Just an April note

I am still here. The words remain. Did not want you to think I wasn’t. There is some personal stuff at http://girasole.livejournal.com/ if you want to read that.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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from a poem by …

from a poem by Visar Zhiti:

Bolts of lightning from the sky
And plant them in fields of life.

They will grow like tender sprouts of fire.
Charge somber thoughts
With unexpected flash,
You, my lightning in the soil!

My dear friend @hapaxnym shared this poem with me.

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Lightning and stars

It’s not a battle. It’s a journey lit and fueled by lightning, then illuminated by stars.

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“The books that…

“The books that we give to children, that are written for children, say profound things about how we view ourselves as people, how we see our place in the world, how we construct time and space. The deepest underlying matrix of a culture can be found in the unspoken assumptions in children’s books: how the genders interact, what makes a family, who is in charge in the world, who has power, who brings grace.” ~GraceAnne A. DeCandido

This is the introductory paragraph to the courses I taught in children’s literature for the Rutgers online graduate program.

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Giles: Hero Librarian

Rupert Giles and Search Tools for Wisdom in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

first published in 1999

I am not alone in the belief that the appearance of school librarian Rupert Giles on television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done more for the image of the profession than anything in the past fifty years, with the possible exception of Katherine Hepburn in Desk Set. Giles, this wily and attractive professional, is our hero librarian: a pop culture idol whose love of books and devotion to research hold the key to saving the universe – every week. I know librarians who use quotations from the episodes in their email sig files. The Internet Public Library has named all of its office computers after characters in the show.

For those who might inexplicably have missed it, I will attempt a brief summary of the dramatis personae in the Buffyverse over the past three years. Giles is The Watcher: the source of training, counterintelligence, and guidance for high schooler Buffy Summers, the one of her generation chosen as the Vampire Slayer. Giles is the school librarian and Buffy a student at Sunnydale High School, in a balmy southern California town. Sunnydale is most notable for being situated on the Hellmouth: a place where vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness gather as bees to honey. Buffy, a small, delicate-looking blonde of supra-human strength, relies on Giles not only for adult support and coaching, but also for the research necessary to do that for which the Vampire Slayer has been chosen. In the third season, Giles is officially relieved from his Watcher duties, but he ignores that and continues as Buffy’s trainer, confidant, and father-figure.

Buffy’s buddies (called, affectionately, the Slayerettes or the Scooby Gang) include the nevercool Xander; his best friend the brilliant and fashion-impaired Willow; Xander’s reluctant sweetie and later nemesis the gorgeously shallow Cordelia; and Willow’s occasional genius (and occasional werewolf) boyfriend Oz the musician. They comprise Buffy’s support group. They meet and conduct much of their research in the school library. Giles, whose collection development policy must be an extraordinary document, has access in the stacks to a vast number of volumes on vampire and demon lore, the occult, witchcraft, spellcasting, and other rarities not usually found among the copies of Huckleberry Finn and Weetzie Bat. (That gets him into trouble with censors, too, as we see in Gingerbread.)

Others in the cast definitely come from the dark side. Buffy’s own love (and sometimes ex-honey) is a brooding, beautiful 243-year old Irish vampire named Angel, who has been cursed with a conscience. There are many vampires, demons, and Evil Guys, some of whom make multiple appearances. The school principal is a regular bad guy; the town mayor is an evil of monumental proportions.

Giles: our great sage and sex symbol

It is a heady experience for any profession to find itself an integral part of a wildly popular TV series. How much more so for librarians, who have been bedeviled with a poor public image since at least the nineteenth century. Giles of course moves across the stereotype in other, not necessarily positive ways – he is both male and technologically inept.

Giles is tweedy, occasionally befuddled, and very wise, with a certain amount of darkness in his own past. He dropped out of Oxford to pursue magicks, but then moved to the British Library, and thence to Sunnydale where duty called him. He comes from a family of Watchers, reads a number of languages, and, until her untimely death, had a passionate relationship with the Romany technopagan computer instructor, Jenny Calendar.

We have a librarian model who is elegant, deeply educated, well if fussily dressed, handsome, and charged with eroticism. In a world of teens where parents rarely make an appearance, he is a stable, friendly, and supportive adult. He stands by Buffy even when the powers that be require him to step down. He lives the faith that answers can be found, and most often found in the pages of a book.

