LJ Best Books 2017

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Best Acknowledgments of 2011

Last week, on our spanking new Reviews site, we posted our Best Books of 2011, with further genre-based lists to come as we bid goodbye to the year by noting its bibliographic highlights.

As a former practicing librarian, I’d like to add this entry to our lists:

The Best Acknowledgments of 2011

Librarians‚ like all mortals‚ love to be on the receiving end of gratitude. When the occasional library, archives, or special collections researcher publishes the results of all that research and expresses thanks to the library in the book’s acknowledgments, and includes the names of the staff who helped, well, the staff in question are thrilled. Natch.

You know what? It doesn’t happen often. I’ve looked. I’ve now surveyed the acknowledgments in dozens of 2011 histories and biographies (the genres most likely to entail library research) that have come my way at LJ. Here’s how I sorted what I found.

No Acknowledgments at All
This unfortunate trait must be, well, acknowledged, and then dismissed as beyond the pale.

Thanking the Staff Generally
Yes, the most common variety of history and biography acknowledgments does thank library staff‚ and leaves it at that: the author is grateful to “the invaluable interlibrary loan staff” or ruefully notes “I hope that a collective thank you will suffice.” Some authors put in a few words of empathy for what libraries are facing in this era of budget cuts, with acknowledgments that imply the cuts had included staff names.

Thanking the Important Person
Then there are the acknowledgments by the “important” author who only thanks the person the author considers a peer. Naturally, that’s the library or institutional director‚ who probably hasn’t actually helped a researcher in this millenium.

Thanking the Architecture
One of this year’s authors offered a paean to the “splendor” and “soul” of the main reading room of the Library of Congress, but was not tempted by alliteration to add any thanks to the “staff.” Another author did seque from architecture to staff: “I came to believe this library is the jewel of our civilization. The extraordinary scale and beauty of its landmark building, and the unfailing courtesy of its staff, express a profound respect for culture, for learning, and for human beings.” The “unfailing courtesy” shouldn’t be sneered at, of course.

Thanking Everyone But the Staff
In a demographic all his own, one of this year’s biographers thanked his 19th-century subject for having lived and his parents for having given him life and many other relatives for being so congenial and supportive. Evidently librarians just didn’t treat him like family.

Which Leads Me to This Year’s Winner!

The Best Acknowledgments of 2011

Amanda Foreman. A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. Random. ISBN 9780375504945. $35. pp.809-12. HIST

In this book, which is among our best of 2011 (click here), Ms. Foreman personally names and thanks over 200 library, archives, and special collections staff members from around the world who helped her and her assistants with access to materials over the course of several years. Her acknowledgments are not only a tribute to all the women and men who enabled her work, but a tribute to her for the stamina and focus to keep track of them all systematically and name them with little fuss or muss. In an interesting twist, it’s “those at Penguin and Random House, who have worked on the book” who don’t get named!

On behalf of all public service staff, thank you, Amanda Foreman!



Margaret Heilbrun About Margaret Heilbrun

Margaret Heilbrun is a former Senior Editor, Library Journal Book Review.


  1. Megan Hahn Fraser says:

    I’m one of the ones thanked in Ms. Foreman’s book — how delightful! I can tell you that even after so many years in the profession being acknowledged in print never gets old.

  2. Wow. I only write historical mysteries – pretty low down the library research stakes – but it would never have occurred to me not to thank librarians and library assistants (and helpful readers who happened to be in the local collection room at the same time) by name.

    I would now like to thank my parents for bringing me up with manners that are so hard-wired I don’t even notice them.

  3. E. Wayne Carp says:

    Why so kind to these miscreants? Name the biographers who are so insensitive to the important work archivists and ILL staff do for researchers! They should be enrolled in a Librarians’ Wall of Shame.