A librarian on The Librarian


I was asked by Larra Clark, Media Relations Manager for ALA’s Public Information Office if I would consider writing a review of TNT’s made-for-tv movie,“The Librarian: Quest for the Spear.� I had no plans to watch it, as it didn’t seem very interesting, and seemed to be a cheesy morphing of other movies: Buffy vs. Tomb Raiders of the Lost Ark or something like that. But, I gave two hours to the home team to have a look at this stanky-*ss movie. ALA got my much briefer, more tempered (although no less negative) review.

The difficulty in reviewing this is that I was focusing on the portrayal of librarians. If I’d taken it as the campy fun for which it was, hopefully, intended, I might have enjoyed it more. I suspect that this will become a librarian cult classic, alongside Desk Set and Party Girl. As is, I groaned and smacked my forehead throughout the movie. My 13-year-old joined me as a co-reviewer.

What follows is a blow-by-blow running commentary. If you didn’t watch the movie, be glad you didn't.

Okay...I've softened a bit. Go ahead and watch it. Don't take my word for it. It's like Velveeta...a guilty pleasure, and pretty cheesy.Olivia: Hurry up—it’s starting. The librarian is a dork. But he’s funny!

Stereotype alert: We meet our hero, Flynn Carsen, working on some sort of class project. He is a 30-something brainiac with poor social skills and called “freak� by a classmate.

His professor is kicking him out of the Archaeology? Museum studies? Stagecraft? class because he already has 22 college degrees. What is he, 90?

Stereotype Alert: Our hero goes home to mama where he goes to his bedroom to thumb through his books which are “slices of the ultimate truth.� He questions out loud if books have led him astray and messed up his life. His mother teases him in a snap-out-of-it-sonny way and says, “Don’t listen to the books if they tell you to start fires…or hurt small animals.� Very good advice.

Mom tries to hook up son with a nice girl. Our hero snaps when the young woman, a social worker, questions him about being in school so long: “I like to learn. Does that make me a criminal? I’m not a freak.� Okay, dude! You’re not a freak. But, the nice girl says she understands and voila, he realizes that something needs to change. He is, he realizes, a freak.

We next see our hero on the floor of his bedroom, making notes and scribbling on several sheets of paper. I think I saw this scene is Spiderman. Is Flynn making plans for a superhero costume? He gets frustrated and slumps against a shelf, which loosens an avalanche of books onto his head. Metaphor? That’s the problem. He’s been reading books rather than beating them against his head.

But then, but then! He notices an envelope and opens it. It’s a very sparkly card inviting him to apply for a position at the Metropolitan Public Library (MPL). Job searches sure have changed since I got out of library school. Wait. Library school. Is there an MLS among those 22 degrees?

Jaunty music plays as Flynn goes to the MPL to apply. While in line, a woman comes out of an interview sobbing. Lesson number 1: Librarians make people cry.

Flynn is called into the office a woman named Charlene. How does a middle manager get an office like that? Damn, that's swank! When Flynn is asked why he thinks he should be The Librarian, he shrugs and responds, “I read a lot of books?� Heh, heh.

Charlene, the menopausal, acerbic administrator (played by Jane Curtin, and one of the best parts of the movie) gives him a look that says, “Try again jokester.� Here we get our first insider nod to librarianship. “I know Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress. I know how to use RSS feeds.� RSS?! Hoo boy! Not good enough for Charlene. “Everybody knows that—they’re librarians.� Not sure who she’s been working with, but when I mention RSS feeds, I mostly get blank looks. Our hero then rattles off all sorts of bizarre, obscure encyclopedic factoids, including personal information that makes Charlene blanch.

My daughter and I look at each other and I say, “He’s got Asperger Syndrome,� (an autistic spectrum disorder characterized by poor social skills, photographic memory, and often times an intense interest in obscure subject matter). Olivia, an “Apsie" herself, swelled with pride and said, “Hell, yeah!�

Flynn says the magic words, some cornball phrase about how it’s what you know in your heart, not in your head, which counts. Ding ding ding! He’s hired. No reference calls. No transcript request. No background check. (Note to self: add heartwarming platitudes to all cover letters from here on out.) Charlene introduces him to Judson (Bob Newhart) who is either the director, or God, or maybe like Charlie, with Flynn as his angel. They all approach what I assume are the closed stacks when Flynn is told “You’re about to see something that few men have ever seen.� Does that mean lots of women have seen it? Nuh. This is dude territory, with the gals playing supporting roles.

(Land Rover commercial. Obviously, librarians are not the target audience of this movie.)