Giles is icon and image for us; in him we see our quotidian struggles to provide the right information and the right data resolved into a cosmic drama with the forces of darkness, some of which are extremely attractive, by the way. We love Giles because at last we have a pop image for our uneasy relationship with dark and light, information and story, books and technology.

We love Giles and we loved his romance with the computer-instructor-cum-Romany-Wicca. We mourned when – and this is as emotionally complicated as can be – the vampire with a soul who loved Buffy murders Jenny, whom Giles loved. We see Giles struggle valiantly with information sources, we can see his love of story, we can see, as Xander says, that “knowledge is the ultimate weapon” and that format is the least of our problems when there are vampires and demons about.

Giles: “I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming text”

The librarians who follow Buffy find a great deal of library lore and information seeking behavior, as well as an occasional drop of genuine wisdom, in the words of Giles, Buffy, and the denizens of Sunnydale. We can deconstruct some dialogue from the show (with citations to episodes) for our own delectation and amusement, as follows.

Willow: How is it you always know this stuff? You always know what’s going on. I never know what’s going on.
Giles: Well, you weren’t here from midnight until six researching it.
Giles: Knowing why you are back [from hell] would give you peace of mind?
Angel: It might.
Giles: You think that’s something you ought to have? Because, sir, to be blunt, the last time you became complacent about your existence turned out rather badly. Well, we start, not surprisingly, with research.

The plodding nature of most research cannot be eliminated, even by brilliance and magic, even when we might not want to know what it is we are seeking. It is Giles’ particular gift to cast a glamour over the kind of dogged reference we practice daily. He invests the methodical search for the fact that will solve the problem at hand with a kind of fierce joy, but he never underestimates its cost in time or care.

Giles: I’m sure my books and I are in for a fascinating afternoon.
Giles, echoing Buffy: Get my books. Look stuff up.
-The Pack
Willow: I’m sure he will. He’s like…Book Man!

Books are central. It is in books that Giles, as the Watcher, finds the images, the information, the incantation, the lore that will assist Buffy in her struggle against the Hellmouth and its universe of monsters. While Giles relies upon Willow to search the internet for materials, like newspaper records and police logs, not easily accessible in print, Giles believes that what he needs to know for Buffy’s sake lies in his many volumes at home and at work. Giles also makes that necessary leap of faith common to all good librarians: he bridges the chasm between the information as it lives in the text and the transfer of that information into a form the Slayerettes and Buffy can actually use. Sometimes that means literal translation, other times it means recasting what he reads into stories, or tag lines, or aphorisms that make sense to the teens he serves. The sacredness of the book, the literal power of words, underscore the action in Buffy’s world. They form the matrix and latticework for all that terrific Pow! Kick! Stake! stuff that happens later.

Xander: He’s like SuperLibrarian. Everyone forgets, Willow, that knowledge is the ultimate weapon.
-Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
Willy: So, what can I do for you? Couple of drinks?
Xander: Yeah. Let me get a double shot of, um… of information, pal.

While snide comments about Giles’ profession abound, the core belief that knowledge is the answer underlies all. This is apparent from Xander’s remarks even though he and others are often cavalier about regular school assignments. What can be found in the library is central. There are many weapons to be had in Sunnydale. Buffy uses the classic silver, cross, and stake, among others and Giles has an array of medieval weaponry: most of this is stored at the library. The Slayerettes have a very high level of rapier teen wit, peppered with pop-cult references and sly asides. The thirst to know, however, is at the core of it all: to know the forces of darkness, to name them, and hence to defang them; to know themselves, as they dance on the edge of maturity; to search out the specifics of how to overmaster a particular demon along with the principles of how knowledge can lead to larger truths. What a message for us to emblazon on our t-shirts and on our hearts.

Angel: They’re children, making up bedtime stories of friendly vampires to comfort themselves in the dark.
Willow: Is that so bad? I mean the dark can get pretty dark. Sometimes you need a story.
-Lie to Me
Oz: Fairy tales are real.

