Bob Dylan recently won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions whin the great American song tradition.” (1)
Oh sweet vindication…it has taken me eleven years, but I finally prevailed over the Librarian from Hell–with a little help from the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee for Literature.Here’s how it went down…
Thirteen years ago, I taught English at our local Dangerous Minds High. The kind of school where:
- a probation officer has an office in the building;
- some students wear home-detention ankle bracelet monitors;
- fights are served up as hot and frequent as the cardboard pizza, and;
- the average GPA is in the low-D range.
During my tenure at DMH, I loved my students, but after sixteen years their apathy wore me down, so I transferred to a high school that was, at the time, considered the Crown Jewel of the County. The kind of school that gets an annual mention in US News and World Report.
Reinvigorated by my new assignment, I found the students at Crown Jewel High a delight to teach. But to my surprise, it was the faculty members who made my ass tired. There were days I actually looked in the mirror and said, “Nope, I’m not invisible today. Thought I was.”
My colleagues, who had only taught at crown jewel schools, had never been on the other side of the tracks.If they had, they would have experienced a level of camaraderie between faculty members that would have blown their narrow little minds.
And as far as warmth and welcome from the English department, I found eating lunch with them a more effective means of inducing vomiting than Ipecac syrup.
In particular, a select group of female teachers complained incessantly about the honors students and routinely discussed the curriculum (this phrase always uttered with a pretentious yet reverent lilt.)
They also spent lunches discussing The Great Gatsby ad nauseam since that is the only book pseudo-intellectuals seem able to analyze (the Spark Notes must be pretty basic.) If both of these topics were momentarily exhausted,someone might regale the group with an anecdote about playing Scrabble or bird watching. Riveting stuff.
But the worst part of any lunch–the worst part of any day–was dealing with the Queen Bee who held court from the center of the lunch table. The Librarian from Hell.
No one in the building had more power than librarian Millicent Grimm.
Case in point, each morning Millicent commandeered the public address system to broadcast the names of students who had not returned library books, often accompanied by a running commentary about certain students. This was on the repeat/shuffle setting for the entire hour before classes started, day after day, month after month.
The Pledge of Allegiance? Not happening until the librarian is finished with the public flogging.
So firm was Millicent Grimm’s control, that in August she determined the dates she would allow each English teacher to bring his/her classes in for research and wrote it into her plan book in ink. Completely ass-backward.
When the allotted time came, I brought my students to Grimm’s hallowed space, but she was not pleased because the students were whispering while doing their research.
“Mrs. Anderson, if your students cannot be silent, you will all go back to the classroom.” This proclamation was accompanied by the type of gesticulation a dog owner would use when shaming the poor creature for pooping on the clean floor.
Really? I wondered. Research in a vacuum? This is sound pedagogy?
And then one of my struggling students, frustrated with her topic, asked if she could research Bob Dylan and write a literary criticism of his work. Dylan was the only writer who spoke to her soul.
I approved the student’s choice, long believing Bob Dylan to be the bard of our time–a modern Shakespeare whose influence has reached far beyond art, literature and song. And yes, he spoke to my soul as well.
Mrs. Grimm, however, would not allow the student to research Bob Dylan. She scoffed at the idea in front of the student. “Bob Dylan? You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t allow you to research him. He’s not a real writer.” She then clucked her tongue and shook her head as if to proclaim me an unscholarly dolt.
Oh, sorry. I thought there was inherent value in allowing students to choose their topics.
My student ended up researching an old, dead white guy who Grimm approved–about whom the student likely learned and retained nothing.
And so, I complained to the English department chair–a milquetoast twenty-something who has since been promoted and is earning a six-figure salary at the school board’s central office.
Her response, “Well, we can’t really complain about her to the principal because Millicent’s husband is at the central office.”
You’re telling me that our principal will not reign in Mrs. Grimm because of her husband’s position in the school system? Wow…
So I guess the Neiman Marcus shopping bag that Mrs. Grimm uses to carry her lunch actually contains her sandwich, a bag of chips, and the principal’s balls.
Can I please go back to Dangerous Minds High? Nope–in hindsight, transfers should come with the warning label: Be careful what you wish for.
So how did it all end?
Five years later, Mrs. Grimm retired with a full pension, and went to work in the library at the community college to double-dip her income. But at least the Karma Bus finally came by and thumped old Millicent right beneath its tires.
It happened when a freshman comp professor brought his students to the library for research, some of whom were my former students who passed the story along to me.
As the freshman comp students began their research, a young man made the mistake of asking Mrs. Grimm for help in locating a resource. Directing her response to both the student and his professor, Mrs. Grimm stated that the student was not allowed to research said topic.
Millicent Grimm’s supervisor–an actual research librarian–heard the exchange and swung into action. She promptly informed Mrs. Grimm that no topics were off-limits in her library and that Mrs. Grimm was there to service the needs of the professors and students and not the other way around.
And now, the story comes full circle…
…rather like the wheels on an old, hippie VW bus. And I’ll bet Millicent Grimm, Librarian from Hell, never saw this one coming.
Peace out and thanks for reading!
Hot Flash Suzi