12/13 — The Duke’s Librarian

December, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 12

THE DUKE’S LIBRARIAN:  Mr. Ellington and Me

By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

For resume purposes, my library career is stated as having started at a high school where I was a non-professional “media aide”.  It was my first full-time position and I reported to the high school librarian, a young woman with three times my energy level who has remained a friend ever since.  As “media aide” I was in charge of the school’s many 16 mm film projectors and when not whacking them with my shoe to get the stuck reels moving (I kid you not – me and my shoe were much welcome in classrooms) I worked in the library as cataloger, desk attendant, coffee pot supervisor and factotum.  It was just like being at a University branch library where I am now and hopefully where I will wind up my career.  I guess that falls into the “what comes around goes around” category.

In actuality, however, my first responsible library job was serving as temporary music librarian for the great Duke Ellington.  When I was sophomore in college, a local religious group arranged for the Duke to bring his Second Sacred Concert road show to our community.  The ideal place to have it turned out to be the college auditorium and, because Mr. Ellington used local choirs for the concert, our college singing group was chosen to work with him and his masterful musicians.

An advance entourage  arrived well before the concert to provide details of what would be happening.  It was led by the music’s arranger/copyist Tom Whalley, a long time Ellington associate.  Some of the soloists were also there  and provided a quick concert  to show us what to expect later  on a larger scale.  Mr. Whalley gathered us together and said, “the first thing I need is a music librarian”.  He looked directly at me and said “how about you?”  Never having given a moment’s thought to library work of any kind I hesitated and he quickly remarked – “It’s easy – you just have to hand out the music to your choir and then get it all back after the concert.”  The simplicity of it hooked me – and so the seeds of a 40 year career began to grow.

The music turned out to be hundreds of photocopied sheets, all clearly marked with copyright symbols.  As he handed the package to me Mr. Whalley explained, “these are very, very important.  Duke will have them published when the concert tour is over.  They must not get into the hands of anyone except your choir because they are worth a fortune to Duke and you MUST get them all back.”  Gulp!  I quickly devised a numbering system and handed them out to my singer associates with warnings that I would haunt them if the music was not all promptly returned.

The concert was a standing-room only event and a great success.  Duke’s full orchestra was there along with wonderful soloists including the amazing Alice Babs, a Swedish soprano with what seemed to be no ceiling on her upward range.  Enormously tall actor/musician/dancer Geoffrey Holder did some interpretive dancing which wowed the crowd.  Probably as reward for my diligent library service, I was chosen for a “solo”.  It was rather short – just  the German word “Freiheit” in a long string of utterances by participants of global words meaning “freedom” After the long applause and cheering for the concert stopped, I diligently went after my music library and luckily everyone cooperated although I suspected more than one set had visited a photocopier.  “I can rest easy now,” I thought.

A few weeks later, our music director, Dr. Robert Soule, called our group together.  He told us that Mr. Ellington was about to record the concert in New York City and he was inviting all of the choirs who participated in the tour to sing for the recording.  Duke would then pick out the best of the tracks for the album.  Dr. Soule handed me the familiar music packet saying “Here, Mr. Librarian”.

We practiced for a number of days and then boarded a bus which took us to Harlem.  Mr. Ellington’s sister met us and took our entire group to an uptown deli for supper.  We next went to the Great Northern Hotel where Duke had converted the ballroom into a recording studio.  The orchestral and vocal soloist parts had already been recorded and only one musician besides Duke, famous jazz   drummer Sam Woodyard, was there to perform “live” with us.  There were numerous “takes”, with Duke going back and forth from his piano to the recording engineers behind a glass wall, and in the early morning hours he bid us farewell with one of his signature lines:  “I give you each four kisses – one for each cheek”.

On the ride home I accosted my sleepy colleagues and once again retrieved the music I had handed out.  I turned it over to Dr. Soule and my position as “The Duke’s Librarian” finally came to an end.

As an afterward, sometime later the two-LP album appeared and we discovered that our tracks filled the equivalent of one entire side.  Not bad considering the large number of choirs from all over the country which were listed on the cover.  Now, when someone asks me if I have ever met an important person I honestly say, “I sang and recorded with Duke Ellington”.  For modesty’s sake, I forgo mentioning  “soloing” for the Duke and serving as his “music librarian”.


