‘Summer school’ in the library

“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”

I am working at my college library this summer quarter, so I got to thinking about the 1987 comedy classic Summer School. The film stars Mark Harmon as gym teacher Freddy Shoop, who gets stuck teaching remedial English in summer school. I checked out a DVD of the movie from a local regional library system, and I watched the “Life’s a Beach” DVD edition that had a few special features, including commentary from director Carl Reiner and star Mark Harmon.

Summer School DVD covers
DVD covers for Summer School (1987), “Life’s a Beach” edition

I had watched Summer School before, and my vague recollection was that there was a scene (or two?) in the school library, but no librarian present. It felt like perfect timing to revisit this ’80s comedy, just to make sure. I am nothing if not thorough, y’all. 😉

Before we dive in, below is a trailer for the film. I was pleased that the school library does get highlighted in the trailer!

“Summer School-Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Let’s all go to the… library?

At almost 19 minutes into this 97-minute film, Shoop is flipping through curriculum sheets, trying to figure out what to do. Context: This is the second day of class. He seizes upon book reports, and you can practically see the light bulb go off in his brain. Shoop calls out to the class:

“Anybody want to get out of here? Go to the library?”

All of the students shout enthusiastically at this idea.

“Let’s go!”

This bit highlights just how BORED both the students AND the teacher must be, if going to the — gasp! — library sounds like a good idea. (Sigh.)

And, of course, almost everyone takes off and ditches while Shoop is leading the students across campus to the library. (Double sigh.)

School library scene

Shoop leans on the library door as the few remaining students shuffle into the school library. I thought it interesting to spot the library hours sign on the door. (For you purists out there, the library is open 9 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 to 3 p.m. You’re welcome. 😉 )

Library hours sign in Summer School
Library hours sign in Summer School (1987)

Here’s a look at the students in the library at the beginning of this scene. Pretty empty, huh?

Wide shot of the school library in Summer School
Wide shot of the school library in Summer School (1987)

We then get a closeup of Dave and Chainsaw, who are trying to flirt with the new foreign exchange student, Anna-Maria, who is taking the class to brush up on her English language skills. In the closeup below, you can see that Anna-Maria has a stack of books about the English language. I appreciated this detail — and the fact that the library does contain materials that she could use!

Dave, Chainsaw, and Anna-Maria in the school library in a scene from Summer School
Dave, Chainsaw, and Anna-Maria in the school library in a scene from Summer School (1987)

In fact, this library has a large range of materials for all different ages and reading abilities:

Shout-out to Dr. Seuss in Summer School
Shout-out to Dr. Seuss in Summer School (1987)

From this initial angle, the library looks quite empty. But when the camera swings back to Shoop, who’s reading a newspaper in front of the periodicals section, we see more people on the other side of the library. A security guard then brings back the rest of Shoop’s students, who went out for doughnuts. (Eating in the library, gasp!)

Security guard brings students back to the library in Summer School (1987)
So. Many. Hand-lettered. Library. Signs.

What I found most interesting when I paused this back view of the library was the figure right below the “Please Return Books Here” sign in the upper left corner. It looks to be a woman with blonde hair tied back with a large white bow, and she’s wearing a light blue blazer or shirt. There also seems to be a large computer or machine behind her and to the left.

Therefore, I’m calling it… I think that’s the school librarian! Who else would stand below a “Please Return Books Here” sign?!

This role goes uncredited, but I’m convinced. Therefore, Summer School belongs in the Class IV category, films in which reel librarians make a cameo role. This librarian also clearly fulfills the “Information Provider” character type, as she’s there simply to help establish that it is a library. Of course, all the hand-lettered reading signs around the library also help establish setting. (My favorite sign is the “To read is to feed your mind” sign. Rewatch this scene to see if you can spot it!)

And here’s another wide shot of the school library, upon the return of all of Shoop’s students. Definitely less empty now.

Shoop's students in the school library in Summer School
Shoop’s students in the school library in Summer School (1987)

Of course, none of the students want to be there. Heck, not even the teacher wants to be there! Shoop makes that clear when he says:

“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”

Trapped in the school library? Enh, there are worse things in life. 😉

That’s when students get the idea to go on field trips, and the rest of the film’s plot kicks into high gear. The school library scene lasts exactly 3 minutes total.

