Sandy Berman's Last Stand

Tony Nelson

The memo was all of three paragraphs.

Granted, one of those paragraphs included a run-on sentence that was a couple of hundred words long, with four parenthetical asides and a colon--its author was, after all, Sanford "Sandy" Berman--but nevertheless, most who read the memo would agree that it was organized into three paragraphs.

It was a Monday, this past January 18, and Berman had wedged himself into his small cubicle in suburban Plymouth's library administration headquarters, turning his attention to his manual Remington typewriter. Its metal keys had not a speck of dust on them. The black ribbon was fresh. What he had in mind was a simple three-paragraph note--something quick, well-reasoned, and noisy.

On that winter morning, Berman was at his station as head cataloger for the Hennepin County Library (HCL) system, as he had been since 1973. For a man in charge of more than a dozen catalogers, Berman wasn't fond of hierarchies--thus his conviction that "Supervisors should be accessible and not occupy some sort of mystified space or be up on some metaphoric pedestal!" And so Berman's cubicle was the exact size as all the others there.

As he tapped away on a sheet of HCL note paper--"Building a Great Library," it read--Berman took the liberty of explaining himself in prose thick with ampersands and blobs of correction fluid, typed-over letters, and words shoehorned into the seemingly nonexistent spaces between lines. High-tech spell check? Laser printing? Berman's memo, as it rolled from the typewriter, a bit crumpled and smudged at the edges, had the visceral stink and charm of an era that's all but gone. He opened cheerily, with "many thanks" to Bill DeJohn and Carla Dewey of MINITEX, a state-funded network of libraries based at the University of Minnesota; he argued his points, then closed "with warmest regards" and signed off with a flourish--an outsize S, his own Zorro mark.

Berman copied the missive to three of his superiors--HCL director Charles Brown, technical services manager Sharon Charles, and technical services assistant manager Elizabeth Feinberg--and didn't give it a second thought. After all, he wrote several of them every week. As he saw it, the note was simply a response to a memo that had been sent around the week before concerning pending changes in how the HCL handled the business of cataloging library materials--that is, how the county's 26 libraries organize and classify books, periodicals, videos, CDs, and other media for patrons to find when they search the online catalogs. As the chief in charge of cataloging operations, Berman figured the higher-ups spearheading the project might want his two cents worth on the matter.

But a few weeks later, Berman's supervisors, who have office doors that close, tapped him a little note in response. It was five paragraphs long, but had a more clipped tone than his January 18 memo: It was a formal, written reprimand. Brown and Feinberg informed Berman that they viewed his communiqué as "inappropriate" and that it constituted a violation of the county's Human Resources Rules of Conduct. They advised, "You have the right as a citizen to express your opinion. You may not initiate discussion of that opinion on work time nor route that opinion to staff at work." And they cautioned that "further counterproductive behavior" would prompt "further discipline."

Three paragraphs, or five, can change a man's life.

The avuncular, 65-year-old Berman wasn't ready to leave his $59,000-a-year post yet, but as events unfolded in the months after composing his memo--his push to have the reprimand withdrawn failed, after which he was reassigned without prior notification to a different position--wound up resigning, in disgust. Still bitter about his departure from the library system he'd helped build into a nationally distinguished model, Berman calls the exit a "forced retirement."

These days he has plenty of time to be padding around his Edina house in socks, an "Alternative Library Literature" T-shirt, and blue jeans. The shirt commemorates the most recent edition of the biennial journal Berman co-edits, one devoted to compiling cutting-edge material on library-related issues; the comic-strip-art cover parodies a pulp paperback and depicts a 1930s-style raid by cops bursting in on an illicit backroom publishing operation. From his closetlike home office, equipped with two Olympia manual typewriters, Berman is leading a one-man retribution campaign. Since late February he's been steadily photocopying any and all documents related to his departure from Hennepin County--memos, printouts of e-mail, declarations of support, letters of outrage to the library administration--and stuffing them into bulging envelopes to send out to friends, colleagues, the library press, and kindred spirits around the nation: his own guerrilla clipping service.

When those mailings in turn generate stories in trade publications such as Library Journal or still other letters of protest, Berman copies those and stuffs them in the mail, too. With each, he encloses a typed note or, often, simply his scrawled S. He is afflicted by what one fellow cataloger dubs a "compulsive" need to bestow information on anyone and everyone he thinks might find it beneficial. Retiring, it seems, hasn't cured him a bit. Berman recognizes the fixation--the very trait that triggered his resignation. "I can't have information I know would be of use to someone and not share it," he's been quoted as saying, with not a hint of remorse in his voice.  

