Archives for category: Libraries

Shocked disapproval seems to be the reaction of many when they hear that a library system in rural Florida isn’t going to pay for an on-line subscription to The New York Times. Knees are jerking all over.

Well, wouldn’t we all agree that a library system can decide to fork out for whatever subscriptions it wants to? After all the taxes of local people are what funds the library, and in theory at least the library’s management is responsive to the people’s wishes. If residents of Citrus County in Florida don’t want to subscribe to The New York Times on-line, then surely that’s just fine. The implication that they therefore regard our current president as more “truthful” than The New York Times says, I fear, more about their gullibility than it does about their powers of judgement, but nobody can force them to spend the $2,700 to have the paper digitally accessible in their library. (They do have a print subscription though for the few intrepid liberals in the area.) The Guardian, which I’m sure doesn’t have a whole lot of readers in Citrus County either, brings us the story (linked to via BookRiot).

Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County

For those, like me, unfamiliar with Citrus County, its largest community is Homosassa Springs and its county seat, Inverness is about 70 miles north of Tampa. Citrus County had a population of 141,236 at the 2010 census, and has voted around ⅔ Republican in national elections since 2000.

A year ago New York Public Library launched its Insta novels series. Sounds like it’s been a success. Fast Company has a report (linked to by BookRiot) telling us about it all. The NYPL video below says that 300,000 readings have taken place. Insta Novels has 140,000 followers on Instagram.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

To access a book go to NYPL’s Instagram account, @nypl, and tap the title in the highlights section under the intro text. Once it opens keep your thumb on lower right part of the screen to hold the page. When you’re ready to turn the page, take your thumb off the marker.

Gwyneth Paltrow has hired a personal book curator to set up a home library for her. All she needs now is someone to read the volumes for her, or maybe, more charitably, to her. Celebrity bibliophile Thatcher Wine (who knew there was such a job title) sort of covers the event in an interview at Town & Country. The photos make you shudder: you’d never dare take a book off some of these shelves! (Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers of 27 August.) Mr Wine with Elizabeth Lane has written a book about designing and creating a home library; and we always thought you just had to go to a bookshop and buy some books you might like to read. Both authors work at Juniper Books, which appears to be — well — a personal book curation service.

Here’s their picture of the Paltrow library. The adjective which insinuates itself into my mind is almost contained in the actress’ surname.

This urge to get your books in order puts me in mind of Abdul Kassem Ismael (938-995). His personal library, allegedly 117,000 books, was said to have been carried around with him on 400 camels, making up a caravan a mile long. For ease of reference the camels carried the volumes in alphabetical sequence, thus comprising a living index. Not sure if my stash of the readies will stretch to hiring 26 likely lads to carry my library about for me. Just have to stay at home I guess. The story was recently sent to me in a link from LightSource, a Christian ministry site. (How does Jeremy find this sort of thing?) The tale was retailed by Alberto Manguel in his (to me anyway, rather disappointing) A History of Reading. (I’m amazed to discover from my BoB that it was exactly twenty years ago that I read it.) Somewhat surprisingly it is The National Security Agency which provides a reality check on this legend. According to them, and who’d dare doubt them, “However charming this tale may be, the actual event upon which it is based is subtly different. According to the original manuscript, now in the British Museum, the great scholar and literary patron Sahib Isma’il b. ‘Abbad [which apparently is another fancier way of saying Abdul Kassem Ismael] so loved his books that he excused himself from an invitation by King Nuh II to become his prime minister at least in part on the grounds that four hundred camels would be required for the transport of his library alone.” The piece may be found at Wikisource.

Pause for a moment to reflect on how it is that perfectly unassuming facts can take on a vivid fantasy life of their own. Is this natural selection at work? “Striking” dominant; “boring” recessive? The Selfish Meme?

