The New York Public Library has put together an enjoyable list of the 125 books they love to celebrate that anniversary of its founding. Several of my faves tucked in among a varied list, and glad they found room for The Color of Magic!
The Guardian has a story on an effort to bridge literature and the wildly successful game Minecraft. Herewith the lede:
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 classic Treasure Island tells of Jim Hawkins’s adventures on board the Hispaniola, as he and his crew – along with double-crossing pirate Long John Silver – set out to find Captain Flint’s missing treasure on Skeleton Island. Now, more than a century later, children can try and find it themselves, with the bays and mountains of Stevenson’s fictional island given a blocky remodelling in Minecraft, as part of a new project aimed at bringing reluctant readers to literary classics.
From Spyglass Hill to Ben Gunn’s cave, children can explore every nook and cranny of Skeleton Island as part of Litcraft, a new partnership between Lancaster University and Microsoft, which bought the game for $2.5bn (£1.9bn) in 2015 and which is now played by 74 million people each month.The Litcraft platform uses Minecraft to create accurate scale models of fictional islands: Treasure Island is the first, with Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom just completed and many others planned.
There’s part of me that goes “cool”–the embarrassing answer of a 50-something former librarian who has never played Minecraft. Interesting to see stories jump genres and stimulate creativity and interest.
I did pause a bit at this bit,
Libraries are particularly interested in the possibilities of multiplayer, Bushell says, adding that one of the future projects will be Lord of the Flies: “In that case, you want all the kids in there playing out a scenario and asking philosophical questions. We hope they do some reading, then play the game, then do some empathetic writing based on what they did in there.”
A multiplayer realtime Lord of the Flies? I’m thinking that runs a little to close to what the story itself embodies, and not sure that philosophical questions are exactly what will be stimulated.
…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?”
A few words on librarians from writers and others.
If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.–Frank Zappa
Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.–Ray Bradbury
Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.–Anne Herbert
Libraries always remind me that there are good things in this world.–Lauren Ward
Rule number one: Don’t fuck with librarians.–Neil Gaiman
Enjoying Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, by Wayne A. Wiegand.
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.
I always thought they were kind of cute, but a Toronto librarian makes a strong case to the contrary.
“[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.’”
The big free library in Somerville, MA
A couple of nice bits encountered in recent reading: First the poet August Kleinzahler in a piece on poet Michael O’Brien.
“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.
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 Mag doesn’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.