Berman's cramped study also serves as a storage vault for the bookmarks of his career, including the 597-page, two-volume thesis he wrote for his master of library science degree at Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University of America, Spanish Guinea: An Annotated Bibliography, circa 1961. Berman allows that, indeed, he went a little farther with it than did his classmates with theirs: "Some of them actually got away with doing a 50-page index of a parish newspaper!" he remarks, arching a bushy eyebrow. "It didn't seem like rigorous scholarship." Rigorous might be an understatement for Berman's cloth-bound tomes, which could knock a person out with a well-placed blow.

Berman's large-framed, squarish glasses, white beard, and swept-back froth of hair give him a professorial air, and he has a publishing record to support the impression. His shelves also hold copies of several books Berman has compiled, contributed to, or written, such as his 1981 collection The Joy of Cataloging: Essays, Letters, Reviews, and Other Explosions, and one book about him: a compilation of tributes from 1995, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sandy Berman but Were Afraid to Ask, co-edited by two of Berman's HCL cataloging colleagues, who are known in library circles as "Sandynistas."

Turn from the shelves and you'll face a chaotic wall plastered with laminated buttons ("Honorary Gay Man," "Wellstone," "Black Feminism Lives"), photos, clippings, bumper stickers ("Sanford Berman: 20 Years of Service"), notes, ephemera, and anything that seemed, to his mind, worth saving. And there, amid the memories, hang the awards he's received: Minnesota Librarian of the Year in 1977, the American Library Association's Equality Award in 1989, and the Honeywell Project Anniversary Award for Peace and Justice. The latter, from 1988, bears a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that's become a favorite of Berman's: "Even a single lamp dispels the deepest darkness."

His trusty Remington, from his old office, has itself been retired to this address, to the garden in the back yard, where it has been plopped into the rain-drenched dirt--either as a tombstone of sorts or as a trophy commemorating his 26 years as perhaps the nation's most outspoken, revered (by some), and irritating (to others) champion of the public library's duty to preserving free speech, access to information, and an uncensored press. More than two months after announcing his untimely resignation, Berman still sounds a bit puzzled as to how the whole controversy started. "All I did," he offers with a sigh, "was write a letter."


To understand his professional demise, it is necessary to know that Sandy Berman has always had a tendency to rant. Contributing to the 1972 underground anthology Revolting Librarians, Berman bemoaned at length the collections of most public libraries in the U.S., which he characterized as stodgy preserves of the elite: "How in hell can the pothead groove on Business Week and Norman Vincent Peale? A feminist get excited over Cosmopolitan and the Ladies Home Journal? Or an acid-rock fancier find any goodies in the Reader's Digest? It ain't easy. Still, longhaired freaks and madassed revolutionaries are as much members of the community as Big Money Makers and hard-hat 'straights.'"

The Chicago-born and Los Angeles-raised Berman was perhaps predisposed to a touch of raucous crusading: "I would say that my folks were good Roosevelt Democrats. It would be fair to characterize the matrix that I grew up in as somewhat, okay, here's the key word coming up, secular Jewish radicalism or liberalism." To borrow a phrase from a speech he once heard I.F. Stone deliver, Berman describes himself as "a pious Jewish atheist" who has long been devoted to books, education, and the tip feather of left-wing politics.

After earning his master's degree in Washington, D.C., Berman worked at libraries in that city and overseas, as a civilian for the army in Germany during the Sixties. But what radicalized him, he says, was his time in Zambia, where he lived with his two children and his wife Lorraine Berman (she died five years ago, after suffering a burst aneurysm in her brain). There he served as an assistant librarian at the University of Zambia Library in Lusaka for two years starting in November 1968. As in most libraries, the collection there used Library of Congress subject headings, which included the word kafirs to refer to black South Africans. Several of his black colleagues told Berman that to be called "kafir" was akin to being called "nigger" in America. An incensed Berman investigated, and his research led him to question a host of other labels used by libraries around the world--a line of inquiry that pried the lid off a Pandora's box of controversial subject headings and, eventually, established Berman's reputation as an unyielding advocate for unbiased language.  

