Monday, 12 October 2009

Librarians in film - extended bibliography

In preparation for Hollywood Librarian I created a bibliography citing articles, studies of the librarian stereotype,and also examples of film and telelvision programmes featuring librarian characters (you can access the bibliography here)

This was by no means an exhaustive list and I previously asked for your own responses and suggestions for mateirals, texts, and films to be included on the list via this blog.

A big thank you to Lira Ferandes, Cataloguing and Indexing Manager at the BFI who very kindly brought the following bibliography to my attention. Lira was kind enough to bring a copy of a bibliography compiled by the Bibliography Instruction Discussion Group in 1993 to the Hollywood Librarian event. I've copied the information from this resource to the blog to share with you a newly extended list of librarian film appearances. The bibliography has been compiled by a wide range of librarians and institutions and is well worth reading for the humorous summaries and mini reviews of the relevant films.

This is a fantastic resource and structures the examples of films into groups depending on how vital the role of the librarian is to film. The bibliography itself was compiled in 1993 and as always we want YOU to continue to contribute. What films and television texts are we missing? No matter how small, if a librarian has been on screen we want to know!

The image of the librarian in commercial motion pictures: an annotated filmography

By BI-L (The Bibliographic Instruction Discussion Group)

The films are arranged alphabetically in three groups:

A Librarian plays a central role and/or furnishes a particular powerful image of the profession. Most of these are also pretty good films in their own right, worth watching even if they didn’t have any library connection.

Either (1) a librarian is a main character, but his/her occupation is not exploited as critical to the story, or (2) a librarian appears in only one or two scenes, but leaves a strong impression. Most of these present the stereotype, but a few are remarkable for their uniqueness.


The librarian shushes a patron, or someone meets someone in the library, uses the card catalogue, or passes through the stacks for some other purpose neither particularly noteworthy nor important.


Batman (the 1960s television series and the 1967 film).

Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon , was a librarian in the downtown branch of the Gotham Public Library. Often she was able to assist the Dynamic Duo, and her own crime-fighting career, by using the resources of the library. In spite of her research skills, however, she never did discover the real identities of Batman and Robin. But she did help break the spinsterish image of female librarians. She did not appear in the 1989 movie. Also, in the TV series the entrance to Bruce Wayne’s secret room was through the library.

Desk Set (1957)
Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Blondell. Tracy is hired to install a new computer in the reference department of a TV network. Misunderstandings lead to marvellous interplay among the employees. Librarians, although all single women, are knowledgeable professionals. Search EMERAC using Boolean logic? Never!

Name of the Rose (1986)

Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham. Mysterious deaths occur at a monastery in Northern Italy in the 1300s. The search for clues to the deaths leads Connery to the brother who supervises the scriptorium and the closed library. A suspenseful scene in the library has him trying to learn the arrangement of the collection, and leads to a confrontation with the librarian, then to the solution to the mystery, and finally to a fire that destroys the library.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Jason Robards, Jr., is a meek librarian with some dark secrets and regrets, but he is also the only person in town with enough courage and will power to confront the evil brought to the little town by the travelling carnival and the mysterious Mr. Dark

Sophie’s Choice (1982)
Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline. Poignant adventures of a recent Polish immigrant in America. Sophie goes to the library to get a book by her beloved Emily Dickinson, but in her heavy accent she asks the librarian for a book by the American poet ‘Emil Dickens.’ The librarian, a surly young man with very thick glasses, lambastes her for her ignorance because we all know that Charles Dickens was not an American, nor did he write poetry. Should be shown to every MLS reference class as an example of the worst reference interview of all time.

Storm Center (1956)

Bette Davis, Brian Keith. Davis, the fiery small town librarian, fights censorship and suppression of free speech by refusing to expurgate a book on communism. A strong, positive image.

