The general availability of information online – not to mention the increasing popularity of e-readers – has de-emphasized the importance of a good old-fashioned library. However, there is still an army of men and women who go to work each day to fight for the archives. With National Librarian Day just around the corner (April 16!), what better time to take a look at some of the more influential librarians of our time?
But first, a brief history: Libraries originated many years ago as archives in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. They served as safe places for official records, and were managed by court scribes and religious figures. Ancient librarians were held in high regard because they were among the few people who could read.
Librarians of today not only read, but they must also work to accommodate the technological and social needs of the public. In addition to their traditional duties as archivists, they may provide additional services like coordinating public programs and sharing basic literary information.
Below are some prominent librarians who have changed the face of the profession.
Benjamin Franklin was among the founding fathers of the United States. Apart from being a librarian, he was also a politician and a famous inventor. In 1727, he founded the group Junto, which was a clique of like-minded individuals who sought to improve their communities as they improved themselves. Since many in the group loved reading, they formed a library by assembling their own books. To manage the collection, they hired Louis Timothee, who served as the first librarian in the United States.
The former American first lady, Laura Bush, attended the University of Texas at Austin for her Master’s degree in Library Science after teaching at an elementary school. As the spouse of the Governor of Texas, she supported her husband, George W. Bush, in his campaigns and founded programs involving education and literacy. After George W. Bush clinched the Presidency of the United States in 2001, she supported initiatives to recruit more librarians and toured libraries across the globe.
Mao Zedong worked as an assistant librarian at the Peking University. His boss, the chief librarian at the institution, was a Marxist successfully converted Mao to communism. Mao went on to unite China in the 1940s, which was an astonishing feat. He influenced subsequent Chinese leaders, as well, and his impact can still be felt in Chinese culture and politics today.
Mohammad Khatami was the former chief of the National Library and Archives Organization in Iran. He later joined politics and is considered to be the most reformist president Iran has ever had. Khatami supported foreign diplomacy and freedom of expression. In 2009, he stepped down for Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the Iranian presidential race. The two had been long-time friends and mutual advisers. Khatami is largely considered to be the reason for the new president’s shift toward Iranian diplomacy.
As you can see, librarians do much more than tend to the multitudes of books in a library. Many librarians utilize their wealth of knowledge and love of literature to influence all sorts of public sectors positively. As National Librarian’s Day fast approaches, be sure to make a trip to your local library to thank your librarians for their dedication and service.
Have you been influenced by a particular librarian? If so, feel free to let us know in the comments!