In the SLIC blog this week, Board member Donald Maclean reflects on the varied portrayal of librarians in film, from the Batman Series to Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

I was appointed on to the SLIC Board in February 2017, so still feel like a relatively new kid on the block. I’ve been very impressed with the scope and variety of the work that SLIC undertake. I’ve always been very active with networking in my time in Information Management, and am fascinated by the huge variety in the nature and personality of librarians and information workers.

Defying Stereotypes

This has led to an interest in how librarians are represented in film, particularly those that are somewhat ‘other’, and/or non-stereotyped. As early as 1956, Bette Davis was strutting her stuff as a librarian standing up to censorship in Storm Center. And against an all-male council at that. “You can remove the book. You can remove me. If you do one, you will have to do the other.” Impressive.

In a more upbeat role, Goldie Hawn played a librarian in Foul Play (1978) who becomes embroiled in a ‘web of intrigue, murder, and dastardly villains’. Despite being warned to carry mace and a knuckleduster, she ‘does just fine with her umbrella when she’s attacked in the stacks while doing some last-minute shelving.’ Not a phrase you hear very often, and the Hitchcockian treatment of the linked clip makes the library seem like a very menacing place indeed.

In Party Girl (1995), Parker Posey plays a girl repaying a debt by working as a library assistant. This portrayal certainly breaks the stereotypical mould, and yes, the girl can dance.

Something Spookier

Male librarians are represented less in the movies, but Anthony Head played a librarian in the Buffy Series (1997-2003). The quintessential Englishman, whilst also a martial arts trainer and a master of the dark arts, he’s a little bit risqué, and enjoys the odd glass of wine. He has a sharp tongue, and could not be described as dull.

The world of Information Professionals got its first superhero in the guise of Batgirl, in the Batman Series (1966-68). She has all the classic superhero trappings: a snazzy outfit, a low key job (librarian, obviously), a secret closet, gadgets, boots, and an ability to kick seven shades out of the villains. And as she says, ‘stunts on high heels aren’t easy’. Fantastic.

Looking Ahead

Bringing us bang up to date is the AI librarian in 2030. Orlando Jones plays Vox, the AI librarian in The Time Machine (2002). “I’m a compendium of all human knowledge.” That’s a big claim, even for a librarian. The film hints at things to come in new technologies, but also implies that the human touch is still required.

Within the SLIC board, and the organisation in general, there is a huge variety of skills, talents and personality. As long as such people are driving the focus on libraries and the enrichment of lives, (and the movie and TV industries continue to give us a break), the future for libraries and librarians looks very bright indeed.