Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Special Obligation...

The storm of the year dumped some snow on us, and made driving a little treacherous. We missed the ice and sleet here, though, and didn't get any hail. Still, there's a foot of snow outside my window that wasn't there before, and it now looks rather beautiful, and we're due for more today.

I tend not to run this blog as a debate, because if I do I win, because I get the last word. Still, I tend to feel that articulate opposing points of view need to be represented. Either way, this is the final post for now on librarians and what they do or don't do...

"surely saying "It won the Newbery Medal. We order the books that do that. It's been the most respected guide to quality children's literature since 1922," would fend off most threats to a school librarian's job... wouldn't it?"

I'm sorry, but are you being deliberately disingenuous? Do you understand that the competition for librarian positions (which are notoriously low-paying, and therefore done for the love of the work) is incredibly tight? Losing your job as a librarian doesn't mean you go work in the library next-town-over; it often means you have to move to another state to take a lower-paying job.

Do you seriously believe that waving the Newberry Award around is going to dissuade the uptight right-wing parent who will make waves at every PTA meeting and harass their school superintendent and congressman until something is done?

Librarians are working-class people who have to do, frankly, an incredible amount of work -- much more than the public ever sees -- for a pitiable amount of money. Maybe it's hard for you to remember, Neil, but sometimes people who don't have a lot of money make sacrifices to keep their jobs. Is it awful that they don't feel like standing up for this book or that book would achieve anything other than the loss of their jobs? Of course. But it's not a hypothetical. It's real life.

It's easy for you to take a stand. You're influential, you're well-off, you know there's another job available whenever you want. Sometimes people have to be practical. It sucks, but it's true.

- Jamie

Well, twenty years ago, when I was younger, quite poor, had two small children and a mortgage, I quit the best job I'd had to that point -- writing for a national UK paper -- because I didn't want to write a front page article that editorial had concocted that was obviously untrue. Which was the end of my career as a journalist, really, and which I mention not to claim any kind of moral high ground, or because I was perfectly willing to take a stand when I wasn't influential or rich, but because it wasn't considered, by me or by anyone I knew, anything particularly special. Just as it wasn't considered special when friends of mine who wrote or drew comics stopped working for a title or a publisher because of something they believed, often with severe financial consequences. In truth, most of the people I've run into over the years, people for the most part neither famous nor rich nor influential, were perfectly capable of taking a stand for the things they believed in, and they did and they do.

Truth to tell, on reading this email, my respect for the very few librarians who declined to have The Higher Power of Lucky in their libraries because they felt it was somehow inappropriate went up, not down. I'd rather spend time with them, with people who have an unpopular view that they believe in and who are willing to stand up for it, than with some hypothetical beleaguered souls who are too scared of being fired for offending someone to order books they truly felt they should have in their libraries, and are now too scared of being fired or the spectres of hypothetical congressmen to say anything about it.

Do I believe that "waving the Newberry Award around is going to dissuade the uptight right-wing parent who will make waves at every PTA meeting and harass their school superintendent and congressman until something is done?" Not at all. But I believe that winning the Newbery, the most respected children's literary award in America, probably in the world, puts the onus on the dissenting parent to prove his or her case, and that it would be a foolhardy school board who would try and fire a librarian for having ordered it. And I also believe that the ALA Code of Ethics is something that the majority of librarians actually mean and subscribe to.

It says, in the preamble, that In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.

When I say that my love for librarians is unconditional, it's because of statements like that. I'm not saying that librarians can't or shouldn't make decisions about what books they have or don't have on their shelves, or that the surrounding community, what it is and what it reads, shouldn't play a part in those decisions. Obviously they make those decisions all the time, and they should. Space is limited, and choices need to be made. But not out of fear.


I've been following the Joyce Hatto case with a certain fascination, and mention it here only because everyone I've said "Joyce Hatto case" to in the last few days has given me a blank look. So, for those of you who missed it...

Joyce Hatto was an English classical pianist who retired from public life in 1976, fighting cancer. She lived for another thirty years, and in the last decade of her life she would release over a hundred recordings on her husband's small CD label which made her a cult figure, and an inspirational one: she covered the work of an amazing range of composers with sensitivity and brilliance and remarkable technique. When she died she was praised by obituarists as "a national treasure".

And then she was busted by iTunes.

Several days ago, another Gramophone critic was contacted by a reader who had put a Hatto Liszt CD – the 12 Transcendental Studies – into his computer to listen to, and something awfully strange happened. His computer's player identified the disc as, yes, the Liszts, but not a Hatto recording. Instead, his display suggested that the disc was one on BIS Records, by the pianist Lászlo Simon. Mystified, our critic checked his Hatto disc against the actual Simon recording, and to his amazement they sounded exactly the same.

In then went a recording of Hatto playing two Rachmaninov Piano Concertos and, sure enough, his computer's CD player listed it as another – by Yefim Bronfman, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on Sony. Again, the critic compared, and again he could hear no difference.

Gramophone then sent the Hatto and the Simon Liszt recordings to an audio expert, Pristine Audio’s Andrew Rose, who scientifically checked the soundwaves of each recording. They matched.

and the ripples of the story kept widening. Over at her Wikipedia page they've identified over twenty of her recordings, with more coming in. is keeping track of the story, article by article. Hatto's husband asserts in this interview that his wife's recordings are genuine, but doesn't produce any hard evidence that she recorded them, or produce anything other than a feeling of unease. And I wonder most about the motive, which is why it's a story. Was Hatto complicit in the fraud? (Probably.) Were they doing it to create a reputation for her? (Probably.) Was her husband trying to spare her feelings about how good she actually was by releasing other people's recordings as hers, while she thought they were hers? (Probably not, but it's a nice story.) Would she have been busted in the pre-computer days (eventually, but I suspect it would have taken much longer, and it would have been a matter of debate rather than an easy open-and-shut case -- look at this visual representation of the work.)

And I am only certain that, as with anything with people in it, we'll never know the complete truth...

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