Tag Archives: public libraries

Purple dinosaurs and the Dewey Decimal Rap

As I said in an earlier post there are a surprising number of song writers or performers using the library as a real or metaphorical context for their art and not all of it obviously in desperation. Not the numbers you find in books or films obviously but enough for someone presumably librarians, (else why do it) to produce a couple of blogs helpfully listing around 40 titles and another offering the top 10 titles featuring librarians which even included brief audio samples. There are too as you will see in a future post notable examples from A-list performers such as Greenday and Jimmy Buffet as well as examples from musical theatre but these are more than outnumbered by performers from the Z-list and all of those are simply overwhelmed by performers who would struggle to make a list even if you used the 50,000 characters of the Chinese alphabet. We’ll look at a few of those first.

The exploring and checking for lyrics about libraries brings you inevitably into contact with YouTube where there are a lot of  titles that remind you that you are  starting to disturb the sludge at the bottom of the barrel unearthing strange musical creatures that really should not see the light of day again at least not in my hearing.

There is for example a wide range of material written for kids of all ages encouraging them to use their public library on albums packed full of jolly positive messages for young minds such as eat your greens, don’t talk to strangers and never mess with a dinosaur unless he is purple, called Barney and he is telling you how wonderful your public library is[1]. So different to my younger days when libraries featured messages such as “sit down” “shut up” and “no you can’t!”

You may have been fortunate enough to come across the album from Tom Knight entitled Library Boogie at least you will be fortunate if you are looking for a way to entertain your 4 year old for about 5 minutes before you give in to their unbearable grizzling and let them watch Chugginton or Despicable Me2 again. Tom’s website suggests that his work is “a vibrant collection of original songs and skits, with variety enough to keep even the very youngest children waiting to see what will happen next” I guess the raw material for libraries was a bit less promising than some of his other subjects then as the lyrics don’t leave a lot of scope for wondering what’s coming next

“Readin’ a book, that’s what I’m talkin’ about (Oh yeah)
Get a library card and then you can check it out
(check it out, check it out, check it out)”

And you can take it home it’s not very hard
All you need is your library card”

Dave Taylor’s Funky Library is another kids’ song but he gets even more carried away in his desire to entice youngster to get that all important library card

“My own card I just got

In my pocket it’s burning hot…

In to the door I roll

I almost lose control”

Steady now! And he confesses to a funky bass beat that “My library has me burning for learning….”He has clearly been scarred, though, by an unfortunate youthful experience in a library when he must have been found indulging in illicit snacking before libraries became a lot more relaxed about that sort of thing.  “Grab a book and take a seat. No you’re not allowed to eat” he sings and keeps coming back to the theme “Cookies for the kids as long as they don’t eat inside the library”

Ticklefish, a band that were created “so that everyone could enjoy fun upbeat rock-n-roll/pop music without going bonkers by drowning in the ‘mush’ that usually defines kids music” obviously want to avoid the more prosaic stuff and concentrate instead on the library as the gateway to information and unlike Dave Taylor they have fewer reservations about eating in the library. They assure their audience that when their “brain gets hungry

Information can taste delicious

I munch on knowledge all day long

It makes my brain feel really strong. Oh yeah!

 

Which does leave you wondering if they should have checked those mushrooms they had for lunch a bit more carefully? And there is much more like this including songs produced and performed by and in conjunction with dedicated and passionate library staff and of course wonderful in their intentions if not necessarily in the execution. I can’t help thinking though that despite the junior demographic at which they are aimed they all sound either twee or prosaic or both as if they are entrants in a hastily arranged and ill-advised jingle competition for The Chartered Institute of Library and information Professionals (CILIP) or its American equivalent the American Library Association (ALA); either that or they were na advertising copy writer project for a 16 year old on work experience when he or she might have been better employed as a plumber.

Finally I suppose we should have expected someone to have a go at setting the Dewey Decimal System to music, as another kid orientated group the Hipwaders have with their Dewey Decimal System. After all if Tom Lehrer can famously and brilliantly do this with the Periodic Table of the Elements why not. Well for a start because there are only 10 classes in Dewey which doesn’t offer much scope for musical invention unlike the 117 in the Periodic Table and if you try to expand it you have to do it in multiples of 10 so the kids would have rampaged through the library with boredom before you can even reach the social sciences and they are only in the 300’s. The second reason is quite simply because it just isn’t funny enough, and thirdly, because Lehrer was a comic genius who is unlikely to be bettered and who retired from music long before anyone tried to tempt him to have a go at Dewey.

Even a musical trip through Dewey, though, is less bewildering than Frank Zappa’s “Library Card” which consists of a recitation of the rules on the back of a library card set to typically Zappaesque anti-music for 7 minutes! Even for someone who started out on the most remote outer fringes of popular music in the ‘60’s with an album entitled Weasels Ripped my Flesh and continued to drift further out until his death this is… well just bizarre. I wonder what Suzy Creamcheese would make of it?

Nothing however is as bad as the execrable attempt to get hip with the Dewey Decimal Rap. It doesn’t have an attribution which is perhaps just as well. Rap is nearly right just lacking the first letter which would be a whole lot more accurate to describe it. If you buy me a pint I’ll tell you what I really think but lets just say that it is appallingly produced badly performed, totally moronic patronising drivel. Probably someone’s idea of what a teacher thinks might persuade hip kids to use their library. Even sadder is the fact that I also found a recent library blog saying that it was one of the better attempts at this sort of thing. No it isn’t! And perhaps you need to find a new career if you think it is. But who am I to judge? Find it for yourself on YouTube if you must and make up your own mind. But don’t say you weren’t warned and I accept absolutely no responsibility for any psychological damage up to and including losing the will to ever go near a library or librarian again that might occur after viewing and listening.

