Libraries & Culture 38.4 (2003) 389-397
[Access article in PDF]
Eric Moon as the Twentieth-Century Embodiment of Melvil Dewey?
A Review Essay
Donald G. Davis Jr
Eric Moon: The Life and Library Times. By Kenneth E. Kister, with a foreword by John N. Berry III. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 2002. xxii, A-P, 442 pp. $30.00. ISBN 0-7864-1253-4.
Life writing in the profession has been a constant genre, as a search through standard bibliographies and databases will verify. 1 The years spanning the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have occasioned a number of biographies and autobiographies of notable figures in American librarianship. As colleagues have retired in this pivotal period, the temptation to look backward, to offer an explanation or perspective, or to make an apology—most efforts to establish significance—has seldom seemed more attractive than now. Among those lives recently celebrated autobiographically are Bill Eshelman, David Kaser, and Paul Wasserman. 2 The scholarly biographies of Melvil Dewey (1851-1931) by Wayne Wiegand and of Louis Shores (1904-81) by Lee Shiflett have also appeared. 3 Among these works, Kenneth Kister on Eric Moon is unique.
Kister and his publisher regard Eric Moon (b. 1923) as the most significant personage in the American library profession in the last half of the twentieth century. The narrative of his life, in eighteen chapters and buttressed with sixty-three black-and-white photographs, is well told. It includes Moon's youth in Southampton, wartime service in Asia, student years at Loughborough, early professional experience at British libraries, escape to Canada and then on to Library Journal, activism in the library profession, leadership at Scarecrow Press, presidency of the American Library Association (ALA), and retirement to Florida. Additional tidbits from Moon's inner thoughts about people, events, and trends and especially his romantic life make this an arresting tale. Few contemporary biographical works present the detail and complexity of a life as does this nearly five-hundred-page, large-format work. [End Page 389]
Few would deny that from the late 1940s, when Moon entered his professional library career in earnest, he seemed to be determined to alter the status quo, lead rebel causes, and promote egalitarian crusades. When he moved to Newfoundland in 1958 at age thirty-five to work in a small public library, it was only a matter of time (less than a year and a half) before he progressed to the much larger and more influential stage as editor of Library Journal in New York City, a position that for a decade offered him a convenient platform for his agenda. He was, as the saying goes, in the right place at the right time. The 1960s and 1970s provided a superb environment for Moon's views, which, in the publisher's words, "on all the heated issues . . . have preoccupied librarianship in recent decades: civil rights, social responsibility, intellectual freedom, spurring the young and the new, balanced collections, public funding," open governance of the ALA, and universal access to information of all types. Indeed, the campaign for the ALA presidency in 1976 and the period of leadership through 1978 could be viewed as a classic text on professional politics in action. 4
The Moon presidential year, beginning at the 1977 ALA annual conference in Detroit, had apparently intended to focus on a projected National Information Policy, an egalitarian initiative designed to ensure free access to information for the broadest possible audience. However, it was sidetracked by the uproar caused by the release of The Speaker, the profession-splitting movie on First Amendment rights also released at the Detroit conference. 5 These events cast a shadow on Moon's moment of glory—his "Unlucky Presidency," to quote Kister (354)—and, together with his retirement from Scarecrow Press in 1978, include elements of a classical tragedy. The noteworthy issues, debated at what seemed at the time to be the height of Moon's career, caused great professional discussion; but in reality, they occurred at the beginning of his later years and a period...