Ode to Bob Dylan

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Although the Nobel Prize ceremonies are still a month off, I want to go ahead and acknowledge the pending award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan.  In my mind, his interest in preserving the traditions of folk music together with the external focus of his lyrics make him worthy of a little attention by archivists.

If you need to brush up on your Dylan biography, a 2010 article in The Atlantic summarized Sean Wilentz’ book Bob Dylan in America.  In 2015, an article for Music.mic identified five Dylan songs that changed the course of history:

  1. “Blowin’ in the Wind”
  2. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
  3. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
  4. “Like a Rolling Stone”
  5. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

And here’s a list of his top 10 protest songs:

  1. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
  2. “Maggie’s Farm”
  3. “Chimes of Freedom”
  4. “Hurricane”
  5. “With God on Our Side”
  6. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”
  7. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
  8. “Oxford Town”
  9. “Masters of War”
  10. “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Here’s one other, less well-known song — “Gotta Serve Somebody” that’s worth a listen:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

The lyrics to all of the above songs can be found on the official Bob Dylan website.

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The place for books

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itsabookI found this poster in the window of a Blackwell’s bookstore in Oxford.  My attitude was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that my eReader died on the flight across the Atlantic, but I was immediately struck by the simplicity and wisdom of this poster.  While books obviously cannot compete with the technology housed in smartphones, eReaders, and tablets, they still are a great source of comfort and memory for me.  Some of the memories are triggered by things that I have left in my books, such as the bookmark that reminds me of a visit to Powell’s when I was in Portland, or the seat assignment card that reminds me of a trip to China.  Other memories were shaped by my choosing to read certain books at specific times, such as reading Michener’s Hawaii before traveling to a workshop at Pearl Harbor and thereby having a better grasp on the history and culture and language of the island.  I also tend to underline passages that hold great meaning for me; when I later re-read that book, my highlights and notes provide a window into my self that read the volume years before.  I recognize that some of my uses of books could be accomplished by electronic versions, but I know that for me, fingering through my collection of novels produces a sensation that is very different from browsing through the volumes on my eReader.

Melk Abbey library

library at Melk Abbey

William H. Gass wrote an essay for Harper’s Magazine in 1999 that echoes my thoughts.  He explains, “We shall not understand what a book is, and why a book has the value many persons have, and is even less replaceable than a person, if we forget how important to it is its body, the building that has been built to hold its lines of language safely together through many adventures and a long time.  Words on a screen have visual qualities, to be sure, and these darkly limn their shape, but they have no materiality, they are only shadows, and when the light shifts they’ll be gone.  Off the screen they do not exist as words.  They do not wait to be reseen, reread; they only wait to be remade, relit” (November 1999, 46).

Strahov library picture

Theological Hall at Strahov Monastery

Some high school libraries are completely eschewing books in favor of electronic resources, and most public libraries offer more technology training sessions than they do book group meetings.  While I certainly recognize that libraries cannot afford to remain so enamored with the way things have been done in the past that they overlook the changing needs of their patrons, I for one hope that children for generations to come will have the ability to develop a love for books in all their forms.  Gass talks of frequenting the public library while he was in high school and borrowing “a new world.  That’s what a library does for its patrons.  It extends the self.  It is pure empowerment” (48).  Though hard to codify in a five-year plan, I think this is a goal that all libraries should embrace.

Addendum: For a succinct and moving testimony to the power of libraries, read the story of Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban for championing women’s rights and who spoke at the opening ceremony of the library in Birmingham, England.

As we are coming up on Banned Books Week, it is interesting to consider why books can cause such visceral reactions.  The American Library Association has compiled a list of the reasons various books have been challenged.

Here are some of the books that I have found to be influential:

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Remembrance of Things Past
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • On the Road
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • From Slavery to Freedom
  • Absalom, Absalom
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • The Optimist’s Daughter

New beginnings

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In 2011, I took a leap of faith. Sixteen years into a successful teaching career, I decided to give myself a sabbatical and go back to graduate school for a second master’s degree. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t become a jaded, burned-out remnant of the idealist that put two Duke degrees to work teaching social studies in a public high school. So when I recognized that I had mastered the content knowledge for my job to such an extent that it was no longer intellectually challenging for me, I knew that I needed to broaden my horizons. I always incorporated primary source documents into my teaching as a means of hooking teenagers into learning history. Plus a number of the professional development activities with which I filled my summers as a teacher involved conducting research at archives, and this exposure convinced me it would be intriguing to learn more about the organization and operation of these institutions. So I enrolled in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and determined to pursue a concentration in archives and records management. Having completed my MSLS degree in May 2013, I am beginning this blog as a way to document my discoveries along with my questions. Join me for the rest of the journey!