in memoriam, Celeste West, revolting librarian

I was saddened today to hear of the death of Celeste West; my sincere apologies if you are hearing about it here first. Celeste, no relation to me, was one of the two fiesty authors of the original Revolting Librarians back in 1971. She wrote the introduction to our follow-up, Revolting Librarians Redux and really pushed us to think about ideas such as copyright and the whole idea of publishing through another company as opposed to doing it ourselves. Her answering machine, which I frequently spoke to in those days said something to the effect of “Send me a sunbeam” and though I’d like to think our back and forth conversations about licensing and releases fit the bill, I suspect they may not have.

In addition to her library writing with dry titles such as The Public Library Mission Statement and Its Imperatives for Service, she also wrote Lesbian Love Advisor and Lesbian Polyfidelity. She was also the first editor of Synergy a newsletter for SFPL’s experimental Bay Area Reference Center. Celeste discussed the relationship between the city’s transforming culture and the local library activities.

She described the city as “a trend-mecca–whether it be communal living, campus riots, gay liberation, independent film making … you name it and we’ve got it.” But what San Francisco had, she argued, was not reflected in library collections unless somebody took the time to pull together “the elusive printed material.” Thus, Synergy began examining the nature of library card catalogs, indexes, and selecting tools because its staff believed that such tools were mostly “rear-view mirrors” that provided little or no bibliographic access to the public’s current information needs. [library juice]

And, like any activist, her accomplishments expand well beyond this brief list of specifics. As her friend Judy said in her email to me “I hope someone will do a piece on her pirate queen life and what she has done to make libraries a little bit freer.” and I hope the same. There is a brief piece on the SF Zen Center blog, where she was a librarian from 1986-2006, with a grinning photo of her and a bit more information about an upcoming memorial service, should you be in the Bay Area and want to pay your respects.

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