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Our Favorite Fictional Librarians, Ranked

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Pop culture isn't always kind to librarians. So, in honor of National Library Week, Gwen Glazer (Readers Services) and Nick Parker (Communications) picked half a dozen of our favorite library workers -- good and evil and in between -- and gave them some fictional performance evaluations, complete with numerical rankings.

Did we miss your favorite? Think we're totally off-base and Madam Pince is actually awesome? Let us know in the comments.

https://www.nbc.com/sites/nbcunbc/files/files/styles/768xauto/public/scet/photos/269/8151/03.jpg?itok=XkLL-Fhz
Image via NBC.

Tammy, Parks and Recreation

Nick: The librarians of Pawnee, Indiana get a seriously bad rap around town, and since Leslie Knope avoids her local branch at all costs, we don’t get to see a lot of Tammy in action. Her cruel mind games with ex-husband Ron don’t speak well for her helpfulness, but based on her manipulative streak and her wicked attitude, I can definitely see her recommending a good thriller or romance novel. Plus, I’m just a big Tammy fan.

Gwen: Tammy reminds me of one of those dogs that’s so ugly, it’s cute. She’s such a terrible librarian, she’s great! But she is indeed terrible. We don’t get to see too much of her actually doing with her job, but she also… doesn’t seem to do it much. Or at all. And Leslie hates her -- and all librarians -- so deeply and intensely that you have to give Tammy credit for inspiring that kind of loathing.

Nick’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: She certainly knows a lot about Ron Swanson’s inner life, and that’s not something most researchers can say. 4/5.

  • Helpfulness: She gets extra points because Leslie does things like this and I feel bad. 3/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: With all the time she spends tormenting people, does she even have the time? 2/5.

  • Overall: 3/5.

Gwen’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: Good point, Nick. 4/5.

  • Helpfulness: Remember that time Ron ran screaming from the library with a thumbtack stuck in his head? Does she treat her other patrons better? 0/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: She does cook up that scheme for the library to take over the lot that used to be The Pit, even if it’s not for the right reasons! I think an expansionist agenda counts as a policy. 3/5.

  • Overall: 3/5.

Links

Parks and Rec on DVD

Our favorite Leslie Knope library gif

Mary (Parker Posey), Party Girl

Nick: Parker Posey’s character in Party Girl isn’t *technically* a librarian, but she comes damn close! Her journey from irresponsible club kid to the  branch’s fastest shelver is downright inspiring. She even does a good job enforcing library policies – except the one about, um, “doing research” with her boyfriend in the stacks after hours.

Gwen: That first shelving montage is enough to any library worker swoon, and we’ve all experienced Mary’s reaction to the sometimes-Sisyphean tasks related to library materials. And who hasn’t wanted to ride a book cart down an empty hallway? Mary is all of us!

Nick’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: By the end of the movie, 5/5.

  • Helpfulness: 4/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: 4/5. That famous tirade goes a *bit* overboard, but it's all for the right reasons!

  • Overall: 4.5/5. 

Gwen’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: 5/5. Great at Dewey, shelving, research, and much much more.

  • Helpfulness: 4/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: 5/5, all for her takedown of a hapless guy who mis-shelves a book. “You’ve just given us a great idea. Why are we wasting our time with the Dewey Decimal system when your system is so much easier? “We’ll just put the books anywhere! Hear that, everybody?” Yessssss.

  • Overall: 5/5. I’m rounding up for Judy, who is also (sometimes) awesome in her own right.

Image via the Harry Potter wiki.

Madam Pince, Harry Potter

Gwen: This one has always pained me deeply. Madam Pince is the embodiment of every bad librarian stereotype… she’s a total control freak, she values her books over her patrons, she looks intimidating and mean, she loses it when she finds food in the library. And she shushes! We’re SO not into shushing anymore.

Nick: Agreed. Perfect example: when Harry was trying to figure out how to breathe underwater for the Triwizard Tournament, he would have had a way easier time discovering Gillyweed if he’d had a helpful librarian to point him in the right direction. But instead, he had Madam Pince. Gwen, why do you think she had to be so strict?

Gwen: Aha! Jo Rowling said that Pince “sprang directly from [her] childhood fear of scary librarians. The kind who hate kids.” Well, that explains it.

Gwen’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: She’s scary, but she knows her stuff. 4/5.

