I love movies….I love them so much that I host a yearly Oscar Award Show party, complete with red carpet and best-picture-nominee-themed food. Last year I served Chicken Tikka Masala in honor of “Lion” (good book, better movie), Cubans for “Moonlight” (movie set in Miami, FL), and Swedish Meatballs for “Man Called Ove” (Swedish book & movie). I also try very hard to see all of the nominated films, a good way to see foreign films and documentaries that I may otherwise miss. The documentary above, “Ex Libris,” is about the New York Public Library (NYPL). I haven’t seen the film yet, its currently making its way through the film festival circuit (most recently at the Venice International Film Festival).
The movie shows that the NYPL is the “mind of the city.” The documentary is also a love letter to libraries: outlining the many ways that they support the community, from offering career & social services, to tools for personal enrichment in the form of workshops, and yes, books. The lack of books in the movie, is one aspect of the film that angered reviewers. I completely support this omission…libraries are not just book repositories and I appreciate that this documentary highlights how multi-faceted public libraries have become.
Another critique that I came across in several reviews is that people aren’t identified. As a viewer, I see the frustration in this, but I think this is another feature that stays true to the philosophy of all libraries. I have been lucky to have one interview with my public library and during the interview, I was surprised by the lack of “getting to know you” questions- things I do in my free time, what I’m reading, etc. And then it dawned on me that public libraries are committed to finding the best people for the job, to facilitate the higher mission of serving the community. That is the #1 task and I think that this might be why the director doesn’t take the time to introduce NYPL staff- the movie is about how the public is being served and librarians are cultural stewards, secondary to the main goal.
I hope that the 3+ hour film includes plenty of lighter moments, such as the interaction in the preview when a librarian informs someone that a unicorn is “…actually an imaginary animal.” There are many biases associated with libraries as an institution, as well as those that work there and I hope this move dispels some of these fallacies.
“Ex Libris” will definitely be on my pre-Oscar movie list and I may even serve a library themed dish. Maybe alphabet soup, or a book shaped cake…