The students never return to the school library en masse, but there are a couple of mentions or glimpses of the school library throughout the remainder of the movie.

Library as excuse

Vice Principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) takes over the class toward the end, at 72 minutes into the movie. The students want Mr. Shoop back, so they start humming under their breath to annoy Mr. Gills.

Chainsaw then sees an opportunity:

“I just cannot study. I am going to the library.”

Spoiler: He never makes it there.

Studying montage

One minute later, we get treated to a study montage before the big final exam. Denise (Kelly Minter) has been diagnosed with dyslexia, and she meets with a reading specialist.

Where do they meet up? At the school library, OF COURSE. ❤

Denise and a reading tutor meet up in the school library in Summer School (1987)
Denise and a reading tutor meet up in the school library in Summer School (1987)

The real school library location

As per the movie’s IMDb.com Locations page, scenes set at the movie’s fictional high school, Oceanfront High School, were filmed at the real-life Charles Evans Hughes Jr. High in Woodland Hills, California. And this school library really looks and feels like a genuine school library, once you soak in its hodgepodge of signs, orange carpet, paperback book racks, bulletin boards, and old-school card catalogs.

#Memories #CardCatalogsForever #SchoolLibraryNostalgia

And fun fact — courtesy of the Movie Locations & More site — this same location served as the school in both The Karate Kid (1984) and Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985).

Continuing the conversation

Did you enjoy this trip down memory lane? Do you remember the school library scene in Summer School? Are you in summer school right now??! Please leave a comment and share.

More school library movie scenes

Putting this post together reminded me of when I analyzed the school library scene in Pretty in Pink (1986). For that ’80s classic, I also spotted a school librarian from behind. Hmmm… I’m sensing a theme here. 😉

Want more school library scenes and glimpses of reel school librarians? No worries, I’m on it:

Sources used

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School library scene in ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Have you seen the utterly delightful — and rewatchable! — Netflix flick To All The Boy’s I’ve Loved Before yet? It came out this past summer, and the film was written and directed by women and based on the YA novel by Jenny Han. It stars Lana Condor as Lara Jean and Noah Centineo as the Internet’s boyfriend Peter. The two leads have chemistry for days, and watching (and rewatching) this film leaves a huge smile on my face.

Here’s a trailer for the film, so you can have a huge smile on your face:

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix,” uploaded by Netflix, Standard YouTube license

School library scene:


A very brief library scene occurs 13 minutes into the film. Lara Jean walks into the school library during her lunch period, and she breezes past the front circulation desk, where an (uncredited) reel librarian sits. The reel librarian looks up and smiles as Lara Jean walks past, serving as your basic Information Provider helping set the library scene and location.

Exchanging smiles with the reel librarian inTo All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
Exchanging smiles with the reel librarian

This barest of cameos lands this reel librarian in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

I liked the colorful panels on the front desk that read, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ♥


Breaking rules in the school library:


Lara Jean then sits down at a long table and takes out her lunch, which consists of some carrots.

Screenshot from To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

CRUNCH.

Screenshot from To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

Uh oh.

Screenshot from To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

Gulp.

Screenshot from To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

There are rules, girl.

Library sign about Soft Foods Only from To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)

Da da DUMMMMMMM.


Lessons learned:


Soft foods only! (I love the detail of the carrot on this sign, LOL!) Lara Jean then packs up right away and heads out to find another spot for lunch.

There is no dialogue in this scene, which lasts less then 30 seconds total, but the images and facial expressions are so dynamic that they tell a story all on their own.

I also quite appreciated that the librarian didn’t need to intervene at all — the rules about the soft food and no noise was enforced by the students themselves! 😀


More school library scenes:


In the mood for more library scenes set in school libraries? I’ve got ya covered:


Sources used:


The kids shush themselves | School library scene in ‘Psych’ TV show

This scene is so efficient — and the students themselves are so self-sufficient — that there is no need for a school librarian!

I have been enjoying our free preview of Amazon Prime, including watching TV series, both new (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and old (Psych). While watching Season 2 of Psych, I noted a library scene in episode 7, “If You’re So Smart, Then Why Are You Dead?”


