or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Amazing Library Book Inscription to Former Librarian

   October 27th, 2011

The Portable Jack KerouacI think this is incredible, and apparently some of my coworkers knew about it and never told me.

I work in the library in Chelmsford, MA, which is next door to the city of Lowell, the birthplace of Jack Kerouac. As a result, we try to maintain a good Jack Kerouac collection, but one specific book in our collection is particularly special.

The book is The Portable Jack Kerouac, which was donated to the library in 1995 by the grandson of long-time Chelmsford Librarian, Edith Pickles. Just this week a coworker showed me this book - the story Edith's grandson recounts in the inscription is just stunning:

Kerouac Inscription
Kerouac Inscription

This is now my favorite story of censorship - and why it is very much the role of libraries to protect the public's right to unrestricted and unmonitored access to information. I am proud to follow in Edith Pickles' footsteps.

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9 Responses to “Amazing Library Book Inscription to Former Librarian”

  1. Lauren Says:

    This is fantastic. What a neat way to honor Edith.

  2. greg hardin Says:

    I love Kerouac, librarians, and now Edith Pickles. Thanks for sharing this great anecdote and such nice gesture from Donny.

  3. Karen Says:

    Thanks for sharing a story that highlights the bravery librarians need to stand up for America’s need to acess information and read freely. We need the public to support us when we do that.

  4. David Hoffman Says:

    I think this is a great story. It’s easy sometimes to look at history and vilify others such as WWII Germany or North Korea for their blatant censorship and arbitrary condemnation of writers, books, and the arts in general when our own nation also perpetrated similar acts.

    Sadly, post-war America in the 1950s wasn’t really like Mayberry and Leave It to Beaver for a large segment of our creative population. It was a time of political black-listing, witch hunts, and fear-mongering after the advent of the Red Scare – in my opinion, something of a low point for our society.

    It is stories like this that really bring home the library’s responsibility to our First Amendment rights and the difficult situations that can arise from that responsibility.

    While personally not a particular fan of Jack Kerouac’s work, I firmly believe that as an institution libraries have the duty and obligation to make *ALL* works available to the population. This is how knowledge is transferred and how evolution takes place. Freedom to speak your mind and to have the ability to see all viewpoints of issues and events is something that our nation was founded upon – and is also a notion that occasionally gets lost among the various knee-jerk political reactionaries of our times.

    Bravo for bringing this little-know bit of history to light!

  5. Jessamyn West Says:

    Chelsea Vermont! Thanks for sharing that story.

  6. You Can't Read That! | Paul's Thing Says:

    […] Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, a policeman entered the Chelmsford Massachusetts public library and demanded the librarian hand over all books by Jack Kerouac on the grounds that they were “unfit.”  Read the rest. […]

  7. Amy Says:

    What a great story!

  8. Elaine Anderson Says:

    Dear Brian,

    I would love to be able to include this whole post on our blog. With your permission and with proper recognitions, may I do that?

    You have some great reading on here. I just found your blog through the library calculator. What a brilliant use of the calculator to apply it to the whole community.


  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Elaine: Of course – that’d be great. I’d appreciate links back, but really I’m just happy to spread this story.