The Dewey Decimal Rap. Just missing the initial C

If you want to see how it could be done you might like to check out Library Rap by MC Poindexter & The Study Crew, also available on YouTube, a very silly and rather odd diversion in the TV show Slider showing MC with his the swaggering homies in tow knocking down everyone and everything in their path as they rather threateningly take advantage of their local library where the librarian

“checks us out from behind big glasses

we walk right by and wiggle our asses“

Of course as this is prime time TV it is all done very tastefully and with its tongue firmly in its cheek as the guys issue one final menacing threat

“I give you one warning ‘cos there’ll be no repeats

Keep outta my face while I’m reading my Keats”

[1] Barney is a purple dinosaur from the US children’s show Barney and Friends. The Library is a song in the episode Honk! Honk! A Goose is on the Loose. It only gets more bizarre so check it out for yourself if you must

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‘Til Daddy takes her Tbird away….

One of the activities with which I clutter up my life  now that I have sloughed off the cares of labour and one of reasons why there is less time than I originally hoped for the blog is presenting radio shows. By a series of events that I shall spare you, several years ago  I became part of a group of enthusiasts presenting a weekly folk music programme on the local community radio station (Hermitage FM in case you are bothered which broadcasts on 99.2 FM but only if you are within the licence restricted reception area of North West Leicestershire unless you listen on the net). It is still going strong but as usual with mission creep I also found myself helping out to fill gaps in the day time schedules with the standard diet of pop music; just until they found someone better you understand. That was 6 years ago and I am still doing that two days a week less because they can’t find anyone better more because they can’t find anyone with the time and inclination to sit in a soundproof room talking to themselves desperately hoping that someone, anyone is listening.

So just what exactly has this got to with a blog about libraries?

As a presenter I have access to an enormous database of popular music covering the past 60 or so years and if you asked me to find any library references from that database with two minor but in my case significant exceptions I would fail. I mention this because having explored books films, TV and comic books for references to libraries and librarians to which I could apply my juvenile attempts at humour I had assumed that I had exhausted the possibilities. It never entered my head, therefore, that I would need to explore the world of music for references to libraries and librarians pretty sure that the last place I was ever likely to find references to libraries was in music.

Even Haydn who managed an astonishing 104 symphonies many named after every imaginable thing from hens and  bears to clocks and schoolmasters never managed a Library Symphony and no one not even librarians have been stupid enough to suggest that John Cage’s 4’33”, four and a half minutes of silence, has anything at all to do with libraries. Miles Davis never did a follow up to Kind of Blue entitled Kind of Quiet, and despite the off-the-wall nature of their songs even great humourists such as Tom Lehrer and Flanders and Swann found libraries less of an inspiration than the Periodic Table of the Elements which Lehrer set to music or the antics of a gnu “moving in next to you” which was such a success for the latter.  When Herman’s Hermits sang about “There’s a kind of hush” disappointingly but unsurprisingly it was not a celebration of the life transforming qualities of the nation’s public library system but was actually the sound “of lovers in love”; bless. Even English folk music, obsessed as it was with sailing off to sea, marching to war and the fatal sexual antics of Lady Arnold and Matty Groves did not as far as I know have a single mention of libraries in its entire and extensive canon despite the use it frequently made of the day to day work of ordinary people. Libraries were clearly not as romantic as all those herring fishermen, cunning poachers and Orcadian weavers. So I was astonished to find that I was wrong and in unlikely circumstances which is how I discovered the first of my two exceptions.

And where on earth does he fit in…?

Our management team were looking for good, pithy marketing strap lines to help us imprint the value of the Library on the limited attention span of our student brain  occupied by beer or sex and sometimes beer and sex,  and the even more fleeting attention of the university’s management team. “Come to the Library; we pay the heating bill so you don’t have to” or “Use the Library it’s close to the Union bar” that sort of thing. It is the sort of exercise that is treated as mission critical by University senior management and by most staff on a continuum that runs from complete boredom through barely disguised ridicule to utter contempt leaving the service Directors in the middle to sort out the mess with as much imagination as they can muster. To my amazement one of my colleagues in an otherwise unconnected conversation suggested  “Libraries gave us power” which he explained was taken from a Manic Street Preachers song that had used this slogan as the opening line to one of their songs, Design for Life. Despite my love of just about any genre of music throughout my life the Manics along with all the other artists who appeared and flourished in the 1980’s had completely passed me by as it was from that period in our lives when our entire listening material to which were contractually obliged to sing along comprised an endless repetition of “the wheels on the bus go round and round” to very young daughters. When I pursued this with my much younger colleague he explained that the Manics were very much his era and added that he was glad to be reminded of the track because he hadn’t listened to much music himself recently as his entire current listening material to which he was obliged to sing along comprised an endless repetition of “the wheels on the bus go round and round” to his own very young daughter. And before I move on and to complete the cycle we are now in the phase of our life when my wife and I look after our grandson every week and guess what he likes us to sing with him…endlessly. But I am digressing

The slogan that the Manics employed is adapted from the inscription above one of the doors of a branch library in their home town of Newport, South Wales. The actual phrase is “Knowledge is Power” originally coined by Francis Bacon. Not the C20th painter who always seemed to clumsily smudge his paintings but from a much earlier Francis Bacon, the philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who is also definitely not to be confused with Ken Morley better known as Reg Holdsworth former star of Coronation Street who chose “Knowledge is Power” as the title for his autobiography because it was a phrase he used a lot apparently. You will know better than me because the last time I watched Coronation Street Ena Sharples was still a pinup! The quote inspired the band to write Design for Life and seems to have come to their attention because bassist Nicky Wire’s wife was working for Newport Libraries at the time. It is rather bleak song that links the proud aspiration of working class learning that has always been a major part of public library history with the emptiness of the lives of some modern day young people who “don’t talk about love we only want to get drunk”. Borrowing inspiration from libraries is something they are unlikely to do again though as for their pains the band were roped into perform the official opening of Cardiff’s new Central Library where the lyric  “libraries gave us power” has been inscribed on a plaque at Cardiff’s new £15m library. This inevitably involved making all sorts of positive quotes about the value of libraries  which I am sure were very genuine but I can’t help wondering what Keith Moon the late drummer of the Who would have made of it? His claim to fame was driving his Rolls Royce into his swimming pool! Now that’s rock and roll!