The Washington, D.C.-based Library of Congress is the national library of the U.S. Its classifications and cataloging of library materials under various headings set the standard for how libraries typically organize their stock and how users can find them through a database. Berman launched his first full-scale assault on the Library of Congress ("LC" in library parlance) in 1971, with the publication of Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People. Throughout the book, Berman railed against what he took to be the Eurocentric, Christian-oriented, male-dominated, establishment-pimping LC subject headings. On the heading "Jewish Question," Berman wondered, "What was (and in many places still is) the 'Jewish Question'? Who posed the 'question'? And what kind of 'answer' did they furnish?" Berman pressed on: "The phraseology is that of the oppressor, the ultimate murderer, not the victim. Strong language? The stench of Auschwitz was stronger." He concluded that the heading "richly merits deletion" from the Library. The LC got around to doing just that, some 12 years later, in 1983. Berman similarly suggested abolishing the heading "Yellow Peril," which he placed "with gutter epithets like 'slope,' 'gook,' and 'chink.'"

Agitating for such deletions, and for positive additions, is a crusade Berman never abandoned. In the decades after accepting the position of head cataloger for Hennepin County in 1973, Berman frequently took to the lecture circuit, offering his unconventional thoughts on library issues at professional conferences and other venues. When delivering speeches Berman would often rely on a light bulb as a prop, which he would hold aloft and ask his audience to identify. Light bulb, you say? Not to the Library of Congress, he'd explain, for whom the correct answer is "electric lamp, incandescent." Such convoluted labeling, Berman believed, did little to promote the nation's 16,000-plus public libraries as storehouses of knowledge designed for citizens who know a light bulb when they see one.

Hennepin County first levied taxes for a library system in 1922; today its 26 libraries have a combined annual budget of $29.2 million and about 700 employees. Serving more than 700,000 patrons in the suburban metropolitan area, it is ranked as the 46th largest system in the nation in terms of patronage. This year HCL was rated as the fifth best large library in the U.S. by American Libraries magazine. HCL acquires about 250,000 new items annually, and its catalogers create some 30,000 new bibliographic records every year. The 26 county libraries currently have at least 1.6 million materials on hand--books, CDs, videos, periodicals, all detailed in a massive online catalog by author, editor, publisher, publication date, page count, content description, and, of course, subject headings--the most crucial means by which patrons are able to find materials on the shelves.

It was at his Hennepin County post that Berman opened another front in his crusade by promoting the inclusion of hundreds of new subject headings at the Library of Congress. In periodic memos to the LC staff--memos that amounted over the years to a barrage--he proposed innumerable headings as commonsense alternatives to the convoluted language of the Library (for instance, "toilet" instead of "water closet"). But what set Berman's course, and what set him apart as an unorthodox cataloger, was the suggestion of entirely new categories for the county's material--books and articles and new media Berman and his Sandynistas identified as covering topics just coming into existence in the world--computer-technology information, say.

As head cataloger Berman would issue regular updates on new subject headings created by his cataloging staff. The report for April/June 1998 lists more than 200 terms, and it reads like a veritable what's what of contemporary thought, a map by which to explore the social frontier: Internet crime, anal fisting, bistro cookbooks, country music festivals, dental dams, dog astronauts, gay athletic coaches, Jewish-Canadian autobiographies, liquor industry executives, narcoleptic women, new paradigm churches, Take Our Daughters to Work Day, working class women's writings, xenophobia in language, young Chinese-American women, suicide pacts.

Berman is quick to argue that he and his staff weren't in the habit of creating subject headings just for the hell of it; rather, it was work done in response to material that was already in the database, but had been lumped in with stock where it didn't belong or, more often, had been labeled in such a way as to make it nearly impossible for patrons to find. "It doesn't mean that one approves of anal fisting by virtue of having a book on it or creating a subject heading for it," Berman reasons. "It just means that, look, this is the theme, or the subject that's treated in this particular material, and this is where it is." The objective, he stresses, was simple: to fulfill the public library's mission--that of providing patrons with information as readily as possible.  

Behind that philosophy lies a lifetime of contemplation about the nature of the cataloger's craft. Berman talks of the catalog in reverent language, as one might of, say, the Oracle at Delphi. The catalog is, he believes, something that "reveals"--what is in the collection at hand, what material is available to the pursuit of scholarship, of wisdom. The intelligently conceived catalog orders the universe of information, and guides us toward what is to be learned, and used.

Beyond criticizing how most libraries organize their materials--and doing his part to remedy the often arbitrary arrangements--Berman habitually assailed libraries for being afraid of certain materials, particularly the sexually oriented. "There are almost no public libraries in the entire country that have any X-rated videos in their collections," Berman charges. "Even the classics, whether one likes them or not--Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door." Should they? According to the Berman doctrine, absolutely.

