Poor Johnny One-Note: Speaking Up for Libraries

Article excerpt

Two lives ago, I had the wonderful experience of playing in the 84th U.S. Army Band, Fulda, Germany. Technically, I was a professional musician for a year, but I never forgot my strictly amateur talent and my good fortune to be sitting in with some true professionals.

One of my friends in the band was a reed man-tenor sax and clarinet. He had read or heard somewhere that John Coltrane would play an individual note over and over again until he felt he had captured its essence. My friend, emulating his idol, would play a single note or three-note riff for what seemed like hours at a time until he and everyone around him knew the essence of what he played. He tried it on our piano, too, until someone hid the key from him.

For the past year or so in writings and speeches, I have felt as if I have been poor Johnny One-note, seeking the essence of libraries by playing my three-note riff-books, libraries, librarians. I was slowly discovering the essence of this riff, but did anyone in the audience dig it? This spring I was reassured and gratified when I received a letter from an academic librarian in Ohio who had heard my riff at a conference last fall. The piece that I played stressed the importance of libraries, imploring all within earshot to evaluate technology and the Internet critically and not simply accept them as the salvation of librarians who want to ply their trade in the future.

As I was composing this editorial, President Clinton was imploring us to speak out against the purveyors of hate, intolerance, and bigotry. In a free society we are all responsible for our freedom, and to remain silent when others misspeak in our names is to tacitly approve their messages.

Librarians cannot remain silent either when the importance of libraries, reading, and free and equal access to knowledge is dismissed as outmoded and old-fashioned. And we cannot remain silent when librarians who insist that "librarian" is an honorable title are said to have their traditionalist heads buried in the sand.

Librarians are finally beginning to speak up and others are hearing the ring of truth. First we had Roma Harris and Librarianship: the Erosion of a Woman's Profession,(1) followed shortly by The Myth of the Electronic Library: Librarianship and Social Change in America, by William Birdsall.(2) Now we have Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness, and Reality by Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman. …