About Psych:


First things first. If you’re not familiar with the comedic TV show Psych, here’s the basic premise:

Shawn Spencer (played by James Roday) has amazing powers of observation — and uses that power to pretend to be psychic. Why? So that he can solve crimes with the police, alongside his best friend, Gus (played by Dulé Hill). Corbin Bernsen plays his crotchety father, Henry Spencer, a retired cop.

Here’s a trailer for Season 2 of the TV show:

“Psych Season 2 Trailer,” uploaded by Shannon Haddock, Standard YouTube license.

And here’s the basic plot for the “If You’re So Smart, Then Why Are You Dead?” episode, which first aired in August 2007:

A group of genius teenagers go to the Psych office claiming their teacher is a murderer.


School library scene:


The scene occurs 9 minutes into the 42-minute episode. Shawn and Gus arrive at the school, going undercover as guest lecturers for a paranormal studies class. The headmaster gives them a tour of the school… which apparently starts in the library! I like this school. 😉

Let's all go to the library!
Let’s all go to the library!

Headmaster: Personally, I’m not sure that I see the merits of a class in paranormal studies, but we do let the students choose one guest instructor a semester. 

[A student walks past, carrying a thick book, joining a table of other students with their noses in books.]

Reading is a recess activity
Reading is a recess activity

ShawnWhat is this? Like a study hall?

HeadmasterOh, no. Recess.

Shawn:  [Sniffs] Does it smell like teen spirit in here?

Student:  [Walks by] Shhhhhh!

Gus has to hold Shawn back from going after the kid!

The kid shushes Shawn in the school library
The kid shushes Shawn in the school library
Shawn doesn't react well to the shushing
Shawn doesn’t react well to the shushing

The school library:


The library looks to be a pretty large space, with lots of windows and light and yellow-painted walls. I’m not sure where they filmed this scene, but I do know that the series filmed primarily in Vancouver, Canada. You can read about other filming locations featured on the show via the Movie Maps site.

There are different kinds of resources in the library, including books and computers. Furniture is also set up for different kinds of learning activities, including tables, computer desks, and bookcases, both small and tall ones. This furniture is used to break up the library into different spaces.

And as Shawn and Gus walk through the library with the headmaster, we also see glimpses of various students working hard at computers and other students working in groups. The library is also quite full — at recess, as we learned! — and the students range in ages, genders, and ethnicities.

Library tour in Psych TV episode
Library tour in Psych TV episode

The only thing missing in this scene? A librarian! 😉


Why a school library scene?


The scene lasts a total of 30 seconds, and it is the only scene in the episode set in the school library. What purpose does this brief scene serve? It primarily serves to provide as not only an introduction to the school for Shawn and Gus, but also as an introduction for the audience. We have been informed already that this is a school for geniuses — what better place than a library to reinforce this concept?

The scene starts with a closeup of thick books, a bookcase of atlases. This shot efficiently establishes the setting as a library without having to actually say the word.

Bookcase closeup to set the library scene
Bookcase closeup to set the library scene

This scene also efficiently reinforces the vibe of the school and the priorities of its students. They are serious, focused, and not afraid to stand up to authority — even shushing adults. This scene is so efficient — and the students themselves are so self-sufficient — that there is no need for a school librarian!

This also sets up a conflict in the episode, because if you’re a fan of the show, you know that Shawn jokes all the time and rarely takes anything seriously. As the audience, we are already looking forward to the students pushing back during Shawn’s upcoming lecture. After all, Shawn may be able to hoodwink the police about his “psychic” abilities… but will he able to convince these genius students? Or will the students call his bluff and shush him out of the school? 😉


Sources used:


  • “If You’re So Smart, Then Why Are You Dead?” Psych. USA Network, 24 Aug. 2007.
  • Psych Filming Locations.” Movie Maps, n.d.

Reader poll write-up, Spring 2017: ‘Teenage Mother’

“That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.”