Willow places her hand precisely on a central truth of Buffy, and of librarianship. Sometimes these teens need a story to cover themselves for a lost assignment or a lost weekend. Sometimes, though, they need a story to tell themselves to get through the latest horrific vision or ghastly demise. Sometimes, it is the story itself that brings both comfort and information: in the beginning of the third season, a voiceover from Jack London’s Call of the Wild was used to great effect.
We know this as we work. We know the reference desk as a continuing story with cliche and banality along with a flashy denouement or a trailer for next week. We know the story of staff meetings where we wish a wooden stake could turn misbegotten shape to dust. We know the stories we tell ourselves when one more technical problem threatens the simplest task. And sometimes those stories hold a goblin, because how else could the machines on which so much of our work lives are predicate be so damnedly recalcitrant?
Buffy also identifies her role as a storybook hero in Killed by Death, when she tells the child in the hospital, “We both know there are real monsters. But there are also real heroes that fight monsters. And that’s me.” The story enables us to see not only the teen Buffy as a true hero, but Giles, Book Man, SuperLibrarian, as a hero also.

Jenny, to Giles: The divine exists in cyberspace the same as out here.
-I Robot, You Jane

Giles has definite issues with computers and online technology. He is a living metaphor for what those of us d’un certain âge might have gone through as the profession we thought we had joined transmuted itself into something very, very Else.
The core of librarians who got their MLS degrees 25 years ago and more are now doing things professionally that were unimaginable to the selves we were then. We came to librarianship because we loved the sound of words talking to each other, rubbing up against each other; or because the world inside a story was far more real to us than the world inside our neighborhoods; or because we loved chasing an idea around. For many of us, librarianship originally was a choice to separate ourselves from workplaces that were less humane, less involved in the drama of peoples’ lives.
It came as a shock to some of us, as it does to Giles, that the glass box (the computer Jenny refers to as “the good box”) could also be a tool in the search for knowing, and an increasingly indispensable tool. In I Robot, You Jane, Giles tells Jenny, “If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible” in the smell and texture of old volumes. In the same episode, Giles confesses to Buffy that computers fill him with “childlike terror.” Jenny gently chides him for living in the Middle Ages, and assures him he will enter the new century with a few years to spare. We do see him, much later, yelling at a computer that has wantonly disconnected him from the “Frisky Watchers Chat Room” (Gingerbread).

Giles: They’re confiscating my books.
Buffy: Giles, we need those books.
Giles: Believe me, I tried to tell that to the nice man with the big gun.
Giles: This is intolerable. Snyder has interfered before, but I won’t take this from that twisted little homunculus.
Snyder: I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning.
Giles: You get out… and take your marauders with you.
Snyder: Oh, my. So fierce.
Snyder: Just how is, um,
Blood Rites and Sacrifices appropriate material for a public school library? Chess Club branching out?

Giles knows about challenges to the school library, too. In this chilling episode, mothers turn against their own children, attempting to burn the books that the principal and the parents see as harmful, occult, or just plain weird. There’s an aborted plot to torch teens along with titles in the guise of chasing after child murderers (the ghost children turn out to be demons themselves, sent to sow discord).

Buffy: You’re the Watcher, I just work here.
Giles: Yes. I must consult my books.
-When She Was Bad
Giles: I’d best head to the library. Research beckons.
-Killed By Death
Buffy: But, Giles, it’s one thing to be a Watcher and a librarian … The point is, no one blinks an eye if you wanna spend all your days with books.
-What’s My Line (Part 1)

Giles takes a lot of kidding because of his perceived stuffiness, his single-minded approach to problems, and his apparent lack of current awareness. However, the kidding doesn’t negate how fully the Slayerettes are invested in Giles as both a mentor and a symbol of adult comfort and reassurance. He knows what his job is, so do they, and so do we.
YA and reference librarian Lesley Knieriem of the South Huntington Public Library, New York said it well in an e-note: “Giles is appealing to librarians in that he portrays us as we like to think we are: enormously intelligent, literate, genteel, sensitive, devoted to our patrons, with a sexy, ferocious ‘ripper’ concealed within, only to be let out when needed to slay the demons of ignorance. Yes, he does fit many of the stereotypes: bookish, stuffy, reserved, technophobic (this last isn’t any of us!). Giles embraces his stuffiness, pokes gentle fun at it, and transcends it.”
Giles: To forgive is an action of compassion, Buffy. It’s not done because people deserve it. It’s done because they need it.
-I Only Have Eyes For You

We have all had supervisors who have done unforgivable things to us; we may have done a few ourselves to those we supervise. We have all had patrons who have fought their particular demons right in front of the check-out desk, and we wanted to avert our eyes. Giles, given to pronouncements but rarely to exhortation, here states a truth as cleanly as any prophet. We hope it comforted Buffy; it can certainly comfort us.

Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by the pointy horns or black hats. And, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.
-Lie To Me

We have seen the books and materials that provide us with information and textual analysis of the bad guys can also provide us with stories wherein we conquer the demons and go forth. Giles reminds us that some days, the dragon wins. And that good and evil are rarely so separate that we can distinguish them clearly without the white light of study and analysis. Finally, we might look at the words of another character, whom, we might say, knows that self-knowledge is the ultimate weapon. His name is Whistler.

Whistler: Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No ones asks for their life to change, not really … The big moments are gonna come, can’t help that. It’s what you do afterward that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.
-Becoming, Part 1
Whistler: There’s moments in your life that make you. That set the course of who you’re gonna be. Sometimes they’re little, subtle moments. Sometimes … they’re not.
-Becoming, Part 2

Whistler, nominally a demon, has as his function to maintain the balance between good and evil – a metaphor for technical services if there ever was one. It is he who provides Angel with the opportunity to even the odds for Buffy, and brings them together. Whistler indulges in a bit of philosophy that might be as useful in our lives as in our so potent art. Change will come, and it is what we do when it comes that matters. We have our tools.

Giles: You did good work tonight, Buffy.
Buffy: And I got a little toy surprise.
Giles: I had no idea that children en masse could be gracious.
Buffy: Every now and then, people surprise you.
-The Prom
Named as Class Protector during the Prom, Buffy has a moment of solace, and Giles sees the teenagers he serves in a new light. People surprise us all the time, in the questions they ask, in the way they use the answers, in their need to know, and sometimes in their gratitude.

Buffy and her friends have now graduated from high school, in a spectacular denouement that banishes Angel and provides us with ample reason to wonder what Giles’ next career move is. He says Buffy no longer needs the Watcher’s Council, but it is clear she still needs a librarian.
Indispensable Buffy References
Golden, Christopher and Nancy Holder with Keith R.A. DeCandido. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Watcher’s Guide. Pocket/S&S. 1998. Pbk. $14. ISBN 0-671-02433-7. The Episode Guide included (written by my son) gives the writers credit for all these great lines, episode by episode, from the first two seasons.

Excellent articles from Salon magazine about Buffy are listed here.

There are many and various other online articles about BtVS, and I have not updated these references. Instead I refer you to BuffyGuide.com. 3/19/2003

GraceAnne Andreassi DeCandido has spoken about Giles at his alma mater, Oxford, and at his state conference, the California Library Association. An earlier version of this article, covering the first two seasons, appears in The Cybrarian’s Manual 2, edited by Pat Ensor, American Library Association. A somewhat different version of this article was the cover feature in American Libraries magazine for September 1999, and is included in The Whole Library Handbook 3, edited by George Eberhart, also published by ALA.

Please do not distribute or reproduce without my express permission.

GraceAnne A. DeCandido ©2014

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Words Are All We Have: A Very Brief Disquisition on Librarians, Technology, Access, Feminism, and The Truths of Things


American Theological Library Association Plenary Speaker presentation, June 23, 2001

Words Are All We Have: A Very Brief Disquisition on Librarians, Technology, Access, Feminism, and The Truths of Things

Some wise person has said — I may have said it myself — that words are all we have. I have made my living with words, one way or another, for over twenty-five years. Today I want to talk with you about some of the words we use to define ourselves, our work, and our future.

Actually, of course, it was Samuel Beckett who wrote that “Words are all we have.” Now he is surely a guy for our time, an Irishman living in Paris, writing in two languages, mostly about absurdity. You’d think he had experience on the reference desk.

When I was wrestling with words for this talk, a colleague suggested a book to me that spoke so powerfully to what I wanted to say that I cannot resist quoting from it here.