This chance encounter as usual led to another. You wait years to find a song that mentions libraries and then several come along all at once. A few weeks after discovering Design for Life, I was inattentively listening to one or other of the Radio 2 programmes that act as aural wallpaper on my drive into work when John Humphries had become just so unbearably bombastic on the Today programme on Radio 4 that you would rather listen to the snivelling insincere and poorly briefed politicians than have him in interrupt again before they have got two syllables out in response to a his rambling question that was loaded with malice aforethought. I found myself singing along to a Beach Boys classic, Fun Fun Fun, about the poor little Californian rich girl driving round in Daddy’s Thunderbird and for once actually heard what they said about “she forgot all about the Library that she told he old man yeah” How come after listening to this track on and off for donkey’s years had I not heard the mention of the Library or at least the mention had not registered with me. Of course it was the classic teenage kids ploy “Just off to the Library Daddy, can I borrow the car please”, “Sure Honey, study hard” And off she goes to a clandestine assignation with the boy of whom Daddy disapproves but the mention of the Library is enough to deflect any parental concern. After all what could possibly happen in a Library?

It is exactly the same across cultures. One of my former PAs, a Muslim assured me that the reason why we had so many Asian students in the library was not because they were a particularly studious lot determined to make the most of the privilege of a place at university, although many were that as well, but because it was the place where parents would trust their youngsters to go without them messing around with the opposite sex which was what they wished to strictly control.  What Mum and Dad didn’t know and as we discovered every day in my own university library was that as soon as their daughter got to the library they went straight to the Ladies toilet put on their makeup changed into a shorter skirt and then spent all the rest of the day flirting with all the blokes who had driven up in their smart cars and spent all day in the library without a single book or notepad because their intention wasn’t studying either! In the evening the makeup would come of the skirt was changed and off they went home truthfully telling everyone that they had had a good day in the Library.

There was even a poster on exactly that theme on my office wall many years ago, which I have since lost, showing the back of a sofa, several naked arms and legs and random underwear strewn about with the caption “If Mom calls tell her I’m at the library” which has even been hijacked as the strap line for a London bar adjacent apparently to Barnet College cleverly called The Library. So I think we are beginning to see a trend here which as we shall see will feature prominently in this chapter.

These two quite unexpected encounters with libraries in pop and rock music set me off on the trail of other musical references that I might have missed or simply knew nothing about. After all if headliner bands such as Manic Street Preachers and The Beach Boys have used the library motif then who knows what lurked in the dense undergrowth of the music that rarely gets air time on national or local radio from performers hoping to make it big, bands who never will and the largest sector, acts that don’t care whether they make it or not but are just happy to keep on making their kind of music for their kind of fans. What I discovered will keep us occupied and I hope interested for the next few posts.

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Tweed skirt and gun

Last time we discovered how handy librarians might be at protecting themselves and their work if called upon. The heroic and resourceful librarians of The Edge Chronicles with their consummate skill in swordplay and hand to hand combat offer the kind of cautionary tale that should be compulsory reading for all new government ministers with responsibility for libraries so that they understand the extraordinary power of librarians and the terrible retribution they can wreak if they are attacked with malicious intent. Then again most ministers are probably complacent enough to laugh off the idea of a band of paramilitary librarians as just fantasy from some fictional other world; what they might be less blasé about is the fact that the warrior librarians have a rather more realistic looking c21st counterpart.

library-war-manga2When I first came across the name Library War as part of my research I entertained all too brief images of some mighty international battle between the great libraries of the world over who has the oldest Shakespeare Folio or the rarest Gutenberg Bible and then my mind drifted and I though it sounds like a great idea for a more high-minded version of those vapid, life draining Saturday evening reality TV shows that invite members of the public desperate for TV exposure to make fools of themselves in the name of entertainment; the modern version of bear-baiting. The show would have three distinct phases to test all aspects of skill a bit like the Krypton Factor. Teams of librarians from all over the country will be put through their paces first answering questions about their collection; do they know their Gone Girl from Gone with the Wind or The Da Vinci Code from The Highway Code; then the numerical challenge to see who can construct the longest and most convoluted classification number for obscure books on astrophysics so that no one can find them on the shelves and finally their physical strength and agility is tested, taking a wonky trolley of newly returned Mills and Boon and Nora Roberts romances and Wilbur Smith adventures up a steep slippery slope, across a lake avoiding the giant swinging inflatable Finance Directors hoping to save a few bob by dumping them in it, and then the supreme challenge, running the gauntlet of dozens of older borrowers who have spent the past week locked in a secret location away from all reading material and are now desperate for a romance or thriller fix. The winner is the librarian who gets to the end of the assault course with most books still on their trolley or if there aren’t any left with fewest serious injuries. …Sorry got carried away there and anyway Library War isn’t anything like that.