Juniper Books is the brain-child of Mr Wine. As their website tells us “Juniper books was founded in 2001 by Thatcher Wine. Thatcher had always loved reading and collecting books, he began his journey sourcing one-of-a-kind and rare book collections for clients around the world. A few years later, Thatcher invented custom book jackets and Juniper Books’ customers fully embraced this new concept. The creativity and our line of “Off-The-Shelf” book sets have proliferated since then. Today we work with thousands of customers in 50+ countries, helping them rediscover the power of print.” So there you go. Sign up for the Books Everyone Should Own (BESO) subscription, at $550 p.a., and you’ll get a pretty novel each month to keep you in touch with the power of print. Those who want to sound like the head of Amazon could sign up for two subscriptions.

A few years ago I did a piece on curation. But this was about content curation. Juniper Books’ service might be said to be trying to duplicate the experience of going to a good independent bookstore, which could itself be described as a sort of diffuse curated collection of books. If you don’t have access to a good bookshop, maybe this service is enough to be going on with? Of course it’s true that many bookshops willl accommodate you with various subscription services. Heywood Hill in Mayfair have particularly elegant offerings. I wrote previously about the subscription model for books.

The antidote for the Juniper service might be Marie Kondo. It’s almost perfect: pay Mr Wine to put in your library: pay Ms Kondo to weed it out: pay Mr Wine to build you another library: call Kondo: Wine: Kondo and so on ad infinitum. For people with too much money (a group whose problems continue to be shamefully under-appreciated by the rest of us) this represents a small step on the way to alleviating the worry of what to do with all that cash flowing in the front door.


Libraries tend to be happy about the digital book because it potentially gets them away from their problem of finding space for all the new printed books which we keep throwing at them.* But of course the digital revolution has dragged along with it an overwhelmingly large selection of new books.

Self publishers have found it difficult to get their books made available in libraries. A friend did manage this by getting the ear of a friendly local librarian, so an ebook of his young-adult novel is now available for loan at his library. The key problem with self-published ebooks and libraries remains the discovery issue. Libraries have systems for acquisition, contract suppliers, standing orders, approval plans etc. — and however good your ebook may be, if they can’t purchase it in the way they normally purchase books then libraries are unlikely to be able to obtain it. They just can’t make one-off arrangements for every self-published book: there are just not enough hours in the day. Some additional justification for librarians’ choice to pay less attention to self-published ebooks may also provided the fact that they tend to be fairly inexpensive, so disappointed punters may be assumed to be willing and able to go out and buy a copy.

Lending of ebooks at American public libraries is reported to be increasing at about 30% a year according to Jessamyn West at Controversy within the business is continually being stirred up by one big traditional publisher after another tweaking their terms of supply. Obviously the basic problem is that unless some limits are placed on frequency of issue, an ebook sold to a library could potentially mean that, what with inter-library loan and unrestricted lending, no more copies would ever be sold to any libraries. No doubt everyone can accept that that’s not “fair” to the author and the publisher, but what is fair is far from obvious, and depends on which axe you are currently grinding. I believe that the twisting and dodging going on reflects not some dastardly plot by publishers, but rather the fact that this is still a relatively new market, and what the “correct” terms of trade should be is still evolving. Publishers do not see any benefit in preventing any sale of any of their books. They do, though, have an interest in avoiding sales which lose them money, either in the short term or over the long haul. If this was an easy balance, discussion would long be over.

Library lending of ebooks got off to a slow start. Publishers Weekly reported in its 30 November 2015 issue on a Book Industry Study Group investigation of Digital Content in Public Libraries. At that time only 25% of library patrons had borrowed an ebook in the previous year, and only 9% had checked out a digital audiobook. It’s not that library patrons were anti-ebook: 44% of them reported reading an ebook in the year before. Until you’ve done it, borrowing an ebook from the library might seem hard. But of course like almost everything once you’ve done it once it becomes simple. Lack of availability was reported as the main impediment but now, as CNN reports, there are more than 391,000,000 ebooks available in US public libraries — not sure just how this relates to the Google estimate that the total number of books ever published is just 130 million! I guess we have to assume lots of multiple copies, though more realistically perhaps we should conclude that when it comes to superlatives like this there’s no way to discover the real facts.

