SOME little time before National Library Week consumed the public with unbounded excitement, I was talking to Nancy, our local Madame Librarian, and she was lukewarm about it. She said one year they went all out about National Library Week, geared up for it, lined up a stirring program, sent out invitations, made cookies and punch, and nobody came. I told Nancy next time to let me know and I'd come, and to have molasses cookies. I told her I had never met a librarian I didn't like, and that any invitation to visit her (Nancy) was not to be lightly abused.
That set me to thinking about some of the nice things librarians have done for me in my time, and of the many occasions libraries have responded to my curious requests without somebody's asking why on earth I want to know anything like that for? An early librarian in my formative years was Tee-Hee Lewis.
Mr. Lewis was reference librarian, and soon after I got into college I realized that he was irked that so few students used him. He would sit doing nothing a good part of the time, yet nobody knew the stacks as he did and he might have saved everybody a lot of time. I began making lists of my needs so that when I came in during the afternoon Tee-Hee would have my books ready -- always with twice the number I'd have picked down myself.
Tee-Hee was so called because of a way he had of shielding his lips with the tips of his fingers and making a small giggle, sometimes when there was really nothing to giggle at. He was never known to the students by anything except Tee-Hee, and today I can't tell you Mr. Lewis's first name. But one afternoon when I came in to pick up my books he had little slips of paper at the places that would help me, and on top of the pile were two books that had nothing whatever to do with my studies. ``Tee-hee,'' he said, ``I've added those just to amuse you.''
So every time I got books to study, I got two books to read. There could be no better way to remember Tee-Hee. Years later I heard our state librarian reciting the reasons for public support of libraries, and there was a great deal of utilitarianism to it. Mostly, books were to make one ready to earn more money in the millrace of life. I could almost hear Tee-Hee demolishing that argument with a mild tee-hee as he pushed two books forward and spoke of ``amusement.''
One of my most satisfying moments in a library was the time I looked at Benjamin Franklin's ``Poor Richard's Almanack.'' You can find the sayings of Poor Richard in a thousand places, but what did Benjamin Franklin's print job look like? Its size and shape, how many pages, typefaces, and makeup?
I was in Boston, so I stepped into the hallowed Boston Athenaeum, where a gracious lady welcomed me and offered to help. I told her I would like to look at ``Poor Richard's Almanack,'' not for the pithy words of Poor Richard, but to see what kind of a printer Ben Franklin was.
She said, ``Yes, certainly,'' settling at once the availability of the volume, and then she asked, ``Have you consulted other libraries?'' Boston, Boston, Good Old Boston! I told her I had looked all over, which was more inclusive than the truth warranted, and shortly I was at a table on an upper floor and a young man was bringing me a folder that contained ``Poor Richard's Almanack.''
When I opened the folder I saw that this was not an original almanac, but a facsimile. He said yes, that the almanac was reproduced in quantity in its own time, and some facsimiles are older than some originals, but since I wanted to see only the format -- what difference? He paused to let that sink in, and then he said, ``Of course, I have the original in the vault if you would like me to bring it. . . .''
Just last year I was reading ``The Voyages of Jacques Cartier'' and came to the passage that tells of great clouds of birds that flew over the islands of the St. Lawrence. ``C''etaient des margaux, des apponatz, des godez.''
What are the birds that Cartier called margaux, apponatz, and godez?
Those are old French words, beyond my looking up. Before long the roster of reference librarians had been alerted, and my curiosity was generously catered to. I decided I could rely on the Library of Ornithology of McGill University -- my birds are the razor-billed auk, the gannet, and the great auk, which has been extinct since 1844.
So, you don't really need to know a thing -- you just need to know a librarian.