The Time Machine (1962)
Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux. Taylor builds a time machine and travels far into the future, where he encounters two distinct societies who know nothing of their past. He is taken to a dusty old place where there is a shelf of books, but turns furious when the book he is holding disintegrates. Later he discovers of a museum/library that contains a ‘history machine’, a set of metal rings that ‘speak’ when they are spun. It is here that he learns how this future was formed.

You’re a Big Boy Now (1967)
Peter Kastner, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, Julie Harris. Kastner is a 19 year old page in the New York Public Library trying to make his way through the usual rites of passage in a series of unusual encounters. His mother tries her best to retain his innocence, but his father, a librarian in the rare book collection, has other ideas. Many scenes are shot in the NYPL, and the film reaches a bizarre climax when the father tries to seduce the landlady in the incunabula vault by showing her rare volumes of illustrated erotica.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard. They stop by the new York Public Library to find the book he has written. They use the card catalogue, and eventually take the book to the circulation desk. There the spinsterish librarian shushes them a few times and eventually asks them to leave because they want to autograph the book.

Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles’ masterpiece has a short scene in which Georgia Backus plays the world’s meanest archivist, a woman with her hair in a bun and an intimidating stare on her face, a real dragon lady at the gates of knowledge.

Farenheit 451 (1966)

Oskare Werner, Julie Christie. Not really about libraries, but rather about their absence. The future society burns books (hence the title, the temperature at which paper burns) because, as expression of individual idea in an emotionless world, they cause only unhappiness. Werner begins as a book burner, but eventually he and Christie flee to an outlaw group to spend their time memorising books.

Foul Play (1978)
Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase. Hawn is a librarian pursued by Chase, a detective. She is quite attractive at the party in the opening scene, in contrast to how she looks when she goes to work in her sensible shoes

Ghostbusters (1984)
Billy Murray, Dan Ackroyd. New York gets slimed. Two librarians appear in this film. The first (a ghost) is shown as the classic harsh old maid with her hair in a bun, a mean look on her face, and with her only message being ‘Shhhhh!’ The second is a victim on the ‘visitation’ when the card catalogue is attacked. She is portrayed as a mousy neurotic who, when asked if there was any family history of insanity, matter-of-factly states that she had an uncle who thought he was St. Jerome.

Goodbye Colombus (1969)
Richard Benjamin, Ali McGraw. Benjamin, a library assistant, pursues McGraw, a country club heiress. A thoughtful scene at the beginning of the story shows him helping a small boy find a book. This is a good antithesis to the terrible reference interview seen in Sophie’s Choice.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Harrison Ford, Sean Connery. The world renowned Dr Henry Jones states that ‘half of anthropology is done in the library.’ Also, Jones finds the final clue to the location of the lost chalice in a library in Venice. A library is positively portrayed as an important part of the research process.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers. Stewart is given an opportunity to see what his life would have been like had he never been born. His wife is beautiful in their real life, but when he sees her as a single woman she is a librarian with glasses and a bun, and quite shy.

Katie Did It (1951)
Ann Blythe, Mark Stevens. Blythe, the librarian in a small New England town, shocks everyone by posing in scanty attire for New York commercial artist Stevens.

Logan’s Run (1976)
Michael York, Peter Ustinov, Jenny Agutter, Farah Fawcett-Majors. Futuristic film where no on is allowed to live beyond 30. York et al. escape to a city above ground that happens to be Washington D, and come to the Library of Congress where they meet Ustinov, who explains what a library is.

Music Man (1962)
Robert Preston, Shirley Jones. Marian the librarian makes available scandalous materials such as the works of Balzac and Chaucer, and sings while she stamps book slips! Later she looks up the fact that Preston could not have graduated from the Gary, Indiana school in the year that he claims because it didn’t exist at the time. An interesting blend of a stereotypical librarian with not-so-usual youth and energy.

Only Two Can Play (1962)
Peter Sellers, Mai Zetterling. Sellers in an ambitions (and lecherous) assistant librarian, in a small Welsh town who is in competition with another librarian for promotion. Zetterling is the wife of a prominent member of the Library Board who can influence the promotion decision. Funny scenes with Sellers providing books for a sleazy patron.