Posted in Observations

11/13 — The End of Innocence : Remembering an Assassination

November, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 11

THE END OF INNOCENCE :  Remembering an Assassination

By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

I don’t recall anything about November 22, 1963, prior to walking out of high school to board the bus for home.  Most likely, I was lamenting the next few hours of doing homework before I would be finally able to make the mental transition from the drudgery of the previous week to the glorious possibilities of the weekend.

As I was sitting there one of our resident school troublemakers entered yelling.  “I’m glad it finally happened.  I hope he dies”.  “Who?” I quietly mumbled.  “Kennedy – someone shot him”.  I was stunned.  Kennedy?  How could that be?  Shoot the President?  Why?

I then became aware of a number of my fellow bus riders, females and males alike, who were quietly weeping.  Many, like me, just sat there stunned.  The big-mouth started to speak again but the driver, a burly 25 year old, stood up and glared at him:  “Sit down and shut up”.  Suddenly, in an era without handheld devices to continue linkages to breaking news, the bus was plunged into silence and the trip home seemed to take an eternity.

Arriving at my house, empty except for me, I ran to the Sylvania Halolight black and white television in our dining room and flipped it on.   As the vacuum tubes inside began to warm up, the audio came on first and I could hear the soothing voice of Walter Cronkite, the most popular and highly respected television journalist of the day.  He was pleading for calm and asking for his associates to provide him information as soon as they had it.  He was saying “the President is dead”.

Soon the video came on and I was shocked to see Cronkite sitting without his jacket, wearing thick framed eyeglasses and looking on the verge of some kind of breakdown.  I apparently had missed the horrible news by just a few moments.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first President I had ever paid any attention to.  I was born three years after World War II ended and at that time my parents lived near the big Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine plant in East Hartford, Connecticut.  I have a vague memory of General Dwight Eisenhower coming to the plant on a campaign stop but I was very, very young and only knew who he was because my father held me up above the sidewalk crowd and, according to my mother, the future President waved at me.  It became an oft-repeated family story.

Ike was a hero and an icon but from an earlier generation.  With Kennedy, though, there was an undeniable, remarkable level of youthful energy.  His press conferences, loaded with wit and charm and usually humorous exchanges with the reporters, were live television events not to be missed.

His Presidency was loaded with big developments which marked a profoundly changing world. Some marveled (the space race), some terrified (Cuban Missile Crisis), some reached beyond our shores in unprecedented ways (Peace Corps), some vexed (Bay of Pigs) and others laid foundations for what was yet to come,  much of it good (civil rights) and much of it not so good (increasing involvement in Vietnam).

He had his detractors.  Many felt he wasn’t experienced enough to hold our nation’s highest office.  Others questioned to what extent his Roman Catholicism would play in his decision making.  Speculation  had arisen that his very narrow defeat of Vice President Nixon was the product of graft  in Illinois and elsewhere and thus he had no legitimacy.

Yet, I and others believed that the torch had been truly passed and that a new generation was thankfully coming into power.  We saw Kennedy as the perfect standard bearer of that change.  The supporters of the recent candidacies of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton know that feeling — it is elevating.  If it eventually devolves into disappointment, however, that let down can be uniquely devastating.  For me, that happened on November 22, 1963, in a way that was startlingly final.

As a young and impressionable person, the events that day and the days after, especially when I watched assassin Lee Harvey Oswald murdered on live television, helped shape my insatiable interest in history, government and current events. Eventually those interests led me to library service where I can not only quickly discover what is happening around me but also have at hand the knowledge to help me, and others, understand why and what the repercussions might be.

Ironically, library service eventually brought me to Dallas on two occasions to attend American Library Association conferences.  Both times I went to Dealey Plaza and stood at approximately the same location where the shots hit.  I walked around the outside of the book depository and visited the fence on the grassy knoll where some think one or more additional shooters stood.  Each time I was struck by how small Dealey Plaza is and how close Oswald and the President were to each other. That place still haunts me when I hear its name or see pictures of it.

On that awful November 22nd 50 years ago, I was living in a personal age of self-centered innocence. One day later it became an age of awareness, with its mixture of good, bad and ugly,  which has never rested.


Posted in Observations

10/13 – The Pope Emeritus

October, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 10


By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

I am sure that you, like me, enjoy nothing better than a really funny film comedy.  In my case, I am especially tickled by movies with a lot of verbal cleverness and unusual situations. This is one of the reasons I am such a huge fan of the Marx Brothers whose films were everywhere on television when I was growing up.  The tortured language of the brothers (sans the quiet Harpo of course) and songs like “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”, with its amazing serpentine lyrics, still come easily to mind.

