enjoyed rewatching and analyzing Dr. Chase’s character, and how refreshingly original and non-stereotypical her character turns out to be. I think a lot of this comes down to how Diane Kruger played the character, with an innate sense of feistiness, as a woman who is used to dealing with men who underestimate her. She does NOT underestimate herself, and I agree that Dr. Abigail Chase is ultimately a positive portrayal of a reel archivist. I would also argue, although she is not technically a reel librarian (I do, however, choose to include both reel archivists and reel librarians in my research), that she does fit into the category of Atypical Portrayals, and her importance to the film lands it in the Class I category.


Continuing the conversation:


Have you seen the National Treasure film, or its sequel? What do you think of the Dr. Abigail Chase character and her role as a reel archivist? Do you find her portrayal stereotypical, or not? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


The Quotable Librarian of Congress

“Everyone has the opportunity to be empowered by literacy.”

For another post in the “Quotable Librarian” series — and to help celebrate our Independence Day today — I thought it would be appropriate to highlight inspirational quotes from our very own Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.

Carla Hayden is our current and 14th Librarian of Congress, becoming the first woman and the first African American to lead our national library. She received her master’s and doctorate degrees in Library Science from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School, and she worked as a children’s and public librarian.


Introduction to Carla Hayden:


Here’s a short (2 minute) video introduction of Carla Hayden, in which she describes her journey from nomination, confirmation and inauguration as 14th Librarian of Congress. (Click on the screenshot below to watch the video in a new window.)

Screenshot of "Introducing Carla Hayden (Video)," Library of Congress, 2016
Click screenshot to watch “Introducing Carla Hayden (Video),” Library of Congress, 2016

Quotes from Carla Hayden:


Librarians were called during that time [during the Patriot Act] feisty fighters for freedom, and we were very proud of that label.

interview with Jeffrey Brown, PBS, 2016

Public service has been such a motivating factor for me, in my life and my career. When I received the call from the White House about this opportunity, and was asked, “Will you serve?” Without hesitation I said “yes.”

remarks from her swearing-in ceremony as Librarian of Congress, Sept. 2016

As the first woman, and the first African-American, in this post, I am truly grateful and humbled. It is especially moving because AfricanAmericans were once punished with lashes and worse for learning to read. As a descendent of people who were denied the right to read, to now have the opportunity to serve and lead the institution that is our national symbol of knowledge, is a historic moment. As Fredrick Douglass” said, “Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” And now everyone has the opportunity to be empowered by literacy.

remarks from her commencement address at Rutgers University-Camden, May 2017

Librarians have been pounding on this issue [fake news and information literacy] in a different way for a while — that just having computer literacy is great, but as information professionals, we’re always looking at what’s the most authoritative source for the information and teaching information literacy. It’s great to have all this stuff, but you need to teach how to use the library in schools. They need to be teaching information literacy as soon as the kid can push a button.

interview with the New York Times Magazine, Jan. 2017

You can also follow Carla Hayden on Twitter, and click here for more statements and multimedia from our 14th Librarian of Congress.

And if you are in the mood for even more, please revisit my previous “Librarians of Congress” post! I do a deep dive into the history of the Library of Congress, how the Librarian of Congress position came about, as well as the major accomplishments of each Librarian of Congress.


Sources used:


Librarians of Congress

“Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted, and they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.”

After last week’s post analyzing the reel librarians featured in All the President’s Men (1976), including two library clerks who worked at the Library of Congress, I was inspired to dig into the history of our own Librarians of Congress.


What is the Library of Congress, and when was it established?


Before we even get into the Librarians of Congress, first we need to know what the Library of Congress actually is. The Library of Congress — referred to by librarians as either “LOC” or “LC” for short — is a research library that was established primarily to serve the United States Congress. It is considered the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, as well as the largest library in the world. It is also considered the de facto national library of the United States, but that took quite a long time to develop!

"LOC Main Reading Room Highsmith" by Carol M. Highsmith Archive collection at the Library of Congress is in the public domain
“LOC Main Reading Room Highsmith” by Carol M. Highsmith Archive collection at the Library of Congress is in the public domain

1783:

  • James Madison is credited with the initial idea of a congressional library

1800:

  • President John Adams signed an act of Congress providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington
  • Part of that legislation appropriated funds for a collection of books for the expressed use of Congress
  • The first “Library of Congress” collection consisted of 740 books and 3 maps, all bought from London

1814:

  • The Library of Congress had a collection of 3,000 volumes
  • The War of 1812 led to the burning of the capitol building, and the library’s original collection was destroyed by fire.

