LIBRARIANS IN THE MOVIES: An Annotated Filmography
by Martin Raish
The "librarian stereotype" has long been the focus of articles, letters, workshops, conversations, and possibly even dreams and nightmares, but analyses have usually been based on limited personal experience with a small number of examples, whether books, television programs, or in this case, commercial motion pictures.
Is the meek spinster with her hair in a bun (such as Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life or Hilda Plowright in Philadelphia Story) more or less common than the young, innocent blonde (such as Carole Lombard in No Man of Her Own or Goldie Hawn in Foul Play)? Are male librarians more often like the surly John Rothman in Sophie's Choice, the reclusive Jason Robards in Something Wicked This Way Comes, or the lecherous Peter Sellers in Only Two Can Play?
Questions such as these cannot be answered with confidence until we have a better grasp of the overall picture (so to speak...). This filmography is an ongoing attempt to expand our collective memory, to find a more comprehensive and defensible basis for our acceptance or rejection of the "typical movie librarian" – whatever we think he or she is.
The films fall into four groups.
GROUP A - Someone says or does something that clearly identifies himself or herself (or some other character) as a librarian. This person may be a professional, a clerk, a student assistant, a director or some other type of "librarian." Some have major roles, others have barely a dozen words to speak.
GROUP B - A library is used for research, for study, to meet someone or for some other purpose, but any librarian that might be visible is essentially no more important than a piece of furniture that helps to identify the setting.
GROUP C - No librarian or library is shown, only mentioned or referred to in passing.
GROUP D - Films I have not seen, nor found adequate descriptive comments about, so am unable to put them into one of the other groups. In most cases someone is listed in the credits as "librarian" so I assume he/she has a speaking part, but I don't know how significant or memorable it is.
Last updated: 5 August 2011 emp.byui.edu/raishm/films/introduction.html
AFTER TWILIGHT (2004). Bookish Jen Frazier seems an unlikely choice to be a freedom fighter, but when a theocratic new order occupies the state of Texas, she is pushed into action carrying contraband for the underground. After a series of narrow escapes from the police, she is finally able to deliver the package to its intended recipients. In so doing, she makes the ultimate sacrifice and the contents of the mysterious package are revealed to the audience. Saying any more, including which character is the librarian, would spoil your viewing of the film.
BRIDGE ACROSS TIME (1985, made-for-TV). Librarian Adrienne Barbeau helps solve the murders (caused by Jack the Ripper?) that result when the London Bridge is relocated to Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
DEBBIE DOES DALLAS (1978). Bambi Woods' friends help her raise money to go to Dallas and become a cheerleader by getting odd jobs. The "plot" includes sex in the stacks of the local library, run by a stodgy old man named Mr. Biddle. (A librarian who graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, where this movie was filmed, writes: "The story goes that the film crew misrepresented themselves as a 'legitimate' company and not as makers of porn films when they asked the administration for permission to film at Pratt. The library scenes were probably done on a holiday or weekend when the building was closed.")
THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T LOSE (1975, made-for-TV). Julie Kavner is a plain, prudish but intelligent librarian who becomes a sensational TV game show contestant and finds romance, too.
HEAD OVER HEELS (1979). Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) is a librarian who is obsessively loved and sought by the hero Charles (John Heard). At one point he refers to her as "the only person I know who understands the Dewey Decimal system."
IT (1990, made-for-TV). Tim Reid is the small town librarian who stays behind while all the others go off to become rich and famous. "IT" comes and makes all the books fly off the shelves in the library.
LITTLE SECRETS (1991). Six women on the eve of their tenth high school reunion hold a slumber party and relive the old days, rekindle old friendships, and unearth old secrets. One of the stories revolves around a stereotypical shushing librarian (played by Monica Walsvick).
MARTHA, RUTH & EDIE (1988). Andrea Martin plays a timid, small-town librarian who is reunited with her two crazy aunts from Hollywood at her mother's funeral. Her favorite film is "Gone with the Wind." She wants to be Scarlet but fears she will only be Melanie.
MINDKILLER (1987). A shy, studious nerd (Joe McDonald), who is also a library clerk, wants to be more popular. He reads about the power of the mind and develops amazing telekinetic abilities, but these eventually turn against him.
THE REMAKE (1977). A middle-aged librarian (Ed Nylund) learns that he has cancer, so decides to do a remake of the musical Showboat.
SCANDAL STREET (1938). This strange B-movie is a blend of soap opera, slapstick comedy and murder mystery, centered on Louise Campbell as a stereotypical librarian in a nice, small town.
VAMPIROS (2004). A young man is bitten on the neck by a woman he picks up in a bar. When he realizes he is turning into a vampire he and his friend go to the library to do some research. They ask for help at the “informacion” desk and are directed to some books by Anne Rice and Bram Stoker. When they say they want information on “real vampires” the librarian blows them off and tells them to look it up on the computers. The film was made in Puerto Rico and is in Spanish with English subtitles.
