A round-up of library, archives, and reel librarian scenes in MCU’s Phase Two

Phase two of our own Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians!

We are continuing this summer with our Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians. I’ve written a lot about library scenes in various Marvel movies on my site, so I am finally going back through all the Marvel movies, this time in phase order, and making sure I’ve watched, reviewed, and analyzed them all for any library, archives, and reel librarian scenes. So please join me as I wind my librarian way through the MCU! Click here for the Phase One round-up, and we continue now with the Phase Two movies.


Iron Man 3 (2013)

No library scene.

In this movie, Tony Stark battles with PTSD and faces a foe called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Again, I remembered shockingly little of this movie when rewatching it. And again, I’m sure I would have remembered more about it if there had been a library. 😉

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

In this movie, Thor reunites with Jane Foster and battles Malekith and the army of Dark Elves. The stand-alone Thor movies have been consistent thus far with showcasing library scenes! Bless. Also, this movie — often cited as among the worst MCU movies — was actually better than I remembered it being. It has two things going for it: (1) Chris Hemsworth’s eyebrows are not bleached blonde like they were in the first Thor movie, and (2) there’s a library scene in it. Let’s explore!

At 1 hour and 26 minutes into the movie, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) arrive at the Greenwich site of convergence for plot reasons. They walk hurriedly through an academic library, and you can see a book cart. The captions reveal that Jane’s shoes squeak… which is why they get shushed by a student! The location of the library is the Old Royal Naval College Library in London.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Thor and the main baddie Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) are fighting it out in the college courtyard, and at 1 hour and 30 minutes, the perspective switches back to students in the library checking out the fight from the library’s windows.

Jane: What are you all doing? You need to get out of here, now!

Student [holding a phone in his hand]: You’re joking, right? That’s Thor out there! He’s waving his hammer around and everything!

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Fun fact: The actor who has this bit line is Royce Pierreson, who plays Istredd in Netflix’s The Witcher TV series!

The next thing we see, Thor’s hammer sends shock waves that blow out the windows in the library. Jane warned y’all.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

The library scene lasts less than a minute total, but it is a very cinematically striking scene that helps demonstrate the real-world effects and damage due to Thor’s fighting. No librarians were easily discernible in this scene — again, it looked like a student shushed Jane and Erik earlier in the scene, not a librarian — so this movie falls into the Class V category.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

No library scene.

In this movie — one of my personal faves — Captain America is now working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and faces off against a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier.

As my husband pointed out, they could have easily substituted a library scene in this movie instead of the visit to the Mac store where Natalie hacks into a computer to read the thumb drive they got from Nick Fury — but, you know, product placement. Boo. 😦

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

No library scene.

In this movie, we get introduced to the motley crew known as the Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill, aka “Starlord” (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).

This movie is fun! And the soundtrack is AWESOME. I danced along with Groot when rewatching this movie.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Nope, no library.

In this movie, the Avengers team up to defeat Ultron, plus we get introduced to Pietro and Wanda Maximoff and Vision. When rewatching this movie, I kept marveling at (1) how crucial this movie is within the MCU because of how many subsequently important plot points and characters it introduces, and (2) how boring and joyless this movie is. In my opinion, this is the worst MCU movie of them all.

Ant-Man (2015)

No library, sigh.

In this movie, we get introduced to Ant-Man and Dr. Hank Pym. Paul Rudd in the title role is adorable — like he just can’t believe he’s in a Marvel movie, golly gee whiz! — while Michael Douglas as Hank Pym is busy acting rings around everyone else.

Keeping score

Phase One:

  • 6 movies
  • 2/6 library or archives scenes (The Incredible Hulk – university library; Thor – public library)
  • 0/6 reel librarian sightings

Phase Two:

  • 6 movies
  • 1/6 library or archives scenes (Thor: The Dark World – college library)
  • 0/6 reel librarian sightings

Overall (thus far):

  • 12 movies
  • 3/12 library or archives scenes
  • 0/12 reel librarian sightings

The Avengers will return…

… in our next regular post! 😀 We will continue our Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians for Phase Three. Stay tuned!