Many recent film comedies, which seem to revolve around flatulence or dreary people using sarcasm as a way to find themselves, or both, leave me cold and so my movie-going is much less than it used to be.  Because I am not tuned in to the new-movie scene, with its 26 “Coming Attractions” per show, every now and then a film which sounds interesting flies by before I have a chance to see it.  One of these was 2011’s Papem Habemus (We Have a Pope), the story of a Cardinal who doesn’t want to be Pope but gets elected anyway.

The plot line seemed so ridiculous I automatically assumed it was high comedy and probably one with that special luminescence that Italian films often have.  The movie recently made it to Netflix’s streaming service but reviews on the web suggested it was really more a drama about “a troubled person finding himself”.  I checked the trailer on Youtube and found it definitely being played up as funny.  “Hilarious!” screamed one critical comment which burst on the screen.  When I finally saw the film, I found that, while not hilarious, it had plenty of both drama and gentle humor and was largely a positive take on Italians in general and Roman Catholics in particular.  I enjoyed it, and recommend it to you, but I will say no more in case you want to experience it for yourself.

Earlier this year, what seemed so absurdist in 2011 became real life.  Pope Benedict XVI, apparently a troubled person for a variety of reasons, announced he was stepping down from the Papacy.  It was a move not seen since at least 1415. One of his stated reasons was that he found being Pope burdensome.

Based on some recent revelations, we have learned that it is entirely possible that Cardinal Ratzinger, just like the character in the film, never wanted to be Pope in the first place.  Apparently, what he wanted to be in his senior years was, I kid you not, a librarian.  According to CatholicCulture.org, “When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned 70 in 1997, he asked Pope John Paul to relieve him of his duties as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and permit him to become archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and librarian of the Vatican Library.”

This information came from Cardinal Raffaele Farina, who recently retired as the library and archives head.  He reported that Benedict, when newly elected, met with the staff and told them:  “I confess that, on reaching 70 years of age, I would have liked for beloved John Paul II to permit me to devote myself to study and research into the interesting documents and materials that you carefully conserve, true masterpieces that help us to review the history of humanity and of Christianity.”

Farina already knew of the Pope’s desire.  At the time Ratzinger initially made the request of John Paul, the Cardinal visited Farina, then a priest and  number two  at the library with the top position open,  to discuss the job possibility:  “He was asking me what I thought of his idea and what being archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church involved. When I realized what [he] really meant, I gave him to understand that I had already heard the news, and I expressed clearly how happy I and the whole staff of the library were to have him join us.”

The idea of Cardinal Ratzinger becoming the head of one of the world’s foremost research libraries is not farfetched.  Although not a librarian or archivist per se (experience also not demanded of the Librarian of Congress), he is no stranger to scholarship.  His studies of, and dissertation about, St. Augustine led to an earned doctorate.    According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Biography, “He began teaching at Freising College in Augsburg in 1958, moved to the University of Bonn in 1959 and the University of Münster in 1963, and was recruited by one of Germany’s top theologians and most renowned public intellectuals, Swiss-born Hans Küng, to teach at the University of Tübingen in 1966.”

Ratzinger became a Cardinal in 1977 and was elevated by Pope John Paul II to the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981.  John Paul probably did not want to lose Ratzinger’s long experience and powerful insights and so declined the aging Cardinal’s request to retire to the library. At the time of John Paul’s death in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger, also like the character in the movie,  apparently did no politicking whatsoever to become the next Pope.  As they say, the rest is history.  One wonders if Benedict had occasion to see the movie and if perhaps it gave him an idea to ponder?

His situation is one that is common in our society.  Often, “the road not taken” is perceived as what would have been the true highway to happiness.  Through the years, I have met many professional people, including physicians, psychiatrists, attorneys and others, who have told me they wish they had become librarians.  Their number vastly exceeds  the handful of librarian acquaintances who have reported similar career disappointment. This says a lot not only about librarianship but also the people we work with and those we serve as part of our institutional mission(s).

Looking back on all of this, it seems too bad that Benedict, while he still had his full Papal authority, didn’t give himself a revised official title.  Imagine, with white smoke coming out of St. Peter’s in Rome, what an occasional We Have a Popebrarian might have done for our profession!


Posted in Libraries - All, Observations

9/13 – Building History

September, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 9


By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

Like many librarians, I bring some of my professional training  and experience to my avocation.  For the last several years I have been working on various aspects of the history of my church and this has allowed me to conduct offline and online research, develop and maintain web sites, create and present PowerPoint shows, dabble in the archival and preservation arts, and so forth.

