Archives for category: Libraries

This is the “Library” in the Raeburn Hotel in Edinburgh.

But it’s actually just a thin folding screen incorporating the sawn-off spines of a bunch of dismembered books. As a proud employee explained to me, we just fold it back and there’s a bar behind it! You can see the hinges.

It’s really a very nice hotel.

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Brodart is a library services company: a big one. It was founded in 1939 by Arthur Brody, and is headquartered in Williamsport, PA.

Library services consist of things like creating catalog records and the cards carrying them, putting shelf labels onto books, sticking in the loan record pouch, barcoding, and often protecting the jacket and sticking it to the book — all the sorts of things a library will have to do to a book before they make it available to their patrons. Some companies will even rebind a paperback into hard covers so that it’ll stand up to more library lendings. Unsurprisingly over the years librarians have found it more efficient to subcontract these mundane operations to companies who relive them of the hassles. (As I suggested in a recent post reference publishers have also provided many of these services — buying them from the same set of library services companies.)

In the same way (though perhaps on a slightly smaller scale) that xeroxing has come to mean photocopying, so brodarting has come to mean covering a library book in a plastic cover which incorporates and protects the jacket.

You can see in the second picture that the plastic-wrapped jacket is taped to the case with a bit of Scotch Tape (Sellotape) top and bottom.

For those obsessed with protection, finding themselves stymied by the fact that their book has no jacket Brodart has this reassuring message: “No problem! With Brodart Econo-Fold Book Jacket Covers, you can cover any book!”

Messy-fingered boys used to protect their books by wrapping a plain paper cover around them. I remember doing this: what I can’t remember is why, as a messy-fingered boy, I cared.

Traditionalists tear their hair out on hearing of yet another library destroying its card catalog and breaking up the wooden cabinets of neat little drawers in which one used to find them. Bad enough they junk the actual books: but the catalog, that index of human knowledge too!

Atlas Obscura brings us the heartening news that the Library of Congress’ Card Catalog, though redundant, still survives in the basement, occupying a city block. Here it is in operation in 1919.

NPR’s Morning Edition had a piece on it, stimulated by the publication of the LOC’s book The Card Catalog with a Foreword by Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress. The story ends with the mysterious notice “The Library of Congress is working with universities and tech companies to create the next iteration of the card catalog — but unfortunately for all you tactile types, it probably won’t be stored in tiny wooden drawers.”

Three months later NPR brought us news of that “next iteration”. Twenty five million records from the LOC card catalog have been made available on-line. The Internet Archive reports these records may be found at data.gov. These records are likely to be of interest to bibliographers rather than the man on the Clapham omnibus.

Here’s a set of LOC Library Cards, produced back in the days when publishers of reference books would compete by saving the librarians the bother of getting the index cards themselves by arranging for them to be printed and loosely inserted into the books as part of the initial production process. Note they are pre-drilled to fit on the metal rods which would prevent light-fingered readers removing them from those little drawers. The cards would come with preprinted record number stickers ready to stick onto the book’s spine, and that little sleeve which you may still be able to first pasted into the front of an old library book in which the withdrawal record was contained.

If you feel the need to read these cards, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, in his essay “Books”, “Meantime the colleges, whilst they provide us with libraries, furnish no professor of books; and, I think, no chair is so much wanted. In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us — some of them — and are eager to give us a sign, and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them, like battalions of infantry, in coat and jacket of one cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination — and not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets all alike. But it happens in our experience that in this lottery there are at least fifty or a hundred blanks to a prize. It seems then, as if some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books, and alighting upon a few true ones which have made him happy and wise, would do a right act in naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.”

