They have more cardholders than VISA, more customers than Amazon, and more outlets than McDonald’s. Meet America’s librarians.
I started watching this 2009 documentary expecting a bit of a media history lesson. Based on the very brief description I read before I found it on one of the streaming services, I thought I was in for an in-depth look at how librarians are represented in popular media. What I got was so much more.
Opening with a clip from a hilariously outdated video promoting librarianship as a career, The Hollywood Librarian offers an insight into libraries, librarians, and how the reality is often at odds with the stereotypes depicted in films, books, TV shows, and even stage productions. The film takes us on a journey beginning with the thing libraries were developed to store: the written word.
From there, we meet real librarians and, through them, examine how libraries have changed; how they confront censorship, funding issues, and activism. All the while, there’s bits of history (the closure of the John Steinbeck library in Salinas, California or Andrew Carnegie’s multi-million dollar library fund), and clips of film and TV interspersed throughout. These provide a rich, three-tiered narrative of history, pop-culture, and what’s happening in libraries now.
While it was interesting, I don’t think I learned much watching this. I am a working librarian, and I’ve been exposed to many of the themes and topics explored here. Then again, I don’t think I’m the target audience. This is a film to show people who say, “you’re a librarian, huh? It must be nice to read books all day”.
At its heart, The Hollywood Librarian is a love letter to librarians – a celebration of what we do and what we stand for: the free flow of information and the ability to access it.