That’s the kind of remark that librarian Ruth Kneale encountered often in her research showing that all the old stereotypes of her profession – you know: they’re a mousy, prim, timid and bespectacled lot – persist in popular culture today. I can’t say that I’ve ever met a librarian who fits that description. Well, bespectacled, yes. But, in my experience, librarians tend to be outspoken, visionary, sometimes revolutionary and even subversive when they have to be. They are advocates for openness and access to information. They embrace
new technology (budgets permitting). They stand up for intellectual freedom and against censorship in any form. We should all dance like that.
This is National Library Week and I direct your attention to just a few things going on, large and small, simple and revolutionary.
First, there is the launch of the Digital Public Library of America on April 18. What this means is that a single website will serve as a place to access digitized books, manuscripts, periodicals, images and archives from collections all across the country. Through this site, from your own kitchen table you can, for instance, examine documents from the American Revolution housed in the New York Public Library or research Navajo education using the collection of Utah State University. And, some people could get sidetracked for hours (not that I would know) by the astonishing scope of natural history
resources available from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. You can learn more about this whole project and the guiding forces behind it here.
A more intimate – and intentionally low-tech – undertaking is The People’s Library in Richmond. In a collaborative effort, started by VCU student Mark Strandquist, hundreds of cast-out books, gathered by the Richmond Public Library and from other sources, are being recycled into handmade paper. This paper will be bound into blank books, ready to be filled in, individually by members of the public who are willing to share some or all of their life stories. These new personal histories, representing a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, will become part of the permanent collection at the RPL’s main branch. Workshops in paper-making and other aspects of the project are ongoing throughout April.
Finally, many libraries around the nation (including our own downtown Jefferson-Madison Regional Library) are taking part in Poem in Your Pocket Day, this Thursday, April 18. You can stop by the library and they’ll give you a poem to take with you and sustain you through the day. Of course, alternatively you can carry around one of your own favorite poems or search for one on the Poets.org website, but I just like the idea of letting one of those bespectacled subversives pick a poem for me.
–Suzanne Freeman, fiction editor