“Here be dragons” …no more
By Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System
When medieval mariners pointed to their maps and in hushed tones said, “Here be dragons,” they were referring to the practice of putting dragons, sea serpents and other mythological creatures in the uncharted areas. Tales of such dangerous creatures were spread by sailors who had ventured to distant lands and to the edge of unexplored territories. A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that for some, the Darlington County Library System was figuratively a distant land and literally an unexplored territory. We suspect over forty years later it is still a land of mystery for some.
The thought of the Library as a realm of mystery that may hold dragons was brought to mind by the discovery of former director Warren F. Lloyd’s notes for a presentation about the Library he made in 1983. Mr. Lloyd was a Marine Colonel who served in the Pacific theater during World War II and in the Korean War before retiring in 1966, having earning the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service. He obtained a master’s degree in library science in 1969 from Florida State University and after graduation served 15 years as the Library’s director. What caught my eye was his reference to the 1973 Charleston News and Courier op-ed piece by reporter Sydney J. Harris, “Library ‘Dragons’ Have Changes.”
Now why would Mr. Lloyd refer to an article that spoke about “dragons” at the Library? He no doubt wanted to make the same points the reporter had made ten years earlier. According to him, librarians were not the “dry, desiccated, pinched, and censorious” creatures of legend. Those “dragons” who swore by the Dewey Decimal System and at anybody who dared to disturb the numerical symmetry on the shelves” had disappeared. The sharp toothed guardians of the “sacred precincts of literature and scholarship” he knew had left their posts. School children, like himself, in search of knowledge would no longer be discouraged from visiting the library due to the “zeal” of “dragons” protecting their realm. No one would ever again feel they should “apologize for breathing in the stacks, that their “whispering violated the first statute in the Criminal Code,” or that they were a “carrier of an unmentionable disease” in the modern day library. Judging from a few words in his notes, I can easily imagine Mr. Lloyd’s tone as he spoke to his audience more as Colonel Lloyd then as Director Lloyd, driving home his point that “here be dragons no more.”
The librarians of the Darlington County Library System are not the mythical “dragons” of the early 1900s. Nor do any of the Library’s staff at its four locations, Darlington, Hartsville, Lamar, and Society Hill, look at all like the 2003 librarian action figure. Based on a real life librarian in Seattle, Washington, the action figure came with a stack of books and an “amazing push button shushing action!” Yes! You push the button on the figure’s back and her arm snapped up with her finger firmly pressed to her lips! Well, so much for dispelling the stereotypical image of a librarian. While different in many ways from the librarians of the 70’s and 80’s, librarians are in other ways very much the same.
Those “dragons” that protected the hollowed silence of the Library’s chambers of neat shelves with row upon row of books are no more. Today’s staff is excited to share what we have to offer. Whether it is a best seller, a do-it-yourself guide, a DVD, e-book, audiobook, or the latest app, we want you to know what we have and how you can use it for information, insight, inspiration, innovation, or just plain entertainment. Libraries are now very welcoming of children. We are bright places where children are encouraged to visit, take books from the shelves, and even laugh out loud! Librarians no longer practice the “amazing shushing action!”
We want the Library to be used by everyone. While we would phrase it a bit differently why an unused book, DVD, e-book or whatever is a loss for everyone, back in 1973, Mr. Harris said, librarians knew “that a book perishing on the shelf is a disservice both to the library and its patrons.” Colonel Lloyd agreed according to his notes. We have continued to move “from passive guardians” to become more “active disseminators” of not only reading matter but also audio, video, and virtual matter. The staff wants you to use everything in the Library. We want nothing to “ride” the shelf and collection dust.
Librarians may have retained a bit of the “dragon” in their makeup when it comes to censorship. Mr. Lloyd talked about book selection and censorship.Today, we strive to have a variety of materials that will appeal all the residents of our community in a format they can use. That is why you will often find librarians, just like their 70’s counterparts, “in the forefront of the fight against capricious and arbitrary censorship.” There is no faster way to stir up a bunch of librarians these days then to use the words “banned book.” Since Mr. Lloyd’s time, librarians have become even more vocal and proactive opponents for all forms of censorship.
So how well have we spread the word “here be dragon no more?” Both men lamented the “the communications systems of the new libraries have been a relative failure. Many, if not most, people are not aware of what the modern library has to offer, and how bloomingly it has changed.” I suspect that both would be surprised to hear me agreeing with them. In their time, you had only the print and broadcast media. Social media has been a blessing in that it gives us so many more opportunities to get the word out about the Library. The challenge is now which ones are the best to use to get the word out today about what the Library has to offer.
All the “dragons” at our branches have faded into legend. The Library staff is dedicated to providing the best possible service to the community. Our dedication to service has not changed.
Our challenge, just as Mr. Lloyd wrestled with, is not only being the best Library possible for the county’s residents, it is getting the word out that the Library is a welcoming place and a relevant part of your life.