“In the beginning was the word. This is of course one of the most shattering metaphysical statements in the New Testament, and more than any other statement it provides the basis for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. But it’s not only a metaphysical statement. With its roots simultaneously in the Hebrew and the Greek tradition—in the Hebrew tradition, where the very first act of God in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible is to speak, and in the Greek tradition, where the word for “word” and the word for “reason” are the same—this declaration affirms that the act of communication is at the very center not only of human existence and its origins but of the mystery of the Divine Being itself.  And so the transmission of the word, the moving of the word from within to without, from the word that dwells within to the word that emerges, logos endiatbetos to logos propborikos—the mystery of that process is the mystery of divine communication and of divine self-communication, and therefore of the Divine Self.

Human beings, being created, according to that first chapter of the first book of the Bible, in the divine image, in the image of a God who has no face, participate through the divine image in the mystery of the Divine Being by reflecting those capacities of the Divine Being that lie at the center of self-revelation. And those capacities are two, but finally they are one: the capacity to love and the capacity to communicate. For in the beginning was the word.”

The writer here is Jaroslav Pelikan, “Writing as a means of grace” in Going on Faith: Writing as a Spiritual Quest, edited by William Zinsser, Marlowe/Publishers Group West, 1998 pbk.

If librarianship is the connecting of people to ideas – and I believe that is the truest definition of what we do – then librarianship too is a means of grace. We connect people to the idea, the thought, the word. The Divine.

 So let’s talk about a few words, the kinds of words that we use to define ourselves and our work.  Let’s talk about the word technology. It has a wonderful derivation, from the Greek techne, for art or artifice, from the IndoEuropean base tekth, to weave or join; the Greek tekton, for carpenter; and the Latin texere, to weave or to build. That dictionary search proved to me that the technology we are working with, using words like web and architecture and cyberspace, is tied to the word rather elegantly. We librarians have always been creative in our uses of technology to connect the reader and the idea, so it isn’t a word that should startle or surprise us. Just now we are trying to get two specific kinds of technologies, our books and our terminals, to lie down peacefully together, the lion and the lamb.

There’s a story I like to tell about technology — about the technology of the hearth. The invention of the stone hearth captured and harnessed a terrifying power, that of fire, and domesticated it. The stone hearth made possible long-term cooking, light when it was dark outside, warmth when it was cold, and storytelling after dinner. The image of the hearth is still the image of warmth, solace, sustenance, and comfort after lo! these many centuries.

But — bringing fire inside the house! — imagine that. Imagine how strange, how terrifying, it must have been. Imagine how the first person to carry the living flames in a bowl of rock into the cave, or the shelter, was jeered at and, probably, accused of terrible things. She would destroy what had been so carefully nurtured. She would harm the children.  There would be untold dangers. But it turned out all right, didn’t it?

I think the current folderol about books versus bytes is going to turn out all right, too. It is extremely instructive to go back through library literature and read about the extraordinary and vicious controversies that surrounded the acquisition of audiobooks— books on tape — in libraries two or three decades ago. There was a lot of talk of “automation” and the soul of librarianship about twenty years ago. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — around the time our parents and grandparents were born, not so long past — librarians argued with great passion and evident sincerity about the morality of adding modern fiction to their collections, you know, regular novels, not necessarily “literature.”

Can you imagine?

I amuse myself by trying to imagine what our professional children and grandchildren are going to think about our getting all bent out of shape over computers and their myriad uses, over the use of the word “information,” over the struggle we clearly are still having with technology.

There is a radio program about early music that airs in New York City called Here of a Sunday Morning with a wonderful fellow – he’s British, by the way, and an attorney in real life – named Chris Whent http://www.hoasm.org/. Recently when discussing the rise of printing in Europe in the fifteenth century, he noted that some scholars viewed increasing literacy and the accessibility of the new printed books with great alarm. Why, anyone could print anything with a scholar’s name on it, and who would know any better? How could we be sure if we didn’t hear it directly from the scholar’s lips?

And so I quote from Socrates, as Plato said,

“…even the best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness…”

Does this sound familiar to you? It should. We have been there before.

That view, of course, comes from Plato’s Phaedrus, in which Socrates and Phaedrus discourse on the unreliability of written text  <http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/phaedrus.html&gt;.  It sounds so much like current discussions about scholarly verification and authentication in cyberspace that I found it quite startling.

