Archives for category: Libraries

The problem with democracy is that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. If you allow a group like Moms for Liberty to take control of your local school board meetings, look out. Hernando County, Florida school board member, MfL supported Shannon Rodriguez, tells us “We do not want to have equity and inclusion in our schools. We want to keep our schools traditional, the way that they were. We don’t want any of the woke or the indoctrination.” Here’s the NPR clip, which shows a defeat on this occasion for the Moms for Liberty forces. (Click on the arrow at the left to listen.) Many of these extremists who are intent on cleansing schools of all non-traditional content, have made threats against librarians and teachers, and some of these public employees have chosen to leave their jobs rather than face up to death threats. Apparently most Americans (even Republicans) do not support banning books, yet books are being banned in unprecedented numbers. If these banners really don’t represent the majority opinion, the majority has to stand up and be counted.

Seventeen plaintiffs, including the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild as well as local bookstores, libraries, parents, and students, are filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Arkansas over its recent law which seeks to limit minors’ access to books and other materials deemed “obscene”. As Shelf Awareness puts it: “The law, which passed in March and goes into effect August 1, states that anyone will be allowed to ‘challenge the appropriateness’ of public libraries’ offerings, but it does not define ‘appropriateness’ or provide any ‘standard that we’re expected to use’ to determine this, John Adams, an attorney for the Central Arkansas Library System, told the Arkansas Advocate. The newspaper continued: ‘Proponents of the law have said no one under 18 should be able to access content pertaining to racism, sexual activity and LGBTQ+ topics, calling it ‘indoctrination’. Opponents of the law say this content reflects the community and that restricting access amounts to censorship.'”*

Well now — of course, anyone can do anything they want (within the law), so who am I to object to bringing a lawsuit against the Arkansas law making librarians criminally liable for making allegedly obscene books available to minors? But it’s precisely because I believe that anyone can do anything they want that I have concerns about objecting to this sort of action. I can’t get away from the thought that people in any community surely have the right to make any rules and regulations they want in order to govern how they live. Just because I don’t agree with them and “know that I’m right” doesn’t give me any preferential status over their opinions. This is a policy which concerns the inhabitants of Arkansas, and they need to be the ones dealing with it (and indeed several of the plaintiffs are local). If that’s what people in Arkansas want, good luck to them! Mandating ignorance can never be a good idea, but lots of people have always preferred to bury their heads in the sand than to think seriously about right and wrong. Despite all sorts of crazy (to the liberal mind) laws lots of people still seem to want to move to states like Texas or Florida (where they are now proposing to deny healthcare on the basis of moral, ethical or religious beliefs) — I guess they don’t mind, or don’t mind as much as I do. And if they do eventually decide they do object to this or that restriction, then of course the democratic process provides a roadmap for them to get the laws reversed. And if that doesn’t work, maybe they’ll need to think about moving to a community where more people agree with them.

Of course nobody wants obscene books pushed on anyone; and this includes librarians. The problem of course is definitional: we all know it when we see it, but unfortunately when it comes to obscenity, or even just social undesirability, none of us can define it with any precision. We all see different things. Judging from the Arkansas Advocate story referenced above, many people in Arkansas are off to the races on their definition of obscene. In the end one man’s obscenity is another man’s sober discussion. We also trust readers’ good sense to differing degrees. Conservatives tend to want the state to play the role of stern daddy, wagging its finger to stop people doing “bad” things, whereas liberals see it more as a benevolent old granny keeping them fed and protected.

The plaintiffs maintain “Together, we have filed this lawsuit to protect the First Amendment rights of Arkansas’ reading community. Arkansas Act 372 robs the state’s readers of their constitutional right to receive information and threatens the state’s booksellers and librarians with extreme punishments for performing their core—and essential—function of making books available to the public.” (Quoted in Publishing Perspectives.) Come on — the Bill, insofar as it “robs” anyone of anything, robs minors of the “right” to receive information free of charge from their library. (Do we really have a right, first amendment or any other, to receive books free of charge from a public library?) I don’t think it helps your case to misstate the harm you are protesting.

Censoring books may be wrong, and is certainly ineffective as a means of suppressing ideas. My knees jerk just as strongly as the next guy’s to liberal ideals, but I can’t help seeing arrogance in the assumption that we publishers know better than the locals and have an obligation to make them behave as we would. Nothing in the Arkansas law affects what publishers may or may not publish.†

If this is what Arkansans want, who are we to interfere? If it’s not, then a simple remedy beckons. Just go to school board meetings and vote!

