Allen Smith Quotations

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The quotes below were all uttered by Allen Smith while teaching his famous LIS 407 Reference class at Simmons College.

  • "Librarianship is the field where ANYTHING you know will only help you - Anything."
  • "There are no emergencies in librarianship. I can't conceive of it."
  • "A librarian is what you are when you have failed to do all of the things you want to do and have succeeded in avoiding all the things you don't want to do."
  • "There is no space for timidity in this field... You want to make the OPAC smoke."
  • "In librarianship, everything you do counts toward your work."
  • "Ask yourself: 'Of what possible use is this?'"
  • On progress: "It used to be you had to have 25 T.A.'s in the locked in the basement -- feeding them granola and Hershey Bars -- to find all the mineral terms derived from the Dutch in the 18th century."
  • "I see nothing in the literature of librarianship that would demand the use of exclamation points. If you were born before 1960, you have three exclamation points for life. If you were born after 1960, you get six. Some of you are in debt."
  • In regard to teaching reference: "The answer is inconsequential. It's how we go about finding the answer."
  • "This is my final reminder. It's spelled Nexis and Lexis. It's not an automobile."
  • "Can you imagine turning the lights off in a library science classroom? It just invites naps."
  • "One never knows what to expect from this book. What is an idea? Why do they call it an idea? Why is it a pivotal idea? The history of the idea of game theory. The history of the idea of infinity... The history of the idea of symmetry and asymmetry. Or the history of the idea of chance. Now, aren't you going to take this to the airport? I do."
  • On meetings: "We should have classes on meetings. Rule one: no meetings over twenty minutes, and no one can sit down."
  • On parliamentary procedure: "It's good to know how to obstruct. Legally."
  • On passing on your knowledge: "On a bus, sit down beside someone who looks curious and say 'let me explain how these databases are constructed...'"
  • On student reprisals: "After I give a quiz in Dialog, I have to find a way home that doesn't cross a bridge. At the end of one of the courses a semester or two ago, someone stood up and gave me a map of how to get to Sherborn and Marion without crossing a bridge. It was very well thought out."
  • "The parsing out of boolean operators is complicated. If you're doing brain surgery, you need to know that. We're sticking with minor surgery."
  • On Dialog's pricing structure: "I consider Dial Units to be an exotic currency more complicated than the Euro."
  • "I saw a yawn... I have to turn around and pretend to write on the board to do that. It'll just teach you never to turn out the lights, especially in library school."
  • On the 1909 edition of Webster's New International Dictionary: "I sat on it for years so that I could eat at the same table as everyone else. After that I was allowed to read it at the table because it was there anyway."
  • On the 1934 Second New International Dictionary: "That's the one I rescued from under the faculty refrigerator."
  • "Where I grew up, you worsh your clothes, hang 'em in the booshes, and go feeshin' in the crick."
  • "I always like to go to faculty offices and see what dictionaries are there."
  • "The best training for reference librarians would be to intern at the sausage stands at Fenway to learn how to handle people. I'm convinced of that."
  • "Show me a town that denies funding to a library, and I'll show you a librarian who stays in the office. Show me a town that funds its library, and I'll show you a librarian who takes donuts down to the police department. Who goes down to the city hall and goes into offices asking if they need anything. Who goes to community meetings to schmooze and shake hands. You have to be proactive. It might come as a shock to some of you, but a large part the success of that library is your personality and the way you treat people."
  • "Each library must determine what it is to accomplish and then develop a policy for each situation. You do this, and you'll find that people aren't stressed anymore... If someone jumps up nude on the reference desk, you don't panic. You have a policy."
  • On why he chose to become a librarian: "It's a clean, classless job."
  • And, of course, everyone's favorite: "Could you please help me find the name of the woman who invented the square-bottom paper bag?"

Here are some quotes from my notes from Allen's 407 class (Spring '08) --Shurlow

  • "Be Prepared, Be Professional, Be Nice"
  • On how to take notes on each of the reference materials: "Begin with a description of what it is - in spite of what it calls itself."
  • What to tell someone who asks what you are in school for: "I'm studying to take bibliographic control."
  • "We cannot study reference service in the abstract. We cannot say that the purpose of reference service is..."

And here are some from my notes (407, Spring '07) -- Megoc

  • "It's my job to convert you to deliberate searching."
  • "Sense will only be fleeting."
  • "The president should send you at birth a copy of the US Government Manual and a five string banjo. And we'd all be better off."
  • "Gale is the publisher that sells you what you already own in a different alphabet."
  • "Find out what they call it, then select it."
  • EE = enlightened enthusiast
  • DDL = drop down list
  • "There is some serendipity still, but it isn't as gracious."
  • "Until we get universal bibliographic control, we'll all be a wreck."
  • "You're a librarian. You're in charge of knowing that."
  • "Classifiers' SWAT team resides in Britain, where arguing about classification is a way of life."
  • "The 70s were a wild time in librarianship. I can remember some of it."
  • On using Dialog: "You're learning how to drive in reverse with an articulated lorry."
  • "If I were going to be thorough about it..."

And some from my notes (407, Fall '07) -- helman2

  • "Online databases are just casseroles, you're not quite sure what's in it. If it's a church casserole you know you're pretty safe. If not you'd best not go there."
  • Good overall advice: "Satisfy your curiosity."
  • "Searching Google is like giving yourself over to a robot with bad batteries."
  • On collection development: "Supplement what is available in the community. If everyone is already subscribed to the the best magazine you don't have to. Getting the ones they don't have will them to your library."
  • "Criticizing the Britannica was something like stomping on an apple pie."
  • My favorite: "Uninformed discussion is a waste of time."

These were uttered in class and outside of it, but they are my favorite -- medina2

  • Allen: "What are you making? It smells good." Me: "Just heating up some falafel." Allen: "Oh, feel-awful?"
  • From the sign posted on the 3rd floor fridge "To the bottom feeder - throw our your garbage." (I think he almost used an exclamation point.)
  • "You want to know what the worse thing about the first day of school is? You have to wear pants and real shoes."
  • "There's an encyclopedia of American shipwrecks. Isn't that amazing? What a wonderful resource."

These were in my notebook from LIS 413, Fall 2007 - I felt like I could never write fast enough -- schwarts

  • For our annotated bibliographies, we should have "the ability to describe the source in 2-3 sentences, NOT beginning with a verb. Start with what it is, not what it covers"
  • He said on the first day of class that he envisioned the bibliographic structure of a discipline graphed by incidence of material available. Library instruction is giving that vision.
  • PIP = Put It in Perspective
  • About a source that I won't name here - "smells unreliable"
  • On Webster - "Not a very good linguist or historian"

These were in my notebook from LIS 407, Spring 2005 -- kirkpatr

  • That's what we're here for -- to fight!
  • Department of Defense = PowerPoint Rangers
  • "citation manipulation" -- the urge to feel important
  • Cite yourself and friends as much as possible.
  • Noah Webster: betrayed into errors by his "natural indolence"
  • Know your public: learn to schmooze; do not stay in the library.
  • T.J. Wyse -- think carpet slippers, Irish setters, and port!
  • Wanted us to read Worlds of Reference by Tom McArthur, and threatened to quiz us on graduation day!