Filmmaker Ann Seidl’s documentary The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film gives a detailed look into the lives of library professionals and the issues that they face in trying to maintain the well-being of libraries as well as the patrons they serve. The overall history of how libraries were established and how they have evolved throughout the last 100 plus years was also was shown via interviews with librarians and through films clips featuring actors portraying librarians, which is where the “hollywood” part of the film comes from.
Informative, entertaining, and melancholy is how I would personally describe my reactions to the film. This film really gave a vivid look at the significant role that libraries and librarians have always played in society, and in particular the lives of children and adults. The film showcased how during ancient times the librarians were the tutors to the heads of states and served as advisers to politicians.
As the library evolved from its original missions of specifically serving religious leaders, scholars and wealthy patrons to focusing on serving the common person, this institution continued to function as a place where education was the primary concern (Rubin, 2008, pg. 7). While it is obvious to note that librarians also play an important role in communities, I was not aware of just how important their contributions are to the people they serve until viewing this film. What librarian Eugenie Prime said in the film really stood out to me and put their role into perspective. “We like to think of the library and disassociate librarians from the library, and it’s the librarians who make the library what it is… Librarians are keepers of the flame, whether its the flame of freedom of democracy” (Seidl, 2009).
The tasks and responsibilities of librarians go way beyond cataloging physical and digital records and serving customers. Not only do they serve the public, but they play a major role in helping to keep libraries available in various communities. Seidl used the Sanilas Public Library branches in California as an example of how the lack of government funding for libraries could impact an entire community. Residents and even San Quentin inmates put on fundraisers to help keep the library doors open because they understood how important the library is to the community and to a child’s future. I found it really painstaking that the government provided more funding for prisons than it did for libraries. However, it was also encouraging to see how the community banded together to help the very institution that they utilized and how they did whatever they could to help keep it from completely closing.
This example shows how deeply connected power structures are to the well-being of libraries. In “What Libraries Are Worth?” Eleanor Jo Rodger explains how libraries fall under the umbrella of host systems such as corporations, institutions and political structures and how they rely on these systems to fully function.
“These larger host systems created the libraries, and they sustain them. Libraries rise and fall as their host systems rise and fall. We can be very good within the host systems, but we can almost never rise above their levels of success and excellence, regardless of our sense of value. Every library employee should know three crucial things about the library’s host system: its missions,its structure, and its history” (Rodger, 2007, pg. 59).
Libraries provide a lot for communities, but what many people, including myself tend to forget is the fact that libraries are businesses and they have to pay for the services they provide to patrons, which is mainly free of charge. I originally just thought of that the role of librarians was to serve the public and provide educational, entertaining and informative information and activities. Yet, the librarians interviewed in the documentary emphasized the business factor of libraries and how maintaining the business aspect of the institution, i.e. fundraising, is a crucial part of of their job.
Another aspect of the film that I found surprising was that children were not always allowed in libraries. A majority of the documentary dealt with how adolescents cling to libraries for knowledge and to engage in educational activities, but to think there was a time when libraries were only intended for teenagers and adults was mind-boggling. Kids are the main benefactors of libraries and their usage of this institution can have a major impact of their academic and professional future. It is really good to know that people like Andrew Carnegie realized how important libraries are to everyone, not just adults.
For library patrons who tend to overlook the significance of libraries and the employees that work there, this documentary will definitely change their outlook and make them want to do more to contribute to the very institution that they love.
Rodger, E. (2007). What’s a Library Worth? American Libraries, 38(8), 58-60. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27771303
(Rubin, R. (2008). Stepping Back and Looking Forward: Reflections on the foundations of libraries and librarianship. In Portable MLIS. Libraries Unlimited.)
Seidl, A., Erickson, L., & Harris, A. (2009).The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film [Motion picture]. Media Education foundation.