films

The Librarian 1947 Vocational Guidance Films

We are discussing The Librarian by Vocational Guidance Films in my management class this week. I saw this video quite a while ago as it was being passed around social media sites. To be honest, this seems like a very cute video to me. As a promotional film, obviously it’s going to show the best of the profession at the time. Sure there are some weird quirks, but overall it does make you want to become a librarian, which is its goal. Some examples of the things that I thought were odd or unusual compared to the current LIS field are listed below:

  • “Do you like people? And do people like you?”- So I can’t be a librarian if people don’t like me? Is this some sort of popularity contest? On the flip side, I suppose you do have to be personable to work in libraries, but but other people’s opinions of you are discovered through references these days.
  • “All kinds of people? The young and the old?” Are those the only two kinds of people? Last time I checked there were a lot more. It speaks to the fact that the greatest dichotomy at the time was intergenerational, rather than racial or class based (because post-war was a time of the rise of the middle class, and racial inequality was so ingrained into the community that most people were complacent with it). I think the biggest division these days is class based, as one of the most difficult and contentious issues in working with the public is dealing with people struggling from mental health issues, drug addiction, and homelessness (and often more than one of these at a time). To me, this comes down to issues of class and social injustice.
  • The Library of Congress is the “greatest of all”– I don’t know if greatest is really the correct term. Largest? Yes. Greatest? That’s a matter of opinion. I don’t think libraries these days are worried much about competing for these dubious accolades. In modern libraries it’s much more about serving the community to the best of your ability with the limited resources you have. The challenge lies in how to measure this, but labels don’t really help in that battle.
  • “task of the individual librarian remains the same: bringing books and people together”- Of course, modern librarians now know that the book are only a tool for sharing and teaching information. A modern version of this statement would replace the word ‘book’ with information. Surely, it would also mention the fact that uniting people with information isn’t the only step, as once they have the information source they need to be able to navigate to the exact piece of information they need and be able to retrieve it again on their own: This is where the concept of literacy and essential skills comes in—incomplete or non-existing concepts at the time of this video’s production.
  • Reference is “a very important money and time saving service to the pubic”- I love this statement and it’s not something that libraries often promote these days. As the number of reference questions decrease and search engines become increasingly better at solving users queries, libraries are downplaying their reference services. In my experience, people come to libraries when google can’t solve their problems. So often reference questions are more challenging, even if there are fewer overall.

To me, this video is a tool to contrast the socio-economic realities of the post-war era with those of today. I think it’s worthwhile for MLIS students to look at in comparing, but is essentially harmless. I anticipate some of my colleagues might not be so forgiving.

Vintage libraries have an undeniable nostalgia to most people in the LIS field. Though I’m not sure I would want to actually go back to live in that era, I do really like the aesthetics. For example, here are some photos of Calgary Public Library in the post-war era:

Ms. Georgina Thompson circa 1955

ImageInglewood Branch- Interior view: Adult section circa 1950s

ImagePhotos retrieved from Our Stories in Pictures and used with permission from the Calgary Public Library.

What librarian hasn’t fantasized about working in a library that looks like that?

Public Libraries in Film and TV

Ok, so I have a slight addiction with the tv show Criminal Minds. Though I only recently started to watch them in sequence, I have been watching this season religiously. I was surprised that twice in the last few weeks they have made public libraries significant to the plot line:

[*Spoiler Alert*]

  1. In Season 9, Episode 6 “In the Blood” the plot centered around a volunteer at a local public library who is obsessed with a library book and kills all the people who take an interest in it. He is shown shelving books, but a library staff member (librarian?) tells the police that he is a volunteer. [Though one of the criminal minds wiki’s called him a volunteer librarian, good grief]
  2. In Season 9, Episode 16 “Gabby” a child is abducted. At the very end of the episode they have figured out who has done it, and has them in custody, but not where the child is. The guilty party doesn’t have a computer or internet connection in their home, but Penelope Garcia figures out that they have been using the public library to get online and connect with people to give away the abducted child. Garcia says that she used to go to the public library to do her computer hacking [although, for clarification, I think her character was actually doing hacktivism, though I don’t believe that word is used in the show itself].

My first reaction in both cases was “How cool that they’re acknowledging that the library exists!” My second reaction was “Kind of sad that it’s in such a negative context, but this is a crime show.” My current thoughts are more along the lines of “How does this reflect on my profession?” I love it that the show features people using the library but am thinking it creates a stereotype that only criminals use library services. In the episode “Gabby”, it is specifically mentioned that public libraries don’t retain internet records of patrons to protect their privacy—but Garcia manages to find it anyways! This sort of gives the impression that public libraries are a place for criminal activity which could lead to people feeling like the library isn’t a safe space. However, I have some glimmer of hope that maybe it reminds people that the public library is a place to get free internet access and that we care about user privacy. I need to find another Criminal Minds fan who is a librarian so that we can discuss the issues and implications. Or,  I could write a research paper?

 

Anyone interested in this librarians in film should definitely check out the documentary The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians through Film. It’s a really great look at libraries and librarians in popular film and television. Check out the trailer below:

 

Other resources I’ve found on libraries in film include the following websites:

  • Wikipedia article on librarians in popular culture
  • Pinterest board of films with scenes of libraries
  • Website of Movie Librarians [Search engine doesn’t seem to work well, just scroll down and click on links)

I’d welcome any comments about how people feel librarians and libraries are portrayed in the media. It’s an ongoing issue that is constantly changing and it is definitely something that I would like to explore more at some point.