50 Fictional Librarians, Ranked
Here at Literary Hub, we love librarians. I mean, really everything about them—their knowledge, their kindness, their demon-slaying abilities. If you love them too, then you probably feel a little jolt of extra excitement whenever they show up in pop culture. Or, okay, maybe you aren’t a total nerd, but here you are looking at my ranking of fictional librarians, so I think it’s a fair bet that you are. (Don’t worry—it’s a good thing.) Either way, now that you’re here, please enjoy this totally unscientific, clearly incomplete, undoubtedly age-biased ranking of the best fictional librarians from film, literature, television, and the internet. Feel free to add on ad infinitum in the comments; that’s what comments are for.
50. Mary Hatch, It’s a Wonderful Life
Home library: Pottersville library
Special talents: Being a figment of George’s imagination, and also screaming?
The catch: Mary’s only a dowdy librarian in the world in which George had never been born—quelle horreur! He must save her from this fate of books and cute spectacles . . .
49. Helena Bonham Carter, the music video for “Out of the Game“
Home library: the Library of the Zoological Society of London
Special talents: Cigarette crushing, lip-synching, fantasizing, online shopping.
Rufus Wainwright on HBC: “[The video] features the two of us being naughty in the library. We have been friends for years. Not only is she very beautiful, very glamorous, but she is also incredibly funny. At the end of the video she is basically wearing a bra. So I very much appreciate her friendship for furthering my career.”
48. Miss Dalton, “The Librarian,” SNL
Home library: Villines Academy library
Special talents: Um, you’ll have to watch to find out.
File under: Lampshading lazy tropes
47. Madam Pince, Harry Potter
Home library: Hogwarts School Library
Special talents: Feather duster-wielding, glaring, prowling, being resolutely unhelpful
He who folds a leaf down, the devil toast brown: “Despoiled! Desecrated! Befouled!”
Seriously, though, what librarian pissed off Jo: “Madam Pince, the librarian, was a thin, irritable woman who looked like an underfed vulture.” AND “They waited, and a moment later the vulturelike countenance of Madam Pince appeared around the corner, her sunken cheeks, her skin like parchment, and her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying.”
46. The Librarian, aka Margaret Gesner, Monsters University
Home library: Monsters University Library
Special talents: Uncanny hearing ability, tentacles.
Fair warning: “In a real Scare, you do not want to get caught by a kid’s parent. And in this event, you do not want to get caught by . . . the librarian.”
45. Sally Diamon, Chainsaw Sally
Home library: Porterville Public Library
Special talents: Librarian by day . . . serial killer by night!
Here be consequences: “Is it not true that in June of last year you checked out a book from the public library? And is it not true that since then that book has not been able to be checked out by any other patron of the Porterville Public Library? Is it?”
44. Unidentified Librarian (Stan Lee), The Amazing Spider-Man
Home library: Midtown Science High School library
Special talents: Primarily ignoring the epic monster fight going on right behind him; also he’s really pulling off that bow tie
King of the cameo: Honestly.
43. Files and Records, Angel
Home library: Wolfram & Hart files and records room
Special talents: Knowing everything that is in every single file, selling Progressive Insurance (wait)
Why you should always ask the librarian before you spend hours searching: “I’m Files and Records. It’s my job.”
42. Karen, “Karen”
Home library: University of Queensland Library
Special talents: helps you find Hemingway, helps you find Genet, helps you find Brecht, helps you find Chandler, helps you find James Joyce, always makes the right choice!
You’ll just have to: listen for yourself.
41. Jenny, Love Story
Home library: Radcliffe library
Special talents: Spunk, perfect shiny hair, music appreciation
Introductory dialogue (from the book, mind you): “I’m not talking legality, Preppie, I’m talking ethics. You guys have five million books. We have a few lousy thousand.”
40. Miriam Radford, Murder, She Wrote, “Murder Takes the Bus”
Home library: Not on this bus.
Special talents: Knitting, swooning, fangirling, swiping first editions
You always knew: One appearance by Blanche makes any episode a classic.
39. Betty Lou Perkins, The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag
Home library: every small town library outside of New Orleans
Special talents: Finding murder weapons, knowing an opportunity to get her husband’s attention when she sees one, cleaning up extremely well
On the poster: Bugsy, Capone, Clyde, Betty Lou Perkins?
