Library Love: Five Libraries In Film You'll Never Forget

Libraries are a popular setting for so many things. Fashion shoots, sex videos, TV commercials—you name it. I’m probably biased, but I find library scenes in film to be unusually memorable. Sometimes, they are the most memorable part of a film. Who can forget Robbie and Cecilia’s library tryst in Atonement? Film excels at conveying atmosphere, and the library serves as a blank slate on which to project a mood. Libraries can be creepy, intimidating, warm, inviting, or simply mundane. Film characters interact with libraries in ways that make them feel confident, scholarly, knowledgeable, overwhelmed, unworthy, stupid, or trapped. That’s quite a gamut for a building to span, but such is the beauty of the library.

It wasn’t easy to keep this list short, but when I thought about libraries in film that really created a lasting impression in my psyche, these are the ones that came to mind.

Ghostbusters: New York Public Library

Is there anything scarier than the library ghost scene in Ghostbusters? By the time Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler find her, the ghost has already terrified a librarian by emptying card catalog drawers and engaged in “symmetrical book stacking.” The cramped, dark book stacks (which were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library—only the exteriors were shot in New York) are a perfectly natural place to find the ghost of an old reader (or librarian) who then turns into a skeletal banshee. Tightly packed book stacks with low ceilings seem to be on the way out in libraries, and that’s a shame. Fortunately, there are still lots of places where you can encounter them, namely in large, old public and academic libraries.

The Breakfast Club: Shermer High School Library

My young self couldn’t get enough of this movie. A teen drama about high school misfits set in… a library! Still, I remember thinking, “This is like no school library I’ve ever seen.” My high school library was a little L-shaped room tucked away in the back of the cafeteria. It was dark, the collection was pathetic, and it always smelled like fried food. These kids, however, had a library with multiple floors, skylights, giant weird sculptures, and a huge collection. What did they have to complain about? It wasn’t fair. If only I had known that it was all a facade. In fact, John Hughes shot the film in a converted school gymnasium, which now serves as a district headquarters for the Illinois State Police.

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Library

Thank you J. K. Rowling for creating such an interesting and carefully drawn world that it was almost impossible for the four directors who took on the story to fuck it up. The Hogwarts Library, filmed at Duke Humfrey’s Library, a special collections reading room at Oxford’s Bodlein Library, is a place of concentrated magic. Not only are all the books about magic, they also possess magical qualities. For example, in Half-Blood Prince, we see Hermione shelving books by slowly releasing them into the air so they can reshelve themselves (!) Harry, Ron, and Hermione use their research skills to locate the answers to just about every quandary they encounter. Such model library users! Then the dark lord arrives and turns Hogwarts into a battleground.

Star Wars Episode II: Jedi Archives

The words “Jedi” and “archives” come together in a kind of perfect synergy. Of course such a thing would exist, and of course it would be awesome.  Located in the Jedi temple on the planet Coruscant, the Jedi Archives is actually a direct visual replica of the Long Room at Trinity College Library. (Lucas denies this.) The busts of philosophers are transformed into Jedi knights and the rare books into glowing blue digital storage. Records on the entire galaxy are stored there, and are presumably complete and comprehensive. As the librarian informs Obi-Wan Kenobi, “If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist!” I envy her confidence.

Robot and Frank: Cold Spring Public Library

Pretty much any movie with robot characters is a hit in my book, especially if it looks at the role of robots in society. What’s not to love? It’s fascinating! Aside from the main narrative of Frank and his robot assistant, this film also explores the future of libraries as information becomes digital. The local library, managed by the perfectly cast Susan Sarandon, has been purchased by a young investor. He plans to remove all the books, leaving a glorious, dark-wood paneled space, where a new generation of patrons will share library “experiences,” seemingly while reading books on their digital devices. The library scenes are beautiful and poignant and convey that intangible sense of library as place.


So LitReactors, what did I miss? What are your favorite libraries in film? Please share in the comments!

Image of Ghostbusters [Blu-ray]
Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Image of The Breakfast Club (25th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]
Director: John Hughes
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald
Rating: R (Restricted)
Stephanie Bonjack

Column by Stephanie Bonjack

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Southern California. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is heavily involved with the Music Library Association. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys playing the ukulele, making abstract art, and photographing urban landscapes.

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Comments

Katherine Yemelyanov's picture
Katherine Yemelyanov April 12, 2013 - 12:22pm

The library in Berlin in "Wings of Desire."

eirikodin's picture
eirikodin from Auburn, NY is reading Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler April 12, 2013 - 12:27pm

I always like the library from What Dreams May Come.

Kristy Houston's picture
Kristy Houston April 12, 2013 - 2:40pm

Do animated libraries count? If so, the one in Disney's Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorites!

 

Dave LeFevre's picture
Dave LeFevre April 12, 2013 - 3:27pm

What about the planet-sized library in the Doctor Who episode "Silence in the Library?"

ohnochastity's picture
ohnochastity April 12, 2013 - 4:33pm

I know it's a cartoon, but the first thing that popped into my mind with memorable library scenes is Beauty and the Beast.  =)  Even as a child I dreamed of having a library like that!

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder April 12, 2013 - 5:45pm

Do you love libraries? This is a wonderful, wonderful book about them. I can't recommend it enough:

The Library at Night

Zach Marrs's picture
Zach Marrs April 12, 2013 - 6:47pm

Personally, I probably would have included the library in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Biblioteca di San Barnaba in Venice.

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading Down and Out in Paris and London April 12, 2013 - 10:07pm

I want a library like the one in Becoming Jane. Hogwarts' library is one of my favorites too.

ReneeAPickup's picture
ReneeAPickup from Joshua Tree, CA is reading A truckload of books. April 13, 2013 - 4:34pm

As awful as the film was, the personal libraries in The Ninth Gate were pretty drool worthy.

Michael Crame's picture
Michael Crame April 13, 2013 - 4:43pm

The library in S7VEN. It's a great setting for the Morgan Freeman character's discovery of the thematic thread behind the murders but also acts as a visual reminder of the differences between how the two protagonists approach their investigation: Freeman as older, experienced, and wiser hits the books while Pitt's character as young, brash and impatient hits the streets.

And

Boris Balkan's private library in The Ninth Gate. The protagonist in every book in his library is the devil. We don't get to see much of it but it evidences Balkan's obsession early in the movie so that the audience knows he will go to any length to get a book he wants.

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself April 15, 2013 - 9:14pm

Amen, michael. Yeah, that Se7en scene is perfect.

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself April 15, 2013 - 9:14pm

Amen, michael. Yeah, that Se7en scene is perfect.

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself April 15, 2013 - 9:15pm

Amen, michael. Yeah, that Se7en scene is perfect.

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself April 15, 2013 - 9:17pm

Damn, how do I delete that?

ReneeAPickup's picture
ReneeAPickup from Joshua Tree, CA is reading A truckload of books. April 15, 2013 - 9:57pm

You can't delete them but you can edit them...