The Hollywood Librarian

The Scottish premiere of the US documentary The Hollywood Librarian: A look at librarians through film took place in Glasgow last night (Tues 6 May). The screening was arranged by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS) and the Career Development Group (Scottish Division), a special interest group of CILIP. The Scottish library and information community showed enthusiasm for the film and the cinema at Gilmorehill G12 was filled to capacity on the night.

The film was written and directed by library consultant Ann M. Seidl and focuses on the portrayal of librarians in US movies, with interviews with real-life librarians providing balance to Hollywood stereotypes. The film-makers have incorporated librarians from different sectors to illustrate the diversity of the profession.

In making the film, Ann M. Seidl hoped to raise the public’s awareness of the challenges and realities of modern librarianship. However, the SLIC information team had mixed feelings about whether or not this outcome had been achieved. Did the diversity and scope of librarian’s roles shine through or was the film too focused on the Salinas case study? Were the negative Hollywood stereotypes challenged or perpetuated by the librarian interviews? Let us know your views on the film.

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12 Responses

  1. I had high hopes for the Hollywood Librarian but felt quite disappointed after watching the film. I had expected the contrast between the Hollywood clips and the real-life librarians to show more contrast. I wanted to see dynamic librarians embracing new technologies and making their mark on the digital information environment. At the very least, I wanted to see diverse, cross-sector representation of the actual day-to-day tasks involved in being a professional librarian in 2008. What we got instead was affirmation that librarians like and are knowledgeable about books – hardly a myth-dispelling revelation!!

  2. I felt the film skirted over the information professional in society. It didn’t banish any myths or typecasts.

    I was hoping it would have conveyed the wide spectrum of skills at play within our sector and not so much of the emotionally charged role of a librarian.

    If this film was designed for a non librarian audience, how can we progress our image?

  3. My immediate reaction to the film was that it was interesting.
    On reflection, I felt that some aspects of the film could have been handled better. There was a particular focus on public libraries, at the expense of other types of library service. There was also a distinct lack of ‘young’ librarian representation in the film. Also electronic resources were hardly touched upon.
    I don’t think that the film fully dispelled the librarian stereotype portrayed in the film clips. It is a shame that it didn’t illustrate better the changing face of the profession.

  4. I was disappointed that none of the other audience members dressed for glamour! And where was the red carpet?

    But seriously – it was interesting and well made but yes it had gaps… I too felt it was public library biased. How many sterotypical film images were needed to make the point? I would have liked more present day action and less old footage. I did think the Salinas campaign was absorbing though, it told a darmatic story. Very Michael Moore!

    To be honest my overriding response was to think why don’t I have a job that I love as much as they all love theirs?

  5. Firstly I think we shoukd acknowledge that it was amazing that anyone made a film of any description about us.
    I have to agree with Penny though that it didn’t even begin to look at the breadth of skills and work we now deliver and our contributions to national and local agendas.
    I’d love to see us make our own version – a Scottish film somthing sassier I am sure we could all come up with stuff that radically challenges the image – anyone remember the Smirnoff advert? That certainly did a lot to challenge the stereotype

  6. I’ll just leave a counterbalance to the first three comments: I loved it! I’ve been working with digital resources for years but I don’t care one whit about this not being represented. I was deeply moved and felt my career choice was validated: it reminded me of the things that first excited me when I went to library school: we have a vital role to play in society, especially now. Keeping utterly crucial services alive, be they digital learning resource repositories, public libraries, online search services, libraries serving education, or services to other professions and industries such as medicine and law- that’s something to be proud of. I can’t see how showing more of a representative range of library skills and roles is more important than reminding people how necessary access to information is in the current international political climate, and how needed information professionals are. The film was a skillful and entertaining piece of propaganda, and clearly aimed at the American market a-la Michael Moore, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It would worry me if people in the UK couldn’t see the parallels and potential dangers here. Was I the only one to feel heartened and bolstered by The Hollywood Librarian?

  7. Agree with all above and:

    I wasn’t sure who it was really aimed at, and suspected it might be at funding bodies/policy makers, in that there was a very ‘feel good’ element to the case studies/librarians featured, without much challenging political content – on gender, censorship, social marginalisation etc – all there but superficially treated. There are some inspiring examples out there – the staff keeping the National Library of Iraq going, for example – but we didn’t see them.

    Several of us were actually more interested in the clips, and I wasn’t sure these were always straightforward as an illustration of how false the stereotypes are, if that was the intention – e.g. Hepburn in Desk Set is actually a kick-ass, sexy professional, and the use of more modern clips such as Party Girl (another validation of the professional librarian!) further confused things. There’s another film to be made on librarian images in media, and that story isn’t a straighforward one. Vampires locked in the stacks anyone?

  8. The strongest image I was left with is beaming, middle aged women saying how much they loved their jobs – ‘who wouldn’t?’; but also feisty middle aged women fighting against cuts and fundraising. Doing things for the good of the community and because they like helping people must make them feel really good. This is great, but it’s also why public librarians will continue to be low paid, like nurses, unfortunately.

  9. I was also a bit disappointed and hoped for more clips,but I thought it stuck mostly with the images that people expected – people who were prepared to take the salary hit because they loved books! nothing new there then ….although it was obvious many of them loved people as well. Perhaps because of the US slant and the fact that many libraries there seem to be supported by donation and charity funding – we have quite a different kind of library, and I certainly did’nt really recognise myself in any of the staff who were interviewed, and it bore no resemblance whatsover to my job of the minute, I cant imagine being passionate about a corporate working group.

    I remember the smirnoff advert – and the irn bru one! I would have dressed for the part – but I took my tweed suit off as it was too hot.
    I think we should start our own media watch 0- and where better than some of the books we have in our libraries. I read a shocker recently with a stereotype that would have choked you , I still intend to e mail the author and tell her what I think of it.

  10. Though this film partially did what it said it would do, namely look at librarians in the world of film. I felt that this was obscured by focusing on the plight of public libraries in the states today. Though the Librarians clearly loved their jobs, their concerne regarding investment (stock, buildings), encouraging usage and their own lack of pay were very much to the fore. This all sounds very familiar. Perhaps this film can help tackle some of these issues here. All we can do is hope!

  11. I would say ‘preaching to the choir’ but from these reviews a lot of the choir didn’t like it either!

    While I found the segments on prisoners’ use of libraries interesting and worthwhile, I was disappointed with this film otherwise.

    The awful choice of music, the soft-focus feel of many of the shots, the choice of largely bland, butter-wouldn’t-melt interviewees and the sentiments they expressed…all very, very twee.

    The supposed ‘Hollywood’ theme was pretty much absent, with no analysis at all of cinema’s portrayal of the profession, simply a montage of obvious clips. As somebody said already, what were the Katharine Hepburn clips intended to show?

    If the Hollywood tag was being used to try and inject connotations of glamour and mystique, then the various librarians Ann chose to interview were having none of it!

    6 out of 10 – feeling generous cos it’s sunny! 🙂

  12. I enjoyed the film as it was, but again was expecting something different. As an ex public librarian – as cataloguer, in a branch, and on a mobile library I could identify with many of the passionate librarians in the film. However it was very public library biased and a broader base of librarians in different sectors would have been interesting. Would they have found this passion in the business sector?
    The librarian who spoke about the public sector having to act on a business model while patently not being a business struck a particular chord.
    The plight of Salinas was worth showing, but could have been considerably shorter, unless they were really aiming to use this film as propaganda -in which case I don’t think it was strong enough to inspire any non library users to support libraries in the UK.

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