The Pack Horse Librarian

Rolling up my sleeves, Jumping on the horse, Ready for the ride


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A Slow dinner chez moi, a few months ago.

I’ve just finished the introduction to Berg and Seeber’s The Slow Professor. I was about to type that “I can’t wait to read more,” but in the spirit of this book, I’ll rephrase that. I enjoyed reading the first 15 or so pages of this book and will savor these scholars’ research and writing as much, and as slowly — or lentement — as they say in French, as I can. Here are some quotes that I’m still rolling around in my mind’s hungry mouth, and that I’d like to remember from my reading tonight:

“As Mark C. Taylor puts it ‘Speed Kills,’ and the casualties are many…” (p. 8).

“Slow Professors act with purpose, taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience, able, as Collini puts it to hold our ‘nerve'” (What are Universities for? 85). (p. 11). (emphasis mine)

“In response to the colleagues who have told us to wake up and get with the program or that they are simply too busy to slow down, we wish to emphasize that the Slow movement is ‘not a counter-cultural retreat from everyday life…not a return to the past, the good old days … neither is it a form of laziness, nor a slow motion version of life’ (Parkins and Craig ix). Rather it is a ‘process whereby everyday life — in all its pace and complexity, frisson and routine — is approached with care and attention … and attempt to live in the present in a meaningful, sustainable, thoughtful, and pleasurable way’ (Parkins and Craig ix). (p. 11).

“We want a cure that not only will work but also feel good” (p. 12).

“The contribution we hope to make combines politics with pleasure…We see our book as uncovering the secret life academic, revealing not only her pains but also her pleasures…” (p. 12).

“In fact, patriarchal values opened the door to corporatization” (p. 12).






As Banned Books Week rolled around this year, I found myself thinking a lot about freedom, and my own relationship to that word. I tried to agitate my slightly complacent attitudes towards these concepts. What did I really feel about freedom, censorship, and information?  Would I help a library user find information about making drugs, for example? Would I steer a pre-teen away from John Updike novel? Would I include a book in my library’s collection even if its politics were incredibly, in my opinion, passe?

I came to no easy conclusions, except for the realization that freedoms, like relationships, are very complex and take work. Lots and lots of work. I’m proud that many, many librarians do not shy way from this difficult work — that they step up to defend the freedom to read, even when it is not popular. That they selflessly support freedoms even when it causes them to be thrown into the spotlight. That they tirelessly think about these freedoms, and what they mean, the best ways to advocate for them, and to ensure that they are protected.  Librarians know that freedom isn’t easy or simple or without difficult, murky gray areas, but that the alternative — censorship — is far more dark and frightening.

For my own small part in this work, I decided do a Banned Book Week display/activity at our university library.  I organized this with two of my library colleagues. We met to plan our display and immediately decided on a couple of things.  We wanted to highlight the history of banned books, but also the idea that libraries are fierce defenders of the freedom to read. Towards these ends, we wanted to provide a bit of context around the week. We also definitely wanted our display to be interactive. Instead of chaining up our books, or yellow-taping them, as many displays choose to do, we decided to make our display/activity as colorful and inviting as possible — more like a celebration than an admonition.  We printed out  several past ALA Banned Book Week and Freedom to Read flyers, and made one of our own. We also chose several historically banned books and, playing up an element of surprise, hid the books under bags.  Our display asked library users to “guess” which book was under each bag, based on the reason that it was banned.



Our display turned out great, and we witnessed lots of people interacting with it. Several people even told us at the front desk that they appreciated the message and reminder that we were trying to convey — that we should celebrate, respect, and defend our freedom to read what we please, instead of taking it for granted or overlooking infringements upon it. I’m pleased the display and activity came together this year.  In future years, I would further encourage people to remember that word freedom, instead of, perhaps the “banned” part of banned books week.  For, it is looking forward with an open mind that progress is forged, however challenging that road may be.

People Sources

Discussing people sources with some awesome media studies students. Photo by David Silver

Discussing people sources with some awesome media studies students. Photo by David Silver


A media studies professor at the university where I work recently asked me if I’d share one of my favorite library “tidbits” with his class. (This particular professor prefers this casual approach, as opposed to traditional one-off info lit sessions that freshman and sophomores receive as their library orientation).

