Librarians in Fiction

As a trainee Teacher-Librarian, I’m interested in the way that librarians are portrayed in fiction and popular culture.  Often, they are stereotyped as awkward, glasses-wearing older women who like to ‘shhh’ people.  But this is not always the case!  I’d like to share some of my all time favourite librarians in fiction.

Henry DeTamble

'Newberry Library, familiar to readers of The Time Traveler's Wife, but not open to the general public' by  Sylvar (Flickr image, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Newberry Library, familiar to readers of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but not open to the general public‘ by Sylvar (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)

One of my favourite books is The Time-Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.  This novel is about Henry DeTamble, who suffers from ‘Chrono-Displacement Disorder’, which results in him involuntarily travelling forwards and backwards in time.  He has no say in when or where he will travel, or how long he will be there.  He also can’t take anything with him when he travels – so he turns up in random times and places with no money, no identification, and no clothes.  Henry works as a librarian in the Newberry Library in Chicago, and at times has to come up for explanations as to why he is in the stacks with no clothes on.

Andy Dufresne

One of my all-time favourite movies is The Shawshank Redemption, so I couldn’t make a list of favourite fictional librarians without including Andy Dufresne.  The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy who is imprisoned for life for a crime he did not commit.  Andy becomes the prison librarian, and works tirelessly to turn the library from what is little more than  a storage cupboard to a beautiful library, which he uses to help several other inmates achieve their high-school qualifications.

The Cheshire Cat and Thursday Next

I’ve put these two together because they’re both from the same series of books – the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.  This is one of my all-time favourite series of books – I love the way that Fforde creates such an amazing and bizarre world.  Set in an alternate-reality world where the Crimean War never ended, Wales is a socialist republic and literature is taken VERY seriously, this series of hilarious and sometimes baffling books centers around ‘literary detective’ Thursday Next, who discovers how to jump into books and become part of the story.

The Cheshire Cat

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  In the Thursday Next series, the Great Library, which features every book ever written, is managed by the Cheshire Cat.

“The Cheshire Cat was the libarian and the first person I had met in the BookWorld.  With a penchant for non sequiturs and obtuse comments, it was hard not to like him.” (Fforde, 2003, p. 71)

“You’re the Cheshire Cat, aren’t you ?” I asked.
“I was the Cheshire Cat,” he replied with a slightly aggrieved air. “But they moved the county boundaries, so technically speaking I am now the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.” (Fforde, 2002, p. 164)

Thursday Next

In the most recent book of the series, The Woman Who Died a Lot, our heroine Thursday herself becomes a librarian – but librarians in the Fforde universe are a little different from the ones we know!  These librarians are armed, and dressed in camoflage so they can blend in with the bookshelves.  You don’t want to return your library book late in this world!

Fforde himself obviously has a great respect for librarians, with the dedication at the beginning of The Woman Who Died a Lot stating:

“To all the librarians
that have ever been
ever will be
are now
this book is respectfully dedicated” (Fforde, 2012)

Rupert Giles

I’ve left the best for last.  Rupert Giles, librarian and watcher from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is hands-down my favourite librarian ever.  On the surface, he appears to be a stereotypical, tweed-wearing, tea-drinking librarian who spends most of his time cleaning his glasses.  But like nearly every character in this series, there is more to him than meets the eye.  In his younger days, Giles experimented with black magic and was known as “Ripper”.  He can hold his own in a fight, and is trained to use a variety of weapons.  Giles was a father figure for Buffy, and brought a heart and warmth to the show.

What are your thoughts?

Who are your favourite fictional librarians, and why?

Fforde, J. (2002). Lost in a Good Book. London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fforde, J. (2003). The Well of Lost Plots. London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fforde, J. (2012). The Woman Who Died a Lot.  London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.
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3 thoughts on “Librarians in Fiction

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post Kirsten! Personally, I’m a big fan of Evelyn from “The Mummy”. She obviously perpetuates some of the spectacle-wearing stereotypes of the female-librarian-who-is-really-beautiful-underneath – but I love her passion for the books and the whole ancient Egyptian adventure storyline. Throw in a bit of Brendan Fraser and what’s not to like? Irresistible!

  2. Definitely time for me to explore those Thursday Next books I believe. I am also a fan of Giles from Buffy. Loved that Buffy’s crowd used to spend so much time in the library as they felt nobody else was likely to come in. Giles was a great librarian in terms of knowing his collection – lots on the occult but I don’t remember too much outreach to the school community or information literacy. I suppose something has to give when there is an apocalypse to deal with every season.
    Another entry for me would be the librarian from Unseen University in the Discworld novels. An orangutan of limited vocabulary but forceful disposition.

    1. I would definitely recommend the Thursday Next books. I myself need to get around to starting the Discworld novels! I’ve been meaning to for ages but there are so many it’s kinda daunting.

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