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Libraries in the movies

Originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News, December 2021; written by Pat Tully


One of my favorite holiday movies is It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), with James Stewart and Donna Reed. One of the funniest moments in the film is not intentionally funny. The angel Clarence is showing George Bailey how much worse off his family would be if George had never been born. George asks Clarence about his wife, Mary: “You're not going to like it, George … She's an old maid. She never married.” In this alternate universe Mary is a librarian, and as plain and timid as a mouse. This always makes me smile—it is not true of the librarians I know!


In the movie Citizen Kane (1941), a researcher visits the Thatcher Memorial Library and is met there by a thin, severe-looking archivist: “Under no circumstances are direct quotations from his manuscript to be used by you. … You will confine yourself, it is our understanding, to the chapter dealing with Mr. Kane … You will be required to leave this room at four-thirty promptly.” In my experience, librarians and archivists are committed to preserving the materials in their collections, but they are also excited to share them with others.


Marian Paroo, played by Shirley Jones, is a feisty librarian in The Music Man (1962). Marian’s mother is worried about her romantic prospects: “There's not a man alive / Who could hope to measure up to that blend'a / Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat and Noah Webster / You've got concocted for yourself / Outta your Irish imagination, / Your Iowa stubbornness, / And your liberry fulla' books!”


Many librarians, myself included, love the movie Desk Set (1957), with Katherine Hepburn as Bunny Watson, who leads a team of top-notch corporate librarians who are in danger of losing their jobs to Spencer Tracey’s EMERAC computer.


The scene in the New York Public Library at the beginning of Ghostbusters (1984) invariably sets my teeth on edge. I started my career as a cataloging librarian, and when I see so many catalog cards flying around I just think of how much work it would be to put them all in order again. It has been a few decades since I worked at a library with a card catalog, but I still remember how much effort went into maintaining it!


The Public (2018) gives a wonderfully realistic depiction of the problems of big (and not-so-big) public libraries. The only beef I have with the film is that the featured librarian, Stuart Goodson, played by Emilio Estevez, has so little energy and passion. Librarians do get tired and discouraged at times, but generally we are pretty excited by and passionate about our work.


All of these films and several thousand more are available for checkout at the Library. If you are looking for DVDs and books to purchase, the Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library have a book sale at 319 Dock Street on the first and third Saturday of each month from 10am – 2pm. Check it out!


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