A Short and Inexact History


Progressive Librarianship

Jessamyn "I have a Masters degree in Librarianship" West



Library of Alexandria

First, there was the Library of Alexandria.

It contained a great repository of writings from all over the world and a lot of fat and happy librarians who got to wear long flowing comfortable robes and didn't even have a need for so-called "casual" Fridays.

The Library of Alexandria had zero public access terminals and no photocopying machine. Life was good.

Library of Alexandria

It was burned to the ground, a few times, by people who hate freedom.

This was the start of the great librarian scowl, and crappy work clothes.

And, since enemies of our enemies are our friends, we now love the freedom to read.

Melville Dewey Dui

Dewey was a great scowler.

He was an enemy of disorder. And he liked his words spelled simply. Always erudite, he wrote this letter to his alma mater on Library Journal letterhead.
"Sum day, dear Amherst, may it be my happy lot tu pruv how great iz the love I bear yu. Proud, always, everywher to be counted among yur sonz, I am Very truly, Melvil Dui."
Father of modern librarianship indeed.

Melville Dewey Dui

A few things could make old Melvil smile, however... Melvil brought new meaning to the phrase "the personal is political" [and I'm kidding about the smiling, I've never seen a picture of the guy smiling]

History: Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

Ranganathan is considered the father of library science ... in India.

Just as Dewey thought that there was one God [231], and all the other religions got stuffed together in the 290s, we also think there is one "Father Of Library Science" and another "Father of Library Science, Indian"

Ranganathan proposed Five Laws of Library Science which brought the idea of user services to the forefront of library discourse...

History: Ranganathan, Remixed

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his or her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. A Library is a growing organism.
This list has been adapted recently to the web world. See Lennart's page for the rest of it, but most notably he said: Ranganathan had a rich professional life unblemished by scandal, quickie resignations, unseemly affairs, or harrassment allegations at ALA conferences. He never talked smack about library patrons and would always tell them what time it was, even when he was sitting right next to the clock.

History: Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan, Nice Guy

And as a result, no one outside of the library profession has ever heard of Ranganathan.

This despite the fact that his principles of facet analysis are the basis for the schema used by Yahoo and other web directories.

Other Not So Nice Guys

Various upstarts -- noticing the general disconnect between the Dewey method of efficiency at all costs versus personal, human interactions with the people who keep our libraries open -- caused all manner of troubles over the years. ALA-SRRT was founded.

Sometimes the troublemakers got together and -- with the help of lefty sympathist publishers and printers -- got the word out.

[And if you're looking for real history, read Toni Samek's book or Jennifer Cram's paper]

Revolting Librarians

Not coincidentally, the original Revolting Librarians was published in 1972, the year Ranganathan died.

Editor Celeste West [no relation, though Jessamyn and Katherine are sisters] was featured topless.

Authors were listed not with their affiliations but with their sun signs.

Revolting Librarians Redux

KR and I read Revolting Librarians in our otherwise straight-laced library schools and realized that there was a life beyond learning Dialog queries and memorizing SUDOCS numbers, that we could use our library powers for good.

We met at a SRRT meeting sitting in the back of the room making fun of an ALA presidential candidate [no one you know] roughly ten years ago.

KR got the epiphany to do a sequel to the book while in the shower, I talked my way into it at a later date.

Revolting Librarians Redux Redux

It's a cliche, but also mostly true to say the book pretty much wrote itself.

Except for being screamed at by the occasional special librarian, or having to leave messages after a writer's answering machine said "Send me a rainbow...!" It was incredibly easy to corral a bunch of disgruntled information professionals into doing something helpful and useful, for no real reward other than our undying gratitude and a free copy or two.

They tell us the book has sold a thousand copies. People write us email saying thanks. And each time some cranky pain-in-the-ass know-it-all college student decides to go to library school, we feel like we're doing our job.

But why am I telling you all of this?