Sources used

  • Ant-Man. Dir. Peyton Reed. Perf. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2015.
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron. Dir. Joss Whedon. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Bettany. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2015.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Perf. Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2014.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy. Dir. James Gunn. Perf. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace. Marvel Studios /Disney, 2014.
  • Iron Man 3. Dir. Shane Black. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2013.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Two.” Wikipedia, 15 June 2022. Accessed 17 June 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Thor: The Dark World. Dir. Alan Taylor. Perf. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Christopher Eccleston. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2013.

A round-up of library, archives, and reel librarian scenes in MCU’s Phase One

Phase one of our own Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians!

When I was rounding up my first impressions of Wong in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), I was marveling (har har 😀 ) about how many Marvel movies I had written about on my site. Then I thought… why not finally go back through all the Marvel movies, this time in phase order, and make sure I’ve watched, reviewed, and analyzed them all for any library, archives, and reel librarian scenes? Thus, the idea of the Marvel Summer was born!

Yep, that’s right, this entire summer is going to be our own Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians, as I wind my librarian way through the MCU, starting with Phase One.


Iron Man (2008)

I can still remember going to the movie theater to watch this movie! And yes, I still tear up at the beginning when Yinsen (Shaun Toub) tells Tony Stark not to waste his life.

Alas, there are no library scenes in the “one that started it all” — not even a private library at Tony Stark’s house!

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

At 49 mins into this movie — is this the most overlooked Marvel movie in the bunch?! — Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is trying to get away from military soldiers, so he cuts through the Culver University Library to escape. No reel librarian is visible in this scene, but you can tell it was filmed in a real university library, because there’s a yellow sign that reads “Please Do Not Reshelve Books.” 😉 IMDb says University of Toronto and Drew University in New Jersey served as filming locations for the university. Most of the action in this brief scene happens in the bound periodicals section. This movie qualifies for the Class V category, because it has library scenes with no identifiable librarians.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Below is my Twitter thread breaking down this brief library scene, also with lots of screenshots:

Iron Man 2 (2010)

No library scene.

On a personal note, I remembered shockingly little about this movie when I rewatched it. Maybe if there had been a library scene, I would have remembered more about it! 😉

Thor (2011)

Archives or vault?

My husband wondered if the vault of treasures seen at 9:56 into the movie could be considered an archives, but it’s referred to clearly in the movie as “the weapons vault” with “these relics.” Loki also refers to this vault later, at 41 minutes: “So I am another stolen relic, locked up here until you have use of me.”

Public library scene

At 49 minutes into the movie, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) visits the public library because he needs to email a contact, after his laptop was confiscated by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. (I had vaguely remembered there being a library scene in this movie, but couldn’t remember why. But when Erik finds out his laptop had been taken, I shouted out loud, “He’s going to the library because they have internet access!” I clapped my hands in delight when this proved true. 😀 ) There’s even a “Free Internet” sign in the window of the library, along with READ posters (classic library decoration), computers, and bookshelves in an alcove. No obvious reel librarians, but we do see two other library patrons browsing the shelves.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Erik walks across the small library to pick up a book, The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence, on a rolling cart. He then picks up the book Myths and Legends from Around the World by Sandy Shepherd, and looks up entries for the Bifrost and for Thor (Thursday). Signs for “audio books” and “young adults” can be seen on the walls behind Erik.

Both of those titles are real books, by the way! The other titles on this cart that I could decipher, to the best of my ability, include:

Such a clever collection of book titles that reflect elements of this movie’s plot and characters — and they’re all real books. Props to the propmaster!

I noticed that there were no call numbers on the books on the cart, but there were call numbers on the books on the bookshelves lining the wall behind the cart. I immediately theorized that the books on the cart were book donations for sale, which is a common thing for libraries to do– and indeed, there is a “Book Sale” sign near the cart!

Again, this movie qualifies for the Class V category, because it has library scenes with no identifiable librarians.

Library book debate

At the 1 hour mark, we return to the book that Erik got from the public library, and that book then inspires a debate about science fact vs. fiction. Darcy (the ever-hilarious Kat Dennings) is flipping through the book on the table, and she points to the page for Mjolnir (which she pronounces as Myeu-muh, like a cat’s meow, and to this day, I cannot help but also say Mjolnir like that).

Jane: Where’d you find this?