Berman argues that libraries' skittishness around sexual topics is a disservice to patrons who, should the materials happen to be on hand, want to find them but might be too shy to ask a reference librarian. "If the catalog can direct people to these things easily and painlessly, then it should," he concludes. "It's a matter, I think, of being fair to the materials and accurately representing what you've got and what people are talking about."

At that, Berman rises from his living-room couch and scurries into his office, returning with "a serious masturbation video, for and about women" as just one example of educational materials shunned by public libraries. At one point Berman's sex crusading even caught the notice of the Alabama-based Factor Press, publisher of the male-oriented masturbation magazine Celebrate the Self. For his promotion of what Berman calls his "un-hungup" attitudes toward access to sexual information, the group awarded him its Golden Phallus Award, whose past recipients include former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, in 1997. "They did a nice press release and all that, which I duly copied," Berman recalls. "Then I sent that, not knowing whether they would like it, to the library press: zip mention." As for the award itself, he allows, "There wasn't a statue, but there was a nice certificate."

Each cataloging update Berman sent around also included an inventory of subject headings HCL had added and that the Library of Congress, with prodding from Berman, had followed suit by establishing on its master list. In the April/June 1998 dispatch, for example, Berman noted that the LC had inaugurated "Afro-American Philosophers" on April 22, 1998; Hennepin originated that very heading in March 1991. The LC added "Executive Search Firms" on April 29, 1998; Hennepin had begun using the slightly broader "Executive Search Services" for nearly 16 years. Similarly, the LC added "Food Banks" in April 1998; Hennepin had first used the term the previous year. On March 11, 1998, the august LC even instituted the category of "Nude Beaches," seven years on the heels of Hennepin. Some victories came more quickly: the LC christened the heading "V-Chips" on April 1, 1998, 15 months after Hennepin had done so.

It's no secret, and perhaps no surprise, that over the decades the Library of Congress came to regard Berman as something of a crank and a pest. Beacher Wiggins, director of cataloging there, confirms that the Library did add terms that originated with Berman's crew in Hennepin County; but he is resolutely nonexpansive on the subject of Berman himself, offering only that "we recognize that he exists."

Others at the LC have been more forthcoming. One contributor to the anthology about Berman highlights a quote, made by an anonymous source who labored deep within the bowels of the library, that serves as its own quirky tribute: "Sandy Berman is a major pain in the ass. He runs a horse-and-buggy cataloging operation in Minnesota and he thinks he can tell us how to do our jobs. He's an insufferable, self-righteous, unrealistic, naive, head-in-the-clouds idealist who knows nothing about the real world of grind-it-out bibliographic data."


For better or for worse, controversy sticks to Berman like lint. At times he seems to attract it, perhaps thrive on it, if only because he appears to have an unalterable inability to refrain from airing his views. When the HCL administration floated a plan in 1996 to raise money by way of doubling fines on children's materials, Berman's voice was the loudest in a choir of dissent; he was later admonished for circulating a petition among staff that opposed the policy.  

Two of Berman's Sandynistas, Chris Dodge and Jan DeSirey, who co-edited Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sandy Berman but Were Afraid to Ask, included in the 1995 festschrift an appendix of his "rants"--letters to newspapers (to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1990: "I believe Walt Whitman to be the best damn poet America ever produced. I also believe he was gay, and find no contradiction nor cause for alarm in that."), elected officials (to Minnesota representative Jim Ramstad the following year, concerning the Gulf War: "I believe that you either do not truly comprehend what has happened or, more charitably, have been misinformed"), federal magistrates, Northern States Power, the New Yorker, and the Hennepin County human resources department.

Dodge's contribution to the volume, "Troubled Waters," noted that Berman's career at Hennepin County had hardly been a smooth ride: "Depending on which insider you talk to, his history there has been either that of a problem employee or one who has spent a career resisting administration-by-threat and draconian policy making." Dodge pointed out several clashes between Berman and HCL management, from bickering over his prolific and political mailing habits to arguments about his 1990 letter, on HCL stationery, demanding the recall of a book that claimed "AIDS is a form of self-punishment." In the typewritten message, Berman called for an apology "to the gay community and all persons with AIDS." Instead of getting that, he wound up being verbally reprimanded by library administrators.