We should not perhaps be surprised that events have caught up with Emerson: we do now have professors of books. However our professors of books are not doing exactly what it was the sage of Concord desired. I follow the SHARP listserv (The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) which is contributed to mainly by professors of books, and I can confirm that the main focus on books is not “in naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry [them] safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples”, but on the social, cultural and technical history of the book as object. A recent vigorous exchange perhaps indicates the extent to which the big problems have already been tackled by this new discipline. The discussion has been about marginalia (a good indicator of past usage): does an X in the margin carry a different meaning from a tick, and are their meanings any different from that of a vertical line? The acme was reached with serious consideration of whether a mark on the left of the text carries a different meaning from the same mark on the right of the text. Of course less minute issues are also grist to the mill of book history. There’s a vigorous study of the book as a physical and social object, and book history has become a university subject.

The great books of the western world in 60 volumes

The job Emerson was calling for, although not perhaps graced with any endowed chair, is nevertheless sporadically performed. A good librarian springs to mind. Some teachers do communicate their delights. I guess Great Books programs in so many American colleges may have been inspired by Emerson’s call, but that doesn’t seem to be what he’s on about. I suspect that being hit over the head with Mortimer Adler’s stultifying list of over 500 “great books” would be calculated to make many a student immediately apply for an apprenticeship in metal bashing. Emerson’s looking for a professor who’ll communicate his/her enthusiasm for their reading so that students will follow up for themselves. I would think this would include lots of books which aren’t “Great” but which are good and fun. Many of such books may of course actually be or become great, but the enjoyment is the thing. I rather doubt that anyone who has fun reading Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics is also going to yuck it up on Georg Cantor: Transfinite Numbers, or even consider wasting time reading Congreave’s The Way of the World. The sort of thing we want is the reading group reported on in a recent issue of The Wheel, a St Catharine’s College newsletter. A couple of history professors have set up a reading group to read “beyond research specialisms”. The group, perhaps unsurprisingly for such an élite organization, is made up of Fellows of the college and graduate students. You’ve got to keep the discussion at an appropriate level haven’t you? They are currently reading Eric Hobsbawm’s four volumes on modern Europe. Daringly they now propose opening the group up to “alumni in history and cognate disciplines”, but not to any of those unruly undergraduates. The additional members will be “invited to follow the same course of readings, and then join [the original group] for discussion and dinner in Cambridge on Sunday 5th November and then in London in the summer of 2018”. Not sure I’m cognate enough.

Then of course there’s The Western Canon. “Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the left of them” mowing swaths through the charging cavalry of eager youth. Rather than bury the lads and lasses in Grotius’ The Law of War and Peace, Emerson would have his ideal professors just talk at random about things they’d loved reading, and thereby catch the enthusiasm of the student. Still I guess there are some things you do just have to plough though in order to be well educated! Actually I think the best university education will make you read the books you are meant to read, but make the experience rewarding enough that you’ll go on after graduation and read the best of the rest.

The literary critic, a title hopelessly compromised by its association with the book reviewer, is the sort of figure we’d look to for inspiration: someone a bit like Emerson in fact: the man of letters. This is rather an unfashionable job, seen as too conservative and hectoring for our modern permissive mores. Harold Bloom and George Steiner are surviving examples. I was always very glad to have bought The Modern Movement: 100 Key Books from England, France and America, 1880-1950 by Cyril Connolly when it was published in 1965. I’ve certainly not read all 100 (106 actually; he has one or two a. and b.s) but I have benefitted from Connolly’s directing me to most of the books included. Each entry is accompanied by a little essay telling you why you should care, and the book is completed by a comprehensive bibliography. Now there’s bridges and ships.

One Book events have been sponsored in many places since the first one in Seattle in 1998. Basically the idea is everyone in town reads the same book at the same time, and starts to talk about it with their neighbors. The Library of Congress shows there have been hundreds of these events. Their site, which seems to be in dire need of updating, lists 108 of them just for books by authors whose names begin with A, and that doesn’t include the NYC one just completed where we all read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. (“We all” does not, I’m ashamed to say, include me.* Nor did anyone try to discuss it with me.)

