Archives for category: Libraries

A Hinman Collator is a pre-digital machine for comparing two different copies of a printed page in order to detect any differences between them. Lights and mirrors allow you to see the two images superimposed one on top of the other, at which point any small differences between them will hit you in the eye.

The Folger Library blog, The Collation, has a piece by Andrew R. Walkling. This includes an animated clip showing dancing before your eyes the difference between two versions of a line of type.

The device was invented by Charlton Hinman  (1911-1971) in the late forties and drew upon his wartime work on aerial photography. Its main market was among bibliographic research institutions, but it is alleged that the CIA did buy one for more practical purposes. Hinman was the editor of the Shakespeare Quarto Facsimiles and The Norton Facsimile: The First Folio of Shakespeare. From 1960 till 1976 he was professor of English at the University of Kansas.

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I suspect you have to start noticing the loss of something for the idea to come into your head that maybe it should be described as rare. Nobody would think of applying the label “rare” to the sparrow — unless they lived in London where the birds have apparently decided to join urban flight and flit* to the suburbs and beyond. In London they are rare; in New York they are everywhere, including especially the bushes in the sunken subway entrance at Columbus Circle where you often suspect there must be a couple of loudspeakers broadcasting chirping. They are also often to be encountered in quite deep subway stations, where they seem content with their underground existence.

The Cambridge University Press blog FifteenEightyFour has a post about the origin of the rare book occasioned by the publication of David McKitterick’s book The Invention of Rare Books: Private Interest and Public Memory, 1600-1840. It seems that it took till the late 16th century for the concept to emerge, at the same time as we collectively woke up to the fact that there were a whole lot of books out there, forcing us to consider whether we might have to start worrying about disappearing texts.

The University of Washington, according to Atlas Obscura, has a collection of over 20,000 rare and special books. Their notification of this fact carries a small gallery of images showing a few of these books. If you want to see them, you’ll need to make an appointment. Their website can be found here.

Quaintly, one of the rarest books, Shadows from the Walls of Death is a volume published in 1874 in an edition of 100, intended to warn against the dangers  of arsenic-printed wallpapers. “Paris green” a color often favored in wallpapers had a significant arsenic content, and tended to flake off after a while. The author, Robert Clark Kedzie, wanted to help people identify dangerous wallpapers in their homes. His book consists of a title page and 8 page introduction followed by 86 sample of poisonous wallpapers. He sent copies of his book to libraries in Michigan. Unfortunately, by including samples of those arsenic papers, the book posed exactly the danger it was warning against. Today, only four copies of that book still exist, and unsurprisingly they’re treated very carefully. It is not recorded whether there were any consequences for the author, but he did live till 1902.

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* What we call moving house in Scotland. It’s an old English word which, like the sparrow, has deserted the metropolitan center. It’s already in the OED, so isn’t available for notification in the Regional English drive.

. . . but is it the right way?

The Borders Council (I’m relieved to note that my cousin is no longer a member) has decreed that a pupil or a volunteer parent can easily fill the functions of librarian and three Border schools (one of which I attended a year or two ago). They claim that the “job” will teach pupils leadership skills. Och aye? BookRiot carries a link to The Guardian‘s story which gives the third site as Hawick, whereas The Herald story linked to there says Kelso, as does the BBC.

Knee jerking demands resistance to the plan — the general secretary of the the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union is quoted as saying “Seeking to replace such [library] staff with the unpaid labour of pupils is folly of the highest order”. But I wonder if things are as bad as the objectors imply. Yes, it’s true that a qualified librarian can provide direction, but is direction really needed? I never attended a school which boasted such an employee, and we seemed to get through OK. Maybe wee Jimmy from Form 6 can check books in and out and provide advice just as well as a starchy librarian. After all, the readers he’ll be advising are his peer group, and what he has enjoyed might be expected to be what they’d enjoy. In so far as resources are web-based, his advice might well be better.

Galashiels Public Library

Frankly I think it’s a bit of overkill for Gala Academy to have had a librarian at all. Isn’t taking the money spent on that and diverting it to other purposes only sense? All local authorities are always short of money, and prioritizing expenditure is a necessary part of governing. Seems to me it’s better to pay teachers — or even buy a book or two — than to hire a librarian. Now, if it was the librarian at the town’s public library who was being replaced with a school kid, my knee might be jerking more.

Shelf Awareness’ 11 April issue tells us: “The American Library Association released its annual Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books, included in the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2018, which ‘affirms the invaluable role libraries and library workers play within their communities by leading efforts to transform lives through education and lifelong learning.'”

