Please allow me to go off on yet another tangent… today’s post was inspired by the book I’m currently reading (The Mystery of Agatha Christie by Gwen Robyns, a biography published in 1978, just two years after Christie’s death). As I started the book, I glanced over the Acknowledgments page, and I happened to notice that the author actually thanked librarians — not just libraries, but the librarians themselves!
As you can see in the pic below, Robyns thanked: Mr. John Pike of the Torquay Public Library, Mr. J. M. Evelyn (Michael Underwood), Mrs. Imogen Woollard, Miss Grace Rich of the City of Westminster Public Library, Miss Jennifer Emerton of the Wallingford County Branch Library, and Dr. Michael Rhodes of the Westfield College, University of London.
And that got me thinking… how often are librarians thanked in book acknowledgments? It turns out that I’m not alone in this question!
In 2011, Margaret Heilbrun, a former Senior Editor for the Library Journal Book Review, wrote about “Best Acknowledgments of 2011,” looking through acknowledgments of Library Journal‘s Best Books of 2011.
Librarians‚ like all mortals‚ love to be on the receiving end of gratitude. When the occasional library, archives, or special collections researcher publishes the results of all that research and expresses thanks to the library in the book’s acknowledgments, and includes the names of the staff who helped, well, the staff in question are thrilled. Natch.
You know what? It doesn’t happen often.
Heilbrun goes on to highlight Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, in which Foreman “personally names and thanks over 200 library, archives, and special collections staff members from around the world who helped her and her assistants with access to materials over the course of several years. Her acknowledgments are not only a tribute to all the women and men who enabled her work, but a tribute to her for the stamina and focus to keep track of them all systematically and name them with little fuss or muss.”
Heilbrun went on to bestow the “Amanda Foreman Award” twice more, in “Best Acknowledgments of 2012” and “Best Acknowledgments of 2013.” And Foreman herself, a Man Booker Prize Award winner, mentioned her namesake award with pride in the introductory paragraph of her 2013 “Prize-Writing” essay in The New York Times.
This post, “The Story Behind the Story: An Appreciation of Authors’ Acknowledgments,” runs through the history and complexities behind acknowledgments, noting that “There was a time when acknowledgements were brief and rare.” (Kind of like film credits, eh?, which seem to be getting longer and longer nowadays. People want credit!) Although that post doesn’t mention the practice of thanking librarians or other researchers, some commenters do!
This informative post, “Think Before You Thank: Writers & Acknowledgments,” by Kate Messner urges writers to double-check beforehand with those they want to personally acknowledge in print, to make sure they aren’t compromising those individuals. She specifically mentions librarians as examples:
A teacher or librarian who enjoys an author’s work might be delighted to see his or her name in the back of a book. But what if that reader wants to be on a state or national awards committee and the author’s book shows up in the pile of titles to be discussed? Suddenly, having that public thank you in the book is awkward at best and at worst, could create pressure for the person to resign from a great opportunity.
That is admittedly something I had never thought about before, but it does make sense to double-check beforehand.
But not everyone is so appreciative of librarians or libraries in their acknowledgments! This Mental Floss article highlights “7 Book Dedications that Basically Say ‘Screw You’,” including Alfie Kohn’s diss to Harvard University Libraries in his 1986 work, No Contest: The Case Against Competition.
And this satirical piece poking fun at the excesses of acknowledgments, “Acknowledgments Pages Say More Than Thanks,” has a section lampooning authors for thanking “Your Research Crew” but DOESN’T EVEN INCLUDE LIBRARIANS. Patrolmen, detectives, lawyers, forensic anthropologists, NASCAR drivers, river guides, Civil War reenactors, and circus clowns are mentioned in this section, but NOT LIBRARIANS. I know it’s satire, but ?!#!@?! Librarians ARE the Original Research Crew!
So to my fellow Research Crew members, are you intrigued enough now to start poring over the Acknowledgments pages of the books you’re reading? Have you always sought out mentions of librarians in Acknowledgments pages? Have you ever been personally thanked in any book Acknowledgments? If so, please share!
And may librarians continue to be thanked, on or off the Acknowledgments page. Even a simple smile and/or a “Thank You” in person/phone/email/chat will make our day. 😀