I was watching the commentary of Bride and Prejudice this evening when the phrase “custodian of culture” came up, in some scene or another. Chadha talked for a few seconds on it, then moved on to talking about… oh, the Jane Austen society, or something. But I got stuck on custodian of culture.
I seem to collect certain sorts of people, and one of those sorts is librarians, who people often refer to as custodians of culture. But in thinking about it, well I dislike the term custodian (or curator), because it seems to denote some sort of control over the culture it’s watching and guarding. Culture doesn’t work like that, though – culture is a living beast that morphs and changes as it touches each of us, and we touch it in return. By existing within the culture, we change it as it reinforces itself with us. Having a custodian, someone who is supposed to stand outside this feedback loop and moderate and maintain it, seems completely anathema to the entire idea of what culture should even be in the first place.
Attempting to guard culture doesn’t end up keeping it pure, it ends up keeping it stagnant.
(And for the record, if someone were to ask me what a librarian does, I would not say they curate or custodialize culture in any way. Librarians are hubs in a cultural system; they’re very connected to the system, and trained in how to perceive, manipulate, and organize it into a form that’s readily digested by people who don’t have those kinds of powerlaw relations with knowledge and information.)