Library War(Toshokan Sensō in Japanese) is a Japanese light books series (books aimed at young adults) and manga comic book and it together with its later spin-off TV series called Library Wars is set in the not too distant future of 2019 where there is a group of armed and trained paramilitary librarians dedicated to the protection of libraries, information and the freedom to use them which isn’t quite as unlikely at the moment as there actually being any libraries left  in 2019 to protect but let’s leave that for the time being.

Right - which of you sent me this demand for an overdue book

Right – which of you sent me this demand for an overdue book

Library Wars, because we will concentrate on the TV series which is more easily accessible than the light novels or manga comics, is as I said set in the not too distant future and is a fantasy so it’s not real, well not yet anyway. The Government, in this case a fictional Japanese government, has decided that the explosion of easily available information has become a threat to a stable society, which as usual is a euphemism for the rich and powerful ruling elite, and has introduced draconian new laws that restrict access to information that they feel is undesirable for ordinary people to get their hands on. They have also created a new government department, The Media Betterment Committee, to manage access to government approved information and to remove critical material and punish those using or protecting it; the job that the The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph  usually do here in the UK. They also have agents decked out to look Gestapo-menacing who are sent out to track down and close down any sources of uncontrolled information by any means necessary.   For many local authorities and their librarians however this is in direct conflict with the Freedom of Library Law that outlaws censorship of any kind and they want to uphold that freedom. Yes local authorities wanting to support freedom of information, I told you it’s not real. The premise however is based on an actual real life Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries that is as far as I can see part of the Japanese Constitution and has been since 1954. Many countries and indeed The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), a sort of FIFA for libraries but without all the dodgy deals with shady characters and the secret bank accounts, have such statements but as far as I can see Japan’s is the only one that includes as one of its tenets to actively oppose censorship if it is imposed. This is used in the stories as the basis for the creation of local armies of armed “book soldiers” who comprise the Library Defence Force to fight the government’s attempts at censorship and the agents of the Media Betterment Committee.

librarywarsWith the wonderful attention to detail that these science fantasy stories inspire the LDF has not only its own insignia which is oddly and for no immediately apparent reason other than it was the favourite flower of the commander’s late wife, the German Chamomile, but also a proper hierarchy of military ranks just like a real army. These include Library Clerks 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class, Librarians with three similar grades and finally Supervising Librarians with at the highest rank Supervising Librarian Special Class. So nothing like an army really more like a real library where grades and titles for years were ridiculously tautological signifiers of importance, seniority and status producing such meaningless but genuine titles as Deputy Under-Assistant Librarian (Periodicals)! At the top of this hierarchy of supposedly military strength is not, as you might imagine, the fighters but the Administration Department responsible for HR, budgeting and presumably Health and Safety so just like real libraries then. So whenever a library (and there are still real librarians in this mythical future by the way just getting on with cataloguing or whatever librarians get up to in the C21st) is threatened by the Media Betterment Committee the Library Defence Force spring into action although they are constrained by rules about what they can and cannot do and where they can and cannot go they are after all they are librarians and  librarians must play fair.

But of course all of this serious stuff about censorship and freedom means nothing without human interest which is provided by the ensemble cast of library soldiers who feature in the books and TV anime series led by young female trainee soldier, Iku Kasahara and her stern instructor Atsushi Dojo. He doesn’t rate his new recruit much; he thinks she is ill prepared and out of her depth and so he gives her a hard time and as she makes mistakes he gets on her back and she gets all upset. Of course you all know how this mismatched-odd-couple-who-can’t-stand-each-other-at-the-start scenario is going to end up and it does. But there are lots of gun battles too just to try and keep all the blokes interested as well.

It is probably a bit unlikely that in the c21st librarians will have to take to the barricades and weapons to defend libraries and freedom of information but just in case I intend to register the copyright for a couple of defiant T-shirt slogans. One features a bespectacled librarian in the turret of an armoured vehicle with the slogan I swapped my tank top for a tank and in a witty play on the old tweed skirt and bun stereotype a matronly librarian with an AK-47 acros her chest and the sloga Tweed skirts and gun. I am sure readers can do much better than that.

And of course before I finish I should wish all of who you have again persevered with all this drivel a Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year and I will see you after the festivities I hope.

santa

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Goalkeeping librarians and librarians on the Edge

Personally I blame Humphrey Bogart. Ever since he chose the Acme Bookstore as a vantage point while he waited for Geiger to arrive back at his illicit publishing business in the Big Sleep and met Dorothy Malone’s seemingly spinsterish and bookish shop owner. “You might have to wait a while…and it’s raining she says”. “ You’re right I’d much rather get wet inside” he replies being quick on the up take “Hello!!” he says seconds later in a tone that says much more  as she takes off her glasses, lets down her hair and pouts. He has already been warmed up by the good looking blonde at the Hollywood Public Library, “You don’t look like a man who would be interested in first editions,” so what will they do to kill time as she turns the sign to say CLOSED. What indeed!  But we never see him admiring her calf bindings as this is prim and proper 40’s cinema and the camera pans across to the wet streets! Ever since then apparently frumpish, bookish bespectacled females especially  librarians have had a special place in the male fantasy catalogue as examples of the deep passions that they believe lay hidden behind thin veneer of cardigan and heavy spectacles.

It is an enduring frustration for the library profession and particularly for women librarians that they are either portrayed as Rosa Klebb[1] or as a porn star masquerading as Miss Marple. It doesn’t work in quite the same way for men. I am not aware of any female fantasy that involves finding George Clooney behind the unassuming disguise of a short fat bloke in a tank top. Usually beneath the short fat bloke in a tank top is a short fat bloke who would love to take his tank top off to display the powerful heart beneath but it would only expose the shirt stained with last week’s meals.

Rosa Klebb. Any similarity to librarians living ot dead is entirely coincidental; apart from the standard library issue knuckle dusters obviously.