This year’s New York event is over, and Literary Hub brings a report on its success. A lot of people participated — can it really be eight million? The Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment promoted the mass reading, and here, including an hour-long video, is their round-up which took place at New York Public Library on 5 June.

Get geared up for next year.

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* Good citizen that I am, I am hastening to make up for this lapse. The book’s main character is a blogger who uses the WordPress platform with great success. A Nigerian who’s moved to America, she is blogging about more provocative material: race in America. Maybe it’s just me, but the bits about the blog and writing in general are the bits where the book comes alive: most of the narrative just strikes one as words freewheeling downhill. The book is valuable for its portrayal of what it means to be black in America — most of this occurring in the blog posts reproduced.

The New York Times Book Review named Americanah one of the ten best books of the year. It’s not that it’s bad; far from it — just somewhat short of what I’d like to think of as “the best”. I guess I don’t read a whole lot of modern fiction! Great that eight million may have read this one though.

Subway library is introduced at The Digital Reader.

I haven’t seen this elaborately decorated train I’m afraid. It lives on the E and F lines. As the NYPL’s site announces you can win prizes by taking a photo of the Library Train.

In so far as the books you are borrowing come from the library you’d think there’d be no reason why you needed to be restricted to the titles on offer at the Subway Library website. In fact, although basic access  is via TransitWirelessWiFi, you can download Simply E, the NYPL’s app which will give you access to the library’s entire ebook collection. The app has sections for books in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and “other languages”. You will need an NYC library card to use the app of course.

Atlas Obscura reveals the existence of The Brautigan Library, where only unpublished works are shelved.

They tell us this library was founded in tribute to Richard Brautigan’s 1971 novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, in which the protagonist works in a library of unpublished manuscripts. In that novel no visitors are allowed into the library, but you can visit the real one in Vancouver, WA (a suburb of Portland, not that Canadian place). You’re not allowed to take the books out, but you can sit there and read them. It would seem a great place to send your old PhD thesis: apparently the only constraint on submissions is that they must be in English.

One might speculate that with self publishing becoming so easy the supply of material for this library might dry up. The curator has boldly expanded the library’s remit to include ebooks.

But what after all does unpublished mean? In the olden days when you got a book published by a publisher there was no doubt on the subject. Lots of copies would printed and you could go and look at them as proof of publication; the book had been made public. But does being available to the public actually suffice to define publication? After all, my translation of Heine’s Das Buch le Grand is “published”  even though nobody (apart from) me has apparently read it!* Has Mr Barber fatally undermined Brautigan’s original conception by allowing readers actually to see, and even worse, read the books, thereby inadvertently publishing them?

As it happens Brautigan’s best-known novel Trout Fishing in America is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary Literary Hub tells us. Masterpiece or naïve relic? they ask. The New York Times review said “His dialogue is supernaturally exact; his descriptive concision is the prefect carrier for his extraordinary comic perceptions. Moreover, the books possess a springtime moral emptiness; essentially works of language, they offer no bromides for living.” Trout Fishing in America is an example of “shameless fictional show boating,” and that’s fine coming from someone “crazy with optimism.” I remember quite liking it.

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* Shockingly I’ve just discovered this may no longer be true. One sale was made in May!

We are getting all too used to hearing dire news about libraries, especially perhaps from the UK. Public funding of libraries, which used to be seen as a necessary public duty, now falls victim to austerity measures here there and everywhere. Odd to look back on the 20th century as a beacon of liberalism, but as more and more clouds gather, this may turn out to be a necessary mental adjustment despite all those wars hot and cold. I suspect that part of the “justification” for under-funding library service is provided by an easy, unexamined assumption that in a world of e-books, libraries just aren’t as necessary as they once were. No doubt it’s too late now for legislators to reverse course in recognition of the slow-down in e-book adoption.