 In the current media and political obsession about access to pornography on the net, tangled as it is in deep notions of sexuality, gender, morality, and the care of children, we have lost track of a very great revolution:  the way the net has engendered a resurgence of words. People are writing again. It is a pleasure to watch an email correspondent go from all capital letters and no signature to gossipy, thoughtful, or informative posts online. Even Instant Messenger, with its funny abbreviations and iconographic emoticons, offers a power to words, to communication, to that divine signature we talked about earlier.

Whatever else the net has done to us, we cannot deny its word power. Nor can we deny that it has brought us together in ways we could not even have conceived of just a few years ago. I have daily conversations with people in California; in Kansas; in Texas; in England; and in Norway. Some of these people I have never met face-to-face. But they are as much my colleagues and coworkers as anyone I have ever shared a cup of tea with in the staff room. Now that I am working primarily as a consultant and teacher, they are even more my colleagues. My work happens, as this speech was composed, in my office at home, my second floor aerie, in the Northeast Bronx in New York City, alone, but wired indeed.

 Another word I want to spend some time with is the word “librarian.” One of the things librarians have always been about is preserving the past. And not preserving it in amber, crystalline but very dead, but preserving it as a living entity, so that the voice of Hildegard of Bingen or Julian of Norwich or Elaine Pagels or Mary Daly can be heard as clearly in the pages we keep as if they were speaking to us. As indeed they are.

Since we know that we are somehow anointed to preserve the past, it may be difficult to keep that sense of hallowed purpose in facing the future, which seems to change moment by moment, to say nothing of keeping track of the present, which shifts like pixels on a screen as we watch. We like to think of the past, of course, as immutable, but we know perfectly well that’s not true. When I was in college in the Sixties and studied the Romantic poets, I learned that Dorothy Wordsworth was a silly, empty-headed woman and a drag on her brother William’s creativity. When my son attended the same university – Fordham, I am Jesuit-trained, can’t you tell? – some twenty years later, he learned that Dorothy was William’s soul mate, an accomplished diarist. Her journals provided her brother with insight and observation that he turned into splendid and glorious poetry. I actually find it comforting that the past can change, because it makes the change of the present and future a little less harrowing.

When asked to define what we do, as I did earlier, I say that librarianship is the connecting of people to ideas. And it isn’t always good ideas, either. The joy of sitting down with a book full of trashy, silly, or wrongheaded ideas is certainly one of the delights of literacy. It is also one of the things that makes the Internet so much fun. We recall, too, that ideas once thought silly or wrongheaded or just plain evil include things like votes for women, and ideas once thought right and necessary like slavery or child labor are thought of rather differently now.

Fine librarian-like words like access and choice lead inevitably to questions of truth. Now there is a word to conjure with. I liked it better when I believed that there was only one truth. But anyone with children who has ever listened to three of them explain how the doll got broken knows about differences in truth. Truth is neither immutable nor always clear, and we search valiantly for truth among conflicting reviews, contradictory memos, and simultaneous requests.

When we are making acquisitions decisions, the question of “whose truth?” is bound to come up.

This is not to say that we can acquire, or even access, everything. Sound professional judgment informs how we spend our precious funds, to support the life of the university or the casual browser. But I always reminded my library students in preservation that it is not always clear what future scholars will have wanted us to keep. I don’t think Margaret Drabble will vanish from the shelves, but Barbara Cartland might. We cannot accuse Cartland of being a writer, but what her romances say about society, culture, and the place of women cannot be ignored by the 22nd century scholar of women’s history.

It is lovely to think of ourselves, library workers all, as living in a global village, but sometimes I think the library universe is more kin to the cantina at the Mos Eisley spaceport, the interspecies bar in the first Star Wars movie. That is an image of terrifying diversity in the pursuit, one imagines or hopes, of the same thing. Obiwan, the sage of the movie, describes the town to young Luke, the hero, as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”  “We must be cautious.” he adds. And we are rubbing elbows — and sometimes other, more intimate parts — with people who call themselves librarians but who look and act mighty different from us.

