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Fear in/of the Library

by John Vallier

In a 2001 article for Library Quarterly, authors Gary Radford and Marie Radford examine the nature of the discourse surrounding libraries and librarians in popular, contemporary culture. Radford and Radford contextualize their arguments within Foucault’s work, particularly as expressed in Discipline and Punish (Surveiller et punir). They write that "fear is the fundamental organizing principle, or code, through which representations of libraries and librarians are manifest in modern popular cultural forms such as novels, movies, and television shows. Fear is the means by which the presence of the library setting, and the librarian characters within them, are to be understood. It is the horizon against which such representations make sense. This horizon of understanding is more fundamental than the representations found in any particular example, because it is what makes such images possible." Radford and Radford flesh out this theoretical framework with references to specific representations of librarians in popular culture (e.g., the films Sophie's Choice and Party Girl). As they state, “all of the representations depicted in these examples are made possible by underlying discourses of fear and control.” In highlighting such depictions, the authors substantiate that a discourse of fear shapes a meta-understanding of the librarians and the profession at large. The montage provided here includes two of the scenes discussed by Radford and Radford discuss, as well as another from Citizen Kane.

Librarians and the Discourse of Fear

A montage of clips depicting librarians / libraries and archivists / archives from Citizen Kane, Sophie’s Choice, and Party Girl.

from Citizen Kane, Sophie’s Choice, and Party Girl (1941)
Creator: Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), Alan J. Pakula (Sophie's Choice), and Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl)
Posted by John Vallier