Erik: The children’s section. [Turns to the page for Loki.] I wanted to show you how silly his story was.

Jane: But you’re the one who’s always pushing me to chase down every possibility, every alternative!

Erik: I’m talking about science, not magic!

Jane: Well, magic’s just science we can’t explain yet. Arthur C. Clarke.

Erik: Who wrote science fiction.

Jane: A precursor to science fact!


And OF COURSE you know I looked up that Arthur C. Clarke quote, right? Right. 🙂 Clark’s original quote — known as “Clarke’s third law” — is:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This was published in a 1968 letter to Science magazine and was added to the 1973 revision of the “Hazards of Prophecy” essay. But Clarke had written a similar sentiment earlier in 1952, and this Wikipedia entry traces earlier variations of this concept that pre-date Clarke. The bottom line? Science as magic, and vice versa, is not a new idea.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

No library scene.

Do I still tear up every time when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) explains the good he sees in Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)? Yes, yes, I do. No shame in feeling emotions, y’all. Movies are good for emotional catharsis. ❤

The Avengers (2012)

No library scene.

This movie is notable for Mark Ruffalo’s first outing as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, a role that Edward Norton did not reprise (thank goodness).

Keeping score

Phase One:

  • 6 movies
  • 2/6 library or archives scenes
  • 0/6 reel librarian sightings

The Avengers will return…

… in our next regular post! 😀 Yes, we will continue our Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians for Phase Two. Stay tuned!

Sources used

  • The Avengers. Dir. Joss Whedon. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2012.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger. Dir. Joe Johnston. Perf. Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2008.
  • Clarke, Arthur C. “Clarke’s Third Law on UFO’s.Science, vol. 159, issue 3812 (19 Jan. 1968): 255. doi: 10.1126/science.159.3812.255.c
  • Clarke’s Three Laws.” Wikipedia, 26 May 2022. Accessed 17 June 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • The Incredible Hulk. Dir. Louis Leterrier. Perf. Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth. Universal / Marvel Studios, 2008.
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008): Filming & Production.” Internet Movie Database, accessed 17 June 2022.
  • Iron Man. Dir. Jon Favreau. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2008.
  • Iron Man 2. Dir. Jon Favreau. Perf. Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2008.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One.” Wikipedia, 15 June 2022. Accessed 17 June 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Thor. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba. Paramount / Marvel Studios, 2011.

Libraries and archives with ‘Soul’

“Shhhhhh! Oh yeah, that’s good.”

To my American readers or those with American friends or family, I wish you all an (early) Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday and a Native American Heritage Day on Friday. It is also Native American Heritage Month here in the U.S. For my post this holiday week, I’m analyzing a film that focuses on, like the name reveals, the soul: Disney/Pixar’s 2020 film, Soul. This animated movie features a diverse voice cast, including Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, Tina Fey as 22, Rachel House as Terry, Questlove as Curley, and Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams. The film earned two Oscars, for Original Score (featuring the musical genius of Jon Batiste) and Best Animated Feature Film. This movie does not technically feature a librarian, landing it in the Class V category, but it includes a library scene as well as a different kind of archives.

Co-written and co-directed by Pete Docter (who also directed 2001’s Monsters, Inc., 2009’s Up, and 2015’s Inside Out), Soul‘s themes explore determinism, often contrasted with “free will,” and what helps shape individual personalities and characteristics. The plot focuses on Joe Gardner, a Black jazz musician and teacher who dies before his “big break” playing with jazz legend Dorothea Williams; in an effort to return to his body in time to realize his jazz-playing dreams, he mentors 22, a soul who resists every opportunity to develop a “spark” and complete the process of being born. There’s more to it than that, and here’s a trailer to provide more context:

Disney and Pixar’s Soul | Official Trailer | Disney+” video uploaded by Pixar, Standard YouTube License

Library scene

At 27 minutes into the movie, Joe takes 22 to the Hall of Everything, in an effort to inspire 22’s “spark.” They walk into a library space — which is totally empty, by the way (sigh) — filled with the outlines of bookcases, a dropped ceiling with fluorescent lights, rolling carts, and a desk with a computer and a hanging sign labeled “Information.” My favorite detail? That the rolling carts have items in them waiting to be shelved. But with no librarian there… who’s going to shelve them?! 😉

Joe tries to inspire a librarian spark, in this screenshot from Soul (2020)
Joe tries to inspire a librarian spark, in this screenshot from Soul (2020)

Joe: How about a librarian? They’re cool.