1815:

  • Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of over 6,500 volumes to Congress, to help rebuild the Library of Congress.

1897:

  • New headquarters were established in the building we now refer to as the “Thomas Jefferson Building” and its iconic circular “Reading Room”
  • With over 840,000 volumes, the Library of Congress became known as the largest library in the United States
  • Much of this expansion of its holdings and influence is thanks to then-Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford, whose ultimate goal was to turn the Library of Congress into a de facto national library. His progressive policies, from 1865-1897, included:
    • collecting Americana and American literature
    • regulating copyright registration and putting that back under the purview of the Library of Congress
    • acquiring the Smithsonian libraries
    • restoring the Library’s international book exchange

Was the “Librarian of Congress” position established at the same time as the Library of Congress itself?


No, it wasn’t until 1802 — two years after the Library of Congress was officially established under President John Adams — that President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill that provided the basic structure for the position. This bill allowed the president to appoint an “overseer” of the Library of Congress and established a Joint Committee in Congress to help regulate the Library (basically, the means to keep funding it!).

This structure is still largely in place today, with the President appointing a nominee for Librarian of Congress. It was not until 1897, however, that this presidential nomination required Senate approval (“advice and consent”). This requirement elevated the profile and importance of the position.

There were also no term limits originally for the “overseer” — AKA the “Librarian of Congress” — essentially making the position a lifetime appointment. It wasn’t until 2015 that President Barack Obama signed into law the “Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015,” which put a 10-year term limit on the position with an option for reappointment.


How many Librarians of Congress have actually been librarians?


By the term “librarian,” I am referring to the modern definition of a librarian as an information professional with a degree in Library Science or related field (e.g. Information Science).

The answer of how many Librarians of Congress have actually been librarians is more complicated than I expected. Including the current one and dating back to 1802, there have only been 14 official Librarians of Congress in total. There was also an Acting Librarian of Congress, who served inbetween the 13th and 14th appointees, from 2015-2016.

Librarians of Congress…Out of 14 official Librarians of Congress, 1802-2017Including the Acting Librarian of Congress, 2015-2016
… with advanced education and/or degrees1415
… with library science degrees23
… with library experience prior to working at the Library of Congress 34 
… who were white males1313
… who were/are female (reflecting 75-80% of the librarian workforce in the U.S.)11
… who are librarians of color12

One caveat: Library science as a science and educational degree in the United States was not established until 1887, the year that Melvil Dewey founded the world’s first library school at Columbia College, now Columbia University, in New York (after first proposing the idea in 1883). It is for this reason that Dewey is often referred to in the U.S. as the “Father of Modern Librarianship.” 1889 marked the year of the first graduating class from Columbia.

So if we take the year 1889 as the starting point for the possibility of having “actual librarians” and compare that with the historical list of Librarians of Congress, that would reduce the list of possibles to 8 (or 9, if you count the Acting Librarian of Congress from 2015-2016). And then counting from that list those who have been actual librarians, it brings the percentage up to 25% (2 of 8), or 33% (3 of 9) if you count the Acting Librarian. That’s still a very low percentage of Librarians of Congress being professionally trained and educated librarians.


Who is the current Librarian of Congress?


Carla Hayden is our current and 14th Librarian of Congress, becoming the first woman and the first African American to lead our national library. She received her master’s and doctorate degrees in Library Science from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. I believe that also makes her the first Librarian of Congress to have earned a doctorate in library science!

"Carla Hayden" by the Library of Congress is in the public domain
“Carla Hayden” by the Library of Congress is in the public domain

Her librarian experience is deep and varied:

  • 1973-1982:  Children’s librarian and then young adult services coordinator at Chicago Public Library
  • 1982-1987:  Library services coordinator for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry
  • 1987-1991:  Assistant Professor of Library Science at the University of Pittsburgh
  • 1991 to 1993:  Deputy commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library
  • 1993-2016:  Director at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland
    • 2003-2004:  President of the American Library Association (ALA)

I earned my own library science degree in 2003, just a few weeks before Carla Hayden became ALA President. Her theme during her ALA Presidency was “Equity of Access,” and she has continued to be an outspoken voice for librarian advocacy. When she was named Ms. Magazine‘s 2003 Woman of the Year, she stated in her interview:

Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted, and they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.

