Librarians in the Movies

Summary of Group Discussions

Librarians often make movie appearances as a stereotypical image. The stock character of “librarian” can be used in several different ways. She appears in comedy, drama, mystery, pornography and children’s films. The film librarian is rarely a man. The most important aspect of this character is that she is easily identifiable. How to do this? Well just as the comedia del arte performers had their Punchinello masks, modern day costume designers have their librarian costumes ready at hand. The librarian must not be attractive. She should wear earth tones, usually some kind of frumpy suit or blouse and skirt combo. She will have glasses either on her face or on a chain around her neck. Her shoes will be sensible. Her hair will be in a bun, or it will be in some other unappealing hairstyle. A librarian is used in the movies for a specific purpose. They are usually not regular people who happen to be librarians. They can either provide information, guard information, or provide comic relief by shushing someone. The general group feeling regarding librarians in the movies is that we don’t have the best image, but we also don’t have the worst image. If we were doctors, we could be represented by George Clooney (ER), but our profession has not yet been determined glamorous enough for prime time television. The best approach to the image is to ignore it as best we can, change gracefully with the times, and prove ourselves in our public contact as fully developed human beings. Eventually this new librarian image will make it big in Hollywood.


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City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold (1994) - Mitch and Phil go to the library to research a gold theft. Amazingly, they find microfilm of "The Carson City News" from June 12, 1908 (they are in NYC).

Dream With the Fishes (1997) - A librarian is called when no one can remember the name of the seventh Dwarf. The librarian is a young woman with glasses and an unattractive hairstyle. She is seen standing behind a card catalog and in front of the stacks. This librarian doesn't need to look up the information, but provides the answer immediately.

The Gun in Betty Lou' Handbag (1992) - Betty Lou is a children's librarian that is full of new ideas for promoting books and the library. The senior librarian that Betty Lou works for wears a bun and glasses who says, "The best effect of any book is that it be returned unmutilated to it's shelf." Betty Lou feels stifled in her job and her home life. In order to break out of this oppression, she pretends to have committed a murder. Of course, everyone finds this hard to believe. As her husband says, Betty Lou is perfectly normal, except maybe she "reads too much". Betty Lou uses the media attention that she gets to actively promote library card sign-ups and donations to the library. Eventually, the truth about the murder surfaces, but Betty Lou is a changed librarian.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - In a world without Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed becomes a spinster librarian.

Mercury Rising (1998) - A rebel FBI agent goes to the library to get assistance finding an email address. He tells the librarian what sites to try and then when they find the email account, she helps him hack into it. Once they break in, she leaves so that he can read the email at his leisure.

The Mummy (1999) - The first image of the librarian in this film is a stereotypical one. The viewer finds Evelyn 'Evie' Carnahan in the library stacks in a bun and glasses, putting away books. As the movie progresses, so does this character. Evie is clearly a very intelligent and strong woman. Although she is responsible for the rise of the mummy because she believes that "no harm ever came from reading a book". She also saves the day by using her knowledge of hieroglyphics to return the mummy to the underworld.

Party Girl (1995) - Mary is a party girl who is forced into a library clerk position by her Godmother. She is at first opposed to the "antiquated system" of the Dewey Decimal system, but soon discovers that the order appeals to her. Mary's life had been full of disorder until she discovered the order of the library. She chooses a career in library science, and at the end of the movie has adopted the stereotypical librarian look of bun, glasses and suit to prove to her Godmother that she is serious. The Godmother, Judy, is not a stereotypical librarian. Although she is not completely helpful to patrons while working on the reference desk, they are able to find what they need. This treatment of reference service could have been generalized for the average movie viewer. No one really wants to watch an entire reference interview when it is not part of the plot. Judy makes sure to explain the difference between a library clerk and a librarian. She also trains her new library clerk to answer "I don't know" to patron inquiries and refer them to a librarian. Judy is an advocate for the library profession; she is passionate about the complexity of women, intelligence, and the fact that librarianship is a woman's job and therefore "underpaid and undervalued".

With Honors (1994) - A Harvard Librarian politely attempts to remove a homeless man from the library. A student tells her that the man is part of his research project and she leaves them alone.


Last Updated 11/28/01