FAIRBANKS — Being a librarian isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. The Oxford English Dictionary, the mother of all dictionaries, defines “librarian” as “concerned with books … a bookseller or scribe.” That’s why describing myself as a “rogue librarian” on my calling cards caused consternation in France, where the phrase translated as “naughty bookseller.” The confusion can be traced to the Romans, whose word for “book,” “liber,” is “believed to be a use of ‘liber’ bark, the bark of trees,” according to Roman tradition, “being used in early times as a writing material.” Consequently, bookstores in Italy are “libraria,” in Spain “libreria,” and in France “librarie” and in Romance-speaking lands; our “libraries” are called “bibliothecas” and “bibliotheques.”
The OED also lists related terms, such as “librarianess: a female librarian,” “librarier: a bookseller,” as in someone supplying books to libraries, and “librarious: pertaining to, or having to do with books.” But none of them provide a category for a naughty librarian like Casanova. True, the librarian profession has had its share of unusual personalities, like all other callings.
Elvis, Golda Meir and Lewis Carroll all worked in libraries, for example. John Beckley was the country’s first political campaign manager and later its first Librarian of the U.S. Congress from 1802-07, J. Edgar Hoover worked at the Library of Congress while attending night school and Mao Zedong worked as an assistant librarian at Peking University under a Marxist director who converted him to communism.
Giacomo Casanova cut an equally wide swath in 18th century Europe. Fortunes won and lost, imprisonments and escapes, wild money-making schemes, and amour, of course, all played big parts in his active life, but Casanova’s…