22: Yes, amazing. Who wouldn’t like working at a thankless job you’re always in danger of losing due to budget cuts? Though I do like the idea of randomly shushing people.

Joe: Oh, obviously, this —

22: Shhhhhh! Oh yeah, that’s good.

Shushing in the library scene in Soul (2020)
Shushing in the library scene in Soul (2020)

This scene lasts about 10 seconds total. And what an emotional ride those 10 seconds were for me!

At the beginning of this scene, I felt like this:

By the end of this scene, I felt like this:

Screenshot from Soul (2020): "You cut deep, Joe."
Screenshot from Soul (2020)

I am feeling @bethforbooks here:

The archives of souls

Although there is no actual librarian in Soul, we do get to see the archives… of souls! Terry, who is very clearly referred to in the film as the accountant, is trying to figure out why the count of souls is off.

At 18 minutes into the movie, Terry zips off to the archives of souls — which is shown as a vast universe of file cabinet drawers — and starts at the A’s to doublecheck each file and soul, in order to find the one soul unaccounted for.

Terry the accountant digs into the soul archives in Soul (2020)
Terry the accountant digs into the soul archives in Soul (2020)

The archives in Soul reminded me of the archives in Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which I analyzed in this 2018 post. The color palettes are very different, as are the angles, but the vastness of the archival spaces feel similar in scale to me. Below is a side-by-side comparison:

Screenshot from 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017)
Comparing the archives in Soul (left) with Blade Runner 2049 (right)

We check in with Terry the accountant a couple more times throughout the movie:

  • 43:32 minutes: Terry has made it to the G’s in the archives. “You’re out there somewhere, little soul, and I’m gonna find you.”
  • 49:49 minutes: Terry holds up Joe Gardner’s file and exclaims, “Found him! See that, everybody! Who figured out why the count’s off?!

And speaking of souls and how we form our personalities… I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that I do actually picture a card catalog drawer when I think of my own brain. When I have to access a memory or piece of knowledge, I mentally picture flipping through the card catalog of my brain, much like Terry flipping through the archives of souls. And… now we’ve come full circle. 😉

Have you watched Soul? What were your thoughts of the devastating way that 22 summed up the librarian profession? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Law books and research in ‘Marshall’ (2017)

“You’d better start reading then.”

Today is the premiere date for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the final film role of Chadwick Boseman’s brilliant and all-too-short career. Boseman, who plays trumpet player Levee, and his co-star Viola Davis, who plays the title role of Ma Rainey, are getting rave reviews. I still get emotional whenever I think of Boseman’s passing. He died of colon cancer on August 28, 2020, at the young age of 43. By all accounts, he was a wonderful, caring, and dedicated man who was always giving back and paying it forward. Even though Boseman’s career was short — his first television role was in 2003 and his first film role was in 2008 — his list of film credits (only 15 total movies!) includes stellar turns playing iconic and inspiring Black men, including Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get On Up (2014), and of course, T’Challa, King of Wakanda, in Black Panther (2018). Boseman’s role as Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017) also joins this list.

Here’s a trailer for the movie:

“Marshall Trailer #1 (2017)” by Movieclips Trailers, Standard YouTube License

Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice, serving on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967 through 1991. Before that, he was a lawyer for the NAACP, criss-crossing the United States to defend people of color and work on cases focusing on racial prejudice. As NAACP chief counsel for Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood successfully argued that case in 1954 before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marshall, directed by Reginald Hudlin, does not delve into Marshall’s more well-known cases or his tenure as a Supreme Court Justice. Rather, we get to know the measure of the man during his early career and how Marshall also helped inspire others to join the fight for racial and social justice. The film is set in 1941 and focuses on an early case in Marshall’s career, State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell, a case in which a Black chauffeur (played by Sterling K. Brown) was accused of raping Eleanor Strubing (played by Kate Hudson), a wealthy White woman. Josh Gad co-stars as real-life attorney Sam Friedman, who worked as local counsel alongside Marshall. Friedman, a Jewish lawyer, had been working in insurance cases, and this trial marked his first experience as a criminal defender. Friedman had to serve as the case’s lead counsel because the Connecticut judge had forbidden Marshall from speaking during the trial.

