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Monday, November 7, 2011

My View of the Louisiana State Library

Recently, I was honored to be able to accompany my wife to a gathering of Louisiana authors, in Baton Rouge, for the Louisiana Book Festival.  The party was held at the Louisiana State Library, just across the mall from the State Capital Building.  My wife was one of four poets who were participating at a panel being held the next morning.  The party that night was catered by Mansur's on the Boulevard and music was supplied by a very good jazz quartet.  We did not know too many of the authors in attendance but we had a pleasant time.
     However, I was in a library, or rather, the library of our state.  I could not resist the impulse to browse.  I did not stray far, sticking close to the food.  So with my camera in hand, I ducked into the nearest stacks and began to look for anything interesting.  It was a habit I'd developed as a youngster.  I still fondly remember browsing the stacks in the basement of my father's seminary, checking out the books available in Notre Dame University's massive collection (a book on concrete engineering that I spied there might just be the solid foundation upon which my love of books is built), and spending an hour in the library of Temple University dusting off copies of the Congressional Record while my brother attended his racquetball class.
     It didn't take any time at all for me to find what I was looking for.  I discovered I was in a massive section of Who's Who books.  Who knew there were so many categories of Who's Who?  Not I.  I found so many Who's Who that I needed a What's What in Who's Who to keep track of all the Who's found within.  I found Who's Who in Germany, Who's Who in France, a surprising number of Who's Who in Canada, followed by Who's Who in the Arabian World, in the Midwest, in the East, in the Orient, and so on and so forth and who knows who else was listed who might have distinguished themselves in Whoville?

     I came to a stop when I discovered the collection of Who's Who in World Jewry.  I have to admit, I hadn't even known that Jewry was a real word, let alone an acceptable word to describe the Jews.  After all, has anyone ever been accused of anti-jewry?  A quick check of the online definition of jewry gives the following as the first definition: A section of a medieval city inhabited by Jews; a ghetto.  This is actually the second definition listed at the, although it is listed first on Google's search page.  The first definition is simply The Jewish People.  I seriously doubt, however, that anyone of the Jewish heritage calls themselves a member of the Jewry.  At least as late as 1989 this series was being published, though I cannot find an edition produced beyond that date.

Who's Who in Library Service was the next little oddity I found.  This was a definite case of nepotism, as books go.  You have to wonder just how many people out there really cared about who was the latest, most important and influential people working in libraries in the Sixties and Seventies?  Okay, I'm sure someone did.  And that someone knew a big shot Who at Who's Who who gave the go-ahead to research, write, and publish a series of books (multiple latest editions, mind you) of who was tops in keeping books organized in 1966.  Of course, the fact is, judging by the size of the books available, there were precious few people in library service at that time.  But at least we know who the heck they were, right?

     I was pretty jazzed to find this next set of books.  If only I would have had the time!  Oh, to be able to sit and browse the list of the extraordinary men and women catalogued in the latest edition of the Directory of British Scientists.  Surely I would have come across the British scientists who had developed all of the awesome science they were doing (to steal a technical term from '60s science fiction movies) in 1964.  Or even better, the wilder, more astounding science done in 1966!  I'm sure James Bond himself had to check out one of these books in order to keep track of who Blofeld was going to kidnap next!  It is no stretch to suggest that the volume on 1964-1965 looks quite worn and heavily exposed to the elements.  There's no telling what kind of exhaustive research was going on as multiple library users combed the depths of this historically essential tome.  Perhaps the Hardy Boys had to check it out in order to discover who that guy was living down the street with the laboratory in his Gothic basement.

     Matching the theme of my interests in cemeteries, I had to stop and admire the Annual Obituary.  First of all, there's no ignoring the publisher's great taste in using the image of a dead tree as the identifying symbol for this list of the recently deceased.  Sure, the tree has died, but it still stands in the open, for all to see, slowly decaying in the exposure of the elements, waiting for the termites to eat out its internal structure until its eventual collapse.  Someone on the Annual Obituary's staff had a wicked sense of humor.  I tried not to puzzle too much over the fact that our library only had copies of this grave collection (oh, I'm so sorry about that!) from the years 1980 to 1987.  I can only guess that this was the reason:  The Eighties were indeed the greatest decade ever, taking into account the music scene of that time, and so it is no wonder that Louisiana wanted to keep a detailed record of those who died in those influential years.  Why stop in 1987?  Well, that was the year this song made it to number one in the charts , which was probably the beginning of the end for the greatest decade of music ever.  Music wouldn't be listed in the 1987 Annual Obituary, but it took its first steps in that direction that year.

     I shouldn't have been surprised to discover the large sections of criticisms aimed at Short Stories (most certainly written by editors!) and Literature in general.  As you can see in the photo on the left, the brown section is the vast collection of Contemporary Literary Criticism (more than 200 volumes in print) that the library keeps.  Since everyone has their own opinion on what they read, I doubt very much that anyone reads these volumes.  Who needs to hear what the critics think of any book that's been painstakingly written by those tenderhearted literary writers?  We can form our own insulting opinions and sling them across the Internet without the slightest effort.  This series, therefore, has become painfully obsolete!

     The last books of interest I was able to capture before we headed out the door was this great little series entitled What Fantastic Fiction Do I Read Next?  I often hear this question from my kids, who, bless their hearts, think I know a thing or two about books and can offer them advice on what great books are out there waiting for them.  If I should ever fail them in that endeavor, I can rest assured that they can always check out this volume and get some advice on what to download to their Kindles.  Or their laptops, or their phones (remember when those were for speaking to people with actual voices?) or to their Xbox 360's, or who knows what next?  Perhaps they'll be downloading books to their calculators.  Or even to their pencils, which will then write out the text onto space-age paper.  At any rate, I hope next year's edition of What Fantastic Fiction Do I Read Next? will include my own books which will soon be hitting the shelves in the coming months.

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