Not Yours!, Sayeth Librarian

March 21st, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

forbidden resources“Oh no. That’s not open!” a Hyde Park librarian told me with great conviction at as high a volume as her frail voice could reach.

This time, it was on the new neighborhood-history archive room. Not mine…hers…closed…go away were the clear messages.

Among the previous denials from this elderly bureaucrat at this library was my first visit there in August. After 30 years with a BPL card and 21 years with one linked to my Jamaica Plain address, I was in for a first visit. I went to the desk to update my street, zip and phone.

In her sincere and inimitably curt tone, she scolded me for even trying without current documents showing my address and phone. That it was an update to ensure they could track me down if they needed to and that it was a revised address and not a new card made no difference. Her implication was that she had an ironclad regulation requiring a current utility or phone bill from me. Otherwise, it seemed, who knew what might I be trying to pull.

Of course, I had updated credit cards, professional-society, voter registration and on and on on my say-so. Librarian No had different ideas.

Long ago, I had learned how difficult it is reason with a rules-are-rules types. Extreme literalists have a great need to believe they are following orders, procedures and the one right way. They check their brains at the door because they have their checklists.

The change-of-address was not a fight worth waging. I simply waited three weeks for bills to arrive and returned. Librarian No was comfortable looking at two bills and believing she had done her job the right way.

Last week though, she exceeded her reach. She decided that BPL and public resources were off limits. It was a little cute in a mother-hen way, but this was worth a battle.

My family was away at the end of last year when the HP history area finally opened as the Nancy Hannan Memorial Archive Room. She was a long-time head of the local history society and unofficial HP historian who collected great material from 18th, 19th and 20th Century people, events and buildings. Then Historic Boston Inc. and college interns worked with her materials (page 2) and others at the library to catalog, organize, scan and display centuries of HP historical artifacts and documents.

Librarian No Blinks

So, pride is understandable. Manufactured prohibition is not.

The librarian was firm that the room was closed, inaccessible, off limits. That made no sense and I stood my ground. Eyelash to eyelash, she blinked first. After repeating that it was closed, locked and inaccessible, she finally said that the head librarian might grant me access.

Down a floor was a librarian who seemed to think the BPL resources were, in fact, public. Mary Margaret Pitts is my kind of knowledge sharer. She simply grabbed the key.

It turns out that while there was an ESL class outside the locked third floor room, the staff did keep the door locked…when people were not using the archive. They have valuable, unique artifacts, photographs and documents that should not go missing or be unattended.

We elevated to the third floor and she opened it for me. We discussed Mrs. Hannan and her widower, Robert, who apparently is a bit of an HP historian himself and a likely source to answer some of my questions (Where and what was the oft-mentioned Magnolia Hall?  Was there any practical effect to the Boston City Council resolution granting the Readville section the nominal status of neighborhood? and so forth).

I had a good, informative time noising about the single room. It is about 10 by 16 feet I guess with display cases and file cabinets. There are old maps in evidence, some of the HP history publications compiled by Mary Hannan and old HP history periodicals.

HBI had assembled a remarkable binder with hundreds of scans from other photos and documents. It is a treasure to browse and I need to return with a laptop to use for making notes. I have several pages of handwritten ideas and details. I’ll be back.

For one, I need to learn more about the Hyde Park Cycle Club, one of the nation’s first in the late 19th Century. The HBI scans include article snippets and a great image of the sturdy fellows in the club and the program from their second social event. Online I can only find some sporting newspaper accounts of 10-mile races and such. I’m sure there’s more. It may be time to revivify the HPCC.

There is this hidden gem of history on the third floor of the HP library. Librarian Yes makes it possible to visit.

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2 Responses

  1. Uncle B says:

    Ah, archives! That’s what put Librarian No’s knickers in a twist. Such places are often locked and may be restricted. Try getting into the main branch’s rare book room without an advanced degree, for example. At my one Big Museum job, we had a archivist as head library honcho. He was just as protective and far younger, likely, than your dragon. He earned the title of “Conan the Librarian” from scholars and curators alike.

    Still, referral to the boss lady ought to have been Ms. No’s first, not last, resort, and she may have heard about it.

    Alas, they’re all very anal about proof of address.

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