These screenshots below depict the scene in which Marshall introduces Friedman to the press.

NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) introuces Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) to the press, in a scene from Marshall (2017)
NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) introuces Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) to the press, in a scene from Marshall (2017)
A birds-eye view of Marshall and Friedman in front of reporters
A birds-eye view of Marshall and Friedman in front of reporters

Almost 30 minutes into the movie, Marshall tells Friedman he has to start preparing for the criminal case.

Marshall: You say you’ve never tried a criminal case before, right?

Friedman nods.

Marshall then takes out a stack of law books out of his case and puts them on the desk. The camera focuses on the stack of books, and their titles are plainly visible, as seen in the screenshot below.

Marshall: You’d better start reading then. You’ve got one month.

Law books from Marshall's bag.
“You’d better start reading then.”

Although short, this scene is impressive because it shows how prepared and professional Marshall is — he’s got a stack of law books in his case! — and how he is also prepared to help mentor a colleague. The scene also reinforces how research is the backbone of legal justice. And those law books do look realistically worn and used.

But let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Here are the titles of the legal tomes that Marshall pulls out, the ones he wants Friedman to study for their upcoming criminal case:

  • A Concise Restatement of Torts, Second Edition, is about civil law, and it wasn’t published until 1965.
  • There are two volumes of Wigmore on Evidence from the McNaughton Revision series, which were not published until 1961. As the film’s IMDb.com Goofs page states: “Evidentiary law discussed in Wigmore applies in both criminal and civil cases, so Friedman, a trial lawyer, would already be familiar with it.
  • The tan volume on top is Volume 308 of the United States Reports, which contains all the U.S. Supreme Court opinions from October 1939.

None of these titles are exclusively about criminal law. Three of the four volumes that Marshall pulls out of his case in 1941 had not been published yet. And the other volume is about the U.S. Supreme Court, which would have no bearing on a criminal case in a state court. Propmaster FAIL.

I appreciate the focus on research in this scene from Marshall, but it’s best to get the details right, especially for a cinematic close-up. Maybe next time, consult with a law librarian?

Ultimately, Marshall is a fine example of Boseman’s acting talent, and the film does justice to Marshall’s career and legacy. You can read more about the real-life case here in this Smithsonian Magazine article and here in this article with Friedman’s daughter, Lauren Friedman. The movie itself lands in the Class V category of reel librarian films, the category for movies that include research and/or library scenes but no actual librarians.

Have you seen Marshall? Do you also tear up when thinking about Chadwick Boseman? Are you planning on watching his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Silence and the school library in ‘Children of a Lesser God’ (1986)

This film flips the script on libraries as quiet spaces.

It is almost Valentine’s Day, so I went back over my updated post of Best Picture nominees featuring reel librarians — in particular the section for Best Picture nominees (with potential reel librarians) to watch/rewatch — and looked for any romances in the mix. And bingo, my eyes lit up when I reread my description of 1986’s Children of a Lesser God:

This Best Picture-nominated film boasts the Oscar-winning performance of lead actress Marlee Matlin, who works at a school for the deaf. I have not yet seen this film, which is on my Master List, so I need to watch it for any signs of a school library, or librarian, at this school.

I am not sure why I had never gotten around to watching this Oscar-winning film, but never late than never, right? I was blown away by Marlee Matlin’s emotional performance, especially considering this was her feature film debut! She totally held her own as Sarah — and then some! — against William Hurt, who plays James, a new speech teacher.

The film was also nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Notably, the film was not nominated for Best Director; the film was directed by Randa Haines, and she was nominated for a Director’s Guild of America Award that year for this film.

A few contemporary reviews pointed out that the film was told from a hearing perspective and for a hearing audience; for example, they did not provide captions for any sign language, and James translated most of Sarah’s signing through his own voice.

