Where did this journey begin, what set me on my path to become a librarian and a seeker of knowledge? Every Friday evening as a child, the four older children walked with my father across the entire length of Chandler Park to the Detroit Public Library. I left with as many books as I could carry – stories, traditional fairy tales, adventure tales such as Robinson Crusoe, Island of the Blue Dolphins.
A fictional character who I admired as a child is Miss Rumphius. This children’s book by Barbara Cooney depicts the life of the Librarian, Miss Rumphius. She brings stories to children and adults, and a desire to do something to make the world more beautiful. She leaves her mark by planting beautiful lupins over the entire countryside.
Years later in Montreal, I completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature where I studied the canon of Western literature from the Ancients to the Moderns. E.M. Forster’s his depiction of the culture clash in British India portrayed in A Passage to India opened my eyes to the world. The character of Mrs. Moore in Forster’s Passage is wise and respectful of other cultures and has spiritual leanings. In contract to Adela’s cerebral perspective and fear of mystical qualities, Mrs. Moore relies on her heart to make connections. She is open to the Hindu tenet of the oneness and unity of all living things. Such a portrayal was radical for Colonial Britain in 1924.
I enjoy exploring the countryside and generally bring along a plant or bird naming books: Wildflowers across the Prairies and Birding Tanzania for example. I enjoy walking and observing, stopping to look up the precise name of a flower, a tree, or a bird. In my home library, I refer to Mrs. Maud Grieve’s “A Modern Herbal,” first published in 1931, giving medicinal and culinary properties, conventional wisdom, and cultivation from all over the world. Susun Weeds’ became the source for herbal remedies, taking her “bone remedy” of nettles and herbal teas with medicinal value.
I began my career in 1989 as an “Agrarian Librarian.” One of two information professionals and two agronomists at EAP, we were passionate about our mission: to make ecological farming practices accessible to farmers across the planet. Director, Dr. Stuart Hill, a professor of entomology, revolted against agricultural practices in Canada, so unlike methods in England. He started collecting farmers’ knowledge published in magazines, newsletters, bulletins, and organic research reports produced by farmers. We created the database along with a classification system and indexing terms. I oversaw the work of graduate student assistants who analyzed, classified, and filed the documents. A wonderful learning experience, I learned about Composting, Rotations, Permaculture, and Biodynamics.
Becoming aware of the political nature of “grey literature” which exists quite separately from the conventional stream of published information, Traditional Knowledge was the subject of my Master’s thesis, and the topic of my next post.