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The Hollywood Librarian: Constructive Suggestions

At Saturday’s “Do Libraries Innovate?” debate (which morphed into “Can ALA be Saved?”, though that was fun too), I got up my nerve to share part of my assessment about The Hollywood Librarian, a movie about librarians long, long in the making. Well-framed blog posts are popping up all over, but LJ’s article summarizes the key issues: Nice Idea, Jumbled Execution, Dubious Marketing Plan.

LJ quotes my additional concerns that the movie focuses on the image of librarian-as-victim… such as a director who matter-of-factly notes she has no pension! The movie lingered far too long on the problems at Salinas without taking the viewer anywhere useful.

And where, oh where is the technology? Or the beautiful buildings (um, I’ll pass on the Seattle library as an example — it looks like something my icemaker produces when it jams — but point taken)? The savvy techno-librarians? Plus much as we all care about privacy and free speech, the Patriot Act references felt dated.

The really good parts — such as Jamie Larue explaining why he became a librarian, a moment with Ray Bradbury, a great scene with a gruff, lovable librarian who happened to be Katherine Hepburn’s sister, and the inevitable clips of librarians in movies — get lost in the movie’s excruciatingly over-long narrative muddle. We needed Desk Set Part Deux, and we got WaterWorld.

Then there’s the marketing plan, where libraries are supposed to show this movie for money, some of which goes to Seidl’s organization and some of it to libraries. A number of blogs have already commented on the difficulties inherent with this plan, but the key problem is that I don’t want the public seeing this movie. We don’t need more messages that librarians are doe-eyed female martyrs willing to set aside their need for real pay and a decent pension in order to keep libraries open, and it would also be nice to get across the message that for a number of reasons, libraries can be fun and useful for middle-class home-owners, who are the financial backbone for many libraries in the first place.

So here’s my plan.

First, shelve the marketing plan. This movie is not ready for prime time.

Establish a board to help guide the footage from rough cut to reality. We do not have many librarian filmmakers, but we have a lot of librarians who know a good plot when they see one. This should be an editorial board, and yes, I would serve on it.

Help the movie find proper venues. Others have commented that a tight, focused one-hour documentary would be perfect for PBS. I like that idea, but it’s not the only one by far. Librarians from the world of video reviewing could be recruited to help with the “market focus” issues, or some benefactor could buy consulting time with whoever helps indy documentaries get born.

That’s it. For all my reservations about the movie as it now stands, there’s a lot of good footage to work with. I had a writing instructor, Michelle Richmond, who once comforted me after a tough workshop by saying that one of the great things about writing is that if you have good material, you can take the cake apart, reassemble it, and put it back in the oven again. Seidl has vision, drive, and stick-to-it-ivness; I’m hoping she has the energy to put on her apron and get to work to remix her ingredients into the movie we all need.

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