Desk Set

lady librarians from desk setDid you know that Katherine Hepburn and Spenser Tracey were in a Librarian movie together? Did you even know there were librarian movies? It’s called Desk Set, and we’re about halfway through watching it.

Desk Set somewhat unintentionally gives an interesting window into professional life for women in the late 1950’s. Apparently it involved lots of sexual harassment, patronization, and powerlessness. Oh, and trivia questions. Which is pretty cool.

We spend about ten minutes listening to Katherine Hepburn show off her black belt in historical and literary fact before her boyfriend (also her boss) lovingly tells her how stupid she is. In spite of the anachronisms, Hepburn’s character exudes competence, and it’s wonderful to watch a woman on film being unabashedly smart.

Like most pre-1980’s movies, it’s long and kind of slow. We got a bit bored, and will probably finish it later tonight. I’m looking forward to seeing the IBM “electronic brain” that is supposed to replace the reference department. I suspect it will involve lots of reel-to-reel tapes, blinking lights, and miraculous natural language processors.

Stay tuned.

21 Replies to “Desk Set”

  1. i know, its amazing. i JUST watched it for the first time last night, and here you all are talking about it!
    i think that even though the sexism in it is screwed up, they couldnt have left it out you know?

  2. Long and kind of slow? How old are you? You must be kidding. I love the Christmas celebrations. Love the movie.

  3. Ab mentions a good site but it is missing a lot of movies and doesn’t give much detail such as Marion the Librarian from music man or the librarian in Shoes in which the camera is always at foot level (the director had a fetish). A good source of information is the movie database on the Dialog online system, i forget the database #, but it gives the dates, actors, director and plot synopsis etc. Well worth searching.

  4. I didn’t think it was slow or boring at all! In fact, I loved every minute of it. Ended up getting the DVD for Christmas last year and I’ve watched it again several times since then.

  5. Has anyone ever noticed that none of the books in the library in this movie have spine labels? Maybe that’s why they need four staff members.

  6. One of my all time favorite movies!! Partially because it’s Hepburn (damn that woman made pants look good!) and partially because in the end, it’s revealed that the computer is just supposed to HELP the librarians, as it should, rather than replace them. :) I do love the scene where she frets about her philodendron. :) And the one where the computer gives everyone a pink slip rather than a paycheck!

  7. While doing my MLIS, our prof showed a clip from Desk Set. I finally borrowed it from the library last year to watch it, but fell asleep doing so and never bothered to replay to see what I missed.

  8. “Long and kind of slow”–suddenly I’m feeling very old, and happy with that. Desk Set tells a story at a reasonably natural pace; it doesn’t have a jumpcut every five seconds; and there are very few car chases and explosions (not zero, in the latter case).

    Have to admit, I’ve never heard Desk Set (which I think is a fine movie) described in a way that makes it sound like a sexist snoozefest. Live and learn (or “to each their own,” I suppose).

  9. David: I KNOW! I’ve been living under a rock. We just hadn’t gotten around to it until recently. Darn Netflix and it’s compelling recommendations.

    Philip: Indeed. I plan on addressing this later. Google is closer to the movie depiction of the “brain”, but still isn’t there…yet!

    Sheryl: We finished watching it late last night. You are SO RIGHT. I’m glad Mr. Smugpants got the boot in favor of a guy who got her coy literary references.

    I also LOVED the female computer technician!! She’s all tetchy and tough until something goes wrong, then she bursts into tears and buries her head in the chest of her male colleague. Because that’s what we girls do. Why, just last week I had three Subversion conflicts and I had to go shopping and eat a pound of chocolate just to function again.

  10. Love, love, love it! And […spoiler for the ending…] she ends up with the guy that’s impressed with her brains and skill.

  11. … ditto my respect for the movie and KH. Think of the internet rather than ‘electronic brain’, and it’s a tale of our time (sans the sexism, of course) …

  12. How can you only now be discovering “Desk Set”? It’s a great movie! And it actually got the role of computers in libraries right.

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