Personal Ads (1990)
Jennifer O’Neill is a quiet, bespectacled librarian by day and a knife-wielding slash of errant husbands by night. [Made-for-tv]

Scandal Street (1938)
Louise Campbell, Roscoe Karns, Lew Ayres. This strange B-movie is a blend of soap opera, slapstick comedy, and murder mystery, centred on Campbell as a stereotypical librarian in a nice, small town.

So Well Remembered (1947)
John Mills, Martha Scott. The film opens with a public hearing on whether Scott should be appointed as town librarian, since she is the daughter of an ex-convict. Mills defends her, and after a scene where she breaks down in the stacks, he eventually marries her. Only later does he discovere that she is an aggressive and ruthless woman, not the meek librarian he knew before.

Soylent Green (1973)
Charleton Heston, Edward G Robinson. In 2022 the librarians have all the power as they are the only ones who information or know how to get it.

Wings of Desire (1988)
Bruno Gaz and Peter Falk appear in this story of an angel who longs to be mortal. A large library in Berlin is the setting for an early scene in which angels are at work comforting people. Because we, like the angels, can hear the often despairing thoughts of the patrons as they sit alone in their carrels, we realise that the crowded library is the noisiest place in the city.


Adventure (1945)
Clark Gable plays a seagoing roustabout who marries Greer Garson, a meek librarian.

All the President’s Men (1976)
A Librarian gives circulation records to the reporters Redford and Hoffman. Would this really happen in the Library of Congress?

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Shows lawyers actually using a library.

Baby Boom (1987)

Diane Keaton uses the small local library to research the market for her baby food. She asks for (and apparently finds!) titles such as ‘Progressive Grocer.’

Back to the Future (1985)
Note the copy of RQ on Michael J. Fox’s bedroom book shelves.

Beaches (1988)
Barbara Hershey goes to the library to find out more about her heart condition.

The Big Sleep (1946)
An excellent Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall mystery. A Librarian and an antiquarian bookseller figure in the convoluted plot. Remade in 1978.

Breakfast Club (1985)
Students serve detention time in the library. One kid switches around a bunch of cards in the card catalogue.

Bridge Across Time (1985)
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. [Made for TV]

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)
Michael J. Fox is employed by a magazine to check the facts printed in their articles. Involves much work with reference books.

Cabaret (1972)
Liza Minelli meets Michael York in the library to announce that she’s pregnant.

Chances Are (1989)
Robert Downey meets the girl of his dreams in the Yale University Library when she is pleading with an old fashioned librarian for relief from a fine. He hells the librarian that someone is fondling the folios, sending her in a tizzy in search of the offender. He then erases the bill from the computer and sends the girl on her way with a smile.

Chinatown (1974)
Jack Nicholson uses the county archives.

The Chosen (1981)
Has several scenes in a library with lots of dark wooden shelves and individual study desks by the windows.

Cleopatra (1963)
Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) is learning about epilepsy from her tutor when they are informed that the library of Alexandria is on fire. She fights her way into Caesar’s chambers where she delivers the wonderfully sarcastic line ‘do you smell smoke?’ He (Rex Harrison) politely apologises for burning the library and explains that it was the unfortunate result of burning the Egyptian fleet, to which she responds, ‘when last seen the ships were in the harbour. Did you find it necessary to burn them in the streets?’ Accusations then fly about who is the real barbarian, and soon enough Caesar has his way with Cleo. How quickly she forgot about the library!

Day of the Jackal (1973)
The would-be assassin of Charles de Gaule goes to the Reading Room of the British Museum to study old newspaper accounts of World war II. The information he retrieves drives the rest of the plot.

Debbie Does Dallas (1976)
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.

The Deep (1977)
A Library is used to find information about sunken treasure found while diving.

Dr Zhivago (1965)
Uri and Lara meet by chance in a library and begin their love affair.

Educating Rita (1983)
Rita browses for books in the library during her summer session.