  • Helpfulness: Madam Pince, you give us a bad name. 0/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: She was a stickler for the rules. She hexes library books to protect them, and she loses her mind when she thinks students have defaced them. 4/5.

  • Overall: 1/5 -- and the 1 is only because we’re jealous of her super-cool collections.

Nick’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: 3/5 -- if she is indeed an expert, it's something we rarely get to see in the series.

  • Helpfulness: 0/5. I'm sorry, but it's just true.

  • Enforcement of policies: 5/5 – probably the reason she got into the job.

  • Overall: Not a good look for librarianship, Irma. 1/5.

Links:

The 700+ Potter-related items in our library collections

music man
Image via NYPL's Digital Collections, from the Friedman-Abeles Photograph Collection.

Marian the Librarian, The Music Man

Gwen: Buttoned up, literally and figuratively, Marian Paroo is the quintessential prim, proper, small-town librarian in the hit musical from the 1950s and ‘60s. She embodied her role as the keeper of her small town’s knowledge, and at first, she aggressively shunned the con-man who tried to woo her at her workplace (not cool) by appealing to her identity as a librarian:

… when I try in here to tell you, dear
I love you madly, madly, Madam Librarian… Marian!

It's a long lost cause I can never win
For the civilized world accepts as unforgivable sin
Any talking out loud with any librarian
Such as Marian...

Nick: I’m sorry, but I have to say that I’m just not a fan. I just don’t think Marian’s librarianship is enough a part of her character – I mean, sure, she reads classic books, but most of her songs are just about falling in love… Not all librarians are lonely! Plus, her attitude about literature is a little elitist, no?

Gwen: Okay, sure, she’s too focused on the classics, but at least she’s consistent with her embrace of everything old-school librarian. Look at her aesthetic… the buns, the high-collared blouses, the frothy skirts, the tiny rimless glasses. In the original 1962 film, her library is beautiful and ridiculously impractical, with circular staircases and narrow balconies and rolling ladders and book elevators (!!).

Nick: I guess I can get down with her fashion sense, but that library definitely needs a redesign.

Gwen’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: Seriously dedicated. 5/5.

  • Helpfulness: Another overenthusiastic shusher, but Harold Hill and his cronies deserve it. And she’s also really kind to kids and other patrons, and she shelves and stamps enthusiastically. 3/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: She’s very upset about the misuse of library resources… although she does dance with the circ desk. 3/5.

  • Overall: 4/5. She’s a classic.

Nick’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: Very well educated in classics, but… not much else? 3/5.

  • Helpfulness: 3/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: Dancing is SO not allowed in the library! 2/5.

  • Overall: Overrated. 2.5/5.

Links:

The original film and Broadway cast recording

Music Man photos in NYPL’s Digital Collections

Rabid Librarians, Welcome to Night Vale

Gwen: Members of the library staff in Night Vale -- the fictional town of the funny, satirical podcast and book franchise -- are like no other. Unmatched in sheer violence, these librarians once made all the doors and windows disappear from Night Vale’s library building to demonstrate their extreme commitment to library services. Especially notable is their dedication to the summer reading program, which all librarians know takes a truly special kind of effort. They’ll stop at nothing to make sure every citizen is reading. Literally nothing, including death of themselves and others.

Nick: You may not agree with their bloodlust, but those librarians get results! Their commitment to spreading literacy around the town of Night Vale, especially in the face of opposition from the sheriff’s secret police, is impressive. That’s what librarianship is all about.

Gwen’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: Citizens of Night Vale have to hide in a book-proof bunker to escape the expertise of these librarians. 5/5.

  • Helpfulness: Oh, they’re helpful, all right. 5/5 for sheer persistence.

  • Enforcement of library policies: Is forced imprisonment considered a policy? 5/5.

  • Overall: 5/5. Too risky to give them anything lower.

Nick’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: 5/5.

  • Helpfulness: 4/5 – a really helpful librarian develops repeat readers, which you can’t do if your summer reading participants lead a rebellion to overthrow you and escape the program.

  • Enforcement of library policies: Can we give 6 out of 5?

  • Overall: So hardworking, but not my favorites. 4/5. *Scurries into book-proof bunker, locking door behind him*

Links

The Summer Reading episode, No. 28

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (plus the audiobook -- the best way to listen)

Welcome to Night Vale episodes, volume 1 and volume 2, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Gwen: Nick and I aren’t Buffy people (I know, I’m sorry) and we originally weren’t going to include Giles on this list, but our colleagues freaked out, so we had to add him.