38. Dr. Abigail Chase, National Treasure
Home library: the National Archives
Special talents: performing acrobatics in formalwear, treasure hunting, falling in love with kidnappers
Snotty retort: “Did Bigfoot take it?”
37. Connie Randall, No Man of Her Own
Home library: Glendale library
Special talents: Flipping coins, flipping cons, those eyes, Carole.
#same: “Sometimes I go out into the woods and scream, just to keep from bursting.”
36. The Loud Librarian, All That
Home library: unidentified library populated by teens and SHH! signs.
Special talents: Jackhammering, chainsaw operation, bowling, etc.
AKA: Mrs. Hushbaum
It’s ironic: “QUIET!!!!!!! THIS IS A LIBRARY!!!!!!!
35. Ardelia Lortz, The Library Policeman
Home library: Junction City Public Library
Special talents: Feeding on fear, forcing sad men to do her bidding, inhabiting humans, seduction
Run, Sam: “I’ve been in the business a long, long time, Sam. And they’re not renewable, so be sure to get them back by April sixth . . . Or else I’ll have to send the Library Policeman after you.”
34. The Librarian, “Quiet, Please” by Aimee Bender
Home library: Unknown town library, apparently basically unsupervised
Special talents: Creative grieving?
The crux of it: “She is amazed as she glances around to see how many attractive men there are that day. they are everywhere: leaning over the wood tables, straight-backed in the aisles, men flipping pages with nice hands. The librarian, on this day, the day of her father’s death, is overwhelmed by an appetite she has never felt before and she waits for another one of them to approach her desk.”
33. John Lewis, Only Two Can Play
Home library: Aberdarcy Library, Wales
Special talents: Failing at having an affair, being Peter Sellers
Fighting words: “You’re going to get it in a moment, boy-o, and not in blank verse either.”
Based on: Kingsley Amis’s That Uncertain Feeling
32. Lucy Hull, The Borrower
Home library: the Hannibal public library, Missouri
Special talents: Encouraging children to read, kidnapping
Time passes: “I hated that I’d started to look like a librarian. This wasn’t right. In college, I’d smoked things. My first car had angry bumper stickers. I came from a long line of revolutionaries.”
31. Nan Perry (and Alec Leamas, in a supporting role), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
Home library: Bayswater Library for Psychic Research
Special talents: Mostly being a pawn, to be fair.
Her name was originally Liz Gold: John le Carré basically liked the film, but complained: “In The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, two idealistic Communists, one an innocent woman librarian from London, the other a member of East German Intelligence, are callously sacrificed for the greater good of the Western (capitalist) cause. Both are Jews (although in the film, for reasons I never understood, the innocent librarian, played by Claire Bloom, was not allowed to be Jewish).”
30. The Librarian, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966
Home library: San Francisco Public Library, Presidio Branch
Special talents: living happily in a very strange library that will take any book submitted, unpublished manuscripts and books written in crayon included.
Oh, modesty: “You must live a very lonely life with all the losers and dingalings, myself included, that bring their books in here.”
Fun fact: In 1990, a Brautigan fan named Todd Lockwood opened a version of the library imagined in this book in Burlington, Vermont and called it the Brautigan Library. It now lives in the Clark County Historical Museum Vancouver, Washington.
29. The Cheshire Cat, Thursday Next series
Home library: the Great Library
Special talents: Encyclopedic knowledge of every book in the library (“certainly more than twelve”), summoning.
Also known as: the Cat Formerly Known as Cheshire
Also known as: the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat
Also known as (to his mother): Archibald
Rings a bell: “Welcome to Jurisfiction. You’ll like it here; everyone is quite mad.”
28. Conan the Librarian, UHF, etc.
Home library: Perhaps your local library?
Special talents: Swordplay, holding large stacks of books, cutting patrons with late books right in half.
Unhelpful: “Don’t you know the Dewey decimal system?”
Introductory comments: “Never before in the history of motion pictures has there been a screen presence so commanding, so powerful, so deadly. He’s . . . Conan the Librarian!”
27. Peggy Cort, The Giant’s House
Home library: the Brewsterville Library
Special talents: The driest of wits, seeing below the surface, devotion
Smashing tropes: “Librarian (like Stewardess, Certified Public Accountant, Used Car Salesman) is one of those occupations that people assume attract a certain deformed personality. Librarians are supposed to be bitter spinsters; grudging, lonely. And above all stingy we love our fine money, our silence.”