The Electronic Horseman (1979)
Robert Redford doesn’t particularly like the ‘interview’ that Jane Fonda is trying to get, so he walks away and tells her ‘if you want information go to the library!’

The FBI Story (1959)
Jimmy Stewart kisses the librarian in the stacks where murder stories are shelved.

Field of Dreams (1989)
Kevin Costner spends quite a bit of time in a library researching a 1960s radical writer. Also parents try to remove books from the school reading list.

The Golden Child (1986)
‘Dragon Lady’ is known as intelligent because she was a librarian.

Good News (1947)
June Allyson and Peter Lawford sing ‘The French Lesson’ in the college library.

The Graduate (1967)
Dustin Hoffman hangs out in the UC Berkeley reference room.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)
In her pre-handmaid life the main character was a librarian. This comes to light when her general asks her to play Scrabble and she beats him. He says ‘I knew that you would be good at this. You used to be a librarian.’

Happy Together (1989)
A College mistakenly places a serious-minded male student and an unhibited female student as roommates because both have male-sounding names. In one the scene the young man is studying in the library when his roommate enters on her roller skates. She skates around the card catalogue/reference area, leading to the inevitable shushes from the librarians.

Horror of Dracula (1958)
An investigator is sent to dracula’s castle on the pretext of cataloguing the Count’s rare books and journals.

The Human Comedy (1943)
The Librarian, a bookish older woman, says ‘I’ve been reading books for seventy years.’

Imitation of Life (1934)

Fredi Washington’s mother asks why she is working as a dancer in a club when she had told Mom that she had a ‘respectable job at the library.’

Imitation of Life (1959)
Susan Kohner tells her mother that she has a job cataloguing books at night in the public library. Her mother calls the library, apparently fully staffed at midnight, to talk to her daughter. She subsequently learns that her daughter has really been singing and dancing in a strip joint and is deeply dismayed by the situation.

It (1990)
Includes a lead character who is the town librarian. He stays behind in the small town 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. [Made for TV]

It Happened Tomorrow (1944)
Dick Powell is a cub reporter who is befriended by the paper’s veteran librarian. After the librarian dies, his ghost returns to give Powell copies of the next day’s paper for three successive days.

Love Story (1970)
Ryan O’Neal falls in love with Ali MacGraw, a student assistant in the Radcliffe College Library.

Major League (1989)
Librarian Rene Russo disturbs patrons by shouting to her ex-lover, Tom Berenger, that she has a better body than Miss Fuel Injection of Detroit.

Marathon Man (1976)
Dustin Hoffman hangs out in the Harvard Library.

Maxie (1985)
A flapper from the 1920s inhabits the body of a 1980s woman. Two librarians help resolve the plot.

Misery (1990)
The local sheriff uses the library.

Miss Marple movies (1962 – 1965)
Starring Margaret Rutherford. Her side kick, Mr Stringer (played by Stringer Davis) is the village librarian. He is her faithful partner in solving many crimes (who else is more qualified than they who have read so many murder mysteries) and also holds the latest volume of new mystery fiction for her under his desk at the library.

Mr Sycamore (1973)
Jason Robards plays a mailman who has a crush on librarian Jean Simmons, as well as a strange desire to become a tree.

No Man Of Her Own (1932)
Clark Gable ogles Carole Lombard’s legs while she stands on a ladder shelving books in the Glendale public library.

Norman Conquests (1974)
A trilogy of plays portray the actions of the same weekend seen from different perspectives. The central character is a drunken librarian (Tom Conti) who spends his time trying to seduce his wife and his sisters in law.

Off Beat (1986)
Judge Reinhold and Meg Tilly appear in an awful movie about a library page who masquerades as a cop.

Philadelphia Story (1940)

James Stewart asks the Quaker librarian if they have local history materials and she replies that he should check with her colleague in another room. He replies ‘Thank thee’ and then asks the perennial library questions, ‘dost thou have a washroom?’ The librarian, engaged in the popular movie past time of placing handfuls of books onto empty shelves without consulting the call numbers on the spines, continues her work while pursing her lips and pointing to the restroom door. A few minutes later he encounters Katherine Hepburn and they are shushed by the librarian while discussing his poetic writings.

