Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn star in this delightful romantic comedy about a group of research librarians who fear that the newly hired efficiency expert will replace their entire department with a computer.
Bunny Watson (Hepburn) is the brilliant head of the research department of a major TV network. Each day she and the rest of her all-female crew answer countless questions from the mundane to the bizarre. For seven years, Bunny has been romantically involved with one of the network’s ladder-climbing executives with no hint of marriage in sight. When a “methods engineer” named Richard Sumner (Tracy) wanders into the department one day, Bunny worries that he’s going to replace not only her job, but her love interest as well.
So, this movie is much more about clever wordplay and subtle romance than it is about job automation. But I still find it interesting that, as early as 1957 when computers were just becoming viable workplace tools, there was already the fear that people’s jobs—even ones involving in-depth research—could be replaced by automation. Decades later, as computers have become more advanced and affordable than ever, job automation is still a legitimate concern. I can tell you that in modern librarianship, there is a definite worry that reference librarians, especially, are quickly becoming obsolete when the answer to any question is freely available on the Internet. But, as fantasy writer Neil Gaiman famously put it, “Google can return 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” Being a good librarian means not only that you can use the Internet as an essential tool, but that you also have the expertise to sift through all the misinformation out there to find the correct information with efficiency. Still, as technology evolves, I do often wonder what the future holds for me and my career as a librarian. Can an algorithm ever be programmed to tell fact from fiction? Only time will tell.
In any event, Desk Set is a clever and adorable movie with Tracy and Hepburn at the top of their game. Highly recommended.