Flynn gets to see all the treasures kept in MPL. The first one, oddly enough, seems to be Ted Williams' head. No, wait. Olivia tells me that it’s Pandora’s Box . There’s other stuff, too. The sword in the stone. The goose that laid the golden egg. The lost ark. A jet pack from a James Bond movie (wacky moment). At this point, my friend Eric, a non-MLS librarian calls and we commiserate over the stereotypes we’ve already seen. We’ve worked with Flynn and Charlene (and so have you). We also talk about how awful the movie is so far.

They go around the closed stacks and Flynn is told, “the Secret of the Library has been kept for thousands of years.� I thought this was when they were going to divulge his salary, but Flynn starts skipping around like a kid in a candy store, looking at all the neato stuff. You know…the wonder and magic of knowledge.

The next day, Charlene and Flynn are trying to get into the building when Flynn jokes to boss lady that she’s a minute late and will have to dock herself. Heh heh. Then he gives her a coffee. Awwww. “I hate a kiss-ass,� she replies. (She is the best thing about this movie. I am adopting her as my role model.) Once they get in, they discover that the closed stacks have been broken into. Reviewing the security tape, they discover that it’s the work of the Serpent Brotherhood, plus one obligatory hot Asian chick, who have stolen the “Spear of Destiny.� Actually, it was only one piece of the spear, and whoever has all three pieces can control the world. With absolute gravity, Judson comments that Hitler had only one piece of the spear. (gulp) Wait...librarians have had a piece all this time? And what have we done with it? I think there needs to be a coup at the Metropolitan Public Library. I could make good use of that spear piece.

Our hero goes to dial the police when Charlene sarcastically tells him to go ahead, call the police, tell them about the Spear of Destiny and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and enjoy his visit in the psych ward. And I swear she followed up by saying, “I hear Thorazine comes in vanilla now.� Do tell. At this point, Flynn learns that the fate of the world is in his hands. He’s packed up and sent off to retrieve all three sword pieces. On the plane headed toward the Amazon, he’s seated next to the obligatory cold-fish, but oh-so-sexy British chick, Nicole. She’s more than a hostile seat mate.

It gets ridiculous(er) after this point.

The brotherhood and their hot chick are on the airplane as well. Combat ensues. Our hero is pushed out the plane and saved by the cold-fish-with-hidden-parachute hottie, who has been assigned to protect him. They land somewhere in the Amazon, and our know-all hero figures out exactly where they need to go after viewing the panorama from a tree. During their quest, our hero tries to draw out Nicole and learn more about her and the previous Librarian who everyone is loathe to discuss. She snarkily comments that Flynn probably has a girlfriend who has “big glasses, wears dirndl skirts and makes you watch the subtitles in documentaries.� Ouch!

Sitting near a campfire where they are roasting some sort of meat (endangered parrot or monkey?) our hero expresses self-doubt. “No one talks about The Librarian. Not even The Librarian,� protests Nicole. She’s warming up. He does a creepy “I know everything about you� spiel and she calls him a nerd. Only she draws it out—neeerd. Such a hateful word never sounded so appealing.

Darn it if they aren’t captured by generic Amazonian savages. Thank goodness, they speak Portuguese as does our hero. Flynn and Nicole are feted with a ritual mating dance (on which Flynn had written a master’s thesis). In the morning, Flynn is missing from the hut and Nicole runs out to find him hobnobbing with tribe. Relieved that he is alive, but angry that he has left her protection, she whaps him upside the head to which he replies, “What is this? Slap the librarian day?� This, I predict will go straight into the annals of greatest sig files of all time.

The bad guys, plus one, show up but hero and plucky gal pal escape. (I’m ready to give up at this point and feeling cheated that I have missed the Simpsons for this, but Olivia encourages me to stick it out.) The two end up at some pyramid where dramatic/adventure clichés abound—moving walls, flaming arrows, booby traps. Somehow, they get one of the three pieces of the spear, and upon exiting the pyramid are greeted by the bad guys, fronted by the last The Librarian, who everyone thought was dead, but just requested a transfer to the dark side (a metaphor for using your MLS to make tons of money in IT?). Hot chick goes up to Flynn to take the spear piece from him and whispers, “I really admire your work.� She so totally digs him, but she’s all about doing evil.

On they all go to the Himalayas to look for another spear piece. Somehow they get outfitted with inadequate outerwear, and sunglasses from the Bono collection. But, even in blizzard conditions, our hero shows his mettle by refusing to pull up the hood of his jacket. We are starting to see that he is one tough mofo. Just as the Not-Dead-But-Evil-Former-The Librarian is about to kill Flynn for taking him on a goose chase, they spy a sun-drenched scene of saffron-robed monks and a Buddhist temple, headed by the guy who played the sour emperor in The Princess Diaries. Ten steps from blizzard to balmy. Talk about your microclimates!