26. Alicia Hull, Storm Center
Home library: Bartlesville Public Library (at least IRL)
Special talents: Steadfastness in the face of censorship, mentoring, Bette Davis eyes
Paranoia personified: “Sure she talks sweet as honey. All the time you can bet she was working away back there. She has twenty five years to fill those shelves with poison. She and those books of hers. All they want is one thing: smash and destroy. Smash everything we’ve ever built up in this country.”
Fun fact: Described by some as the first anti-McCarthyism film to be produced in Hollywood.
25. Henry DeTamble, The Time Traveler’s Wife
Home library: the Newberry Library, Chicago
Special talents: Involuntary time travel
Order = immortality: “Here all of nature was captured, labeled, arranged according to a logic that seemed as timeless as if ordered by God. . . The museum was dark, cold, and old, and this heightened the sense of suspension, of time and death brought to a halt inside its walls.
24. The Librarian, Snow Crash
Home library: the CIC database, formerly the Library of Congress
Special talents: moving “through the nearly infinite stacks of information in the Library with the agility of a spider dancing across a vast web of cross-references. The Librarian is the only piece of CIC software that costs even more than Earth; the only thing he can’t do is think.”
Stereotypical appearance: “like a pleasant, fifty-ish, silver-haired, bearded man with bright blue eyes, wearing a V-neck sweater over a work shirt, with a coarsely-woven, tweedy-looking wool tie. The tie is loosened, the sleeves pushed up.”
Same: “Sorry—but due to my internal structure, I’m a sucker for non sequiturs.”
23. Mr. Ambrose, Bob’s Burgers
Home library: Wagstaff School library
Special talents: Coaching cheerleading, but more importantly DRAMA, witchcraft (obviously)
The truth is whispered: “Books are great! No, use the internet, books are stupid!”
The truth is shouted: “Wake up Tina! Witches are everywhere!”
22. The Grey Lady, Ghostbusters
Home library: the New York Public Library
Special talents: Silence, book stacking, shapeshifting.
Fun fact: the famous Ghostbusters library ghost was portrayed by Ruth Hale Oliver, who was an author herself.
21. Brooks Hatlen, The Shawshank Redemption
Home library: Shawshank State Penitentiary library
Special talents: Animal Husbandry, surprising strength for an older gentleman
Last words: “Brooks was here.”
20. Marian the Librarian, The Music Man
Home library: River City Library
Special talents: Singing, seeing through people, advocating “dirty books” (Chaucer! Rabelais! Balzac!)
Classic joke: What do you want to take out? The librarian!
Very bad banter: If I stumbled and I busted my what-you-may-call-it / I could lie on your floor unnoticed / ‘Till my body had turned to carrion . . . Madam Librarian!
Fun fact: Marian Paroo was based on Marian Seeley, a medical records librarian from Provo, Utah, whom creator Meredith Willson met in California during World War II.
19. Wan Shi Tong, The Last Airbender
Home Library: Wan Shi Tong’s Spirit Library
Special talents: Long life, library burial, purity of spirit
Harsh but fair: “I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things, and you are obviously humans; which, by the way, are no longer permitted in my study.”
18. Flynn Carsen, The Librarian(s)
Home library: Metropolitan Public Library
Special talents: Above-average intelligence (22 academic degrees in the bag by 31), particularly with languages, below-average self-confidence. Also, eventually, swordfighting.
I feel you: “The fate of the world is in my hands, that is just so . . . sad.”
17. Mrs. Phelps, Matilda
Home library: Matilda Wormwood’s local public library
Special talents: Compassion, patience, hiding her astonishment, minding her own business
Hard same: “A fine writer will always make you feel [that you’re witnessing the events of the book as they happen] . . . And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.”
16. Jorge of Burgos, The Name of the Rose
Home library: the labyrinthine library of an unnamed Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy
Special talents: Masterminding, fanaticism, secretly controlling the actual librarian
Banned books: Literally poisons the book he doesn’t want the other monks to read (Aristotle’s second Poetics, his lost treatise on humor) so that those who do die slow deaths; ends up eating it himself and burning down the library around himself.
Not fun at parties: “Laughter, for a few moments, distracts the villain from fear. But law is imposed by fear, whose true name is fear of God. This book could strike the Luciferine spark that would set a new fire to the whole world, and laughter would be defined as the new art, unknown even to Prometheus, for cancelling fear. To the villain who laughs, at that moment, dying does not matter: but then, when the license is past, the liturgy once again imposes on him, according to the divine plan, the fear of death. And from this book, there could be born the new destructive aim to destroy death through redemption from fear. And what would we be—we sinful creatures—without fear, perhaps the most foresighted, the most loving of the divine gifts?”
