Outside the Book: 5 Librarians from Popular Films Who Break the Stereotype
Forget the stern woman in glasses shushing everyone—librarians come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.
Ever Googled a picture of a librarian? As expected, it’s mostly images of women, many wearing glasses and surrounded by books. Given the prevalence of the stereotype, one would expect Hollywood to follow suit. However, there have been a few films that break with that traditional mold, daring to give us more modern, and sometimes even glamorous, versions of the profession.
The Golden Age Iconoclast: Bunny Watson in Desk Set, 1957
In one of the films starring the iconic duo of Katherine and Spencer Tracy, we meet Bunny, a smart, professional woman in charge of the research library at a TV station. Then, into her life comes Tracy’s Richard Sumner, who charms her until she discovers he’s building a computer that might put her out of a job. After all, he’s built one that can take care of payroll, replacing that department, so why not research? Their happy ending comes after two events. First, the computer designed to replace payroll fired the whole building, including the president of the network. Needless to say, he is not happy. Second, he confesses that the computer is there to HELP them, not replace them. Order restored, they get their HEA; Bunny is an early example of a librarian as a dynamic leader.
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The (Innocent) Criminal: Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, 1994
Poor Andy, railroaded into a life sentence for the double murder of his wife and her lover—this upper-crust banker from Maine would have been lost if not for two important things: his friendship with fellow prisoner Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding and his job in the library. The first teaches him the ropes of prison, keeping him sane and in possession of large posters for his wall. The second becomes his mission. So much so that by the time he leaves, by releasing himself in a jailbreak, it has gone from a dumpy room to a full-fledged collection housed in several sun-filled rooms. It outlives both men’s time there and gives his fellow prisoners a gift that can alter lives.
The Wild Card: Mary, Party Girl, 1994
Mary (no last name) lives for the party, dancing her way through her 20s until it lands her in jail. Her last remaining supporter, her godmother Judy, bails her out but on two conditions. First, she must pay her back, and second, to do so, she must agree to work at the library where Judy is the Director so she can keep an eye on her. Shocking everyone, including Mary herself, she excels at the job and finds her calling. Now if she can only convince Judy she’s really serious this time. A great fish out of water story where the fish finds a better place to swim.
The Unexpected Adventurer: Flynn Carson, The Librarian Trilogy and TV Series, Starting in 2004
Flynn is, and this is an understatement, overeducated with degrees across many fields but somehow finds himself without any marketable job skills. Then he receives a mysterious and magical invitation to apply for a job at the Metropolitan Public Library. Getting the job over a line of other applicants, Flynn quickly realizes that this isn’t any ordinary library. And it will take this professional student far from the classroom. Under the tutelage of Judson, the possibly immortal previous librarian, he protects the most magical collections of materials ever gathered, including a jetpack, Pandora’s box, and Excalibur (Yes, the sword from Camelot. Yes, I’m serious.), housed inside a living library. Flynn’s job is to keep them safe from unscrupulous hands. Said job takes him far out of the country and his comfort zone while letting him come into his own.
The Fashion Plate: Adaline Bowman, Age of Adaline, 2015
Adaline Bowman survived a car crash in 1935, and after that, never aged a single day. After being forced to go on the run in the 1950s, a victim of McCarthy Era paranoia, we meet her living in present-day San Francisco and being called Jenny. Her job is working at a state library housing important historical documents, so she’s a specialized librarian—an archivist. She’s also in possession of a killer wardrobe, having had decades to tailor her closet. Still, Jenny is in many ways out of time, so it would make sense that she would find comfort in a place that honors the past and is actively preserving it. Then, a single donation and the man who makes it changes her life.
So, if you’re looking for librarians outside the typical, as well as five quality films, you cannot go wrong with these. You’ll laugh (Party Girl and The Librarian), you’ll cry (Shawshank), and you’ll get serious closet envy (Desk Set and Age of Adaline). Above all, you’ll be entertained by a group of librarians far outside the glasses and books image other media likes to focus on. And by opening the possibility that those who do not fit into that stereotype, for any number of reasons, are welcome in this profession.
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