Friday, May 27, 2005

Trivial Pursuits

(a camera pans slowly over shelves and shelves of books)....

Voice-Over: These racks and shelves contain a lot of books. Tens of Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Perhaps millions. How do you feel about them?
Voice-Over: Do they mean something to you?
GreenTuna: They mean somebody has some work to do.
Voice-Over: Are they your friends?
GreenTuna: Do I look THAT desperate?
Voice-Over: Have you a real love of books and learning?
GreenTuna: As opposed to a fake love?
Voice-Over: You do? That's good!
GreenTuna: No, wait! I didn't say...

Voice-Over: Now. Do you like people?
GreenTuna: No.
Voice-Over: And do people like you?
GreenTuna: Is it a job requirement?
Voice-Over: Do you like all kinds of people?
GreenTuna: Young kids? Old kids? Kids who climb on rocks?
Voice-Over: The young as well as the old? People in all stations of life?
GreenTuna: Gas stations? Police stations? No, not really.....
Voice-Over: You do? That's wonderful! Because when you have these two important qualifications: love for books and love for people, you may well consider the vocation of a librarian. A vocation that gives full enjoyment to the librarian, and radiates it to the public.
GreenTuna: That's me. A full-enjoyment radiator.

This is an excerpt from a lovely 1947 public domain film series called: Your Life Work. This particular film, called The Librarian, documents, in all of its stereotypical glory, the noble calling of "Librarian."

In this film you see kindly Granny Librarians,

frumpy and annoyed Librarians

and younger -- yet still fashionably challenged -- librarians. Tragically, this sweatshop worker Librarian doesn't understand the difference between slimming vertical stripes, and prison-wear.

One of the best parts of the film was discovering library patrons were just as stupid in 1947 as they are today.
Young, Stupid Male Library Patron: I'm looking for a book on television. But I forgot...
Wise, Understanding Librarian: Do you know the author?
YSMLP: No, I don't. And I don't know the title either. But it's a blue book. And it kind of gives the whole know...
WUL: I think we can help you.

Voice-Over: This boy's problem was not an unusual one.
GreenTuna: Yeah. He's an IDIOT.
Voice-Over: He did not know the author's name, nor did he remember the title of the book. BUT -- he knew the subject: "Television."
GreenTuna: Three cheers and a tiger for him. This was 1947. How many books on television can there be?
Voice-Over: Because the cataloger did a good job, the book was easily located,
GreenTuna: *snort* Right. In the special room where they keep all the blue books.
Voice-Over:...and the boy was further encouraged to use the library facilities

I'm sure he was. He didn't know squat and was still presented with the book as if it were the crown jewels. If he showed up today, he'd have to browse through more than 8,000 books on television. And sorry to say, we don't separate them by color. Maybe next time he'll actually write down some pertinent information. Then again, I'll bet you any money that he doesn't have a pencil, either. Or paper.

Let me tell you how it is. Library work is part detective, part computer hacker, part Name-That-Tune expert (Music side), part Antiques Roadshow appraiser, (Art side), part HazMat employee (the removal of a plastic bag containing beer and underpants hidden in the folio stacks comes to mind) and part social worker, to name just a few.

But more often than not, the job is a blast. Be nice (treats help), and the librarian will go the extra mile for you. Case in point: A few weeks back a doctoral student came in looking for organ music he was requested to play at a wedding reception. Not the regulars. Not Bach, Mendelssohn or Wagner. Not Pachelbel or Purcell.

He needed Circus Music.

Specifically, he needed "you know -- that circus song they always play." And he sang it for me. And of course, I knew exactly what he was talking about, but had no idea what it was called.

I asked Google. I asked Amazon. But it's hard to know what to ask for when all you can do is doot-doot-doot the tune.

But because the question was so awesome (Circus music for weddings. Love IT!) and I didn't know the answer, I was determined not to give up. So, I did what any answer-obsessed, wedding music hating, computer-savvy music library type person would do. I consulted the ultimate reference source.

I emailed a clown.

As I am writing this email, trying to explain a musical tune in words...

Hi --

I have a Circus question from the Music Library. What is the title of the circus piece that is what you would think of as the "stereotypic" circus calliope piece. It's very chromatic, and the tune descends.


I hate trying to explain this....but maybe you know what I mean.

I am also having to explain clowns and blogs and people on the Internet and why a library person and semi-professional Soprano soloist would know anything about clowns and blogs and...well, lets just say this goes WAY above and beyond the "blue book" reference work. My friend, the organ-playing, circus-music requesting doctoral student spent the next 20 minutes telling this story to everybody that walked through the door, and from my office I keep hearing, "...and she emailed a CLOWN! A BLOGGING CLOWN!"

Eventually, the question was answered -- alas, not by the blogging clown (who hadn't yet received my email -- but by a passing bassoonist (insert joke here). The answer, for all interested parties and future Jeopardy contestants is:

March of the Gladiators, op. 68 by Fucik.

Of course, the organ playing circus music requesting doctoral student was happy to have the answer to his question, and I was happy to have helped him track down the answer. But my biggest reward came from none other than expert herself -- the blogging clown -- who wrote me back and told me not only had I described the song perfectly, I also had all the words right.

Forget about liking people and public radiating. The fun of working in a library is knowing the answer, and if you don't know the answer, you know where to look or whom to ask.

Even if it's a passing bassonist or a blogging clown.


Sherry said...

What a great post! Now I am going to have to present my computer/music geek friends and spouse with the need for a google for tunes....what would we call it? Tootle?

Norma said...

THis is a terrific story and I've linked to it at Collecting my thoughts. I was a vet librarian and my best jokes which deal with fertility and elimination problems usually can't be told.

Anonymous said...

You made me laugh about librarianship again! I have had quite a few funny situations...liek the gypsy seeking political asylum and the kissing pilot.

AAAAHHH Memories

MissMeliss said...

I have encountered blue book guy's ancestors while working at bookstore, only, of course, the question then was, "Do you have that book that Oprah talked about?"

* * * * *

I loved the blogging clown story. It's just...perfect.

Bozoette said...

Have I told you lately that I love you??? For I do. Even if I didn't know the title of the doot-doot circus song!

odie said...

My favorite reference question was 'Do you have the green math book?' UH.. in a University research library??? Take your pick!

'Branch' Melissa said...

Too funny! I remember the questions asked when I worked in the office across the hall from you....

Art Library Patron - "I bought this sculpture at a garage sale...can you tell me how much it is worth?"

Me - "the little orange sticker on it says $1.25, I'd go with that"


Art Library Patron II -
"I need to find a picture of that painting, by that one guy. It had a girl in it...and I need it in color"

Good to know some things never change!