Ellen Dolan, the director of the Shrewsbury Public Library in Shewsbury, Massachusetts and her reference librarian Walker Evans hold a couple of the gardening tools the library has been lending out along with its traditional book collection.
FUNKYLIBRARY

Librarians, you’ll be glad to know, are not taking this development lying down. One response seems to be to set off down the road of lending more kinds of stuff — not just boring old books, but a beach chair on which to sit while you read that book. The Wall Street Journal of 18 March describes this phenomenon in an article entitled Need Pruning Shears or a Ukulele?.

I guess this is OK, though is converting your public library into a free Rent-a-Center likely to endear you to public officials looking for yet more reasons to cut budgets without (heaven forfend) increasing local taxes? Manhattan may be a particularly benighted region, but I must say I’ve not noticed such non-book items on offer on recent visits to our library. We still conform more to the picture offered by Slate in April 2014 in The Future of the Library: “walk into a typical American public library and you’ll probably identify about three current core services: storing an underused circulating collection of paper books, ensuring community-wide access to Facebook on desktop computers, and sheltering homeless people.” But maybe beach chairs and gardening tools are not in high demand in our borough.

The idea from Southold of installing a little library branch inside a laundromat seems to have potential. Of course little sub-branches here and there just lead to the problem of limited choice. If you find a book you want to read while your clothes rotate in the dryer, great, if not, not. Maybe the library’s e-book collection provides the answer to this restriction.

Another — glaringly obvious — way to go is to publish some books yourself and sell them in the gift shop which is a necessary feature of any self-respecting library these days. We all know that publishing is a phenomenally profitable enterprise! So let’s get a piece of the pie. Library gift shops already sell pencils and Moleskines, and books they have to buy from publishers, so why not cut out that middleman and make your own books? Now that you can manage to make money on ludicrously low print runs, there would appear to be minimal risk in banging out a classic or two, or even having your librarians write a book tailored to their local juvenile audience. But take care: don’t let your enthusiasm run away with you, and certainly don’t increase your print run in order to be able to publish at an attractive retail price.

Here are stories of three libraries embarking on their own publishing programs. New York Public Library as recounted by The Guardian and by Book Businessthe British Library at Publishing Perspectives; and from the same source Williamson County Public Library. The catalog of the incunabula exhibition at the Cambridge University Library was published by the Library itself.

See also Libraries as publishers from 5 December 2014.

Global Literature in Libraries aims to bring translated works to the attention of libraries and librarians. A good idea perhaps, although librarians already get lots of demands on their attention, and another one may risk alienation through overload. Publishing Perspectives brings us a story about the organization.

Their goals are unimpeachable:
– Book lists and guides tied to major translation awards and library themes
– Programming ideas for various library user groups: children, teens, college students, adults, English Language Learners, etc.
– ALA conference involvement: workshops and sessions, networking through various ALA units and offices to explore the best ways to provide information and services to librarians
– Joint webinars with various ALA offices
– Publisher and journal lists organized by vendors/distributors to help librarians more easily acquire books in translation
– Advocacy on behalf of small publishers to increase their visibility on the review platforms that librarians commonly use for their acquisitions decisions
– General education efforts to help librarians understand more thoroughly the value of translated literature and of contemporary foreign-language literature
– Pan-publisher catalogs crafted specifically for librarian users, as a form of “one-stop” shopping to learn about new works coming out in translation
– Exploration of ways in which non-US publishers of English translations and non-US, non-English-language publishers can more easily promote their works among libraries

Rachel Hildebrandt, whose idea this is, would “like to hear from publishers, librarians, library journals, her fellow translators, educators—anyone who’d like to join this new exploration of what connections might be made between library patrons and translated literature.” The list of publishers in her catalog is small (as they tend to be too) but perhaps from tiny acorns. . . : Cadmus Press, Deep Vellum, Kurodahan Press, Le French Book, Open Letter Books, New Vessel Press, Owl Canyon Press, Phoneme Media, Restless Books, Unnamed Books, and White Pines Press.