Nick: I’ll try to do him justice – give me some background, Gwen!

Gwen: So Giles was a librarian at Buffy’s high school, and he served as her mentor and protector. His library sounds awesome; his collection “seems to focus more on ancient demonology and weaponry than it does high school texts” so he gets major points for supporting the particular needs and interests of his patrons.

Nick: Also, as Buffy’s Watcher and frequent helper in her quest to defeat evil, he has a much closer relationship with his patrons than most other librarians on this list. That shows he really cares about fostering a local community of researchers/demon-slayers.

Gwen’s rankings:

  • Helpfulness: Points deducted for doing all that demon-related research himself instead of facilitating his students’ skills. Not helpful in the long run. 2/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: The library gets completely destroyed on more than one occasion. But then again, patron safety comes first! 4/5.

  • Overall: 4/5.

Nick’s rankings:

  • Knowledge: When it comes to the occult, you have to know your stuff. 5/5.

  • Helpfulness: He literally puts his own life in danger to stand up for his patrons! That’s gotta be a 5/5.

  • Enforcement of library policies: The library gets destroyed?! No! Come on, Gwen! Also, according to my research, it sits over a Hellmouth – now that’s just irresponsible. 1/5.

  • Overall: 3.5/5

Links

So much Buffy stuff in NYPL’s catalog, including the original DVDs, scripts, and graphic novels.

International Librarians Network on Rupert Giles

The actor who played Giles on “Buffy as a Feminist Parable

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Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

Comments

Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Batgirl!!!

How could you forget Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle?? I don't even know who that Parks and Rec character is. But you forgot BATGIRL?? Sincerely, Disappointed Librarian

Missed my favorite!

Where is The Librarian from Unseen University! A librarian that can shelve books with his feet, traverse the mysterious shelves of L-space (a bending of space & time by the gathering of many books in a small space), and fire a pistachio with ear-numbing force, should definitely be included in any list of great fictional librarians!

YES!!!!!!

YES!!!!!!

Favorite Fictional Librarians

What about the wonderful Helma Zukas, Librarian, of the Miss Zukas mystery series written by Jo Dereske? "Miss Zukas Shelves the Evidence,""Catalogue To Death,""Bookmarked To Die," and many more hilarious and touching adventures by the lovely, OCD-tinged Miss Zukas.

Fellow fan of Ms. Zukas also.

Fellow fan of Ms. Zukas also. Did u read the last one where she gets married?

Book elevators

Why the dis on book elevators? They are sensible, efficient, and a superior way to get books from a drop off to a second (or higher) story! It'd be really efficient if RFID tags could help sort by coding floor (flexibly) and even shelf number for sorting at the drop off level.

Pop cultural librarians

I'm finishing a dissertation on representations of librarians in pop culture from 2000 and on and my research strongly indicates that non-librarians construct our image that recirculates MANY ideas that centre back on librarianship as women's work. Everything from the way they dress, to shelving, stamping books and acting as rather ineffectual gatekeepers and rule enforcers. It says a lot about a profession occupied by mainly women... And inNA, white CIS women....

Nope.

This list does not include Bunny Watson. Your argument is invalid. https://popgoesthelibrarian.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/bunny-watson-pop-profile/ Betty Lou Perkins is another good choice, but she's not nearly as well-known. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gun_in_Betty_Lou%27s_Handbag

Missing some of the best.

What about the new show, "the Librarians'? What about the best of all, Evie from "The Mummy," played to perfection by Rachel Weiss?

Margaret Gesner

What about cranky, tentacled Monsters University librarian Margaret Gesner? I would rate her enforcement of library policies at a 10 out of 5.

Fictional librarians

Barbara Gordon, librarian by day, Batgirl by night.

Fictional Librarians

Rene Russo in "Major League". I loved that she was desirable and smart.

The librarian on the Twin

The librarian on the Twin Peaks episode of Psych!! She was amazing.

Favourite Librarians

I'm fond of fantasy librarians like the brave Librarian Knights in The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, Tigralef the Memorian (a kind of archivist cum librarian) in Rebcca Bradley's Lady in Gil and Lirael who works in the frightening Clayr library in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom books.

