On the Authority of Librarians

Our librarians are among the key custodians of our culture, for they are the people whom we charge to decide what books and writings are to be found in our libraries, and of course also what books and writing are not to be found in our libraries.

Their authority goes both ways, especially in their constant struggle against those who seek to make them our censors. See for example The Internet Public Library: Censorship.

For the most part they go about their job day by day, making judgment calls as best they can.

Some of those calls can change a life in an instant, as once happened to me.

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. [1] I spent much of my first few years there reading books that could be found in my neighborhood library, as I have described in On Libraries: The Ernie Pyle Memorial Home/Library.

I exhausted that library by the time I was twelve. I next worked through the main branch of the Albuquerque Public Library.

I’m going to take a little detour here. I just looked up the web address of the ABQ library system and found it here. I soon noticed the link Albuquerque Historical Postcards.

Thank you, Albuquerque Librarians, Thank You!

I found a postcard of the Ernie Pyle library via eBay a few days back, and I have been waiting for it to arrive so I could take a picture of it and put it up in my post on my favorite childhood library. However, I see there is a section on Schools and Libraries.

Here, courtesy of the Albuquerque Libraries, are some of the buildings of my youth:

Albuquerque Public Library Main Branch: “This unusual building in Pueblo architecture is the Albuquerque City Library, one mark of the culture and progressiveness of this fastest-growing city in the Southwest.”

I spent a lot of time in this library, most of it in the green steel sections that contained the non-fiction works.

I spent a lot of time reading magazine, including every issue of Reader’s Digest, from its start to about 1957 or so. My favorite story was the one about the Great Molasses Flood in Boston that occurred around 1918. I also went through most of the issues of Life Magazine

Kimo Theater: “Kimo, America’s Foremost Indian Theatre, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Kimo Theatre Building expresses architecturally, in its composite design, the traditions of New Mexico and the old Southwest. One of the few typically American Indian architectural expressions, with a suggestion of the Spanish in its contours, this unusual edifice, both inside and out, provides an atmosphere of historical romance unequalled elsewhere in America.”

I saw many a movie in the Kimo, at no cost, since my mother worked for the local theater chain.

Luminarios: “Luminarios are one of the loveliest of the old customs still followed today in the southwest. They are small brown paper sacks, half filled with sand and a candle placed in the sand. On Christmas Eve these are lit, it will help in guiding the Christ child to this home.”

How I miss them. They are a unique part of celebrating the Holidays in the SouthWest. We once spent a Christmas in Sante Fe, and attended Christmas Mass in the Cathedral. A tradition then, and I expect now as well, was to have posole, a hot chili stew, after attending the service.

Downtown, 1952. The Kimo can be seen on the left. The large brown building on the right is the Sunshine Building, home of the Sunshine Theater and also the place where my mother worked.

And here is an image of the library I want to write about, that of the University of New Mexico:

The University of New Mexico Library, 1938: “The University Library – contains more than 125,000 volumes with a total capacity of over 300,000. Of Pueblo-style architecture, this beautiful building was opened April 1, 1938. The carvings are in the symbolic Indian motif and the furniture and other ornamentations are entirely authentic of the Southwest. The Great Chandelier – in the reference room is said to be the largest of its type ever made by hand. It follows the design of the lamps used by the early Spanish conquistadors. ‘From the Land of Enchantment'”

I can remember the chandelier in the main reading room. It was a wonderful place to read.

You can see the library has several stories in a central tower. As I recall, there were nine stories above ground level, and each story had books arranged using the Dewey Decimal System: 900’s on the top, 800’s on the floor below, and so on down. I just loved that arrangement, for I would wander about the library by first deciding a starting floor, and then I would move downward, shelf by shelf, floor by floor, taking books off the shelf to see if they were worth reading.

The moment I am writing about came on the fifth floor, when I paused to pick up a book of photos with a title that contained the words “Nuremberg Trial.”

When I opened that book, I saw for the first time photographs of the Nazi Death Camps.

My life changed forever and irretrievably, in that single moment.

For that was the moment I realized that True Evil could be found on the face of the earth, and at the hands of man.

My world hasn’t been the same since. I do wish I could have retained more of my childhood innocence, though I know — as do we all — that this is one of the prices we have to pay as we grow up:

The Loss of Innocence


1. I still remember the moment I finally knew how to spell Albuquerque without having to copy it out. It came on a Saturday night, and I had practiced over and over, saying to myself, “A-L-B-U-Q-U-E-R-Q-U-E.” The hard part was getting the Q’s right and knowing there was just one “R”.

I have a similar memory of learning directions. When standing in the playground at Bandelier Elementary School, I came up with the image “Sandia Mountain is East, Santa Fe is North, Mount Taylor is West, the other direction is South. I can still recall the moment vividly, and it often came to mind in later years when I had to orient myself.

I also used that image to tell left from right. Left was Sante Fe, right was towards Socorro.

I loved living in New York City in part because my address was so short, “Shields, Apt 4B, 134W93, NY NY, 10025,” It’s harder in Chappaqua, and I find it ironic I once again require a “Q” to name my city, though at least Chappaqua only has one of them.

My childhood addresses mostly ended in “1/2,” for we for the most part lived in garages that had been converted into apartments: “505 1/2 Richmond, “407 1/2 Girard,” and so forth. I only appreciated when I went to college that most folks didn’t have addresses that ended in “1/2.”

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