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Libraries & Culture 38.4 (2003) 427-428

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The Best of Times: A Personal and Occupational Odyssey. By Paul Wasserman. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 2000. ix, 458 pp. $35.00. ISBN 0-7808-0433-3.

Paul Wasserman's The Best of Times is a welcome addition to the small body of autobiographies by contemporary librarians. Wasserman earned a national reputation as a respected agent for change during the 1960s. He was a pioneering advocate for administrative training, automation education, client-based services, evaluation measures, and racial diversity for the field. Wasserman was also a "publishing machine," one who helped reshape the face of reference literature through his editions and series with the publishers Gale, Greenwood, and Oryx.

While making it clear that the results reflect his unique perspectives, the author writes in a matter-of-fact manner; moreover, he does not shy away from self-criticism. The narrative roughly divides into three main stages: the formative years, the midprofessional career, and a final international focus.

Wasserman, whose father and mother came from Romania, was born in 1924. His early life is the familiar story of a second-generation immigrant family in New York City's Jewish enclaves. Family members were only mildly observant of their religion and assimilated so quickly that neighbors referred to them as "Yankees." Although his childhood during the Depression could hardly have been idyllic, Wasserman's memories are still generally positive and without anti-Semitic references. As he notes, family ties grew strong, and "education was seen as the primary means to transcend working-class origins" (40).

Hard work and initiative emerged as a matter of course. Wasserman did well in the competitive New York educational system. He also discovered his love of books and the Arlington Library branch. After high school, he entered City College and later opted for its business school. Wasserman had to work to pay for college. A successful civil service exam detoured him to the Government Printing Office and his first forays to Washington, D.C. The job began in early 1942. It introduced him to segregation and a more positive interest in jazz as well as a hangover that sent him packing back to New York.

Other events had intervened. In late 1942 the young student was sworn into the United States Signal Corps and the bureaucratic intricacies of the United States Army. Wasserman, an admittedly clumsy lineman, secured a transfer to cadet training in the Air Corps yet somehow found himself redeployed as a radio repairman and infantry soldier with the 264th Regiment in Fort Rucker, Alabama. Before shipping out for Europe, he also married his first wife. Wasserman endured seasickness and a more traumatic experience on his cross-channel movement to France. He was injured when he was forced to jump into the December ocean to escape the torpedoed SS Leopoldville.

After his return to the States, Wasserman settled into a pattern of work and school that led to his first library position with the Brooklyn Public Library. While there, he earned a library degree with the first graduating class at Columbia and a master's degree in business, and his first child was born. His success caught the eye of Cornell University. In 1953 he began a joint librarian and teaching appointment in Ithaca and awakened his intellectual interests in publishing, research, and the promotion of proactive client-based services. He was part of a new cadre of eager, GI Bill-trained graduates from the working class who replaced their patrician professors, and he would contribute a new awareness of automation in librarianship.

In 1959 Wasserman traveled to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan to earn his doctorate. He returned to Cornell and a subsequent promotion to full [End Page 427] professor. Wasserman's publication list grew rapidly, including an unprecedented emphasis on measuring and evaluating library performance. In 1964 he received an inquiry from the University of Maryland about starting a new professional school the next year.

Wasserman's vision was a noble experiment and repositioning for library education. He wanted a combination of practical experience...


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