Ragtime (1981)
The film concludes with a takeover of the JP Morgan Library in NYC and features the director of the library as a bombastic, yet cowardly, curator.

Rome Adventure (1962)
Suzanne Pleshette, a pretty librarian in an American girls’ school, goes to Rome to learn about love.

The Seven Faces of Dr Lao (1964)
Barbara Eden in a librarian.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Terese Wright researches a murder in the Santa Rosa public library.

Sleeping with the Enemy (1990)
Julia Roberts works in a library, although the movies doesn’t actually show her there. She gets in a fight with her husband over her job, leaves him, then takes a job in another library.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Christopher Reeve falls in love with a girl in a photograph. Librarian helps him find information about her.

Spellbound (1945)
A very nervous psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman) waits for Gregory Peck in the lobby of a hotel. The hotel detectives see her, comments on her nervousness, and volunteers his guess that the big city has unnerved her because she is probably a librarian or a schoolteacher.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965)
Richard Burton, a disgraced spy turned counter-agent, works as a clerk in a library devoted to the occult.

Stanley and Iris (1989)
Jane Fonda and Robert DeNiro are blue collar workers who lean on each other for support. Fonda, a recent widow, helps DeNiro learn to read. Near the end of the movie DeNiro parades through the public library picking up every book he sees and proudly reading aloud passages from each. The librarian, as stereotypical as they come (old, spinsterish, with grey hair pulled tightly back) scolds him with ‘Shhh, this is a library,’ to which DeNiro responds ‘Yes! This is my library!’

That Touch of Mink (1962)
Cary grant is rich and unscrupulous, a ‘ladies’ man. Doris day is poor and Doris. She tries to make him jealous by going to a hotel with another man. He follows them but breaks into the wrong room where a mousey middle-aged man is about to consummate an illicit assignation with a librarian.

The Thief (1952)
An odd sort of spy movie that has no dialog. Ray Milland looks for microfilmhidden in a card catalogue drawer in the Library of Congress.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

Peggy Ann Garner goes to the library where she is involved in a project to read all the books in order of the card catalogue.

The Two Jakes (1990)
A Librarian gives Jack Nicholson a hard time.

Violent Saturday (1955)
One character is a stereotypical female librarian, but she is also a purse-snatcher.

War Games (1983)

Matthew Broderick goes to the library to find information about the computer programmer. Filmed in the library at California State University at Long Beach.

War of the Worlds (1953)
Ann Robinson is a library science teachers, although this serves only to establish her as educated but not aggressive.

The Way We Were (1973)
Barbara Streissand pretends to study in the college library, but uses the opportunity to sneak peeks at gorgeous Robert Redford.

Web of Evidence (1959)
A librarian (Vera Miles) assists a young man who is trying to prove his deceased father innocent of murder.

Wicker Man (1973)
An investigator researching the disappearance of a young girls in sent to a Scottish island where he discovers a society that is deeply involved in pagan rituals. Near the end of the film he foes to the local public library to research some specifics of pagan religions, and while there discovers information that leads to the film’s surprise ending.

Wonder Man (1945)
Danny Kaye is a bookish researcher who spends a lot of his time in the library. There he meets and falls in love with the librarian Virginia Mayo.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder (1939)
When young Billy Halop is sent to prison he is befriended by the old timer who runs the prison library, and who teaches him the trade, trying to rescue him from the clutches of hardened criminal Humphrey Bogart.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Holmes and Watson meet as teenage students. Several scenes are set in the library


  1. A really useful filmography!

    Here's a link to another bibliography, some of this also appears on the Hollywood Librarian bibliography.

  2. What about the Sky Wars film where Qui-Gon Jinn (played by Liam Neeson) consults the library to discover a key fact...