The last spear piece is retrieved from Buddha’s belly, bad kung fu fighting ensues (the monks just dive for cover), and again our heroes escape.

Now, here is the most important part of the movie: The Librarian gets drunk and laid! But, when he wakes up with cotton mouth and a throbbing head, the girl and the spear are gone. Was he “cahooted� or was his now-warm cold-fish honey kidnapped? This leads our hero back to the US where he discovers that the professor who booted him in the first place is Super Evil and in league with the Serpent dudes. And, as Olivia observed, “Librarian gonna kick some ass.� Librarians do kick ass, and win, with the money shot being the cat fight between the hot chicks. The Serpent chick wants The Librarian all to herself, but Brit Chick spits, “Get your own geek,� before cleaning her clock once and for all. Meow!

In yet another heavy-handed metaphor, we see our hero in a moment of quiet reflection in the closed stacks, where he Pulls-the-Sword-from-the-Stone. Ah…knowledge and geekiness are power. I get it.

Flynn has lunch with his mom who is still trying to hook him up, and questions this mysterious girlfriend he’s always talking about. He tells his mom “Being a librarian is a pretty cool job.� (Well, duh!) Nicole screeches up on a motorcycle, whips off her helmet and shakes out her hair. Introductions are made, Flynn is briefed on the latest crisis, and off they roar to save the day, with a fleet of ninjas right behind them. Please tell me that this does not leave the door open for a sequel.


He didn't need to read the book. Apparently, he'd read everything ever printed and committed it to memory.

We need a Joss Whedon to write a series about the library. Never seen anyone to do dramedy as well as he.

I just saw it (don't have cable either, a friend taped it) or as much as I could stomach -- and Rochelle's review was pretty darn good.

I will say that the Jane Curtin interview scene made me a little queasy (as it seems to resemble a great many actual job interviews I've heard about). The Noah Wyle smart-ass response, though, would just get him booted out on his butt in the "real world."

You've probably heard that the virtue of librarianship isn't knowing the answer, it's knowing where to find the answer.

And, yes, you are being pedantic. But, we'll do a movie about you next week. ;-)

I can tell this won't be pleasant ;-)

It was on the IFLA quotes list :)

Well, in some ways camp has a better fan base than the typical dramas or dramedies. Plus, look around at some of the characters in our libraries (patron, staff, and otherwise) could we be anything but a dramedy? Too much wackiness to be a drama, and too much brains to be a sitcom.

Pardon my less-than-perfect account. I was trying to scribble fast and furiously during the movie and passed up the chance to watch it two more times that night. My daughter has already set me straight on the fighting monk question. And she kept having to tell me that it was a spear, not a sword.

And, yes, you are being pedantic. But, we'll do a movie about you next week. ;-)

Now this is a triumph of librarianship: about 5 minutes of time elapsed between the posting of my pedantry and tangognat's posting of the actual quote with source.

"Mary Kay is one of the secret masters of the world: a librarian. They control information. Don't ever piss one off."
— The Callahan Touch

... but then I was a cataloger--and I liked it.

Flynn says the magic words, some cornball phrase about how it's what you know in your heart, not in your head, which counts.

In defense of poor Flynn, this line was fed to him earlier in the movie by his mother. So despite her general cluelessness, she provides the clue to his later happiness.

Re the introduction to Newhart's character: I think Newhart was depicted observing from a dark skybox sort of thing as Flynn was forcibly degreed by Dr. Whatsis-with-the-sinister-accent and cast out upon the hard paving stones of life.

"No one talks about The Librarian. Not even The Librarian"

I think it was more like "No one talks about The Librarian like that. Not even The Librarian". She was chastising him for putting himself down.

The creepy spiel: he did the same thing in the interview scene with Charlene. It's very much a Sherlock Holmes spiel--precisely the kind of observations (and from the same kinds of evidence) with which Holmes regales Watson and clients. Because of the Holmes allusion (or maybe because I'm a guy), I didn't find it creepy.

bad kung fu fighting ensues (the monks just dive for cover)

In defense of the monks, many of them were doing the bad kung-fu. Back-handed compliment?

I have seen some quote somewhere by some literary figure admonishing the reader not to mess with or cross librarians, as they hold the secrets of the universe. Personally, I think the writers had this quote in mind, and devised the premises and plot as a playful allusion to that quote. Not that this lends any merit to the movie.