Rosa Klebb. Any similarity to librarians living or dead is entirely coincidental; apart from the standard library issue knuckle dusters obviously.

Part of the reason for the enduring fantasy is perhaps that for a profession that is overwhelmingly populated by females it is notoriously difficult to find examples of famous librarians that are female and who can project a quite different image. Although Lynne Brindley did become first female Director General of The British Library and has been made a Dame for her efforts and a librarian did for a while become a university Vice Chancellor they don’t really have the same conversation stopping effect of reminding someone that Chairman Mao and Casanova were librarians . Perhaps the most visible female librarian ever was Laura Bush wife of former US President George W Bush but not only was she kept very firmly in the background during his presidency presumably because she was too bright and would show him up, she also became tarnished by association with possibly the most mocked President in US history. Almost the only example of a powerful and positive female librarian role model that you can find anywhere in the literature is Barbara Gordon a US public librarian who features in countless publications, web sites and blogs about libraries and women as librarians. We’ll look at Barbara next time when we will also find out about a goalkeeper librarian.

Barbara Gordon; librarian, congresswoman and campaigner. She also likes a bit of fancy dress

Barbara Gordon; librarian, congresswoman and campaigner. She also likes a bit of fancy dress

Any self-respecting football or quiz team nerd will be able to tell you the names of the very small club of famous people who were football goalkeepers in their early days. For those of you saying “no don’t tell me I know this” I will be very sensitive and not immediately tell you the names so that you can have a few moments ponder the answer. For those of you already bored with this the answer is in the footnotes[2]. What even the quiz nerd will probably not know is that there is an even more exclusive club of librarians who were also football goalkeepers. I won’t waste your time asking you to try and name them but one of them is me obviously, and the other is the Head Librarian of the Unseen University. Despite this early similarity our narrative arcs as both librarians and goalkeepers have taken startlingly different trajectories.

I was a goalkeeper, much earlier in my career of course, although I continued to play well into my 30’s for a university staff team. I eventually retired from that role to play either an occasional midfield powerhouse, usually in wild daydreams, or more usually a crude but effective full back if we had too many precious academic who all wanted to be the elegant midfield playmaker. Unlike the distinctly unprecious composer Gavin Bryars, then a lecturer in our Polytechnic’s School of Performing Arts, who was an effective and dominating centre half making as few concessions to opponents as he now makes to his audiences. The Head Librarian of Unseen University has no previous experience of football and was chosen as goalkeeper on the perfectly sound premise that it is a considerable advantage to have a ‘keeper capable of standing in the middle of the goal and reaching either side of it without moving. I was chosen because no one else wanted to do it and as a goalkeeper I could only dream that one day I would have a football moment like the Head Librarian, arcing gracefully through the air to pull off a stunning save and in one movement hurl the ball almost the length of the pitch to the striker who had only to beat the last defender before driving the ball past the despairing opposition ‘keeper. By contrast I, at just barely 5’7” and of rather rotund build, was the wrong shape for a goalkeeper in at least two dimensions and I decided that I needed to find an alternative role to goalkeeper after a disturbing incident on Leicester’s Humberstone Park. After conceding three more goals in another dismal defeat, I was accosted by two young lads on their bikes as I trudged back to the dressing room. “’Ere are you the goalie” asked the larger of the two smart enough to recognise the significance of the bright orange jumper I was wearing when all the rest of the team were wearing green and black stripes. “Yes”, I replied pleased that at least someone was talking to me, “Oh he said…you’re fat for a goalie

The similarities between me and the Librarian from the Unseen University don’t end there. He was also in a magical rock band, The Band with Rocks in which he played a mean and pretty destructive keyboards but more culturally he also played lunchtime organ recitals though of distinctly atonal music in the University’s Great  Hall.  I was and suppose strictly still am in a band but there is nothing magical about our music and in any case I play guitar provided the song only has three chords and with modest aspirations as a singer but as Churchill once said about Atlee I have much to be modest about. Apart from those minor details the similarities are striking so we will tell you more about our goalkeeper librarian over the next few weeks.

Library Wars

Library Wars

We’ll also meet the Librarians on the Edge not ones driven to the edge of distraction by over boisterously cocky young undergraduates, pompous over important lecturers or the tiger parents of toddlers all fighting for the final copy of The Gruffalo but librarians who do actually live on the Edge and carry swords and rescue people: coming too there is also the unlikely sounding Library Wars from Japan and the even stranger librarians in the imagination of Audrey Niffenegger including the distinctly sinister Mr Openshaw and finally we won’t leave this series of posts without letting you make the acquaintance if you have not already done so of the librarian of Gormenghast Castle. I hope that has piqued the interest of a few of you at least for the next series of posts.

[1] A character in what is considered by many to be the best of the James Bond films From Russia with Love, played by Lotte Lenya she was a ruthless hatchet faced assassin with a pair of shoes that produced poisoned stilettos from the toe if you upset her. As far as I know, though, she has no previous convictions for being a librarian

[2] Luciano Pavarotti, Pope John Paul II, Julio Iglesias, and Albert Camus

 

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“I am a librarian and an Englishman”

Given the plentiful raw material that many people think librarians offer for casual humour you would think that proper comedians would be able to make something genuinely amusing out of that raw material especially if you applied the talents of some of Britain’s best comic scriptwriters to the task. Sadly you would be wrong. The results can charitably be described as uneven, even after you have eliminated the abysmal Sorry! about which more later. If you include Sorry! the results are pretty lamentable.