Last year, when HCL proposed its "Bestseller Express"--a program whereby library users could "rent" new, high-demand titles by authors such as John Grisham and Dean Koontz for $3 a week, as a means of reducing long waiting lists--Berman railed against it as an "elite, discriminatory service based entirely on a person's ability to pay." Despite the opposition he rallied among the ranks, "Bestseller Express" officially began on January 18, 1999; in response to a staffwide e-mail about the launch, Berman fired off a short reply, pointing out that the program was only "open" to those who could afford it. The next day, Berman got a memo from HCL director Charles Brown scolding him for broadcasting his views and dubbing the e-mail "unnecessary and inappropriate." Brown then requested that the head cataloger "please refrain from utilizing this important library communications tool to broadcast your personal perceptions and views."

Given that track record of headbutting and reprimands (he was, all parties agree, already in hot water with the administration), one might wonder what possessed Berman to sit down at his old Remington that Monday morning in January to compose yet another noisy memo--the one that, as it turned out, charted the collision course that would lead to his resignation. One might wonder, if they hadn't yet made the acquaintance of Sandy Berman.

The previous week, technical services assistant manager Elizabeth Feinberg, one of Berman's supervisors, had sent out a memo about HCL's transition to two standardized systems of cataloging: The county system would become more reliant on something called the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition (AACR2) guidelines. It would also be joining the Online Computer Library Center Inc. (OCLC) library network, which links more than 30,000 libraries in 65 nations, and functions as a massive database of nearly 42 million records. As part of the overhaul project, HCL was to begin adopting several standardized codes in the areas of grammar, abbreviations, and headings that it had not used in the past. Attached to Feinberg's memo was another, from Bill DeJohn and Carla Dewey of MINITEX, the state-funded network of libraries, of which HCL is a member.

In response Berman dashed off his offending memo, addressed to DeJohn and Dewey, confirming that, yes, he was convinced that the Hennepin County Library and AACR2 could collaborate on the transition to an expanded cataloging system. But Berman, in signature form, did not, or could not, stop there. He went on to lament that AACR2 was not, in his judgment, in the habit of being "user-friendly," that "School, public, and community library users, in particular, were not well served by the AACR2 drafters. I invite you & MINITEX to join me in a nearly 3-decade-long campaign to genuinely make library catalogs more user-friendly & much less elitist and mystifying." Berman signed off with his "warmest regards," and copied the memo to Feinberg, technical services manager Charles, and director Brown.

Berman's colleagues at MINITEX don't seem to have been offended by his communiqué. As DeJohn recalls, "I just took it as a response from Sandy on a memo I had sent Hennepin County. It was just a friendly response to my note." Dewey says, "I received it as just a statement of his position, some of his concerns about the widely accepted standards. I didn't see it as contentious."  

That view was not shared by Berman's supervisors. For writing and sending the three-paragraph memo, Berman received a five-paragraph written reprimand on February 8 from Brown and Feinberg, charging that "Your active support of these changes is required. At this time, your 'three-decade-long campaign' is extremely counterproductive to the cataloging reengineering process, causes divisiveness throughout the organization and presents an extremely poor image to colleagues who are working with HCL." Beyond the cataloging issue itself, the censure clearly suggested irritation that Berman had deigned to air his thoughts on the issue, as he had so often before. The letter warned that "further counterproductive behavior" would be considered "insubordination and be cause for further discipline." Attached was a copy of the Hennepin County Human Resources Rules of Conduct.

Berman immediately sought to have the reprimand withdrawn. He fired back a letter in which he argued that he was not opposed to the new programs, but that he simply wanted to engage in some serious discussion about the best way to go about putting them into practice. In a memo back to Berman on February 22, Brown made it clear that the reprimand would not be retracted.

It was at this juncture that Berman, by his own admission, "went public" with the dispute and began drumming up support by circulating copies of the relevant paperwork to his many friends and colleagues. Many of those who received Berman's salvos began writing indignant letters and petitions on his behalf, and the mail poured into Brown's office.

The editors of the national trade magazine Library Journal led the charge, sarcastically awarding "The Staff Morale & Unity Award" to Brown and Feinberg for their treatment of Berman. The same April 1 issue featured an article, "Hennepin County Rebukes Berman," that reverently summed up the head cataloger's status in a single word: "legendary." Berman's longtime friend Al Kagan, with the African Studies Library at the University of Illinois, added his voice to the dissent: "Berman is almost like a cataloging guru. The Hennepin County Library is known nationwide because Sandy is there--not for another reason, but because of Sandy. He is the library's claim to fame." Kagan let it be known that he considered the HCL management's handling of the conflict nothing short of a "travesty."


