…If so, you can be a librarian. Researching something for work, I came across the Prelinger Archive, a wealth of footage from educational, amateur and other sources, much of it public domain. Although I did not find the thing I was looking for, I did find this adorable career video for would-be librarians from 1947.
I hadn’t heard of “extension librarians” but certainly am familiar with the patron who comes in and says, “I’m looking for a book…I think it was blue?”
In addition to documenting the value libraries have for their communities, Wiegand describes the perennial battles in libraries over their collections and what literature is suitable, particularly for children.
In the 1850s, the director of the Astor Library in New York was railing against the tastes of the youth of his era, who, in his view, preferred “the trashy…like Scott, Dickens, Punch, and The Illustrated News,” presumably instead of serious improving works like the classics. No Tale of Two Cities on the shelf for you.
Series fiction, be it Horatio Alger in the 19th century or the wildly popular Nancy Drew novels first published in the 1930s, have always been particularly vexing. Children clamored to read them, caring not one whit whether they were literature, but librarians were undecided about whether to offer them.
“Not censorship, but selection” masked other traditional cultural and literary biases within the profession. Despite the fact that the ALA revised the Library Bill of Rights in 1967 to include “age” as another group having the right to access all public library collections, many children’s and young adult librarians persisted in shunning series fiction. Those who did otherwise sometimes paid a price. For her first major acquisition as Rhinelander, Wisconsin children’s librarian in the mid- 1970s, Kris Wendt, who read Nancy Drew as a child, purchased three complete sets of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins mysteries. Word of her transgression spread quickly. Several months later a forceful colleague—”incensed that Rhinelander broke ranks to acquire such ‘trash,’ … accosted me in the ladies room during a regional children’s services workshop… Arms folded across her ample monobosom and glowering as though she would like to alphabetize my internal organs,” she “cornered me against the sinks. In a voice like a silver dime she declared, “You have lowered the standard of children’s literature for the entire Wisconsin Valley!’ ” Wendt held her ground; Nancy stayed in the stacks much to the delight of Rhinelander’s children.
I’m glad she and many others held her ground. Nancy and the Hardy Boys were not my series, I read “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” and the Encyclopedia Brown ones. Great literature they weren’t, but they were part of a habit that paved the way thereto–and the ability to enjoy the occasional trashy mystery to this day.
“[Little Free Libraries] are a highly visible form of self-gratification cleverly disguised as book aid, and the effects of this visibility can be better understood through a consideration of their role in a landscape . . .”
This kind of “branded philanthropy” serves as a vehicle for virtue-signaling by the homeowners who install Little Free Libraries in their front yards, Schmidt and Hale say. They’re particularly ubiquitous in hyper-educated, affluent, crunchy blue enclaves across the country—your Ithacas, Berkeleys, and Takoma Parks, where residents tend to wear their shabby progressivism on their sleeves. But the Little Librariest neighborhoods may be tucked away in the Midwest, where the movement got its start.
As pointed out earlier in the piece,
““There was something that kind of irked me about the title,” says Jane Schmidt, librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto. “As a librarian, my gut reaction to that was, ‘You know what else is a free library? A regular library.’”
“But [George] Oppen taught O’Brien a great deal, lessons he took to heart. Later, he described what he had learned:
A kind of plain-spokenness about inner things. Not to simplify. To know as precisely as you could just how complicated things are, and not to make them either more or less so.
Patience. That there are things you can’t rush.
‘Paradise of the real’. That it was here, if anywhere … How resonant that word ‘real’, was for Oppen, for Duncan, for Jack Spicer.
That there was no part of one’s life that couldn’t be part of one’s poem.
Clarity. That clarity was possible.
That you could employ prose or verse as needed.
That writing poems was a serious business. Not that you had to be a bloody owl, but that it mattered.”
And a quote from a piece on libraries in the Sunday NYTimes (the essay is by Manesh Rao here quoting Sophie Mayer).
“[The library is] the ideal model of society, the best possible shared space,” because there “each person is pursuing their own aim (education, entertainment, affect, rest) with respect to others, through the best possible medium of the transmission of ideas, feelings and knowledge — the book.”