“According to the report, libraries continue to face challenges — including the potential for censorship — to a variety of books, programs and materials. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2017. Some individual challenges resulted in requests to restrict or remove multiple titles or collections. OIF estimates that 82%-97% of challenges remain unreported. Overall in 2017, 416 books were targeted–direct attacks on the freedom to read. The most frequently challenged titles last year were:”

Alii alia sentiunt, though I guess one can understand a parent wanting to protect their child from all the “bad stuff” that goes on in the world. The kids of course all know a lot more than their puritanical parents think, and are by nature more tolerant, but that can hardly be used as an argument for not trying to protect them against ideas parents don’t like. We, the enlightened, know that knowledge is good, no matter what its subject matter, and that the way to promote understanding is, well, understanding. Reading about something we disapprove of is maybe a duty we should all assume every now and then. Fear of the unknown can be relieved by changing the unknown into the known. We liberals all know what’s good for others, don’t we? Yet I dare say there are lots of liberal parents who’d like to prevent their children reading stuff like Atlas Shrugged or Guns and Ammo magazine.

Here’s a link to The Guardian‘s take on the news.

We are all being forced to recognize that all this suppression of dissenting points of view is driving the confronting groups to ever more extreme positions. The Guardian tells us that there were 23 reported hate crimes in libraries in 2017, ranging from the scrawling of swastikas on library walls to the destruction of Muslim religious texts. If only these idiots would sit down and read about the groups they fear so groundlessly.

 

 

Atlas Obscura brings us a story about the digitization of The New York Society Library‘s lending records dating from 1789 to 1805. The Society’s Library is now on East 79th Street, but obviously started out way downtown (in 1754). Earlier records were lost during the British occupation of New York in the Revolutionary War. We are allowed to see that Alexander Hamilton was reading Goethe while Aaron Burr was engaged with Voltaire 14 years before their duel.

Early in the 20th century records were switched from ledgers to index cards, and thereafter the only records kept were those for prominent people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Privacy laws now make it illegal to store this sort of information.

Joe Esposito clearly knows more about these sorts of things than I do, but isn’t he being a bit too vague when he writes at The Scholarly Kitchen “a fair number of not-for-profit publishers have margins that come close to 50%”? Having just talked about Elsevier’s net profit margins, isn’t he here carelessly sliding into gross margin?* Maybe not, but surely a not-for-profit publisher with a 50% net profit margin would be conspicuous. This sort of profitability was not in evidence at the not-for-profit publishing companies I’ve worked for; and they are usually described as relatively successful.

The point he makes that size brings cost reduction through efficiencies is nevertheless important, though we might not all wish to go along with the implications of the shock headline of his paper Why Elsevier is a library’s best friend, from which my quotation comes. Before big companies like Elsevier consolidated so many journals under one umbrella there were subscription agents  who could be used by librarians to consolidate all their subscriptions into a single transaction. Of course the middle man would be taking a bit of margin, but that margin has in effect merely been transferred over to the publisher whose profits on this sort of business have long been objected to as gross (as well as net).

My objection is to the suggestion that libraries unambiguously benefit from the efficiencies created by Elsevier and their like. If every journal was published by a separate publisher, each one of whom had to pay their typesetters and printers more than Elsevier with their market power do, and if they had to pay a subscription agency to manage their subscriptions, would librarians necessarily be worse off? The publisher’s margin would come way down, the subscription price might go up a little or even remain the same (nobody’s accusing Elsevier et al. of giving their journals away) and the library might end up paying more for each subscription. The big difference would come in the library’s freedom to choose. In order to get the “discounted” price on a bundle of journals from a single large publisher, you have to subscribe to them all. You may feel that 100 of these journals are essential, 50 are optional, and 25 are junk which you take because you have to in order to get the overall price. Without the consolidated subscription each individual journal might cost you more, while your overall expenditure was a good deal less, because you no longer have to subscribe to the 25 worst and maybe most of the “optional” group.

So efficiencies are good, but freedom of choice may be better.

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* Crudely, gross profit is the difference between receipts and outgoings. Net profit is gross profit minus the overhead cost of running the business, salaries, rent, insurance, paper clips and so on. In order to get your net profit within spitting distance of 10% you’d want to have your gross margin around 50%, as far above as possible. Efficiencies in operations will reduce your overhead. Reducing your overhead will increase your net profit. The PR difficulty that large commercial publishers of academic journals have is that their net profits tend to be over 30%, which their customers begin to see as excessive. It is believed that while some of this profitability may result from efficiencies, much of it comes from market dominance.

The Digital Reader, following the New York Times‘ lead, tells us it’s all over in a post entitled Book Mending is Going the Way of the Buggy Whip. The article quotes Mr Vass of the Kings County Library system in Seattle, who opines that he will be the last of his kind. He may be right if he means the last bookbinder to be an employee of a library system, though even there I’d suspect him of excessive pessimism. The world is a large place after all. Maybe he’ll be the last in the USA.

The Digital Reader‘s main beef with the whole concept is economic, and his math certainly does suggest that by a financial measure Mr Vass should be the last of his kind. Before WWII the economics of the business were completely different. We all tended to be more careful at conserving resources: not because of any ecological purity, but because “things” just cost more relative to labor than now. There used to be tinkers: now we just chuck old pans away and buy new ones. Governments actively discourage tinkering with automobiles in order to make them last longer, and manufacturers join in by making their vehicles more and more computer-driven. People are aghast to see me darn a sock or patch a pair of pants. It’s the same with books: unless there’s some sentimental attachment it’s just more reasonable now to toss a book with a broken binding and go out and buy another one.