In a subsequent article in Ms. Magazine in 2016, Hayden stated:

(Librarians) are activists, engaged in the social work aspect of librarianship. Now we are fighters for freedom.

Carla Hayden is also active on Twitter, via the Library of Congress Twitter account!


Who were the previous Librarians of Congress?


All of the previous Librarians of Congress have in common a couple of visual traits:  white and male. They were all also highly educated. Here’s a look at the Previous Librarians of Congress page from the Library of Congress website:

Previous Librarians of Congress, 1802-2015
Previous Librarians of Congress, 1802-2015

I have compiled a list below of the previous Librarians of Congress, which includes the time period in which they served in that role, their previous professions, and items of note during their tenure.

 1. John J. Beckley (1802–1807)

  • Former American political campaign manager
  • Served concurrently as Librarian of Congress and as Clerk of the House of Representatives until his death in 1807
  • Oversaw the creation of the first “Library of Congress” collection, consisting of 740 books and 3 maps

2. Patrick Magruder (1807–1815)

  • Lawyer
  • Also served concurrently as Librarian of Congress and as Clerk of the House of Representatives
  • After the War of 1812 and the destruction of the Library’s collection, he resigned after an investigation by Congress into the destruction of the Library and the use of Library funds

3. George Watterston (1815–1829)

  • Former lawyer and newspaper editor
  • The first full-time Librarian of Congress (the position was separated from the Clerk of the House of Representatives in 1815) — and therefore sometimes referred to as the first true “Librarian of Congress”
  • Oversaw the restoration of the Library’s collection and the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of books
  • Published the Library’s first public catalog of its holdings — and was criticized by Congress for doing so, due to its expense!
  • Strong advocate for expansion of the Library and lobbied successfully for additional staff, naming an Assistant Librarian in 1828
  • Opposed the election of President Andrew Jackson and was subsequently replaced

4. John Silva Meehan (1829–1861)

  • Printer and publisher
  • During his tenure, several of the Library’s functions were transferred to other government agencies, thus weakening the role and purpose of the Library of Congress (public document distribution activities to the Department of the Interior; international book exchange program to the Department of State; depository of copyrighted books to the Patent Office)
  • During his entire tenure, the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library — not the Librarian of Congress! — selected the books for the Library’s collection
  • Served under 9 U.S. Presidents

5. John Gould Stephenson (1861–1864)

  • Physician and soldier
  • During his tenure, also served as physician for the Union Army during the Civil War

6. Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864–1897)

  • Journalist and publisher
  • Served as Assistant Librarian to Stephenson
  • Progressive leadership that transformed the Library of Congress into a national institution that also served the American public
  • Oversaw the building of a new home for the collection, creating a physical structure for the Library of Congress, separate from the Capitol building
  • Retired to become Chief Assistant Librarian under the next two Librarians of Congress, a position he held until his death in 1908

7. John Russell Young (1897–1899)

  • Journalist, author, and diplomat
  • Oversaw the physical move of the collection from the Capitol building to the new Library of Congress building
  • Served only two years, until his death in 1899

8. Herbert Putnam (1899–1939)

  • Former lawyer
  • Although he did not have a degree in library science (it was still a new degree), he was the first Librarian of Congress to have prior library experience, having served as Librarian of the Minneapolis Athenaeum (1884-87), the Minneapolis Public Library (1887-91), and the Boston Public Library (1895-99)
  • Longest-serving Librarian of Congress
  • Developed the Library of Congress Classification system, still in use today by the Library of Congress and academic libraries worldwide
  • Urged the creation of a second Library of Congress building; the John Adams Building opened in 1939
  • Upon his retirement, Putnam was made Librarian of Congress Emeritus

9. Archibald MacLeish (1939–1944)

  • Former lawyer but best known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer
  • Controversial appointment, which included a letter writing campaign by the American Library Association (ALA) against MacLeish’s nomination. Part of the reason the ALA opposed the appointment? The fact that he had not attended a professional school of library science and had no library experience!
  • Developed policies, procedures, and the first explicit statements of the institution’s goals and collection development criteria
  • Created a new program of resident fellowships for young scholars and the Fellows of the Library of Congress, a group of prominent writers and poets

10. Luther H. Evans (1945–1953)

  • Political scientist
  • Served under MacLeish as head of the Legislative Reference Service and later Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress
  • One of the few government officials to openly resist McCarthyism
  • Resigned from the Library to accept a position as UNESCO’s third Director General, the only American to hold this post

