I first wrote this list a few years ago when a good friend’s sister graduated from library school and he requested I shoot her a list of movies featuring librarians on Twitter. I thought it would be more fun to throw together a quick list here on the blog instead. This week is National Library Week , a great time to resurrect the list…and update it a bit!
Desk Set: Our mighty profession is represented by Katherine Hepburn (whose sister was a librarian in real life) playing a smart, attractive librarian, so good at her job that she makes the best librarians I’ve known look like chumps. Throw in a computers vs. librarians plot (which gets resolved in the way it actually was resolved-why have computers or librarians when you can have librarians using computers?) and a fun, if lesser, Tracy/Hepburn romance and it is an excellent choice.
Party Girl, features, for all you Gen X types, Indy darling Parker Posey as the titular party girl who ends up becoming a librarian, giving us plenty of chances to see someone way cooler than most of us learning to value our profession. Throw in a helping of pop culture from the first half of the 90s, Posey’s fabulous friends, and a scene where a DJ’s records are organized by call number, and you have the only film I’ve heard listed as “favorite librarian movie” more than Desk Set.
Great Scenes Set in Libraries:
Ghostbusters: That famous opening scene in NYPL.
Hysterical: In this obscure early 80s horror spoof from Kate Hudson’s father and uncles, there is a scene where the Hudson Brothers must fend off a murderous reanimated ship captain (Richard Kiel) in a library. The librarian, played by comedian Franklin Ajaye, gets a few good lines in, one of which, “The library is closed. All white people must leave.” , is still quoted to me by my brother whenever I tell him a story involving closing the library.
They Might be Giants: Jack Gilford plays Justin Playfair’s (George C. Scott) childhood librarian who secretly wants to be the Scarlet Pimpernel. Definitely one of my all time favorite movie librarians!
The Music Man: Robert Preston sings “Marian the Librarian” to Shirley Jones. There may be other musical scenes set in libraries, but this is the one I know, and it’s a good one, though your enjoyment of the film overall will depend a lot on how much you like Robert Preston and mid-20th century musicals. My wife would occasionally call me Marian the Librarian during our courtship so I may be a little biased.
The Attic (1980): If you want to laugh heartily at one of the worst representations of librarianship ever, I recommend this piece of late 70s trash, featuring Carrie Snodgress as the saddest spinster librarian of all time. What librarian doesn’t want to see their screen counterpart pick up sailors, burn books in the middle of the stacks, desperately try to marry off her younger counter part so she can “live”, and buy a pet chimpanzee, all while fighting with her crazy, domineering, overbearing father (Ray Milland) who may know more about her long missing fiancé than he’s willing to let on?
Maybe that’s just me then.
The Pit: One of the objects of creepy Sammy’s perving is a librarian, who he tricks into stripping down to her old lady lingerie-under the advisement of his creepy talking Teddy Bear. It’s quite a thing, The Pit.
Movies that Feature Librarians Without Focusing Much on Actual Librarianship:
Foul Play has Goldie Hawn as a ditsy librarian who gets drawn into a plot to assassinate the Pope. Your enjoyment will depend on how much you can stand Hawn/Chase films. Although there are a few good moments I can’t fully recommend it as Chase is at his least appealing. The title song is by Barry Manilow, which could be enough to tip the viewer into 1970s poisoning.
Idiocracy: The lead is an army “librarian”, although from what we see he may actually be a book clerk or circulation assistant.
Behind the Mask: A pivotal scene happens in a library’s archives, and the librarian is played by that woman with the funny voice from Poltergeist, Zelda Rubenstein. Unfortunately that’s the only scene set there and (spoilers) the librarian dies.
It’s A Wonderful Life: Infamously depicts being a single librarian as the worst fate imaginable.
The Horror of Dracula: Re-imagines Jonathan Harker as a librarian who applies to organized Count Dracula’s library-so he can get close enough to kill Dracula! Harker doesn’t last long, but it is kind of fun to see such a proactively violent librarian.
The Mummy (1999): Rachael Weisz is technically a librarian, but seems to be more of a scholar of Egyptian lore, the plot revolves around a book, and one sequence is set within a library.
The Station Agent: Michelle Williams is a librarian that befriends Peter Dinklage, but she is a small part of this ensemble film.
Black Mask: In which Jet Li plays a superhero by night and a mild-mannered librarian by day.
Personally, the librarian I’m most likely to think of while working isn’t a librarian at all-he’s some kind of records clerk, a nasty fellow who shows up briefly in Chinatown, but then I’m also the guy who laughed his head off at The Attic. His “Sir, this is not a LENDING LIBRARY” line, dripping with condescension, comes to me whenever I’m denying someone’s request for petty reasons. Usually just thinking of it is enough to snap me into a more customer service oriented mindset! So what are your favorite movies/scenes that feature librarians? Which screen librarian do you most resemble?
Best of luck to KR and to other newly minted librarians-may good jobs be easier to find than good movies featuring librarians!
*That I’ve seen. There are many I’ve yet to get to!
A library, but no librarians, is featured in “The Thief”. Ray Milland passes scientific secrets to a foreign agent in (if I recall correctly) a reading room of the New York Public Library. Neat cold war thriller that knows that films don’t need to have a lot of talking to hold your attention.
You had me at “Ray Milland spy movie”.
First one that comes to mind is the scene in Sophie’s Choice where she goes to the library looking for Dickinson, but gets the name wrong and asks for Dickens, and the snooty librarian yells at her and she faints (allowing her to meet Nathan).
It’s amazing how many film appearances by librarians are there to show us as snooty bastards.
I should probably have called this one “Your Guide to Movies about Librarians*”
*That I’ve seen
I love The Mummy just for that scene where Rachel Weisz declaims drunkenly, “I am…..a LIBRARIAN!”
Good point. In fairness to The Mummy, it’s probably been a good eight years since I last saw it. Clearly the librarian content is higher than I remembered!
Don’t leave out the Peter Sellers 1962 film, “Only Two can Play” where he plays a rather randy Welsh librarian who hopes to further his library career by sleeping with the right women.
This sounds like a film I should see-thanks for the addition!
Don’t forget BLACK MASK, in which Jet Li tries to escape his violent supersoldier past by working as a mild-mannered librarian. Isn’t that all our story?
I read that on this wonderful list I missed when writing this post, and was kicking myself, as I’ve actually seen that one, many moons ago.
If I had a nickel for every fight I’ve had in a sewer against my former colleagues in supersoldier-dom while wearing a corrugated knock-off of Kato’s mask….
I’m a Japanese anime geek, so, if animation counts, here’s one: R.O.D. (Read or Die). There aren’t any librarians, unless the members of the British Library Special Operations Division count (they fight book-related crime and terrorism and acquire rare books for the library). The Library of Congress is attacked in the first episode, and books play a big part in the series.
There is also the librarian and the library with small parts in the movie “Matilda”.
Great list. I wondered if you’d include Ghostbusters, and there it was!
Absolutely one of the greatest scenes ever set in a library. 😉
As a child I was desperate to visit the library from The Pagemaster – not sure how well it holds up to rewatching!
Ah….there’s one I missed!
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What about the Name of the Rose (1980) – The mystery revolves around the abbey library, situated in a fortified tower—with a total of fifty-six rooms and two librarians/monks – Malachi of Hildesheim and Berengar of Arundel – figure prominently in the story.
Another movie I’m aware of, and have even seen parts of it, but I’ve never seen it start to finish, or even most of it. I’ll have to get on that, finally. 🙂