Another similar case is the “lawsuit filed by PEN America, Penguin Random House, authors, and parents against the Escambia County School District and School Board in Florida over book bannings and access restriction in the area’s public school libraries.


* Amusing to note that in Utah such laws have been used to force the authorities to remove the Bible and the Book of Mormon from school libraries.

† Slightly different is the case of state school boards which mandate changes in textbooks in order that they may be adopted. If you want to sell textbooks to say the Texas school system, then it’s not smart business to insist that those pages about critical race theory (or whatever they’ve objected to) be retained intact. Your choice is to make the change and make the sale, or refuse and move on. For governors of eastern seaboard states to call on publishers to refuse to make such changes is nothing more than political posturing — and no publisher in this market will be paying much attention to them.

Illinois is about to become the first state to ban book banning. A bill to withhold funds from any of the state’s 1,600 public or school libraries which are known to have removed books, has passed both houses of the legislature and now goes to the governor. “In Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth, we embrace it and lead with it,” J. B. Pritzker, the governor said when the bill was first presented. “Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic stories of many.” After he has signed the bill the law will become effective on 1 January 2024. The story comes from Politico via BookRiot.

On the other hand, and more typical of the news these days: “in Missouri libraries would lose state funding if they give minors books parents don’t want them to read, don’t keep ‘age-inappropriate’ books away from minors, or fail to publicize how they select books and how parents can challenge those book selections.” (from BookRiot.) Relax: Big Brother is still looking out for us.

Home book collections are always (at least a bit) for show. So it’s not surprising that when people on television started addressing us from home, they would tend to pose in front of some bookshelves, demonstrating the breadth and depths of their interests. One of the more human weaknesses I noticed was a tendency to display your own recent book face on so that you could quietly advertise it while commenting on the news.

Atlas Obscura brings us a story about how an anonymous Portuguese satirist behind Uma Página Numa Rede Social, a humorous political analysis project, compiled some of his favorite home libraries into a Twitter thread and called it the 2020 Portuguese Bookshelf Championship. People began to “vote” on which background was most impressive, and in the opposite direction some called for the “immediate resignation” of the Minister of Education, because his video conference background didn’t include books.

I find I’m missing these backgrounds now that television presenters are venturing back into the studio. I guess I’ll never find out now what that large yellow book was which was always lying flat on the shelf by Jonathan Capehart’s left elbow. It had an oddly opaque title which I can’t remember now. He always had nice flowers.

Now here comes The New York Times with an article (paywall protected no doubt) suggesting that some of those bookish backgrounds may in fact have been made up of fake books. They even refer to one guy who got a curtain printed with book spines on it to suggest in Zoom meetings that he was in an book-lined office rather than in his garage. Surely it’d have been cheaper to go out to a thrift store and buy a bunch of old books. I wrote about this business almost seven years ago in Books by the foot (the name of one large player in this marketplace) and in Biblioexhibitionism. I also did a more recent post on ColorPak books, color coordinated wrapped books — but at least that’d give you the option of unwrapping the thing should you be interested in finding out what the filling was.

Not sure I care for (or actually, about) this home-decorating trend — in one way, if non-readers think that it makes them look smart to have shelves stuffed with important looking books which are nothing more than spines — good luck to them. We ought perhaps to welcome any behavior which accepts a premise that books accord status! Just not sure why real ones wouldn’t be just as good and in many cases cheaper. Go that route and you would also be able to read one in the event you changed your mind and actually thought reading a book might be a good idea.

These ideas are insidious. Could Mr Capehart’s big yellow book have been a fake? Say it ain’t so Jo.

I’m not wild about book sculpture, but to some extent I don’t mind the hollowed-out book as security chest. (There are, we have to admit, a lot of books which deserve eviscerating!) The Times article shows us one rather extensive book safe which is currently available for $34.20 from Covogoods of Salt Lake City.

I guess the idea is that burglars are unlikely to hang about admiring your book collection, and certainly won’t be prioritizing books for their swag. Store the title deeds of your house and your reserve cash stash behind a bunch of dull-looking book spines, and you’ll be safe as houses. Keeping your firearm in such a location might be more of a risk though. (Please do not be keeping a firearm in any event. They rarely do the owner any good — just imagine the turmoil of an armed break-in where you have to ask yourself in a panic “Is it in David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby? Or did I put it in Martin Chuzzlewit because it’s about America?)