The legendary Two Ronnies had a couple of goes at librarians although given their overall brilliance neither was amongst their best sketches. One, the Confusing Library sketch, opted for a favourite fantasy of librarians themselves.. The Library is confusing because all the books on different subjects are mixed up and, unable to find the book he needs Corbett seeks help from the only half bothered librarian (Barker of course) who explains that it’s easy to find the books because they are all arranged by colour “all the blue ones over

Its a big green book. They're upstairs

Its a big green book. They’re upstairs

here all the red ones over there it was the architect’s idea”. Slightly bewildered and still unhappy Corbett is assured to hear that that they are of course subdivided …into small ones on the top, large ones on the bottom. Badgered by Corbett the librarian slowly and resentfully looks up the elusive book in the catalogue and tells him he’s found it…  “it’s a big green book. They’re upstairs!”  Ronnie Barker does a wonderful job as the superior and dismissive librarian doing an early version of Norman Stanley Fletcher’s accent and attitude but the ending is not one of their best but if you are really interested it is still available on the internet. Their other effort also still available played on the traditional silence of the old public library here complete with harassed female librarian, bun, wire-rimmed glasses cardigan the whole lot. Enter Corbett standing in front of the prominent SILENCE sign very loudly announcing he wants to join the library and told of course by the librarian to speak quietly, only he can’t that’s why he wants to join the library, to borrow a book called How to Stop Shouting. When the other library users complain and Corbett persists at the top of his voice the librarian calls for the Chief Librarian, Barker obviously, who when told the problem, tells Shouting LibraryCorbett the book is out and anyway its useless because he read it and it didn’t work and of course does this at the top of his voice only for another reader to announce he is reading it and it useless as he is now shouting too and so on until they are all shouting. It’s not up there with Fork Handles but its better by a very long way that some of the others.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have long since gone their separate ways, Laurie to be a US TV superstar and Fry to become a sort of latter day Oscar Wilde impressionist but early in their career they were a double act but were awfully uneven. Laurie after some stereotypical behaviour from an obstructive librarian finds a copy of the book that he is looking for on the last ten years of test matches between England and the West Indies only to find that it has been almost completely gutted except for a few strips of text. Complaining that the book is incomplete the librarian responds with the best line of the sketch; “have you read it before… then how do you know there are bits missing?”.

The male librarian (Stephen Fry playing the role of Stephen Fry) appears to support his colleague explaining that although the book includes only the words ”The West indies are not very good at cricket” that was how it was delivered to them.  Laurie’s claim that the statement isn’t true anyway and that England hasn’t beaten the West indies for 14 years is met by the belligerent Fry claiming that that England has won every test match since the war and offers copies of Wisden to prove his point, Wisden that is a single sheet of cut and paste that says “England is great and better than everyone else at cricket” and lambasts Laurie’s as one of those people who will insist on running down the English “I am a librarian and an Englishman, or rather an Englishman who just happens to be a librarian. If the day should come when I have to choose between being a librarian and an Englishman…” I told you they could be uneven but it is way better than a much later attempt to extract dubious humour from librarians.

England is great and better than everyone else at cricket...official, Wisden

England is great and better than everyone else at cricket…official, Wisden

Robert Webb provides one of the most uncomfortable if not deeply disturbing portrayals of a librarian that I can recall in his sketch series with David Mitchell. Openly mocking the lowbrow book that the female reader wishes to lend he then goes on to mock her taste, lifestyle and everything about her until she is reduce to a hopeless self-pitying wreck, at which point Webb says “How about a date”. I think I am too old to grasp the humour of Mitchell and Webb but even so this was just misogynist rubbish quite apart from its offensive calumny of librarians. It is a world away from what must be one of the best uses ever of libraries as a premise for a comedy programme.

Hancock’s Half Hour back in 1960 featured an typically manic visit to his local public library with Hugh Lloyd as the world weary librarian sneering at Hancock’s pursuit of a cheap thriller until he requests The History of the Holy Byzantine Empire, the Complete HancockRoman Law, Plato’s Republic and Homer’s Illiad and thinks he may have misjudged Hancock who of course promptly puts the books on the floor to help him reach the lurid thriller on the top shelf. The mime that Hancock is forced to perform to explain to his mate Sid the plot of another thriller to avoid all the shushing from the readers is worth the effort to find it on YouTube on its own*.

Finally if we absolutely must I will return to Sorry!.   For almost 20 years through the 1970’s and 80’s the Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker were the undisputed kings of TV comedy with their celebrated series The Two Ronnies. When their hugely successful partnership ended in 1989 the two went on to solo projects. Ronnie Barker went on to even more fame and acclaim as the legendary Fletcher in the magnificent Porridge one of the most popular comedies of all time Corbett went on to a solo vehicle called Sorry!. There has never been a more appropriate title for a TV show.  Sorry! demonstrated just where the comic talent lay in their partnership despite the fact that the scripts were from the duo who had fed the Two Ronnies partnership so effectively.  In the so called comedy Corbett plays a hapless, helpless overgrown middle aged schoolboy, Timothy Lumsden, terrified of his domineering mother and despite his desperation to get away from her utterly incapable of sorting out his life and particularly finding a girlfriend. He is of course a librarian. Somehow or other, presumably to justify the king’s ransom they paid Corbett to stay with the BBC, it ran to seven series which is at least seven too many. It is so irredeemably awful I am astonished that it has not been indicted at the relevant international court for crimes against light entertainment but it has at least thankfully sunk into well-deserved obscurity although clips are available on the internet but I advise you not to watch it alone or when you are depressed or in fact at all…..ever.

Still to come to complete librarians on TV we still have Dr Who, Buffy and The Cookie Monster but that’s for next time

*Thanks for reminding me Phil.