11. Lawrence Quincy Mumford (1954–1974)

  • Bachelor of Library Science degree at the School of Library Science, Columbia University
  • Served as librarian at New York Public Library (NYPL) and director of the Cleveland Public Library system
  • Married a librarian (!), Permelia Catherine Stevens, a children’s librarian for the NYPL system
  • Considered to be the first professionally trained and educated librarian to be appointed Librarian of Congress!
  • Oversaw the establishment of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for substantial and lasting contributions to literature for children
  • Implemented the construction of the James Madison Memorial Building (finished in 1980), which became the third Library of Congress building
  • Ushered the Library of Congress into the computer age, including establishing the Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) system, which is still in use today by library catalogers worldwide
  • Note:  It was during Mumford’s tenure that Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein sought help from Library of Congress clerks while beginning their investigation into the Watergate scandal.

12. Daniel J. Boorstin (1975–1987)

  • Rhodes Scholar, lawyer, and historian
  • Former director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History and Technology (today known as the National Museum of American History)
  • His nomination was also controversial, with the ALA opposing his nomination because “however distinguished [his background] may be, [it] does not include demonstrated leadership and administrative qualities which constitute basic and essential characteristics necessary in the Librarian of Congress.”
  • The first Librarian of Congress to take the oath of office at a formal ceremony in the Library itself
  • Instrumental in the creation of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress
  • Upon his retirement, was made Librarian of Congress Emeritus

13. James H. Billington (1987–2015)

  • Rhodes Scholar and academic who taught history at Princeton and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Oversaw the creation of a massive new Library of Congress online, including the American Memory site in 1990, which became The National Digital Library site in 1994
  • Reconstructed Thomas Jefferson’s original library (a majority of the volumes had been destroyed by a fire in 1851) — I was lucky to see this exhibit personally and up close in 2010!
  • Created the National Book Festival, founded in 2000 with Laura Bush, herself a former school and public librarian

David S. Mao (2015-2016, Acting)

  • Earned a master’s degree in library and information science from The Catholic University of America
  • Law librarian experience, including at a private law firm and the Georgetown University Law Library
  • Joined the Library of Congress in 2005, hired by the American Law Division in the Congressional Research Service (CRS). In 2010, he joined the Law Library of Congress as its first Deputy Law Librarian, and then became the 23rd Law Librarian of Congress in 2012. In 2015, then-Librarian of Congress James Billington appointed him to the Deputy Librarian of Congress office.
  • Under his brief tenure as Acting Librarian of Congress, he brought to the Library a copy of the 1215 Magna Carta for a historic 800th anniversary exhibition

After researching the backgrounds and tenures of the previous and current Librarians of Congress, I have come away with a profound respect — and pride, both as a librarian and as an American! — for their collective contributions. The Library of Congress today is a respected institution worldwide, and it took a lot of work and leadership to get there!


Sources used:


All the president’s librarians in ‘All the President’s Men’

Why would a librarian lie?! Definitely something is up!

As I featured last week, All the President’s Men (1976) is one of the few films featuring reel librarians that have been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. It also seemed timely to revisit this classic film, which follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), the scandal that eventually brought down President Nixon. The film closely follows its source material, Bernstein’s and Woodward’s book of the same title, published just two years earlier in 1974.

All the President's Men book and movie collage
All the President’s Men book and movie collage

When I first watched this film, I noted four reel librarian characters. After carefully rewatching it recently, I realized I was mistaken — there are actually FIVE reel librarians.

Let’s count ’em down, shall we?


Reel Librarian #1:


Almost 25 minutes into the film, Bernstein flirts with interviews a former assistant to a Nixon administration staffer, who was paranoid about Ted Kennedy. The assistant reveals, “I remember seeing a book about Chappaquiddick on his desk. He was always getting material out of the White House Library and the Library of Congress. Anything he could find.

Cue the next scene, Bernstein on the phone to the White House library. This reel librarian is never seen, only heard, a female voice on the other end of the line. Let’s listen in to their conversation:

Bernstein:  This is Carl Bernstein, from the Washington Post. I was wondering if you can remember any books that a Howard Hunt checked out on Senator Kennedy?

White House librarian:  Howard Hunt? … Yes, I think I do remember. He took out a whole lot of material. Why don’t you hold on and I’ll see?

