Is God Really a Librarian?

Turning the actuarial tables in my favor

September 4, 2012


This old Irish joke is as old as the sod: “It’s always puzzled me,” said the Irishman, looking up from his newspaper, “how every time the Lord gets it right. People always seem to be dying in alphabetical order.”

The other Irishman responds, “I guess that means God is a librarian.”

I was reflecting the other day how throughout my library career, different parts of American Libraries magazine became important to me. While I was still an undergraduate, I perused the magazine in general to learn more about what librarianship was all about. Then when I had decided to go for an MLS and make it my career, I homed in on articles about various library schools. In library school, the job ads became a priority. Once ensconced in my career, I realized that no one wrote about library matters better than AL Editor Art Plotnik, so I read his articles with great interest. Then came that period where I was interested in getting involved in ALA and so all the organizational material appealed to me.

Now that I am a retired sexagenarian, the first page I turn to is the obituaries. I’m at the age where one day I will get a letter from the friendly folks at “Smart Cremation” and the next day I will get an invitation to join the Neptune Society. Apparently people are just dying to get into the Neptune Society.

So, right … death is just an email away. We boomers may not be retiring as expected, but we are dying. That’s why the library obituaries have become a main point of interest with me. As you might expect, the American Libraries obituaries are indeed listed in alphabetical order, and while that is the librarianish thing to do, I find it rather annoying. I would prefer the magazine make its list by age, from youngest to oldest.

That’s because I’m at that point in my life where I don’t care so much who is dying but rather how old they are. With very few exceptions, I don’t really recognize the names in the AL obituaries. Yes, from time to time a name will ring a bell and I’ll think, “Well, old Fred the cataloger died. How did they know? He was a rather quiet man.”

But for the most part I want to know how old a librarian was when he/she died so that I can begin running some actuarial numbers in my head. Do librarians live longer lives than, say, welders, plumbers, bankers, or computer programmers? Each month, what I do is add up the ages of all the people listed in the AL obituaries and then divide it by the number of deceased. This gives me an average age of death for librarians. Then I compare it with my own age—62. This gives me some idea of how many years I may have left.

Last month when I received my copy of AL in the mail, I was feeling quite spry and happy (62 is the new 42!) because eight librarians were listed in the obits, and their average age of death was 87. The oldest was 102 at death and the youngest was 65. That gives me another 25 years on the planet to write about libraries.

Of course my good news is bad news for those librarians in graduate school looking for jobs. Much has been written about the fact that the great tidal wave of boomer retirements has basically fizzled into a little ripple. For a bunch of reasons, mostly financial, librarians are not retiring as quickly as expected.

And the further bad news for the newbies is that librarians don’t seem to be dying as quickly either.


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