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Transformed by love, struggle and cataloguing

Foxes Badge 2

CHAMPIONS

This week as well as looking at some more librarians in film we will be just a little bit self indulgent as we celebrate an historic week for my football team but we will come to that at the end

Ever since the Prodigal Son came trotting back home a changed man, character transformation has become one of the great recurring themes in storytelling. Sometimes it is a literal transformation, Beauty and the Beast, Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde or Clark Kent becoming the Man of Steel  are obvious examples but our interest here is the more subtle transformation; the personal journey through love, struggle, adversity or in Clark Kent’s case  a handy phone box  to a higher level of personal satisfaction or achievement even if Clark never does quite get the hang of  the correct trousers/underpants sequence. Of course to make this effective the protagonist has to start out as a pathetic, inadequate or insignificant character or as Hollywood likes to refer to them a librarian.

As we have already seem Hollywood seems to use the role of librarian as a convenient way to signal a combination of adjectives from a non-exclusive list that includes insignificant, quiet, prim, dull but this is sometimes because it gives unimaginative directors an easy or perhaps lazy way into the classic ugly duckling transformation plot as characters are placed either in peril or in comic situations or both, that enable them to emerge as a different and by implication better people if not actually better librarians. Sometimes it is love that is the catalyst for transformation. Navy BluesThis is what happens to prim and frosty librarian Doris Kimbell (Mary Brian) when she falls for dumb sailor Rusty Gibbs in the 1937 film Navy Blues. Not realising that womaniser Rusty has picked her up for a bet his unexpected interest succeeds in bringing out her natural beauty mainly by taking off her glasses and of course he ends up falling for her anyway but only after trying on a couple of deceptions to convince her he is more than just a thick sailor including some story about being in naval intelligence. This is all the set up for classic pre-war spy story where Rusty as part of his pick-up routine fakes interest in an algebra book that he borrows from Doris’s library as a pretext for getting to know her not realising that it contains secret codes from Doris’s current boyfriend who is not only stringing her along but is also deceiving her because he is a real spy for the bad guys.  Do try and keep up.  Rusty ends up being chased by both sides; the US Navy thinks he is working with the bad guys and the bad guys want their book back because it holds the key to their plot. Rusty and Doris are captured and interrogated by the bad guys including the boyfriend who ruins his chances with her when he ties her to a chair and she is gutted to find that this is not the start of some erotic bondage fantasy.  It all ends happily of course because it’s a screwball comedy so Rusty  end up as the hero of the hour, the spies get their comeuppance, Doris and Rusty get together properly and the Library gets its algebra book back and I presume Doris will let Rusty off for bringing it back late.

Carole Lombard tries to encourage Cary Grant to take up reading by explaining what a book is

Carole Lombard tries to encourage Cary Grant to take up reading by explaining what a book is

No Man Of Her Own (1932) must count as a double transformation when dull small town librarian Carole Lombard runs off to the Big City after a whirlwind romance with a distinctly dodgy Cark Gable and finds a new life for herself and in the process makes a new man out of Gable which might explain why he was back in a library a few years later getting a kiss behind the stacks in Cain and Mabel (1936)

Peril works much better than romance though if you want a good ugly duckling movie. Let’s take librarian Betty Lou Perkins as a case study shall we. In The Gun In Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992), the eponymous heroine is as stereotypical librarian as you could wish to meet; mousey, quiet, cardigan the whole lot, but one who is tired of not being taken seriously so she comes up with the kind of novel plan to get herself noticed that only makes sense in so-called screwball Hollywood comedies or if you haven’t taken your medication for a few days. Betty Lou finds the gun that was used in the murder of a local mobster but no one takes any notice when she takes it along to the police station because a librarian in a police station is nearly as unlikely as a policeman in a library. To get their attention she fires the gun and of course ends up in the cells and just for good measure confesses to the murder which of course she hasn’t committed. Which is a bit of a problem for her husband who doesn’t take much notice of his wife either but he is a policeman tracking down the murderer so that’s his career down the pan then. It doesn’t get any better either because to teach him a lesson she also claims to have been the dead man’s lover, so that’s his home life down the drain too then. Betty Lou meanwhile ends up in the cells with all the hard-case girls and hookers and this being a screwball comedy they all take a liking to her instead of taking her Betty Louapart as they might have done in real life which is the cue for an Olivia Newton John in Grease level transformation in her appearance. Of course this is just the start of her problems as both the crooks and the cops are on her case. The real killer is convinced that as the dead man’s lover she must have the incriminating tape he wants back so he starts looking for her to have a quiet chat with the help of his other gun but finding her is a lot easier than he might think because the cops also want to use her as bait to smoke out the real killer which is of course a cue for a mere librarian to outsmart the cops, the robbers and her own husband who of course will be very attentive now that he knows how handy she is with a gun. Which is more than audiences were.

Another theme which Hollywood has worn way past threadbare and a close relative to the ugly duckling cliche is the zero-to-hero plot where rich socialite/playboy/girl tire of their empty lives, experience an epiphany and resolve in a tearful denoument to become a nun/missionary/charity worker/world champion whatever. So it must have brought a gleam to the eye of jaded producers when someone pitches the idea for Party Girl (1995)  Hey, why don’t we subvert those cliches with a satirical take; how funny would that be? Well, in the case of Party Girl it would be about as funny as funny as Carry On Shawshank Redemptioning or to put it another way bloody awful.

When one of the wild parties she throws for her cool but shallow friends leaves her needing to borrow bail money from her godmother, hedonistic, irresponsible Mary is shamed into taking a job to pay the money back and show she can act responsibly. To make sure Mary’s humiliation is complete she is forced to work at the public library where Judy her godmother is the chief librarian. Not only does Mary hate the job but she is continually criticised by her godmother until finally she  is goaded into showing she really she can do the job and so begins her long dark journey of the soul; she masters the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme. So taken is she with her new skills that she helps her friends by classifying the record collection of one and the clothes of another who show their appreciation by being horrified.

