List Envy
List Envy
Mar 29, 2021
42: Top 5 fictional librarians
Play • 1 hr 5 min


Owen Stephens

Librarian. “What else is there to say?”

Many people are intrigued by the depiction of their profession in popular fiction, and none more so than librarians, like this week’s guest Owen Stephens.

Owen’s picks

In order of discussion:

Bunny Watson

The TV company researcher and librarian played by Katharine Hepburn in the 1957 film Desk Set is top of Owen’s list for her quick wit and style. The film itself is a story that could be told today, and has perhaps only become more prescient.


“It’s better to be a librarian than part of the collection”, so goes the advice given to the librarian in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series of novels, who uses her place of work as a means of escape and exploration.

Oswald Bates

Played by Timothy Spall in Stephen Poliakoff’s Shooting the Past – because that’s exactly who you cast – Bates fights tooth and nail against property developers intent on turning the stately home that houses his library into a business school.

Tammy Swanson

Tammy II, as she is less-than-affectionately known in the US sitcom Parks and Recreation, is the Deputy Director of Library Services in Pawnee Indiana, played blindingly by Megan Mullally. Although she has broken Ron’s heart on multiple occasions, driven him to distraction and corn rows, the worst thing about her is that “she works for the library”.

Mark’s picks

In order of discussion:

Horace Worblehat

The Unseen University is the school of wizardry in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels, games and TV films. Its librarian is an orangutan who once purportedly went by the name of Horace Worblehat, but was turned into an ape via a magical accident in the first Discworld novel, and found that “being an orangutan has certain advantages”.

Mrs Phelps

Mark picked the kind woman at the desk of the public library frequented by Roald Dahl’s Matilda as his second choice, as she was the catalyst that propelled our heroine forwards, allowing her to explore and unlock more knowledge.

Brooks Hatlen

For his third pick, Mark went with the librarian at Shawshank prison, in the Stephen King short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption from Different Seasons. His [spoiler alert] death is what sets up the expectation of Red’s post-prison life

Joe Bookman

The “library cop” Lt Bookman, played by Philip Baker Hall is Mark’s sitcom pick. His job is to track down “library delinquets” like our hero Jerry Seinfeld. See him in action.

Honourable mentions

More of Owen Stephens

You can follow @ostephens on Twitter, or find him working on the Folio open source library project.


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