Libraries & Information Seeking in Horror

Scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

“As gateways to knowledge and culture, libraries play a fundamental role in society. The resources and services they offer create opportunities for learning, support literacy and education, and help shape the new ideas and perspectives that are central to a creative and innovative society. They also help ensure an authentic record of knowledge created and accumulated by past generations. In a world without libraries, it would be difficult to advance research and human knowledge or preserve the world’s cumulative knowledge and heritage for future generations.” 
Ben White, Head of Intellectual Property, British Library

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” 
Ray Bradbury

As a Library Assistant and an avid fan of horror films, I am always delighted when a character in a book I am reading or film I am watching visits a library in search of information, sanctuary and, ultimately, truth. Characters in horror cinema and literature often assume the role of information gatherer/knowledge seeker. There is usually a mystery at the heart of the story that needs to be solved: a spate of bloody murders in the woods by the lake, spooky goings-on in the old dark house on the outskirts of town. There frequently comes a moment when research is required in order to find out what the hell is going on. Characters visit libraries, archives or public halls of records to fulfil their information needs and obtain truth - sometimes with the guidance and support of library staff. We may be treated to a montage of characters exploring the shadowy stacks, asking a librarian for help, turning the pages of a dusty old tome, scanning through old copies of the local newspaper on microfiche, eyes widening in horror as a spark of terrible truth and realisation dawns upon them...

I thought it would be fun, and an interesting way to highlight the importance of libraries and to advocate for library services, to take a look at some memorable scenes and moments in horror cinema in which someone uses a library in their quest to unearth dark secrets and obtain truth. So, over the coming weeks I'm going to do just that. I’ll analyse the scene and discuss which aspect of library services is being utilised and why it’s important, not only to the plot of the film, but to library users in general.

Scene from Kristy (2014)

The main purpose of a library is to provide a free service which grants users access to information and resources for learning and for recreation. By facilitating this access, public libraries - once described as ‘street corner universities’ (Chowdhury, 2008,147) - actively advocate life-long learning and a commitment to enabling people of all ages and walks of life to acquire new skills and knowledge. The provision of books and various other resources for learning and recreation helps individuals within local communities to not only foster a love of reading, but develop their opportunities and expand their potential; thereby strengthening opportunities and potential for their communities in general. By providing users a welcoming and peaceful space to spend time, and with their reading groups, ‘craft and chatter’ sessions, coffee mornings, free newspapers, information and advice desks and internet access, public libraries act as social hubs. The role of librarian thus becomes two-pronged - connecting people to information and connecting people to other people – libraries and their staff can be a lifeline, especially for the socially isolated and vulnerable within our communities.

While libraries often still struggle to determine their place in ‘a world where so many information sources are place independent, dynamic and transitory’ (Brophy, 2007, 16), they are also ‘the most heavily used of local public services’ (Brophy, 2007, 16). They are important and they matter and they need adequate funding, resources and protection.

“Libraries literally aren't just a place to obtain books for free. They're one of the few public spaces left in our society where you're allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money.” @_Amanda_Killian, Twitter, December 21.

Bibliography

Brophy, Peter. The library in the twenty-first century, 2007, Facet, London, 2nd ed.

Chowdhury, G. G. Librarianship: an introduction, 2008, Facet, London

White, B. (2012) Guaranteeing Access to Knowledge: The Role of Libraries, Available at: https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2012/04/article_0004.html (Accessed: 1st July 2020).

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