Party Girl demonstrates how well she has grasped the basics of being a librarian

Party Girl demonstrates how well she has grasped the basics of being a librarian

She also manages to show how much she enjoys her job by choreographing her book shelving, dancing on the library tables, and having sex in the library although to be fair that does get her the sack although many librarians would have shown her the door after the dancing. Mary’s epiphany is a spectacularly decadent birthday party and a bad trip. Resolved to sort her life out and go to Graduate School Mary arranges to discuss her future with Judy back at her flat where her friends noticing how down she has been lately have organised a surprise party.  To help the audience grasp her epiphany Mary has swapped her usual day-glo psychedelic party outfits for the librarians uniform of sober grey suit, bun and dark rimmed glasses but Judy’s scepticism is confirmed when she witnesses the wild party. This is cue for the usual emotional denoument where our hero pleads for a chance to be nun/missionary/charity worker/world champion whatever. In this case though Mary plea for Judy’s help to become a librarian isn’t helped by the over close attention of a male stripper gyrating all over Mary’s sober suit in only his jock strap and gets even more surreal when Mary is quizzed about her librarian skills with the naked stripper chained to a drain pipe in the background. Of course it is all resolved when Judy relents and even joins the partying.

Party Girl is most unusually an entire film about librarians, a kind of reverse Pygmalion or My Fair Librarian as the heroine moves from Gaultier outfits and wild hip parties to become the “mainstay of the public library”; I would have entitled it From Disco to Dewey but that is why I don’t work in marketing.  Delighted though I am that my profession has made it properly to the silver screen I’m not sure which comes off worse all that hedonistic partying or librarians and an emotional denoument that includes the lines “I want to be a librarian” doesn’t just lack the dramatic popwer of “I want to be champion of the world” its is, frankly, just bizarre.  Nonetheless it already has a place in cinema history as the first film to premiere on the internet which is an achievement better than the TV spin off which lasted just four episodes.

Finally before we move on and just in case you are one of the two people who actually watched the TV pilot I will make a passing mention of Final Notice (1989). It which features yet another librarian this time played by Melody Anderson who gets herself mixed up in the kind of deadly games that Library School could only have prepared her for if they ran modules on being held at knifepoint by psychopaths, being very scared and screaming. A number of books with all the  images of women mutilated are discovered in her library followed by a real murder with similar mutilations and the librarian teams up with the detective to track down the killer.  I haven’t included that in our films about the transformation of librarians because there isnlt one. Melody’s librarian is attractive, confident and makes all the running in the usual mis-matched love affair plot with the unhappy, cynical cop.  I also left it out of the post about bodies in the library because although the bodies were library users they weren’t actually found dead in the library. In any case I am sure that some zealous library users may find the fact that the film features the gratuitous vandalism of library books more disturbing than the discovery of dead bodies.

Finally those who know me will not be surprised that we cannot leave a post in this historic week without celebrating the achievement of a team I started watching in the very early 1960’s. It has been called, and who am I to argue

The Greatest Sporting Story of All Time

LCFC Champions

FEARLESS

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Another reason for cherishing libraries

Back with the next instalment of the regular blog shortly but a special one off post this time to alert you t0 a wonderful example of how libraries, society and popular culture are inseparable. As a wonderfully timely example of the importance of libraries to our cultural identity the famous Manchester Central Library will be the venue for the launch of a new album from celebrated folk reggae band Edward II.

The iconic Manchester Central Library

The iconic Manchester Central Library

It is not the Library’s first association with the folk tradition. Folk legend and local resident Ewan MacColl said it “quickly became a popular rendezvous and “Meet you at the Ref” became a familiar phrase on the lips of students, lovers and unemployed youths. I was there on the opening day and on many days thereafter; the Ref played an important part in my life “

Edward II’s album Manchester’s Improving Daily is based on The Manchester Ballads a collection of thirty five broadside ballads dating from the time of the industrial revolution. Collected by two local historians and folk music enthusiasts, preserved in Manchester Library and published with financial help from the education offices at Manchester City Council, The Manchester Ballads is in the form of loose- leaf facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets accompanied by text with many of the ballads, giving the biography of the song and, where necessary, a glossary of dialect terms. The Manchester Ballads are a snapshot of Mancunian life in the industrial era.EdwardII

The Manchester Ballads and the musical project which they have inspired are a reminder of the importance of public services such as libraries in preserving our heritage and making it available to future generations so that we can understand our past and how it has helped form our present.

Edward II blend the rhythms of the Caribbean with traditional songs from the British Isles this time from the industrial revolution, specifically from their home town, Manchester. The old broadsides are given the full Edward II upbeat, rock-steady treatment complete with horns, fabulous harmonies and fiery melodeon melodies, and give remarkable insights into the lives of our those living through a time of great change almost 200 years ago and celebrating the working people who really forged Manchester and transformed Britain into an Industrial powerhouse.

Edward II

Manchester’s Improving Daily will be launched in Manchester Central Library on 18th February at 6pm. The band and local born singer Jennifer Reid will be performing songs from the album and David Jennings will present the historical context of the songs. Details can be found on their website.

They are also performing at several festivals over the coming months but if  you can’t make the launch or the festivals then you could listen to our folk show, Hermitage Folk on community radio station 99.2 Hermitage FM in Leicestershire where you can hear the excellent single that has already been released, Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night. It will be on the show on 25th Feb 6-8pm (repeated Sunday 6-8pm) or better still buy the album.

Folk music, libraries and reggae; chuck in a decent pint of real ale and that’ll do me!

 

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