Back when I found, read, and blogged on Butterfly Takes Command I was worried that I had hit a wall. How was I going to find another vintage librarian career novel? Fortunately, Marian-Martha came along. At first, I hesitated. This copy of Marian-Martha is a second printing, published two months after the first, and the dust jacket isn’t in the best condition. Eventually I asked my mom for a second opinion, and she had way more sense than I did. I then ordered Marian-Martha within the hour.
Marian-Martha is part of the Dodd Mead Career Series, published in 1936, written by Lucile F. Fargo, and illustrated by Dorothea Warren. In the 1930s, Dodd, Mead, and Company published a number of books for “older girls” detailing fictional accounts of women growing up and succeeding in various professions. Part of what makes this series so cool is that these books are written by actual professionals in the field. Marian – Martha’s author, Lucile F. Fargo, worked at the School of Library Service at Columbia University (founded by Melvil Dewey, the program is now defunct), with a background in public and school librarianship. Lucile Fargo also wrote non-fictional library texts such as The Library in the School and Preparation for School Library Work.
Marian – Martha follows two protagonists who are best friends, Marian and Martha, through high school and beyond. Martha is practical, effective, and always a hard worker while Marian is more artistic and values books as physical objects.
They get their start by helping out in the high school library. I’d probably roll my eyes at this if I hadn’t helped out in my middle school library. It was a pretty sweet deal. One hour of the day a couple of other students and I got to help out at the school library in place of an elective. At my middle school especially, this was the right choice. At Marian and Martha’s high school, the library helpers were part of a group nick-named “The Fingers.”
The book covers about ten years of time. The first third of the book covers Marian and Martha’s high school years, the second third spans the year they worked at the local public library after high school, and the final third crams in four years of college and all of library school. Initially I wondered why a book about becoming a librarian would choose to focus on high school more than library school but then I thought about it and it made sense. Middle or high-school aged girls are the target audience for this book, so naturally the focus would be skewed towards material they’re more familiar with, eventually branching out to the later years. Still, the book could have easily omitted a couple of chapters, such as the one about high school politics where Martha gets Marian elected for May Queen as a sophomore and the seniors fight back.
Another somewhat superfluous chapter exemplifies the strange moralistic tone prevalent in Marian – Martha. Marian and Martha’s friend Jack Beems steals a plate from a library book. He steals one plate from one book, which is incredibly tacky, but an isolated incident for him. Immediately following that the student council and the high school principal receive a complaint that the public library had “lost a great many books and had found that a number of their most valued scientific publications had been torn and cut to pieces.” Then there’s basically a witch hunt for this friend who took one plate from one book, Marian and Martha fight over it, and Marian becomes ill over it. Jack eventually “comes clean” and apologizes.
Marian – Martha never focuses on one particular library well enough to get to know a true cast of characters. Miss Hand, the high school librarian, transforms the entire high school library with her youth, enthusiasm, and a complete library renovation. Uncle Martin is the rare book curator who hosts a literary club and reads poetry out loud during staff meetings. There is one vilified clerk in the public library’s ordering department who sees her job as a means to earn a living, and doesn’t answer to some abstract higher calling.
So Marian and Martha go along. Martha attends an ALA conference when her college just happens to be hosting the event. Marian and Martha remain best friends. They attend library school, a program with only forty-five students, and forty-four of those students stick with the program. Since it’s 1936, they aren’t forced to learn to code Python.
However, this book does occasionally forget it’s 1936. Perhaps due to personal experiences, the least convincing chapter of this book came during the end of library school. Employers come and bid on graduating librarians. No one applies around, there are no rejections, and everyone is personally called into the office to be offered a job. Now, I wasn’t around in 1936, but I hear there was this thing called the Great Depression then. Employers lining up to actively seek out every graduate? Maybe, but I’m not buying it.
Marian – Martha ends with a hokey epilogue of the alumni association updating their files simultaneously. Lucile Fargo was trying to show us where Marian and Martha ended up five years post-graduation, but I thought it was rather awkwardly executed.
My favorite line may be a passing reference “Jane wants to be a children’s librarian” (page 224) during the library school chapter. That one line confirmed what I already knew when I first considered this book: that I’m not keeping it. Only an entire season late, this book is for “Miss Jane,” who has been a children’s librarian for more than thirty years. Marian – Martha will join her collection, and this post is in honor of her early July birthday. I missed the birthday deadline, I missed the 30th wedding anniversary deadline, I missed the Jewish New Year deadline, but I guess this post is in time for Yom Kippur? Happy day of Atonement, Mom! Have a book. But seriously, if anyone deserves a 1936 librarian career novel to brighten her day, that person is most definitely my mom.
Copies of other books with a career focus are available for purchase here.