For an earlier take on Zoom background libraries, please see Show-off from August 2021. For somewhat exhibitionist of self-serving reading see Performative reading.

Todd A. Carpenter writes at The Scholarly Kitchen about how unfortunate it is that in the conclusion of the Internet Archive lawsuit these wicked publishers have managed effectively to quash the delightful idea of controlled digital lending. Basically controlled digital lending means that if the publisher doesn’t publish an ebook edition of a work, a library should have the right to scan the book, create a digital copy and lend it out. This plan for expropriation comes with a virtuous-sounding claim that while this ebook is out on loan the library will of course hold back the physical copy it just ripped off and not lend it out as well. Thus only one copy will be on loan at any time. What could be better? — a patron unable to come in and get the print book will be enabled to overcome the publisher’s negligent failure to provide an ebook, and will thus be able to enjoy what otherwise would have remained inaccessible.

Trouble is the right to make copies is a right belonging to the copyright owner, the author (occasionally it’s true, subleased or even assigned to the publisher), and not vested in any random purchaser who may have paid money to own a single copy of the work. No problem say the CDL supporters, it’s actually OK because what we would be doing is fair use. Mr Carpenter tells us that the Internet Archive “was seeking to extend the boundaries of Fair Use exemptions in copyright in an increasingly digital world.” Their argument would be based on the idea of transformative use. The trouble with this, and indeed the whole concept of fair use, is that it’s meaning isn’t defined in the law; it all has to be hammered out in law courts. In a piece at The Author’s Alliance we are told “a use can be transformative when it ‘utilizes technology to achieve the transformative purpose of improving delivery of content without unreasonably encroaching on the commercial entitlements of the rights holder.’” CDL advocates claim no harm is done because they are allowed to lend the physical copy, so what difference is there in their lending a digital copy which may enable some disabled readers actually to borrow the book.

However, a copy will have been made, and once a digital copy exists it is impossible to stop its proliferation into other copies. Besides, isn’t it perfectly reasonable that the publisher or the author should be allowed to decide whether this book is available in this way or that way. It’s only because digital reproduction is cheaper that it has now come up that we might plug holes in the supply base by creating editions of our own. Nobody ever, I think, took it into their own hands to print a paperback edition of a book because the publisher refused to offer anything other than a hardback. Sorry, Internet Archive, that’s essentially no different from your deciding to “publish” a digital edition.

Good intentions don’t represent a legal defense. It’s like arguing “I only stole the wallet because I wanted to give some money to this beggar.” It is not a legal argument to claim “Copy a book to make money: bad; copy a book to lend it to a nice person: good”. The result (unfortunately) in both cases, is that the author gets no remuneration for “granting” the right to copy. Why do you think it’s called copy right? — it controls the right to make copies.

Now it could well be you’d be right to argue that Congress should take issues like this into consideration when next they revise the copyright law. I expect they will: it certainly seems that a solution to this narrow problem could fairly easily be found when the law’s revised. I just wonder when that’ll be. In the meantime we have to live with the laws we have.

This seems like a good idea: a library identifying its local bookstore supplier. Here’s an item from Shelf Awareness of March 17 in its entirety:

The Starr Library in Rhinebeck, N.Y., is showing patrons the source for the books it buys from its local bookstore with stickers that read “This title purchased locally from Oblong Books, Millerton & Rhinebeck.” Oblong co-owner Suzanna Hermans commented: “This was their idea, and while we’ve always had a strong relationship with their library (and our other locals!) this really means the world to us. We love our local libraries!”

Publishers Weekly warns us today, March 23rd: “With book banning and legislative attacks on the freedom to read continuing to surge across the country, the American Library Association announced today that it tracked a stunning 1,269 “demands to censor library books and resources” in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago, and nearly double the record-shattering 729 challenges recorded in 2021.”

The ALA helped organize and launch Unite Against Book Bans in 2021, a resource to help local advocates fight for the the freedom to read.

“Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, As I noted last year “according to PEN America, in the nine months between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, there were 1,586 book bans in 86 school districts. Bans took place in 26 states”.

