*The following is a work of satirical fiction
Serving in the Reference and Government Services Division of the Indiana State Library, our scope is deep and wide. One morning, we might receive a request that results in an extreme mental exercise involving an obscure photo about a hat-wearing elephant kneeling next to a streetcar in St. Louis in 1923… in the snow. On another afternoon, there may be a novel or piece of art we’re looking for from a well-known artist. Other days, we might be helping a patron research airplane parts in government documents on microfiche.
That’s what I like most about the job: the search! There is nothing like having a blank sheet of note paper and filling it up with every step you’ve taken, right or wrong, to get to your destination, correct or not. It’s all in the journey, as they say.
So, since it’s toward the end of the year, I thought I’d entertain you with a few of my favorite requests from 2016:
- A woman approached the reference desk sometime in the spring, and was clearly excited about her findings. “My father’s family,” she said, “I’ve traced them from Alabama to Indiana between the 1930 and 1940 censuses, but I can’t find them after that.” She seemed so sure that the records she needed were here at the library, but after a brief search, we found that she needed to contact the Alabama State Library. She asked if we could have the documents delivered directly to the Indiana State Library, to which I replied in full Vonnegut: “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”
- A young gentleman, a student, proposed a theory about the State Library while he was finishing his final project in a History class this year. He said to me that the four grand murals in the library by J. Scott Williams: “The Winning of the State,” “The Song of Indian Land,” “The Building of the State” and “The Song of Labor,” had many things missing from them. These murals, he posited, were somewhat flat and lacked the depth typical of the composition of landscape drawings and paintings. He wondered why Williams had chosen serene, muted colors and peaceful settings rather than bolder colors that depicted the dramatic activities in the history books. His answer to this was that a government building in the Midwest, with its stately charm and distant beauty, would need to represent the stability and sedate nature of the history of creating the state, rather than the reality of its vivid hardship, toil and death. To which I replied in full Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”
- The third request I’ll share with you has to do with a family who was offended by some of the titles included in one of our collections here at the library. The topic of these books were not objectionable to the family, but they chose to challenge these titles because of the swearing included in some of the dialog between characters. To this, I replied in full Vonnegut: “And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those title. So, the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media; the America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”
A warm new year to all of you readers out there. You’re the reason we’re here! Thank you and have a great holiday.
A Reference Librarian
This blog post by Katie Springer, reference librarian. For more information, contact the Reference & Government Services Division at 317-232-3678 or submit an Ask-A-Librarian request.