Archive for the ‘Librarianship’ Category

And now here’s my librarians’ version of the “Battlesaurs” theme song:

From civilizations long ago

Decoding enigmas wrapped in mystery

We’ve battled every foe since the dawn of history.

United we are one

Fighting all those who stand opposed.

No one knows all that we do or the stylin’ way we wear our sensible shoes. Sensible shoes!





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Desk Attendant Song of the Library Staff 1906


Head Librarian Song of the Library Staff 1906

The two delightful poems above are from Sam Walter Foss’s 1906 book, Song of the Library Staff. These particular pages (click on the image for a better view) are courtesy of the Seattle Public Library. However, you can get the whole book as a free download from the Internet Archive or Google Books.

One of the truisms about librarianship is that while the tools we work with have changed, the essential nature of the work has remained largely the same over the centuries. Anyone who has worked in the Circulation department will recognize themselves in “The Desk Attendant”. My favorite line from that poem: “the un-inspected canned beef intellect of man”. And “The Head Librarian” focuses on budget problems (“trying to fit his thousand dollars to his million dollar needs”)–tres contemporary, no?

Sam Foss was himself a librarian as well as a poet. His best known poem today is probably “The Coming American” which contains the opening line “Bring me men to match my mountains/Bring me men to match my plains”.

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In the midst of the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, one rock of calm remains: the Ferguson Public Library. Librarian Scott Bonner and his staff have remained open, providing classes, regular library services, and sometimes emotional support for community members. Read the whole story here.

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Changing the Things I Can't Accept

Ideally, with a shotgun ……

Librarians Working For You

Preach it, brother.

Read Books All Day

I’d like to have this job, myself.

Sassy Bats

Gives a new meaning to “bats in the house” …..

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“But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.”–Neil Gaiman

The quote above comes from a speech Neil Gaiman gave in London on October 14, 2013 to the Reading Agency, a charity that promotes literacy. In it, he had many wonderful (and smart) things to say about the importance of libraries, of fiction, and of reading in general. Here’s a link to the edited text of his speech that appeared in The Guardian newspaper.

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As archivists, my colleagues and I are accustomed to working closely with researchers and usually this is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. However, occasionally we meet a researcher that seems to have been sent to curse our existence.

Hannah (not her real name) is an older, out-of-state grad student who has been working on the same dissertation for the past seven years. I can’t tell you what it’s about because after an in-depth, hour-long reference interview and another 45 minute hands-on session, I still don’t know. Neither does Hannah. That’s the problem.

My colleagues have all made heroic efforts to help. They have listened intently as she bent their ears for hours. They have diplomatically suggested narrowing her research focus. They have made suggestions for specific topics she might pursue. All in vain. Every attempt to narrow her research to manageable level has simply suggested to her new topics that she wants to pursue. Couple this lack of focus with a sandpaper-like personality and you will get an idea of the albatross hanging around our necks.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no law against patrons satisfying their idle curiosity in a library. In fact, most librarians actively encourage this. But there should definitely being a law against wasting the time of the librarian.

Hannah has a couple weeks of research left. Pray for us.

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Every now and then you have a little moment that reminds you why you are proud to be a cataloger.

Cataloging is an arcane science.  I like to think of it as a kind of cryptography–you analyze the object in hand and then “code it up” so that people can find it when they do a search.  Mostly that involves putting down the information that is already there, but a really good cataloger takes that extra step and finds the information that isn’t there, but should be.

Today, my assistant, Joann, was cataloging an oral history interview with a woman who, in the parlance of the time, was referred to by her husband’s name–let’s call her “Mrs. John Smith”.  This is an old practice and reflects the thinking that when two people marry, they become one person and that person is the husband (British common law, I believe).

Hoary laws and customs don’t do the modern researcher any good, however, and both Joann and I were keen to find this woman’s first name, but we were batting zero. Finally, I suggested that Joann take a look in the Pioneers of Arnor records.  If the husband was a member, then the membership rolls might name his wife.  As it happens, my guess was on the money and I’m proud to say that  “Ada Jean Smith” was entered as the author and subject of the interview.

In doing this bit of extra digging, we set the historical record straight and gave this woman back her identity. A small thing and no more than our job, but we were glad to do it.

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