15. Oshima, Kafka on the Shore
Home library: Komura Memorial Library
Special talents: Keeping his shirt unwrinkled, music appreciation, driving being the calm in the center of the storm
Curse/blessing of the poetry librarian: “No one comes here to read the latest Stephen King novel.”
Bliss, man: “If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of—that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging.”
14. The narrator, “The Library of Babel”
Home library: The universe (which others call the Library)
Special talents: Searching, storytelling
Books as religion: “We also know of another superstition of that time: that of the Man of the Book. On some shelf in some hexagon (men reasoned) there must exist a book which is the formula and perfect compendium of all the rest: some librarian has gone through it and he is analogous to a god. In the language of this zone vestiges of this remote functionary’s cult still persist. Many wandered in search of Him. For a century they have exhausted in vain the most varied areas. How could one locate the venerated and secret hexagon which housed Him? Someone proposed a regressive method: To locate book A, consult first book B which indicates A’s position; to locate book B, consult first a book C, and so on to infinity … In adventures such as these, I have squandered and wasted my years.”
Now that’s devotion: “Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born.”
13. Romney Wordsworth, The Twilight Zone (“The Obsolete Man”)
Home library: There are no more libraries.
Special talents: Obsolescence, crafty defiance, furniture-building.
Damning verdict: “Since there are no more books, Mr.Wordsworth, there are no more libraries, and of course, as it follows , there is very little call for the services of a librarian. . . You have no function, Mr.Wordsworth. You’re an innacuranism, like a ghost from another time . . . You’re a bug, Mr. Wordsworth. A crawling insect. An ugly, misformed, little creature, that has no purpose here, no meaning! . . . You’re a librarian, Mr. Wordsworth. You’re a dealer in books and two cent finds and pamphlets in closed stacks in the musty finds of a language factory that spews meaningless words on an assembly line. WORDS, Mr. WORDSworth. That have no substance, no dimension, like air, like the wind. Like a vacuum, that you make believe have an existence, by scribbling index numbers on little cards.
Honestly: “Delusions, Mr. Wordsworth, DELUSIONS! That you inject into your veins with printer’s ink, the narcotics you call literature: The Bible, poetry, essays, all kinds, all of it are opiate to make you think you have a strength, when you have no strength at all! You are nothing, but spindly limbs and a dream, and The State has no use for your kind!”
In sum: “A case to be filed under “M” for mankind—in the Twilight Zone.”
12. Bunny Watson, Desk Set
Home library: Federal Broadcasting Network reference library
Special talents: Taking on the computers, holding court at booze-soaked office parties.
Even better than an electronic brain: “I associate many things with many things.”
Assigned reading: “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight,” by Rose Hartwick Thorpe.
Vintage forever: Even minor Hepburn & Tracy is better than most movies.
11. Zelda Schiff, The Magicians
Home library: Library of the Neitherlands
Special talents: Adherence to duty, performing prissiness, battle magic, ASL
The Head Librarian explains: “Well, every book is here—all the books ever written, all the books never written, all the books of all the people who ever lived. . . . People who read their books often discover they don’t like the main character and are rarely happy with how it ends.”
See also: late-game Penny (sorry!)
10. Mr. Dewey, aka The Pagemaster, aka the Keeper of the Books and Guardian of the Written Word, The Pagemaster
Home library: Unknown local library
Special talents: Making children love literature, extravagant facial hair, transforming into a cartoon
Why was this movie ever panned: Patrick Stewart is Adventure, Whoopi Goldberg is Fantasy, Leonard Nimoy is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—and then there’s Christopher Lloyd
It’s a trick, kid: “Proceed in a northeasterly direction until you get to the rotunda, and from there head west through the fiction section. And you’ll find it. A public telephone. You can’t miss it. Don’t be afraid, boy. If you lose your way, merely direct yourself back to the exit sign.”
Heartwarming takeaway: Turns out books really are magic.
9. Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson and Poussey Washington, Orange is the New Black
Home library: Litchfield Penitentiary library
Special talents: Law, ringleading (Taystee), German, singing (Poussey)
Meticulous shelving: “Yeah, all right. Just make sure you reshelve this book in its proper place. We on Dewey decimal and shit in here. Don’t let me find no aquatic sports over in paranormal phenomena.”