Bernstein:  I sure will. Thank you very much.

Bernstein calls the White House librarian in All the President's Men (1976)
Bernstein calls the White House librarian in All the President’s Men (1976)

White House librarian:  Mr. Bernstein?

Bernstein:  Yes, ma’am?

White House librarian:  I was wrong. The truth is… I don’t have a card that says Mr. Hunt took any material. I, uh, I don’t remember getting material for… I do remember getting material for somebody, but it wasn’t Mr. Hunt. The truth is I didn’t have any requests at all from Mr. Hunt. The truth is, I don’t know any Mr. Hunt.

As seen in the collage above, Bernstein’s facial expressions reveal his investigative instincts, as his face goes from polite, distant interest to confusion to suspicion. He smells a rat. Why would a librarian lie?! Definitely something is up!

Bernstein immediately walks across the room to Woodward. This is how he describes the interaction: “I just got off the phone with the librarian. … Between the first and second quote there’s a complete contradiction… in a space of about five seconds.”

Woodward immediately calls the White House Communications office. While he’s waiting for a response, Woodward and Bernstein suss out the significance of what had just happened:

Bernstein and Woodward discuss notes in a scene from All the President's Men (1976)
Bernstein and Woodward discuss notes in a scene from All the President’s Men (1976)

Woodward:  This was all one conversation?

Bernstein:  First, “I think I got a bunch of books for Hunt.” Five seconds later, she says, “I don’t even known a Mr. Hunt.” It’s obvious someone got to her.

Woodward:  There’s not enough proof. If there was a piece of paper… that said Hunt was taking out books on Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. Like a library slip.

Bernstein:  He also took out from the Library of Congress. But what’s more important, somebody got to her in that space of time.

Woodward:  How do you know?

Bernstein:  Because she said that Hunt… there was a lot of books that Hunt checked out. Then she comes back and doesn’t even know him.

The White House Communications officer than calls back, stating that the librarian “denies that the conversation with Mr. Bernstein ever took place.

Bernstein’s succinct response? “Total bullshit.” AGREED.

Side note:  I have not been able to find out much at all about the White House Library, mainly that the library was established by 1853 by First Lady Abigail Fillmore and that the collection was expanded in the early 1960s in order to reflect “a full spectrum of American thought and tradition for the use of the President.” Also, the page about the White House Library on the current White House website has been removed.

This scene in the film is very similar to how it’s described in the book, on pages 31-33 of the original 1976 hardback edition. The White House librarian has no name in the film — and doesn’t even get a screen credit! — but she is named (and therefore shamed?) in the book, Jane F. Schleicher.

This scene with the first reel librarian lasts about three minutes in total.


Reel librarians #2 and #3:


Immediately following the contradictory story from the White House press office, Woodward declares, “We’ve got to get something on paper.”

Next stop? The Library of Congress!

Woodward and Bernstein climb the steps of the Library of Congress
Woodward and Bernstein climb the steps of the Library of Congress

While at the iconic library building, the two reporters are immediately blocked by a sneering, dismissive, white Congress Library Clerk, played by James Murtaugh.

You want all the material requested by the White House? All White House transactions are confidential. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Woodward and Bernstein visit the Library of Congress
Woodward and Bernstein visit the Library of Congress

The reporters, however, remain undeterred. As they walk down a side hallway of the Library of Congress filled with columns, the two continue to strategize.

Woodward and Bernstein walk a column-lined hallway of the Library of Congress
Woodward and Bernstein walk a column-lined hallway of the Library of Congress

We need a sympathetic face.

We’re not going to find one here.

I can understand their lack of confidence in librarians, based on the two encounters they’ve had thus far. But they DO end up finding a friendly face while at the Library of Congress! Notice the differences in facial expressions below:

A contrast of two male librarians at the Library of Congress, in All the President's Men (1976)
A contrast of two male librarians at the Library of Congress, in All the President’s Men (1976)

Jaye Stewart plays a character billed simply as “Male Librarian,” with as much screen time and as many lines as the previous seen Library of Congress clerk.

You want every request since when? [The answer is July of ’71] … I’m not sure you want ’em, but I’ve got ’em.

Cue the stacks of library card checkout slips!

Checkout slips from the Library of Congress
Checkout slips from the Library of Congress

As Bernstein and Woodward flip through seemingly endless checkout slips, director Alan J. Pakula cannot help but take advantage of the round Reading Room, slowly panning up so we can get a glorious bird’s-eye view of this iconic space.