This year, I decided to bring the students to our library’s collection of masters theses and doctoral dissertations, which are shelved in one concentrated area. I wanted to show the students the acknowledgements pages of these projects, and I especially wanted to show them the many, many people that theses and dissertation writers thank in those pages.

While struggling through my own thesis, I became obsessed with reading acknowledgement pages. They served as a reminder that I could and should ask for help, and that research and writing is NOT always a solitary activity, but a collaborative one. I consider talking to people about my research and writing — indeed, asking for help — as one of the most important things I learned to do while completing my thesis.

And so I shared this with the undergraduate students I spoke with that day, and asked them to consider reaching out to library resources, AND people, in their travels at the university.

People resources are invaluable to research. They can lead us to new sources, help us find existing sources that we might not know about, and offer corrective feedback that search engines cannot. They can question our logic, challenge our ideas, and ask for clarification. Used in tandem with online and hard copy sources, people sources fill in gaps to make our research as solid as it can be.

Fun History Friday

Did you know that there were pack horse librarians in California?  I recently learned, for example, that Monterey Librarian Anne Hadden would ride by horse into the Big Sur region to deliver books to people there. I don’t know why, but reading about this history gave me the chills. Can you just imagine that ride? Fun!

This article provides some great information about Hadden, and quotes from her papers: Reconceptualizing Women’s History: Anne Hadden and the California County Library System by Denise Sallee Libraries & Culture , Vol. 27, No. 4 (Fall, 1992), pp. 351-377.

Here are some amazing pictures from Monterey County Free Libraries, via Calisphere:


My Poke

I’m finally cleaning out my purse from last week, and found this, which just about sums the rest of ALA up:


(I didn’t wear those pins on my conference badge…or did I??)

[I didn’t!!]

ALA Round-Up

giada and me

Giada and me. I had her sign a book for my sister, a big fan.

I’ve just returned from Chicago, and my first ALA conference. So as not to forget, here’s a round-up of just some of the key points that I took away from the conference, and my trip:

– I’ve never been to a Giant’s victory parade, but I’ve now been to a Chicago Blackhawks one. Fans, anywhere, are so fun.

– Opening keynote speaker and author of Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt, told us that he failed the AP Calculus exam in high school. Perhaps one of the most famous economists in the US right now got a 2 on the AP Calculus exam.   Failure is a funny thing, no?

– McCormick Place is massive, ALA is huge, but so many of the librarians walking around looked…familiar. And not because they fit any sort of stereotype. I genuinely believed I knew many of them.

– I loved the poster sessions, especially the one that calculated the ROI of Reserves.  No surprise: Students want/need expanded reserves services in the worst way.

– Cory Doctorow: “taking something apart can be an empowering act.”  Many years of close reading have taught me this. I now see how taking apart physical objects, like electronics, is similar.

– From another program: collect autoethnographies from faculty researchers. No survey or interview or the like will capture how and what they do, and how we as librarians can help.  It’s waaaaay more complicated and idiosyncratic than that.

– Temple Grandin, paraphrased: The worst thing you can do is nothing…We need to get out of our silos and work together.

-Giada De Laurentiis, when asked how to encourage anti-cooks and teenagers to like cooking, paraphrased: If they can’t pop popcorn, pop it for them. Teach them to assemble dishes first.  You have to make it simple and easy for them. People are intimidated by what they perceive they don’t know.

–  Ben Bizzle, head of IT at Jonesboro Public Library, paraphrased: If you’re offering something for free, and people are still paying for it somewhere else, you’re doing it wrong…Creativity requires a thick skin. Protecting someone’s (or your own) ego instead of going with a better idea is wrong…Push the envelope just enough.

– Info lit. Financial lit. Health lit. “Fusion of topics breeds excitement.” Naperville Public Library.

– Alice Walker, word for word: “Women of the world, is this devastation part of us?… Resuscitate the mothership.”  

– Jane Addams was deemed by the US government as one of the most dangerous women in America, for her anti-war activism and for exposing the plight of poor immigrants and workers in the US. (Refer to Walker quote above.)

– The Chicago Cultural Center is amazing (I wonder how they work it out with CPL?), and I hope this comes to SF:

There’s so much more…but I have to go attend to some cataloging and archives and manuscripts homework. Ciao.

Adventure Time.


Check out the bottom, left hand corner of page 34:

LBC, see you in November!