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Riverdale and History

May 13, 2010 | Claire | Comments (0)

As I walked through the non-fiction bays here at Riverdale branch yesterday, I stopped for a moment by the 940’s, that is, by the books  that cover the history of the twentieth century.

 Lively times, the twentieth century, if not lovely.  Someone who had lived, say, from 1910 until now would have seen a lot of history: world wars, revolutions, rockets, computers, not to mention the rise and fall of disco.

 “Disco’s not history”, says someone. “HISTORY is politics and killing people.”   It is true that “history” is not everything that happened but what happened that made a difference.  History is a story, history has a plot.  And what matters depends on which story is being told.   So, when you got your first job, it became part of your (personal) history.  It mattered.  The sausages you had for breakfast this morning just…happened.

 The twentieth century, if you look at it, is not one story but many stories woven together, like the main wires wound around each other into a thick suspension cable.  Each story supports, and is supported by, the other strands.  Some strands are countries, some people, and some institutions. 

Riverdale Branch, which is a hundred years old this year, is one of those strands. Our branch, too, has a history.   Since before the Russian revolution right up to the latest stock crash,  we, the staff at Riverdale, have been checking books in and out, answering  questions, holding programs, updating our collections, talking with patrons and doing all those day-to-days that go into maintaining a library branch.  

Where in all this is the story, the plot, the History of Riverdale Branch?   Two things come into mind.   First that our strand in the cable is itself made up of thousands of narrower threads—individual stories of those who worked in this branch and those who used itIf there is a Riverdale “story,” if there is a “plot,” (and I’m sure there is) we may not be able to see it.  We are the actors in this play.

Are we in a comedy or an action thriller?   Only the audience knows.  

And who is the audience?