On Tuesday, visitors can walk through the doors at the Main Library in Santa Monica only to be transported to another library system across the country, at a screening of Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, a documentary by Frederick Wiseman.

Wiseman’s latest observational film focuses on the people, the scenes, and the sounds of the New York Public Library system as it shifts into the digital age.  The New York Times called the three hour film “magnificent.”

Scene by scene, the film takes the audience through about a dozen branches in the massive public institution, introducing us to patrons, teachers, and academics of every skin color, background and status – from poor to prestige.

“Andy Warhol stole lots of stuff from us,” explains one librarian in the film, noting the library’s impact on pop culture.  In another scene, administrators grapple with how to respond to the number of homeless patrons frequenting the book stacks.

The 88-year-old documentarian has been exploring the role of institutions, and the people they involve, since his 1967 directorial debut Titicut Follies, about patient-inmates at the Bridgewater State Hospital.  Ex Libris, which means “from books,” is the former lawyer’s 41st documentary.

The screening takes place Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 5 p.m. and is free.  Space, however, is limited and on a first-arrival basis.  For more information, visit smpl.org or  contact the Santa Monica Public Library at (310) 458-8600.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press