Ghosts don’t call first, or, I see dead people

The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 1 December 2004



Boese, K.C. (2004), "Ghosts don’t call first, or, I see dead people", The Bottom Line, Vol. 17 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Ghosts don’t call first, or, I see dead people

One of the hardest things for me to do is leave the office and stop looking at the world through a librarian’s eyes. Everywhere I look, hear, and read, society is out to get our profession, challenge us, test us. In truth, society chugs along largely without a thought on how its technological advances and mutations affect the work librarians do, or the services we provide.

The most recent example of what I perceived to be a cultural assault came in the form of a harmless, timid little radio announcement. In less than a minute, I learned that a new movie was to be released in September, 2004, by the name of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow ( The movie actually intrigued me. Being a fan of sci-fi and comic book super heroes, a movie in which New York City is saved from a host of marauding robots could be amusing. Furthermore, among the film’s stars are Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sir Laurence Olivier. Yes, Olivier … an actor par excellence, who also happens to have been deceased these past 15 years.

According to BBC News (from 26 July, 2004, available at:, Olivier was resurrected for the role. By using existing film footage and dialogue from another actor, the film’s nemesis was created. All right, so what does this have to do with libraries anyway? We’ve seen old film clips inserted into commercials and movies before, right? Well, here’s where my library brain takes over.

This resurrection is more than a mere film clip. Olivier’s character has been digitally created; changed into something new, including a new, but similar, voice with new dialogue. At its most obvious, how do we provide access to this? This film will eventually be on VHS and DVD, and library patrons may be looking for that film with the dead Olivier. From my way of thinking, merely putting “Olivier, Laurence, 1907- ” in the bibliographic record is no more correct than simply including the heading “Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961- ” in a record for a book on communicating with Diana’s spirit … for which the heading is “Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961- (Spirit)”.

Names of non-flesh and blood people can and do exist in bibliographic records all the time, but they must be qualified. Examples include Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973 (Spirit), Picard, Jean Luc (Fictitious character), and Uncle Sam (Symbolic character). So how do we categorize Lord Olivier? Do we need to come up with a new term, something along the lines of (Virtual actor)?

Digital technology originally affected libraries only as a means of transferring information – requiring expensive technology to access it, licensing agreements to use it, and copyright warnings to protect it. Over the years, this same technology – especially in film – has increasingly created more and more of the content, too. Once again, let us use Sky Captain in as an example. It is set in New York, but no filming occurred there. The city, or a loosely-based representation of it, was created digitally using old photographs. I know, small wonder. If Steven Spielberg can digitally create dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, or George Lucas can create Jabba the Hut in Star Wars, why should I be alarmed by Olivier imitating Lazarus for one last bow?

Truth be told, I’m not. But I am intrigued by it all. Is this the future? In less than ten years’ time, will we not only have the technology to re-create our past stars in such a life like manner that we won’t be able to tell reality from fiction, but also prefer it? Films like Marilyn Monroe’s Something’s Got to Give could finally be finished … an industry no longer bound by temperamental or living actors and actresses.

And in all of this, how will we, as information professionals, provide intellectual and physical access to such materials? Will this influence purchase prices? Could we see new aspects of copyright, and would changes in copyright affect our legacy image collections? Or, perhaps technology will open up new markets for image collections, allowing libraries with them to sell use rights and augment their budgets. Remember, New York was created digitally using old photographs in Sky Captain.

It’s been said that the only constant is change. While it is far too early to worry about the possible changes the acting debut of a corpse may have to our services, it is never to early to think about the what ifs. Whenever we allow our intuition to take the daily sound bytes that bombard us and place them into the bigger picture, we help ourselves prepare for changes, and our libraries to provide access to them.

Kent C. Boese

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