It’s not clear just what the business model is. Are they asking publishers to fund the effort by paying for listing? Or do they aim to raise funds via sales to libraries? While it’s nice to have a little catalog like this, it is just too small. A unified list of translated books from all publishers might well provide a useful guide to librarians. Like so many things, though, if they don’t scale up quickly their catalog risks ending up just being another distraction.

The JSTOR White Paper on Reimagining the monograph quotes a report on print collection use at Cornell libraries. They found that by 2010 55% of the books published since 1990 had not circulated. In the years 1990 to 2010 Cornell’s library acquired 1,654,034 print monographs, 55% of them in English (not, one assumes, the same 55%).

The report found that “Most books in circulation on April 19, 2010, were charged to graduate students, who accounted for 34% of the total charges. Faculty had out another 23.6%. Undergraduates had out only 10.7% of the books charged – 16,744 books in total or an average of about one book per undergraduate student in the Cornell population (compared to approximately 8 books, on average, for graduate students and about 13 per faculty member).”

They continued: “The library in the research university has traditionally aspired to build a collection that would satisfy any potential research need; that some portion of the collection would remain indefinitely latent has generally been accepted as the condition for meeting the needs of scholarship. What significance the Library and the University should assign to non-circulating material in today’s academic context is far from clear, however. If half of CUL’s monograph purchases of the past twenty years have circulated, is that a lot or a little? Precious resources are being spent to purchase, house, and preserve these books, but to what extent should this be regarded as misspent funds and to what extent as investment in a strategic reserve? The answer will surely vary by field and by the intended readership for particular segments of the collection. Factors such as language of publication can place distinct limits on the pool of potential users and any meaningful measure of usage must take the size of the user population into account.”

They recommend that the university monitor usage and use the resulting data to guide book purchasing decisions in the future.

Now this may make sense in theory — we can imagine a few purchasing errors, but by and large a universities libraries have to aim at some sort of comprehensiveness. Usage numbers certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but surely the librarians will be missing a vast amount of usage data if they proceed as planned. I cannot think how many more books I have consulted in the library without ever checking them out, than books I have borrowed. Unless the Cornell Library has closed shelves where in order to see a book you have to fill out a slip, as at the main New York Public Library, they will have to be be ignoring all this use. Consulting a book doesn’t have to mean reading it cover to cover. They recognize this problem and even have a name for such in-library usage: “historical browses”, a somewhat trivializing term, data for which they admit they don’t have and have thus decided to ignore. “We recognize that circulation is an imperfect surrogate for use of items in the collection.”

Frankly I think that the main advantage e-books have over print books may amount merely to the fact that their usage is easier to track. I bet many more print books are “used” in libraries than usage can track. Researchers tend to find it easier to collect references via digital files, but following up those references and reading still seems to be preferred in the print product. Not every follow up has to involve checking the book out. Maybe librarians need to invent some “historical browse” detector. One might imagine a chip in the spine which detects and records when the book is opened and when it is put back on the shelf. Or a finger-print detecting cover. Constant video-ing of the shelves might creepily collect behavior better left unseen. If librarians are going to use usage data to inform their purchasing decisions shouldn’t the onus fall on them to ensure that their data are in fact complete? It could be that some of the 55% of books “never circulated” have in fact been consulted many times more than some that were checked out. I can imagine myself heaving a sigh and saying “Oh well, this one’s so badly organized that I can’t find what I’m looking for; I’ll have to take it home and go through it tomorrow”. This would turn up as usage, whereas the better organized books I had consulted might appear never to have been looked at. In so far as these books might fall into any particular class, the purchasing policy informed by such faulty data is going to result in faulty buying decisions.

We should resist the temptation to make our libraries more efficient. They are not involved in a manufacturing process where greater efficiency is an unambiguous good. Libraries contain books and allow people to discover information. This is just inherently messy.