Happy summer movie season! To everyone beholden to the academic calendar, congratulations on the completion of another successful semester. I have a long list of fun and enriching activities that I’ve been looking forward to working on for months now, so naturally I have been watching movies instead. They’re all library movies, though, so it counts as research! Here are my top recommendations for what to watch when you’re avoiding all that fresh air and sunshine.
The Mummy The one with Brendan Fraser, of course. Rare book specialists will appreciate this tale of one librarian’s pursuit of a unique first edition. While Evelyn Carnahan appears to have gone to an unusually lax School of Library and Information Science, what she lacks in professionalism she makes up for in moxie and enthusiasm. Also, who among us has not fled into the desert after knocking over an improbable number of books?
Desk Set A classic horror film from 1957 starring Audrey Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The reference department of a television network is set to be replaced with a computer, illustrating that the information field’s love-hate relationship with technology goes back much further than many of us thought. Reference and research librarians will be pleased with the film’s conclusion, while digital humanists will enjoy the mid-century popular depiction of technology and its uses.
The Music Man A film about the difficulties in planning effective programming for teens. As an aspiring public librarian, I found the scene in which Marian Paroo discusses intellectual freedom with a concerned community member to be of special interest. The movie also accurately portrays the everyday chaos of the circulation desk when the local musical theater group violates basic safety rules while the librarian is distracted by a persistent and inappropriate patron. Content warning: contains a graphic depiction of a page being ripped out of a book.
Party Girl My personal favorite. A young woman who enjoys exuberant get-togethers improves the lives of her friends using library science. When the main character snaps at one of her friends to stop touching her collection of nearly identical pants because “they’re in order,” I knew I had found the protagonist for me. A great movie for people interested in cataloging, reader’s advisory, and community engagement.
The Public The story of an urban public library taken over by people without anywhere else to go during a dangerous cold snap, inspired by this essay by Chip Ward, a former librarian and activist in Salt Lake City. It’s unfortunately not available for home viewing yet, but it’s no doubt been pre-ordered by every public library in the country. I’ll be spending the wait time plotting ways to trick everyone I know into watching it with me and then having uncomfortably intense discussions about the social safety net, bourgeois behavioral norms, and the true nature of democratic spaces.
Bonus suggestion: The Librarian/The Librarians. A series of made-for-tv movies and television episodes in the fantasy-adventure genre. The plot revolves around a man who protects and stores magical artifacts for a place called the Metropolitan Library. I haven’t seen it myself, because of the inaccuracy of the title. I admit that “The Curator” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but how could I have any confidence in the storytelling of writers who think that anyone who works in a library is automatically a librarian?
What movies or television shows would you include? Instead of a “best of” list of library movies, what movies would you include in a “worst of” list? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would the first on mine: great movie, but when Indy breaks through that library floor it sets a terrible example for young and impressionable patrons. Tsk.