“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…. A librarian”
So says Evelyn Carnahan, in 1999’s The Mummy and so say many library workers all over the country as we approach National Libraries Day on 4 February, a day which also sees the publication of The Library Book in which Stephen Fry, Zadie Smith, Alan Bennett and many more tell us why they think libraries matter.
So let’s take a few moments to celebrate the humble library drone in fact and fiction. Number one on everyone’s list of favourite librarians is (or should be) Giacomo Casanova, adventurer, seducer, friend of Popes, seller of lottery tickets, memoirist and librarian to the Count Waldstein. Check out the 2005 tv series about him to see the profession represented by David Tennant and Peter O’Toole.
But there are many others, some admirable, some not so much, including Benjamin Franklin, J Edgar Hoover, Lewis Carroll and library heroine Nancy Pearl, such a credit to her profession that she has an action figure modeled on her (complete with amazing shushing action).
As for fictional librarians – well, where to start? Ms Carnahan isn’t the only one to appear in films. See the excellent Librarians in the Movies site for a rather more comprehensive list. There’s even a librarian action hero – if you haven’t caught up with the series of films about The Librarian in which Noah Wyle saves the world through his bookwormish skills, you’ve missed a treat.
On television, we’ll draw a veil over Timothy Lumsden from Sorry! and concentrate instead on Rupert Giles, librarian at Sunnydale High School, master of the occult, and mentor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and also Barbara Gordon, by day head of the Gotham City Public Library and by night Batgirl.
You won’t be surprised to hear that there have been some serious academic studies of librarians in fiction, who range from William of Baskerville, monkish hero of The Name of the Rose to Israel Armstrong who solves crimes while driving a mobile library around the Irish coast. In fact there’s a whole genre of crime-fighting librarians and other bookish types solving mysteries.
It’s not just novels that feature libraries. We have our very own daily comic strip and Westminster Libraries staff have been spotted wearing the t-shirts that go with it. So having watched librarians saving the world, fighting crime, shushing readers, and being generally splendid, let’s finish this brief look at what makes us special with some warrior librarians. Next time you look at your friendly local library worker, remember – you just never know what he or she is capable of!