A VERY GOOD YOUNG MAN (1919). A young woman turns down a marriage proposal from an assistant at the public library (Bryant Washburn) because her mother has convinced her that he is too morally faultless. He tries to tarnish his reputation by going on a date with another woman, stealing some jewels and gambling, but fails at all three. So he confesses his situation and the young woman agrees to marry him anyway.
THE WATERMELON WOMAN (2006). Some scenes take place in a library and a specialized archive. The reference librarian is a young man who is uninterested in helping patrons and fails to conduct a decent reference interview. The archivist is a scatter-brained moron who dumps out boxes of uncatalogued, unclassified materials all over the table, heedless of how they will become intermixed, and describes cutting up pictures that don't fit the archives purpose. Ugh!
A WIFE ON TRIAL (1917). Mignon Anderson plays Phyllis Narcissa, an underpaid children's librarian, who, in exchange for a life of wealth, reluctantly accepts an offer to marry a rich young man who was paralyzed in an automobile accident. One night, when she is attacked by a burglar, he leaps from his bed, miraculously healed, and confesses his love for her.
THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955). A student tries to rape a teacher in the library.
INCIDENT AT DARK RIVER (1989). After his daughter dies as a result of pollution in the river behind his home, Mike Farrell takes on the local battery factory, using the university library to trace information on pollution. He also learns about a local environmental group.
THE PHOTOGRAPH (2002). This low-budget feature tells the story of a woman who is unhappy with her life and becomes obsessed with a famous movie star. She finds an ancient book that might help her but to use it she must face grave danger. The screenwriter wanted to show scenes in an old library with a basement and underground tunnels, but he could not find one. A newspaper article led him to the public library in Commerce, Texas, where he found exactly what he had in mind.
THE RACE FOR THE DOUBLE HELIX (1987, made-for-TV). Scientists are in a fierce competition to be the first to discover the structure of DNA. Two of them use the library to find a paper by Linus Pauling, charming the librarian and sitting on the floor in the stacks.
TEREZIN DIARY (1991). This documentary about Hitler's concentration camp near Prague includes a scene of the camp library (from a German propaganda film) followed by a survivor's memory of how a friend of his, a librarian, was crushed to death by a German with a tractor "for pure pleasure."
AGE TO AGE (1999). Dot Braun is a librarian.
THE BROKEN GATE (1927). Florence Turner plays Miss Julia, the librarian in the small town of Spring Valley.
BURIED ON SUNDAY (1993). Jean Gregson is a librarian.
THE CLAYDON TREASURE MYSTERY (1938). Kerrigan is invited to a stately home to investigate the disappearance of the librarian, whose predecessor was murdered.
DECEPTION: A MOTHER'S SECRET (1991, made-for-TV). Mary Marsh is a librarian.
DIGGING HOLES (1999). Finola Geraghty is a librarian.
DOWN WITH AMERICA (1997). Meri Stevens is a librarian.
DOWN WITH AMERICA 3: MOLDY KITTEN (1999). Meri Stevens is still a librarian.
THE DRIVETIME (1995). Set in Seattle in 1999, this sci-fi film includes a time-traveling librarian seeking to retrieve lost video footage.
THE FRAGILE HEART (1990, made-for-TV). Miriam Leake is a librarian.
GETTING IT (1994). Angela Jones is a librarian.
THE LADY FORGETS (1989, made-for-TV). Judith Berlin is a librarian.
A LIKENESS IN STONE (2000, made-for-TV). Kitty Martin is a librarian.
LOVE AND MONEY (1982). Susan Heldfond is a librarian.
MEETING MR. SUBIAN (1996). Jennifer Hayden is a librarian.
OLYMPIA (1998). Lee Hunsaker is a librarian.
PEGGY (1950). Ellen Corby (aka Grandma Walton) plays Mrs. Privet, the librarian.
PUTTING IT OVER (1919). Librarian Shirley Mason falls in love with a somewhat ne'er-do-well soda jerk.
SCREAM, BLACKULA, SCREAM! (1973). Sybil Scotford is a librarian.
SKUGGAN (1954). Olav Riego is a librarian in this Swedish film.
THE SPIRIT OF YOUTH (1929). Dorothy Sebastian, the village librarian, falls in love with a champion boxer.
STRANGER IN THE HOUSE (1967). Melinda Mays is a librarian.
TAIL GUNNER JOE (1982, made-for-TV). The story of Senator Joseph McCarthy, with Tim O'Connor as a librarian.
TALKING TO STRANGE MEN (1992, made-for-TV). Sara Griffiths is a librarian.
WILD CARD (1992, made-for-TV). Jane Abbott is a librarian.
WINNIE (1989, made-for-TV). Florence Schauffler is a librarian.