BUT — you can still get your book repaired. There are many freelance hand binders out there who will continue doing this sort of work for private customers, though it can’t ever come cheap. Furthermore though, there are several companies who specialize in book repair for the library market, and if their back-logs are anything to go by, this is not work that’s about to disappear. Companies specializing in one-off library rebinding have found the development of digital printing technology a great opportunity for expansion. Bridgeport National Bindery‘s trajectory is a good example. Originally a library repair business, in the early 90s they pioneered a new business model by adding a binding service for printers who were using Xerox DocuTechs to print ultra short runs of books. After a few years they figured that they could easily enough get into the printing part of that business, and they did, first with DocuTechs and then with other print engines. Success built, and they began doing four-color photo books — the sort of book individuals put together as a family project, a wedding album or whatever. Eventually the new elements in their business mix dwarfed the old original one-off repair business, and now BNB has withdrawn from library repair. Acme appears set to pick up the slack.

A step-by-step can be found in this ALA slide deck which has links to many videos showing details of the process.

You’ve probably come across one of those books in your public library which looks like a paperback except that it’s bound in hard covers. This is a book which has been prebound. I went to my local library to photograph one of these objects for this post, and discovered that the world has moved on. We now, in NYC brach libraries anyway, just put the paperbacks straight onto the shelves without bothering to prebind them into hardbacks. I guess we don’t care whether the books last or not. I did locate a pair of Before/After pictures from Bridgeport National Bindery which illustrate the transformation. (These are not prebinds though. They are rebound textbooks; rebound after use. The process is identical though.)

 

 

 

 

 

Prebinding is an odd term whose origin may become a little less strange when we look at its history. In the olden days, when money was less of a problem, smart libraries would consider edition binding, the hardback bindings provided by publishers, inadequate to the stresses of library use, and would habitually send out their new hardbacks to be rebound in a stronger, Buckram-covered, reinforced binding before putting them on their shelves. As part of the service the binders who did this work, library-repair binders, would provide full library services too, adding shelf labels, pasting in the lending record pouch, maybe even Brodarting.

 

 

 

 

So one can see how in a world where a librarian considered edition binding so contemptible as not really to qualify for the name “binding”, prebinding your books before issuing them to your patrons might be what you’d call it. Going even further back we can find libraries buying unbound sheets from publishers, which they’d then have stoutly bound before shelving. According to Bound to Stay Bound Books the industry came up with standards for library binding in 1923. They direct us to a librarians’ Hall of Shame, but unfortunately their link no longer works, so we cannot gawp at examples of lousy edition binding. We all know they are out there however. I once worked for a company which had two divisions, one doing reference books (which were by and large strongly bound and well able to withstand more than 100 borrowings) , the other a trade list where, shamefully, many of the books, even though large, were bound without any reinforcements. A cynic might claim trade publishers prefer not to address the question of reinforced binding head on: they would really prefer that their books should fall apart before 100 readings, so that their customers will feel impelled to go out and buy another copy! The binding of this cookbook is a disgrace — though I did have ultimate responsibility for it myself. (The annotation refers to the recipe, though it might as well refer to the binding.)

Making prebounds has became even easier with the advent of digital printing. Now instead of carefully removing the paperback cover and laminating it onto boards for the rebound book, the binder can simply scan the paperback cover and reoutput it scaled to fit the hardback exactly.

I’ve always wondered about the legal position of converting paperbacks into hardbacks. I guess it’s not really a legal question: more of an ethical one. After all publishers issue paperbacks at a cheaper price for a mass market sale, and many, especially university presses, depend on the higher priced hardback to amortize the “discount” given to the customer on the paperback. If the hardback costs $74.00 and the paperback $29.95 obviously a librarian who can get the book prebound for less than $44.05 (which they certainly can!) is going to be able to stretch the book budget a little further. If all librarians did this and the publishers didn’t ever sell the couple of hundred hardbacks they’d made, clearly there would be difficulties for the publisher: not only would they be left with hardbacks on hand, but every paperback sale would fail to make its margin. The profit margin had assumed a helping hand from the higher-priced hardback, which would be carrying a large proportion of the up-front costs of the book. Until the books are sold such an allocation is just wishful thinking.

Here are stacks of paperbacks awaiting prebinding at Bridgeport National Bindery.

I discover that prebinding has a second meaning. The website TechTerms informs us that “Prebinding is an optimization process that allows faster launching of applications in Mac OS X. Often, when a program is opened, it loads data from files called dynamic libraries. These libraries must be located each time a program is run since their memory addresses are usually undefined. When a program incorporates prebinding, the addresses of the library or libraries referenced by the program are predefined.”

Kerry Mansfield’s book Expired looks at old library books. There are lots of photographic examples at The Guardian and an overlapping set at Hyperallergic.

Thanks Nathan for bringing this to my attention.

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.