This article was originally posted on Feb. 5, 2019.
During Oscar season, cinephiles reflect on their favorite movies of the year and lament the great movies and actors always inevitably left out of the Oscar nominations. (See “Librarians Discuss the Oscar Nominees” for opinions on some of this year’s nominees and snubs.)
When all of the politicking and lack of inclusivity of the Oscars gets you down, it’s a good time to remind yourself why you fell in love with movies in the first place. Here are some librarians’ thoughts on why movies are important to them.
Cecilia Cygnar, adult program coordinator at Niles-Maine District Library in Illinois, says watching movies has always been a big part of her life. “From the first time my mother put me in front of the TV to watch The Sound of Music when I was about four, I’ve been enchanted with film. When we got a VCR, I discovered Alfred Hitchcock, which led to explorations of Cary Grant and James Stewart and Doris Day and Grace Kelly, among others. That all led to discoveries of more directors and actors, both classic and contemporary.”
Cygnar took film aesthetics courses in college. “There, I discovered the French New Wave and Neorealism. I fell in love with filmmakers from John Ford to Martin Scorsese. Which is why, when I became a librarian, I was eventually put in charge of ordering the movies, thus leading to my passion and profession merging. Every day at work, my love of films is allowed to bloom.”
Tony Hahn, web services manager at Des Plaines Public Library in Illinois, also studied film in college. “Movies are one of my favorite storytelling mediums,” he says. “I love how they bring people together. … They’ve always been a big part of my life, and I’m happy that work enables me to find an excuse to go to the movies or pay for digital access to occasional new releases.”
Katherine Moody, a librarian from Christchurch, New Zealand, says, “As a troubled teenager, learning about old movies and movie stars gave me an interest that has stayed with me for life. I love the glamour, the triumph, the tragedy, the connections. It’s one of those things where seemingly ephemeral art can enhance life. I want to be Marlene Dietrich walking off into the desert after Gary Cooper.”
Theater Versus Home Viewing
“For me, going to the movies in a theater is an emotional release and a way to remove myself from life’s distractions and just be entertained, even if that entertainment includes thinking about cultural struggles or having an internal critique about what’s going on,” says Slaven Lee, who has 20-plus years of experience in libraries and is currently doing operations consulting.
Movies can “temporarily lift us away from, or plunge us deeply into, aspects of our own reality. A good film is a gift that can also be shared and talked about with friends, family, or people you’ve just met,” says Hahn.
Danielle Aloia, collection management librarian at the New York Medical College’s Health Sciences Library, says going to the movies “means getting lost in a story and coming away with having learned or been moved by something—the overall storytelling, the cinematography, or the character interactions. Movies that have the most impact propel me out of myself and the theater into the realm of the story. I don’t remember where I am until the lights come up, and I have to sit for a minute to take in all that the movie revealed. This rarely happens, but when it does it is life-altering.”
Moody has similar feelings. “I find going to the cinema a truly transformative escape. I can be somewhere else and someone else for a couple of hours,” she says. “And watching on TV or a device also takes me out of myself.”
Scott Handville, assistant director of Gardiner Public Library in Maine, says that “living in rural Maine makes it difficult to see many of the smaller, independent films since they often don’t even play in my area. Also factor in the need to travel to get to a movie theater here. So unfortunately, these days most of my movie watching is done at home on the small screen after the film is released on DVD. My preferred viewing option is in a theater with an audience—anytime.”
Movies as Cultural Artifacts
Charles Cobine, cinema and media studies librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, sees movies as “a form of literature: popular, avant-garde, memoir, and journalistic report. Movies reflect change. They document our social and cultural history. Study of the interpretation and criticism of films, and how films are received and put into the context of larger culture, will always interest scholars.” The way stories are told is shifting, he says. “Some would say our movies are less poignant, in the light of the rise of the edgier, longer-form television serial, in response to the digital streaming economy and advances in technology. The amount of options that movie viewers have is staggering. We are reliant on platforms, services, critics, and our social networks to decide what’s valuable enough to consume the time we have available for entertainment, and sometimes that means we watch movies, and sometimes we want to be at home engrossed in longer stories.”
Cobine’s goal as a librarian is to provide students with access to all genres and formats of visual culture. “Students come to college having already watched so many movies, but it’s my hope that they learn how to watch better movies and appreciate film as they discover what’s in our library film collection and the movies that document social and cultural changes over the course of film history.”
Heather McCartin, adult information specialist at Monticello and De Soto Libraries, part of Johnson County Libraries in Kansas, says, “Through film, we have the opportunity to go back in time, visit a dystopian future, and meet characters from all over the world. Movies allow us to experience different places and things and expand our worldview. … The great thing about movies is that there is a story for every occasion and mood, the choice is up to the viewer in order to decide what story to try out.”