The 1967 film Teenage Mother won the recent reader poll, squeaking past at the last minute due to my husband’s shameless promotion. He gets the credit blame for this post, as he wanted to watch ME watching this film, just for my reactions. I had some. 😉

My DVD copy of this film is from Something Weird Video in Seattle, with a “special edition” DVD. Something Weird promotes itself as “the very best in exploitation cinema,” and that rings true for Teenage Mother. The back of the DVD case has Handsome Harry Archer’s complete review of Teenage Mother, which opens with stating it as a “textbook example of classic old-school exploitation.” The film was directed by Jerry Gross, who would later direct the cult classic I Spit on Your Grave.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

DVD case for Teenage Mother (1967)
DVD case for Teenage Mother (1967)

The basics:


Here’s the basic plot, such as it is:  A new health teacher is hired to teach sex education in a high school and gets blamed when a student turns up pregnant. Except the student isn’t actually pregnant. She just told her boyfriend that so that he wouldn’t leave her and go off to medical school. Winners, all. And there’s footage of a live birth at the end. And an extended musical interlude in the middle. Cue the sweet anticipation!

As my husband said:

When you have a 70-minute film and only 40 minutes worth of plot, you HAVE to fill it with musical interludes and a live birth at the end!

To be clear, this movie is NOT good. It is bad. I knew it would be bad. But the question in my mind was this:  Was it SO bad that it would turn out to be awesomely bad? Unfortunately, NO. But as my husband quipped:

It’s the kind of bad that almost feels like a cultural moment.

The film starts off with footage of a stock-car race. Because WHY NOT.

Title screen from Teenage Mother (1967)
Title screen from Teenage Mother (1967)

Introducing the books and the school librarian:


Fifteen minutes into the film, the coach gets to introduce the new health teacher, Miss Erika Petersen (Julie Ange), who dives straight into the required and supplemental texts for the new “anatomical biology” course.

Fun fact:  This film was the film debut of Fred Willard, who plays the coach!

Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in Teenage Mother (1967)
Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Two texts are required reading for this course. The first, Moreline’s (?) Basics in Human Anatomy is the best for our line of work. In fact, most colleges use it today. This will be supplemented by Caracola’s (?) Adult Sexual Behavior. Both of these books have been ordered, and we should have them for you early next week.

Miss Petersen:  If any of you would like to do additional reading on this subject, I strongly recommend Saucer’s (?) Male and Female. I’m sure your school library has a copy available.

Tony [a student]:  I’ve already checked the library, and Miss Fowler, the librarian, told me it wasn’t available.

Miss Petersen:  That’s very interesting, Tony. I didn’t know you knew of this book.

Tony:  Well, I’d like to become a doctor. In fact, our family physician Dr. Wilson told me to read this book last year.

Miss Petersen:  And Miss Fowler didn’t know of the book? Well, it’s fairly recent. Perhaps she didn’t notice it in the book publisher’s catalog.

Tony:  She knew of it. She said it was indecent for our library.

[classroom erupts in laughter]

Miss Petersen:  Nonsense. At least 90% of all colleges and universities have this book in their libraries, and as many as 50% of all high schools. I’ll discuss this matter personally with Miss Fowler.

The bell rings, ending this scene after a couple of minutes.

Editor’s note: There were no captions available, and the actress’s “European” accent (dubbed?) makes it hard to understand the authors’ names she was saying, which explains why I put in question marks beside names in the quotations above. I couldn’t find any record of the first two books she mentions in this scene. Also, in the scene above and in the later scene with the school librarian, Miss Petersen clearly states the supplementary book, Male and Female, is by an author whose last name sounds like “Saucer” and that it has been newly published. I searched WorldCat — ’cause y’all know I would, right?! — but could not find any book published by that title in the late ’60s by an author with a similar last name. There was, however, a well-known text in this field, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, written and published in 1949 by Margaret Mead. And interestingly, there was another edition of this book published by Penguin in 1967, the same year of this film. So why use the same title but change the author? Just another question among many when it comes to this movie!


School library scene:


At almost half an hour into the film, we get the library scene. It’s a very short scene, lasting a minute or less. But it is memorable. I have also nicknamed the school librarian “Fowler the Scowler,” as you shall soon see why.

School library and librarian in Teenage Mother (1967)
School library and librarian in Teenage Mother (1967)

The scene begins with a wide shot of the school library — the film was filmed at East Rockaway High School in Long Island, so I assume this was also their school library — and the school librarian (an uncredited role) is checking in or filing cards in card catalog drawers. The school library is (surprisingly?) filled with lots of students and lots of books.