And finally encountered this lovely piece ending a recital recently. Ivor Gurney’s “Sleep” (here sung by Bryn Terfel).
I know I am not the only person who, on visiting a new city, checks out the library as a tourist attraction. An architecture blog has fueled the fire by proposing the 19 most beautiful libraries in the country.
Having recently seen the Geisel library at UC San Diego, it’s something else (although conventionally beautiful it is not). But no argument with the Boston Public Library, still my favorite library anywhere.
The main reading room at BPL, a place I mostly go to write, rather than read.
Of the others on curbed list, in addition to Geisel (yes, of Dr. Seuss fame) and Boston, I have seen the Library of Congress (worked there for years in fact), the NYPL (pretty wonderful), The Peabody Library (although for an event, not to browse), The Washington Library in Chicago, The Beinecke (worth a special trip, particularly at sunset), the Law Library at UMich (which would not have made my personal list of bests), and the L.A. Library.
The front of the building has been opened up (it was largely admin before and concrete bunker-like things blocked the view). Now there is great lighting and windows.
In what seems like an engineering feat to my (naive) eyes, the structure of the walls inside the building has been opened up so you have a feeling of long lines and beautiful corridors. Some how it feels like there are far fewer walls (and I wonder what happened to the load bearing ones?)
An example of one of these opened up spaces. (Red is all over.)
On the downside, following a trend in a lot of libraries, shelves are half size (fewer books, better security I suppose) and the “bookstore” style signs “Romance” “Urban Lit” etc. turn me off. (Although I’ll note that all the books still have call #’s on the spines at least.)
In the head scratching dept., there is going to be a TV studio on the first floor of the library. Wasn’t quite complete.
Front entrance, obligatory touchscreens, sort of shopping mall/casino feel.
Still some books around! A cart near the Foreign language stacks, with Rimbaud in French a good sign.
This is a try at a panorama shot around the atrium. This to me is a 100% improvement on the dreariness of the old building, in which the atrium, despite Johnson’s intentions, always seemed like the central hall of a prison yard. This is all the more amazing in that it seems like it was mostly accomplished with lighting and color (there were fewer structural changes on the upper level as far as I could tell.) This is now a much more inviting space to read, write, and browse.
Did I mention red? There is a lot of it. Some full height stacks remain, but the inevitable question of how much they weeded the collection comes up.
There are big spaces for a children’s library and this room for teens (blurry photo through glass door, sorry). The area at right I think is trying to evoke a booth in a diner. I assume teens today would mainly need plugs to charge their devices and good wi-fi. Banana splits, bobby socks, and a wise-cracking soda jerk not so much.
As a contrast, here is the main reading room, Bates Hall, in the old building. I try to be as open to library 2.0 and beyond as anybody. Still if you say, “reading room” to me and this is what is elicited. Even though what I mostly have done here over the years is write.
And in comparison with the entry way to the new building, here’s the basilica-like front hall from the McKim. (The requisite lions are out of the shot, but rest assured they are on either side of you as you walk down the stairs.)
On one of my recent work jaunts to Boston, I checked out the nearly complete renovation of the Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library. First opened in 1972, the building was named after its architect, Philip Johnson, and meant to complement the McKim building, build in 1895.
The older building has been beautifully restored in all of its Renaissance Palazzo knock-off glory, now a less dingy and far more comfortable place to be. (The crazy Sargent murals are still in place on the top floor.) But the essential dignity and grandeur remain.
The Johnson Building makeover was perhaps a harder case. The original building was a bit fortress-like in a 1970s style that isn’t much missed, with a giant empty atrium at the center (generally with painting visibly peeling off the ceiling window casements in my memory at least). That said, it worked well enough for me (and I’m a fairly intense library patron), had a good collection, but was not someplace I ever warmed to.