Our current building, opened in 1909, was designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, arguably the most important American architect in the first two decades of the twentieth century.  Along with Goodhue, the broader history of the parish, which dates to 1841, touches on the lives of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and other internationally and nationally known luminaries.   For me it is like a perpetual font of interesting facts which never ceases to provide wonderment, either in quantity or quality.

My interest in researching and writing about the church led  to my service as the unofficial historian of my campus, which is one of the University’s  five regional (aka ‘branch’) operations. It started in 1939 in downtown Hartford and is currently located in a residential area to the west of the city.  The campus work has taken me to the University’s archives, the collections of local public libraries, deep into a number old boxes squirreled away in dark closets, and personal involvement with retired faculty members and local historians.

Now, my vocational and avocational interests are coming together.  Recently, University officials announced that in a few short years our campus will be relocating from its bucolic surroundings back to Hartford.  Work is currently under way to plan for a significant renovation to the façade of a historic building once owned by the now defunct Hartford Times newspaper.  Apparently, a brand new structure will be attached to provide a home for our operations.  To assist with initial public relations efforts, campus leaders asked me to mount my PowerPoint history of our past on YouTube.  That was gladly done with the unexpected result that the Hartford Courant made a link to it from their website.

A major architectural firm, with the notable Robert A.M. Stern, arguably one of America’s most important architects of our present era as its head, is creating the design.   Although I have been a librarian over 40 years, this is my first chance to be part of the exciting and challenging process to build a structure, including a library,  “from scratch”. As this project moves on, I am already wondering if it is similar to the way that Bertram Goodhue evolved the design of our parish’s 1909 building: many “stakeholders” working feverishly to pull together wish lists, floor space schematics, design concepts and so forth.

I have to say that the energy going into the campus project seems remarkably similar to what I have read about Mr. Goodhue’s methods of working.  He utilized the hands of many artisans and related architects yet his visionary approaches to design were ever present.  It seems likely that the architectural process in which I am now involved, with a similar architectural superhero at the helm, will broaden my understanding of Goodhue and how the work of his great mind made my place of worship so special.

In an introduction to a biography of Bertram Goodhue, Robert A. M. Stern said this:  “The example of  Goodhue’s work and his refusal to adhere to any rigid dogma find a sympathetic audience among contemporary architects who struggle to recapture his confident handling of mass, his sure sense of detail realized through craft, and his faith in the capacity of the past to enrich the present.”

I hear in this not only the appreciation of one great architect for another but also a kindred spirit.  I have every reason to believe that our new campus will be its own very special place and perhaps one which will reflect a ”capacity of the past to enrich the present”, something which has been a primary driver of both my avocation and my vocation.


Posted in Observations

8/13 – A Sub-Subject, or, Melville Musings

August, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 8


By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

On a recent trip to Arrowhead, the Herman Melville house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I learned that nearby Mount Greylock, which is shaped like a huge whale, may have at least partly served as inspiration for Moby-Dick, published in 1851.  Reports of the house during Melville’s time indicate that his desk, where he penned his greatest book and many other works, was positioned in front of a window that looked out upon Greylock, whose enormous profile filled the scene like a painting in a frame.

Like many authors, Melville apparently drew on his surroundings and experiences for ideas , and perhaps even language, for his work.  His seafaring activities a decade before the creation of Moby-Dick, and the adventures of Mocha Dick, a real, huge white whale which created nautical uproar in the first third of the nineteenth century, most certainly made appearances in his writing.

Until that visit, my only reading of Moby-Dick had taken place in the first years of high school so I picked up a copy in the historic site’s small shop and happily began looking at it that night.   Tradition has it that the famous first line of Moby-Dick is “Call me Ishmael.”  Technically, this is incorrect for while  those words do indeed start the body of the text, the opening lines of Moby-Dick take place in a two part preface labeled “Etymology” and  “Extracts” which is sometimes omitted from abbreviated editions.    In the preface, Melville acknowledged the assistance of a “sub-sub-librarian” in his research into cetology, the study of whales, which forms a large part of the novel. In particular, he wrote:

“EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian): It will be seen that this mere painstaking burrower and grubworm of a poor devil of a Sub-Sub appears to have gone through the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book whatsoever, sacred or profane… Give it up, Sub-Subs! For by how much the more pains ye take to please the world, by so much the more shall ye for ever go thankless!”