On Monday, April 19--three months after he'd mailed the original memo--Berman arrived at work only to learn that he would no longer be overseeing the day-to-day business of cataloging. He'd been reassigned, to the one-man task of penning a "Cataloging Practices Manual" that would detail that county's cataloging operations and circulate among the 26 county and out-of-state libraries. Put simply, he'd been shuttled into a desk job he didn't want. The staffwide announcement from HCL director Brown asked everyone "to join me in congratulating Sandy on this new opportunity to expand his considerable influence and leadership in the development of user sensitive cataloging."

To no one's surprise, the celebratory tone was lost on Berman. The posting was the first he'd heard of the project he was to assume. All he knew was that he was supposed to be in Brown's office for an 8:30 appointment that morning.

At the meeting Berman learned that Feinberg had been tapped to take over his post, thereby relieving him of his current duties and separating him from the devoted staff he'd worked so closely with over the years. In the past, Berman says, he'd repeatedly suggested to HCL higher-ups that they find a way to market the library's subject-heading innovations. Compiling the how-to manual himself was not what he had in mind. The reassignment, he figured, could only be a demotion, a slap in the face for his critical January memo. "If there was any kind of fundamental respect for me as colleague and person," he believed of the decision, "it does not bespeak respect or concern or consideration to impose this kind of drastic reassignment of work without ever having broached the subject beforehand." From where Berman sat, the project he was to undertake smelled like "a reassignment to full-time toilet cleaning."

Berman told them to flush it. He informed Brown and Hennepin County's senior human resources representative Tom O'Neill that he regarded the move as retaliation for his outspoken approach to library matters. He added that he refused to discuss the situation further until he'd spoken with a lawyer.

Rather than accept the new role, Berman went on sick leave. He tendered his resignation four days later, on April 23, effective June 10. He would never work another day for the county he'd served for the bulk of his professional career. In a final staffwide e-mail message, he wrote, "I refuse to submit to any further muzzling, punishment, and humiliation."  

Berman speculates that his one-man publicity crusade has roiled up enough attention to reach critical mass, and taxed his supervisors' patience to the point of exasperation. Regrets? Not a one: "Brown probably regards me at least as an irritant or a gadfly in the system, and at worst, subversive." Still, Berman maintains that when he sat down at his typewriter that winter morning in Plymouth, he had simply meant to generate a fruitful discussion about issues he believed needed hashing over. Hell, he'd figured, if reasonable people can't manage to do that--talk, and talk some more, when talking matters most--what's the meaning of free speech?

Brown, who has directed the HCL since April 1994, won't talk in detail about personnel matters, particularly those surrounding Berman's departure. He allows only, "I think very highly of Sandy and his contributions to the Hennepin County Library and the library profession in general." But, he adds after a pause, "For someone who's in a management position, I didn't sense a commitment I would expect in order to ensure [the transition's] success." Brown contends that he thought the reassignment might allow Sandy to focus on what he did best--cataloging--by giving him time to create a guidebook to his methodology. "I really regret his perception of the situation," Brown says. "He would have been the best person to head up the effort." As for Berman's relentless campaign to publicize his side of the falling-out, Brown admits that the outcry locally and across the nation has been "almost beyond my comprehension."

Berman is hardly appeased. HCL management, he is sure, is relieved to see him gone and the strife he stirred up settle. Of Brown's kind words for him, Berman figures that "on one level that might be true. On another level I believe that it is bullshit."


Dozens of cars circled the blocks around Sandy Berman's house on the afternoon of Saturday, June 12, searching for a place to park along the already jammed curbs. Guests--librarians, catalogers, Sandynistas--spilled out Berman's back door and into the garden, drinking beer, praising the bagpipe player, and, in not so quiet tones, lauding the fact that Hennepin County's renegade cataloger had not gone down without a fight.

During the afternoon Berman's ex-colleagues, on behalf of the library system's union, bestowed on him the first annual Sandy Berman Award for Social Responsibility in Library Services. The citation pointed to his "many years of passionate service to the diverse patrons of the library world" and expressed "gratitude for his generous leadership, guidance, and inspiration." In typical fashion, Berman managed to turn the celebration into a cause, eschewing gifts in favor of encouraging attendees to make donations to the Emergency Food Shelf. His guests raised $1,124 for the charity.

The following week, Hennepin County's senior human resources representative sent Berman a short note. "Dear Sandy," it read. "Congratulations on your retirement from the Hennepin County Library, Cataloging Section. I wish you well as you retire after 26 years. Enclosed is a letter opener as a token of appreciation." Berman took the gift out back to the garden, where he "plunged it into a piece of rotting wood," not too far from the Remington.

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