“The Song of the Library Staff” by Sam Walter Foss

"The Song of the Library Staff" by Sam Walter Foss

At the Phillips Library we hold many treasures on a vast number of topics.  I recently uncovered a delightful piece written by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), one-time librarian at the Somerville Public Library.  An avid poet, Foss is primarily known for such works as “The House by the Side of the Road.”  In 1906, Foss attended the American Library Association’s annual conference in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, where he read his new set of poems, collectively called The Song of the Library Staff, to the 890 attendees.

Eventually published as its own work, the book includes five humorous poems, each focusing on a different role in the library, and beautifully illustrated by Merle Johnson.  Without any further ado, please enjoy selections from The Song of the Library Staff.

“The Cataloger”

"The Cataloger" Illustration

Oh, joy! to see the Library staff perpetually jogging,
And to see the Cataloger in the act of cataloging.
(“Catalogs – Log-books for cattle,” was the
school-boy’s definition,–
A statement not to be despised for insight and
precision)
Every language spoke at Babel in the books that
pile her table,
Every theme discussed since Adam – song or
story, fact or fable!
And she sweetly takes all knowledge for her
province, as did Bacon,
All the fruit that’s dropped and mellowed since
the Knowledge tree was shaken,
All the ologies of the colleges, all the isms of the
schools,
All the unassorted knowledges she assorts by
Cutter’s rules;
Or tags upon each author in large labels that are
gluey
Their place in Thought’s great Pantheon in deci-
mals of Dewey;
Oh, joy! to see the Library staff perpetually jog-
ging,
And to see the Cataloger in the act of catalog-
ing.

“The Reference Librarian”

"The Reference Librarian" Illustration

See the Reference Librarian and the joys that
appertain to her;
Who shall estimate the contents and the area of
the brain to her?
See the people seeking wisdom from the four
winds ever blown to her,
For they know there is no knowledge known to
mortals but is known to her;
See this flower of perfect knowledge, blooming
like a lush geranium,
All converging rays of wisdom focused just be-
neath her cranium;
She is stuffed with erudition as you’d stuff a
leather cushion,
And her wisdom is her specialty – it’s marketing
her mission.
How they throng to her, all empty, groveling in
their insufficience;
How they come from her, o’erflooded by the sea
of her omniscience!
And they know she knows she knows things, –
while she drips her learned theses
The percentage of illiteracy perceptibly de-
creases.
Ah, they know she knows she knows things, and
her look is education;
And to look at her is culture, and to know her
is salvation.

“The Head Librarian”

"The Head Librarian" Illustration

Now my Muse prepare for business.  Plume your
wings for loftier flight
Through the circumambient ether to a super-
lunar height,
Then adorn the empyrean from the heights
where thou has risen
Sing, O Muse! the Head Librarian and the joy
that’s her’n or his’n.
See him, see her, his or her head weighted with
the lore of time,
Trying to expend a dollar when he only has a
dime;
Tailoring appropriations – and how deftly he suc-
ceeds,
Fitting his poor thousand dollars to his million
dollar needs.
How the glad book agents cheer him – and he
cannot wish them fewer
With “their greatest work yet published since
the dawn of literature.”
And he knows another agent, champing restive
to begin
With another work still greater will immediately
come in.
So perfection on perfection follows more and
more sublime
And the line keeps on forever down the avenues
of time –
So they travel on forever, stretching far beyond
our ken,
Lifting demijohns of wisdom to the thirsty lips
of men.

"The Head Librarian" Illustration

See him ’mid his myriad volumes listening to the
gladsome din
Of the loud vociferant public that no book is
ever “in”;
And he hears the fierce taxpayer evermore lift
up the shout
That the book he needs forever is the book for-
ever “out.”
How they rage, the numerous sinners, when he
tries to please the saints,
When he tries to please the sinners hear the nu-
merous saints’ complaints;
And some want a Bowdlered Hermans and an ex-
purgated Watts;
Some are shocked beyond expression at the sight
of naked thoughts,
And he smooths their fur the right way, and he
placates him or her,
And those who come to snarl and scratch remain
behind to purr.
Oh, the gamesome glad Librarian gushing with
his gurgling glee! –
Here I hand my resignation, – ’tis a theme too
big for me.

To find out more about The Song of the Library Staff and other books on librarian humor from our collection please visit PHILCAT.

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