At the time of my first encounter with Melville,  the field of librarianship was not yet on my radar as a subject of interest and so the reference to the sub-sub-librarian was quickly passed by.    Now though, having been in this business for over 40 years, I was intrigued by the sub-sub —   was it a “professional” title in days of yore or perhaps no more than a humorous fabrication by Melville?

A quick review of literature on the topic revealed lots of chatter citing the sub-sub as a source of some of Melville’s whale information but nothing  about the term itself.  Some writers seem to have taken it for granted that such a title existed and went on to explain that the preface was a form of acknowledgement to those who supplied valuable service related to the writing of the novel. Others scratched their heads about the preface and its meanings and quickly moved on to different topics.

I began some relaxed online research and quickly located a reference to a “sub-sub-librarian” which predated Moby-Dick.  In 1824, the Scots Magazine (found via Google Books) carried a somewhat satiric article entitled “Phrenology as Old as the Creation.”  It contained this line referring to Adam of Adam and Eve fame:  “A cast of Adam’s skull would be a great deal more interesting and instructive than even that of George Buchanan, which is so religiously preserved, and attentively exhibited, by the “sub-sub librarian”, in the University of Edinburgh.”  (Note: punctuation is as it appears in the article).

Because I hit this term so early in my research, I assumed I would come across more references to it without much effort but this was not the case.  Additional activities  to locate a sub-sub-librarian in places like JSTOR and indexes of American and British publications dating back to the 17th century failed,  although a number of references to “sub librarian” did surface.  In Melville’s time “sub librarian” seems to have been defined as an individual in charge of a specialized  collection within a library.  The Oxford English Dictionary traces it back to 1671   when it appeared in Praefatory Answer to Stubbe by one J. Glanvill:  “He was for some years Sub-librarian at Oxford, and so by his imployment was chained among the Books.”

After all of this, the best I can determine is that the term seems to have been a fabrication.  Without further information about Melville’s possible knowledge of the Scots Magazine’s  use of “sub-sub librarian”,  but also knowing that he often drew from his surroundings for ideas, it remains difficult to determine if the author serendipitously came up with it on his own or simply “borrowed” it.  Either way, the term is certainly evocative of our many colleagues who are indeed chained to their books in sometimes thankless settings.  It is so evocative that one wonders if perhaps it should become an official library title?  But, that will have to be a sub-subject for another day.


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7/13 – Read All About It!

July, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 7


By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

One of the great challenges of “modern” librarianship is how to derive a balance between digital and traditional (i.e. “paper”) based resources to meet the demands of the many clienteles we serve.  The proponents of digital are often the opponents of paper. In many libraries, seasoned books are being shoved out library doors at a record pace, while at the same time budgets for new paper materials are being diverted to the acquisition of increasing numbers of e-books, databases, and related services. Some library leaders have talked about the current era as “transitional”.  For them, the rise of digital inherently means the decline and eventual demise of paper.  In their view, the young have declared digital to be the future, and so paper must yield.  For many, there is no middle ground.

For those of us who have been involved in the processes of library assessment, however, the picture is a different one.  The purpose of library assessment is to listen to our users as they voice, via surveys, focus groups, and other mechanisms, what they want from libraries.  When we sort through the returns and make our analyses, a common theme is that our users want our future to be digital AND paper.

At my library, where we do frequent user assessments, we have seen an ongoing interest in books.  In particular, students at every level want us to acquire new books which they will quickly scan to discover what is happening in their fields of interest.  Undergraduates like books because they can get a quick overview of a worthy topic before they delve into more complicated research.  And, scholarly books are of particular interest because their bibliographies and footnotes are gold mines of linkages to other credible research, some of it digital.

One of the pitfalls of conducting assessments is trying to determine if one’s findings are unique to the home institution or can be applied more generally to libraries at large.  This is why a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center called Young Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/06/25/younger-americans-library-services/ is of such interest.

The study looked at “younger Americans—those ages 16-29” and among its findings:

Almost all Americans under age 30 are online, and they are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections; however, they are also still closely bound to print, as three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.

Large majorities of those under age 30 say it is  “very important” for libraries to have… books for borrowing, and relatively few think that libraries should automate most library services, move most services online, or move print books out of public areas.

Our profession is one built around meeting the needs of our patrons.  Traditionally, we have been good listeners – willing to discover those needs and then taking action to meet, or hopefully exceed, them.  Trying to anticipate those needs without a well-developed listening device (i.e., assessment program) is worse than folly, however, since it can send the library off into directions that will do little more than frustrate, and sometimes even anger, the very people we are trying to serve.

