I can’t remember where I saw John Hubbard’s essay Cultural Images of Librarians originally – maybe one of the blogs I read. Anyway, one of the “images” he includes is a copy of the cover of Jinny Williams, Library Assistant (A Career-Romance for Young Moderns). I got the 1962 book through interlibrary loan, and it was all I hoped it would be. The combination of hilariously didactic writing, library themes, and general old-school-ness was right up my very specific alley. Let me just give you a sampling from the book jacket:
…after graduation she was offered the job of junior assistant at the library. This would not give her professional status, but once she learned the complex library procedures, she would be a qualified library assistant. For a girl who loved working with books and people, the situation was ideal.
But Joe Grant, who was in love with her, resented the inroads on her time and the job itself, which was making her too intellectual, he said, for an ambitious mechanic.
Does that sound entertaining to you? Then read on for excerpts.
Theme 1: Tension between “professional” and “paraprofessional” library workers – still an issue, probably in part because those of us with a master’s degree are very defensive about how much money we dropped getting it.
The reference librarian, Veronica Savage (paging Charles Dickens!) scolds Jinny for looking up a senator’s address for a patron. “Reference work is a professional function!” Miss Savage tells Jinny, and goes on to explain that when she had used the book in the past, “You were getting the book, and not giving out information from it!” (Emphasis not mine.) Jinny mutters to herself: “Professional function!...Big deal! I don’t need five years of college to get an address out of a book that I used in high school!” (27)
This next one also touches on what kind of reference librarians should provide. Jinny helps a woman look up her husband’s symptoms and gets this earful from Miss Savage, who shows off her knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System at the same time. (How do one’s eyes snap, I wonder?)
Miss Savage, her eyes snapping with ill-concealed satisfaction, said, “I’ll have to report this incident to Mrs. Bender, Miss Williams. I have spoken to you several times before this about your doing reference work, but apparently you do not think it necessary to follow my instructions. If I hadn’t noticed you going to the six hundred section, where the medical books are shelved, you might have caused a great deal of harm with your kind of reference service.” (116)
Theme 2: Fun with antiquated gender roles.
Part of Jinny’s job? Organizing the magazine shelves. “After she had sorted and straightened out the disorderly shelves, she felt a housewifely pride in their neat appearance.” (80)
Jinny tries to recommend a book about a female senator to a patron.
Mrs. Harding stopped her with a white-gloved hand and shook her smartly coiffured head. “No! I don’t want to read about pushing women. A woman’s place is in the home.” (69)
Theme 3: Bizarre class distinctions.
A woman comes in to ask Jinny a reference question (see above) and is indicated as looking like someone who doesn’t visit the library a lot (not sure what that means). She tells Jinny, “I never been in the libery before. My husband told me to come and look up his sickness.” I don’t know what’s up with this weird vernacular. (115)
Jinny has an on-and-off mechanic boyfriend, but has also been seeing college man Paul Cunningham on the side. Apparently, upper-class people don’t require as much food as their less educated counterparts, as Jinny makes the two following observations: “The Cunninghams obviously enjoyed music more than food.” “He was so nice-looking, so gallant, Jinny wondered why she didn’t feel more emotion when he kissed her.” (150)
Theme 4: The “Career” part of the “Career-Romance”
The whole book is filled with painfully detailed descriptions of Jinny’s work duties, I guess to give readers an idea of what they can expect as a library assistant. This description of Jinny filing cards in the catalog was one of the nit-pickiest. No wonder this is what people think we do all day.
…Mrs. Bender, her face clearly showing her annoyance, approached her. “You should remember by now, Jinny, that we file catalog cards word by word, and not letter by letter. You have filed ‘Americana’ before ‘American Art.’ That is letter-by-letter filing. Since we file word-by-word, it should have been ‘American Art’ before ‘Americana.’ Also,” she went on, her voice still cold, “you seem to have forgotten that the subject cards for American history are filed chronologically, not alphabetically, and you filed the cards for ‘U.S. – History – Civil War’ ahead of ‘U.S. – History – Revolution.’” (163-4)
All quotations from:
Temkin, Sarah A., and Lucy A. Hovell. Jinny Williams, Library Assistant. New York: J. Messner, 1962.
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