Behind that philosophy lies a lifetime of contemplation about the
nature of the cataloger's craft. Berman talks of the catalog in
reverent language, as one might of, say, the Oracle at Delphi. The
catalog is, he believes, something that "reveals"--what is in the
collection at hand, what material is available to the pursuit of
scholarship, of wisdom. The intelligently conceived catalog orders
the universe of information, and guides us toward what is to be
learned, and used.
Beyond criticizing how
most libraries organize their materials--and doing his part to
remedy the often arbitrary arrangements--Berman habitually assailed
libraries for being afraid of certain materials, particularly the
sexually oriented. "There are almost no public libraries in
the entire country that have any X-rated videos in their
collections," Berman charges. "Even the classics, whether one likes
them or not--Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door."
Should they? According to the Berman doctrine, absolutely.
Goldman's grave in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, 1990
Photo by Chris
Berman argues that libraries' skittishness around sexual topics
is a disservice to patrons who, should the materials happen to be on
hand, want to find them but might be too shy to ask a reference
librarian. "If the catalog can direct people to these things easily
and painlessly, then it should," he concludes. "It's a matter, I
think, of being fair to the materials and accurately representing
what you've got and what people are talking about."
At that, Berman rises from his living-room couch and scurries
into his office, returning with "a serious masturbation video, for
and about women" as just one example of educational materials
shunned by public libraries. At one point Berman's sex crusading
even caught the notice of the Alabama-based Factor Press, publisher
of the male-oriented masturbation magazine Celebrate the
Self. For his promotion of what Berman calls his "un-hungup"
attitudes toward access to sexual information, the group awarded him
its Golden Phallus Award, whose past recipients include former U.S.
Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, in 1997. "They did a nice press
release and all that, which I duly copied," Berman recalls. "Then I
sent that, not knowing whether they would like it, to the library
press: zip mention." As for the award itself, he allows, "There
wasn't a statue, but there was a nice certificate."
cataloging update Berman sent around also included an inventory of
subject headings HCL had added and that the Library of Congress,
with prodding from Berman, had followed suit by establishing on its
master list. In the April/June 1998 dispatch, for example, Berman
noted that the LC had inaugurated "Afro-American Philosophers" on
April 22, 1998; Hennepin originated that very heading in March 1991.
The LC added "Executive Search Firms" on April 29, 1998; Hennepin
had begun using the slightly broader "Executive Search Services" for
nearly 16 years. Similarly, the LC added "Food Banks" in April 1998;
Hennepin had first used the term the previous year. On March 11,
1998, the august LC even instituted the category of "Nude Beaches,"
seven years on the heels of Hennepin. Some victories came more
quickly: the LC christened the heading "V-Chips" on April 1, 1998,
15 months after Hennepin had done so.
It's no secret, and perhaps no surprise, that over the decades
the Library of Congress came to regard Berman as something of a
crank and a pest. Beacher Wiggins, director of cataloging there,
confirms that the Library did add terms that originated with
Berman's crew in Hennepin County; but he is resolutely nonexpansive
on the subject of Berman himself, offering only that "we recognize
that he exists."
Others at the LC have been more forthcoming. One contributor to
the anthology about Berman highlights a quote, made by an anonymous
source who labored deep within the bowels of the library, that
serves as its own quirky tribute: "Sandy Berman is a major pain in
the ass. He runs a horse-and-buggy cataloging operation in Minnesota
and he thinks he can tell us how to do our jobs. He's an
insufferable, self-righteous, unrealistic, naive, head-in-the-clouds
idealist who knows nothing about the real world of grind-it-out