A librarian describes the various career choices he considered before settling on his current career. For many years he tried to get his novels published, but abandoned that pursuit in favor of writing library science books. He also nominates the best library science title, author and series.
Out here in the middle of the center-field bleachers, the sun feels warmer than the 78 degrees showing on the scoreboard thermometer. Up above, the sky is that subtle shade of pale blue that Martha Stewart would call a diaphanous indigo. (Note to reader: Don't worry. Keep reading. This will not be a "baseball is the meaning of life" or an "I love Martha Stewart" column.) The 7,000 people around me are mellow. Beer is flowing. Hot dogs are roasting. No one seems particularly interested in the score. The only reason I am here is because it's a good place to smoke a cigar and write a column. The atmosphere is more like a casual backyard gathering of remotely acquainted friends than a big-league baseball game. But this is not really big-league baseball. it's the Cactus League - that annual rite of spring when the baseball world from California to Chicago descends into the Arizona desert to worship the midday sun and shag a few fly balls.
The high arc of a pop-up to right field carries me back 36 years to an equally warm spring day when I was being scouted by the now defunct Seattle Pilots. I could hit, I could field, but as the Pilot scouts would soon discover, I could not throw. My determined but feeble tosses from deep in the hole at second sealed my fate. It was time to face facts. I'd have to find another occupational field.
So I went to college and for a while considered becoming a U.S. senator, but the prospect of having to run for re-election every six years wasn't really very appealing. Then I turned my thoughts to becoming a Roman Catholic priest, but a girl named Lorraine convinced me that celibacy was not something that was wired into my genetic circuit board.
Finally, and for all time, I decided to set my sights on becoming a writer. In my American Lit course, we were required to read Carlos Bakers lively biography of Ernest Hemingway. That book changed my life because after reading it, I decided that the authorial lifestyle fit me to perfection. According to Baker, Hemingway's life was one long fiesta - running with the but is in Spain, swimming off the cote d'Azur, sipping wine in Paris, deep-sea fishing in the Gulf Stream, hunting elephants in Africa, climbing mountains in Kenya, skiing in the alps, and making love to beautiful women all over the world. That settled it. I would be a world-famous author.
So in my senior year of college, I started writing my first novel. It was set in Haiti, and I called the book Voodoo Doom. I modeled it after Moby Dick. The Ahab character was a renegade French priest who ran a Roman Catholic mission in the middle of the mountains. In fighting the evil of voodoo, he preferred machine guns to rosary beads. His white whale was a voodoo priest whose jet black skin had mysteriously turned a ghostly pale (a la Michael Jackson). It was a terrible novel with no redeeming literary or social value. I know this because that's what every editor that I submitted it to said.
Knowing that very few world-famous authors strike it rich with their first manuscripts and discovering that Lorraine was pregnant, I realized that I needed a day job. So I went to library school. What better day job could there be for an aspiring world-famous author? I got my degree and then a job as a reference librarian. At night, I wrote and wrote and wrote. But all my novels and stories were rejected and rejected and rejected.
The last novel I wrote was a tragic comedy entitled Who's Killing the Fat Men of Farmingdale? It was semiautobiographical because it was about an overly idealistic reference librarian who becomes disillusioned by the amount of money the library is spending on fad diet books in order to satiate the reading appetites of the steady stream of fat library patrons who are desperate to lose weight. He thinks that the book budget should be spent on literary classics, and when a goodly number of these corpulent customers begin showing up dead all over town, mass hysteria results.
After it was rejected, I decided to abandon writing once and for all and focus on my library career. I got a job as a director of a small-town Wisconsin library and devoted all my energies to the creative process of bringing people and books together. Unfortunately, hardly anybody used this quaint little Main Street library. To get them interested, I began writing a modest little library column in the weekly newspaper. I called the column "Snowballs in the Bookdrop." it was a hit, people started checking out books, and believe it or not, I got some attention in one of the national library magazines. One thing led to another, and I was soon churning out columns and books on a regular basis. The only problem was that they were all on the subject of library science, not exactly a topic that engenders wealth, fame, or even respect. Royalties from library-science books will not pay for hunting safaris to Kenya.
We've all engaged in the sport of belittling our professional literature. Yes, it is usually dull, and yes, it is often weighted down with the barnacles of procedural dicta. in commenting on my first library-science book, my banker brother said, "Some random sex and violence would help keep the reader awake." But no matter how bad the bulk of library literature may be, the fact of the matter is that it is ours, and we should at least celebrate those books that are well written and have something important to say. So in the hopes of drawing a little positive attention to the vineyard where I labor, here are my picks for the best library-science title, author, and series of all time:
Best Title - The Failure of Resource Sharing in Public Libraries and Alternatives Strategies for Service. Written by Tom Ballard and published by the American Library Association, this 1988 publication is the liveliest and most impressive piece of scholarship ever to come out of the library profession. Flying in the face of conventional thinking, Ballard argues convincingly that library patrons and communities have been poorly served by the millions of dollars spent on resource sharing and the development of multilibrary systems. The book is thoroughly researched and brilliantly written.
Best Author - the American Library association should designate Sanford Berman an endangered species and should do everything to protect this man so that he can continue to propagate his wonderfully diverse library-science writings. Unlike most authors of the library-science genre, Berman has a true literary style. His wit, his fearlessness, and his outrageousness are unmatched. I doubt if the medical or legal professions have anyone as gifted as Berman at taking a tepid subject like cataloging and infusing it with energy and controversy. He makes you proud to be a librarian.
Best Series - Despite that eccentric cataloging professor you might have had in grad school who wore a white lab coat because he thought of himself as a library scientist, our profession is more of a practical art than a pure science. No group of books addresses the ordinary, day-to-day problems of our profession with the clarity and practicality of the Neal-Schuman How to Do It manuals. The 50-plus books in this series are consistently sensible and helpful. That's probably because they are written by actual working librarians as opposed to lab-coated cataloging professors.