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Posts Tagged ‘Librarians’

The connection between the three subjects in the title will become apparent. The post was originally meant to be about the last item, but they are all connected in my memory.

I am a librarian, and a member of the American Library Association (ALA). As such, I have attended many of the regular conferences of that organization. ALA has two major conferences each year, the Annual Conference (in the summer), and the Midwinter Conference. The first of these is quite large, drawing about 17,000 people, including academic, public, school, and other librarians as well as vendors of all kinds of products we depend on. This conference can be held in only about a half-dozen cities in the US and Canada because of the need for spaces: not only hotel rooms and large exhibit spaces, but also meeting rooms. It needs to be scheduled about ten years in advance to be sure the accommodations can be met. One of the cities in which we have met often is New Orleans, and we were scheduled to meet there in June of 2006. So you might imagine what happened at the end of August in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Emails were flying around among the leaders and the committees of ALA. How could New Orleans possibly be ready to host a conference of 17,000 people less than a year after being completely swamped by a major hurricane, which killed almost 2,000 people?[1]  But, how could we possibly move such a huge conference to another city with less than a year’s preparation? After much debate, it was decided that we should bank on New Orleans, not only because it would be difficult to relocate, but because New Orleans would need this conference. As planning continued, there was also a decision to mount teams of volunteers to help with cleanup and restoration. Some of these teams would arrive before the conference and some stay after. They would do demolition in damaged homes, and help to rebuild, putting up new walls and floors, etc. I had recently had major surgery, and so volunteered for less physical activities. In the end, I staffed a book sale at a public library branch that had been damaged, to raise money to fix broken windows and other problems.

It was a moving experience to be there. The city still had huge problems – only half of the convention center was open, while the major hotels were in pretty good shape. But the spirit of the city was amazing! Everywhere were flags and pennants sporting the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans, and now the symbol of its rebirth. The people were especially warm and welcoming. If I stopped in a store to buy something, they would ask, “Are you with the librarians? Thank you so much for coming!” We were the first major conference hosted there since Katrina, and, if I remember correctly, we had far higher attendance at the conference than usual – about 19,000! I had been to New Orleans twice before, for this same conference, and this was by far the best experience ever.

And now to the down side of the entry. As I sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for my shuttle to the airport, I was reading the Times-Picayune, and came across this story: Christopher, 25. (from Texas), working as a security guard in a hotel here in New Orleans, got into an argument with Erik, 30, a former Marine, who was visiting someone in the hotel. The subject of the argument was whether the Army (Christopher’s group) or the Marines (Erik’s group) was tougher. They ended up fighting and then Christopher shot Erik with a shotgun.

I wrote in my journal at the time: “There are probably numerous people who have been important influences in the lives of these two men who should be taken to task for this – including the leadership of these two service groups.” Why would these two men, both veterans of our armed forces, end up fighting, and finally harming, each other over such a stupid issue!? At the time, I was reminded of a song by Chris Smither, entitled “Every Mother’s Son”, which addresses this very issue – toxic masculinity – and calls out those who instill it or abet it in their children. I decided at that point to learn the song, and perform it from time to time, because I think others should hear it. I also remembered that Chris Smither grew up in New Orleans, though he now lives elsewhere. Years later, I did sound for a concert by him at Stone Soup, a folk music venue in Rhode Island, and took that opportunity to ask him if that song had been inspired by a particular incident or experience. He said that it was not – just something that came to him.

Given the many incidents of gun violence, and especially mass shootings in this country (and elsewhere), I feel inspired to share that song with others, and I intend to sing it at some future performances. I hope that Chris Smither does not mind if I share it here. So I have made a recording of it, and put it on my Bandcamp site, to which I link below. Anyone can listen to it once or twice there, but beyond that, they must pay for a download. In the unlikely event that someone does download it, I will gladly offer the proceeds to Chris or to a charity of his choosing.

Every Mother’s Son (by Chris Smither), played and sung by WS Monroe

And it’s only fair that I direct you to a version done by the writer himself:

Every Mother’s Son (by Chris Smither), played and sung by Chris Smither.

And here is an article from Sing Out! (the folksong magazine) about the song, and the theme.  Ken Bigger, “Every Mother’s Son,” Sing Out! (January 21, 2013).

[1] “Hurricane Katrina,” in Wikipedia, September 9, 2019.

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