Miss Petersen walks in, and they make nice for about 5 seconds.

The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in Teenage Mother (1967)
The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Good morning, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  Good morning, Miss Petersen. Can I be of some assistance?

Miss Petersen:  Yes, one of my students, maybe you know him, Tony Michaels. He told me he was unable to find Saucer’s Male and Female on file here. You do have the book, don’t you?

Miss Fowler:  Most certainly not.

Miss Petersen:  Why not, Miss Fowler? It’s one of the most standard texts on anatomical hygiene.

Miss Fowler:  It’s a filthy book.

This outburst and Miss Fowler’s high-pitched exclamation catch the attention of nearby students! Miss Fowler clears her throat.

A startled student in the school library in Teenage Mother (1967)
A startled student in the school library in Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Filthy?

Miss Fowler [in a lower voice]:  Yes, filthy! I wouldn’t allow one of our students to even leaf through it. The illustrations are positively vulgar.

Miss Petersen:  They only show the beauty of the human body.

Miss Fowler:  Teenage children are not meant to see such things.

Miss Petersen:  That’s just the point. These youngsters are not children any longer. Their bodies are the bodies of young adults, with all the needs and desires of young adults.

Miss Fowler:  I wouldn’t know about that. [turns her head and looks down, rapidly blinking her eyelids]

Librarian closeup from Teenage Mother (1967)
Librarian closeup from Teenage Mother (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Apparently not. These young people have the right to know about the facts of life. which you say they cannot read. This is a free country, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.

Miss Petersen:  Let’s hope that’s not too long.

“Fowler the Scowler” then adjusts her glasses and goes back to filing her cards, an even more pinched look on her face. She ends as she begins the scene, as an uptight, sexually repressed librarian whose mind is closed to new ideas. An uplifting cinematic message for all librarians. 😦

The school librarian goes back to filing cards in Teenage Mother (1967)
The school librarian goes back to filing cards in Teenage Mother (1967)

I put together a collage of facial expressions to illustrate the reason for my “Fowler the Scowler” nickname of this school librarian:

Fowler the Scowler
Fowler the Scowler

Town meeting and attempted censorship:


The rest of the film delves into the Tony’s relationship with his girlfriend, Arlene Taylor (played by a real-life Arlene, Arlene Farber), the one who lies about being pregnant in order to trap her boyfriend. She attempts to run away, and her friend confesses the (fake) secret pregnancy to Arlene’s dad, who somehow has the clout to call an immediate “town meeting” at the high school in order to get Miss Petersen fired.

Here’s one memorable line from the town meeting scene, in which the principal defends his decision to hire Miss Petersen:

If your daughter became pregnant, it wasn’t because of anything she read in a book.

Oddly, “Fowler the Scowler” is NOT at that meeting, which I found disappointing. A missed opportunity! In my head, it would have been an awesome ending to have Miss Fowler also join the attempt to get Miss Petersen fired — and then the reverse happens! It would close the loop on Miss Petersen’s final words in the library scene, that she hopes it’s “not too long” before Miss Fowler is gone.

And that’s what this film does:  It makes a real-life librarian root AGAINST a reel librarian. 

In the excellent and thorough reference book on reel librarians, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, which I reviewed here in this post, the Tevises sum up the censorship message of the film and the ultimate contrast and conflicting messages of the school principal and the school librarian:

Teenage Mother is one of the few films that confronts the topic of sex education materials in secondary schools. Although the principal of the school is progressive, the librarian scorns the value of sex education. Without the support of the librarian, whose responsibility includes obtaining the appropriate learning materials to support instruction and student research, the program’s success is problematical. The film depicts the librarian as the high school’s moral watchdog who uses her power to censor library materials. (p. 122)


Spinster Librarian role:


So what role does Miss Fowler play in this film? I would say most definitely the Spinster Librarian character type, with her uptight manner and closed-minded outlook on collection development. The midpoint of her conversation with Miss Petersen — the self-confession of “I wouldn’t know about that” in response to the health teacher’s remark about the body’s “needs and desires” — clinches the deal.