A bird's-eye view of the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen in All the President's Men (1976)
A bird’s-eye view of the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen in All the President’s Men (1976)

Alas, all that work to go through the library checkout slips does not provide the information they want, to confirm if any White House staffer checked out books on Ted Kennedy.

Bernstein:  Maybe they pulled the cards. Maybe they changed the names.

Woodward:  Maybe there was a card there, and we missed it.

But not all is lost, as Woodward gets another idea for how to confirm the information.

Side note:  As a librarian, I cringed a little during this scene. I had conflicting emotions. Although I was so glad that at least ONE librarian on screen had a face described as “friendly,” it’s sooooooo not ethical to give out checkout slips or records without a court order. We do have an obligation to protect the privacy rights of our patrons.

The two reporters then write up the article, and they take it to editor Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning turn for Best Supporting Actor. He is unimpressed.

You haven’t got it. A librarian and a secretary saying Hunt looked at a book. That’s not good enough. […] Get some harder information next time.

Reporters discuss a story in All the President's Men (1976)
Reporters discuss a story in All the President’s Men (1976)

The reporters, though disappointed, stay on the trail, which leads us next to two librarians at the Washington Post itself.


Reel librarian #4:


Ten minutes later, at 41 minutes into the film, Bernstein is looking up newspaper article archives in the Washington Post library. We can just spot a male Post Librarian in the background, played by Ron Menchine, chatting away at a table.

Bernstein researches newspaper archives, while the Post librarian sits back and chats
Bernstein researches newspaper archives, while the Post librarian sits back and chats

The takeaway? Bernstein’s doing all the work while the reel librarian idles in the background. Reel librarian FAIL.

Can the fifth and final reel librarian help restore some shine to the profession?


Reel librarian #5:


At 47 minutes into the film, Woodward is busy doing research in what appears to be the reference section of the Washington Post library. I spot several law books along the shelves.

A well-dressed woman walks into the frame, her back to the audience. We can see that she has long blonde hair and glasses resting on top of her head. Jamie Smith-Jackson plays the second Post Librarian seen in the film.

The second Post Librarian redeems the librarian profession, by providing a vital clue to Woodward, in All the President's Men (1976)
The second Post Librarian redeems the librarian profession, by providing a vital clue to Woodward, in All the President’s Men (1976)

Post Librarian:  You’re the one that wanted the articles on Dahlberg, Kenneth H. Dalberg? Couldn’t find anything in the clip file at all.

Woodward:  Oh, wonderful. [sarcastic tone]

Post Librarian:  I did find one picture, though, if it’s any help.

And lo and behold, it DOES help! What the female Post Librarian digs up in that picture provides a vital clue — a man’s name that they can directly connect to a check involved in the Watergate Hotel arrests — that leads to the unraveling of the scandal. This scandal turns out to be much bigger than anyone suspected at first.

Connecting the research dots
Connecting the research dots

I also loved that old-school research materials (phone books, newspaper clippings) and research methods (cross-checking indexes and noting proximity of page numbers) are key to solving the mystery. I was reminded of similar details and research highlighted in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

Doing research in the Washington Post library
Doing research in the Washington Post library

How important is the work that Bernstein and Woodward are doing? As their editor Bradlee states toward the end of the film, “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters.


The final score:


Ultimately, how do these reel librarians matter to this story and to this film? I enjoyed how the film — again, closely following the source book material — rolled back to the beginning. But the story was so layered and so huge that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to decide where the beginning was. And the beginning point that mattered, that spurred all the resulting actions forward, went back to the research. Back to when their suspicions were first roused by a White House librarian who lied. Back to when they had to ask themselves, Who got to her? Why would a librarian lie about a book being checked out? After all, if a librarian was lying to them, WHO ELSE was lying to them? And that trail led all the way to the President of the United States.

The final tally for the 5 reel librarians from All the President’s Men? When it came to helpfulness to other characters, only 2 of the 5 librarians scored any points. But when it came to helpfulness to advancing the plot, 5 for 5. 🙂

The Oscar-nominated film lands in the Class III category, in which reel librarians are minor or supporting characters, and all 5 librarians fulfill the Information Provider role.


For more about Ted Kennedy and the Nixon administration’s paranoia — and more details about which book Hunt did check out from the Library of Congress — check out this article from the Daily Beast, “How Kennedy Brought Down Nixon.”


Sources used: