Archives for category: Libraries

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Atlas Obscura reveals the existence of The Brautigan Library, where only unpublished works are shelved.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Richard Brautigan’s 1971 novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, in which the protagonist works in a library of unpublished manuscripts.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But what after all does unpublished mean?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.


* 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.

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.

6a017ee66ba427970d01bb09009c2f970d-500wiI’ve often pondered what application 3D printing might have for book production. I’m still pondering. It’s such a neat technology — but I think I have to admit that 3D printing is not likely to be any help in book making.

But scanning, the first step in the 3D printing process — that’s a different story. The British Library Asian and African Studies blog has a post about scanning books in 3D so that you can examine them from all sides on a computer. Click on that link and you can see a couple of examples which you can look at from all sides. Drag your cursor to rotate the object.

Another step towards making a virtual trip to the library (almost) as good as going there in person.

Atlas Obscura brings us a story about the vast underground stacks at NYPL. “This underground lair of books was part of a resolution to a tumultuous dispute over the library’s future. In March 2013, the library emptied its central stacks, the layers of shelving in the main building. While this main branch of the library has been a research collection, in which books could only be used onsite, the plan, at the time, was to renovate the old stacks and make this a circulating library. But researchers who valued the library’s old set-up objected, aggressively. The plan changed.”

Now that books have been returned to the underground storage vault, a new “book train ” has been installed to deliver them to readers on the surface.

The lack of a jaunty sound track or even commentary is a little disconcerting. A sound track might actually help here, whereas in the next video it’s no more than a trial. Open Culture has  a story about the train delivery system.

This a time-lapse video shows the resolving of the Rose Reading Room after repairs to the ceiling, where an immense plaster rosette crashed down a couple of years ago. Luckily it fell while the library was closed, so nobody was hurt. At the time it was anticipated that the reading room would be shut for six months.

The time-lapse link comes via The Digital Reader.

Later: Here’s a piece from Quartz reporting on NYPL’s decision to shelve by size, not Dewey Decimal. Now that computers enable you to locate any book with any unique location, this decision is far from strange. In so far as it will enable them to store more books in less space, it makes perfect sense.

unknownWho wouldn’t want to live in the library? Seemingly a hundred years ago lots of people got to do exactly this. Andrew Carnegie provided funds for libraries to contain apartments for a caretaker and family. Some of these apartments survive, though whether any are still occupied for their original purpose seems doubtful.  Atlas Obscura brings us a story about the empty apartment on the top floor of my local branch library.

I can’t decide whether to go for this one, or perhaps the old gatekeeper’s cottage at the southern end of Fort Tryon Park which I’ve never known to be occupied by anything more than a wheelbarrow and a couple of bags of mulch stored there by the Parks Department. It does have a beautiful view over the Hudson River.

folio 15 recto after restoration

folio 15 recto after restoration

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge provides this step-by-step account of the restoration of one of their manuscript volumes, MS 251, a copy of the encyclopaedia Livre des proprietés des choses. This manuscript was produced in Paris in 1414 and illuminated by one of the leading artists of the day, the Master of the Mazarine Hours.

The link above takes you to the Introductory page. On the left are links taking you to the other parts of the story. They lead you through disbinding, flattening out and repairing the pages, reassembling the book, sewing and rebinding it, cutting the wooden boards and covering the book, including making a box to contain it along with the old binding they had just removed. These links also appear in sequence at the foot of each page.


Note that this Gothic type of binding over wooden boards has a secondary set of head and tail bands sewn into the covering material, not attached to the book block itself as in modern binding.

If you happen to be on Euston Road today you can still make it to the British Library’s Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. It ends today. We’re still in the 400th anniversary year. If you look at their trailer, don’t get too excited: that skull is not Shakespeare’s — it’s one used by Sarah Bernhard when she played Hamlet, and it comes with a dedicatory inscription on it by Victor Hugo. When I was there last week the swing from Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was fenced off, so we were not allowed to enjoy a shot at it. The exhibition has lots of bibliographia, including the only surviving literary manuscript actually written by Shakespeare. (The picture above shows Vivien Leigh as Titania in a 1937 production at the Old Vic.)

If you can’t get there, they claim to have updated their website Discovering Literature: Shakespeare. I had drafted a post a few months ago about the Discovering Literature series they are developing, but held off posting as the links didn’t seem to be acting too well. Maybe it’s better now, though after I go to the that link I can’t see the Featured Articles claimed to be there. Enter any search term in their box, and after that comes up if you use your back button to return to the introductory page you will (or I do) find the articles showing up.

Had I done that post it would have said:

The British Library has a series in development. Discovering Literature is its overall title, but they are making it a bit hard to find all the parts. They have just done the 20th century module, but they seem to be intent on concealing the whole series. A search for “Discovering Literature” doesn’t appear to include this new module. The drop-down tab “Discover” takes you only to the Romantics and Victorians page. Their Shakespeare module — as far as I can see inaccessible directly from the British Library site, can be found here, courtesy of Google! There may be more — who knows?

Not in the show of course, but obviously marking the anniversary are these postage stamps, which are clearly in the same sort of series as the Binyon one I showed a couple of weeks ago.