Saturday, September 5, 2009

Song of the Library Staff

Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), Librarian of the Somerville (Massachusetts) Public Library from1898 to 1911, was also a popular poet. At the 1906 Annual Meeting of the American Library Association, he read his poem entitled "The Song of the Library Staff". The poem has five stanzas each devoted to a different staff position. The stanza below is about the cataloger. 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 statment 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 college, 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 decimals of Dewey; Oh, joy! to see the Library staff perpetually jogging. And to see the Cataloger in the act of cataloging. The poem illustrated by Merle Johnson was published in 1906 by John R. Anderson. The Library Alcoves and Other Library Writings by Sam Walter Foss selected and edited by Norman Stevens was published by McFarland in 1987. The poem was also included in Songs of the Average Man by Foss which was published in 1907. His most popular poem was "The House by the Side of the Road". There is a good article by historian J. Dennis Robinson on Foss which he wrote for


Anonymous said...

I vaguely remember these stanzas in posters provided by a publisher or vendor. I believe I saw them sometime in the 1990s.

Larry T. Nix said...

You are correct. They were republished by the Gale Research Company as a favor at an ALA Conference. In fact, it was coming across one of these posters that prompted me to do the blog post.