My student Leanne sent me this news item: an Austin-area woman named Barbara Moore (described as a “college professor,” though the article does not say which college)* is on trial for stealing “photographs, books, compositions, audio and video recordings, letters
and items such as hats and gloves” from the Glenn Gould Archive at the Library and Archives Canada. Moore was busted by Kevin Bazzana, a musicologist with a Ph.D. from Berkeley, whose Glenn Gould: The Performer in the Work is one of the finest monographs of modern performance studies. (His second book, Wondrous Strange, is also the pick of a crowded field of Gould biographies). Bazzana noticed that a page of doodles he had seen in his own researches appeared on a Manhattan art dealer’s website.
This story has everything: a bent prof like on Law and Order (from Austin, no less), an academic sleuth, and the ubiquitous figure of Glenn Gould himself, who is somehow the one classical performer to have become an honorary hipster and an icon of the literary-intellectual imagination. And it brings up something worth noting: the precarious condition of research libraries and archives. There is no institution in Western civilization more admirable than the modern research library system. Research libraries co-operate to make a network designed to make everything ever written accessible to as many people as possible, and they compete with one another to preserve the personal papers of artists and intellectuals — treasures that, in earlier times, would often have ended up in the fireplace. And these treasures are made available to basically anyone with a library card and a stated desire to do research. (In the U.S., at least: apparently the major European archives, like the French Bibliotheque Nationale, are much more restrictive, but I haven’t had any experience with them.) And through interlibrary loan (ILL) you can get almost any book published in modern times, including very rare books: during my own research I ILL’ed a first edition of Chandler Brossard’s Who Walk in Darkness, which is worth hundreds of dollars. (A librarian at the University of Minnesota once told me that they had caught someone ordering rare items through ILL and selling them — a pretty easy hustle back then, though surely the ILL system has gotten wise to it since.)
Research libraries can easily fall prey to parasites because they operate on trust. They are not usually well-staffed or well-guarded, and after you’ve been working in an archival collection for a few days staffers will often let you get on with your work with minimal supervision. I always appreciate the fact that most archivists take a fairly charitable view of researchers and try to make their work easier. This case of pilferage from the Gould archives makes me mad because it seems obvious that the perpetrator exploited that trust.
From Wes Phillips’ blog Stereophile, a PSA from Jack Black about a different kind of theft. Mr. Black’s parting words are, however, entirely appropriate here.
*This story says Moore taught at Austin Community College, though there’s no sign of her on the ACC website.