Libraries’ Leading Roles: On Stage, On Screen And In Song

Silence in the LibraryWhen I was 9, I spent a lot of time at a public library just down the street; I was already a theater nerd, and it had a well-stocked theater section. Not just books, but original cast albums for Broadway shows old and new. One day, an addition: The Music Man, about a salesman who was crazy about a girl named, as one song put it, “Marrrrrrrion, madam librarian.”

I just assumed our librarian, who was maybe 23, was that most regrettable of midcentury things, a “spinster.” (She was so much older than my baby-sitters.) Later I learned that The Music Man was spoofing that idea, by making Marian young — maybe 23 — and sexy once she let down her hair and utterly irresistible to the traveling salesman, who’d presumably had many a fling.

But then of course the Spinster Librarian is a durable literary construct and hardly the only one I picked up from pop culture. Others include librarians as detectives, libraries as fortresses protecting us from ignorance, whole science-fiction worlds devoted to the storage of ideas and history. Like, say, the deserted planet in that seems the only remaining trace of an entire civilization.

It’s hardly surprising that writers, who deal all the time with words, would find fascination in great repositories of them — Jorge Luis Borges, imagining the universe as a “Library of Babel” containing all possible books; Neil Gaiman stocking Lucien’s Library, , with every volume anyone has ever dreamed of writing but never written; George Lucas imagining holobooks and datasticks for his Jedi Temple library; a whole universe’s worth of knowledge stored in Doctor Who on a planet-sized library that contains whole continents of biographies.

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