Monthly Archives: February 2013

Clara Breed: An Exemplary Librarian During World War II

I recently created an instructional video using Jing as a Peer Mentor project.  The subject of my instructional video was re-blogging.  I chose a post on the only book I had reviewed on my personal blog that deals with a LIS subject.  Then I decided to make this more than an exercise for my video.  I have revised this post for Information Metamorphosis.

My personal blog contains book reviews dealing with a variety of subjects and genres.  For those who are interested in viewing it, here is the hyperlink: The Unmasked Persona’s Reviews

The theme of this blog is the evolution of the information professions.  Evolution has a past as well as a future.  So I consider the history of libraries a legitimate subject for this blog.  The first review to appear on Information Metamorphosis  focuses on a figure in library history who should be better known.

The book reviewed  is Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim which celebrates a remarkable librarian who is unknown to the American public at large, but is considered a hero by many Japanese-American survivors of internment.

 Clara Breed was a children’s librarian in San Diego during WWII.  When her young Japanese-American patrons were interned at Santa Anita Racetrack in 1942, she did not turn her back on them. She wrote all her Japanese American patrons, and sent them books along with other items that they and their families needed.  A number of Japanese American artists sent Miss Breed art objects in thanks for the art supplies she sent them.  Author Joanne Oppenheim discovered Miss Breed when she was attempting to locate a Japanese- American schoolmate.  She read the story of this courageous librarian on the website of The National Japanese-American Museum at The Clara Breed Collection . This page is a finding aid for the digitized versions of letters that Clara Breed received from the interned children and young adults that she had served as a librarian.  Oppenheim hoped that a book about a librarian who assisted Japanese Americans during WWII would help to prevent the United States from ever interning American citizens again.

According to historian Roger Daniels, the author of Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans During World War II, the camps where Japanese Americans were relocated should not be called internment camps.  He argued that in a legal sense, internment only applies to enemy aliens.  Japanese Americans were born in the United States.  Internees were also supposed to get hearings.  Japanese Americans were never given trials.  Their rights as American citizens were completely ignored. Daniels believes that the proper term for the camps in which Japanese Americans were imprisoned is concentration camps.  As a person of Jewish ancestry, I associate “concentration camp” with the Jewish Holocaust.  Daniels said that this is also inaccurate.  The Nazis slaughtered Jews in death camps.   I consider this an important distinction.

A letter to Miss Breed from Fusa Tsumagari dated August 2, 1942 described the riot at Santa Anita. I was interested to learn that it was precipitated by a search led by an abusive guard who was Korean.  It occurs to me that this guard was probably taking out a resentment against Japan on Japanese-Americans.  I mentioned WWII Japanese atrocities against Koreans in my June post “Japanese Minorities: Not Enough Respect”, but there is a much longer history of antagonism between Japan and Korea.  See the Wikipedia article about Japan’s colonization of Korea, Korea Under Japanese Rule .  I consider this an explanation for this guard’s behavior, not a justification.  Money was stolen from internees during the search.  They had a right to be angry about this theft.

After the riot, the San Diego Japanese Americans were transferred to Poston III, one of the camps in Poston, Arizona.  Tetsuzo Hirasaki  wrote to Miss Breed that the older internees were on a sort of vacation because they got to go fishing at Poston.  I saw a recent documentary called “The Manzanar Fishing Club” in which Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar described how they risked their lives to go fishing.  Find out more about this film at  The Manzanar Fishing Club Official Website . Apparently, conditions were different when the San Diegans first arrived at Poston.  The camp wasn’t surrounded by barbed wire from August to November 1942 which facilitated fishing until a barbed wire fence was erected.   After they were fenced in, fishing would no longer have been a simple leisure activity.

Poston was scarcely idyllic.  It was a very dry climate, and the San Diegans were unaccustomed to the heat of Arizona.  There was also a polio epidemic.  Richard Watanabe, one of Miss Breed’s correspondents, caught polio.  Oppenheim reports that he had a limp for the rest of his life.   He may also have suffered from post-polio syndrome.  See Post Polio Syndrome Fact Sheet for more information.

When the military age male Japanese Americans at Poston III were asked to swear loyalty to the United States and fight in WWII, not one of  Miss Breed’s male correspondents who were of age to serve declined to do so.  I feel that Clara Breed’s supportiveness  encouraged their belief in America, and that there would be a place for them in the U.S. after the war.  Even though they had been wronged by their country, Miss Breed gave them hope.  She wrote an article in support of Japanese Americans that was published in The Horn Book in July of 1943 called “Americans With The Wrong Ancestors” and sent copies to Poston III.  The Horn Book is a publication for librarians dealing with children’s literature.  Clara Breed got many favorable reactions from librarians in response to that article.

This book deals with what happened to a number of Miss Breed’s correspondents after the war.  I thought it noteworthy that Katherine Tasaki wanted to be a librarian.  Unfortunately, there were no scholarships available for her. So with Miss Breed’s help she got a non-professional job at Chula Vista Library.  Later she and her husband Ben Sagawa formed the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego.

In an afterword Snowden Becker, who scanned the letters of Miss Breed’s correspondents for the National Japanese  American Museum while she was still in library school, wrote feelingly about Clara Breed as a role model.  I too was inspired by Miss Breed.  When I returned this book to the library, I went to the reference desk and told the librarian that Dear Miss Breed was one of the best books I’d ever read.

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Librarything Versus Goodreads

Peer Mentors at SJSU SLIS do group presentations online through web conferencing.  These group presentations are called meet-ups.  When I did my Peer Mentor meetup presentation, I discussed WordPress, Blogger and Librarything.  I was hoping that someone would ask me how Librarything compares with Goodreads because I was completely prepared for that question.  Since no one had any questions for me, I thought I would compare Librarything and Goodreads on my blog.

My recent experience cataloging on Librarything  for a special library with a small collection has persuaded me that  Goodreads is in no way the equal of Librarything when it comes to cataloging a collection of books.  I have been so impressed with my ability to obtain complete bibliographic records from libraries for use on Librarything.  Anyone who has cataloged on Librarything will be disappointed that Goodreads doesn’t have this relationship with libraries.  If a member wants to shelve a book on Goodreads that isn’t part of the database, he or she can’t simply pull up a record from the Library of Congress.  If a book hasn’t been previously shelved by a Goodreads member, or imported from Ingram, its current bibliographic partner, members must fill out every field in the record manually.  Unfortunately, some members have no idea of how to record information from a book in hand.  This means that the Goodreads database is riddled with errors.   The volunteers who maintain the database at Goodreads  have a task similar to the legendary Sisyphus.  For every record successfully corrected, there will probably be ten more that require revision that have recently been entered manually.

So why do I still love Goodreads?  The primary purpose of Goodreads is social networking  for book readers, and that is the area where it excels.  When someone requests to be your friend on Goodreads, you can do a book comparison.  It will tell you what books you have in common and the percentage of similarity between you.   There is an amazing array of  affinity groups.  Many select a book of the month to discuss or have reading challenges.   Goodreads has also added a tool that allows group members to keep track of their challenge reads.  Goodreads  does everything it can to facilitate  the formation of communities of readers.

Another thing that I love about Goodreads is that some of my Goodreads reviews appear on Worldcat.   Although Goodreads can’t import metadata from Worldcat, Worldcat can harvest reviews from Goodreads.  I have established a shelf on Goodreads to identify which of my reviews appear on Worldcat.  I am proud  of my contribution to my favorite bibliographic utility through Goodreads.