Here’s one guy who’s gotten over the library lending hurdle. An ode to library ebook lending apps comes from a dedicated e-reader.  (Link via The Digital Reader.) I have myself borrowed several ebooks from New York Public Library: it is easier than placing a reserve and then walking over to the local library once the p-book arrives. Maybe less health-giving though, and I do still prefer to read a p-book.


* See also Crewing mustie books and More mustie crewing

Here’s a nice talking point in the run-up to Banned Books Week. BookRiot brings news of the removal of all seven Harry Potter books from the school library of St Edward Catholic School in Nashville, TN.

The evidence is as plain as a pikestaff: surely we’d all acknowledge that any book which a child actually wants to read must self-evidently be bad for them. Do little Tennesseans not deserve protection too? The Rev. Dan Reehil, a pastor at the Roman Catholic parish school, is courageous enough to stand up for the innocents. He writes in an email about the ban: “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” Ooooh! Ooooh! According to The Tennessean, Reehil goes on to say that he consulted several exorcists in the U.S. and Rome who recommended removing the books — so that makes it OK. If Roman exorcists say these books are wicked, surely we can all see that they really must be wicked. Faith is a wonderful thing: it moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. Given his belief in the reality of curses, I hope Rev. Reehil has taken measures to protect himself against Ms Rowling’s revenge. Maybe those exorcists forearmed him.

I would enjoin you all to avoid reading the Harry Potter books — especially reading them out loud — do you really want to conjure evil spirits? Of course not! Just to be safe, why not avoid reading books altogether?

Maybe instead just go to the movies? After all, as The Exorcist trailer says “Somewhere between science and superstition there is another world. The world of darkness.” A cinema, clearly.

This video gives you a brief look at many amazing books in the Founder’s Library at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, including an Audubon’s birds (amazingly large, at double elephant folio) and a Kelmscott Chaucer.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Unfortunately the December they refer to as the month when the library would be open to the public was December 2016. Sorry not to have noted this three years earlier.

A short film (20 minutes) by Alain Resnais about the National Library of France, made in 1956:

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Notice that no computers were used in the production of this film or in the activities portrayed therein. This is how things once were: lots of formally-dressed employees carrying things back and forth. Contrast the NYPL’s book train.

The title reminds me of another French film, Tous les matins du monde, the film about viola-da-gamba virtuosos Jean de Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais. Gérard Depardieu at his best before he disappeared into idiosyncrasy-land. The link to the library film comes from Open Culture.

Two infographics from the American Library Association:

Numbers 10 and 11 on the Challenged Books list were actually burned. Are we are getting back to the good old days? Maybe we’ll be having witch trials soon. Great to be great again.

Link via The Digital Reader.

The Scottish Book Trust gives you thirteen great book museums to visit. If there’s a Scottish flavor to this list, let that not diminish your enthusiasm for the quest. I don’t really find it too troubling but when you visit the main reading room at the 42nd Street main branch of NYPL you have to push your way through a crowd of tourists who gather inside the entrance to the room to goggle at all those people actually reading books. A museum of reading?

It is quite a handsome room though.

In some ways any library is a kind of book museum, just because they keep lots of old books; and indeed one or two of the 13 in the Scottish Book Trust’s list are indeed libraries. I’ve reported on museum-type displays at the University Library, Cambridge, at Chetham’s Library, at The Rosenbach Library, and at The British Library. So keep going. After The Scottish Book Trust’s list you can start on national libraries.

The insatiable bibliophile traveller will need to refer to Printing museums and Book towns too.

The SHARP listserv drew our attention earlier this year to this movie, discussed at Melville House’s blog. Here’s a trailer.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

The theft described turns out to be chaotic and pretty incompetent but really did happen at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. The thieves dropped the two large Audubon volumes which were their real target as they ran out of the library but did get away with a few rare books which they tried to hawk to Christies in New York.

The movie has done the rounds, and may now be seen at Amazon Prime for example. It got an 88% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.