Giles Hero Librarian

I wrote the cover article for that issue of American Libraries, and I am delighted to say that, 20 years later, Buffy fans are still commenting on it. https://girasoleazzurra.com/2014/01/17/giles-hero-librarian/

Malachi of Hildesheim

~ Malachi of Hildesheim, the librarian in _The Name of the Rose_ by Umberto Eco. (Knowledge 5/5; Helpfulness 0/5; Enforcement 5/5)

Bunny Watson! Bunny Watson!

My own favorite pop culture librarian is Bunny Watson, of the 1958 film Desk Set. She's got amazing research skills and incredible knowledge of her collection, she is clearly a great mentor to her staff, and she is articulate about the value of the library within her organization. And if I'm remembering right, she even performs an actual reference interview on screen, a rare sight indeed, and a welcome one, considering how central a tool the reference interview is in real-life librarianship. I've always maintained that there are two kinds of librarians: those who favor Party Girl, and those who favor Desk Set. Don't get me wrong, I love Parker Posey as Mary. But if I were stuck on a desert island and could only have one film featuring a librarian, there's no question, it would be Desk Set. Katherine Hepburn really nails the role of Bunny Watson.

You're Right!

Bunny Watson is proof that no computer can out-librarian a librarian! Spencer Tracy tries to trip her up with a few logic problems, but Katherine Hepburn outsmarts him.

Don't forget Bunny Watson

Don't forget Bunny Watson from Desk Set. Katherine Hepburn is a great role model.

Um....HELLO!

What about Evie from The Mummy?

What about the Librarian,

What about the Librarian, from Discworld? I think he should definitely have made the list!

Oh! You forgot Mild mannered

Oh! You forgot Mild mannered Barbara Gordon, Librarian at Gotham Public Library by Day, and Caped Crusader by Night as Batgirl! I'd say as a reference Librarian, she is 5/5, which her photographic memory and vast knowledge of not only the library system, but of cultural events and art exhibits happening around Gotham. More than once, Batman has needed help only a Librarian can provide! Also, even when she recognized a patron as a Super Villain (The Penguin, The Riddler, and Killer Moth have all visited GPL in full costume!), she always gave them the benefit of the doubt, because only the truly evil would ever steal from a Library. I mean, at least one Villain did steal from the Library. And the Penguin kidnapped Barbara to marry her and become Commissioner Gordon's Son-In-Law. But yeah, Batgirl: 4.5/5

Pop Culture Librarians

Thursday Next from the Thursday Next book series by Jasper Fford. 5/5 for @$$ kicking.

Missing a few

You are missing some of the biggies, many have already been mentioned in the comments. Strong agree for Evie from the Mummy and Bunny in Desk Set. Also, what about Betty Lou from The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag?

Yes, while there are many pop

Yes, while there are many pop culture librarians you could add to this list, Batgirl is the most critical one! Also ... some of us don't know who Nick is. Does he also work in the Readers Services department?

Matilda

I'm a huge fan of the soft spoken old lady librarian in the Matilda movie. She taught a lot about the library and it's resources to Matilda and it opened a lot of doors for her.

Casting a vote for Unseen University

OOK!

Goldie Hawn

One of my favorite librarians is Gloria Mundy, played by Goldie Hawn in the movie Foul Play. She's cute and very funny!

The Discworld's Librarian

I should say that I'm going to define "librarian" as someone who is the guardian of a large repository of organized knowledge, which can be accessed by other people. To not make this a wall o' text, I'm going to make a separate entry for each. My apology for what will look like spamming. ----- The Librarian of Discworld! Dude's an orangutan, but he knows the almost infinite dimensions of the Library, and can handle the really dangerous tomes easily. In fact, he's easily one of the most sane and smart denizens of Ankh-Mopork. Knowledge: 5 (he just can't SAY anything other than "OOK!") Helpfulness: 3 (he's plenty helpful - it's just that people can't understand the wisdom he's trying to dole out with one word only for a vocabulary.) Enforcement: 5. He will cut you. Especially if you steal a book or refer to him as a monkey. In fact, he may be fictional, but I'm gonna start running NOW.

The Librarians

I should say that I'm going to define "librarian" as someone who is the guardian of a large repository of organized knowledge, which can be accessed by other people. Then there's the characters of the TV show The Librarians. Most of the cast scores pretty low, except for Jenkins and the anthropomorphic avatar of the Library itself. Knowledge: Everyone but Flynn, and the anthromoporphic avatar of the Library: 4, and 5. The other three: 3 (Jacob), 3 (Cassandra), and 2 (Ezekiel). Helpfulness: Don't ask Jenkins or the avatar for straight answers, even though they have a direct line to EVERYTHING. 3. Everyone else: Helpful in their own areas, but not actually librarians. 1. Enforcement: It's kinda their job. 3 on a bad day, 5 on a good one.