Issues that have divided us before: access and censorship now in the guise of filtering the internet; the question of outsourcing – paying a vendor to provide services that used to be handled in-house – are dividing us again. While we think through these questions it is important to remember that we have done this before. Librarians have a history; and so does the pursuit of knowledge. Some of the examples I have mentioned, from the stone hearth to printing in the West to audiotapes, had people worrying about the safety of their children, the preservation of their morals, and holding fast to the devil they know.

Most of us are doing things in our professional lives that would have been unimaginable to the selves we were when we got our undergraduate degrees, and unimaginable to the newly minted librarians we were when we started out, if we started out more than a decade ago. We need to hold on to that knowledge, for change is our only certainty. Let us make that a comfort, for if we are not changing, we are probably dead. And if we aren’t dead, we are victims of psychosclerosis: the hardening of the attitudes.

 I know that the theme of your conference was research. One of the things I do for a living is research. What that means in my professional life is that I read reams of stuff on a topic and then try to get it down into 1500 words. I once turned 200 pages from the Association of Research Libraries on copyright into a two-page handout. I have researched and written a baker’s dozen Tech Notes for the Public Library Association on topics that range from intranets to wireless networks to metadata. Most of the time, I had not a clue as to what the topic was when I started. What it has taught me is humility: a certain humility in the face of the sure knowledge that we will never find it all.

 Speaking of words, as we have, like information and story, in the September 1, 1997 editorial in Booklist, the American Library Association’s review journal, editor and publisher Bill Ott makes a distinction between those words, and between information folk and story folk, that is instructive. I believe, however, that it is false at best and perfidious at worst. Now, Bill is my editor, a good man, and a fine and strong voice in librarianship, but I respectfully disagree with his point. The thing is that most of the working librarians I know — and I know very many of them — do a very good job of integrating the “story” parts of their jobs with the “information” parts. They haven’t lost track of — let us say it out loud — the sacred connection between book and reader.

What has been in the news and in the literature is a focus on the conflicts between those two roles, the storyteller and the information provider, whilst in real life most of us are integrating them, perhaps not seamlessly, but well enough.

Information, access, technology, research, story – those words have implications for our female-intensive profession. All of the issues we have talked about include feminism, I hope obviously. The practice of feminism for me mirrors in some ways the practice of religion. And I think it is important to note that feminism is not just something we think or have, it is something we do. We have to practice feminism the way we practice religion: in ways both small and large, every single day. And the small ways count. Feminism informs my daily practice, the way I choose to live my life,  both personally and professionally. There isn’t much I can do about the big things, so I focus on small ones. I try to choose female examples of whatever it is I am talking about. I try to find women to quote. I try to recognize that the woman who is my tax accountant also has three small daughters under the age of six.

Here is a place where the future looks better. I see, with awe and with fondness, the woman (no longer my son’s wife but still and always my daughter) the financial programmer and mathematician, whose graduate degree is from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a study and a place that never entered my head even in my wildest imaginings when I was her age.

It is easier for her than it is for my generation, but it isn’t easy. In a profession as overwhelmingly female as ours, it is especially not easy. Remember Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, recounting how she was chased from the university grass and onto the gravel path by an outraged Fellow one fine autumn day, for having the temerity to wander about freely. She was refused entrance to the library, too, as I recall, as she was unaccompanied by a Fellow, or by a letter of introduction.

It’s better now, I mean, here we are. But all we ever wanted—all we ever insisted upon—was the freedom to make the same choices that men do, without losing our hearts, our jobs, or our children in the process. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. Even now.

 Perhaps the reason librarians have such an affinity for mystery and romance, fantasy and cyberpunk, is that we see it ourselves daily in the vast human mystery and romance of research, of casual curiosity, of this reader with this need, and that insatiable human desire to run and find out.

From Shakespeare’s Prince Harry to Sayers’ Harriet Vane, the book and the reader, the child and the idea, the scholar and citation, have come together because of us. That’s a truth that can comfort us in the hard times, and it’s always hard times, isn’t it? We bring together people and ideas, and we do it with words. We bring the word. And in that word, we participate, as Pelikan says, in the divine image.

In Margaret Atwood’s poem called “Spelling” she writes

“My daughter plays on the floor

With plastic letters…

Learning how to spell


How to make spells…

A word after a word

after a word is power.”

We claim and own the words. We name ourselves and our work.

That is what the truth is.

GraceAnne A. DeCandido 2001

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