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Unpleasant Vibrators Need Not Apply

August 12, 2014 | by


A librarian at the card files at a senior high school in Minnesota, 1974. Photo: David Rees

From The Library Assistant’s Manual, a guide by Theodore Koch “issued on the occasion of the 61st annual meeting of the Michigan State Teachers’ Association, Ann Arbor, October 30–November 1, 1913.”

Qualities that unfit one for library work in general are physical weakness, deformity, poor memory, a discontented disposition, egotism, a lack of system in one’s method of work, and inability or unwillingness to take responsibilities, a tendency to theorize, criticize, or gossip, inability to mind one’s own business, fussiness, and long-windedness.

One librarian advocates listing the virtues and personal qualities of the staff and apprentices by having a questionnaire like the following filled out for each assistant:

Has she tact?
Has she enthusiasm?
Has she method and system?
Is she punctual?
Is she neat?
Is she kind?
Is she a good disciplinarian?
Is she sympathetic?
Is she quick?
Is she willing to wear rubber heels?
Is she a good worker?
Is she accurate?
Has she a pleasing personality?
Has she a sense of responsibility?
Is she patient?
Is she courteous?
Has she self control?
Is she cheerful?
Has she a knowledge of books?
Are her vibrations pleasant?
Has she executive ability?
Can she speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish?
Has she social qualifications?
Can she keep a petty cash account?
What are her faults?

Mr. Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, gives the following advice to aspirants for library positions:

“First, secure the best possible general education, including, if possible, a college course or its equivalent; second, acquire a reading knowledge of at least French and German; third, add to this a training in a library school; fourth, if a choice must be made between the special training in a library school and a general course in a college, choose the general course, but make every effort to supplement this by the special course if only for a brief period; fifth, if an opportunity occurs for foreign travel, utilize it; sixth, if you have not been able to contrive either a thorough general education or special training, your best opportunities in library work will be in a small library where your personal characteristics may be such as to offset these other deficiencies; seventh, without at least a fair reading knowledge of French and German you cannot progress beyond the most subordinate positions in a large library.”



  1. Fran E | August 12, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    I’d never get a job these days. there’s no way I’d agree to wearing rubber heels.

  2. Karen Easton | August 13, 2014 at 5:17 am

    I started, aged 17, as a library assistant in 1948 and loved every minute of the two years I worked there. We had to go to lectures at headquarters in Birmingham every Friday morning to prepare for annual exams. There was only one copy of a book on Dewey’s Cataloging and Classification, not reprinted since 1929 and 3 of us at different libraries had to post it to each other. I had no problems with the papers on language and literature but failed Cataloging and Classification and the Local Government papers twice so gave up and, after a stint as au pair to a doctor’s family in France, trained as a secretary before I married. Years later, following divorce, I became a French teacher then moved to France and taught English. Nowadays, in the UK, you can study for a degree in Librarianship. You still need many of the qualities listed above though.

  3. Kirk Curnutt | August 13, 2014 at 5:54 am

    “… without at least a fair reading knowledge of French and German you cannot progress beyond the most subordinate positions in a large library….”

    Suddenly the rage at the circulation desk of my public library makes sense….

    Is that picture really 1943, though? That kid in the background looks like I did in 1983….

  4. Lorrie Bodger | August 13, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Yes, you’re right–the kid does seem more modern. But take a close look at the tables and chairs behind and to the left of the librarian: institutional knock-offs of Eames-style furniture of the late 1930s/early 1940s. Bet the library’s tables and chairs were shiny and new in 1943.

  5. Nicholas | August 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Did they never conceive of males? Everything refers to ‘she’!!!

  6. Jeff | August 13, 2014 at 10:44 am

    To those who had the same question I did – is this photo really from 1943? – the answer is no. This photo is not from 1943, it’s from 1974. The photographer was born in 1943. The photograph is part of the National Archives’ collection.

    A quick Google search leads to Flickr:

    I’m a librarian, so let me add to the 1913 list:

    Has she a skeptical mind?

    Has she informational literacy?

    Does she know the difference between a photographer’s birth year in an authority record and the year that a photograph was taken, as provided in the caption?

  7. Dan Piepenbring | August 13, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Thanks, Jeff. I’ve corrected the caption and shall, to atone for my error, discontinue any and all plans to work in the information sciences.

  8. Jeff | August 13, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Dan – Ha! I clearly didn’t let a negative response to “Has she tact?” stop me from becoming a librarian and I don’t think you should let my correction stop you. After all, librarians are a collegial bunch, sharing information and fixing each others mistakes – albeit sometimes with a dose of somewhat snarky humor. I can assure you that my comment was in the spirit of Koch’s list – and a disbelief that the photo was from 1943!

11 Pingbacks

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  3. […] The first is from the Paris Review Blog – from a 1913 copy of The Library Assistant’s Manual. In it, we learn what makes a fit or unfit librarian. Very funny. Click here. […]

  4. […] around and make sure your staff is meeting the bill as stated in this Paris Review taking a page from The Library Assistant’s Manual of […]

  5. […] week I came across The Library Assistant’s Manual (1913) via the Paris Review (scanned version of the book here), and was drawn in by the list of personal qualities one should […]

  6. […] questionários de todo tipo, respondo-os todos. Hoje, por exemplo, o blógue da Paris Review publicou um trecho de The Library Assistant’s Manual, publicado em 1913 por Theodore Koch, […]

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