Book bans are always unsuccessful. Seems to me banning almost adds a special cachet, and might make individual titles more desirable than if they’d been ignored, but clearly conservatives don’t agree. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives “is set to vote this week on HR5, the so-called ‘Parents Bill of Rights Act,‘ a bill that freedom to read advocates say could bolster book-banning efforts nationwide.” Protesting this is of course quite right, (the Publishers Weekly article includes a link where you can do this) but even if the Senate were to go along with the bill, and the President were not to veto it, it wouldn’t make any difference to the long term history of civilization. Did the Index prevent empty churches today?

The problem of course is that ideas are leaky. Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin could never make people unaware of the fact that there were abolitionists around. It just signaled that there were people who were scared about that fact. That we appear to have more books about LGBTIQA+ topics nowadays than in the past is not because these books are there to push people into “an LGBTQ lifestyle choice” — as if such a thing were possible — but because the taboo against talking about these things has been lifted. No sane person would dream of raising the subject with a right-winger, so right-wingers can enjoy the delusion that by suppressing every printed reference to the topic they have stamped out all discussion of it. This they seem to think means that nobody will ever again suffer from this “disability”. (Nobody ever said these right-wingers were smart.)

For the most part the students wait their turn very patiently. To stand and wait while someone examines white disks is soothing. The umbrella will certainly be found. But the fact leads you on all day through Macaulay, Hobbes, Gibbon; through octavos, quartos, folios; sinks deeper and deeper through ivory pages and Morocco bindings into this density of thought, this conglomeration of knowledge.

Jacob’s walking-stick was like all the others; they had muddled the pigeon-holes perhaps.

There is in the British Museum an enormous mind. Consider that Plato is there cheek by jowl with Aristotle; and Shakespeare with Marlowe. This great mind is hoarded beyond the power of any single mind to possess it. Nevertheless (as they take so long finding one’s walking-stick) one can’t help thinking how one might come with a notebook, sit at a desk, and read it all through. A learned man is the most venerable of all — a man like Huxtable of Trinity, who writes all his letters in Greek, they say, and could have kept his end up with Bentley. And then there is science, pictures, architecture, — an enormous mind.

From Virginia Woolf: Jacob’s Room Ch. IX. Non-Brits may need to be reminded that “keeping your end up” is a cricketing metaphor, describing the task of allowing a batter of superior ability to continue to score runs while you stolidly defend your wicket and try to avoid getting out by eschewing any fancy and over-ambitious strokes. In multi-day cricket matches such a batter may be described as the night-watchman.

An almost 180-degree view of “the enormous mind”, from Wikipedia. Apparently the ceiling is made of papier mâché.

Bear in mind that since Jacob’s Room was published, in 1922, the Library has moved out of the British Museum. In 1997 it was shifted into a custom-built space on Euston Road next to St Pancras, about a mile north. The old circular reading room, opened in 1857, was built in the central court of the original Museum. It is currently closed as administrators mull over what it might be now best used for.

A recent Bookseller headline shouts “Booksellers report more customers switching to paperbacks as household budgets tighten” (only accessible to subscribers though).

Used to be a book would be published in hardback, and if it did at all well, a paperback edition would be follow a year later. Have you noticed a recent fashion of just walking past that first bit, and publishing initially in paperback (and ebook)? It’s by no means a majority of traditionally published books which are coming out just as paperbacks, but a growing number of publishers are playing around with this idea.

We may not be about to see the demise of the printed book, but it does seem quite possible that the hardback will drop by the wayside. Let’s face it, the reason we have hardbacks (beyond the grip of tradition) is that publishers can charge much more for them while spending little more to make them. Sure there’s a bit of token rhetoric around strength and survivability, but given that a hardback is nowadays really nothing but a paperback stuck between board covers with a jacket wrapped around it, the strength argument hardly stands much scrutiny. (The earliest paperbacks were presented by the book trade as disposable items, but when it comes down to it a modern trade paperback is almost identical to the hardback in terms of quality of manufacture and durability.)

Once upon a time people might have felt that when they were buying a book as a gift it would look a bit cheesy if they bought a paperback rather than the hardback edition, but this attitude now looks decidedly old-fashioned.

For years we have been encountering paperbacks in libraries.

