Review: Revolting Librarians, by Celeste West
I found out about Celeste West’s Revolting Librarians from my friend Lisa, who called me to gleefully inform me that this book she had gotten from my wife had sold for $70. After my asking what the hell she was talking about, she told me that it was an old book, from 1972, and apparently quite rare. Following a brief argument, I did what I always do when I can’t find a book at any of the three NYC libraries — I turned to World Cat on the web, which revealed that The Internet Archive had a copy that was readable online.
Now I love The Internet Archive, don’t get me wrong. However, it can be a pain to use. For one thing, while some books can be borrowed for 15 days, most are only available as one-hour loans, which means you have to keep borrowing a book in order to finish it. It also is not user-friendly in that while you are trying to make a page large enough to be readable, it will randomly resize the page and it takes a lot of time to get back to where you were.
That said, since it was the only way I was gonna get to explore this book (actually more of an APA [Amateur Press Association] collation), I dove in, and I’m glad I did!
First, the book is delightful. It’s a wonderful look at the state of libraries from 1972 when the major changes we are now accustomed to were first being thought of and fought for by librarians, usually with stiff opposition from administrators and those in real power.
Second, it was just fun to read. It’s a nice mix of stories, poems, art, and some audio (which I did not listen to, but maybe next time…) and feels like the librarian equivalent to the free-form radio I came of age listening to.
Third, there is the nostalgia factor. I was in college (my first attempt) in 1972, and the book, with its many bits about college libraries, brought back a lot of memories — notably about why I preferred the Queens Borough Public Library’s Central Branch to my college library (better hours, better organization, more audio choices, more items for pleasure reading, a greater likelihood of finding the material I wanted, etc.). At the time, of course, I had no idea how frustrating this must have been to the college librarians since I had no idea of the battles they were fighting to be taken as relevant to the students.
At any rate, if you can get your hands on a copy, or are willing to deal with the idiosyncrasies of The Internet Archive, you should definitely try to read Revolting Librarians. (And there is a sequel, Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out, edited by Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West, that I will attempt to read in my copious free time.) It’s time and effort well-spent.
Hmm. Time to interlibrary loan while it’s still convenient. If possible…
I read it online at The Internet Archive because I couldn’t find it at any of the three New York library systems.