Lirael

Then there's Lirael of Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. She's the only one in her huge, all-female community without the ability to see the future. She finds in herself an extraordinarily rare power, but before she does, she becomes a librarian in the community's vast store of tomes, a lot of them so dangerous you need eight whole levels of permission to get to them. And that's where Lirael finds herself and what's unique about her. I adore this book. Knowledge: 3 at first; grows quickly. Helpfulness: See Knowledge. Enforcement: 5. She is NOT (sometimes foolishly) afraid to go down into the deepest, darkest parts of the library, where dangerous magic and creatures are holed up.

Evie from The Mummy

Evie from the Mummy! Evelyn: Look, I... I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am. Rick: And what is that? Evelyn: I... am a librarian! Knowledge: 5. This is one smart chickadee. Helpfulness: 3. On one hand, she can read hieroglyphs/demiotics. On the other, she hits the "DON'T READ THE LATIN!!" horror trope pretty hard and causes everything. Enforcement: I think she'd borrow Rick's guns if you sneezed on an Egyptian tome.

Ivy (The Archive) - Dresden Files

If you really want to stretch the term "librarian" to those who contain a inhuman amount of every kind of knowledge, Ivy from the Dresden Files counts. Her entire maternal line is cursed to hold the cumulative knowledge of every age and to be able to yank it out in an instant. The twist is that all that knowledge drove her mother insane. She offed herself, and the title and knowledge of The Archive was passed to a very small girl, Ivy. Knowledge: 42. Girl knows everything. Helpfulness: 4. She's a little constrained in what she can do, but she helps to the best of her ability. Enforcement: N/A. She's not the one policing her knowledge.

Snow Crash Library

Then there's the avatar of The Library as presented to Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash. Knowledge: 4. He's only as good as the data fed into him. Helpfulness: 4. He can't make judgements, only provide info. Enforcement: 1. He only can give out info. There's no "You can't handle that" or judgment calls in any way. If you ask him for a judgment call on a piece of knowledge he contains, he simply can't answer.

The Caretaker (Warehouse 13)

And there is - at a bit of a stretch - The Caretaker of Warehouse 13. It may not purely be a repository for books (although they're in there!), but the Warehouse is stocked into a M.C. Escher building of things tied to specific areas of knowledge. And both The Caretaker (Mrs. Frederic) and Artie serve the purpose of a librarian. Knowledge: Higher than 5! Helpfulness; 4, in her own way. She can't answer every question straight, but her cryptic answers always are in protection of the Warehouse. Enforcement: She would give up her LIFE.

The Magicians' librarian

The Magicians has a Librarian for a library with every book every written, including the life story of every sentient being, and books that aren't even published yet. She freaks out upon handling of books and warns the protagonists about reading their own stories, and you can't check any book out without a metric crapton of red tape (the book The Trial by Kafka is said to have been written while he was trapped in that library)... but she knows who's going to come to her library and when, and is willing to at least photocopy pages for you. Knowledge: What's above "holy crap"? Helpfulness: 2. Is buried in monumental red tape. Enforcement: 5. Would throw herself on a pyre for any of those books.

Lorren - Kingkiller Chronicle

Then there's Lorren from Pat Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle series. Extremely strict and ultra-protective of his books, and there's a massive reward put up by another teacher for anyone who can make him smile. That said, he knows pretty much everything it's possible to know in his region, and shows caring toward students from time to time (usually in telling the protagonist, who's usually holding the Idiot Ball at the time, to Not Touch That Subject.) Knowledge: 3. There's so much work to be done in such a massive library, and he's often jetting off to find a coveted rare book. He can't answer much. Helpfulness; 2; His head's too buried in the library and doesn't like helping the silly teenagers. Enforcement: 5. You DO NOT mess with his babies.

How could you leave out the

How could you leave out the Mean Librarian who is so rude to Sophie in Sophie's Choice? He was the worst. Come to think of it, wasn't Nathan also a librarian and a very nice (if deeply unbalanced) one at that?

Unspecified librarians

There are lots of librarians in the Stephen King novels, some good, some evil. And there's the very scary Library Policeman. What about the ghost librarian in Ghostbusters?!

Unseen University

Another vote for the Orangutan! OOK!

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