For Christmas, I received a solar-powered action figure of the Queen.
She wears a blue dress and white gloves and carries a purse.When her little solar panel is exposed to light, she waves.
I put her on the mantlepiece beside my china teapot from Stoke-on-Trent and my red ceramic London phone booth.
Since visiting England and Scotland in 2002, we’ve become confirmed Anglophiles. (And, I suppose, Scotophiles as well.) Or David has. I think I was born that way.
I also have great respect for a woman who went through the Blitz when she could have been holed up in Oklahoma, and who can, or at least could before computers invaded, operate on automobiles.
My Queen reminds me of the Nancy Pearl action figure. Ms. Pearl is the librarian, author, and literary critic whose Book Lust was a best-seller a few years ago. The main difference is that, instead of waving, the Nancy Pearl figure raises her index finger to her lips and says, “Shhh.”
It’s nice when you can have fun with stereotypes.
Not that librarians don’t say, “Shhh.” They do. Just the other day, one of them said that to a certain party I know. I said the same thing to that party a week later before the same librarian could say it again.
I like to stay in practice.
But librarians have gotten a bad rap in this country.
Buns. Old-lady shoes. Granny glasses before John Lennon made them the thing to wear.
And every year at Christmastime, here comes It’s a Wonderful Life, reminding us that if George Bailey had not been born, Mary Bailey wouldn’t have been a Bailey at all. She would have been Miss SomebodyorOther, a–gasp–librarian. With a bun.
I will not stop to mention that the best continuing education classes I’ve attended over the years were taught by librarians. That Dr. Kenneth Ferstl’s workshop on updates to the Dewey Schedules kept a roomful of women laughing for six solid hours. That when Margaret Irby Nichols taught reference workshops, it sounded like a roomful of women listening to Dr. Ferstl. That…Well, I’ll leave the rest for another post.
I will say something about that most famous of librarians–Marian Paroo of River City, Iowa.
Marian the Librarian is generally described as a stuffy, straight-laced, Puritanical, rigid, inflexible, smug, goody-goody, Victorian, prim, prudish, prissy piano-playing prig.
She does all she can to discredit Professor Harold Hill without knowing a thing about him (except that he tried to follow her home before they were properly introduced, or introduced at all).
Marian gets all the bad press.
I see Marian in a very different light. To wit:
Marian Paroo does, indeed, try to discredit Professor Hill. She (rightly) suspects that he is a flim-flam man, out to con the residents of River City into buying band instruments and uniforms but with no intention of creating the boys’ band he promises.
She is, of course, the best person to find information on the professor. She knows how to research Gary, Indiana, in the Indiana State Educational Journal. And she finds evidence that the professor is a fraud.
When she sees how happy her brother Winthrop is with his cornet, however, she rips the page from the book and lets Professor Hill go on with his con. She sees that under the spell of his Think System, River City comes alive. At the sound of the pitch pipe, even the feuding school board members fall into harmony.
Marian watches and encourages, and when the inevitable comes to pass, she engages an anvil salesman in a tango on the sidewalk in front of her house, to give Professor Hill time to flee.
And she’s a darned good dancer.
Finally, when a shackled professor–so charmed by Marian that he refuses to board the train–appears before the enraged populace, Marian hands him a baton and tells him to direct the band.
And the townsfolk are amazed at what humming the “Minuet in G” all summer can do to teach a boy to play a brass horn.
Professor Hill is amazed as well.
Everyone is amazed. Except for piano teacher Marian Paroo.
And at the end of the show, they march down the street, trombones, cornets, reeds, horns, everybody, happily ever after.
Because a librarian had the good sense to know a good thing when she saw it, to tell herself, “Shhh,” and to take her own advice.
That is my statement on the subject of librarians.
To anyone who thinks differently, I can only say: Shhh.
The Nancy Pearl action figure appears at http://www.mcphee.com/shop/products/Librarian-Action-Figure.html.
Image of Queen Elizabeth II by Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.