ALA midwinter brought about many great experiences and I met amazing people who I have admired for a long time. I saw a couple of great presentations, finally met many of the great people that I’ve been following on Twitter, and networked with people who are challenging me to be a better librarian. However, as the post #alamw10 excitement wears off, I’ve been struggling to find something to write about. While many of my experiences were fun and exciting and everyone I met was amazing, one of my favorite experiences was sitting with a man that some people in the profession love and a man that has ruffled more than one feather in the library profession; John N. Berry III
Before the conference I really had no concept of who John Berry was. I definitely knew his name, I’ve read his blog, read some his articles in library journal, and definitely know about him from some of the musings of other librarians, writers, and bloggers who have expressed both love and contempt for the man. But really, I never took the time to see who he was, had no idea what he looked like, why he is such a prominent figure in American libraries or why anyone even knows his name beyond his blog and articles. In any case, I hope you understand how embarrassing this is for me to admit that I didn’t know who he is now that I do know.
So, when I had the opportunity to meet him at the Emerging Leaders Reunion and Social at J.J. Foleys I was a little confused. One of the fantastic people who I had met at previous conferences was talking to an old man at a bar and when I came to say hi I was told, very solemnly, that THIS was John Berry! I was told this as if I should have some idea of who he was. I really had no idea who he was, not putting the blogger/writer (whose name I did know) together with the old man sitting at the bar (who I didn’t know) drinking hard liquor and happily chatting with everyone around him. So I stood there at the bar and patiently half-listened to him talk about whatever it was he was talking about at the time. After a little while he told me I should go to the reception for the Librarian of the Year that was happening the next night. Well, I smiled and nodded and pretended to put the information in my phone and walked away to meet some other of the Emerging Leaders at the social and didn’t really think about it again.
At least until the next day at the Tweet-up for YA and Children’s librarians when I saw him walk by and someone in his entourage turned to see me looking at him and said “Yes! THAT was John Berry!” Again, as if I should really know who this man was and admittedly I should have known by now. But I didn’t know and I was getting pretty curious as to why everyone else in the world seemed to know who he was. Luckily, I had yet another opportunity to meet him.
That night a few of the people I knew at the conference told me that they were going to the Librarian of the Year social and since I had heard about it from so many other people at this point, I thought that I might as well go. Because so many people had told me about it, I was surprised by the low number of librarians present. It turns out that this was a fairly exclusive party and in all honesty I really had no business being there at all. In fact, one of the people at the party made it a point to figure out why I was there, and when I could produce no real reason she glared at me as if I had just crashed a reception at the white house. So I stood, off to the side, trying very hard not to get kicked out, and there was Mr. Berry talking to >Josh Hadro who is the associate editor of Library Journal and Nate Hill who runs the blog for PLA (who I name here because I feel I should thank them specifically for this opportunity). Luckily, before I could really embarrass myself these two good folks filled me in as to who exactly I was talking to and finally everything made sense, except for why I hadn’t put together who this man was before I started talking to him.
As the night progressed I had the immense opportunity to really meet John Berry. We talked about my thoughts on Library 101, who should be asked to write for Library Journal (as if I have any idea at all), who we all thought the Annoyed Librarian might be, and generally what we all thought of the profession as a whole. He challenged my opinions, joked and poked fun (in a good way) at my inexperience in librarianship, said some things that I know where just said to ruffle some feathers and make the conversation interesting, and throughout the entire time he was more than an interesting person. So when we had the opportunity to move the conversation and eat burgers and drink beers at a dark hole in the wall called Bukowski’s (thanks entirely to Nate) I jumped at the chance. And, for the next two hours I sat transfixed by stories and opinions about everything from librarianship and politics to Allen Ginsburg, Malcolm X, and so many others that I lost count or reference. I’m not going to pretend I can remember or retell any of the stories he told us that night and I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t remember every word he said but he was wealth of institutional knowledge and it was a night of live oral history as I’ve never experienced.
So, while you may have your own (good or bad) opinions of the man from his blog posts and articles I encourage you to take the time to meet him (buy him a drink) and listen to the story of librarianship as told by John Berry. I just hope someone takes the time to write a book about this historical archive of our profession.