As an example, it is well known that e-books are of value to libraries for a number of reasons.  One of them apparently is not because the public prefers them to paper although e-book supporters have been flooding the press with such nonsense.  The e-book business languished for a number of years, growing at 2% or less annually, defying assertive projections made by digiphiles, including some prominent librarians.   Only when e-readers became more usable, and e-book  merchants began serious cost cutting, did that market begin to show growth.

Some libraries were early adopters of e-books and, by pushing acquisition dollars in that direction, created a self-fulfilling prophecy that interest in e-books was rising as interest in paper declined.  If paper books are not being purchased of course interest in paper will decline, but only in the short term.  Now, users are calling for libraries to commit at least part of their resources to paper – and those voices are growing louder.  The demand is “Digital and Paper”, not “Digital Uber Alles”.  As Pew found, the strongest voices belong to the same generation digiphiles once declared to represent the electronic future.  Are we listening?  Will we comply?

Finally, one other finding, not about reading, is also important to know:  “80% of Americans under age 30 say that librarians are a “very important” resource for libraries to have (along with 81% of adults ages 30 and older)”.  At long last, efforts to build robotic, cyber librarians can be shelved.


Posted in Libraries - All, Observations

6/13 – Jiflinix — It Only Sounds Like Gibberish

June, 2013 – Volume 2, Number 6

JIFLINIX —  It Only Sounds Like Gibberish

By Bill Uricchio, University of Connecticut Libraries

Back when Linux was still a newbie on the operating-system block, a colleague and I were discussing the pros and cons of open source software.  We were talking in vague generalities but eventually I mentioned Linux, calling it “Lye-nix”.  He looked dismayed:  “It’s pronounced ‘Lin-ix’, Bill, ‘Lin-ix’ “.   He sounded authoritative so I didn’t challenge him and we moved along with our debate.

While my friend was a good techie he was not known for his linguistic skills.  So, this happening in the days before the internet was readily available on hand-held devices,  I eventually booted up my office desktop and searched for the accepted pronunciation.    What I found was confusing because arguments for both versions were in abundance.  In 2006, an interviewer asked Linux creator Linus Torvalds for the official word.  His answer was what my friend had said and it is a variation of Unix and Torvalds’ first name, which, unlike the Peanuts character, has a “soft i”.

When someone has created something, that person is the obvious place to go for authoritative statements about the product.  Sometimes, though, the authoritative voice takes a while to be heard, resulting in an error becoming a “fact” which is hard to correct.

Take, for instance, the recent revelation that the long established gif image format, which has pretty much  sounded like “gift” minus the t since its invention in 1987, is really  pronounced jif, just like the peanut butter.  The source of this nugget was none other than the inventor of the Graphic Interchange File who mentioned it as an aside while receiving an award for his technological achievements.

Judging by the reaction of his peers, the long accepted but incorrect version will be a mistake very hard to put a-right.  Evidence for this exists at the very top of our nation’s techno spectrum.  As reported by New York Magazine, “ ‘It is GIF all the way, and I do not care what the founder thinks,’ [said] Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director.”   It occurs to me that a headline for this statement might have been “GIF Says Goff!”  Or, if the alternate view had held sway, “JIF says Joff”.

Within the library world we have had our own pronunciation wars.  A popular web based information tool for our users is called “Libguides”. It seemed obvious to many that “Libe-guides” was the pronunciation choice.  But, the developer of the service, Springshare, notes on their website:  “Straight from the horse’s mouth, we at Springshare pronounce it “Lib”… as in liberation. But the issue has taken a life of its own, and we find it very amusing!”

Fair enough, except that the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has a long established survey process called LibQual.  Having been involved with it for a number of years I can say that it is most definitely pronounced “Libe”.  However, since many library workers use both products,  lib and  libe variations  seem to be increasingly intertwined.

I joined some colleagues for lunch at a conference recently and overheard one of them referring to developing a “Libe” Guide for “Lib”Qual.  I tried to correct this situation in my own library with a well-intentioned e-mail which fell on deaf ears.  I finally threw in the towel although it still rankles me when I hear “Lib-Qual” used in one of our meetings.

Well, as the old Gershwin song doesn’t go: You like lib-tato and I like libe-tatoe,; I like Po-gif and you like Poe-jif.  Lib, Libe, Gif, Jif,  Goff, Joff, ah, let’s just call the whole thing Off!


Posted in Observations