Thursday, July 14, 2016

Briscoe, Peter. The Best Read Man in France: a Cautionary Tale ([S.l.]: Borgo Press, c2007) 119 p.
This story has a message: that librarians are the guardians of precious and sometimes irreplaceable books. A rare book dealer who buys and sells with libraries all over the world bemoans the trend toward digitization which often involves the destruction of bindings that will never be mended. Nevertheless he becomes romantically involved with Elizabeth Wyatt, the Digital Resources Librarian at a large American University. When the dealer begins a public protest he finds he is not alone.

The next morning he was at the door of the library. To his astonishment he was soon joined by another picketer, a tall, thin, scraggly-bearded graduate student in English. His sign read:


Michael was overjoyed by the support, but thought the sign might be going a little too far. The student replied, “No, no, it's an old controversy. In the eighteenth century Edward Young said:

Unlearned men of books assume the care,
As eunuchs are the guardians of the fair.

“Well, I would hardly call librarians ignorant. Many of them hold advanced degrees.”
“True, but something has gone awry in Libraryland. I have an inside source, who shall remain nameless, but who fills me in. The modern librarian is basically a shill for the Info Industry. It's a shame that taxpayers and tuition payers still have to bear the cost of their salaries, which more properly should be paid by their corporate masters. Their so-called business and contract negotiations with predatory electronic publishers for obscenely expensive databases, electronic journals, and e-books are little more than mating rituals. But in the end there's no question who remains the dominant partner flying ever higher, and who's left to sit on the eggs.” (p. 94-95).

This modern action is compared with the experience of the seventeenth century French librarian Gabriel Naudé. He assembled the finest library of the time for his master Cardinal Mazarin only to see it dismantled and sold by the Cardinal's enemies.

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