Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hill, Donna. Catch A Brass Canary (New York: Lippincott, 1965) 224 p.
Miguel Campos is a page at an Upper West Side branch of the New York Public Library. The library is his chance to escape the life of gangs and crime that seems his lot as a Puerto Rican in New York. Frank is the unctuous captain of pages. Victoria Davies is a young girl who lives upstairs from the library with her father the janitor. One of the assistants, Pat Burney is in love with the other assistant Sylvan Dietzler, who seems oblivious of her to a comic extent. The staff also includes Miss May Willoughby, the children's librarian; Miss Nell Kettridge; Jennifer Meade, a half time professional trainee; and talkative librarian, Mrs. Ethelbald.
When the Head Librarian Miss Tait is forced to leave for health reasons Miss Kettridge is thrust into the position. She does not want or enjoy this position because she does not like to interact with people.

Wrangles with the public, confusion at the desks, racket in the children's room, damages, losses and fines; envy, dissension and strife, all of it hated involvement with peoples' problems. And where would it lead, anyway? Nell was no career woman. Not aggressive, not witty, not flagrantly intelligent, not striking in height or appearance with her plain brown hair and brown eyes all of a piece, Nell neither wanted nor felt herself destined for success in public life. If she exhibited the conventional manner of a librarian, it was to mask and preserve from challenge the one superiority she acknowledged, her independence of mind. She remained in New York for privacy, to attend exhibitions, converts, the theater, and not for any piddling career in the Public Library. (p. 46-47).

Nonetheless, she turns out to be a very capable head librarian. She encourages Miguel and deals with all the library problems in a level-headed sensible way.
One major library problem is a crazy man who has taken on the mission of protecting society from "bad books" by defacing or destroying the library's copies of these dangerous books. He explains to Miguel while trying to enlist his help:

"Any book can be a perverter of attitudes--history, religion, philosophy have done their share--but literature and ordinary fiction, which are read with trust for pleasure, are the most dangerous. The authors themselves may not be aware of it, but where prejudice exists it comes out and make converts of the unsuspecting readers."
"But what about the librarians?" said Miguel, trying to free himself from the tense grasp. "Don't they watch out for bad books?"

"Well, but busy as they are, they couldn't undertake a study like mine. Then too, you know," Rupert added, confidentially, "they are innocent people, despite what you might think from what happened today. They are lovers of the word, you see, without my experience of the world." (p. 71).

No comments:

Post a Comment