Libraries in pop culture: The Station Agent

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I feel like I’ve spent a lot of space talking about what pop culture gets wrong about libraries. The natural question is: are there any good or accurate examples of libraries in movies, books, or TV shows?

On the whole, The Public, a recent movie by Emilio Estevez, does a good job because Estevez took the time to do actual research about actual libraries—he even came to the ALA Conference in New Orleans a few years ago to talk about it. But the situation in that movie is both fictional and heightened. Except for a few short scenes early on, you’re not seeing the library as it would function in an everyday sense. (Although the questions the patrons are asking the librarian at the beginning are 100% spot on.)

A better example is probably a brief scene from The Station Agent.

The Station Agent, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie starring a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage along with Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Canavale. In the movie, Dinklage plays a quiet guy who seems to prefer solitude (basically the opposite of Tyrion Lannister) but gets drawn somewhat unwillingly into a tentative friendship with Clarkson and Canavale’s characters (Olivia and Joe), who are also both alone and/or lonely in their own ways. There is also amateur train chasing and a brief lesson on the origins of the phrase “right of way.” That probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s really a lovely movie. Highly recommended.

Anyway. In the movie, Dinklage’s character, Finn, is new in town. He goes to the library to find a book about trains, a subject for which he has a great deal of passion, to put it mildly (he literally lives in an abandoned train depot). He goes to check out the book. In doing so, he startles Emily, the librarian played by Michelle Williams.(1) She screams in surprise. After recovering, she asks him if he has a library card. He doesn’t but wants to get one. She asks if he has a piece of mail with his address on it. He doesn’t. She tells him that to get a library card, he’ll need proof of address. Olivia arrives and offers to check the book out for him on her card. Finn refuses the offer and leaves. “Oh my God, I just screamed in his face,” Emily says to Olivia, embarrassed. The scene ends.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

What makes this such a great library scene?

So many things.

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Off for the holidays

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

I’m off for the holidays and won’t be posting any new content but I thought I’d pin a thing here highlighting some favorite past posts in case you missed them.

Thanks for reading and see you in the new year!

Thoughts on Box Office Poison

Image by Igor Ovsyannykov from Pixabay

In trying to understand the role of research in creative writing, I’ve taken something of a detour into research on creative writing pedagogy and the history of English as an academic subject. This information is helping me understand the larger context of how creative writing is taught and why conversations about the role of research may not be part of those teachings.

Anyway, one of the first books I found on the subject was Can It Really Be Taught?: Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy, a collection of critical essays edited by Kelly Ritter and Stephanie Vanderslice that was published in 2007. A lot of the essays, particularly ones that come early in the book, are fascinating explorations of why creative writing is taught the way it is and why, in the authors’ opinions, that needs to change. It reminded me a lot of conversations I’ve seen in the library and information science field about how information literacy is taught.

Toward the back of the book is an essay by Wendy Bishop (to whom the book is also dedicated) and Stephen Armstrong called “Box Office Poison: The Influence of Writers in Film on Writers (in Graduate Programs)” which, as the title suggests, is an analysis of how the act of writing is portrayed in cinema.

Or, more accurately, how it is not portrayed.

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Magicians and libraries that aren’t libraries

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(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the television show The Magicians through the end of its fourth season)

I spent some time recently watching the first few seasons of The Magicians. Yes, I’m still getting over that ending. But I also felt the need to comment on the Library and libraries on pop culture in general.

In the show,(1) the Library is its own world (hence the capitalization). Sort of like the library in the two-part episode of Doctor Who “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” but without the carnivorous shadow monsters. Probably. The Library is overseen by Zelda, the Head Librarian, who is played by Mageina Tovah.(2) She is very protective of the books in her collection. So much so that when two of the characters break the Library’s rules about touching the books, they are banished from the Library forever. Which seems fair since the books in the Library contain all of the knowledge in the universe and are also one of a kind.

So the Library is not, in fact, a library. It’s an archive.

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch is secretly about the ethical use of information

Image source: Wikipedia

One of my favorite pieces of scholarly literature in the library and information science field is an article by Emily Dill and Karen L. Janke called “New Shit Has Come to Light: Information Seeking Behavior in The Big Lebowski.” It is exactly what it sounds like: a study of the information-seeking strategies of the characters in The Big Lebowski.

I think of this article every time I watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch because every time I watch Hedwig, all I can think about is how, underneath all of its other themes, it is, at its core, a lesson about the ethical use of information.

Let me explain.

(The following includes spoilers for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, both the movie and the play.)

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