One of the many great things about Westlake Porter Library’s collection is its generous movie offerings. Let’s celebrate both National Library Week and WPPL’s movie collection with several entertaining movies that take place in libraries!

Judy Garland in the library

Using the library as a backdrop for cinematic action is budget-friendly – just surround the characters with shelves of books, a smattering of tables, chairs, and some overhead lighting.

Here are several films across genres that feature libraries in a starring role:

Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

James Stewart is the beat reporter hired to write a story about a spoiled heiress for the society column of a Philadelphia newspaper. Little does he know this ‘spoiled heiress’ is going to win his heart at the reading tables of a public library.

The heiress is played by the strong-willed Katharine Hepburn. The film plot is further complicated by the heiress’ charming ex-husband, played by Cary Grant.

Who will she choose? The plucky journalist or the dashing young Grant? You’ll have to see for yourself.

Desk Set

The year is 1957. A team of big-city librarians are at risk of getting tossed out of their jobs by a supercomputer built to do their jobs more efficiently. Katharine Hepburn plays the head librarian, and Spencer Tracy plays the efficiency expert who will determine whether the librarians stay or go. An IBM Supercomputer named Watson features prominently in the most comedic scenes in the film. 

Strike Up The Band (1940)

Judy Garland stars as a charming school library assistant with a beautiful voice, and Mickey Rooney is her rowdy musician pal. While mischievous Mickey constantly strives to be the center of attention, Judy focuses on channeling their energies into winning a national high school band competition.

Mickey swings by the library to see Judy, and when he leaves, she breaks into a thoughtful rendition of “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” What sets the film apart from other teen movies is the undeniable musical talent of Garland and Rooney and their genuine joy at creating music together. It’s a delight to watch them complement each other’s dance, vocal, and comic timing skills.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Lounging around the library in the Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is a perfect example of rowdy kids misbehaving in a library. The plot takes place in a suburban 1980s high school, where five students have been locked in a library for Saturday detention. Like Strike Up The Band, there’s an impish and kinetic teen boy set on being the center of attention – Bender – and his calmer, more level-headed counterpart, the ‘snobbish’ Claire. While Bender is bent on trying to break out of the library, Claire gradually warms up to the other kids and they all begin to discuss their similarities and differences, finding common ground.

The Public (2018)

Michael K. Williams, Emilio Estevez and others gather around the reference desk in The Public

One of the actors in The Breakfast Club, Emilio Estevez, features as a librarian in The Public. He is also the film’s director and screenwriter. This film revolves around a group of homeless people who refuse to leave the Cincinnati Public Library during a brutal cold snap, and the librarians who must help them.

Estevez strove to humanize each of the people involved in the story, shedding light on their personal journeys, and how they all came to have the public library as central to their daily lives. Michael K. Williams’ role as Jackson, the man who leads the sit-in at the library, was a standout. He always brings pathos, dignity, and strong purpose to the roles that he portrays. I really felt for his character.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)Coming in through the window of the frozen reading room of the NYPL in The Day After Tomorrow

Less realistic, but no less engaging, is the film The Day After Tomorrow. It’s a big budget action film where Jake Gyllenhaal tries to save New York City from a climate disaster. He leads a group of rag-tag citizens into the New York Public Library Main Reading Room, where they seek shelter from a gigantic tidal wave. It’s a film more focused on special effects than character development, but if you’re in the mood for action in a library, this is it!

Party Girl (1995)

Parker Posey in Party GirlAlso set in New York City – but in a different decade, with a very different feel – is the comedy Party Girl. Parker Posey plays a bratty raver who gets into trouble with the police. To clear her record, she must do community service at a public library. It’s the mid 1990s, so the musical score has an eclectic dance beat. The clothes Posey wears in her library work are what a raver might think were appropriate for work, and she comes off a bit like a punky Katharine Hepburn. Try pairing this film with Desk Set for an interesting comparison of fashion, style, humor, and to see how libraries changed over time in the movies.

The Music Man (1961)

Shirley Jones shushes somebody in The Music ManIt wouldn’t be a blog about libraries in film without The Music Man! Broadway veteran Shirley Jones plays the winsome and skeptical librarian Marian Paroo, who finds herself charmed by a con man. There’s music, there’s pomp, there’s libraries…Try pairing this film with Strike Up The Band for a double feature of catchy musical numbers and impish mayhem.


Well, folks! That’s it for now. I would love to hear your recommendations of your favorite library-in-cinema titles. Feel free to reach out to me at bonnie.laessig@westlakelibrary.org

Have a wonderful day!