"I couldn't afford to go to film school; I learned from the library"
September 4, 2017 3:34 AM   Subscribe

The trailer (post title), and The Guardian review of Ex Libris: New York Public Library: "The most prominent theme is the divide between rich and poor, and what the NYPL means in different neighbourhoods. The gorgeous main branch on Fifth Avenue with its marble lions serves a different function than the outposts in the economically disadvantaged outer boroughs. On Fifth Avenue, a “Books at noon” guest like Richard Dawkins will wax about the Enlightenment; off Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx, the community huddles up for job interview tips ... More than any other civic institution, it is a place for the betterment of everyone in every conceivable way, and if this ends up being Frederick Wiseman’s last film I can think of no better swan song."

Screen Daily: "Simmering just below the surface is a political message about libraries as places of social and intellectual engagement, empowered memory and pursuit of the truth in an America where such values are under attack."

IndieWire: "The hypnotic and essential “Ex Libris" stands out as a definitive example of - and testament to - Frederick Wiseman’s style and mission."

Aimimage: The official synopsis describes the New York Public Library as “blessed with uniformly passionate staff and deeply devoted, appreciative bibliophiles and beneficiaries across its 92 branches. The film reveals a venerable place of welcome, cultural exchange, and intellectual creativity.”

The film is being shown at the 74th Venice International Film Festival where it is a contender for the Golden Lion. It is Frederick Wiseman's 41st documentary, and has sold to several countries including Spain, Korea, Taiwan and Switzerland. It will be released in France on 1st November and the USA on 13th September.

Previously (I got a pocket full of dreams) and more.
posted by Wordshore (13 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, man. This is for sure my favorite movie and I haven't even seen it yet.
posted by lauranesson at 5:06 AM on September 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

On a walk through Brooklyn a few months ago I ducked into a small branch to use wifi, there was a local community of charge station and device sharing. A guy walks in and picks up a device seemingly at random, and a sequence of looks across the room to the owner made it clear it was expected. The patience with the disenfranchised from the librarians stunned and warmed my heart.
posted by sammyo at 5:23 AM on September 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

posted by Fizz at 6:05 AM on September 4, 2017 [21 favorites]

August Wilson called himself a graduate of the Carnegie Library because since he dropped out of highschool and spent the rest of his teen years educating himself from the stacks at the main branch in Oakland. The library awarded him an honorary diploma in 1989.
posted by octothorpe at 6:42 AM on September 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

A detailed review from Film Comment.
posted by Wordshore at 6:50 AM on September 4, 2017

Another point about libraries is that they provide safe, quiet spaces to study in, for adults as well as kids. While I can see arguments that books are cheaper now than they used to be (& easier to buy second hand, we still need to save the libraries.
posted by DanCall at 7:19 AM on September 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

They're screening this at TIFF and it was on my short list but I passed on it after seeing the 197 minute run-time. I'll watch this eventually in bits and pieces but I just can't do three and a half hours in a theatre for it.
posted by thecjm at 7:22 AM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

They're screening this at TIFF and it was on my short list but I passed on it after seeing the 197 minute run-time.

Know what you mean. Am hoping that at least one cinema not too far from here will show it but with a decent interval. Even though the subject matter fascinates, I don't have the cinema seat buttock resolve to watch films of Peter Jacksonesque length in - literally - one sitting. Whether they do or not, I'm definitely getting the DVD so I can watch and rewatch the bits of most interest.

From reading the reviews, the documentary seems to cover many aspects of what NYPL does, as well as the budgetary complexities. A few of the reviews are negative about sequences of budgetary meetings, but surely they are crucial so viewers realize - or have a more accurate understanding of - the issues from your tax dollars -> decisions -> what your library offers.

I've been sending the link to this FPP to various people who work in library schools especially. Kinda hoping that aspiring students who are thinking of signing up to get their Masters before a career in public libraries are nudged to watch this before deciding to commit. Most students are well aware of the issues, what's involved, and risks e.g. many politicians have a low opinion of what you do and see your job as an easy target to cut. But one of my best friends who works in a library school is annually unhappy at the one or two who reveal during her course that they aspire to work in a public library because they genuinely think they will be able to "just read books for most of the day". They, arguably, need to see this.
posted by Wordshore at 7:55 AM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, Lauren Smith compiled a list of what public library workers do, back in 2011. It's quite a long list, and is still enduringly relevant. People added commented with yet more things that librarians do, and more comments here.
posted by Wordshore at 8:18 AM on September 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

> they aspire to work in a public library because they genuinely think they will be able to "just read books for most of the day"

I'm honestly touched to hear that young people aspiring to public librarianship in the year 2017 think that anything having to do with paper books will comprise a major part of their jobs.

I haven't seen this doc, but based on the readings here and the trailer I will say that the administrators of NYPL seem more committed to preserving the idea of libraries as something more than an empty building with free wifi and lots of couches and windows than the managers of the institution I work for are.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:46 AM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

FYI Frederick Wiseman is 87 and still making movies.
posted by gwint at 10:22 AM on September 4, 2017

From the IndieWire link in the FPP: “Libraries are not about books,” someone says in the film, “libraries are about people.”

Indeed. I came across this lovely article from Atlas Obscura that illustrates this point - The Women Who Rode Miles on Horseback to Deliver Library Books:
They were known as the “book women.” They would saddle up, usually at dawn, to pick their way along snowy hillsides and through muddy creeks with a simple goal: to deliver reading material to Kentucky’s isolated mountain communities.

The Pack Horse Library initiative was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), created to help lift America out of the Great Depression, during which, by 1933, unemployment had risen to 40 percent in Appalachia. Roving horseback libraries weren’t entirely new to Kentucky, but this initiative was an opportunity to boost both employment and literacy at the same time.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 3:53 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

'Libraries gave us power
Then work came and made us free
What price now for a shallow piece of dignity'

Design for Life, Manic Street Preachers
posted by numberstation at 6:48 AM on September 5, 2017

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