Also, all of the stereotypical physical traits are there:  an older white woman, hair pulled back in a bun, glasses on a lanyard, high-necked blouse, etc. Even though her time onscreen is short, “Fowler the Scowler” is memorable, landing her librarian role and film in the Class III category.

The 30 seconds of “Fowler the Scowler” in Teenage Mother almost rival the 30 seconds of Spinster Librarian infamy in the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life.


Final review and trailer:


Here’s an excerpt from Ian Jane’s DVD Talk review of the film:

Preaching to its audience from a fairly lofty perch, the picture purports to deliver a social message about why kids should abstain or at the very least play it safe, but it’s been made so cheaply and marketed with such a sleazy, hyper-sexualized marketing campaign (be sure to watch the trailer which completely misrepresents the film in every way possible) that all of that gets thrown aside. Why? Because it’s obvious that all of this build up and moralizing was simply an excuse to bust out some really graphic footage of a baby popping its way out of some gooey female genitalia.

And finally, I’ve linked to that spectacularly misleading trailer below. I usually like to begin a film analysis post with a trailer, but this trailer needs to come AFTER the film, not before. Also, this trailer IS graphic — as it warns, it includes footage of the live-birth scene from the end of Teenage Mother.

Teenage Mother (1967) Trailer,” uploaded on April 18, 2016, by Vulture Graffix, is licensed under a CC BY license.

Sources used:


Teacher librarian in ‘Primary Colors’

Allison Janney’s portrayal and slapstick antics serve to make school librarian Marianne Walsh a more memorable character.

I am still in a political mood, it seems, when it comes to analyzing reel librarians… from researching Nixon’s Watergate scandal in 1976’s All the President’s Men last week to now hitting the campaign trail in 1998’s Primary Colors, a fictionalized version of Governor Bill Clinton’s Jack Stanton’s history-making presidential campaign. John Travolta portrays Bill Clinton Stanton, and Emma Thompson portrays his wife, Hillary Clinton Susan Stanton.

The film, based on a popular book by Joe Klein, earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Elaine May). Rewatching the film, I had forgotten how many other actors of note there were in the film, including Billy Bob Thornton, Diane Ladd, Maura Tierney, and Larry Hagman!

I checked out a DVD of the film from my library, but the library scene is also included in this online clip:

Paul Guilfoyle in Primary Colors (Part 1 of 3),” uploaded by mppmvfemwww mppmvfemwww, Dec. 28, 2011, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

The film is primarily told from the perspective of Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), a younger African-American man who the Stanton campaign is trying to recruit to help run their campaign. He gets swept up in the action, and as an outsider, he serves as a surrogate for the audience.

The film opens outside a school in New York, where Henry meets Governor Stanton, who is about to attend an adult literacy program. Stanton introduces Marianne Walsh, a “very special librarian who is running their classes.” A reel librarian personally introduced within the film’s first two minutes! Very special, indeed!

Meeting Marianne Walsh, the school librarian, in Primary Colors (1998)
Meeting Marianne Walsh, the school librarian, in Primary Colors (1998)

In the credits, the librarian is listed as “Miss Walsh,” signifying her unmarried status. Miss Walsh, played by Allison Janney, is a white woman, tall with short brunette hair, and wearing a modestly cut print shirtdress with long sleeves. She wears no glasses, modest jewelry, and subtle makeup. Miss Walsh is obviously nervous, as she immediately calls Governor Stanton by the wrong name!

She then takes the group on a tour of the school, the walls littered with graffiti. She admits the walls are pretty bad but that the library is better.  “We’re very proud of the library. […] It’s the only reading program like it in New York, that I know of.”

The school librarian gives a tour of the school in Primary Colors (1998)
The school librarian gives a tour of the school in Primary Colors (1998)

On the walk up the stairs to the library, Miss Walsh suddenly slips under the railing — she quickly recovers, with the help of Governor Stanton, but not before we all find out that the librarian chooses not to wear a slip! Yep, a slip reveals the absence of a slip. 😉

Reel librarian klutz
Reel librarian klutz

She seems thoroughly embarrassed, running her hands through her hair, but the next scene in the library reveals a very different version of the school librarian, one who is calm and collected. Adult students, all older men and women of color, are seated around a table and sharing their stories.

