Sandy Berman's Last Stand
Cover Story ∑ Vol 20 ∑ Issue 971 ∑ 7/14/99
By Burl Gilyard
Article reprinted courtesy of City Pages

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For 26 years Hennepin County's head cataloger led the charge for libraries of, by, and for the people. When he took aim at a new target this spring, his boss fired back.

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Sandy Berman's Last Stand

Photo By Tony Nelson


---------The memo was all of three paragraphs. Granted, one of those paragraphs included a run-on sentence that was a couple of hundred words long, with four parenthetical asides and a colon--its author was, after all, Sanford "Sandy" Berman--but nevertheless, most who read the memo would agree that it was organized into three paragraphs.

It was a Monday, this past January 18, and Berman had wedged himself into his small cubicle in suburban Plymouth's library administration headquarters, turning his attention to his manual Remington typewriter. Its metal keys had not a speck of dust on them. The black ribbon was fresh. What he had in mind was a simple three-paragraph note--something quick, well-reasoned, and noisy.

Cover Photo By Tony Nelson

On that winter morning, Berman was at his station as head cataloger for the Hennepin County Library (HCL) system, as he had been since 1973. For a man in charge of more than a dozen catalogers, Berman wasn't fond of hierarchies--thus his conviction that "Supervisors should be accessible and not occupy some sort of mystified space or be up on some metaphoric pedestal!" And so Berman's cubicle was the exact size as all the others there.

As he tapped away on a sheet of HCL note paper--"Building a Great Library," it read--Berman took the liberty of explaining himself in prose thick with ampersands and blobs of correction fluid, typed-over letters, and words shoehorned into the seemingly nonexistent spaces between lines. High-tech spell check? Laser printing? Berman's memo, as it rolled from the typewriter, a bit crumpled and smudged at the edges, had the visceral stink and charm of an era that's all but gone. He opened cheerily, with "many thanks" to Bill DeJohn and Carla Dewey of MINITEX, a state-funded network of libraries based at the University of Minnesota; he argued his points, then closed "with warmest regards" and signed off with a flourish--an outsize S, his own Zorro mark.


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