The Librarian as Witness - One
What a ponderous title, " The Librarian as Witness"! Whatever does that mean?
In my nearly four decades as a librarian in one capacity or another I have come into contact with many remarkable individuals, some of whom have shared remarkable stories from their lives.
By way of introduction I shall give my story first. Alexander Altmann (1906-1987) was an outstanding scholar from the Old World transplanted to the New, where he taught at Brandeis University, exercising tremendous influence upon that first generation of scholars in the relatively new discipline we today call Jewish Studies. I met him only once, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when he came to New York University to deliver a lecture.
At the time I was a graduate student at NYU's Department. of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures (before Jewish Studies broke off and became a department unto itself). One winter afternoon I stopped by the department to see if my semester grades had been posted. The elevator opened directly onto the department so that anyone coming or going could be plainly seen. As the elevator opened I saw the faculty of the entire Near East Dept. gathered for a wine and cheese reception for Dr. Altmann before his lecture. Sensing I really did not belong there, I tried to hit the button to take the elevator back down to the lobby.
But Baruch Levine, one of my teachers, saw me and bellowed, "Miller! Get over here!"
As I got off the elevator, Professor Levine grabbed my hand and brought me before Dr. Altmann. He introduced me as one of the students in the department, but also as the Librarian of the Klau Library at Hebrew Union College down the street. (Dr. Levine was very close to Dr. altmann, having been both a graduate student and faculty member at Brandeis.)
"You are a librarian?" Dr. Altmann asked me in his heavy German accent.
When I replied positively, he grabbed my wrist in a tight grasp, slowly rose to his feet and addressed the room:
"Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention. I understand that this gentleman is a librarian. If ever you want to know the Loshon Horo, seek out the librarian, for they know all."