Monday, January 5, 2015

My Work in School Libraries Unexpectedly Runs in the Family

As I begin my work as a school librarian and also start pursuing my MLIS through San Jose State University, I have a new source of inspiration thanks to a recent discovery that this work runs in my family.

As a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American, I have lived knowing how my great-grandparents and grandparents were interned during World War II. However, as my family is not one with a rich oral tradition--my family is generally pretty private--most of what I have learned is from reading about accounts of other families.

It was not until my grandmother started showing signs of dementia that she began to share more details about her past. I wrote about this several years ago, and while I have gathered some bits and pieces of information since then, it wasn't until this past fall that I learned how my grandmother used to work in a library at the Poston Relocation Center. Prompted by my new job working as a school librarian, my grandmother was triggered into telling me that she had also worked in a library before. I pressed her for more details, but she didn't give them up, not then at least.

Fast forward to this recent winter break when my grandmother had two different visits to the ER while suffering from a nasty bout of the flu. Thanks to the slowness of the ER, I got the opportunity to hear more memories spill from my grandmother. She told me how she originally worked in Camp as a waitress, but that was only for a short time. After that, and for the remainder of her time there, she was able to work in the library for $16 a month. The final detail she blurted out was: "Ethel Manning was my boss." I'm not sure if she even knew how she came up with the name, but it was just the information that I needed.

That night, I went home and immediately started searching online for Ethel Manning. My heart warmed when I found her name cited in the bibliography of Books and Libraries in American Society During World War II: Weapons in the War of Ideas.

My grandmother worked with a librarian who published an article that inspired other librarians to work to counter racial prejudice? This sent me over the moon! I quickly found a copy of Books and Libraries to borrow via inter-library loan, although I have yet to get my hands on a copy of the actual article from the Wilson Library Bulletin. I am hoping to get an EBSCO trial so that I can access the article, but if anyone has any leads on other access, I would be extremely grateful!

*1/8/15 UPDATE - A friend was able to help me get access to the article! Thank you everyone for jumping in to help my research efforts. Library people make the best friends!

Another blog entry that I discovered filled me in on even more details about Ethel Manning, also drawing me to connections with the much more well known librarian Clara Breed, who also happened to work in the same library system as my husband and formerly my father-in-law. It is pretty amazing to live in a time when the thoughts that someone in another part of the world posted years ago is now searchable to provide insight for part of a puzzle I am trying to solve today. This truly points to the power of our networked information world! And, as I unravel more of this history, I become even more grounded in my work as a school librarian. My work carries on a legacy that I had never previously known exists, and my awareness is a strange gift of my grandma's disease, her recent illness, and inefficient medical care. I love being part of this interconnected history. I am so very grateful.


  1. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. I found your story about your grandmother very touching. Learning new details about our ancestors has always fascinated me, and finding that your grandmother worked for such an influential person is exciting. I agree that it is amazing what our technology can connect us to today. I am so grateful you shared your story. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I love hearing about libraries and the love of them, and how those threads can run in families.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. It truly is an amazing one. Personally, I was a little worried about sharing too much of myself in our course blogs. After reading yours I hope that I can draw on that same spirit in my future posts. Again, thank you.

  5. Great! I love listening to stories from important moments in history, especially if they are so closely related to my own family. Glad you got to hear this one.