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.

10 thoughts on “in memoriam, Celeste West, revolting librarian

  1. Hello. I am Tina, Celeste’s partner of six years. I am organizing the memorial for Celeste at the end of February at the San Francisco Zen Center. I will be archiving all of Celeste’s writing and anyone wanting to send any of their memories or tributes can mail them to our home, Celeste’s for 30 years: Tina Perricone, 555 29th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131.

  2. Hello Tina and friends,
    We at Lesbian Connection magazine would like to offer our condolences for Celeste’s recent passing. If possible, we’d like to include something to honor her life and her many accomplishes in our next issue of LC. Would you or someone who knew her well be willing to write something about Celeste for our Passings section? If you have a picture we could publish, please send that as well. Because we’re going to press next week, we’d need to receive the passing and the photo by next Monday (Jan 21). If you can’t send something by then, that’s ok, we can hold it for the following issue. Again, we are very sorry for your loss.
    For LC,

  3. When my colleague, Christy Kearney (at that time, Chris Rasmussen), and I first ventured into independent feminist publishing, Celeste was an encouraging influence. Since then I’ve had three books published, none by an independent publisher, however. Although I didn’t know her well, I held her in high regard and appreciated her bright spirit. I’m sorry she’s gone too soon. “What is remembered lives.” May she live in the memories of those who loved her.

    Aline O’Brien (aka M. Macha NightMare)

  4. Celeste was one of the people I had really hoped to meet someday. Thanks for sharing this memorial. She was an inspiration to many of us for her passion, critical ideas, social action, great writing, and just making it all happen.


  5. When Booklegger magazine was first published (and eventually reached this side of the Atlantic) it blew my socks off!
    It was a successful and practical attempt to relate the free-spirited ideas of anarchism to the world of books and libraries. The ripples made then still reverberate down the years, and are a greater tribute than I can put it into words.


  6. I always hoped to meet Celeste in person. I have written about Celeste’s revolutionary work for graduate courses at the University of Alberta Library School. I have been very influenced by her. Specifically I loved her response in Booklegger Magazine to women who wrote in complaining that men were contributing to the magazine…..I will plant a tree for Celeste this summer and I will honour her each Samhain!

    Blessed Be


  7. I was just a little girl when I first met Celeste. I am now 46 years old and work in the library Celeste and my mother worked in back in the late 60’s–early 70’s. I have some very vivid memories of Celeste. Once, mom had an impromptu gathering of librarians at our flat. Celeste wore cowboy boots and proceeded to show everyone how dance flamenco. We watched in fascination–her boots made so much noise on the hardwood floor that the UPSTAIRS neighbor came down to see what was going on! We really appreciated her free spirit, and her ability to do the things she wanted to do without getting in trouble. On another occasion, she gave me my first “Women’s Liberation” pin (I was about 7 years old). I was so proud of it, though my idea of what it meant was still kind of hazy. I pinned it to the inside of my yellow cardigan, and then peeled back the lapel to show a select few people. The teenagers down the street thought it was funny, but I took it very seriously. I loved the logo–a fist surrounded by a circle, with a plus-sign at the bottom. When Celeste baby-sat us I can remember her asking in an open and friendly way, “Well, what do you wanna do now?” We were stunned into silence! Never before had a babysitter put this question to us! It made all ideas of being naughty seem unnecessary–here she was, ASKING us what we wanted to do next. We had a great time with Celeste. She was so very alive, all the time. Going back and reading the Synergy and Booklegger magazines, I really appreciate even more her sense of humor and her real zest for living. I am so sorry she is gone. –Lydia Brown

  8. When I started HerBooks lesbian feminist press in 1984 Celeste West’s Passionate Perils of Publishing and later Words in Our Pockets enboldened me to do groundbreaking work and let me know that there were other women out there before me doing it! Later, I met Celeste at several feminist publishing (Women in Print) conferences and she was always zany and encouraging. I also loved her book about Elsa Gidlow. Her presence in the movement will be missed.

    Irene Reti

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