The redesign seems to be heading towards an answer to what a future-friendly library might be. (Something that lots of places are wrestling with, as I’ve posted about, and we are about to get a big dose of in DC with the renovation of MLK Library at Gallery Place.) I don’t know any more than they do about what the future of libraries will disclose, but a few impressions above courtesy of an evening visit earlier this month, with cell phone snaps. Some beautiful things…others a little headscratching…
New York Public Library has just re-opened its 53rd Street branch (replacing the old Donnell Library). Justin Davidson in New York Magdoesn’t much care for it…
Glance in from the sidewalk, and the eye falls on a set of blond-wood terraces that go cascading into a cave, between walls of metal slats and raw concrete. The vibe mixes the slovenly with the dictatorial. On the steps, felt discs — four per row, not really plush enough to qualify as cushions — demonstrate where to place one’s behind, but in the end most people sprawl or hunch. Neither is especially comfortable. This narrow buried amphitheater gives library patrons a split-level vista: above, a rat’s-eye view of the street and passers-by; below, a wide screen playing a promotional slideshow for New York and its libraries. Architects love choreographing such chance urban spectacles, but this one enjoys a special kind of pointlessness.
The Times was less critical adopting a wait and see stance and pointing out that the community space function of the library might be very well served by the innovative design.
As a bookish type, I share some qualms about thinning the collection out during a renovation (but it’s been happening for decades and probably centuries). On the other hand it looks like an intriguing space to me, perhaps pointing towards some new directions of what a library can be. As John Cage said, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” I’m looking forward to checking it out when I’m up there next, and seeing how it compares to the plans for the new MLK Library in D.C.
No news to anybody in the archives and records world, or researchers who work with public documents or manuscripts for that matter, but huge amounts of the original written legacy of the last 30 years is falling into the digital abyss as formats become obsolete, hardware is hard to find/non-functional, and magnetic storage media itself crumbles into dust.
But maybe there’s hope: A paper in Nature reports on a novel approach to saving the archives, applying techniques from digital forensics. Stanford’s efforts to save the Stephen Jay Gould Papers from oblivion gives an example of the impetus.
The Gould papers were an early indication of an issue that’s been rapidly worsening: four decades after the personal-computer revolution brought word processing and number crunching to the desktop, the first generation of early adopters is retiring or dying. So how do archivists recover and preserve what’s left behind?
From, “Digital forensics: from the crime lab to the library” by Mark Woverton.
The approach is to fit out archivists with the skills of a crime investigator (who will star in the spinoff “CSI: The Manuscript Division,” I wonder?).
The list of dead or dying media that a UNC prof mentions– floppies, Zip disks, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, hard drives–reads like my career. I’m sure that any digital traces of a monthly opera newsletter I contributed to and later edited for years was delivered to the printer and archived on SyQuest discs, a medium and a company both long gone. So is PageMaker, the program we designed it on. The newsletter was no great shakes, but probably somebody put stuff on SyQuest worth saving, be it a data set that has otherwise impossible to recreate info, a great novel or an archive of legal docs.
Seems like UNC is on the job, with a tool called BitCurator, so maybe future generations won’t have to depend on the digital equivalent of somebody using a scrap of Sappho’s poetry as a wine stopper to rescue a legacy. (I know that story may be only a romantic legend, but it’s still evocative.)
The American Library Association has released their State of America’s Libraries Report 2016 and nestled among many interesting tidbits is the current list of most challenged books in libraries. (I assume this is all libraries, but, as usual, the list is heavy on teen titles, always the scorched earth of book censorship.)
Out of 275 challenges recorded by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2015” are:
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
The Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).
John Green! He’s practically an institution after “Fate,” and a wonderful writer to boot. And although I am in hearty agreement with the assessment of “poorly written” for E.L. James’s entire oeuvre, where’s the fun (or the feasibility) in expelling works for that? “Condones public display of affection” is also a head-scratcher, and one would assume understanding a ‘religious viewpoint’ is one of many reasons The Bible, still the big dog on the porch of banned books, is read and worth having in a public library collection. Fun Home the musical just won the Tony, and the graphic novel is a great, and poignant read, and by reliable accounts the show is super. I’m not really much of a graphic novel reader, but one positive effect of this list on me is that I now want to read Habibi, which of course, I’ll get from my public library.