Meeting the adult literacy learners in the school library scene in Primary Colors (1998)
Meeting the adult literacy learners in the school library scene in Primary Colors (1998)

Miss Walsh encourages one older man, Dwayne, to share his story, as seen in the screenshot below. She clearly knows the students well and has a warm, encouraging tone. She looks like she’s in her element, supportive and confident. After Dwayne shares his story, which is truly touching and emotional, Governor Stanton shares a (seemingly) personal story about his Uncle Charlie who also couldn’t read.

The school librarian and Dwayne, an adult literacy learner, in Primary Colors (1998)
The school librarian and Dwayne, an adult literacy learner, in Primary Colors (1998)
Governor Stanton shares his story in the school library scene in Primary Colors (1998)
Governor Stanton shares his story in the school library scene in Primary Colors (1998)

After Stanton finishes his story, the librarian claps and stands up along with everyone else. She and the students go to hug and congratulate Stanton — and in the middle of the crowd, Miss Walsh slips again! Stanton advises her to have her shoes checked.

These scenes in the library, which slowly circle around the room, reveal a school library that is well-stocked with books and lined with bookcases and inspirational posters. The school library is indeed a place to be proud of!

The school librarian slips for the second time, in the middle of a group hug!
The school librarian slips for the second time, in the middle of a group hug!

In the next scene, Henry arrives at the hotel’s campaign headquarters, where he encounters Jack Stanton coming out of his bedroom, buttoning his shirt and putting on a tie. The librarian, Miss Walsh, then also comes out of bedroom and slips again as she’s straightening her own collar!

She stutters through thanking him for the opportunity to discuss the, uh, program. Looking embarrassed, she hurriedly grabs her things and walks out of the hotel room filled with people talking away.

Governor Stanton and Miss Walsh 'meet and greet' in his hotel room
Governor Stanton and Miss Walsh ‘meet and greet’ in his hotel room

Stanton then explains that Marianne Walsh is on the regional board of the Teachers Union. Henry, looking a bit shell-shocked, murmurs, “A teacher AND a librarian.” So that explains why Stanton slept with the school librarian, to curry favor with the Teachers Union. I’m sure the no-slip slip didn’t hurt his mission.

Editor’s note:  Yes, we can be both teachers and librarians, as librarians are also educators. That’s also why school librarians are also sometimes referred to as “teacher librarians.”

No one but Henry and Miss Walsh seem fazed by this hotel scene. It’s obvious that both of them are newbies at this political game, while it’s “business as usual” for everyone else. Miss Walsh is obviously not Governor Stanton’s first conquest!

Later, after Jack tells Susan that the teacher was “inspirational,” Henry adds that she seemed like the “typical school board bureaucrat” to him. I suppose he could be right… if the typical school board bureaucrat also has a tendency to fall down a lot. Does Henry say this to make the reel librarian seem dull to Susan, and thus cover for Jack? After all, reel librarians are known to be naughty… 😉

The reel librarian also makes it into the film’s trailer!

Primary Colors – Trailer,” uploaded by UniversalMovies, April 18, 2011, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

In the end, Marianne Walsh fulfills the dual role of an Information Provider and as Comic Relief. As Information Provider, she introduces us to the school library and its adult literacy program, and comes across as warm and confident in the library around the adult learners. She also provides information to the audience about Stanton’s philandering ways. As Comic Relief, she makes the men around her — as well as the audience — laugh at her clumsiness and display of nerves (as well as her gullibility?).

Even though the scenes featuring the reel librarian collectively last less than 10 minutes, Allison Janney’s portrayal and slapstick antics serve to make school librarian Marianne Walsh a more memorable character. Janney is a very talented actress, and she manages to portray a myriad of emotions (including nervousness, pride, confidence, and vulnerability) in her short time on screen. She lands the film in the Class III category, films with supporting or minor characters with a few memorable or significant scenes.

Have you seen Primary Colors or rewatched it recently? (Or is it too soon to rewatch it?) If you have seen the movie, do you remember Allison Janney’s stumbling school librarian character? Please leave a comment and share. 🙂


Sources used:


  • Primary Colors. Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton. MCA/Universal, 1998.