The world and the business have moved on. There was once a time when it would have been crazy for a librarian to think “If I buy the paperback for $5, rather than spending $20 on the hardback edition; if the paperback falls apart after 50 borrowings, I can always buy another one”. Fifty years ago books, while not quite like milk, did have a sort of sell-by date. When a book came out in 1965, if you really wanted a copy it behooved you to get up off your backside and buy one. Waiting would almost inevitably result in disappointment, because back then it was rather expensive to reprint a book which wasn’t selling in large numbers. As a result most books went through a single printing and then disappeared into the world of OP. Now that we can rely on digital printing, and especially print-on-demand, to make a book available “for ever” buying the cheaper paperback becomes a reasonable library acquisition policy.

Seems unlikely but books are, like elm trees, subject to the effects of climate change. The New York Times brings us an account of the hoops book conservators are having to jump through to counter the effects of flood, fire, and general brimstone.

In 2005 Tulane University Libraries shipped eight feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, resulting in the soaking of  about a million and half books and folders of manuscripts and a similar number of individual pieces of microform such as microfilm reels and microfiche cards. “In the Howard-Tilton building alone about 750,000 of the library’s print volumes and media materials were underwater,” Over 300,000 print volumes, 18,000 reels of microfilm, and 629,711 archival items were eventually salvaged. This sounds good, but represents only 5% of the microform material and 40% of the books.

It seems obvious that you’d not want to build your library where it’s vulnerable to flooding, but of course your library is where your library is, and it’s not too easy to pick it up and move it to higher ground — even if higher ground is available which in New Orleans it isn’t so much. Avoiding storing books in the basement sounds obvious, but a librarian’s got to store the stuff where they have the space. Forest fires obviously don’t only take place where Smokey anticipates them. But it’s not just fire and flood; rapid fluctuations in temperature, and increasing humidity also adversely affect books as does smoke in the air. Increased humidity, whose effects we hitherto have witnessed mainly in curling covers, threatens to bring mold with it.

Investment in upgrading libraries to protect against the effects of climate change would have to be immense, and in the nature of things is unlikely to become available until a disaster like Katrina has occurred, and then only piecemeal. “Researchers are studying ways to maintain physical books for longer and sustainably. The Image Permanence Institute, a research center based at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has analyzed more than 1.9 billion environmental data points from institutions around the world to find the best practices for keeping collections safe. The National Endowment for the Humanities recently announced a grant to aid institutions seeking to organize climate plans and reduce their environmental impact.”

The Image Permanence Institute is part of the College of Art and Design at Rochester Institute of Technology, and is “dedicated to supporting the preservation of cultural heritage collections in libraries, archives, and museums around the world.”

Storing stuff in remote locations kind of defeats the purpose: if it’s not available, it effectively doesn’t exist. Digitization is an obvious fall back, but of course that’s not an altogether climate-free option, and also requires investment in infrastructure if it’s to be anything other than an inaccessible archiving solution.

Books are of course in themselves an archival solution. If 2,000 copies of a book exist it doesn’t make too much difference if one or two in Californian libraries are soaked in the extreme rain storms which are going on just now. Lots of books are printed in smaller runs than that nowadays, but the point remains. But is climate change another thing pushing us away from print and towards digital? I think not: digital’s not an automatically long-life archival solution as we saw recently. It’s the one-off things that are irreplaceable: manuscripts, letters, drawings, old maps and so on. Doubtless these are being taken upstairs: fingers crossed that the roof doesn’t get blown off.

Cambridge University Press and Assessment have digitized their thirty-four Christmas books. An account is published in Fine Books Magazine. The Press’ own announcement doesn’t suggest any way in which you might be able to consult these scans. They are part of the CUP archive at the University Library. Apply at the front desk?

If you’re not letting the masses look at them, what’s the point of scanning these books? Is it only a belts-and-braces sort of archivists’s trick. A bit like “You’ll never steal another Darwin’s notebook from us”? CUP have been asked by Publishing Perspectives to let them know when (if ever) the scans do become publicly available. Archivists no doubt regard the existence and survival of these items as sufficient justification in itself. Wishing to keep archival materials “forever” is a human characteristic, whether forever is really forever, or just means “until I’m gone”. Surely anyone who wants to study a printer’s presentation books will want to see the books themselves — after all their physical properties are a huge and basic part of the effect, and the point.

I suppose it’s OK, is it, that we live in a world where the words “hi-res digital copy” inspire automatic respect? My recent Gentileschi post went on about this.