Saturday, March 06, 2010

How Librarians Can Save The World

From Gilbert Tan's Facebook page: How Librarians Can Save The World. An excerpt:

In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.

Down the street from the library in Deadwood, South Dakota, the peace is shattered several times a day by the noise of gunfire — just noise. The guns shoot blanks, part of an historic re-creation to entertain the tourists. Deadwood is a far tamer town than it used to be, and it has been for a good long while. Its library, that emblem of civilization, is already more than a hundred years old, a Carnegie brick structure, small and dignified, with pillars outside and neat wainscoting in. The library director is Jeanette Moodie, a brisk mom in her early forties who earned her professional degree online. She's gathering stray wineglasses from the previous night's reception for readers and authors, in town for the South Dakota Festival of the Book. Moodie points out the portraits of her predecessors that hang in the front room. The first director started this library for her literary ladies' club in 1895, not long after the period that gives the modern town its flavor; she looks like a proper lady, hair piled on her head, tight bodice, a choker around her neck. Moodie is a relative blur. She runs the library and its website, purchases and catalogs the items in its collections, keeps the doors open more than forty hours a week, and hosts programs like the party, all with only parttime help. When she retires, she'll put on one of her neat suits, gold earrings, and rectangular glasses and sit still long enough to be captured for a portrait of her own.

Moodie is also the guardian of a goldmine, the history of a town that relies on history for its identity. She oversees an archive of rare books and genealogical records, which, when they're not being read under her supervision, are kept locked up in the South Dakota Room of the library. Stored in a vault off the children's reading room downstairs are complete sets of local newspapers dating back to 1876 that document Deadwood's colorful past in real time. A warning on the library website puts their contents in a modern context: "remember that political correctness did not exist in 19th-century Deadwood — many terms used ['negro minstrelcy,' for instance, and 'good injun'] are now considered derogatory or slanderous, but are a true reflection of our history."

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