Did you notice there were no computers in that library?!

Yeah, so where were the RSS feeds Charlene said everyone knows about generated, or read? Though perhaps this library generates no RSS feeds--we wouldn't want the Serpent Brotherhood keeping tabs on new acquisitions, now would we?

7 (wow this thing does not like one character responses so I added this sentence)

... the Bob Hope movie with Jane Russell where he starts off nearly useless and becomes a "hero" at the end.

By the time the airplane's door was opened in mid-flight and the cabin remained pressurized, I just couldn't take it seriously anymore and I just enjoyed it a heck of a lot more.

My own colour commentary is hereorcas.net>.

Do you have 22 degrees, though? Fess up, now!

I haven't watched it, yet I have it tivo'ed ( I don't pay for TIVO my brother gave it to me after they moved as they have some new cable service that does the same thing.).

However what is wrong with having a lot of college degrees, I started college at 16 and this is the first semester I have not attended at least half time since then. (Yes my student loan debt is greater than my salary.)

Pull the sword from the stone....we have that problem with some of the fellas who use our computers.

What is this slap the librarian day?

Don't tell me I'm the only one who watched this...

Well, he did pick a book off the shelf. Of course, then he put it right back. :) Did you notice there were no computers in that library?!

Do it.

I saw it and it was funnier with beer, at least.

I always thought Boston Public was a good model for a library drama. No...we're relegated to camp. Ah, well.

Full agreeement that it's not a recruiting tool, nor did it do us any harm IMHO. Your over-the-top review makes sense in light of the camp movie and the audience that you were writing for.

I've fantasized that one day there could be a TV drama, like ER or Law and Order (better yet, St. Elsewhere!) that is set in a library and shows librarians as realish people doing important work. The
St. Elsewhere
museum.tv> model of an ensemble cast with quality guest actors guesting each week would be great. Any aspiring writers out there want to take a crack at a script? :-)


Well, My Dad watched it and thought it was very funny. I am not sure that is what the producers were going for but Dad seemed to enjoy laughing at it. I saw the second half, because I watched the Simpsons, and the watched the first bit when it came back on. Now, I'll say this as a huge MST3K fan and lover of bad movies, this was lame.

I would call the acting B- to C+. The writing was clever but there were major holes in the story.

I'm not someone who gets terribly het up about stereotypes, but we were asked to look at it from a PR standpoint, and this just didn't cut it as a recruiting tool, I'm afraid.

It was enjoyable from a camp standpoint and I didn't mean to come off as an uptight bun-wearer. I was going for an over-the-top review to match the subject.

I should also say that I'm not a Buffy, Tomb Raider or adventure fan in general, so it wasn't really my thang to begin with. But, it was fun sitting with my daughter and giving it a good go-over.

I watched The Librarian last night, along with my (currently enrolled in LIS school) wife, and we got quite a kick out of it.

It was a campy, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, but it was good fun! Bob Newhart's performance was priceless, and Jane Curtain was, well, Jane Curtain. Noah Wyle showed a nice capacity for comic timing and delivery. The fact that it was an obvious melding of Buffy and Indiana didn't detract one bit. The writing and acting was solid B work. (what more can you expect from a made-for-tv TNT flick?)

I don't think this cute little movie poses any danger to the image of librarians. And if it does, how weak are we??? What hurts us is when we respond to these portrayals in a humorless, overly-serious manner. That's what feeds and reinforces the negative stereotype of the unsmiling, stern librarian.

If you taped it, watch it and decide for yourself.

I'm glad my wife, Susan, and I sat down and watched Emeril on the Food Network. That was much more interesting from what is said in the review.

Fell asleep (second showing) at the point in your review when "it gets ridiculouser."

I hate to be redundant, but I must add that I was not very impressed with it either. When and where did he do anything resembling library work? Please. I didn't watch past the first half. I did enjoy the review, though!

They ran it again immediately after the first showing! AUghhh!!! I haven't read any outsider reviews yet.

I watched part of it. Your vanilla thorazine quote was accurate. Man, it was lame!

Based on your review I'd say I was busy living a more normal librarian's life. I was drinking beer and shooting pool with coworkers and enjoying our annual Christmas party.

Its on TNT, so I'm sure I'll catch it again within the next few weeks during its many replays.

I do not have cable at home. It is supposedly recorded on the DVR at Grandma's house. After what you had to say, I am now wondering if I should just go ahead when I visit Grandma today (her house is one block away from where my parents live) and just hit erase...