Here’s a trailer for the film, if you are either not familiar with it or it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it:

“Children of a Lesser God (1986) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers” by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License

*Mild Spoilers Ahead*

School library scene without a school librarian

A little over 40 minutes into the 2-hour film, James is trying to connect with Sarah, and she becomes angry when she learns that he has visited her mother (played by Piper Laurie). Sarah goes into the school library, where James follows her. There’s a “Library” sign on the wall beside the door, and a “Book Drop” box below the sign.

Sarah enters the school library in Children of a Lesser God (1986)
Notice the library sign, the book drop, and the bulletin board of “Deaf Resources” — all tell-tale signs of a school library!

It’s clearly a very small library — just one small room — but as the two circle each other around the room, we can spot a section for print magazines and newspapers, a “Book Nook” corner of bookcases, and a counter with a bell. (The bell prop on the counter gives us a clue that the school librarian is not deaf, because they would need to be able to hear the bell for it to successfully get their attention. FYI, the large amber light on the wall is one used to signal class periods for students.) We also see signs by the counter for “How to Find Books,” and these posters feature the Dewey Decimal call number classification system, which is the most common call number system for school library collections.

School library counter with a bell and multiple "How to Find a Book" signs with Dewey Decimal call number info. Library scene in Children of a Lesser God (1986).
Notice the bell and the multiple (!) “How to Find a Book” signs with Dewey Decimal call number info?
Periodicals corner of the school library, with print magazines and newspapers, in the school library scene from Children of a Lesser God (1986)
The periodicals corner of the school library includes print magazines and newspapers

We can also spot hand-lettered signs for different collections crammed together on the bookcases, including sections for Fiction, Reference and Encyclopedias, History, and Children’s Books.

Hand-lettered signs for different collections in the school library, including Fiction, Reference and Encyclopedias, Children's Books, History, etc. From the school library scene in Children of a Lesser God (1986).
I kind of love the randomness of these hand-lettered signs — including two different signs for Fiction!
"Book Nook" sign along the back wall of the school library in Children of a Lesser God (1986)
Do you notice the “Book Nook” sign along the back?

Behind Sarah, you can also spot call numbers on books. However, there do not seem to be call numbers on every book — including books with wide spines that should theoretically have room for call number labels — so I’m a little suspicious that the propmaster just crammed a bunch of random books — some from libraries and some not — into the room and called it a day.

Closeup of call numbers on library books in this school library scene from Children of a Lesser God (1986)
School library books — some with call numbers, some without — behind Sarah in this school library scene

Side note: The movie was filmed at the Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick, Canada, and here is a look at their well-stocked library in real life. This is not AT ALL the kind of school library depicted in the film, so I think my suspicions about the movie library and book props are true. I cannot be 100% certain, of course, as this school might well have built a better library in the 30+ years since this movie was filmed there.

We also are never gifted with the presence of a school librarian, so this film remains in the Class V category, films that include library scenes but no reel librarian characters. This also means that I get to update my Best Picture nominees that feature reel librarians, 2020 update post, and move Children of a Lesser God into the “Best Picture nominees with library scenes (but no reel librarians)” section.

The role of silence

The role of silence is, understandably, a major theme in this film. Libraries are known for being quiet places — or at least, that’s a common misconception, and “shushing librarians” are a common stereotype. (Libraries DO usually have “silent study” spaces for those who really need quiet, but there’s usually a medium-level of expected noise and conversation in most modern libraries nowadays. Libraries are community spaces, and people often need to be able to make a little noise!)

Therefore, Sarah tries to escape into the library to get away from James — a safe space where she may expect others to be as silent as she normally is. But the library instead becomes a private place to have an argument, where Sarah exposes a major secret of her past to James. The library is no longer safe for Sarah; she cannot escape, even from herself or her own painful memories. The library is also no longer a silent space for Sarah, as James breaks the silence with his translation of Sarah’s signing, even shouting in frustration multiple times across the room at her.

I found it very interesting that this film flips the script, so to speak, on libraries as quiet spaces. This library scene, in effect, breaks the silence between Sarah and James. After this scene, they become lovers, which lays the foundation for the rest of the film’s plot and romantic drama.

Continuing the conversation

Have you seen this Oscar-winning film? Were you blown away by Marlee Matlin’s feature film debut? Did you remember this scene in the school library? Please leave a comment and share!

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