Favorite books: Harry Potter, obviously.
8. Lt. Bookman, Seinfeld
Home library: the New York Public Library
Special talents: Dedication, dedication, dedication.
Which came first: “Bookman? The library investigator’s name is actually Bookman?”
Bookman lays down the law: Well, let me tell you something, funny boy. Y’know that little stamp, the one that says “New York Public Library”? Well that may not mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole hell of a lot. Sure, go ahead, laugh if you want to. I’ve seen your type before: Flashy, making the scene, flaunting convention. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What’s this guy making such a big stink about old library books? Well, let me give you a hint, junior. Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we’re too old to change the world, but what about that kid, sitting down, opening a book, right now, in a branch at the local library and finding drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees on The Cat in the Hat and The Five Chinese Brothers? Doesn’t HE deserve better? Look. If you think this is about overdue fines and missing books, you’d better think again. This is about that kid’s right to read a book without getting his mind warped! Or: maybe that turns you on, Seinfeld; maybe that’s how y’get your kicks. You and your good-time buddies. Well I got a flash for ya, joy-boy: Party time is over. Y’got seven days, Seinfeld. That is one week!
Life lesson: There’s a big difference between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.
See also: Marian the librarian (+ Kramer 4 Ever)
7. Tammy II, Parks and Recreation
Home library: Department of Library Services, Pawnee
Special talents: Manipulation, seduction, being Queen of the punk-ass book jockeys
Is it better to be feared or loved: “The library? Pawnee’s library department is the most diabolical, ruthless bunch of bureaucrats I’ve ever seen. They’re like a biker gang. Only instead of shotguns and crystal meth, they use political savvy and shushing.”
Feared, probably: “Why do we hate the library? The library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history.
They’re mean, conniving, rude, and extremely well read, which makes them very dangerous.”
I wonder why: “Have you ever messed with a man’s head just to see what you can get him to do for you? We do it all the time, in the library department.”
6. Lucien, Sandman
Home library: the library in the Castle at the center of the Dreaming
Special talents: Steadfastness, loyalty, reaching high places
Chief duties: maintaining every book that has ever been dreamed or imagined, until that book is actually written in the real world (at which point the copy in Lucien’s library bursts into flames)
Keeping it tight: D”o you know how long it’s been since I mislaid a book? Well, let’s just say the continents weren’t in their current shapes, not that that means anything to you.”
5. Evelyn Carnahan, The Mummy
Home library: Cairo Museum of Antiquities
Special talents: Egyptology, translation, bravery.
Classic quote: “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… I am a librarian.”
Whoops: “It’s just a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.”
Apropos of nothing: Baby Rachel Weisz!!!
4. The Librarian, Discworld Universe
Home library: Unseen University Library
Special talents: Scaling high shelves, reading grimoires fatal to humans, intimidation, general orangutan-ness; also L-space travel, organ (and keyboard), organization
The only unbreakable rule is the second one: “The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned no later than the last date shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.”
Blending in with the books: “If someone ever reported that there was an orangutan in the Library, the wizards would probably go and ask the Librarian if he’d seen it.”
3. Dr. Barbara Gordon, Batman universe
Home Library: Gotham City Public Library
Special talents: Judo, uncommon intelligence, uncommon resilience
Iconic novelty mug: Old Librarians Never Die . . . They Just Get Mis-Filed!
2. Mary, Party Girl
Home library: New York Public Library
Special talents: “Partying, flirting, making stuff up, throwing parties, having fun,” forgetting to close the windows, personal style . . . and (eventually) the Dewey Decimal System.
Judy lays it down: “It amazes me how you can come here every day and absorb no knowledge of the system. A trained monkey learns this system on PBS in a matter of hours.”
Fair self-assessment: “Keith Richards would make a better librarian than me!”
I’ve heard that one before: “He’s not a dick, he’s a patron.”
1. Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Home library: Sunnydale High library
Special talents: Watching (obviously), traditionally English understatements, getting knocked out, taking his glasses off and rubbing the bridge of his nose, acting in loco parentis, acoustic guitar, not being a hero.
Best luddite quote: “Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a-a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and-and-and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a . . . it, uh, it has no-no texture, no-no context. It’s-it’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then-then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible. It should be, um, smelly.”
Extra credit: “Xander, don’t speak Latin in front of the books.”